04 April 2013

Goodbye, winter

Winter is taking its belated leave. Judy and I are still using our canes, but we foresee the day we can put them back in our closet. Two days ago, the sidewalk between the Fabrika Pechati bus stop and our workplace, passing right in front of City Hall, was more like a canal; I arrived at the Institute with the bottom three inches of my pant legs soaking wet. Walking in the street wasn't an option; the street was flooded, too, and each car was sending up a huge wake. Today, by contrast, there was plenty of bare concrete--bare concrete!!--for most of the length of the sidewalk. Today one of our students predicted that in about two weeks we'd be able to stop wearing boots.

Judy organized a wonderful birthday celebration for me at the Institute a week ago, and one of the central surprises was a book that had been compiled in honor of my 60th birthday. The chief author/compiler was Nadezhda Glushkova, whose father Gennadi Utyonkov contributed a poem. Here it is. (I added the second slide to explain the title reference to Shurik.)

Speaking of books, I just finished reading a very personal "personal history of the Cold War," Norman Stone's The Atlantic and Its Enemies. The time frame of the book was more or less the time frame of my own life, give or take the eight years between the end of World War II and my birth, which took place shortly after Stalin died. The scope of this book is nothing less than the political evolution of modern Europe, including relevant references to U.S. leaders and policy.

The "personal" tag signifies that Norman Stone has given himself full permission to characterize and generalize to his heart's content. The result is a book that is shaped, not so much by disembodied ideology (though I suppose that many progressive or left-leaning readers will heartily dislike his generalizations) as by the prejudices and assumptions of the author. I willingly undertook the exercise of subjecting my own prejudices concerning recent history to those of Stone, who generally approved (for example) of Pinochet, Reagan, Thatcher, Papadopoulos, and Evren. "Approval" is maybe too strong a word, because he never elevates any of these people to hero status; their blunders are covered alongside their successes. And success is defined very pragmatically--Stone's approval is based on these leaders' ability to halt economic decay or political chaos that was in fact threatening the well-being of the same people--poor people and victims of discrimination--that their left-wing opponents claimed to care about.

For anyone who'd like to zoom back and review these years from a single well-informed observer's vantage point, Norman Stone's book provides a fascinating ride. And the intellectual exhilaration of the ride wasn't diminished for me by the fact that I often didn't agree with Stone's offhand, sometimes obscure characterizations, breezy epigrams, and outright insults:
  •  (he [Gomulka] was not a Jew, though his wife was)...[--the point being...?]
  • ... the ghastly little word Ms was allowed in government documents...
  • A Norwegian 'peace researcher' named Johan Galtung referred to 'structural violence', by which he meant people getting on with their lives.
  • ... a nonentity, Gerald Ford ... [whose chief qualification for the U.S. presidency is later described thusly: "not a thief..."]
Conservatives who wrap class interests in Christian or patriotic piety are hard to endure. But there are other conservatives (and this is where Stone fits, I believe) who are important allies-in-debate with progressives, namely those conservatives who are diligently trying to solve the dilemma posed by Stone: "All enlightened reforming states encountered a political problem: how far could liberty be sacrificed for the sake of progress?" And, Stone's constant implication is quite right: no progressive should prefer limiting liberty for the sake of a beautiful ideal that has no roots or indicators in reality.

Norman Stone credits Trotsky with an epithet for Stalin that I'd always thought came from Nikolai Bukharin: "Genghis Khan with a telephone." (Stone's index doesn't list Bukharin at all.) Was I wrong? Of course it's not impossible that both said it!

More on Pope Francis: a testimony via Nancy Thomas.

Along the same line: Martin E. Marty, "April Fools."

"Anne Jackson is gone."

A real paradigm shift or just more Christian machismo?..."Here come the radicals."

At our institute, we've again showed the made-for-TV film, Einstein and Eddington, starring David Tennant as the great Quaker astronomer. (You can see the film here.) In honor of Einstein, here's a video from 1933, courtesy of openculture.com.

I'm in the crowd somewhere... (a few of my own pictures from this wonderful set are here.)


Nancy Thomas said...

I love your birthday book! What a wonderful tribute. Who was the mastermind behind it? Students? Faculty?

Before I can send this I am instructed to "Please prove you're not a robot." Some days that's harder than others.

'Mela said...

Happy 60th, Johan!

Hugs from the Land of the Rising Sun!

Johan Maurer said...

Mela! Thank you!

Nancy--the author/compiler of the book, Nadya Glushkova, will be remembered by the Northwest Yearly Meeting visitors who came here in 2010. She was the one who led the tour of Red Square and the Kremlin. Here's a photo from that tour. She was my student about a decade ago. Both of her parents teach at the Institute.