Putin’s Amazing Opinion Piece

Here is a recent opinion article from Russian President Putin urging the USA to not use military intervention on Syria. I found it pretty convincing (of course he is hypocritical on some parts), and my favorite part is his quote deriding US exceptional-ism. I mean seriously, the US has to stop showing off and be humble. Anyway, here’s the article.

MOSCOW — RECENT events surrounding Syria have prompted me to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders. It is important to do so at a time of insufficient communication between our societies.

Relations between us have passed through different stages. We stood against each other during the cold war. But we were also allies once, and defeated the Nazis together. The universal international organization — the United Nations — was then established to prevent such devastation from ever happening again.

The United Nations’ founders understood that decisions affecting war and peace should happen only by consensus, and with America’s consent the veto by Security Council permanent members was enshrined in the United Nations Charter. The profound wisdom of this has underpinned the stability of international relations for decades.

No one wants the United Nations to suffer the fate of the League of Nations, which collapsed because it lacked real leverage. This is possible if influential countries bypass the United Nations and take military action without Security Council authorization.

The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders. A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.

Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multireligious country. There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government. The United States State Department has designated Al Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, fighting with the opposition, as terrorist organizations. This internal conflict, fueled by foreign weapons supplied to the opposition, is one of the bloodiest in the world.

Mercenaries from Arab countries fighting there, and hundreds of militants from Western countries and even Russia, are an issue of our deep concern. Might they not return to our countries with experience acquired in Syria? After all, after fighting in Libya, extremists moved on to Mali. This threatens us all.

From the outset, Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future. We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law. We need to use the United Nations Security Council and believe that preserving law and order in today’s complex and turbulent world is one of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos. The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not. Under current international law, force is permitted only in self-defense or by the decision of the Security Council. Anything else is unacceptable under the United Nations Charter and would constitute an act of aggression.

No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists. Reports that militants are preparing another attack — this time against Israel — cannot be ignored.

It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it. Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan “you’re either with us or against us.”

But force has proved ineffective and pointless. Afghanistan is reeling, and no one can say what will happen after international forces withdraw. Libya is divided into tribes and clans. In Iraq the civil war continues, with dozens killed each day. In the United States, many draw an analogy between Iraq and Syria, and ask why their government would want to repeat recent mistakes.

No matter how targeted the strikes or how sophisticated the weapons, civilian casualties are inevitable, including the elderly and children, whom the strikes are meant to protect.

The world reacts by asking: if you cannot count on international law, then you must find other ways to ensure your security. Thus a growing number of countries seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction. This is logical: if you have the bomb, no one will touch you. We are left with talk of the need to strengthen nonproliferation, when in reality this is being eroded.

We must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement.

A new opportunity to avoid military action has emerged in the past few days. The United States, Russia and all members of the international community must take advantage of the Syrian government’s willingness to place its chemical arsenal under international control for subsequent destruction. Judging by the statements of President Obama, the United States sees this as an alternative to military action.

I welcome the president’s interest in continuing the dialogue with Russia on Syria. We must work together to keep this hope alive, as we agreed to at the Group of 8 meeting in Lough Erne in Northern Ireland in June, and steer the discussion back toward negotiations.

If we can avoid force against Syria, this will improve the atmosphere in international affairs and strengthen mutual trust. It will be our shared success and open the door to cooperation on other critical issues.

My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptional-ism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.


Blindman’s Buff

Hello readers. Sorry for my recent lack of posts; I should have mentioned that I was taking a break from blogging. Today, I will continue off my last post, where I said I would do some analyzing of an artwork. So here’s the artwork:

Blindman’s Buff by Vitaly Komar

This is a oil canvas painting by Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid, both Russian artists. Komar and Melamid are an artistic team who created collaborative artworks, working first in Moscow in the late 1960s through the early 1970s. They emerged as dissident artists on the international stage in the 1970s. The artistic duo first exhibited work in the United States in 1975, a few years before their permanent emigration. They worked together as a team until 2003, and both artists have produced a body of work independently since that time.

In 1972 Komar and Melamid launched a new movement they called Sots Art. Drawing on ideas from Pop Art in the United States, which itself borrowed from the everyday to comment on society, the Sots Art movement appropriated the visual language of Socialist Realism and put it to new use through ironic visual twists. (Socialist Realism is the form of art that had to conform to what the Soviet government wanted. Thus, artists were restricted in what they wanted to produce.) Although the two artists were trained as painters, they also used photography, text, performance, and found objects in their works. They continued to have their art censored given the fact that they constantly rebelled against Socialist Realism. However, they managed to smuggle some of their artwork out of the USSR.

That was some background information. Now on the artwork itself. Now what do we see? We see a girl or a woman being blindfolded. She is playing the typical game of Blind Man’s Buff with a man, who is kneeling down trying to hide from the girl. The room is mostly red, and on a wall is a picture of Stalin himself. We also see a table, with a hat and a pot on top of it.

Komar and Melamid

Obviously, the color red is symbolic of the Socialist Communist system. We also know, from the background information, that Komar and Melamid were against Socialist Realism. So perhaps a theme of this painting is this negative attitude towards the USSR government. For instance, the man kneeling seems a lot like a Russian soldier, maybe symbolic of the Russian government itself. In a sense, this man is almost taunting the girl, who seems like a victim rather than a girl just playing a game. Perhaps the girl is representative of the common Russian who is in a sense victim of the USSR government. She cannot see what the Russian soldier is doing- maybe showing that the common Russian was not aware of the corrupt deeds the government had done. She, and symbolically the common Russian, cannot see the light coming in from the window, symbolic of truth, of what the government was really doing, perhaps “blinded” by the Soviet propaganda. Most importantly, Stalin’s portrait shows that the man who is watching over all of this is Stalin himself- almost like a god, with an omnipresent presence. Stalin is watching over and conducting the blinding of the common Russian.

However, this artwork is open to interpretation. There could be other themes involved, such as the artistic style. Here, Komar mimicked the art of Socialist Realism, trying to give the ironic tone of mocking Socialist Realism by using Socialist Realism art. One sees that this is Socialist Realism art because it is very naturalistic, depicts ordinary people, and figures are like those of Socialist Realist art.

We also see influence from the Baroque artist Vermeer. Many of Vermeer’s paintings feature a relationship between a young woman and a man, focusing on a suspended moment that implies an incomplete narrative. Vermeer often placed his subjects in interior spaces that were lit from a window. In addition, the focus on details in Blindman’s Buff, such as the textures of the floor, the curtain, and the clothing, is reminiscent of Vermeer’s paintings.

Although in this post I focused on Socialist Realism’s involvement in this painting, it may have no relationship whatsoever. Again, it is open to interpretation. Maybe the soldier is not taunting the girl, but perhaps protecting her. Maybe the artwork was meant to show a playful relationship between the girl and the man. Who knows? And this is one beauty of art analysis: there is never one right answer.

In my next post, I will talk about how sometimes our body seems to be another living organism.

An Avant-Garde Musician

Avant-Garde. Things that are way out into the future, way ahead of their time. People like Picasso, whose invention of Cubism stood out starkly with all the rest of art. Or Marcel Duchamp, whose upside-down toilet shocked and forever changed the meaning of art. James Joyce, with his new style of literature- stream of consciousness.

But when it comes to music, not that many avant-garde musicians come into mind. I mean, you could say the Beatles and Stravinsky were avant-garde, but you have to remember that they didn’t do anything totally out of the ordinary. Their music still stayed within the boundaries of their time, even though it did breach traditional boundaries occasionally. And if you think about it, if we were to play music like theirs today, it wouldn’t be considered out of the ordinary.


Arseny Avraamov

But there is one avant-garde musician whose music, if you were to play it today, would still be considered bizarre. It is music totally out of the world, and definitely something I would have never thought of on my own. This man was Arseny Avraamov.

Avraamov was a Soviet composer. During his time, Stalin had decreed a rule that all art forms had to confine to Socialist Realism. In other words, all art had to be dedicated to the USSR and made the way the USSR wanted them to be made. As a result, many musical pieces produced in Russia were dedicated to events like the October Revolution or the triumphs against the Nazis in World War 2. However, the downside to this was that many talented musicians felt they were being restricted too much, and therefore left the country. It was one of the largest intellectual drains in Russian history.

But to people like Avraamov, this was a wonderful thing. Avraamov hated the traditional type of music, such as that of Beethoven and Mozart, and was glad that the USSR was ridding of them. He wanted to radicalize music and make it everything but traditional. This sense of rebellion was very apparent early on. He was a pioneer on film techniques, and even invented graphic-sonic art. Arseny created an “ultrachromatic” 48-tone microtonal system, something definitely not in traditional music boundaries. He also refused to join the army in World War One and fled Russia for some time.

But perhaps his greatest sign of rebellion and avant-garde-ness was his work “Symphony of Factory Sirens.” The fact that we cannot find a score or a recording of this work today is reflective of the type of work it was—for it would have been impossible to produce either. Yet, below is an audio of what it would have been like- a reconstruction made in 2003:  (and a picture of him conducting the actual thing)


You hear this, and you ask so what? Well, if you think about it, where do these sounds come from? They definitely don’t sound like typical musical instruments. It’s because they aren’t. Rather, the music is made up of a huge cast of choirs (joined by spectators), the foghorns of the entire Soviet Caspian flotilla, two batteries of artillery guns, a number of full infantry regiments (including a machine-gun division) hydroplanes, and all the factory sirens of Baku.  A central “steam-whistle machine” pounded out “The Internationale” and “La Marseillaise” as noisy “autotransports” (half-tracks) raced across Baku for a gigantic sound finale in the festival square. Conductors posted on specially built towers signaled various sound units with colored flags and pistol shots.

Basically, Arseny Avraamov had the avant-garde genius idea of conducting a symphony across an entire city for a Russian Festival dedicated to the October Revolution. I mean, wow. This is just such a creative idea. Just the very idea of it surprises and awes me to the very core. Who else besides Avraamov would have thought of that?

As you have seen, Avraamov had decided to expand music onto a larger scale. Instead of the typical orchestra, he decided to make it the whole city, a very radical idea, even to this day. But now I’m thinking: if he made music bigger, can I not make it smaller? Maybe I should have a symphony within a human body, where the heartbeat is like drums, the tiny sounds of cell moving could be the melody, etc. Maybe that’s what I can do. Who knows, it might make me the second Arseny Avraamov.

Analyzing “After The Dance”

In my last post, I introduced to you the short story “After the Dance” and gave you some discussion questions to think about. Today, I will attempt to uncover the true message that lies within this story.

Leo Tolstoy

Before I start, I will give a brief summary of author Leo Tolstoy’s life. Leo Tolstoy was born into a rich Russian family. He drank, made love, and was like a typical Russian noble. However, he loved to write books and think about human life. Eventually, he came to despise the rich and purposely became poor himself.

Now, some historical context that will be relevant to our analysis. Russia has since perhaps its existence been an autocracy, where all the power was contained by the tsar, or ruler of Russia. Many people, after tired of having the tsar yelling orders around, started the Russian Revolution and overthrew the tsar. Some notable tsars or tsarinas in Russian history include Tsar Nicholas I and Tsarina Catherine the Great. Nicholas I was not that much of a fan-magnet. He carried out many repressive policies and tried to make Russia a backward nation. Catherine, however, represented the glorious times of the autocracy and was liked by many Russian citizens.

I will start off the analysis by answering a discussion question: In the beginning Ivan loved Varinka. Later, he dislikes her. What does this symbolize? Again, as I said in my last post, we must take this story in the context of the author’s life. We know that Tolstoy was born a noble himself and indulged in this life when he was young, but later resented this lifestyle and became poor. Similarly, in this story, Ivan had always been in love with Varinka but later in the end began to forget about her. Form this comparison, one can make out that Ivan symbolizes Tolstoy himself and Varinka symbolizes the aristocracy or nobility.

Further proof of this can be seen in the description of  Varinka, in which she is described as “bony.” This symbolizes that during the story’s time, which was around the Russian Revolution time period, the aristocracy, represented by Varinka, was frail and on the brink of collapse. In other words, the aristocracy was about to die off, as symbolized by the boniness. Ivan also later comments on his early lifestyle, in which he was a “gay, lively, carless fellow,” reminiscent of Leo Tolstoy’s earlier life.

Tsar Nicholas I

Another important character was Varinka’s father. The description of him shows that he represents the strict disciplinary type of soldier under Nicholas I’s rule. He in a sense embodies the fact of military/civil service to the autocratic government. For instance, Ivan tells how he was impressed by the fact that the father wore poor boots so as to allow the daughter to wear beautiful splendid clothing. The message here is that the Russian people sacrificed their time and lives by participating in the military so to make the Tsar and his autocratic government seem more grander and wonderful. To Ivan, this sacrifice the father makes seems wonderful. One can compare this to history, in which by the influence of propaganda, people thought that their sacrifices were also justified and right for they thought they were doing it for the motherland. However, upon seeing Varinka’s father beat up the poor man, Ivan realizes that it was not as wonderful as he thought; similarly, people later realized that they actually hated they were doing this all for the Tsar and thus, the Russian Revolution.

We should also go back to the question that appeared in the beginning of the story: is it all by chance or by environment? It seems as if Ivan had proved the opposite of what he intended to prove: that it is all by environment. However, it does in a sense result from chance. For a noble Russian (aka Ivan or Tolstoy) to see the cruelty of the aristocracy is indeed rare, for the rich people are being constantly blinded by the happiness and grandeur of their aristocratic lives (aka the ball in this story). They do not simply sympathize with the downtrodden  because they see the aristocracy as something pleasant.  This is as opposed to the blacksmith mentioned in the story. The blacksmith symbolizes the common Russian, and the only time that he appears in the story was during the beating of the deserter. One obviously sees that the common man rarely sees balls and the wonderful life of the nobility; rather the only thing he sees is the suffering the Tsar and the upper class has caused on the downtrodden class. By seeing the same event with the blacksmith, Ivan, a noble, has looked from the common man’s perspective and sees the true cruelty of the aristocracy. For a noble to experience this is truly one by chance, and perhaps Ivan felt lucky in that he has seen the truth. This can again be applied to Tolstoy’s life, in which he might have considered himself lucky in that the didn’t fall to the sway of a rich life.

These are the basic elements of the story’s message. I will leave the rest to the reader to answer all the discussion questions form last time’s posts that haven’t been answered. (The answer to number four I will give. It is that they try to hide the aristocracy’s corruptness.) Hopefully, you will be able to use what I told today to answer those unanswered questions. But overall, the big message is to express Tolstoy’s experience from liking being rich to despising the rich in one symbolic story.

Leo Tolstoy’s After The Dance

One of my most favorite short stories that I consider the deepest of them all is After The Dance, by Leo Tolstoy. Tolstoy is a famous Russian author who influenced the writings of many later Russian authors, including Boris Pasternak, who won the Nobel Literature Prize. Leo grew up wealthy and rich, but ended up living poor, not because he had to, but because he chose to.

In this short story, in order for one to be able to get the author’s message, one must analyze in the context of the author’s life and in the context of the Russian history at the story’s time. So just keep that in mind. Here is the story (click link): After The Dance.

After reading it, here are some questions to get you thinking:

1) In the beginning, Ivan sets out to prove that it is all by chance. Yet in the end, he seems to prove that it is by environment. What do you think the author is trying to say?

2) In the beginning Ivan loved Varinka. Later, he dislikes it. What does this symbolize? And why not mention her surname?

3) Who do the engineer and the blacksmith symbolize?

4) In one part of the story, Ivan describes that the more he is in love, the less corporeal Varinka was. Someone objects to Ivan that he should have felt Varinka since he was dancing with her, but Ivan responds: “Nowadays… you undress the women you are in love with… we never thought of doing so; we tried to veil her nakedness.” What is important about this?

5) Read the descriptions of Varinka, her father, and the hostess. What do these tell you?

6) One memory that was stuck in Ivan’s mind was the seemingly harmonious relationship between Varinka and her father, when they danced. Any symbolism?

7) Near the story’s end, Ivan tries to convince himself that there must have been a reason for the beating. Why does Ivan do this?

8) What scene is alluded when the beating of the deserter is described?

9) What do the gifts of the feather and glove symbolize?

10) Ivan admires the father’s boots because he thinks the father sacrifices it so Varinka could dress pretty. What does this represent in the historical context?

11) If Ivan had attended the dance after seeing the beating, how would he view Varinka and everything about her?

12) What is the overarching theme?