Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Toomas Karmo: Blogging Resumes: Open Letter to My Presumed FSB or SVR Case Officers

Quality assessment:

On the 5-point scale current in Estonia, and surely in nearby nations, and familiar to observers of the academic arrangements of the late, unlamented, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (applying the easy and lax standards Kmo deploys in his grubby imaginary "Aleksandr Stepanovitsh Popovi nimeline sangarliku raadio instituut" (the "Alexandr Stepanovitch Popov Institute of Heroic Radio") and his  grubby imaginary "Nikolai Ivanovitsh Lobatshevski nimeline sotsalitsliku matemaatika instituut" (the "Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky Institute of Socialist Mathematics") - where, on the lax and easy grading philosophy of the twin Institutes, 1/5 is "epic fail", 2/5 is "failure not so disastrous as to be epic", 3/5 is "mediocre pass", 4/5 is "good", and 5/5 is "excellent"): 3/5. Justification: Kmo was able to be post a reasonable set of thoughts, but within a frame of reference narrower than in those of his postings which are graded at 4/5 or 5/5.

Revision history:
All times in these blog "revision histories" are stated in UTC (Universal Coordinated Time/ Temps Universel Coordoné,  a precisification of the old GMT, or "Greenwich Mean Time"), in the ISO-prescribed YYYYMMDDThhmmZ timestamping format. UTC currently leads Toronto civil time by 4 hours (with Toronto now on summer time) and currently lags Tallinn civil time by 2 hours (with Tallinn currently still on winter time). 
  • 20180321T0124Z/version 2.0.0: Kmo, running almost a half hour late, finished converting his point-form outline into coherent full-sentences prose. He reserved the right to make further tiny, nonsubstantive, purely cosmetic, tweaks over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions 2.0.1, 2.0.2, 2.0.3, ... .
  • 20180320T2006Z/version 1.1.0: Kmo improved his point-form outline. He now hoped to finish converting it into coherent full-sentences prose, as the culmination in a sequence of incremental uploads, by UTC=20180321T0100Z.
  • 20180320T0500Z/version 1.0.0: Kmo had time to upload just a reasonably polished point-form outline.  He hoped to finish converting this into coherent full-sentences prose by UTC=20180320T2000Z.
[CAUTION: A bug in the blogger server-side software has in some past months shown a propensity to insert inappropriate whitespace at some points in some of my posted essays. If a screen seems to end in empty space, keep scrolling down. The end of the posting is not reached until the usual blogger "Posted by Toomas (Tom) Karmo at" appears. - The blogger software has also shown a propensity, at any rate when coupled with my erstwhile, out-of-date, Web-authoring uploading browser, to generate HTML that gets formatted in different ways on different downloading browsers. Some downloading browsers have sometimes perhaps not correctly read in the entirety of the "Cascading Style Sheets" (CSS) which on all ordinary Web servers control the browser placement of margins, sidebars, and the like. If you suspect CSS problems in your particular browser, be patient: it is probable that while some content has been shoved into some odd place (for instance, down to the bottom of your browser, where it ought to appear in the right-hand margin), all the server content has been pushed down into your browser in some place or other. - Finally, there may be blogger vagaries, outside my control, in font sizing or interlinear spacing or right-margin justification. - Anyone inclined to help with trouble-shooting, or to offer other kinds of technical advice, is welcome to write me via Toomas.Karmo@gmail.com.]

For the first time since launching this blog in April of 2016, I have suffered the humiliation of dropping my blogging for an extended period, in fact for four weeks. Blogging time is running rather short these days, as I work toward my envisaged late-2018 move to Estonia while also struggling to keep up my usual elementary private studies in physics, mathematics, and astronomy. Under such pressures, I have had to shuffle my priorities. I now herewith formally abandon my goal, proclaimed in April of 2016, of uploading something or other around the start of every working week. Instead, I resolve merely to upload something or other at least once in each calendar month (at least once in March, at least once in April, and so on), perhaps in some cases near the very start of the month and in other cases near its middle or end.

As far as the choice of themes is concerned, I shall now pretty much have to confine attention, in any given month, to that particular form of public service which appears currently the most pressing. I will be more than willing to take guidance regarding choice of themes, in other words guidance on what is currently the most important thing, from anyone who might choose to write me as Toomas.Karmo@gmail.com.

In the absence of incoming e-mail guidance, my tightening of thematic focus will likely mean only very occasional further postings on the "Analytical Philosophy of Perception, Action, and 'Subjectivity'". (I cannot altogether drop the subject, little though I enjoy writing on it, since it does have its own circumscribed sphere of importance.)

And my narrowed thematic focus will likely mean further dry, dull, postings on the presumed challenges facing maths and physics students, as they struggle (as I myself struggle) over such dreaded PONTES ASINORVM as Spivak's Calculus on Manifolds. Similarly, it is likely to mean ongoing occasional remarks on one circumscribed part of I.T., namely the administration of the private bare-bones Debian GNU/Linux workstation, within the unadventurous "Stable" branch of Debian (currently under the version name "Debian Stretch").

Further, my narrowed thematic focus is liable to mean further dry, dull, postings on Ontario's David Dunlap Observatory and Park heritage-conservation file, for the joint benefit of community activists and of low-level (notably municipal) officials.  

And this week, in the turmoil still surrounding the Skripal attack in Salisbury, the obligation to serve the public good means, not for the first time in the history of this small blog, a short open letter to my presumed case officers in FSB or SVR.


Here, for what relatively little it is worth, is my own (outsider's) assessment of the attack:

  • The Salisbury effort differed from many successful or attempted political assassinations in that sensationalist media coverage was sought. (Where sensationalism is not sought, I gather that one's victim gets liquidated quietly, for instance through the arranging of a motor vehicle "accident".) 
  • The crime was executed with practical skill, in that it exploited an unusual nerve poison - one which might well be conjectured hazardous not to its intended victim(s) alone, but also to those deploying it. 
  • If the political skill level of the perpetrators matches their conjectured (high) practical skill level, then they will have succeeded in performing the following two-part political calculation, in the preparation weeks leading up to their eventual 2018-03-04 crime: (1) The inevitable impending media sensation is going to trigger a diplomatic breach between Russia and the UK, involving at the very least mutual expulsions of diplomats; (2) the impending UK-Russia diplomatic breach is going to reduce the risk of an embarrassingly low voter turnout at the 2018-03-18 Russian election. (The second part of this calculation is premissed on the axiom that when a nation feels itself pressured from the outside, it is the incumbent - in this case Mr V.V. Putin - who stands to gain, with any opposition's call to boycott any unfair poll now falling on somewhat deafened ears. Voting is in all countries seen at times of external pressure as a patriotic act, as a thing which must now be done for the now-suffering Родина.)
There is little I can constructively write in my self-assumed unofficial role as an Estonian-disapora facilitator of international understanding. In particular, preaching is not likely to prove productive now.

Proceeding from my longstanding hypothesis that my numerically significant set of Russia-based blogspot download events is largely due to the Russian state security services, I confine myself to one low-key suggestion: in times of crisis, we all must force ourselves to think sensibly.  (That really does go for all of us - whether we are in the Estonian diaspora; or in the Russian security organs; or in the innocent little cohort of Americans surfers legitimately interested in the "analytical philosophy of action, perception, and 'subjectivity'"; or in the innocent little cohort of North American and Western European Catholics surfing their way into my corner of blogspot as they ponder social justice.)  We cannot realistically aspire to be public literary heroes after the model of Solzhenitsyn. Nor can we realistically aspire to be diplomatic-intelligence heroes on the model of some Mitrokhin, of some Gordievsky. However, we can all - no matter what our background may be - safeguard at least a minimal quantum of sanity within the privacy of our individual crania.

Our authorities, in other words our bosses from the worlds of politics and commerce, may bind and gag some of us, so far as our outward actions go. I consider myself unrestricted. But I think I sense already a measure to which elected officials can be bound and gagged in ordinary Canadian municipal life, when I ponder the odd 2007-through-2017 performance of our Richmond Hill Mayor and Council on their troubled David Dunlap Observatory and Park heritage-conservation file. How much stronger must be the shackles and gags in the case of my various unfortunate Russian readers, as they discharge their officially imposed requirement to write some few repeated sentences of analysis for "the тоомас кармо file"!

Let their reporting - let their dreary official writing - be what it now has to be, so that their duly solid paycheques can keep coming. In the safe privacy of their own individual crania, however, my presumed FSB or SVR case officers can consider what life might be like in a sane democracy.

Setting troubled Russia and vulnerable Estonia aside for the moment, I confess to not knowing how sane a democracy even the United Kingdom presently is, with its "Mother of Parliaments" and its ancient municipal traditions. Perhaps it is presently sane, perhaps not. However, the more remote history of the United Kingdom does supply a permanent calibration mark. We may usefully consider the struggles of ordinary British people, especially in the poorer classes, during the 1920s and 1930s. Here was a nation whose anchor of values, at the blue-collar and lower-white-collar levels, proved capable of withstanding that stress test that was the summer, autumn, and winter of 1940, and the spring of 1941. Over all the sixteen or so centuries of communal British life, those eleven months, starting with Dunkirk and ending with the exceptionally heavy 1941-05-10 London bombing, have proved for ordinary people among the severest social tests, outranking anything ordinary British people on the home front had to endure in the Great War, or in the Napoleonic wars, or even in the those upheavals-of-the-élites which were the Civil War, the Reformation, and the Norman Conquest. (For ordinary people, the 1348 pandemic did, admittedly, outrank all other interruptions in the ordinary steady beat of family life, with its expected round of small festivals, family deaths, and agrarian or industrial toil.)  
I do enter a pair of caveats here.

(a) More terrible social tests on the home front may well lie ahead, for the United Kingdom as for others, when most or all of the world descends into social breakdown in a context of fossil-fuel depletion and climate change. Specially relevant to ordinary Britons is the prospect of Central London becoming unworkable as a national capital, when future high tides start overwashing Trafalgar Square, Whitehall, Monument-Bank-Threadneedle-Street, and the like with each big winter storm. (It is already instructive to review the statistics for the closing of the Thomas Barrier against tidal incursions, comparing the present high frequencies of closings with the lower frequencies typical of the 1980s. My uneducated hunch is that the Thames Barrier will within a human lifetime or two have to get replaced by something more formidable, with that more formidable construction in its turn destined for eventual tidal overtopping.) The impending tests for the home fronts of the various nations cannot now be foreseen in detail. Although come they eventually must,  and although come in this present generation they may, in the (broadly favourable) British case successive governments may conceivably prove skillful enough to delay the inevitable British existential crisis for another two, three, four, or five generations.

(b) In commending the United Kingdom for its rank-and-file firmness in the existential crisis of 1940 and 1941, we must not hand the British an ethical blank cheque. We cannot use home-front courage through the eleven critical months as a smoke screen for later British abuses at the higher levels of leadership. Those abuses notably include Sir Arthur Harris's eventual carpet-bombings of German civilians and Prime Minister Churchill's eventual appeasement of Stalin at Yalta. While applauding the courage of ordinary 1940 and 1941 Britons, I am not personally sure that World War Two should have been fought at all. Maybe it should have been, and maybe not. Gandhi did urge pacifism on the British even in the context of the 1940 July-through-September aerial "Battle". Further, no less an American wartime analyst than Dorothy Day remained a pacifist, showing in her defiance of local (New York) public opinion a resolution and courage as real as the resolution and courage of the then-fighting Britons.

This pair of caveats duly put on record, it must now be duly stressed that in those ordinary British ranks on whom the worst June-1940-through-May-1941 burdens fell - the small private boats at Dunkirk; the RAF ground supports in the July-through-September "Battle"; the local ARP wardens, as the "Battle" got followed up by Luftwaffe raids on civilians in cities; the firefighters; the ambulance drivers; the people wielding basic hand tools, who even under the air raids managed to keep telecommunications and railways functioning; the people who mined the coal; the longshoremen who unloaded the convoys; the nurses, doctors, and hospital orderlies; the constables, the clergy - in all these cohorts, so essential to the higher military command, there was no operationally significant breaking of the will.

The 1940 and 1941 firmness of ordinary people must have stemmed from their shared experience of austerity in the 1920s and 1930s. We can inspect those 1920s-through-1930s realities through literature, as by reading George Orwell's Road to Wigan Pier or J.B. Priestley's Angel Pavement.

We can also inspect those social realities through film.

So I urge my presumed FSB and SVR officers: do not waste time on the West of 2018, in its current material prosperity and moral degeneration. The current degeneration is already only too familiar to all of us, whether we get our news from the BBC and the Canadian metropolitan dailies (as I presently do), or from "RT" and "Sputnik" (as perhaps some of the more naive among my little group of American readers do), or from professional, restricted-circulation briefing documents (as perhaps the higher strata of the Russian security organs do). No. Think instead about what a sane society might be like. In so doing, take interwar Britain as one model, of course among others.

This week, I have discovered an unpretentious ciné presentation entitled "This Happy Breed", representing what ordinary British people thought and felt in the 1920s and 1930s. Since the film was produced in 1944 (in other words just four or five years after the close of the rather harsh pair of decades it depicted), and since it was (surely) meant for the usual mass cinema audiences, its various screenplay representations may well be considered authentic.

Some details on "This Happy Breed" are given (for those in Russia with safe access to Wikipedia, as my presumed FSB or SVR readers presumably are), in Russian at https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%AD%D1%82%D0%BE%D1%82_%D1%81%D1%87%D0%B0%D1%81%D1%82%D0%BB%D0%B8%D0%B2%D1%8B%D0%B9_%D0%BD%D0%B0%D1%80%D0%BE%D0%B4, and in English at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/This_Happy_Breed_(film).

The production itself - incredibly, it got filmed in Technicolor, despite the difficulties in staffing, in darkroom provisioning, even in electrical supply, that must have beset 1944 British studios - can be enjoyed on YouTube, to a length of 01:52:12 or so. After trying out one unsatisfactory upload for a moment, I settled on the fine upload of YouTube User "Pandawan", from 2018-02-17.  In my present corner of the Web, here in Ontario, the "Pandawan" upload is available through the URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bvl4egiFwfY.

So to all of you reading this blog, whether within the organs of Russian state security or outside them: happy viewing!

[This is the end of the current blog posting.]

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