Archive for the 'Germany' Category
Posted by David Foster on 5th April 2014 (All posts by David Foster)
Defying Hitler: A Memoir
(I originally posted this review in early 2010. I’m sure we have quite a few new readers since then, and believe this is an important book worthy of a broader audience…hence the rerun)
How does an advanced and civilized nation turn into a pack of hunting hounds directed against humans? Sebastian Haffner addresses the question in this memoir, which describes his own experiences and observations from early childhood until his departure from Germany in 1939. It is an important document–not only for the light it sheds on this particular and dreadful era in history, but also for its more general analysis of the factors leading to totalitarianism and of life under a totalitarian state. It is also a very personal and human book, with vivid portraits of Haffner’s parents, his friends, and the women he loved. Because of its importance and the fact that it is relatively little-read in the United States (Amazon ranking 108654–I picked up my copy at the Gatwick airport), I’m reviewing it here at considerable length.
The title (probably not chosen by the author himself) is perhaps unfortunate. Haffner was not a member of an organization dedicated to overthrowing the Nazi state, along the lines of a Hans Oster or a Sophie Scholl. His defiance, rather, was on a personal level–keeping his mind free of Nazi ideology, avoiding participation in Nazi crimes, and helping victims of the regime where possible. Even this level of defiance required considerable courage–more than most people are capable of. As Haffner summarizes life under a totalitarian regime:
With fearful menace the state demands that the individual give up his friends, abandon his lovers, renounce his beliefs and assume new, prescribed ones. He must use a new form of greeting, eat and drink in ways he does not fancy, employ his leisure in occupations he abhors, make himself available for activities he despises, and deny his past and his individuality. For all this, he must constantly express extreme enthusiasm and gratitude.
Haffner was born in 1907, and many of his earliest and most vivid memories center around the First World War. To this seven-year-old boy, the war was something very exciting–a reaction that surely was shared by many boys of his age in all of the belligerent countries. As Haffner remembers it, he was not at all motivated by hate for the enemy–although there was plenty of propaganda intended to inculcate such hate–but rather by a kind of sporting instinct:
In those childhood days, I was a war fan just as one is a football fan…I hated the French, the English, and the Russians as little as the Portsmouth supporters detest the Wolverhampton fans. Of course, I prayed for their defeat and humiliation, but only because these were the necesary counterparts of my side’s victory and triumph.
The German defeat came as a severe shock to young Sebastian, who had in no way expected it: The same was true of the severe social disruption which pervaded Germany during this period:
Some days there was no electricity, on other no trams, but it was never clear whether it was because of the Spartacists or the Government that we had to use oil lamps or go on foot.
In 1919, Haffner joined a sports club called the Old Prussia Athletics Club. This was a right-wing sports club–so far had the politicization of daily life already progressed. Although the club was anti-Socialist, it was not anti-Semitic–indeed, several of the members (including the club’s best runner) were Jewish, and probably participated as enthusiastically as other members in street fights with the Socialist youth.
After a time, the political situation calmed down–temporarily, as we now know. The Old Prussia Athletic Club was dissolved:
Many of us sought new interests: stamp-collecting, for example, piano-playing, or the theatre. Only a few remained true to politics, and it struck me for the first time that, strangely enough, those were the more stupid, coarse and unpleasant among my schoolfellows.
Haffner assigns much of the credit for the political and economic stabilization to the statesman Walter Rathenau–”an aristocratic revolutionary, an idealistic economic planner, a Jew who was a German patriot, a German patriot who was a liberal citizen of the world..cultured enough to be above culture, rich enough to be above riches, man of the world enough to be above the world.” But while Rathenau was admired and even loved by many, he was hated by many others. He was murdered in 1922. This killing was followed shortly by the great inflation which began in 1923. In Haffner’s view, the impact of this episode is almost impossible to overstate: he calls it “the unending bloody Saturnalia, in which not only money but all standards lost their value.”
That year newspaper readers could again play a variation of the exciting numbers game they had enjoyed during the war…this time the figures did not refer to military events..but to an otherwise quite uninteresting, everyday item in the financial pages: the exchange rate of the dollar. The fluctuation of the dollar was the barometer by which, with a mixture of anxiety and excitement, we measured the fall of the mark.
By the end of 1922, prices had already risen to somewhere between 10 and 100X the pre-war peacetime level, and a dollar could purchase 500 marks. It was inconvenient to work with the large numbers, but life went on much as before.
But the mark now went on the rampage…the dollar shot to 20,000 marks, rested there for a short time, jumped to 40,000, paused again, and then, with small periodic fluctuations, coursed through the ten thousands and then the hundred thousands…Then suddenly, looking around we discovered that this phenomenon had devastated the fabric of our daily lives.
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Posted in Book Notes, Civil Society, Germany, History | 12 Comments »
Posted by Carl from Chicago on 30th March 2014 (All posts by Carl from Chicago)
Today I watched the movie “The Grand Budapest Hotel” by Wes Anderson. While the movie was not intended to be an historical record, in some ways a fictionalized representation of life in the 1930′s and early 1940′s is a better way to humanize the elements of the conflict that can be lost broader sweep of the cataclysmic events known to all. The movie also works to include the postwar elements and even the post-communist years into a long a complicated narrative.
After the movie was done I started explaining how I saw the movie to fellow movie-goers and, to them, I almost seemed like the narrator that the movie didn’t include. I just overlaid my own understanding of the participants in that era and, since it is fiction, my own interpretation is likely as sound as anyone else’s.
I will try to limit the “spoilers” in this post and recommend that anyone interested in Zweig (to whom the movie was dedicated) and / or that era in history go to see the movie. You have to be a fan of the Wes Anderson style of movies and his set pieces are clearly not supposed to be realistic but they are tools for great visual cues and inspired situations.
The protagonist in the movie, Ray Fiennes, plays a concierge for a major hotel in the capital city of a declining empire in the 1930′s as war time approaches. He mainly seduces older women but also is open to other sorts of encounters with men. Ray is plainly an intellectual and stickler for protocol and process in an era where that is reaching the end of the line. He and his fellow concierges represent the type of society that Zweig would fondly recognize (as does the process-following attorney who runs into serious trouble later).
The country could be an Austria or Czech type republic that is about to be swallowed by Germany. The borders are in the process of being closed to adjacent countries due to political challenges and incipient war. In an early scene, soldiers in grey accost and check the papers of the concierge and his “lobby boy” (who is non-white and obviously from one of the provinces) on a train and start to beat them up when they are stopped by Edward Norton, who plays an aristocratic officer who recognizes the concierge. To me this officer clearly represented the orderly and (relatively) law abiding German army. He even wrote a note giving safe passage to the lobby boy.
In the early scenes the soldiers are in Grey and when they stop the train their have early model armored cars. They are not intended to be realistic per se but they seem like vintage 1930 era inspired vehicles.
During the contesting of the will, a lawyer who also represents the old era brings a process and fairness to the executor’s role (along with a Kafka-esque level of bureaucratic documents) until he meets up with a thug in a black trench coat who clearly represents the evolving SS. That individual, played by Willem Defoe, engages in more and more grotesque crimes throughout the movie and is not impeded by morals or the rule of law. At one point the Edward Norton character orders the civilian Dafoe away from an investigation that Norton is running, but it is clear that Dafoe is not intimidated and is part of the (hyper violent and aggressive) new order.
Later the protagonist against the concierge is seen to be in a long leather coat and is obviously a civilian leader of the Nazis. They have 2 letter flags and armbands in the SS “style” but the movie does abstract them so as to not be completely blatant. The hotel becomes a barracks for the military regime, and the standards of the staff decline as the hotel is militarized.
When the train is stopped again later in the film the “death squads” are taunted by the concierge with results that are far less pleasant than the early encounter with Norton. The soldiers in black and the more sinister looking hulking vehicles (which seem to be gun mounted half tracks) are also in black and this clearly represents the SS militarized and not the old nobility-led military.
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Posted in Europe, Film, Germany, History | 4 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 9th March 2014 (All posts by David Foster)
Via Bookworm, here is a truly appalling story from Minnesota. When the fire alarm went off at Como Park High School, a 14-year-old girl was rousted out of the swimming pool, and–dripping wet and wearing only a swimsuit–directed to go stand outside were the temperature was sub-zero and the wind chill made it much worse. Then, she was not allowed to take refuge in one of the many cars in the parking lot because of a school policy forbidding students from sitting in a faculty member’s car. As Bookworm notes:
Even the lowest intelligence can figure out that the rule’s purpose is to prevent teachers from engaging sexually with children. The likelihood of a covert sexual contact happening between Kayona and a teacherunder the actual circumstances is ludicrous. The faculty cars were in full view of the entire school. There was no chance of illicit sexual congress.
But the whole nature of bureaucratic rules, of course, is to forbid human judgment based on actual context.
Fortunately for Kayona, her fellow students hadn’t had human decency ground out of them by rules: “…fellow students, however, demonstrated a grasp of civilized behavior. Students huddled around her and some frigid classmates [sic], giving her a sweatshirt to put around her feet. A teacher coughed up a jacket.” As the children were keeping Kayona alive, the teachers were workingtheir way through the bureaucracy. After a freezing ten minutes, an administrator finally gave permission for the soaking wet, freezing Kayla to set in a car in full view of everybody.
As Bookworm notes, this sort of thing is becoming increasingly common. In England in 2009, for example, a man with a broken back lay in 6 inches of water, but paramedics refused to rescue him because they weren’t trained for water rescues. Dozens of similar examples could easily be dredged up.
The behavior of these bureaucrats is very similar to the behavior of a computer program confronted by a situation for which its designers did not explicitly provide. Sometimes the results will be useless, sometimes they will be humorous, often they will be harmful or outright disastrous.
Last year in Sweden, there was rampant rioting that included the torching of many cars. The government of Sweden didn’t do a very good job of protecting its citizens and their property from this outbreak of barbarism. Government agents did, however, fulfill their duty of issuing parking tickets…to burned-out cars. Link with picture. In my post The Reductio as Absurdum of Bureaucratic Liberalism, I said…
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Posted in Big Government, Education, Germany, History, Human Behavior, Management, Video | 10 Comments »
Posted by Michael Kennedy on 5th March 2014 (All posts by Michael Kennedy)
UPDATE #2: Investor’s Business Daily agrees about the best response to the Russian invasion of Crimea.
The West’s best Russia policy is a bold energy policy.
Russia’s economy is barely growing and is increasingly dependent on energy production. Oil and gas account for more than half of Russia’s federal tax revenues and about 75% of total exports. Three-fourths of natural gas shipments go to Europe. Europe is dependent on Russia, but the tables are starting to turn.
Drill, Baby, Drill ! Plus LNG exports.
UPDATE: Michael Totten has an update on Crimea.
The new ruler is a former gangster whose street name was “Goblin.”
Lawmakers were summoned, stripped of their cellphones as they entered the chamber. The Crimean media was banished. Then, behind closed doors, Crimea’s government was dismissed and a new one formed, with Sergey Akysonov, head of the Russian Unity party, installed as Crimea’s new premier.
It if was a crime, it was just the beginning. Akysonov’s ascent to power at the point of a gun presaged all that has happened since — the announcement of a referendum on Crimean independence and the slow, methodical fanning out of Russian forces throughout the peninsula, ostensibly to protect Russians here from a threat no one can seem to find.
But here’s the most interesting bit: Aksyonov’s sudden rise as Moscow’s crucial point man in Crimea has revived simmering allegations of an underworld past going back to the lawless 1990s, when Akysonov is said to have gone by the street name “Goblin,” a lieutenant in the Crimean crime syndicate Salem.
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Posted in Europe, Germany, History, International Affairs, Military Affairs, Obama | 37 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 24th February 2014 (All posts by David Foster)
Here’s a Democratic candidate for Congress who tweeted:
Fox News does nothing but tell lies and mistruths. They have unqualified political analysts. We need FCC to monitor and regulate them.
The vast majority of the traditional media, of course, fervently supports the Democrats. Evidently this candidate cannot stand the presence of any source of diverse reporting and opinion.
With this tweet, Mike Dickenson declared war on American free speech.
Unfortunately, this kind of thinking is by no means rare among Democrats and “progressives.” For example, this story is about threats of legal action and potential loss of license against a TV station that dared to broadcast ads critical of Democratic candidate Gary Peters. (The lawyers who sent the letter work for the law firm of Bob Bauer, who was general counsel of the Obama campaign.)
The hostility to free expression and discussion of ideas is especially strong in many universities. For example, here’s a Swarthmore student who was appalled that conservative Princeton professor Robert George was allowed to debate against leftist Princeton prof Cornell West: ”“What really bothered me is, the whole idea is that at a liberal arts college, we need to be hearing a diversity of opinion,” Ching told the Daily Gazette, the school’s newspaper. “I don’t think we should be tolerating [George’s] conservative views because that dominant culture embeds these deep inequalities in our society.” The same link mentions an article by a Harvard student, who calls for replacing academic freedom with something she calls “academic justice.”
Gleichschaltung is a German word which means “coordination,” “making the same,” “bringing into line.” It was a term much favored by the Nazis, who used it in the sense of “forcible coordination.” Under the Nazi regime, all aspects of society–all organizations ranging from major professional associations such as those representing the country’s legal profession, down to to folk-singing groups and small local hiking clubs–were subjected to Gleichschaltung. Not only was there to be no criticism of National Socialism in the explicitly political sphere, there was to be no truly non-political sphere at all. Everything had to be about the propagation and strengthening of the ideology of National Socialism.
The Democratic Party, the “progressive” Left, and the Obama administration are clearly attempting to establish more and more control over public discourse about political and social matters, and also about anything that could relate to these matters.
And what is “political correctness,” after all, other than a contemporary American form of Gleichschaltung?
Posted in Academia, Civil Liberties, Germany, History, Political Philosophy, Politics, USA | 10 Comments »
Posted by Sgt. Mom on 7th February 2014 (All posts by Sgt. Mom)
Part one is here – a meditation on how suddenly a group of citizens became the ‘other’ during the Civil War.
In the wake of a military crackdown on a region perceived to be in rebellion – philosophically and perhaps politically – against the State of Texas and the Confederacy, a series of military trials of an assortment of civilians and local militia volunteers was held in San Antonio in the late summer and early autumn of 1862. Storekeeper Julius Schlickum was the first convicted, although no one testifying at his trial could say anything worse of him than his enthusiasm for the Confederacy was markedly restrained. The second prisoner convicted in the commission hearings had considerably more meat and justification to the charges laid against him; Philip Braubach, formerly elected sheriff of Gillespie County. Braubach was an outspoken Unionist, an associate of Jacob Keuchler – another Unionist, a farmer and surveyor who had trained as a forester in Germany.
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Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Germany, History, Politics, War and Peace | 3 Comments »
Posted by Sgt. Mom on 3rd January 2014 (All posts by Sgt. Mom)
This is not so much a compendium of the experiences of those Americans present in Germany when the Third Reich began it’s ascent to power, but a character study of a particular family. There were a fair number Americans resident in Germany at that time, or just passing through; diplomatic personnel and their families, scholars, newspaper and radio reporters, travelers, businessmen, expatriates of all sorts, or even German-Americans paying extended visits to kin. The family of Ambassador William Dodd falls into the first category and Dodd himself into the second as well. He was an academic, a historian who earned his PhD at the University of Leipzig at the turn of the turn of the century, where he picked up fluency in the language and a deep affection for the country. He was a friend of Woodrow Wilson and when FDR’s administration was stuck to name an ambassador (when their first two choices declined) Dodd was tasked with the honor, which he took up from 1933-1937. Dodd was not a professional diplomat, and it soon emerged that those whom he had to work with at State Department didn’t think all that much of him. For one – he was not particularly wealthy and vowed to live in modest fashion while carrying out his assignment, which lasted from 1933 to 1937. This was rather a strike against him in the circles that he was expected to move; if the professionals had to put up with a patronage appointment, a rich one who would spend lavishly from his or her own purse while in pursuit of diplomatic objectives would make up in some fashion for the bother of conducting business with the host nation through an amateur.
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Posted in Civil Society, Germany, History | 16 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 3rd January 2014 (All posts by David Foster)
Western Civilization and the First World War…with a very good comment thread.
The Power of Metaphor and Analogy.
The Normalization of Abusive Government.
Would You Trust Your Financial Future to This Woman? Patty Murray, a U.S. Senator and an obvious moron and bigot..as the quotes in this post clearly demonstrate…is head of the Senate Budget Committee.
Whose Interests Will Jack Lew be Representing? There were some rather interesting clauses in the Treasury Secretary’s employment agreement with Citigroup.
Time Travel. Some personal connections with the past.
Posted in Britain, Economics & Finance, Europe, France, Germany, History, Human Behavior, Political Philosophy, USA, War and Peace | 8 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 2nd January 2014 (All posts by David Foster)
I’m reviewing my posts over the last year, and will be linking some of them here, in some cases with additional commentary. Here’s the first batch…
The bitter wastes of politicized America, on the toxic social effects of ever-increasing government power.
Also relevant to the subject of this post are some of Sebastian Haffner’s observations on inter-war Germany. He notes that during the Stresemann chancellorship, when a certain level of stability and normality was achieved, “there was an ample measure of freedom, peace, and order, everywhere the most well-meaning liberal-mindedness, good wages, good food and a little political boredom. everyone was cordially invited to concentrate on their personal lives, to arrange their affairs according to their own taste and to find their own paths to happiness”…BUT a return to private life was not to everyone’s taste:
A generation of young Germans had become accustomed to having the entire content of their lives delivered gratis, so to speak, by the public sphere, all the raw material for their deeper emotions…Now that these deliveries suddenly ceased, people were left helpless, impoverished, robbed, and disappointed. They had never learned how to live from within themselves, how to make an ordinary private life great, beautiful and worth while, how to enjoy it and make it interesting. So they regarded the end of political tension and the return of private liberty not as a gift, but as a deprivation. They were bored, their minds strayed to silly thoughts, and they began to sulk.
I’m afraid that in America today, we also have a fair number of people who expect to have “the content of their lives delivered by the public sphere,” and this is another factor in the growing politicization of absolutely everything.
The Dream(liner) and the Nightmare (of Social Toxicity). How reactions to the problems with the Boeing 787′s battery system exemplify the declining levels of trust in American society.
Excusing Failure by Pleading Incompetence. Hillary Clinton’s testimony on the Benghazi debacle clearly demonstrated her inability and/or unwillingness to understand the nature of executive responsibility. It is truly appalling that anyone could seriously consider this woman for the job of United States President.
Respect her Authoritah. Nancy Cartman-Pelosi thinks it would be disrespectful to cut congressional salaries because it would reduce the dignity of lawmakers’ jobs.
Connecting the World. Undersea cables, and their social & psychological impact.
Posted in Aviation, Civil Society, Germany, Leftism, Management, Politics, Tech, Transportation | 1 Comment »
Posted by Michael Kennedy on 31st December 2013 (All posts by Michael Kennedy)
This next summer will be 100 years since the fatal August of 1914. We live in a similar era of “history is over and everybody is happy.” See above. In August 1914, Germany’s major trading partners were Britain and France, as well as the US. There were people who believed that democracies that did business with each other never went to war. Sound familiar ?
UPDATE: I am not the only one thinking about this, of course. Here is another version. I worry less about China as a geopolitical rival to the US but a China Japan conflict would not be impossible.
The Telegraph has an excellent piece on the present world situation.
As we look forward to the First World War commemorations, three stark conclusions are hard to refute. First, that in the course of this century we will need a great deal of luck to avoid a nuclear catastrophe. Second, that the Enlightenment has failed. Third, that this can all be traced back to the Great War.
As a result of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, it seemed that mankind might make a decisive break with the scarcity and oppression that had characterised previous eras. There was, admittedly, one early warning. The French Revolution proved that a radical reconstruction of society on abstract principles was likely to end in tyranny and bloodshed. But after 1815, the 19th century developed into one of the most successful epochs in history. Living standards, life expectancy, productivity, medicine, the rule of law, constitutional government, versions of democracy – there was dramatic progress on all fronts, and in the spread of civilisation across the globe.
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Posted in Britain, Europe, France, Germany, History, International Affairs, Iran, Leftism, Military Affairs, National Security | 27 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 27th December 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
Herman the German by Gerhard Neumann
This is the autobiography of a man who was born to a Jewish family in Germany, apprenticed as an auto mechanic, attended engineering school, moved to China in 1938, was interned by the British as an enemy alien in 1939, transferred to the American forces, joined Claire Chennault’s Flying Tigers, repaired the first Japanese Zero fighter to be captured in potentially-flyable condition, became a U.S. citizen by special act of Congress, and went on to run GE’s entire jet engine business, which he played a major role in creating. (The preceding may be the longest single sentence I’ve ever written in a blog post.) The book should be of interest to those interested in aviation, technology, management, social history, the WWII era, and/or China.
Gerhard Neumann was born in Frankfurt/Oder in 1917, where his father was owner of a factory that processed feathers and down. Gerhard’s parents were Jewish but nonpracticing–a Christmas tree was traditional in the Neumann home–and their approach to child-raising was closer to stereotypically Prussian than to stereotypically Jewish: ”You did exactly as you were told by your parents. There was no such thing as saying no to them!…You were not to have a hand in your pocket while talking to grown-ups…Showing any emotion in Prussia was considered sissyish. There was no kissing between parents and children–only a peck on the cheek before going upstairs punctually at nine o’clock; and there was absolutely no crying.”
On the other hand, Neumann could do pretty much what he wanted with his spare time. In 1927, at the age of 10, he rode his bike out to a grass strip where someone was giving airplane rides for 5 marks, which he paid with money from his piggy bank. His parents weren’t angry at him for taking this flight without permission; indeed, they were so entranced with his description of the way the town looked from the air that they soon took an airplane ride themselves! At the age of 13, Neumann bought a folding kayak and, with some camping gear and a 12-year-old friend, took long journeys on the Oder River, all the way to the Baltic Sea. Few parents in America today–or in Germany either, I’d bet–would now allow this level of independence to a 12- or 13-year old.
Neumann had no interest in the family feather business; he wanted to be an engineer. A 2- or 3-year machinist or mechanic apprenticeship was mandatory for admission to any German engineering academy: Neumann’s father asked the 10 cab drivers of Frankfurt/Oder to recommend the garage where they thought the boy would learn the most, and the answers were unanimous: Albert Schroth’s. So began Gerhard Neumann’s apprenticeship, which, other than the technologies involved, could have been something out of the Middle Ages. “In winter my hands were frozen purple. Wear work gloves? ‘What’s the matter, boy, are you a girl?’ When my hands were bleeding, Herr Schroth pointed to the large bottle of iodine in the backroom and mumbled something about faules Fleisch (lazy flesh.) No Band-Aids, no pitying, no time out.”
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Posted in Aviation, Business, China, Germany, History, USA, War and Peace | 7 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 23rd December 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
A couple of weeks ago, Chicago Girl Margaret excerpted a little-known poem by Kipling…the poem’s context being a proposal (circa 1890) by the new German Kaiser for an expanded social-welfare system, ideally to encompass other European countries in addition to Germany and to limit “destructive competition” in industry. The poem seemed relevant to Stuart Schneiderman’s post this morning, so I posted the whole thing in comments there.
Posted in Europe, Germany, History, Human Behavior, Leftism | 2 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 8th December 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
Many former Obama supporters…especially the younger crowd…have lost considerable faith in Obama and the Democratic Party. Neo-Neocon notes that the political disillusionment encompasses both parties, and cautions that the “throw the bums out” mentality, however understandable, can be dangerous. She quotes from a book by Milton Mayer called They Thought They Were Free, which is an exploration of German attitudes from the 1920s through World War II. Interviews were conducted with 10 “typical” Germans, who Mayer refers to as “friends,” a couple of years after the war’s end. Excerpt:
National Socialism was a repulsion of my friends against parliamentary politics, parliamentary debate, parliamentary government—against all the higgling and the haggling of the parties and the splinter parties, their coalitions, their confusions, and their conniving. It was the final fruit of the common man’s repudiation of “the rascals.” Its motif was “throw them all out.” My friends, in the 1920′s, were like spectators at a wrestling match who suspect that beneath all the grunts and groans, the struggle and the sweat, the match is “fixed,” that the performers are only pretending to put on a fight. The scandals that rocked the country, as one party or cabal “exposed” another, dismayed and then disgusted my friends…
My friends wanted Germany purified. They wanted it purified of the politicians, of all the politicians. They wanted a representative leader in place of unrepresentative representatives. And Hitler, the pure man, the antipolitician, was the man, untainted by “politics,” which was only a cloak for corruption…Against “the whole pack,” “the whole kaboodle,” “the whole business,” against all the parliamentary parties, my friends evoked Hitlerism, and Hitlerism overthrew them all…
Indeed, revulsion against the dysfunctionalities of a parliamentary democracy can lead to something much, much worse. Weimar government and Weimar society had their problems, but they were infinitely preferable to what replaced them.
Also, most Germans in the 1920s and 1930s—like people in other European countries—keenly remembered the spirit of self-sacrificing idealism that had prevailed in 1914, and a considerable proportion of them believed that this idealism had, in one way or another, been exploited and betrayed. Idealism betrayed leads to cynicism, and cynicism can lead to new and twisted forms of idealism.
On May 5, 2013, Barack Obama warned Ohio State students about the dangers of political cynicsm. As it happened, this speech came only a few days before the public revelations about the Obama administration’s use of the IRS to target political opponents…which is, of course, only one of this administration’s many failures and violations of trust.
Erich Maria Remarque’s novel The Road Back is largely about the loss of idealism and social trust in the years following World War One…although it is set in Germany, the same factors were operative, if to a lesser degree, in the other European belligerent countries. One of the characters in the story is Ludwig Breyer–a serious aspiring intellectual as a student, a dedicated and responsible officer in wartime. A few years after the war’s end, he is shattered by the feeling that it was all for nothing:
They told us it was for the Fatherland, and they meant the schemes of annexation of a greedy industry.–They told us it was for honour, and meant the quarrels and the will to power of a handful of ambitious diplomats and princes..They stuffed the word Patriotism with all the twaddle of their fine phrases, with their desire for glory, their will to power, their false romanticism…And we thought they were sounding a bugle summoning us to a new, a more strenuous, a larger life. Can’t you see, man? But we were making war against ourselves without knowing it!…The youth of the world rose up in every land believing that it was fighting for freedom! And in every land they were duped and misused; in every land they have been shot down, they have exterminated each other.
One could do a present-day riff on this speech: “They told us it was for the environment, and they meant the handouts of taxpayer money to crony capitalists. They told us it was about improving education for the poor, and they meant protecting the privileges of incompetent administrators and teachers’ union…etc”
In the book, Ludwig Breyer’s despair drives him to suicide…and there were doubtless many real-life veterans who came to similar ends. Others, though…among veterans but also among those who had been too young or too old to fight..attempted to recapture the 1914 sense of idealism and unity through involvement in extremist politics of one band or another…and we know how that ended.
Good discussion thread at the Neo-Neocon post.
Posted in Book Notes, Europe, Germany, History, Human Behavior, Obama, Politics, USA, War and Peace | 11 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 14th November 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
…in the fields of chimney-sweeping and firewood sales.
Some of this is just because people enjoy having and using a fireplace, which is good…much of it, though, is apparently because people can’t afford to heat their houses due to increasing energy prices, which is not so good.
I wrote about similar phenomena in Germany, here.
Posted in Britain, Energy & Power Generation, Environment, Germany | 13 Comments »
Posted by Michael Kennedy on 8th November 2013 (All posts by Michael Kennedy)
Our health care system has been built up over the years in a jury-rigged, ramshackle fashion. Before World War II, there was very little health insurance and what there was often was the product of labor union contracts. The early years were concerned with accident insurance and workers compensation laws.
The American life insurance system was established in the mid-1700s. The earliest forms of health insurance, however, did not emerge until 1850, when the Franklin Health Assurance Company of Massachusetts began providing accident insurance, to cover injuries related to railroad and steamboat travel. From this, sickness insurance covering all kinds of illnesses and injuries soon evolved, but the first modern health insurance plans were not formed until 1930.
The Baylor program for school teachers was the first in 1929.
Medical insurance took stride in 1929 when Dr. Justin Ford Kimball, an administrator at Baylor University Hospital in Dallas, Texas, realized that many schoolteachers were not paying their medical bills. In response to this problem, he developed the Baylor Plan – teachers were to pay 50 cents per month in exchange for the guarantee that they could receive medical services for up to 21 days of any one year.
In those days, the concern was lost wages more than hospital care.
In 1939, the American Hospital Association (AHA) first used the name Blue Cross to designate health care plans that met their standards. These plans merged to form Blue Cross under the AHA in 1960. Considered nonprofit organizations, the Blue Cross plans were exempted from paying taxes, enabling them to maintain low premiums. Pre-paid plans covering physician and surgeon services, including the California Physicians’ Service in 1939, also emerged around this time. These physician-sponsored plans combined into Blue Shield in 1946 and Blue Cross and Blue Shield merged into one company in 1971.
The modern insurance plans were very recent in origin. I was there for much of it. The commercial insurers fought the status of Blue Cross, which was not required to have reserves. Blue Cross asserted that it promised hospital care, not payment, so reserves were not necessary.
The 1940s and 1950s also saw the proliferation of employee benefit plans, and the included health insurance packages became more and more comprehensive as strong unions negotiated for additional benefits. During the Second World War, companies competing for labor had limited ability to use wages to attract employees due to wartime wage controls, so they began to compete through health insurance packages. The companies’ healthcare expenses were exempted from income tax, and the resulting trend is largely responsible for the workplace’s present role as the main supplier of health insurance.
The war produced much of this as wage limitations were in force but fringe benefits, like health insurance, were permitted. A lot of this history is contained in Paul Starr’s book The Social Transformation of American Medicine.
From the first, commercial insurers focused on employer plans while Blue Cross and Blue Shield (which was founded by the California Medical Association to pay doctor bills) were individual plans.
In 1954, Social Security coverage included disability benefits for the first time, and in 1965, Medicare and Medicaid programs were introduced, in part because of the Democratic majority in Congress. In the 1970s and 1980s, more expensive medical technology and flaws in the health care system led to higher costs for health insurance companies. Responding to higher costs, employee benefit plans changed into managed care plans, and Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) emerged. Managed care plans are unique in that they involve a particular network of healthcare providers that have been verified for healthcare quality and that have agreements with the insurer about price and related issues. HMOs were originally primarily nonprofit, but they were quickly replaced by commercial interests, and managed care only succeeded in temporarily slowing the growth of healthcare costs.
Two major changes came in the 1970s. In 1978, the federal government established what were called Professional Standards Review Organizations or PSRO. All doctors had to receive training in how to do these reviews and it was immediately apparent that cost was the only consideration, not quality of care.
I decided to educate myself and took a course from an organization called “The American Board of Quality Assurance and Utilization Review Physicians. I took the exam and passed, then attended the annual meeting. This was about 1986. People I met at that meeting informed me that the exams were graded by throwing them up in the air. Any that landed balancing on one edge were flunked. Nonetheless, the experience was valuable because I could see what was coming.
I was president of the Orange County Medical Association that year and had served for eight years on the Commission on Legislation of the CMA, now called The Council on Legislation. This gave me an opportunity to meet many legislators, many state level and some federal. The impression they made on me was that few knew anything about medicine and most were not very intelligent.
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Posted in Big Government, Book Notes, Current Events, France, Germany, Health Care, Medicine, Politics | 19 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 26th October 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
The Prime Ministership of Neville Chamberlain is closely associated with the word “appeasement.” The policy of appeasement followed by Britain in the late 1930s is generally viewed as a matter of foreign policy–the willingness to allow Germany’s absorption of other countries, first Austria and then Czechoslovakia, in the desperate but misguided hope of avoiding another war.
But appeasement also had domestic as well as foreign policy aspects. In a post several years ago, I quoted Winston Churchill, who spoke of the “unendurable..sense of our country falling into the power, into the orbit and influence of Nazi Germany, and of our existence becoming dependent upon their good will or pleasure…In a very few years, perhaps in a very few months, we shall be confronted with demands” which “may affect the surrender of territory or the surrender of liberty.” A “policy of submission” would entail “restrictions” upon freedom of speech and the press. Indeed, I hear it said sometimes now that we cannot allow the Nazi system of dictatorship to be criticized by ordinary, common English politicians.”
Churchill’s concern was not just a theoretical one. Following the German takeover of Czechoslovakia, photographs were available showing the plight of Czech Jews, dispossessed by the Nazis and wandering the roads of eastern Europe. Geoffrey Dawson, editor of The Times, refused to run any of them: it wouldn’t help the victims, he told his staff, and if they were published, Hitler would be offended.
I’ve just finished reading Niall Ferguson’s War of the World, and this book contains much more information about appeasement in British domestic society and politics. Some excerpts:
(Times Berlin correspondent Normal Ebbut) wrote regularly on…the (Nazi) regime’s persecution of Protestant churches. As early as November 1934, he was moved to protest about editorial interference with his copy, giving twelve examples of how his stories had been cut to remove critical references to the Nazi regime.
The Times was far from unique in its soft-soap coverage of Germany. Following his visit in 1937, Halifax lobbied near all the leading newspaper proprietors to tone down their coverage of Germany…The government succeeded in pressuring the BBC into avoiding ‘controversy’ in its coverage of European affairs…Lord Reith, the Director-General of the BBC, told Ribbentrop ‘to tell Hitler that the BBC was not anti-Nazi’…Pressure to toe the line was even stronger in the House of Commons. Conservative MPs who ventured to criticize Chamberlain were swiftly chastised by the whips or their local party associations.
At around the time of the Abyssinian crisis, the historian A L Rowse–who was just thirty-four at the time of Munich-recalled a walk with (Times publisher Dawson) along the towpath to Iffley, in the course of which he warned the older man: ‘It is the Germans who are so powerful as to threaten the rest of us together.’ Dawson’s reply was revealing: ‘To take your argument on its own valuation–mind you, I’m not saying I agree with it–but if the Germans are as powerful as you say, oughtn’t we to go in with them?
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Posted in Book Notes, Britain, Civil Liberties, Europe, Germany, Islam, Leftism, Terrorism, The Press, USA | 27 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 21st September 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
I’ve reviewed two books by German writer Hans Fallada: Little Man, What Now?, and Wolf Among Wolves (the links go to the reviews), both of which were excellent. I recently finished his novel Every Man Dies Alone, which is centered on a couple who become anti-Nazi activists after their son Ottochen is killed in the war…it was inspired by, and is loosely based on, the true story of a real-life couple who distributed anti-Nazi postcards and were executed for it.
I thought this book was also excellent…the present post, though, is not a book review, but rather a development of some thoughts inspired by a particular passage in the story.
Trudel, who was Ottochen’s fiancee, is a sweet and intelligent girl who is strongly anti-Nazi..and unlike Ottochen’s parents, she became an activist prior to being struck by personal tragedy: she is a member of a resistance cell at the factory where she works. But she finds that she cannot stand the unending psychological strain of underground work–made even worse by the rigid and doctrinaire man (apparently a Communist) who is leader of the cell–and she drops out. Another member of the cell, who has long been in love with her, also finds that he is not built for such work, and drops out also.
After they marry and Trudel becomes pregnant, they decide to leave the politically hysterical environment of Berlin for a small town where–they believe–life will be freer and calmer.
Like many city dwellers, they’d had the mistaken belief that spying was only really bad in Berlin and that decency still prevailed in small towns. And like many city dwellers, they had made the painful discovery that recrimination, eavesdropping, and informing were ten times worse in small towns than in the big city. In a small town, everyone was fully exposed, you couldn’t ever disappear in the crowd. Personal circumstances were quickly ascertained, conversations with neighbors were practically unavoidable, and the way such conversations could be twisted was something they had already experienced in their own lives, to their chagrin.
Reading the above passage, I was struck by the thought that if we are now living in an “electronic village”…even a “global village,” as Marshall McLuhan put it several decades ago…then perhaps that also means we are facing some of the unpleasant characteristics that–as Fallada notes–can be a part of village life. And these characteristics aren’t something that appears only in eras of insane totalitarianism such as existed in Germany during the Nazi era. Peter Drucker, in Managing in the Next Society, wrote about the tension between liberty and community:
Rural society has been romanticized for millenia, especially in the West, where rural communities have usually been portrayed as idylic. However, the community in rural society is actually both compulsory and coercive…And that explains why, for millenia, the dream of rural people was to escape into the city. Stadluft macht frei (city air frees) says an old German proverb dating back to the eleventy or twelfth century.
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Posted in Big Government, Book Notes, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, France, Germany, Health Care, History, Internet, Media, USA | 14 Comments »
Posted by Sgt. Mom on 4th September 2013 (All posts by Sgt. Mom)
(This is a post from long ago in the NCOBrief archives, which I have pulled out and reworked several times on this particular anniversary, but still relevant, especially with the Syrian situation hanging over us like a nightmare come to daylight.)
A Sunday September morning, on one of those mild and gorgeous fall days, when the leaves are just starting to turn, but the last of the summer flowers still linger, and the days are warm, yet everyone grabs hold of those last few golden days, knowing how short they are of duration under the coming Doom of winter.
And there is another Doom besides the changing of the seasons on this morning, a Doom that has been building inescapable by treaty obligation for the last two days, clear to the politically savvy for the last two weeks— since the two old political opposites-and-enemies inexplicably signed an alliance— deferred by a humiliating stand-down and betrayal of the trusting two years since, a doom apparent to the far-sighted for nearly a decade. The armies are marching, the jackals bidden to follow after the conqueror, a country betrayed and dismembered, the crack cavalry troops of an army rated as superior to the American Army as it existed then charging against tanks, their ancient and historic cities reduced to rubble – and by obligation and treaty, the Allies are brought to face a brutal reality. That after two decades of peace, after four years of war that countenanced the slaughter of a significant portion of a generation, that left small towns across Europe and Great Britain decimated and plastered with sad memorials carved with endless lists of names, acres of crosses and desolation, sacrifice and grief, for which no one could afterwards give a really good reason, a decade of pledging Never Again – war is come upon them, however much they would wish and hope and pray otherwise. Reservists had been called to active duty, children had been evacuated en mass from the crowded city center, and Neville Chamberlain, who had been given a choice between war and dishonor, chosen dishonor and now had to go before the nation on radio and announce the coming of war:
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Posted in Anglosphere, Germany, History, War and Peace | 29 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 2nd September 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
(This post is a rerun, updated to include a link to Sheila O’Malley’s extensive coverage of this topic)
On September 1, 1939, Germany launched a massive assault on Poland, thereby igniting the Second World War.
Britain and France were both bound by treaty to come to Poland’s assistance. On September 2, Neville Chamberlain’s government sent a message to Germany proposing that hostilities should cease and that there should be an immediate conference among Britain, France, Poland, Germany, and Italy..and that the British government would be bound to take action unless German forces were withdrawn from Poland. “If the German Government should agree to withdraw their forces, then His Majesty’s Government would be willing to regard the position as being the same as it was before the German forces crossed the Polish frontier.”
According to General Edward Spears, who was then a member of Parliament, the assembly had been expecting a declaration of war. Few were happy with this temporizing by the Chamberlain government. Spears describes the scene:
Arthur Greenwood got up, tall, lanky, his dank, fair hair hanging to either side of his forehead. He swayed a little as he clutched at the box in front of him and gazed through his glasses at Chamberlain sitting opposite him, bolt-upright as usual. There was a moment’s silence, then something very astonishing happened.
Leo Amery, sitting in the corner seat of the third bench below the gangway on the government side, voiced in three words his own pent-up anguish and fury, as well as the repudiation by the whole House of a policy of surrender. Standing up he shouted across to Greenwood: “Speak for England!” It was clear that this great patriot sought at this crucial moment to proclaim that no loyalty had any meaning if it was in conflict with the country’s honour. What in effect he said was: “The Prime Minister has not spoken for Britain, then let the socialists do so. Let the lead go to anyone who will.” That shout was a cry of defiance. It meant that the house and the country would neither surrender nor accept a leader who might be prepared to trifle with the nation’s pledged word.
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Posted in Britain, Europe, France, Germany, History, War and Peace | 5 Comments »
Posted by Ralf Goergens on 29th August 2013 (All posts by Ralf Goergens)
Max von Oppenheim was a German ancient historian, and archaeologist who also worked as a diplomat and spy for the German Empire during the First World War. In those latter two capacities, he basically tried to incite Jihad against the Entente powers. From Wikipedia:
During World War I, Oppenheim led the Intelligence Bureau for the East and was closely associated with German plans to initiate and support a rebellion in India and in Egypt. In 1915 Henry McMahon reported that Oppenheim had been encouraging the massacre of Armenians in Mosques.
Oppenheim had been called to the Wilhelmstrasse from his Kurfurstendamm flat on 2 August 1914 and given the rank of Minister of Residence. He began establishing Berlin as a centre for pan-Islamic propaganda publishing anti-Entente texts. On August 18 1914 he wrote to Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg to tell him that Germany must arm the Muslim brotherhoods of Libya, Sudan and Yemen and fund Arab exile pretenders like the deposed Egyptian Khedive, Abbas Hilmi. He believed Germany must incite anti-colonial rebellion in French North Africa and Russian Central Asia and incite Habibullah Khan, the Emir of Afghanistan, to invade British India at the head of an Islamic army. Oppenheim’s Exposé Concerning the Revolutionizing of the Islamic territories of our enemies contained holy war propaganda and ‘sketched out a blueprint for a global jihad engulfing hundreds of millions of people’. Armenians and Maronite Christians were dismissed as Entente sympathizers, quite useless to Germany nicht viel nutzen konnen. 
Because Germany was not an Islamic power the war on the Entente powers needed to be ‘endorsed with the seal of the Sultan-Caliph’ and on 14 November 1914 in a ceremony at Fatih Mosque the first ever global jihad had been inaugurated. The impetus for this move came from the German government, which subsidized distribution of the Ottoman holy war fetvas, and most of the accompanying commentaries from Muslim jurists, and Oppenheim’s jihad bureau played a significant role. By the end of November 1914 the jihad fetvas had been translated into French, Arabic, Persian and Urdu. Thousands of pamphlets emerged under Oppenheim’s direction in Berlin at this period and his Exposé declared that, “the blood of infidels in the Islamic lands may be shed with impunity”, the “killing of the infidels who rule over the Islamic lands” , meaning British, French, Russian, and possibly Dutch and Italian nationals, had become ” a sacred duty”. And Oppenheim’s instructions, distinct from traditional ‘jihad by campaign’ led by the Caliph, urged the use of ‘individual Jihad’, assassinations of Entente officials with ‘cutting, killing instruments’ and ‘Jihad by bands’,- secret formations in Egypt, India and Central Asia.
“During the First World War, he worked in the Foreign Ministry in Berlin, where he founded the so-called “message Centre for the Middle East”, as well as at the German Embassy in Istanbul. He sought to mobilize the Islamic population of the Middle East against England during the war and can be seen thus almost as a German counterpart to Lawrence of Arabia. The AA pursued a strategy of Islamic revolts in the colonial hinterland of the German enemy. The spiritual father of this double approach, the war first, by troops on the front line and secondly by people’s rebellion “in depth” was by Oppenheim.”
The German adventurer met with very little success in World War I. To this day, the British see him as a “master spy” because he founded the magazine El Jihad in 1914 in an effort to incite the Arabs to wage a holy war against the British and French occupiers in the Middle East. But his adversary Lawrence of Arabia, whom he knew personally, was far more successful at fomenting revolts.
Lawrence of Arabia, aka T. E. Lawrence was successful because he didn’t appeal to religious fervor, but rather to the far more basic sentiment of ethnic solidarity against an oppressor of different ethnic origin. In other words, the Arabs cared far more about their struggle against the Turkish Empire than they did about religion, leave alone jihad.
Posted in Britain, Christianity, Europe, France, Germany, History, International Affairs, Middle East, Military Affairs, Religion, Russia, War and Peace | 2 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 21st August 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
Roger Simon writes about Obama’s strange apparent affinity for the Muslim Brotherhood.
Scott Johnson writes about the true nature of this Fascist organization.
Hans von Spakovsky writes about the historical connections between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Nazi party, as well as the MB’s current Nazi-like behavior: Kristallnacht in Egypt.
Posted in Germany, Islam, Middle East, Obama, USA | 17 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 10th August 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
In a BOOKWORM post about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Book’s mother was in a Japanese concentration camp at the time–read the link), the discussion turned to the Japanese maltreatment of prisoners. I noted that Japanese treatment of Russian POWs in the Russo-Japanese war (1904) seems to have been quite decent, in strong contrast with their abominable treatment of just about all prisoners in the period…only 30 years later…beginning with the invasion of Manchuria and continuing through the Second World War, and I said:
“It is interesting and frightening how quickly a culture can change. If you were looking for a place to live in Europe in 1913, Germany would have looked pretty good…even (especially?) if you were Jewish. Only 20 years later, a significant % of the population was barking mad, and almost all of the rest were clueless or cowed into submission.”
Commenter Danny Lemieux, agreeing with the point about culture change, cited a Cherokee legend: the story of the two wolves.
One of the main reasons why Barack Obama is such a disaster as a leader is that he always chooses to feed the Bad Wolf.
Posted in China, Germany, History, Human Behavior, Japan, USA, War and Peace | 16 Comments »
Posted by Ralf Goergens on 9th August 2013 (All posts by Ralf Goergens)
I am posting these images with the kind permission from Dean Putney.
Dean Putney, a software developer at boing boing, is currently busy scanning in and publishing pictures from a family heirloom – a photo album with a huge number of photographs from World War I. They were taken by his great-grandfather Walter Koessler, who served as an officer in the German army during the war. Koessler later emigrated to the United States, where he worked as an art director at movie studios, even though he was trained as an architect.
The images are posted at his Tumblr blog, Walter Koessler project. A selection also has been posted at boing boing.
While there are a great many images from WW I, these are quite unique. As he writes at his blog:
1 Walter was German, and he was an independent photographer. Most surviving photos from the war are from the Allies, and they tend to be propaganda or journalistic. Walter’s photos are very personal.
Photography was going through big changes at the time, and Walter was a major early adopter. Film cameras were fairly new, and he took his in the trenches and everywhere else. WWI saw the first major use of airplanes in war, and Walter took aerial reconnaissance photos from biplanes and hot air balloons.
He has a project at Kickstarter to publish the images in high quality form, and most importantly, as a coherent collection.
If you want to contribute, pledges start at a $1 minimum.
Posted in Europe, Germany, History, Photos | 9 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 7th August 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
Re-reading Doctor Zhivago, I was struck by the following passage:
That’s just the point, Larisa Feodorovna. There are limits to everything. In all this time something definite should have been achieved. But it turns out that those who inspired the revolution aren’t at home in anything except change and turmoil, they aren’t happy with anything that’s on less than a world scale. For them transitional periods, worlds in the making, are an end in themselves. They aren’t trained for anything else, they don’t know anything except that. And do you know why these never-ending preparations are so futile? It’s because these men haven’t any real capacities, they are incompetent. Man is born to live, not to prepare for life. Life itself, the phenomenon of life, the gift of life, is so breath-takingly serious. So why substitute this childish harlequinade of immature fantasies, these schoolboy escapades?
Zhivago’s words here provide an interesting parallel to the observations of Sebasian Haffner from inter-war Germany…
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Posted in Book Notes, Germany, History, Human Behavior, Leftism, Russia, Society, Uncategorized | 15 Comments »