Friday, October 30, 2015

Hanging Around on Facebook

 [JB note: This astute piece by an an admirable author -- and master of the Russian language -- suggests, at least to me, that American-language-based Facebook, if now global, doesn't translate automatically in the same way throughout the world. In a world of so-called "universal communication," that overused American-politically-correct word, "diversity," still reigns, at least linguistically.]

Фейсбу́к: Facebook
There is nothing quite so humiliating for an adult as stumbling badly in a foreign language. You know how it is. You open your mouth to say something, then realize you aren’t sure and close it. And then you think you do know, after all, and so you open your mouth again, only to slam it shut when you decide you really don’t. You stand there sucking air like a human guppy.
It’s especially humiliating when the phrase that’s giving you trouble should be easy. My gulping fish moment was when I wanted to say the very simple declarative sentence: I spent half the night on Facebook. Is it на Фейсбуке or в Фейсбуке, and what verb do you use?
So I asked around. The consensus on на or в was that there isn’t a consensus. There is, however, a large, nearly overwhelming majority who say в Фейсбуке and therefore из Фейсбука. For example: Сегодня я решил удалить страницу в Фейсбукe. (Today I decided to delete my Facebook page.) Or this claim: Россияне массово уходят из Фейсбука. (Russians are leaving Facebook in droves.) But you sometimes hear or read: Я не мог найти человека на Фейсбуке. (I couldn’t find the guy on Facebook). Or: Я узнал самый быстрый способ скачать клипы c Фейсбука. (I found the fastest way to download videos from Facebook.)
Sometimes people get snazzy — or maybe just lazy — and call it фейс: Еще одна забавная страница в фейсе. (There’s another fun page on FB.) But you can’t do this unless you are under 14 years old and/or have a lot of tattoos.
The verb most commonly used is сидеть (to sit), as in я весь вечер сидел в Фейсбуке. (I was on Facebook all evening.) But you can also hear the slangy торчать (to hang around). Sometimes people just talk about getting on, not staying in: Вчера вечером я залезла в Фейсбук. (Last night I got on, literally “crawled into,” Facebook.) Some of my acquaintances of the older generation think of Facebook not as a place, but as a kind of book, or maybe a virtual visitor’s album: Я давно не открывал Фейсбук. (I haven’t opened Facebook in a long time.) Закрой Фейсбук и пойдём ужинать. (Close Facebook and let’s go eat.)
But once you get on Facebook and sit there for a while, it’s pretty easy to talk about. All you do is speak English with a Russian accent. If you want someone to like your page, you just say: Кликни “лайк”! (Click “like”!) Or maybe: Жду ваши лайки. (I’ll be waiting for your “likes.”) Or just use the verb лайкать, which is to like something via a pictogram of a thumbs-up. Я лайкал всё подряд. (I clicked “like” on everything.)
If you write something, you call it пост or use the verb pair постить/запостить. Нельзя просто так взять и запостить новость без проверки. (You can’t just take and post news without checking it.) Apparently for this there is a punishment: Забанят тебя. (You’ll be banned.)
But that doesn’t happen too often among френды (social network friends). When Крым (Crimea) became крымнаш (Crimea is ours) there were some баны (bans) and people отфрендили друг друга (unfriended each other). That changed everyone’s френд-ленты (friend lists). But to get back in someone’s good Facebook graces, all you have to do is: фоткать милого щеночка (take a photo of a sweet puppy) and запостить её (post it).
Все лайкают. (Everyone likes it.)
Michele A. Berdy, a Moscow-based translator and interpreter, is author of "The Russian Word's Worth" (Glas), a collection of her columns.

‘The Other Paris, ’ by Luc Sante: Book Review

‘The Other Paris,’ by Luc Sante

[Book Review] By MOLLY HASKELL OCT. 30, 2015,

Image from article, with caption, Before World War I an opium pipe cost less than a drink

Luc Sante is no doubt a well-­behaved person whose lodgings are neat as a pin,
but his mind teems with filth and disorder, his nostrils alert to the dankness of
slums. To this explorer of the urban underbelly, the squalid and the tawdry are
manna from heaven.

Lost neighborhoods, the way the other half lived and died, buried treasure
in the form of old photographs and documents, what he has called the “husks”
cast off by the past, are the main attraction for this literary scavenger. The
Belgian­-born and vastly erudite Sante has followed his appetite for the detritus
of the past in essays and translations and in books like “Low Life” (1991) and
now “The Other Paris.” “I’ve always been a sucker for tales of lost civilizations,
pockets in time, suppressed documents,” he once wrote.

In “Low Life” his quarry was the underworld of 19th­ and early-­20th-century
New York, the freak shows and shooting galleries and Bowery
museums, and those first flickers of cinema, the nickelodeons. Not finished
with the “husks” contained in his chapters on “Gangland” and “Coppers,” this
exuberant necrophiliac went on to publish “Evidence,” a macabre album
containing crime scene photographs from the police archives. Like the dead in
“Poltergeist” whose spirits rise to strangle the suburban community built on
their graves, his anonymous corpses emerge from their police-­blotter
ignominy and extract a moment of recognition, a twinge of fellow feeling.

The elevation of the obscure and the overlooked, the discarded or hidden
or marginal, to artistic status or cultural prominence has become a cottage
industry for artists and writers of late, but as an anti­-ghostbuster, Sante is in a
class by himself.

The underlying and implicit thesis of his work, that the best of life has
been paved over by money and modernity, and that the marginal and
unofficial are inherently superior to bourgeois culture, may be arguable, but
the pleasures to be had from the fruits of his research are considerable.

Paris, home to the flâneur, would seem to be natural territory for Sante,
and in a way it is, though its past is hardly virgin territory. Unlike New York,
oriented to the future­-present with its grid topography more geared to
purposeful walking than to the unpremeditated stroll, Paris is not only a
pedestrian’s paradise but a living museum, its past an everyday obsession. Its lovers, moreover, are among the more ardent and prolific in history, and Sante
has read them all (seen their art and movies, listened to their songs), lamented
with Victor Hugo, gotten down in the gutter with Zola. He acknowledges as
inspiration the flâneurs par excellence Baudelaire and Walter Benjamin,
pointing out that the flâneur didn’t emerge until the 18th century, when for
the first time men had sufficient leisure time from work to dawdle.

A special influence is Guy Debord, one of those uniquely French figures —
’50s intellectual, “barfly” moviemaker of sorts, member of the socialistanarchist
group Lettrist International, which divided Paris into what it called
“ambience units,” organic neighborhoods with distinct personalities. These
would be doomed by urban renewal, one of the two great scourges of Paris, a
century apart. There were always reform-­minded busy-bodies, gnawing away at
disease­ridden neighborhoods and dens of iniquity, but the first major
uprooting came in the mid­-19th century when Napoleon III’s prefect Georges-Eugène Haussmann redrew the map of Paris, creating his famous boulevards
and parks, annexing outlying arrondissements and separating tightly
interwoven neighborhoods. Then in the 1970s it was urban renewal, which
among many depredations destroyed Les Halles and gave us the Pompidou
Center, reinventing the Marais as a tourist district.

Staunchly resisting the editing bulldozer, “The Other Paris” is sprawling
and jampacked with information, and Sante’s instinctual orderliness — a
graceful epigrammatic style — can’t quite tame (nor does it want to) the chaos
of the subject to which he owes his allegiance. More even than the text, the
glorious images of the demimonde that line the margins, exuding whiffs of
opium and absinthe, give Sante’s book the intimate feeling of a personal

Familiar figures appear, but with back story: The characters in “The
Children of Paradise” are grounded in place and biography. There’s a colorful
taxonomy of prostitutes of every variety: the insoumises, the grandes cocottes,
the horizontales, the amazones, the man­eaters, to name a few, registered and
unregistered, high class and low, their numbers expanding and shrinking
according to the fluctuating dictates of repression and tolerance.

The revolution that began in 1789 and “never really ended” continues to
inspire activist efforts and government retaliation. There are sections on
celebrity gangsters, cafe concerts and neighborhoods themselves, each with an
avalanche of well-­chosen quotations, citations and illustrations.

One particularly absorbing chapter traces the history of the Zone, an
endlessly metamorphosing, walled­in area that began as “tundra, empty
grassland,” and became, in succession, or simultaneously, a site for public
executions, a rough make­do home for peasants and squatters, a ragpickers’
colony and hangout for prostitutes. Finally, as the city moved upward and
outward and needed housing for the poor, the Zone became host to low-­cost
apartments — les HBM — that in 1949 became les HLM, “reduced­rent
housing,” a label Sante describes as “a telling move from plain speech and
toward bureaucratic equivocation.”

Illustrations and citations document the area’s transitions and
improvisations: a van Gogh sketch, an Aristide Bruant song, a Zola heroine
and eventually the director Maurice Pialat, who grew up in Courbevoie and
made a movie about his old banlieue.

At one point Sante quotes Debord in words that might be the anthem of
the book: “Paris was a city so beautiful that many people preferred to be poor
there than rich somewhere else.” It’s a lovely thought, but is it true? And
whose idea of beauty?

Reverse snobbism, nostalgie de la boue, the aesthetic of upside down, is
itself a product of a certain refinement of thinking, of, yes, bourgeois
education. There’s sometimes a vested interest in maintaining a divide,
cherishing the lower depths as an escape hatch for the over-civilized, whereas
the lower classes and immigrants who actually dwell there would happily settle
for the commodities and hypocrisies of petit­-bourgeois capitalism. Nor is the
divide as impermeable as it sometimes seems.

Sante begins his book with a lovely exchange of dialogue from Julien
Duvivier’s 1937 film “Pépé le Moko.” Jean Gabin’s jewel thief, hiding out in the
Casbah, has just met the diamond­encrusted beauty played by Mireille Balin.
They are reminiscing about Paris, searching for common ground, but Balin’s
roll call of streets (the Champs­Élysées, Rue Fontaine) is strictly posh, while
Gabin (Rue St.­Martin, Gare du Nord) aromatically recalls the less known
byways of “The Other Paris.”

In fact, in watching the film, we soon discover that the class divide is not
as great as it seems. Gabin has been misled by Balin’s elegance: Her jewels are
no heirloom, no signifier of a patrician background, but the fruits of her life as
a kept woman. Moments later, as they’re falling in love, they discover they
actually lived and went to school in adjacent quartiers.

If Sante’s book sometimes overwhelms with encyclopedic density, its great
virtue is to send the reader down investigative paths of his own. In watching
“Pépé le Moko” again, I began wondering about Fréhel, the torch singer who
commiserates with Gabin, mourning her music hall career by playing her own
records. Her name comes up later in the book, with Sante providing a vivid
sketch of a life and face as full of reversals and sorrow and resilience as any
fabled chanteuse could want. Following the scent, I tracked her to Wikipedia,
then YouTube, where lo and behold, one of her most famous songs, “La Zone”
(1933), has been paired in a mini-­documentary with a trove of grainy but
incandescent photographs pre­-HLM! There it all was: one of Sante’s lost
neighborhoods, not lost at all. Not even past.

By Luc Sante
Illustrated. 306 pp. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $28.
Molly Haskell is the author of “From Reverence to Rape: The
Treatment of Women in the Movies.” Her most recent book is
“My Brother My Sister: Story of a Transformation.”

Thursday, October 29, 2015

What Will it Take to Change the Elites in Ukraine

via SW on Facebook

ОКТЯБРЬ 27, 2015
By: Svyatoslav Vakarchuk, Frontman of Okean Elzy rock band, composer, civic activist

The author doesn`t work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have no relevant affiliations

Originally published by Novoye Vremya magazine

The decentralization reforms that have been imposed upon Ukraine are incomplete, since they do not provide for any major changes that would vest local governments with real power. Today, all central authorities – the President, the Parliament, and the Cabinet – should understand that the time has come to transfer real authority and initiative to the local level.

In Ukraine, the same deck of politicians is endlessly shuffled, migrating from one party to another, from one era to the next. Why are elites not changing, and how can young leaders be brought in?

The theme of decentralization has already bored everyone to death, but I believe that this is happening in the first place because we discuss it without fully understanding the concept. Reflecting on the quality and quantity of the Ukrainian political elite prompted me to raise this issue.

I often ask myself why, over the last 25 years, we have formed such a small governing elite? Why are there so few candidates for senior management and associated teams? Why, over and over again, the same people appear on TV, just wandering from party to party, from era to era? Why is active change of elites not happening?

One of the reasons for such stagnation is the lack of social mobility for young politicians. This, in its turn, is a consequence of the fact that the only place in Ukraine where you can show your worth is Kyiv and the central government.

In most civilized countries and developed democracies, the situation is the opposite. First, you prove yourself as a young activist locally, and then you become a deputy or a representative of your constituency in your town, city, or region. Then you can become a mayor or a leader of a party branch, and only then you go to the capital. Why is this not happening here? One of the reasons is the fact that the local authorities in Ukraine, by and large, have no impact on anything. They are entirely dependent on Kyiv.

Independent and proactive local governments are part of the European system. If you can’t make a good showing of yourself at the local level, you cannot claim to be able to run the country. In the case of Ukraine, if local governments are capable of doing something positive for their region, they can only do so by using their ability to negotiate with the capital.

The problem is not that politicians in Ukraine cannot rise from the local to the central level. They can. Only that in the UK or in France, to do so, an official has to show effective management and good leadership skills, whereas in Ukraine he needs to either have connections or to be able to maintain the right relationships with the central government. It is now time to abandon this practice. Local authorities have to independently solve their own issues: repair the roads that Kyiv will never see to, manage taxes, and set the local budget.

Negotiating and bargaining skills vis-à-vis the capital (which can currently ensure the successful career of a local official) are not what really makes young leaders. Therefore, to make sure that new leaders emerge, it is necessary to give local authorities a chance to make decisions independently. Towns and villages should have the right to decide how and where to build roads, and, whether to build them at all. Otherwise, a situation arises when political winds may change, but both the authorities and the elites remain the same.

The central leadership is afraid of transferring its authority to local governments. Often, this fear is disguised as the concerns about preserving the integrity of the state. I wouldn’t like us to recourse to doublespeak instead of clearly defining what decentralization stands for. Of course, the state should not transfer to the local level the issues not falling within the competence of the local councils, such as the country’s monetary and foreign policies. These are the competence of the central government, since the delegation of power to local authorities in this case would really pose a threat of separatism, especially in the current situation.

However, local issues, such as local budgets, can and should be resolved locally, giving young leaders the opportunity to prove themselves. In the future, many local activists and officials could become politicians, forming that new, deep cadre of professional politicians that Ukraine needs so badly. As a result, we would finally have competition between political leaders. There will be a wider choice of people trying to get into the central government.

The decentralization reforms that have been imposed upon Ukraine are incomplete, since they do not provide for any major changes that would vest local governments with real power. Today, all central authorities – the President, the Parliament, and the Cabinet – should understand that the time has come to transfer real authority and initiative to the local level. Otherwise, the more decisions are centered on Kyiv, the higher is the risk of making serious mistakes that could be disastrous for the country.

To achieve real change for the better, the country’s leadership needs to be able to sacrifice. To sacrifice careers and wealth, power and authority. What for? For the sake of the people. And for our shared future.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Kopeks and Big Macs – Russia’s Move to a Market Economy; via CS on Facebook

October 22, 2015  A Moment in U.S. Diplomatic History

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the winter of 1991, the newly-formed Russian Federation took on the challenge of creating a market-oriented economy from the world’s largest state-controlled economy. President Yeltsin’s economic reforms led to hyperinflation and loss of financial security for many who had depended on state pensions, and Russia’s GDP contracted an estimated 40 percent in seven years.
Adding to the complexity of making this transition was Russia’s decision to settle the USSR’s huge external debts. State enterprises were privatized and foreign investment encouraged, but changes in elements needed to support this transition, such as commercial banking and laws, did not keep pace.
Nonetheless, many Russians did prosper in the new economic environment and by the mid-1990s were enjoying the same luxury brands and fast food as their Western counterparts. A number of U.S. entrepreneurs saw the newly-opened market as a business opportunity, but the obstacles were daunting:
Russian Federation officials tried to maintain control of parts of the market and imposed protectionist measures that made it harder for U.S. investors to operate. Some could not make a profit and were forced to give up.
Thomas Pickering, U.S. Ambassador to Russia from 1993-1996, watched this economic transformation unfold from a unique perspective. In his 2003 interview with Charles Stuart Kennedy, he recalls the U.S. role in Russia’s post-Soviet transition.
Learn more about Russia and the Soviet Union.  Read Ambassador Pickering’s account of the UN during the 1991 Iraq War.
 “We could sell what came to be called in Russia ‘Bush legs’ a lot cheaper than they could produce them”
Russia was at that point becoming more dependent on imported goods, particularly luxury processed food goods for a small element of the population that could afford it. The rest of the population depended a lot on what they were able to raise themselves and in some ways on the very rickety sporadic national distribution system that provided stuff in the local markets, so it was not easy.
Initially, certainly before I got there but after ’91, there was a wave of imports: everything from Snickers bars, which were quite famous, to wheat and grain. Of course, interestingly enough, increasingly chicken legs, which the Russians seemed to enjoy and which helped the major producers of chicken in the United States figure out what to do with the legs, which were not wildly saleable in the U.S. So it was a complimentary relationship that made for a lot of good.
But the Russians saw this as an attack on their ability to produce for themselves… We’ve been through several chicken wars in which the Russians, in a fit of national preoccupation about health and sanitation, used phytosanitary requirements to deny inputs in a particular area, often for protectionist purposes.
Then for a long period of time they wanted to have their vets travel and visit every one of the processing facilities in the United States to approve it and to make sure, in effect, that it met their high standards, high standards which are applied at the border for imports, but not internally.
So this raises a difficult problem, not that anybody should export to Russia (or anyplace else) material or meat that doesn’t meet sanitary conditions, but it was clearly an effort thinly disguised which was protectionism as opposed to real health concerns.
Well, there was a basis in part for protectionism because they got an awful lot of pressure from their farmers for that particular protection because we could sell what came to be called in Russia ‘Bush legs’ a lot cheaper than they could produce them — in large measure because of the highly developed nature of U.S. agriculture production, particularly in these areas. It tended to drive their very difficult process of trying to expand their agricultural production crazy to see these imports eating away at what base they had and they were not very efficient at it.
So there were, as I said, strong feelings on both sides…
It is a big deal and it involved initially $500-600 billion worth of U.S. exports on the one hand and a lot of Russian concern [was] about how to nurture and develop their own chicken raising industry on the other.
“It was a way the Russians could take a trip to the West without having to pay the airfare or get the visa”
McDonald’s had opened up and were gradually expanding. I was there, I think, for the opening of their third store. Again, I have a recollection somewhere, Yeltsin himself came. It was on the new Arbat which had been turned pretty much principally into a walking street for shopping and not far from the Embassy Residence [home of the U.S ambassador.]
It was interesting because on the opening day only, they served beer. Normally McDonald’s wouldn’t and doesn’t, as far as I know, serve beer in Russia, but Mr. Yeltsin came, and, his fondness for alcohol being well known, [they served beer.] But that was not the purpose of his visit…
As someone put it to me, [going to McDonald’s] was a way the Russians could take a trip to the West without having to pay the airfare or get the visa. The third [McDonald’s] store was in that sense equally remarkable in terms of public attention to it and the degree of focus on it and all the rest.
One of the interesting things was the story that when Yeltsin asked the lady supervisor of that particular McDonald’s how much she made, she apparently made more rubles than he did, although with all his perks, his full income was obviously considerably larger.
But the other interesting thing was that McDonald’s was pretty ruthless both in its training and in its vetting of its Russian employees.
There was lots of unemployment then in Russia so they could insure a fairly high quality of service, but it was not something that naturally came in the Russian psyche to provide the kind of service that McDonald’s was used to providing its customers. This was one of the things that represented an unusual change in the early days of post-Communism.
McDonalds would take and train employees but would rapidly let go of those that were not able to adjust to the service ethic they wished to provide.
It was also true that, in terms of this competition for marketing, within a few years it drove Yuri Luzhkov, the mayor of Moscow and an interesting and very fascinating figure on his own, to begin to establish his own Russian fast food chain.
Most of it began after I had left, but it obviously had some competitive capacity and served what were particularly Russian fast foods, a lot of kasha, cereal and things of that sort, not so palatable for western tastes, but it did market to the large Russian audience who wanted this.
It represented a less heavy dent in their income than McDonald’s, although McDonald’s prices were certainly comparable to what was charged in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world. It was for the Russians a real luxury evening out with a comparable expenditure….
“The Coca Cola-ization of Russia”
A few months before I left, Coca Cola flew in 22 bottling plants in very large Russian airplanes (AN-124s), set them up in buildings that had been built for them in various places in Russia to start the “Coca Cola-ization” of Russia.
Previously Pepsi, beginning under the communists, had enjoyed a monopoly American soft drink relationship in the country.
Mars, the famous American candy company, began by getting special arrangements and customs duties to import large quantities of its candy bars. But in keeping with the commitment it made, it did build a fully self-sustaining separate plant in a region outside of Moscow to produce its own products.
It fought the battle of getting raw materials and other things in. It was a very modern and very effective plant.
When McDonald’s came in they decided that what they had to do to maintain quality was, almost all of the processing of everything they had was kept in a central location, rather than parceling it out to contractors and insisting they meet McDonald standards — a Moscow central supply operation.
I think later they were vindicated because when I was there they may have had seven or eight restaurants in Moscow, by the time I left in ’96, they have some 70 all over Russia.
Obviously the centralized arrangement allowed them to do centrally what they would otherwise have depended on contractors from many other countries to do, because that capability didn’t exist in Russia.
…[There was] a significant number of young Americans of Russian extraction, often with the language, who came back, and some successfully (for a while) started banks and other things.
Most of them, like non-Russian speakers and non-Russians, Americans with no Russian antecedents who also came over to start businesses — they were quickly squeezed out.
In essence they would whip up a partner because Russian law required it and, dealing with Russia, you needed some element of partnership to get through the bureaucracy and everything. The partner would often turn out, after a year, to be in close cahoots with the local government.  After all, how else could he have gotten to be a partner?
“They would go through asset stripping and then sell that off, accumulate that in their personal wealth, and then move on either to a new Russian asset or to another partnership”
Through the operation of perverse regulation, sometimes introduced especially for the purpose, the American would suddenly find himself out of the partnership, his investment fully in the hands of the Russian partner operating it for him. Then the American’s only option was to pack his bag and go home.
This was, of course, very disturbing, but pretty typical of what happened in that period.
IMG_0941 (1)I always used to say to American investors in this kind of activity that you had three areas where you had to know people particularly well if you wanted to be successful investing in Russia: your partner, the local government up to the regional level and the federal government. Once you had a very strong feel that you had those well in hand and well ordered, you then had some opportunity for a life-long investment.
But those were very rare, and very few Americans ever had that kind of confidence or capacity. We were often approached by members of Congress on behalf of Americans who had gone through this process, many of them before any of us had a chance even to warn them, almost unknown they went in off on their own and did these things.
There was also, of course, a kind of iron rule that the bigger you were, the more chance you had to succeed, and the smaller you were, the more chance you had to go under…
But often the Russians would follow the pattern that the Russians followed when they took over Russian industry: They would go through asset striping and then sell that off, accumulate that in their personal wealth, and then move on either to a new Russian asset or to another partnership where they could obviously make money doing the same thing. They made a lot of money very quickly in this way…
“You went from total prohibition to the Wild West overnight”
Nobody that I dealt with thought that it was enviable that the Russians had to go through this period, but as you know, they are still in it.  And to some extent it comes from, first, the notion that when Communism collapsed there were no rules for the operation of an open market.
Now Adam Smith would tell you by definition there should be no rules, but we all know, in fact, that a successful operation of capitalist economies depends very heavily on government rule-making and regulation. They don’t depend so much on what the Soviets saw, which was the government producing goods and services.
So as the Russian economy shifted from the government production of goods and services,  there was a complete prohibition against private enterprise one day and suddenly the next day there was full permission for private enterprise with no set of balancing rules and regulations.
These covered meeting health requirements or dealing with their labor or, you know, how to operate in the market, or whether trusts were or were not possible, whether prohibited market practices, strong arm enforcement or anything should be outlawed.
In effect you went from total prohibition to the Wild West overnight. Russians are not dumb, and the most successful are smart as hell, and learned how to take advantage of all of this, including the fact that they learned all the tricks and invented new ones in order to amass large amounts of personal wealth to build their fortunes.
“In controlling most of Russia’s TV, they made or broke Boris Yeltsin. Boris Yeltsin, in return, did favors for them …”
Now some of them were really rapacious and always stayed rapacious; they only cared about personal fortunes. Most of those guys fell off the wagon; they were not capable of converting rapaciousness into competitive aspects of economic endeavor that made things go.
Others were less so. Some even, like [Russian businessman] Mr. [Mikhail] Khodorkovsky (seen left), were converted on the road to Damascus to a more open and enlightened practice.  So Mr. Khodorkovsky, quite famous at least in terms of his publicity and I think his actions, tried to move to open boards, work with reasonable governments, a lot of transparency, participation of successful entrepreneurs in the charitable part of the economy and all the rest.
He, of course, suffered for it. He grew to have political ambitions and to some extent they crossed over where Mr. Putin thought he ought to be.
So he ran up against the one hard barrier at that point in Russia, which was government interest.
In a sense a lot of these folks were very successful because they pandered to, supported, some even controlled government interest. It is said that Mr. Putin’s big problem with the two leading oligarchs he caused to move away, [Russian businessman] Mr. [Boris] Berezovsky and [Russian media tycoon] Mr. [Vladimir] Gusinsky, was that between them they controlled most of Russia’s TV.
In controlling most of Russia’s TV, they made or broke Boris Yeltsin. Boris Yeltsin, in return, did favors for them to help them improve their oligarchic activities, while at the same time they did favors for him to help him improve his political success.
Mr. Putin saw that back scratching was dangerous because it put him in a position, perhaps newer to the scene when he came on and less strong than Mr. Yeltsin, to be prisoners of the oligarchs rather than to function in a mutually balanced system or indeed, as Putin prefers, to control the process.
So part of the past history of the ten years or so of Mr. Putin has been whether he will be controlled by or actually control the oligarchic element in Russia. He has used all the state power and all of his positions to assert his control over them rather than the other way around.
“It is worth looking at the oligarchs. Some of them had been, in effect, “fixers” under the Soviet system”
In the meantime, the Russians have begun to pass laws regulating business, but it’s not in my view necessarily too far still from the Wild West.
There are more obligations of responsibility and in the end, in Russia having no rules to run the economy, meant that the government could do what it wanted. It was not bound by Rule of Law in the way it could use all the elements of state power and all of the traditional activities, say, of the intelligence and security agencies, to put pressure on the oligarchs.
It meant the development in Russia of what has come to be called “kompromat” material which puts the individual in an embarrassing, invidious or totally blackmailable position. That is what all Russian leaders try to get on everybody so they can have their way in dealing with issues.
But they could also use the perversion of the prosecutorial system which was, after all, still, in the early aftermath of Communism, very much a Communist arrangement.
It meant that the chief individual in the judicial system was the prosecutor and the judges and all the attorneys and everybody else followed his lead. That’s the way in which Communist law operated and that’s the way in which individuals were subject to the so-called Rule of Law or the Law of Rule, maybe in Russia.
A lot of that hung over into the days of Yeltsin and Putin. Yeltsin for his part tried to break some of that down and saw in fact that judicial reform could play a role, and a lot of westerners were pushing hard to make that happen.
You had some enlightened judges, but you had many judges obviously who preferred the old system. It was better for them. They did better under the old system. They made more money, they prospered, they had fewer problems and all the rest.
But all of these things, I think, played a role in this transition period. It was clear that Mr. Putin has seen, long since I was there, that a lot of this from his perspective has gone too far, so he’s engaged and has been in re-centralizing.  
[Oligarchs] exercised, as I said, a great deal of influence over President Yeltsin and his bureaucracy. Putin didn’t want that.
It is worth looking at the oligarchs. Some of them had been, in effect, “fixers” under the Soviet system. As such they had close relationships with the internal elements of the KGB.
They provided the unofficial means for assuring that industrial establishments got raw materials and spare parts when the Gosplan [the State Planning Commission, responsible for central economic planning in the Soviet Union] allocations of such did not function effectively to make that happen. Many industries were vertically integrated and provided, in one plant, the materials and processes necessary to make end products.
However, even then, some outside dependence was necessary. The fixers located the material and spare parts and arranged, for a price, to have it moved to the plant they were serving that needed it.
They were perfectly placed in the system to become oligarchs. They knew where the good factories were located, understood who had control of raw materials. They knew where sell offs could produce profits for them. (Photo at left by Clark Jones for Boeing)
They jumped on the bandwagon of buying for kopeks on the ruble the 10 ruble vouchers given to every worker, with the idea of stimulating ownership in industry. They accumulated large amounts of the vouchers which they used to privatize industry, sell off assets or convert the industry to production in the domestic economy….
I had an opportunity to get to see [the oligarchs], certainly not very much to influence them. They were very standoffish and a lot of them kept themselves at some distance because they knew or assumed we were not supporters. But it was interesting that, while I was there, some had become incorporated into the government directly.

Chomsky: How America's Great University System Is Being Destroyed

Faculty are increasingly hired on the Walmart model as temps.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/jeanbaptisteparis
The following is an edited transcript of remarks given by Noam Chomsky via Skype on 4 February 2014 to a gathering of members and allies of the Adjunct Faculty Association of the United Steelworkers in Pittsburgh, PA. The transcript was prepared by Robin J. Sowards and edited by Prof. Chomsky.
On hiring faculty off the tenure track
When universities become corporatized, as has been happening quite systematically over the last generThat’s part of the business model. It’s the same as hiring temps in industry or what they call “associates” at Wal-Mart, employees that aren’t owed benefits. It’s a part of a  corporate business model designed to reduce labor costs and to increase labor servility, as has been happening quite systematically over the last generationation as part of the general neoliberal assault on the population, their business model means that what matters is the bottom line. The effective owners are the trustees (or the legislature, in the case of state universities), and they want to keep costs down and make sure that labor is docile and obedient. The way to do that is, essentially, temps. Just as the hiring of temps has gone way up in the neoliberal period, you’re getting the same phenomenon in the universities. The idea is to divide society into two groups. One group is sometimes called the “plutonomy” (a term used by Citibank when they were advising their investors on where to invest their funds), the top sector of wealth, globally but concentrated mostly in places like the United States. The other group, the rest of the population, is a “precariat,” living a precarious existence.
This idea is sometimes made quite overt. So when Alan Greenspan was testifying before Congress in 1997 on the marvels of the economy he was running, he said straight out that one of the bases for its economic success was imposing what he called “greater worker insecurity.” If workers are more insecure, that’s very “healthy” for the society, because if workers are insecure they won’t ask for wages, they won’t go on strike, they won’t call for benefits; they’ll serve the masters gladly and passively. And that’s optimal for corporations’ economic health. At the time, everyone regarded Greenspan’s comment as very reasonable, judging by the lack of reaction and the great acclaim he enjoyed. Well, transfer that to the universities: how do you ensure “greater worker insecurity”? Crucially, by not guaranteeing employment, by keeping people hanging on a limb than can be sawed off at any time, so that they’d better shut up, take tiny salaries, and do their work; and if they get the gift of being allowed to serve under miserable conditions for another year, they should welcome it and not ask for any more. That’s the way you keep societies efficient and healthy from the point of view of the corporations. And as universities move towards a corporate business model, precarity is exactly what is being imposed. And we’ll see more and more of it.
That’s one aspect, but there are other aspects which are also quite familiar from private industry, namely a large increase in layers of administration and bureaucracy. If you have to control people, you have to have an administrative force that does it. So in US industry even more than elsewhere, there’s layer after layer of management—a kind of economic waste, but useful for control and domination. And the same is true in universities. In the past 30 or 40 years, there’s been a very sharp increase in the proportion of administrators to faculty and students; faculty and students levels have stayed fairly level relative to one another, but the proportion of administrators have gone way up. There’s a very good book on it by a well-known sociologist, Benjamin Ginsberg, called The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters (Oxford University Press, 2011), which describes in detail the business style of massive administration and levels of administration—and of course, very highly-paid administrators. This includes professional administrators like deans, for example, who used to be faculty members who took off for a couple of years to serve in an administrative capacity and then go back to the faculty; now they’re mostly professionals, who then have to hire sub-deans, and secretaries, and so on and so forth, a whole proliferation of structure that goes along with administrators. All of that is another aspect of the business model.
But using cheap labor—and vulnerable labor—is a business practice that goes as far back as you can trace private enterprise, and unions emerged in response. In the universities, cheap, vulnerable labor means adjuncts and graduate students. Graduate students are even more vulnerable, for obvious reasons. The idea is to transfer instruction to precarious workers, which improves discipline and control but also enables the transfer of funds to other purposes apart from education. The costs, of course, are borne by the students and by the people who are being drawn into these vulnerable occupations. But it’s a standard feature of a business-run society to transfer costs to the people. In fact, economists tacitly cooperate in this. So, for example, suppose you find a mistake in your checking account and you call the bank to try to fix it. Well, you know what happens. You call them up, and you get a recorded message saying “We love you, here’s a menu.” Maybe the menu has what you’re looking for, maybe it doesn’t. If you happen to find the right option, you listen to some music, and every once and a while a voice comes in and says “Please stand by, we really appreciate your business,” and so on. Finally, after some period of time, you may get a human being, who you can ask a short question to. That’s what economists call “efficiency.” By economic measures, that system reduces labor costs to the bank; of course it imposes costs on you, and those costs are multiplied by the number of users, which can be enormous—but that’s not counted as a cost in economic calculation. And if you look over the way the society works, you find this everywhere. So the university imposes costs on students and on faculty who are not only untenured but are maintained on a path that guarantees that they will have no security. All of this is perfectly natural within corporate business models. It’s harmful to education, but education is not their goal.
In fact, if you look back farther, it goes even deeper than that. If you go back to the early 1970s when a lot of this began, there was a lot of concern pretty much across the political spectrum over the activism of the 1960s; it’s commonly called “the time of troubles.” It was a “time of troubles” because the country was getting civilized, and that’s dangerous. People were becoming politically engaged and were trying to gain rights for groups that are called “special interests,” like women, working people, farmers, the young, the old, and so on. That led to a serious backlash, which was pretty overt. At the liberal end of the spectrum, there’s a book called The Crisis of Democracy: Report on the Governability of Democracies to the Trilateral Commission, Michel Crozier, Samuel P. Huntington, Joji Watanuki (New York University Press, 1975), produced by the Trilateral Commission, an organization of liberal internationalists. The Carter administration was drawn almost entirely from their ranks. They were concerned with what they called “the crisis of democracy,” namely that there’s too much democracy. In the 1960s there were pressures from the population, these “special interests,” to try to gain rights within the political arena, and that put too much pressure on the state—you can’t do that. There was one special interest that they left out, namely the corporate sector, because its interests are the “national interest”; the corporate sector is supposed to control the state, so we don’t talk about them. But the “special interests” were causing problems and they said “we have to have more moderation in democracy,” the public has to go back to being passive and apathetic. And they were particularly concerned with schools and universities, which they said were not properly doing their job of “indoctrinating the young.” You can see from student activism (the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, the feminist movement, the environmental movements) that the young are just not being indoctrinated properly.
Well how do you indoctrinate the young? There are a number of ways. One way is to burden them with hopelessly heavy tuition debt. Debt is a trap, especially student debt, which is enormous, far larger than credit card debt. It’s a trap for the rest of your life because the laws are designed so that you can’t get out of it. If a business, say, gets in too much debt it can declare bankruptcy, but individuals can almost never be relieved of student debt through bankruptcy. They can even garnish social security if you default. That’s a disciplinary technique. I don’t say that it was consciously introduced for the purpose, but it certainly has that effect. And it’s hard to argue that there’s any economic basis for it. Just take a look around the world: higher education is mostly free. In the countries with the highest education standards, let’s say Finland, which is at the top all the time, higher education is free. And in a rich, successful capitalist country like Germany, it’s free. In Mexico, a poor country, which has pretty decent education standards, considering the economic difficulties they face, it’s free. In fact, look at the United States: if you go back to the 1940s and 50s, higher education was pretty close to free. The GI Bill gave free education to vast numbers of people who would never have been able to go to college. It was very good for them and it was very good for the economy and the society; it was part of the reason for the high economic growth rate. Even in private colleges, education was pretty close to free. Take me: I went to college in 1945 at an Ivy League university, University of Pennsylvania, and tuition was $100. That would be maybe $800 in today’s dollars. And it was very easy to get a scholarship, so you could live at home, work, and go to school and it didn’t cost you anything. Now it’s outrageous. I have grandchildren in college, who have to pay for their tuition and work and it’s almost impossible. For the students that is a disciplinary technique.
And another technique of indoctrination is to cut back faculty-student contact: large classes, temporary teachers who are overburdened, who can barely survive on an adjunct salary. And since you don’t have any job security you can’t build up a career, you can’t move on and get more. These are all techniques of discipline, indoctrination, and control. And it’s very similar to what you’d expect in a factory, where factory workers have to be disciplined, to be obedient; they’re not supposed to play a role in, say, organizing production or determining how the workplace functions—that’s the job of management. This is now carried over to the universities. And I think it shouldn’t surprise anyone who has any experience in private enterprise, in industry; that’s the way they work.
On how higher education ought to be
First of all, we should put aside any idea that there was once a “golden age.” Things were different and in some ways better in the past, but far from perfect. The traditional universities were, for example, extremely hierarchical, with very little democratic participation in decision-making. One part of the activism of the 1960s was to try to democratize the universities, to bring in, say, student representatives to faculty committees, to bring in staff to participate. These efforts were carried forward under student initiatives, with some degree of success. Most universities now have some degree of student participation in faculty decisions. And I think those are the kinds of things we should be moving towards: a democratic institution, in which the people involved in the institution, whoever they may be (faculty, students, staff), participate in determining the nature of the institution and how it runs; and the same should go for a factory.
These are not radical ideas, I should say. They come straight out of classical liberalism. So if you read, for example, John Stuart Mill, a major figure in the classical liberal tradition, he took it for granted that workplaces ought to be managed and controlled by the people who work in them—that’s freedom and democracy (see, e.g., John Stuart Mill, Principles of Political Economy, book 4, ch. 7). We see the same ideas in the United States. Let’s say you go back to the Knights of Labor; one of their stated aims was “To establish co-operative institutions such as will tend to supersede the wage-system, by the introduction of a co-operative industrial system” (“Founding Ceremony” for newly-organized Local Associations). Or take someone like, John Dewey, a mainstream 20th-century social philosopher, who called not only for education directed at creative independence in schools, but also worker control in industry, what he called “industrial democracy.” He says that as long as the crucial institutions of the society (like production, commerce, transportation, media) are not under democratic control, then “politics [will be] the shadow cast on society by big business” (John Dewey, “The Need for a New Party”[1931]). This idea is almost elementary, it has deep roots in American history and in classical liberalism, it should be second nature to working people, and it should apply the same way to universities. There are some decisions in a university where you don’t want to have [democratic transparency because] you have to preserve student privacy, say, and there are various kinds of sensitive issues, but on much of the normal activity of the university, there is no reason why direct participation can’t be not only legitimate but helpful. In my department, for example, for 40 years we’ve had student representatives helpfully participating in department meetings.
On “shared governance” and worker control
The university is probably the social institution in our society that comes closest to democratic worker control. Within a department, for example, it’s pretty normal for at least the tenured faculty to be able to determine a substantial amount of what their work is like: what they’re going to teach, when they’re going to teach, what the curriculum will be. And most of the decisions about the actual work that the faculty is doing are pretty much under tenured faculty control. Now of course there is a higher level of administrators that you can’t overrule or control. The faculty can recommend somebody for tenure, let’s say, and be turned down by the deans, or the president, or even the trustees or legislators. It doesn’t happen all that often, but it can happen and it does. And that’s always a part of the background structure, which, although it always existed, was much less of a problem in the days when the administration was drawn from the faculty and in principle recallable. Under representative systems, you have to have someone doing administrative work but they should be recallable at some point under the authority of the people they administer. That’s less and less true. There are more and more professional administrators, layer after layer of them, with more and more positions being taken remote from the faculty controls. I mentioned before The Fall of the Faculty by Benjamin Ginsberg, which goes into a lot of detail as to how this works in the several universities he looks at closely: Johns Hopkins, Cornell, and a couple of others. 
Meanwhile, the faculty are increasingly reduced to a category of temporary workers who are assured a precarious existence with no path to the tenure track. I have personal acquaintances who are effectively permanent lecturers; they’re not given real faculty status; they have to apply every year so that they can get appointed again. These things shouldn’t be allowed to happen. And in the case of adjuncts, it’s been institutionalized: they’re not permitted to be a part of the decision-making apparatus, and they’re excluded from job security, which merely amplifies the problem. I think staff ought to also be integrated into decision-making, since they’re also a part of the university. So there’s plenty to do, but I think we can easily understand why these tendencies are developing. They are all part of imposing a business model on just about every aspect of life. That’s the neoliberal ideology that most of the world has been living under for 40 years. It’s very harmful to people, and there has been resistance to it. And it’s worth noticing that two parts of the world, at least, have pretty much escaped from it, namely East Asia, where they never really accepted it, and South America in the past 15 years.
On the alleged need for “flexibility”
“Flexibility” is a term that’s very familiar to workers in industry. Part of what’s called “labor reform” is to make labor more “flexible,” make it easier to hire and fire people. That’s, again, a way to ensure maximization of profit and control. “Flexibility” is supposed to be a good thing, like “greater worker insecurity.” Putting aside industry where the same is true, in universities there’s no justification. So take a case where there’s under-enrollment somewhere. That’s not a big problem. One of my daughters teaches at a university; she just called me the other night and told me that her teaching load is being shifted because one of the courses that was being offered was under-enrolled. Okay, the world didn’t come to an end, they just shifted around the teaching arrangements—you teach a different course, or an extra section, or something like that. People don’t have to be thrown out or be insecure because of the variation in the number of students enrolling in courses. There are all sorts of ways of adjusting for that variation. The idea that labor should meet the conditions of “flexibility” is just another standard technique of control and domination. Why not say that administrators should be thrown out if there’s nothing for them to do that semester, or trustees—what do they have to be there for? The situation is the same with top management in industry: if labor has to be flexible, how about management? Most of them are pretty useless or even harmful anyway, so let’s get rid of them. And you can go on like this. Just to take the news from the last couple of days, take, say, Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JP Morgan Chase bank: he just got a pretty substantial raise, almost double his salary, out of gratitude because he had saved the bank from criminal charges that would have sent the management to jail; he got away with only $20 billion in fines for criminal activities. Well I can imagine that getting rid of somebody like that might be helpful to the economy. But that’s not what people are talking about when they talk about “labor reform.” It’s the working people who have to suffer, and they have to suffer by insecurity, by not knowing where tomorrow’s piece of bread is going to come from, and therefore be disciplined and obedient and not raise questions or ask for their rights. That’s the way that tyrannical systems operate. And the business world is a tyrannical system. When it’s imposed on the universities, you find it reflects the same ideas. This shouldn’t be any secret.
On the purpose of education
These are debates that go back to the Enlightenment, when issues of higher education and mass education were really being raised, not just education for the clergy and aristocracy. And there were basically two models discussed in the 18th and 19th centuries. They were discussed with pretty evocative imagery. One image of education was that it should be like a vessel that is filled with, say, water. That’s what we call these days “teaching to test”: you pour water into the vessel and then the vessel returns the water. But it’s a pretty leaky vessel, as all of us who went through school experienced, since you could memorize something for an exam that you had no interest in to pass an exam and a week later you forgot what the course was about. The vessel model these days is called “no child left behind,” “teaching to test,” “race to top,” whatever the name may be, and similar things in universities. Enlightenment thinkers opposed that model.
The other model was described as laying out a string along which the student progresses in his or her own way under his or her own initiative, maybe moving the string, maybe deciding to go somewhere else, maybe raising questions. Laying out the string means imposing some degree of structure. So an educational program, whatever it may be, a course on physics or something, isn’t going to be just anything goes; it has a certain structure. But the goal of it is for the student to acquire the capacity to inquire, to create, to innovate, to challenge—that’s education. One world-famous physicist, in his freshman courses if he was asked “what are we going to cover this semester?”, his answer was “it doesn’t matter what we cover, it matters what you discover.” You have gain the capacity and the self-confidence for that matter to challenge and create and innovate, and that way you learn; that way you’ve internalized the material and you can go on. It’s not a matter of accumulating some fixed array of facts which then you can write down on a test and forget about tomorrow.
These are two quite distinct models of education. The Enlightenment ideal was the second one, and I think that’s the one that we ought to be striving towards. That’s what real education is, from kindergarten to graduate school. In fact there are programs of that kind for kindergarten, pretty good ones.
On the love of teaching
We certainly want people, both faculty and students, to be engaged in activity that’s satisfying, enjoyable, challenging, exciting—and I don’t really think that’s hard. Even young children are creative, inquisitive, they want to know things, they want to understand things, and unless that’s beaten out of your head it stays with you the rest of your life. If you have opportunities to pursue those commitments and concerns, it’s one of the most satisfying things in life. That’s true if you’re a research physicist, it’s true if you’re a carpenter; you’re trying to create something of value and deal with a difficult problem and solve it. I think that’s what makes work the kind of thing you want to do; you do it even if you don’t have to do it. In a reasonably functioning university, you find people working all the time because they love it; that’s what they want to do; they’re given the opportunity, they have the resources, they’re encouraged to be free and independent and creative—what’s better? That’s what they love to do. And that, again, can be done at any level.
It’s worth thinking about some of the imaginative and creative educational programs that are being developed at different levels. So, for example, somebody just described to me the other day a program they’re using in high schools, a science program where the students are asked an interesting question: “How can a mosquito fly in the rain?” That’s a hard question when you think about it. If something hit a human being with the force of a raindrop hitting a mosquito it would absolutely flatten them immediately. So how come the mosquito isn’t crushed instantly? And how can the mosquito keep flying? If you pursue that question—and it’s a pretty hard question—you get into questions of mathematics, physics, and biology, questions that are challenging enough that you want to find an answer to them. 
That’s what education should be like at every level, all the way down to kindergarten, literally. There are kindergarten programs in which, say, each child is given a collection of little items: pebbles, shells, seeds, and things like that. Then the class is given the task of finding out which ones are the seeds. It begins with what they call a “scientific conference”: the kids talk to each other and they try to figure out which ones are seeds. And of course there’s some teacher guidance, but the idea is to have the children think it through. After a while, they try various experiments and they figure out which ones are the seeds. At that point, each child is given a magnifying glass and, with the teacher’s help, cracks a seed and looks inside and finds the embryo that makes the seed grow. These children learn something—really, not only something about seeds and what makes things grow; but also about how to discover. They’re learning the joy of discovery and creation, and that’s what carries you on independently, outside the classroom, outside the course.
The same goes for all education up through graduate school. In a reasonable graduate seminar, you don’t expect students to copy it down and repeat whatever you say; you expect them to tell you when you’re wrong or to come up with new ideas, to challenge, to pursue some direction that hadn’t been thought of before. That’s what real education is at every level, and that’s what ought to be encouraged. That ought to be the purpose of education. It’s not to pour information into somebody’s head which will then leak out but to enable them to become creative, independent people who can find excitement in discovery and creation and creativity at whatever level or in whatever domain their interests carry them.
On using corporate rhetoric against corporatization
This is kind of like asking how you should justify to the slave owner that people shouldn’t be slaves. You’re at a level of moral inquiry where it’s probably pretty hard to find answers. We are human beings with human rights. It’s good for the individual, it’s good for the society, it’s even good for the economy, in the narrow sense, if people are creative and independent and free. Everyone benefits if people are able to participate, to control their fate, to work with each other—that may not maximize profit and domination, but why should we take those to be values to be concerned about?
Advice for adjunct faculty organizing unions
You know better than I do what has to be done, the kind of problems you face. Just go ahead and do what has to be done. Don’t be intimidated, don’t be frightened, and recognize that the future can be in our hands if we’re willing to grasp it.
Prof. Chomsky’s remarks in this transcript were elicited by questions from Robin Clarke, Adam Davis, David Hoinski, Maria Somma, Robin J. Sowards, Matthew Ussia, and Joshua Zelesnick. Noam Chomsky’s Occupy: Class War, Rebellion and Solidarity is published by Zuccotti Park Press.