31 October 2013

Sheremetyevo shorts

On my way through Sheremetyevo Airport again. The last time I was outbound from Moscow through this airport, Edward Snowden was here, too. Now he's in another location within Russia (we're led to suppose), but just as in the early days of his cross-global odyssey, he's continuing to make waves.

Journalists, politicians, civil libertarians, and ordinary citizens are shocked at the allegations of digital wiretapping conducted by American and British agencies. Even national leaders can no longer be sure their mobile phone conversations are any more private than the citizens they themselves probably listen in on.

The Russians I talk to are nearly 100% dismissive of any fears that our privacy is compromised. One taxi driver spoke for many: "Of course they're listening. How else are they supposed to do their job? If you're not a criminal, you have nothing to worry about." Another acquaintance: "What, they're listening to my conversations? They'd die of boredom." A third, younger person: "That's why we text. Our own parents don't know our abbreviations." Behind a lot of this passive acceptance is the understanding that those in power will get what they want, whatever the "rules."

I remembered a long-ago conversation with an older colleague, explaining how the installation of new gates and turnstiles at train stations hasn't cut down on free riders: "It's the government's job to build fences, and it's our job to find the holes." Only, with eavesdropping, the metaphor is a bit reversed. It's the people's job to build fences (around their private lives) and the government's job to find the holes.

Moscow Seminary starts a new day.
We just spent an intense four-day weekend meeting with the board of Friends House Moscow. Much of the weekend was spent working on the inevitable policy puzzles and administrative details that crop up every year. But the most rewarding part of those hours were hearing how the efforts we support affect people's lives.

One of our staffers reported on a visit to a new project run by one of our collaborators in a city between Moscow and Nizhni Novgorod. Our partner is a veteran police colonel, now running several civil-society initiatives in her retirement years. Her new project is a fulfillment of a long-standing dream; it involves intervening when the government is threatening to remove a child from a family--not for just cause but because of administrative overreach or sloppy casework. Our colleague visited a family whose unity had been preserved, and reported back to us, "It made me proud to be working for Friends House Moscow."

Our intense hours of work were made easier by the wonderful facilities and prayer-filled atmosphere of the Moscow Theological Seminary of Evangelical Christians/Baptists, where we rented our meeting room and dormitory rooms.

Flight is ready to board. No links today--I've got a couple I want to comment on but I'll wait until I get to my destination. But I can't end without sharing Big Daddy Wilson's version of "John the Revelator":

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