Saturday, March 31, 2012

Russia: US Envoy's Use of Twitter to Further Transparency



          Michael McFaul, the U.S. Ambassador to Russia, used his Twitter account earlier this week to voice his concerns that diplomatic protocols had been violated when it appeared his schedule had been leaked to journalists at the NTV television network, a project of the state-owned natural gas company Gazprom.        
          Global Voices discussed the Obama administration's efforts to facilitate transparency in US-Russia relations through the use of citizen media when Ambassador McFaul was sworn in last January. Later, Global Voices captured the controversy initiated by the creation of a fictional McFaul Twitter account that called into question the legitimacy of the March 2012 Russian presidential elections.
          This week, on March 29, several issues were raised, including: 1) the use of a personal Twitter account of a high-ranking diplomat as a means to communicate directly with the general public, 2) regulations established by the Vienna Convention, which allow for the safety of diplomats on foreign soil, and 3) Ambassador McFaul's chosen diction and syntax as he interacted with the NTV journalists.
          Ambassador McFaul and the Guardian's Moscow correspondent, Miriam Elder, had a Twitter exchange Thursday afternoon, in which Ms. Elder provided a short video of the ambassador interacting with the NTV journalists.

Miriam Elder, 1:30 pm:
Walking to metro. Run into @McFaul being harassed by ppl who say from NTV http://twitvid.com/9VF6I



Michael McFaul, 5:08 pm
@MiriamElder [Welcome] to my life. Press has right to film me anywhere. But do they have a right to read my email and listen to my phone?
Miriam Elder, 5:40 pm:
[...] Indeed. And what I don't get is: if the anti-US stuff was just a pre-electoral ploy, why are they still hounding you?
Michael McFaul, 6:05 pm:
@MiriamElder interesting question.
         Ambassador McFaul elaborated further via his Twitter account on what exactly about the journalists' behavior concerned him.

2:43 pm:
Everywhere I go NTV is there. Wonder who gives them my calendar? They wouldn't tell me. Wonder what the laws are here for such things?
5:10 pm:
I respect press right to go anywhere & ask any question. But do they have a right to read my email and listen to my phone?
5:14 pm:
When I asked these "reporters" how they knew my schedule, I got no answer. Heard the same silence when they met me after meeting w/ Chubais.
          He then took some time to discuss his official diplomatic activities of the day, including his upcoming meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church.

5:27 pm:
With Acting Under Secy Gottemoeller, had productive meetings at MFA and Security Council today. Tough issues, but spirit of cooperation.
12:38 am, March 30:
Tomorrow I have the great honor of meeting Patriarch Kirill I, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia and Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church
          NTV emphasized [ru] Ambassador McFaul's use of the word "wild" - which the network found offensive - when it aired his interaction with their journalists Thursday evening. Twitter user Andrew Ryvkin included a link [ru] to that video in a Russian-language tweet:
Смотрю видео, как НТВ занимается харассментом посла США. НТВ, конечно, редкостные уёбища. Просто поразительно. http://t.co/YWtAblzW
I'm watching this video, how NTV is harassing the US Ambassador. NTV, of course, are rare [assholes]. Simply amazing. http://t.co/YWtAblzW

          The ambassador responded by saying that he was not referring to Russia as a country, but rather to the activities of a few journalists:
Just watched NTV. I mispoke in bad Russian. Did not mean to say "wild country." Meant to say NTV actions "wild." I greatly respect Russia.
Yahoo News Blog wrote about the White House's response to the incident:
The United States formally complained to Moscow on Friday about possible danger to Ambassador Michael McFaul, a day after he described Russia as a "wild country" and charged repeatedly that a state-run broadcaster there may be hacking his email, spying on his telephone conversations and tracking his movements. 
"We have raised our concerns about the Ambassador's security with the Russian government," the State Department said in a terse written statement.
Headlines found in mainstream coverage of the incident display a variety of emphases.

The Moscow News' article is entitled: "McFaul apologizes for his 'bad Russian'."

The Moscow Times' article is entitled: "U.S. State Department Defends McFaul's Twitter Use."

The Washington Post's article is entitled: "U.S. ambassador to Russia wonders who’s leaking his schedule to TV channel."

The Los Angeles Times' article is entitled: "U.S. ambassador to Moscow accuses Russian journalists of hacking."

          Finally, Friday evening the ambassador retweeted an observation about the times in which we live by Rose Gottemoeller:
More often #diplomacy is happening in the open, and at quicker speeds. The world has changed and we have to adapt to the new circumstances.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Modern Russia vs. Revolutionary Russia - Re: High School Student's Question



Below is a response I sent to a Staples High School student in Westport,CT. She wanted to know how modern Russia differs from how Russia was around the time of the Russian Revolution for her Global Issues class.

Dear [Student],

          These are very interesting questions. I'm more qualified to discuss Modern Russia compared to how Russia was during the Revolution than either the Chinese or French Revolutions.
          I wrote in an article for Global Voices called "Dmitry Rybolovlev, the Quintessential 'New Russian'" about the great disparity of wealth in Russia between the 'New Russians'/"oligarchs" and regular people.
http://globalvoicesonline.org/2012/02/20/russia-dmitry-rybolovlev-the-quintessential-new-russian/
          There was a similar disparity in wealth that led to the Russian revolution. Lenin came up with a battle cry that really resonated with people, "Land, bread, and peace!". Right before the Russian revolution, Russia was engaged in World War I and massive amounts of people were being killed on the battlefields.
          After the Russian revolution, the wealth was dispersed more evenly, in some ways, amongst the people through Communism. Most people associate Communism and the Soviet Union with darkness - and there is good reason for that generally speaking, but with Communism also came good things such as an improvement in the educational system of Russia. As backward as the economic planning was, the education system was still able to produce engineers who designed Sputnik - the world's first artificial satellite. Also, women were given more opportunities to advance in the work place through communism and discrimination based on race/ethnicity was lowered.
          When the Soviet Union fell in the early 90's, the Yeltsin era followed. Boris Yeltsin was Russia's president from the earl 90's until Dec 31, 1999. I talked about that transition in this article: http://globalvoicesonline.org/2012/03/03/russia-a-last-minute-overview-of-pre-election-blogging/
          The Yeltsin Era was extremely volatile because leaders didn't do a very good job of figuring out how to disperse the country's wealth amongst the people. Remember, during the Russian revolution they took the money from the Tsar and the nobility and gave it to the Communist party to distribute. After Communism they had to figure out how to get the money to the people from the Communist party. The result was a lot of violence in 1990's.
          Putin's Russia began right after Yeltsin stepped down on the first day of the year 2000. At the beginning, Putin seemed as though he would be able to stabilize Russia and so people were willing to tolerate his policies which many people saw as undemocratic. I wrote an article, "Why are Russians Protesting Now?" which talks about how Russians seem to have less confidence that Putin can indeed maintain stability. http://globalvoicesonline.org/2011/12/11/russia-why-are-russians-protesting-now/
          So, Russia in some ways is very similar to how Russia was before the 1917 revolution - there is a huge disparity of wealth. One thing that is different is who has the wealth. One thing that concerns me right now is that after the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia's educational system seems to have suffered as well as some of the progress the Communists made in women's and ethnic issues.

Hope so much this helps. Good luck to you on your paper.

Warmly,

Donna

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Russia: Moscow's Modern Muslim Experience - In Context

 
          Moscow's growing Muslim population exemplifies the modern experience of Russia's ethnic and religious minorities amid the backdrop of historical events that have molded the Russian perception of outsiders and thus influence modern societal and governmental policies towards them.
          Founded in the 9th century, Novgorod is home to one of the country's most sacred sites - a monument entitled, "1,000 Years of Russia." During WWII, the city fell to Hitler's armies and plans were made to dissemble the monument and haul it back to Germany, before the Soviet Army triumphantly retook Novgorod in 1944.
Millennium of Russia Monument in Novgorod. Photo: Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0). 
       
          Centuries before Nazi Germany, Mongol armies occupied Russia for over 200 years, until Ivan III ("The Great") denied Khan Ahmed his tribute in 1476. This meant that while Western Europe was experiencing the unprecedented cultural and scientific growth of the Renaissance, Russia was beholden to stifling foreign oppression.
          LJ user crazypinguin, in a comment to a post that has nothing to do with the subject matter of this text, wrote [ru] about the disparity in the 2012 ratios - Christian Churches: Practicing Christians to that of Mosques: Practicing Muslims in Moscow:
[...] By the end of the year 2010 in Moscow there were 837 churches in the service of the Russian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchy. However, only in 271 of these church were services conducted. […] 
In Moscow as of Jan. 1, 2012, there were 11,629,116 people, and of these, 91.65 percent are Russian (as of 2002, though). That means there are 10.5 million Russians. Of these, only 2 million (if you believe pravmir.com [an Orthodox Christian online portal]) are Russian Orthodox Christians - meaning they go to church at least once a year. […] In reality, however, only about 1-1.5 percent of the general population are active church members […] and for each church there are 2,500 parishioners. 
By comparison, there are six mosques in Moscow. The number of Muslims is about 10 percent, considering that they take a more active role in church life. This means there are a million Muslims in Moscow. Six mosques. 150,000 parishioners [per mosque]. Even if only 1 percent [of the Muslim population of Moscow] attend services regularly, the figure remains at 15,000 people per mosque. [...]
Moscow Cathedral Mosque under reconstruction in 2009. Photo by Macs24 (CC BY-SA 3.0). 
          Central Asian Peoples Blog elaborated on the hardships Moscow's Muslim population faces, as it urged readers to pray for those from their region who had emigrated to the city in search of economic opportunities:
Please pray for the many Central Asians who leave their families and their home countries while they go to work in Moscow. They are not usually welcomed there. Many of them are harassed and discriminated against. Even though they are working in a land that proclaims Christianity, they very seldom hear or see the Good News. 
As the snow fills the streets and sidewalks of Moscow it is usually scraped off as soon as it hits the ground. Each morning people are awoken by the sounds of metal against the asphalt sidewalks. This noise is created by a band of street cleaners, most of whom are Central Asians. Most of these men have left their homes in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and some other CA countries. They are in Moscow to make money in order to send back to their families. These men work twelve or more hours a day, seven days a week. The only thanks they receive for their hard work is a small paycheck and harassment by the local authorities because of their skin color. As they work in Moscow many of them are lonely, missing their families and looking for purpose in life.
A Central Asian migrant worker walks down the street in Moscow. Photo by Veronica Khokhlova, used with permission. 
       
           My blog included a joke which provides insight into how xenophobia fits into the ancient and complex Russian culture:
"Two foreigners once stood in Red Square in Moscow looking up at the Kremlin and they were in awe. They wanted to be Russian and to be everything Russians are so they asked an elderly Russian man how they could in fact become Russian. The man told them to climb up and touch the red star on top of one of the Kremlin's turrets and he said they would then be transformed instantly into two Russian men. 
So the men climbed up the turret and the first man touched the star and he was transformed instantly. He could write love poetry like Pushkin and symphonies like Tchaikovsky, he could dance and fight and feel as deeply as any Russian could. 
A moment later, the second man asked the first if he could have a hand up so he too could touch the star and become Russian. The first man then kicked him in the teeth and said, 'Get the hell out of here, you foreign trash!'"
           Islam in Europe Blog provided excerpts from a Feb. 2012 Interfax article entitled, "Moscow: High-Ranking Interior Ministry Officials Suspected of Extortion from Muslim Community," in an effort to illustrate the governmental hazards Moscow minorities face in addition to societal ones:
Federal Security Service officials have submitted to the Prosecutor General's Office materials stating that several high-ranking officials from the Interior Ministry's Main Department for the Prevention of Extremism extorted a large amount of money from a Moscow Muslim community, Kommersant daily reports. 
"The Federal Security Service officers obtained information that a major extortion incident had occurred in the Moscow Lefortovsky market before the New year holidays. According to that information, a group of police officers went to the market under the pretext of an inspection, suspended the market's operation and demanded 1 million rubles from traders for permission to resume work," Kommersant writes. [...] 
According to Kommersant, the police said they were checking reports stating that there was an illegal extremist center disguised as a prayer room at the market, which was visited by Muslim traders and Tajik workers from nearby construction sites.
          LJ user denisapozhnikov attempted to counter Western criticism of religious intolerance in Russia by citing several examples of peaceful coexistence and asserting that the United States would benefit from introspection of its own policies regarding civil liberties:
A United States commission on freedom of religion asked the White House to pay "special attention" to issues of religious freedoms in Russia. […] 
It's probably true that Islamic rights are violated in Chechnya, where there is the largest mosque in Europe, or in Moscow, where only last year eight new plots were allotted for construction of mosques, or in [the blogger's native town of Ivanovo], where […] during all municipal events special squares are given to diasporas to present their traditions, including those that are religious in nature; maybe Hindus are repressed, but there are Hindu communities in all big cities and they carry out traditional festivities in public areas celebrating Krishna; or Judaism, when the Chief Rabbi of Russia is often invited to high-level summits. Or maybe it's the other way around, that the rights of Christians are violated?! […] 
Maybe these problems aren't in Russia, but in the US, which points blame away from itself? And maybe in the US the number of mosques is growing, but let's not forget that every now and then [these buildings] are threatened to be blown up. […] 
So do not believe, friends, this Western propaganda.
          Finally, Russia Blog's Yuri Mamchur gave readers hope and provided evidence of long-term multicultural understanding in a Nov. 2011 post entitled, "170,000 Celebrate Muslim Holiday Kurban Bayram in Moscow Streets":
Today, more than 170,000 Muslims celebrated the important Muslim holiday Kurban Bayram. Russian nationalists were predicting an ethnic mayhem, terrorist explosions, and racial clashes. However, the celebrations were peaceful and joyful. In one of the Moscow's mosques along the festivities were attended by 80,000 people! Even though the Moscow police was prepared for extraordinary situations, the officers were impressed with the smooth flow of events. The successful and peaceful celebration, amid troubling nationalistic tensions in the Russian society, is an important statement that Russia's peaceful Muslims and Christian can coexist, just like they have for the past 500 years.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Belarus: The 2011 Minsk Metro Explosion - A ‘Hall of Mirrors'

 
          Unconfirmed reports suggest that Vladislav Kovalev and Dmitry Konovalov - the men convicted and sentenced to death for their actions surrounding the April 2011 explosion in a Minsk subway station (GV coverage here and here) - have been executed despite international appeals to Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko for clemency.
          Writing for The Telegraph, Andrew Osborn referred to Belarus as 'Europe's last dictatorship' when he provided details of the explosion, which claimed the lives of 15 people and injured hundreds.
          Controversy surrounding the prosecution of Mr. Kovalev and Mr. Konovalov takes on two major themes - 1) The existence of the death penalty, as Belarus is the only European nation that still executes prisoners, and 2) the integrity of the prosecution of these men.
Flowers at the entrance to the Minsk metro station where the blast occurred on April 11, 2011. Photo by IVAN URALSKY, copyright © Demotix (12/04/11). 
           Just days after the explosion, The Economist posted in its blog a variety of theories about who could have been responsible:
In other countries, the finger of suspicion for the latest bomb would point immediately to Islamist terrorists. But they seem a highly unlikely culprit. Belarus has stayed clear of Russia's war in Chechnya, so attracts no jihadist ire for that. […] 
It is hard to see why anyone in the mainstream opposition would be behind the outrage. It does not destabilise the regime. It would carry huge risks to the perpetrators. And it would be completely out of character. […] 
A slighly more plausible candidate would be an extremist movement. Belarus has no real tradition of political radicalism. Russia has skinheads, persecutors of ethnic minorities and even neo-Nazis (puzzling: do they think they are übermenschen or untermenschen?). Such groups have minor offshoots in Belarus. Perhaps one such is showing off its abilities, for purposes of its own. 
A Belarusian outfit called the "White Legion" was linked to the 2008 bombings and may have had a hand in two earlier explosions in 2005. But nobody knows much about it. Some even doubt it exists. […] 
Splits within the regime are a possibility. The arrest in December 2010 of Igor Azarenok, the air-force chief, remains a mystery, and may be resented by his friends. Some analysts posit the existence of rival factions of "young wolves" and "old wolves" (the former friends of Mr Lukashenka's son Viktar, the others old KGB men). 
Another analysis involves a hardline faction determined to push Belarus further towards autocracy and away from the West. […] 
Such secret internal machinations can of course explain almost anything. But it would be nice to have some evidence. In this case little exists.
          The post concluded by emphasizing that no real evidence had been produced, as it likened the case to a 'hall of mirrors':
The result is a hall of mirrors: did the authorities let off a bomb hoping to discredit the opposition? Or did the opposition do it in the belief that the authorities would take the blame? Or was it the Russians, for some conspiracy theorists the all-purpose malefactors? Did the regime do it in order to highlight the threat from "extremists", or in the hope of pinning blame on outsiders? Or was it NATO: after all, the wicked Westerners have bombed Libya, so why not Belarus? The explanations become steadily more absurd and inconclusive. 
The only hard fact so far is that the bombing was a professional job, callously executed. Mr Lukashenka took his usual fatherly line, attending the scene of the blast with his six-year-old son (his companion in almost all public appearances).
         In November 2011, Death Penalty Blog quoted an article found in the Independent, which illuminated the controversy surrounding the investigation into Mr. Konovalov and Mr. Kovalyov:
Police quickly arrested Konovalov and Kovalyov, however, and the former confessed to making the bomb and detonating it, while the latter admitted he knew his friend's plans and did nothing to stop him. The pair also admitted to a number of smaller attacks. Konovalov said that he carried out the attacks "to destabilise the situation in the Republic of Belarus" and because he disagreed with Mr Lukashenko's policies, but the bizarrely stilted admission, which mirrors an official legal definition, left many suspicious, as did the fact that Konovalov appeared to be entirely apolitical. 
During the two-month trial, Kovalyov has said he only implicated his friend after being pressured by investigators, and Konovalov has said nothing. Besides the confessions, the prosecutors have offered little substantial evidence against the two men. 
Although the verdict has not yet been delivered, Mr Lukashenko has already publicly rewarded officials for solving the case, and state-controlled media have frequently referred to the two men on trial as "terrorists".
          Mr. Kovalyov's mother took an active role in public efforts to exonerate her son. Through Change.org, she set up a multi-lingual online form enabling netizens to petition a variety of European foreign affairs officials:
I am writing you on behalf of Lyubou Kavalyova, a mother of Uladzislau Kavalyou. On November 30th, her son together with Dzmitry Kanavalau was convicted to the death penalty by the Supreme Court of the Republic of Belarus. [...] 
I joined this campaign, because I believe the two men cannot be sent to death, until they are proven guilty. [...] 
I am writing you also on behalf of Belarusian and international human rights groups and many victims of the attack, who say the trial is unjust and that the Supreme Court has made a mistake sentencing the two men to death. […] 
Thus, I am writing to you to ask only two things: please take a stand on this issue publicly, please condemn the death penalty in Belarus. Please write to the Belarusian authorities and demand not to execute Uladzislau Kavalyou and Dzmitry Kanavalau, but instead to start a new investigation! […]
Petitioners left comments explaining why they felt moved to take action in defense of these young men.

Olga Nikonova [ru]:
They aren't guilty!!!! The presumption of innocence states - a man is innocent until proven guilty in a court. The court hasn't provided evidence!!!! [...]
Iryna Lysenko [ru]:
I'm against the death penalty. History is full of situations where innocent people were executed. This case might be one of them. It must not be allowed to happen!
Dzmitry Shymkin [en]:
Everybody knows that this process is farce and everybody knows who is real organizator of that murder.
          Voice of America Blog announced on Nov. 30 that the death penalty had been handed down and that international human rights groups continued to call into question the legitimacy of the investigation:
The judge said Wednesday that Dmitry Konovalov and Vladislav Kovalyov present an extreme danger to society and thus require the ultimate punishment — death by execution. [...]  
Rights activists had called on authorities in the former Soviet republic not to impose the death sentence. An Amnesty International researcher expressed shock at, in her words, the “cynicism” of the judgment. 
Amnesty says it has concerns about the investigation, namely the speed with which the case was announced resolved and that the two suspects confessed to not only masterminding the April metro bombing but others as well.
          Voices of Russia Blog published a letter to the editor a few days later entitled "Apparently, the West is Against Terrorism Only When it Suits its Own Agenda," which supported the prosecution of Mr. Konovalov and Mr. Kovalyov:
Apparently, the West’s against terrorism only when it suits its own agenda. Despite the overwhelming physical and circumstantial evidence against the Minsk Metro Bombers, including a video tape of one of the perps planting the bomb, the Western media’s already screaming that the trial was unfair. They’re even stating that the Byelorussian government planted the bomb in order to create a situation of fear. At this point, I believe it’s a waste of time even answering the anti-Belarus and anti-Lukashenko ravings in the West. No matter what we say, no matter what evidence we present, they’ll continue to demonise Belarus and President Lukashenko. [...]
          In recent days there have been unverified reports that one or both men have already been executed. RT.com reported that Mr. Kovalev’s family received a letter signed by the Deputy Chairman of the Supreme Court stating that their son had been shot on Mar. 15. What is certain is that if these men have been executed, their families received no advance warning.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Russia: First Woman in Space Turns 75 Years Old



          Just days before the world celebrated International Women's Day last week, Valentina Tereshkova - the first woman to enter space - celebrated her 75th birthday.
          Although the Space Race had its origins in the years following WWII, when the United States and the Soviet Union began cultivating rocket-based missile technology, it did not officially commence until the Soviet Union launched an artificial satellite called Sputnik in 1957. Yuri Gagarin became the first human to enter space in 1961, when he piloted the ship Vostok 1 (the Russian word for East). A few years later, Vostok 6 was launched and Ms. Tereshkova became the first woman to journey into space.
          Engineering Pathway Blog marked the anniversary of Ms. Tereshkova's space flight last year, and in doing so highlighted the fact that upon her re-entry into Earth's atmosphere, she had logged more flight time than all of her American counterparts combined:
Today in History – June 16, 1963,  Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space aboard the Soviet Union’s Vostok 6. At the time, Tereshkova had completed three days in space, more than the flight time of all the American astronauts put together. […] 
Tereshkova has received a number of medals and distinctions, including two Orders of Lenin; recognition as a Hero of the Soviet Union; the United Nation Gold Medal of Peace; the Simba International Women’s Movement Award; and the Joliot-Curie Gold Medal. In 2000, she was named “Greatest Woman Achiever of the Century” award by the International Women of the Year Association.
          Woman of the Week Blog - a publication dedicated to honoring those who have made significant contributions to engineering or science - provided insight into Ms. Tereshkova's background:
Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova was born March 6th, 1937 in Bolshoye Maslennikovo in the Yaroslavl Oblast of the Soviet Union. Her father, Vladimir Aksyenovich Tereshkov was a tractor driver, and her mother, Elena Fedorovna, worked in a textile plant. She had a younger brother and an older sister. Valentina's father Vladimir went missing in action in the Finno-Russian War of 1939-1940, and so Valentina and her siblings were raised by their mother. 
Due to World War II, Valentina didn't begin attending school until she was 8 years old. At 17 she had to leave school to work at a textile mill in order to help support her family; however, she continued her education through a correspondence course. Valentina learned to sky dive through an auxiliary organization of the Soviet Air Force located in her town (Yaroslavl). She made her first jump in 1959 and created a Parachute Club at the textile mill where she worked. [...]
           My Mail.ru user Irina quoted [ru] General Lieutenant Nikolai Kamanin as he provided his account of Ms. Tereshkova's flight:
"I spoke with Tereshkova a few times. It seemed that she was tired but she didn't want to admit it. [...] We looked at the television camera and saw that she was asleep. I woke her up and talked to her about the landing she was going to have to make by hand. [There were difficulties with the orientation of the ship and we were all very worried]. [...]"  
Irina then provided commentary about Ms. Tereshkova's time in space as well as her landing in Russia:
Despite the nausea and physical discomfort, she completed 48 revolutions around the earth and spent almost 3 days in space. She kept a journal and took photographs of the horizon which were used later to detect aerosol layers in the atmosphere. The Vostok 6 landed safely in the Baevski region of the Altai territory, about 620 kilometers northeast of Karaganda. [...]
          Ms. Tershkova herself was then quoted as she discussed what it felt like to see the planet Earth fade into the distance:
"When I catapulted I thought to myself in silent horror, - which I finally admitted 44 years later - I saw the lake below me and my first thought was, "The lord has sent one woman who will be reclaimed into the water!"
          Woman of the Week Blog elaborated on the physical and mental demands of Ms. Tereshkova's three days in orbit:
The flight was not without difficulty; the orbiter was oriented incorrectly and needed to be corrected, unfortunately it took her a day to convince ground control. Valentina became queasy during the flight and became sick. To reduce what ground control perceived as space sickness, Valentina was told to stay strapped into her chair for the three day duration of the flight. When she finally landed, she suffered a blow to her nose that resulted in a dark bruise. In the propaganda tours that followed, she had to wear heavy makeup to conceal the bruise.
          Polly's Piece of Peace Blog discussed in a 2011 post Ms. Tereshkova's life journey following the historic flight:
After her pioneering flight, she was honoured as a Hero of the Soviet Union and received the Order of Lenin. She studied at the Zhukovskiy Military Air Academy, graduating in 1969. Tereshkova also held several positions in the Soviet government and the Communist Party. As a spokesperson for the USSR, she received the United Nations Gold Medal of Peace, among other international awards, including the Order of Friendship from Russian President Medvedev this past April. Briefly married to a fellow cosmonaut, she gave birth to the first child of parents who had traveled in space: a daughter, who later became a doctor.
Member of the first squad of cosmonauts Valentina Tereshkova was awarded the Order of Friendship. April 12, 2011. Photo credit: www.kremlin.ru (CC BY 3.0)
         Russell Phillips' Blog concluded a 2011 post about Ms. Tereshkova by providing a brief summary of her life, including her continuing wish to journey to Mars:
When Tereshkova left school to start work at the age of 16, she continued her education via correspondence courses. She graduated with distinction from Zhukovskiy Military Air Academy in 1969, and earned a doctorate in engineering in 1977. During her 70th birthday celebrations, she said that she’d like to fly to Mars, even if it was a one-way trip.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Mabel DeGeer Welles Owen - Obituary



"Aunt Mab" was my grandpa - Sam Welles - sister. 
The Hartford Courant published this obit of Mabel DeGeer Welles Owen on June 15, 2010. 
Mab's husband - Uncle Charlie - was a world renowned Chaucer scholar.


OWEN, Mabel DeGeer Welles-- Mabel Owen was born June 14, 1915 in Chelsea, OK, the daughter of the Reverend Samuel Gardner Welles and Mabel DeGeer Welles. The family moved to Trenton, NJ, and after her father's death to a farm in Crosswicks, NJ. Mab attended St Mary's Hall, Randolph Macon Academy, Wellesley College, receiving her BA in Botany in 1937, and Columbia University, where she received her MA in Library Sciences. Following World War II she was working as the librarian of Bordentown, NJ, when she and Charles A. Owen, Jr., became engaged. They were married on June 8, 1946, and in 1947 moved to Storrs, CT, where Charles joined the English department of the University of Connecticut. In 1953 they began spending their summers in Freedom, NH, renting a house with her sister and brother-in-law, Muriel and Ted Hall. In 1955 the two families bought the Towle house in the middle of Freedom Village and for the next 45 years Charles and Mab joyfully spent their winters in Storrs and summers in Freedom. Charles died in 1998 and was buried in the small graveyard behind their house in Freedom. Together Mab and Charles raised four children, Lucy, Sarah, Jennifer and Charles, and nurtured their two grandchildren, Philip and Jennifer. Mab was a gentle soul, whose quiet strength was the bedrock for her children and extended family. She loved her garden and her friends, and watered the lives of all who came to know and love her. She died in her bed on the morning of June 8, 2010 where she could see from her window the flowers and trees she had planted during 58 years of living in her house. She was looking forward to finding out what comes next in the hereafter, and in recent months, though still healthy, had become impatient to begin the journey. It is fitting that she joined her husband on their wedding anniversary. A memorial service will be held on June 19, 2010 at 3 p.m., St Mark's Episcopal Church, South Eagleville Rd., Storrs, where she has been a member of the congregation since before it was built in 1955. A joint celebration of her life and Sarah's husband Jerry's life will be held at the Towle house in Freedom on June 26, 2010 at 2 p.m., and her ashes will be buried next to her husband's. In lieu of flowers a donation to St Marks Church ongoing flower fund would be appreciated.

From Left: Sam, Mabel, Mary, Muriel, Bishop Edward
Mabel DeGeer, Canon Welles

Monday, March 5, 2012

Russia: Fake US Ambassador Twitter Account Wreaks Havoc During Vote



          The March 4 Russian presidential election played out as many predicted: Vladimir Putin emerged with the majority of the vote. Given that a major theme of this election season is the impact citizen media has had on the political process, perhaps it is fitting that some of the day's drama resulted from a fake Twitter account of the United States' top diplomat in Moscow.

Michael McFaul. Ambassador of the United States of America to the Russian Federation. Photo by the U.S. Department of State, in public domain.


          Fictional Michael McFaul's first tweet was sent on Jan. 24, 2012 - roughly one week after Ambassador McFaul had been sworn in (the fake Twitter account - @McFauI instead of @McFaul - has been suspended, and the links to the tweets quoted below aren't working):
Добрый день! Приветствую вас в моем неофициальном русскоязычном твиттере.
Good day! Welcome to my unofficial Russian-language Twitter.

          The handful of tweets Fictional McFaul sent before Sunday's presidential election alluded to the Cold War and America's activities surrounding the Dec. 2011 protests in Moscow.
          On March 4, Fictional McFaul began tweeting about the elections in Russian.

10:45 am:
Желаю России честных выборов сегодня, выборы - это основа демократии и стабильного развития.
I'm wishing Russia fair elections today, elections are a fundamental component of democracy and stability.

10:46 am:
@MedvedevRussia лично обещал мне честные выборы в России
@MedvedevRussia personally assured me that Russia's elections would be fair.

10:59am :
@adagamov В России же запрещена агитация в день выборов
@adagamov In Russia propaganda on election day is forbidden.

11:24 am:
@4irikova Вы думаете выборы в России будут честными?
@4irikova Do you think Russia's elections will be fair?

          And finally, at 3:08 pm, Fictional McFaul alleged that the validity of the Russian presidential election has been called into question:
Наблюдатели сообщают о большом количестве нарушений на участках по всей стране, это ставит под вопрос легитимность выборов.
Observers have reported numerous violations across the nation, it brings into question the legitimacy of the election.

          The Wall Street Journal Moscow Bureau Blog discussed how, initially, notable Russian figures believed these remarks had indeed originated from the U.S. Ambassador:
Such sentiments, appearing to come from the U.S.’s highest representative in Moscow, were a red rag to the Russian establishment bull, with Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of the Kremlin-backed English-language TV news channel Russia Today, among the first to charge. 
“And so it begins,” Ms. Simonyan tweeted. “They don’t even wait for the results, but act straight away.”
          Genuine McFaul responded in kind. At 5:33 pm, he mentioned Fictional McFaul when he announced that he had not been the source of the allegations of election improprieties:
@McFauI @adagamov Someone has put out a false account under my name. Please help your followers understand. My actual account is "verified."
          News of the existence of Fictional McFaul traveled quickly, and Twitter users informed each other on how to distinguish between them.

Official McFaul then retweeted several such announcements in both English and Russian.

Eugene Sokolov:
Настоящий аккаунт посла США, в России - Майкла @McFaul, верифицирован. Данный аккаунт > @McFauI фейк (вместо l - маленькой, i - большая)
The real account of the U.S. Ambassador to Russia - Michael @McFaul, is verified. This account > McFauI is fake (instead of a small l, there's a big I)

          Global Voices Author Alexey Sidorenko ‏(@sidorenko_intl) reminded Twitter users of a similar situation with activist blogger Alexey Navalny:
All Twitter accounts with "L" letter are prone to fakes. L is easily replace by uppercase "i" - this had happened w/ @navalny. Now w/ @mcfaul
Michael Schwirtz: ‏
Some created fake twitter account for U.S. Ambassador to #Russia, spreading rumors of fraud. Real account: @McFaul; Fake @McFauIw big 'i'
daniele: ‏
@mschwirtz @McFaul This is a very dirty trick. In any case, the real account is clearly visible with a blue mark on it.
Michael McFaul:
Clever! RT@niktwick The lower case L (l) - capital i(I) trap today made a fake @McFauI famous and gave the real @McFaul a hard time
          Ambassador McFaul then retweeted articles from the aforementioned Wall Street Journal Blog and a brief announcement in the Washington Post Business section.
          Before signing off, Official McFaul retweeted a Global Voices article, which discussed the Ambassador's efforts to open up a dialogue with the Russian people through social networking sites, as well as the reception these efforts received from Russian bloggers:
Russia: Obama’s McFaul Sworn in as U.S. Ambassador · Global Voices bit.ly/ztysHA Explains @McFaul's Twitter account/Russian internet

October 4, 1905 - Welles-DeGeer Wed



The Okie Legacy found this Oct 6, 1905 marriage announcement of 
Welles-DeGeer (my great-grandparents):

         "Married, at the Episcopal Church in Wichita, Kansas, Wednesday, October 4, 1905, Rev. S. G. Welles of Cincinnati, Ohio, and Miss Mable DeGeer of Wichita, Kansas, with Bisop F. K. Brooke of Oklahoma City, officiating.
         The groom was at one time rector of the Episcopal church at this place and is a man of high moral character and is now rector of a church in Cincinnati.
          The bride is the daughter of Mrs. L. W. DeGeer formerly of Alva, and a niece of the editor of the Record. She is a lady of rare accomplishments and refinement. The happy couple left for Kansas City where they will spend a few days with Mrs. Welles' brother, Dahl DeGeer and wife, and then go to Cincinnati, where they will make their future home.
         The Record joins their numerous friends in Alva and vicinity in wishing them peace, prosperity and plenty as they journey through life -- Record."

Years later, the children they produced including my grandpa, Sam Welles Jr.         

From Left: Sam, Mabel, Mary, Muriel, Bishop Edward
Mabel DeGeer, Canon Sam

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Russia: A Last-Minute Overview of Pre-Election Blogging

 
          On Dec. 31, 1999, as Russians were celebrating New Year's Eve, a holiday that transcends religion and politics, President Boris Yeltsin went on the air and announced that Vladimir Putin would be instated as acting President. Before signing off, he added: "I want to beg forgiveness for your dreams that never came true. And also I would like to beg forgiveness not to have justified your hopes."
          In the aftermath of the devastating apartment bombings that occurred in September 1999 and the launching of the Second Chechen War, Mr. Putin's sole platform for the 2000 Russian presidential election was counter-terrorism in the North Caucasus. Beyond that, Mr. Putin refused to campaign or to join a political party. Nevertheless, he finished first among the 11 candidates with 53% of the vote - and the "Putin Era" began.
Protesters hold a poster against the Russian Prime Minister and presidential candidate Vladimir Putin during a rally for fair elections in St. Petersburg, Russia. Photo by MIKE KIREEV, copyright © Demotix (25/02/12).
         Twelve years later, Mr Putin's candidacy seems much more turbulent, as protesters took to the the streets alleging improprieties in the Dec. 2011 parliamentary elections. Still, polling data suggests that he is heading into Sunday's election with the support of the majority of the electorate.
          For World Affairs Journal Blog, Vladimir Kara-Murza contextualized the March 4 election in a post entitled, "In Sunday's Vote, It's Putin Vs. Russia":
On Monday, Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki was at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, attending a performance of Rodion Shchedrin’s opera Dead Souls. As the performance was getting underway, spectators noticed Penderecki in the box and started booing. The legendary musician was bewildered, not understanding the reason for such hostility. Only later was it explained to him that the audience mistook him for Vladimir Churov, the chairman of Russia’s Central Electoral Commission — to whom he indeed bears an uncanny resemblance. 
As Sunday’s presidential election draws near, the public frustration with Vladimir Putin is becoming increasingly apparent. Over the weekend, thousands of Muscovites formed a human chain alongside the 10-mile Garden Ring Road — inspired by the pro-independence “Baltic Way” of 1989 — to protest Putin’s return to power and demand free and fair elections. In St. Petersburg, thousands of people from across the political spectrum marched through the city center calling for “a peaceful revolution.” Attitudes to the regime are also being expressed in less political ways: a mock Channel One “news report” from the future showing Putin’s arrest and trial in Moscow became an instant online hit, with five million views in one week. [...]
Sean Guillory of Sean's Russia Blog provided the background for the candidates running against Mr. Putin:
[...] Indeed, the Russian presidential election has been anything but ordinary. Sure, the official cast of characters remains virtually identical to past contests, save a few additions. Communist Party stalwart, Gennady Ziuganov still plays the role of “loyal opposition in-chief,” the aging face of a Communist Party that has the organizational resources to actually present a political alternative to Putin, but lacks the so-called “Leninist will” to adapt to present political conditions. Part of that adaption, however, would require dumping Ziuganov and forsake its aging electorate, something the KPRF mandarins and rank and file are still unwilling to do. Opposite Ziuganov is Vladimir Zhirinovsky, another perennial “loyal oppositionist.” Zhirik plays the harlequin in this grand performance, adding outrageous, comic relief to a show already thin on drama. In a way, Zhirinovsky reflects the whole process itself, a clown for a clownish spectacle. Then there is Mikhail Prokhorov, the new addition to the cast. Prokhorov serves as a kind of Khodorkovsky-lite (since the real Khodorkovsky is less pliable and, well, in jail for the foreseeable future). An oligarch who “made” the bulk of his wealth in the “loans for shares” scheme that saved Boris Yeltsin from defeat in the 1996 Presidential election, Prokhorov, unlike Khodorkovsky, not only understood the rules of the game, but also played them correctly. But the biggest question that has dogged Prokhorov is not his past, but whether he’s a Kremlin project or not. I suspect that he’s a mixture. One thing is clear to me after reading Julia Ioffe’s profile of him in the New Yorker is that Prokhorov’s biggest obstacle is that he’s a sleazeball. Bringing up the rear is Just Russia’s candidate, Sergei Mironov. His candidacy only inspires one question: Who’s he? [...]
          Along with the results of the election itself, freedom of expression has been a resounding issue for the past few months.
          Committee to Protect Journalists Blog provided details to the backlash the Russian media endured after its coverage of the protests surrounding the controversial Dec. 2011 parliamentary elections:
[...] On December 12, Russian tycoon Alisher Usmanov, owner of the Kommersant Publishing House - which produces independent business daily Kommersant and several other news outlets - announced that he was sacking Maksim Kovalsky, chief editor of the popular weekly magazine Kommersant-Vlast. Demyan Kudryavtsev, the publisher's executive director, announced he would resign. The news was a huge blow, as Kovalsky and Kudryavtsev are leading journalists and considered fathers of Kommersant and its publisher. 
The magazine's coverage of the parliamentary election was surely the reason for Kommersant's beheading. A week after the vote, most of Kommersant-Vlast's coverage was of the alleged fraud that led to public outrage and protests unprecedented in Russia in the past decade. But Usmanov - believed to be in Putin's close circle - zeroed in on a formal reason to punish the magazine. In its December 12 issue, Kommersant-Vlast published a picture of a ballot cast in London for the opposition Yabloko party; the ballot carried a hand-written insult to Putin across it. Usmanov publicly scolded the magazine for "unacceptable use of coarse language," and said it was unethical and "on the borderline of hooliganism." The magazine removed the picture from its website, but it was circulated on social networks, including Kommersant reporter Oleg Kashin's Twitter account. 
The removal of Kovalsky and Kudryavtsev angered their colleagues at Kommersant. Two days later, dozens of journalists from Usmanov's news outlets - including independent news website Gazeta - signed and published online an open letter headlined, "We are forced into cowardice." Veronika Kucyllo, a long-serving deputy editor at Kommersant-Vlast, announced her resignation in protest of Usmanov's decision.
          Another important theme this election season has been the role of citizen media as a catalyst of political activism in Russia. Even though they are harder to censor than mainstream news sources, they are not totally immune to censorship, however, as Global Voices discussed in a post entitled, "Why are Russians Protesting Now?"
          In a post entitled, "The Man Vladimir Putin Fears Most," Wall Street Journal Blog predicts that blogger and anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny will have an impact on the presidential election:
[...] Anticorruption blogger and activist Alexei Navalny will be in the middle of it — as he has been over the past three months of Russia's unexpected political awakening. By the tens of thousands, Russians shed their fear and apathy to protest December's fraud-ridden parliamentary elections and Mr. Putin's hold on power. From a crowded stage of opposition figures, Mr. Navalny has emerged as the charismatic and fresh face of the movement. 
The next phase will test him and the opposition. The series of large demonstrations after December exposed the shallowness of support for Mr. Putin in the large cities and public frustration with the political stagnation and lack of accountability in Russia. Yet the rallies forced no notable government concessions. Though weakened, Mr. Putin gets a new term and possibly energy to reverse his slide or to crack down. [...]
          Tolik Belenko's Russian-language LiveJounal blog included a link to a "Nashi" announcement [ru] that the pro-Putin youth group has made plans to quash civil unrest in the aftermath of the elections:
On March 5, a few thousand activists from the groups "Nashi" and "Steel" will take to the streets of Moscow in order to prevent any illegal activity aimed at destabilizing society in the aftermath of the Russian presidential election.
         LJ user tolik_belenko also shared the link to Nashi's announcement on his ya.ru page [ru]. Readers' comments were somewhat ominous.

Johnny TraHvoltin wrote [ru]:
This has already happened, though not with us, but in China, when [Mao Zedong] occasionally called out the [Red Guards Hóng Wèibīng] troops to the streets in order to maintain order. How did it end? Read history.
Svetlana wrote [ru]:
It's not yet tomorrow. Why guess? We shall see.
 

Friday, March 2, 2012

Muriel Welles Hall - Obituary



Muriel Welles Hall was the sister of my grandpa - Sam Welles. 
Stephen Cox wrote this obituary of her which was published in the 
Oct 2004 issue of Liberty Magazine.

From Left: Sam, Mabel, Mary, Muriel, Bishop Edward
Mabel DeGeer, Canon Sam

Muriel Hall, RIP-- Muriel Hall, one of the last witnesses to the early years of the modern libertarian movement, has died at the age of 82. She was the friend of the libertarian author and theorist Isabel Paterson, and the lifelong exponent of Paterson's ideas.

         Muriel Welles Hall was born in Trenton, N.J., on Nov. 27, 1921, the daughter of Mabel De Geer Welles and the Rev. Samuel Gardner Welles. The Welles family had for generations played a prominent role in the Episcopal church. One of Muriel's grandfathers was an early bishop of Wisconsin, and one of her brothers became bishop of West Missouri. Her father, a priest, worked as a missionary in Oklahoma Territory, where he met his future wife, a pioneer schoolteacher. Muriel was reared in an environment in which the spirit of Western enterprise and the spirit of traditional learning were equally respected.

          After graduation from the New Jersey College for Women (now Douglass College) and staff work for Time magazine, she studied at Oxford University and worked as a "stringer" for Time, interviewing such people as C.S. Lewis. In England she married Edward Matson (Ted) Hall, a distantly related scion of the Welles family who was serving in the American merchant marine. They returned to America, where both pursued careers in journalism, Ted as a newspaper reporter and editor, Muriel as a senior researcher for Time-Life and later for the Reader's Digest. The couple, who divorced in the mid1960s, reared four children, including two young relatives whom they informally adopted.

          It was in 1937 that Muriel first encountered the novelist and critic Isabel Paterson (1886-1961), a friend of Muriel's parents and of her older sister Mary, who had worked with Paterson in the editorial offices of New York Herald Tribune "Books." Impressed by Paterson's intelligence and sophistication, Muriel was first astonished and then attracted by her radical political views. At the Welles' home, Muriel witnessed the great debate between Paterson and another family friend, Whittaker Chambers, later celebrated for his role in the HissChambers case and in the foundation of the modern conservative movement. Muriel joined in the brilliant conversations at the famous "Monday Night" salons in Paterson's office at the Herald Tribune. She was present on the Monday night in January 1949 when Paterson announced that she had been fired from the paper, with whose management she had. long disagreed about political and social issues.

          During the 1950s, Muriel and Ted were frequent visitors at Paterson's farm near Princeton, New Jersey. When she sold the farm, they urged her to move to their own home in Montclair, New Jersey; and Muriel was beside her when she died there in 1961. Muriel executed Paterson's will and, in 1964, sponsored a new edition of her major work of political and historical theory, "The God of the Machine."

          She preserved the memory and the written records of Paterson's life and upheld Paterson's ideal of individual liberty during the many years in which others ignored or scorned it. When the resurgence of libertarian thought took place in the 1970s and 1980s, Muriel shared her knowledge with new generations, creating a unique and vital connection between the past and future.

          In the mid-1980s Muriel retired to her home in the tiny village of Hampton, Conn., where she devoted herself to reading, gardening, and the enjoyment of her family and friends.

         An expert fisherman, she spent summers at a primary location for the sport, Cape Hatteras, N.C. establishing residence there in the late 1990s. "I'm an old woman," she said; "I could die at any time!" - a reflection that did not prevent her from going wherever she wanted with her truck, her fishing poles, her cat, and her latest copy of The Wall Street Journal. When, last September, she developed a rare form of leukemia, she fought back heroically and succeeded in maintaining her enjoyment and control of her life, at one point driving alone through hundreds of miles of hurricane-ravaged territory in order to reach her house at the Cape. On July 13,2004, she at last succumbed, still fearless in the face of death, at the home of her beloved sister, Mabel Owen, in Storrs, Conn.

         Like Isabel Paterson, Muriel Hall was a complex and forceful personality, a woman of passionate and outspoken conviction, yet a woman of great kindness, generosity, and delicacy of feeling. She was also a woman whose serious intellectual interests never restricted her sense of fun. As she said of Paterson, "it was just laugh, laugh, laugh" when she was present. Witty and ebullient, Muriel was at the same time a deeply meditative person, patiently developing her own thoughts and expressing them, when they matured, in words that could not be forgotten. No one who accompanied Muriel to a gallery of art or heard her reading aloud in her deep, resonant, effortlessly modulated voice could fail to remember the experience.

          Superbly competent herself, Muriel revered competence in others, whether it was mastery in building, painting, cooking, or gardening, or brilliance in literature or political thought. She felt that she could never say enough to praise the individual achievements of the men and women, famous or obscure, who created the wonders and pleasures of "this beautiful world."

          Many Americans express devotion to ideas of individual liberty and responsibility, but Muriel saw the full significance of those ideas and embodied them fully in her life. She cherished their history; she grasped their implications, and she rejoiced in anticipation of their final victory. She was, as she said of Paterson, "a great libertarian" - and a very great person.