Thursday, May 26, 2016

In Memoriam: Mike Allred

His home was across a small field from mine when both of us were quite young.  He is one of my earliest friends that I can remember.  Two events connected me to him in those very early days.  First, his family had suffered a tragedy and I was there the day part of it happened.  Only five or six years old, I remember standing outside of his home crying because of the sadness within.  I didn’t understand it at the time, but I felt it.  Around the same time, I don’t remember if it was before or after his family's tragedy, my two-year old brother passed away during the night.  My sister and I watched from the front door as my mother, who had just found her lifeless son, run barefoot across the snowy field to my friend’s home to use their phone to call my father.  We didn’t have a phone.

At the time he was the only one outside of my family that I could speak with about what happened.  He would share his sadness with me at times as well.  At different times throughout the years, even when we weren’t as close, we would remember the sadness of those events.  It was an honor to share a few moments of silence with the one person that I knew understood how I felt at that time.

While our friendship helped each of us through sorrow, most of our time together was full of joy, happiness, and on occasion mischief. 

Speaking of the mischief, we had the fortune (our teacher’s misfortune) of being in the same class in first grade.  One day, for some now forgotten reason we stayed longer in the lunchroom/gym instead of going outside for the longest recess of the day.  This was odd because I loved lunch recess.  I don’t remember how long they lasted then, but it always seemed like we could accomplish an unbelievable amount of play and recreation in the time allotted.  On this day, however, we stayed inside long enough to watch as the high schoolers came in for their lunch.  Soon they were sitting all around us and, magically, we became their entertainment.  I don’t remember how we started making them laugh…I think he started calling them names and teasing them.  Eventually it led to a (I must say rather minor) food fight with a few of the high school boys. 

Realizing that we were going to completely miss recess, we decided it was time to go outside to play.  (Unbeknownst to us we had already missed recess completely and were the targets of an angry teacher’s focused search.)  On the way out, we thought it would be funny to tie one set of our shoelaces together.  Watching two first graders do a version of the three-legged race to leave the lunchroom was highly entertaining to all of the teenagers.  Halfway across the hardwood floor, I was looking down at our feet to make sure I could step at the right time to avoid falling down.  Seemingly out of nowhere our teacher, face red with anger, was in front of us.  I don’t remember what she said because several high schoolers started to heckle her or us.  We knew we were in trouble, but the laughter from the room made it seem not so serious.  Our teacher, on the other hand, was ready to leave the room and escape the high schoolers.  In order to hasten our exit, she grabbed my friend by the hand and pulled him as fast as she could toward the door.  With a thud and a crash, I hit the floor as my foot was pulled out from under me.

Immediately, many of the high schoolers were on their feet clapping and cheering.  Our teacher was beyond angry and embarrassed at this point, enough so that I began to worry about my safety.  My friend had a big smile on his face as he soaked up the applause and admiration of our audience.

Roll forward a year to second grade.  He and I were classmates again.  Apparently the teachers didn’t discuss the potentially disastrous dynamics of certain personalities in the same classroom.  Now, my second grade teacher was possibly one of the meanest teachers I’ve ever had.  Should others feel to defend her, they don’t understand her level of cruelty because they were probably better behaved than was I.  She once made me miss my ride home, as a second grader, because I had blown air into my crayon box and made what I thought was a most excellent whistling noise.  (Unfortunately for her, she had to deal with my mother after that episode.)

So, here we are in second grade and we really were trying our best to behave.  Our best just wasn’t that great yet.  He and I loved to talk.  One day our teacher had had enough.  In short order both of us were behind fold out, cardboard closets with masking tape across our lips.  As the shame of my situation started to build, I suddenly found that the tape had come loose on my bottom lip.  I was able to make a funny face and noise when I moved my mouth.  In short order I was leaning, carefully, outside of my closet to make my friend and other friends laugh.  Soon our teacher was out of fold out closets. 

Now, my memory on the next part gets a little fuzzy.  I think it happened while we were behind the closets.  My compatriot in mischief had taken all he could and had to find another way to make someone laugh and I was his target.  He grunted and caught my attention.  Carefully I leaned out to look at him.  He had a crayon coming out of each ear and made faces with his eyes.  I followed suit.  Soon each of us had a crayon in each ear and one in each nostril.  At that point one or more of our classmates gave us up as they laughed out loud.

Just then it was time for recess.  As everyone went out, my friend and I were detained in the classroom to write, several hundred times, the sentence: “I will not stick crayons in my ears or up my nose.”  After recess everyone else went to the neighboring second grade classroom for some special activity involving the principal.  As we were writing the sentences, the principal walked through our classroom to get to the event.  Seeing us sitting there he asked what we were doing. 

“Writing sentences,” my friend said.

“What is the sentence,” asked the principal.

“I will not stick crayons in my ears or up my nose.”

Both of us were quite happy at his reaction, a happy laugh.

(I truly believe that my terrible penmanship started in second grade as I was forced, due to my improper actions, to write what likely was several thousand sentences as quickly as I could.)

As my friend and I moved onto junior high and high school, we did less together as our interests diverged.  Despite that, we often would find ourselves spending time together quite easily.  He was an amazing bowler, who would spend time, mostly in vain, to help me get better.  When a new video game would come out, we often would find ourselves crashing at his house for hours on a Saturday to figure out how to beat it.  After Little League baseball, he didn’t have much to do with organized sports, which was too bad, because he was a talented athlete.  Anytime there was a softball game, you wanted him on your team because he could hit the ball further than anyone else.

He was almost always happy and he was kind to almost everyone (except perhaps to those who were unkind).  His smile was quick to brighten life for everyone.  Like me his level of mischief decreased, but never completely.  He was friends with every kind and type of person.  He would help anyone.

My friend Mike Allred passed away this past weekend.  It’s been years and years since I’ve spoken with him and this makes me sad.  I wish we could have laughed together one more time, that we could have remembered together the early sadness in our lives.  My last memory of him is this.  It was the day of our high school graduation.  We had just lined up outside of the Duchesne High School big gym so that family, friends, and neighbors could congratulate us.  I was standing there by Mike and my another close friend.  Mike and I were all smiles, excited for the opportunities that were ahead of us and the amazing memories that were behind us.  Suddenly, Mike and I noticed that our other friend’s eyes were filling with tears.

“Why are you crying,” we asked at the same time. 

“It’s over, those fun years are over.”

All three of us teared up for a bit.  He was right, those were fun years.  But, I know that Mike brought years of fun and happiness to many others after that.  That’s the Mike I will always remember.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Running Partners: Real and Imaginary

To run alone or to run with someone.  That is a normal question for anyone looking to hit the pavement, sidewalks, and trails.  Personally, I enjoy running both ways—alone and with someone or a group of people.  I know some people that almost can’t get out to run unless someone is going with them.  I know others that have no desire for a running partner. 

There are obvious benefits to both.  Running with someone else can provide motivation to get out the door, to run further, and/or to run faster.  It can provide excellent conversation while you run, an opportunity to take your mind off of the physical discomfort that can accompany a run.  It can also give you a ready ear to hear your complaints about the physical discomfort that can accompany a run.

Running by myself gives me the opportunity to spend time alone, important time in my head.  It’s a great way to meditate and to push myself at my own pace without the stress of worrying whether or I’m slowing someone down or being slowed down by someone.  

On occasion, I run alone when I would prefer to be running with someone and sometimes I run with someone when I would prefer to be running alone.

Today I was running alone.  As I started, I was satisfied with the arrangement.  It was an opportunity for me to open up on my pace and push myself faster than I’ve been going.  The run, as I expected, started out a little rough until my muscles loosened up sufficiently.  At about the two mile mark I was feeling pretty good, so as I often do I increased my distance goal in order to take advantage of the endorphins. 

A mile or so later, and after a long hill, I was feeling a bit of tightness and a growing desire to slow down, perhaps even walk.  It was then that I pulled out one of my trusted mind tricks I use when running alone.  I don’t know if I’ve ever described this method to anyone, but here goes.  I pretend that I’m running with someone.  Depending on the run, my condition, and my need I’ll carefully select a running companion.  Often, if I’m bored or need to talk through things, I’ll have pretend conversations with my dad or my wife.  When I’m running alone in a beautiful place, I’ll pretend my wife is running with me enjoying the scenery.

When I feel like slowing down or walking more than I should; when I want to run faster and further I pick between two imaginary running companions.  Sam and Brett.  When I want someone to persuade me gently and kindly, I pretend I’m running with Sam.  He ran with on several long runs through winter in Colorado Springs as I prepared for my first marathon.  When I need the harsh tough voice of a coach, I run, in my mind, with Brett.  Brett trained with me regularly for my second marathon.  We pushed ourselves hard, increasing our speed.  On our imaginary runs, Brett will prod me, laugh at my desire to be soft, even call me names to keep me running. 

Today I ran with Brett.  He wasn’t kind, but he was motivating. 

As a side note, or perhaps it’s an end note, there is one running companion that will join me, in my mind, without invitation.  It’s Brett’s dog Ryker.  Ryker went on a few runs with us while we were training.  One a particularly long run, our return put the brisk, cold wind in our faces.  Ryker decided to lean against my right leg for four or five of the return miles.  He maintained a constant pressure against me.  By the time we arrived at the car my right knee was aching mightily.  Whenever I get a sore knee or leg on a run when I’m by myself, it seems that Ryker joins me.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Personal Encounters with Wildlife: A Story of Danger and Survival

Sounds of the city, electric entertainment, prepackaged food, heating and air conditioning all provide layers of insulation from nature.  Even the well-planned city park offers only a sanitized experience with the wild side.  Many people enjoy only limited interactions with nature as protected by the modern conveniences of our advanced civilization.  I’m not one of those, at least not completely.  Given the chance, I will go outdoors.  I will go fishing and hunting (even if I never shoot at anything).  Occasionally, if invited, I will go spotting, you know, looking for large bucks, bull elk and moose, coyotes, and whatever else someone with a truck is interested in finding.

While I enjoy these slightly more engaged interactions with nature and wildlife, I have a brother-in-law who lives for wildlife.  From a young age he has been enthralled by seeking, understanding, and interacting with wildlife.  After earning a B.S. in ecology, fisheries and wildlife, he went to work for a number of state agencies in Utah, Idaho, and Colorado.  I’m not aware of all of the work he has done, but I know he has worked with several large species to include elk, deer, bighorn sheep, and probably some others.  Currently, he’s working on a M.S. in wildlife biology with Utah State University.  His research focuses on discovering why mortality rates are high among antelope fawns.  Some of his work involves shooting net guns, tranquilizing, and jumping out of helicopters. 

As one would expect he has a lot of entertaining and interesting stories to share as he has hunted and conducted hands on research with wildlife.  His best story involves a grizzly bear.  Now, in all of the times he and I have talked he’s only expressed concern for his safety over two activities—flying in helicopters and field research of grizzly bears.  So, I hope I get my description of this research project correct.  Wildlife biologists capture the bears by tranquilizing them and then they fit them with a GPS tracking collar.  At some point, the GPS collar is pinged utilizing cutting edge technology to determine where the bear is spending its time.  In order to determine why the bear was in that location, a team of three goes into that location to look for food sources, water sources, or piles of bear droppings.  As a very wise safety precaution, the teams wait two weeks before going into a known location of a grizzly bear.  The goal, I think is to determine why the bear had been in that area—food, to poop, food, sleep.  (Really, I’m not sure what else a bear does, maybe hold bear parties and other social events.) 

On one of these excursions my brother-in-law and two others walked into one of these known locations.  They took all of the standard precautions--made noise on the way in, had bells on their shoes, carried bear mace, and kept their heads on a swivel and their ears closely attuned.  As it happened they came up on a site where an old female grizzly had hunkered down.  For some reason she had decided to stick around, not expecting humans to interfere in her life yet again.  Bursting forth from an area of dense brush, the she-bear went straight at my brother-in-law while his two counterparts took off running.  Before he could get to his bear mace, the bear was on him, giving him time only to raise his left arm.  The bear bit his arm, threw him to the ground, and quickly departed the area.  As a blessed man, he was able to walk out and receive medical attention.  With excellent medical attention, skilled surgery, and a careful recovery away from bears has made him whole again. 

Recently, while sitting in his parents’ house, looking at a few of his trophies and teasing him about being unfit as bear food, I thought to some of my more memorable run ins with wildlife.  Of course, they’re not as exciting as being attacked by a bear.  (Although, in the interest of full disclosure, I made a conscious decision as a young child never to seek out a grizzly bear purposefully.)

I’ll start with the mild experiences in the hopes of building to a crescendo.  In doing this, however, I do recognize that for some these mild experiences may be the equivalent of your nightmare.  Actually, the first three experiences don’t even involve wildlife, just farm animals.  First, once when I was the around the impressionable age of eight or nine I went to help a neighbor herd some of his sheep from one field to another.  Things were going well until one of the ewes made a conscious decision to run over me.  In an attempt to establish my dominance and manhood, I decided to stand my ground.  Recognizing that I had accepted the challenge, the ewe lowered her head and picked up speed.  With cunning and alacrity, I sidestepped at the last minute, and put my arm out to shove the ewe back in the correct direction.  We made contact, I was pushed back but the young ewe was turned in her path and joined the other sheep.  Inwardly I felt a strong sense of satisfaction, satisfaction that I had shown the adults in the field with me of my strength and wisdom.  Feeling something wet on my arm I looked down to see it covered in bloody sheep snot.  Satisfaction disappeared as pride was replaced by disgust and then by shame as I screamed and started to run around to find something on to which to wipe the snot.

Dairy cows are second on my list.  If you’ve ever helped milk, then you know what I mean.  Nothing more dramatic that the occasional crap and urine. splatter.  Luckily the handful of times I helped I managed to avoid getting kicked in the face, although I did once have a wrestling match in a holding pen that was six inches deep in dark green, wet cow manure.

Third, attack chickens can keep life exciting.  The term “laying hens” sounds so pedestrian, calm even, but some of them are wicked evil.  We owned some young chicks that liked to peck and attack whenever I would feed them, nothing serious.  Growing up we had a neighbor who had a laying hen that was completely evil.  I remember holding a rake to hit the hen while my friend, with tears in his eyes, slowly approached the nest with a thick leather glove on his hand.

These aren’t all of my experiences with domesticated farm animals, and it doesn’t even cover the few times I was bitten by a horse or bucked off, but they show some of the excitement that helped make me a little braver in the wilderness and in the city parks.

 Onto the wildlife…

Skunks have had a recurring role in my life.  Luckily most of my experiences have not resulted in me being covered with a funky scent.  My first memorable experience occurred while I was in high school.  We had just finished spreading toilet paper all over the yard of a friend up in Bridgeland.  While we were doing the deed, someone took our car and hid it from us.  (This is a more complex story that may involve another blog post.)  Assuming we would have to walk the ten or so miles back to town, the three of us headed off down the dirt road, cursing our circumstances.  Suddenly, while one of us was complaining loudly a skunk stepped out from the weeds in the ditch directly into our path.  One of us managed to get out the word “Skunk!”, but another didn’t listen and managed to almost kick the skunk as it high-stepped right in front of us.  I don’t know why, but that skunk didn’t spray us but took off running instead.  Because we saw the skunk we decided to take a different road home which resulted in us finding my car after walking just a half mile or so.  What a blessing!

While I was stationed in Oklahoma at Vance AFB, I had driven to the base gym early one morning to work out.  Unfortunately, I locked my keys in the car.  In order to be able to shower and change and to get the extra set of keys, I decided to run home in the dark.  It wasn’t a long run, less than four miles.  Right before the last major intersection, on a road between two fields of corn, I heard something moving in the ditch.  Through the dark I could just make out a large, empty dog food bag that was moving and shaking, a curious thing as there was no wind.  Presently, a hungry skunk backed out of the bag.  Feeling that its newly discovered food source was threatened, it ran at me.  I increased my speed, assuming that it would give up quickly to go back to its food.  I was wrong.  It chased me for a hundred yards, then with a final hiss it abandoned the chase. 

The last major experience with a skunk was the worst.  Our dog started barking at the back sliding glass door early one Saturday morning.  Thinking he simply wanted out, I stumbled from my bed and opened the door.  The dog bolted out toward his doghouse from whence a skunk suddenly emerged.  Realizing what was happening, I called the dog back but not before he grabbed a piece of tail and got a mouthful of spray.  All of this occurred only about ten feet from our door.  Immediately I tried to shut the door before the dog and the spray gained entry, but I failed.  The dog, whining and whimpering, squeezed through along with a healthy dose of skunk spray.  I heard my wife offer a mild, yet loud, curse from the bedroom.  Over the next couple of days, we learned what works at removing the skunk smell and what doesn’t.  (Hydrogen peroxide and baking soda works.  My wife has the exact proportions for the mix should you ever need it.)

While I’ve always carried a healthy caution when it comes to skunks, I knew that one couldn’t kill me.  The first time I ran head first into a moose, I realized I could meet my end quickly.  Again, I was in high school when we met. On a Saturday following a Friday night football game, we decided to drive along a river several miles outside of town to find look for an old laterite or gilsonite mine that we thought we had spotted.  Eventually we reached the end of the road and had to walk the last mile or so along the river and up the side of the canyon.  We made it to the dark spot on the rock outcropping that looked like the entrance to a mine.  It turned out to be just a small recess caused by weather erosion.  My friend, who had twisted his ankle in the game the night before, suggested that we climb directly down to the river through all of the tall water plants and walk along the sandy bottom to the car in order to avoid hurting his ankle more. 

His suggestion made sense.  So, I took the lead pushing my way through the tall plants to make sure he wouldn’t fall into any deep holes or trip and fall.  Finally, with some effort, I made it to the edge of the water.  As I started to step out I saw the large cow moose standing less than twenty yards away.  Her head came up as she heard and smelled me.  I stopped, planning to turn and quietly tell my friend that we had to go another way.  Impatient as always, my good friend put his hand in my back and shoved me.

“What are you waiting for?  Go!”

I landed right in front of the moose, who was now fully alert and fully perturbed.  With adrenaline now rushing through my veins I was hyper aware of everything around me, almost like a super hero, a super hero that was about to die.  I felt the cool water running past my legs, pulling at my jeans.  I felt a breeze rustle the the leaves and branches of the bushes and saw the hair on the side of the moose move with the wind.  Almost imperceptibly I heard my friend, having seen the moose, curse under his breath as he started to back into the bushes.  The dark brown eyes of the adult cow moose stared down into my blue eyes for what seemed like an eternity.  Each breath felt like a gift of life.  I lowered my gaze to the water, acknowledging my weakness, and oh so slowly stepped back into the bushes, expecting to be rushed and stampeded at any second.  Eventually I made it to safety. 

The meeting with the moose, while exciting, wasn’t my most traumatic.  In high school I was blessed to be employed by the county to clean up trash around the garbage dumpsters.  We drove a beautiful, well-used, orange Ford F-150 all around the county to pick up the trash that fell out of the dumpsters or that was simply thrown next to the full dumpsters.  Not an exciting job, but it had its moments and could be quite entertaining.  One hot summer day we stopped by a dumpster not far from Myton.  Someone had dropped a large, heavy fold out couch next to the dumpster.  After picking up the loose pieces of trash we moved onto the couch.  Picking it up we moved to the back of the truck.  I was positioned by the head of the truck bed by the cab.  As we lifted it up high enough to dump it in, something furry fell down my shirt.  At the time my shirt was tucked safely into my pants, held tightly by my nylon braided belt.  Trapped, the creature began to run and scratch at my belly, running in circles and passing my belly button several times, trying desperately to find a way out.

With a yelp, and perhaps a scream, I used all of my strength to throw my end of the couch into the truck bed.  My coworker, unaware of what had happened, immediately began to worry for my sanity as I continued to yell, scream, and slam by body repeatedly into the truck in an attempt to crush the critter.  Finally, in a final act of desperation, I ripped my shirt out from my pants and off over my head.  The small, gray mouse flew away from my body finally free.

Eventually, my heart rate and breathing returned to normal.  I killed the poor mouse.  I’m not proud of that fact, but that’s what happened.

Now, I have a few more stories, some involving snakes, owls, and even wild horses in Mongolia, but since nothing compares to being the survivor of a grizzly bear attack, I’ll think I’ll stop here.  I am a survivor, a survivor of an unexpected and brutal mouse attack and I’m not even a wildlife biologist.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Humanity and Security: Can There Be a Balance?

How should the United States and other countries react to the current refugee crisis?  As we read and watch stories of families, women and children in particular, fleeing the violence, death, and hunger in Syria, we see an obvious and evident need to provide meaningful humanitarian service to include a place of refuge.  Yet, in light of the most recent terrorist attacks in Paris and the possibility of terrorists making it into the the US on the coattails of refugees, it makes the safety and security of the homeland a legitimate concern.

How do we provide needed humanitarian relief while ensuring the safety and security of our homes and families?  Does our own security outweigh the plight of all of those refugees who now have only their lives to lose?  Do we freely open our borders to 10,000, to 100,000, or to more without question?  Do we shut our borders and allow none of those from Syria into our country?

I believe we can retain our humanity and help without being reckless with our security, but it will take caution, patience, and understanding.  We need to observe closely what has happened in Paris.  Did those terrorists truly come into Europe with the Syrian refugees?  If so, how did they do it?  Can we prevent something similar from happening here?

We need our government to explain to us in sufficient detail, while maintaining necessary operational security, how they will vet refugees coming into the United States.  Where are they coming from before they enter the US?  What is the vetting process and demographic parameters?  What will we do to keep track of refugees once they enter the country?  Our government should provide us a review of the success and failures of previous refugee relocation programs.

We need to think about and discuss how we can best help any refugees who will be relocated into the US.  Where do we place them?  What assistance do we provide?  Is it good to provide them employment opportunities or should they not be allowed to work in order to protect jobs for Americans?  How long do we allow them to stay?  How long have we allowed other refugees to stay?  What is the cost of bringing them in and how will we pay for the program?

We need to avoid making judgements based solely on race, ethnicity, and religion.  Refusing help and engaging in hateful dialogue will only make such problems worse and more widespread.  I believe we will be playing into the terrorists hands if we engage in such behavior.  Too many people in this country and throughout the world don't understand the methodology of terrorists.  Violence and fear are not the aim of the thoughtful and resourceful terrorist.  Rather the terror and violence are aimed at eliciting certain responses from various groups.  One common response that terrorists seek is an increase in hate and decrease in trust.  Much of the dialogue we are seeing today is playing into that desired response.

But again, at the same time, we cannot label caution as ill-aimed hate and fear.  

A wise response has room for humanity and patience, but it requires a good degree of transparency.  Let's develop a well-thought out assistance and relocation plan and take the time to do it right.  Let's set aside the hateful dialogue.  Let's demand that our government provide us answers and explanations for what will happen without simply lecturing us.  

Our biggest challenge is and will be the unwillingness of Americans to set aside political agendas, hate, fear, and uncertainty.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

My Coat, the Russians, and the CIA

After almost five years in Henderson, Nevada my blood has thinned to dangerous levels.  Temperatures in the fifties tonight forced me to don a heavy coat to watch the Green Valley High School Marching Band.  It was almost embarrassing, but with everyone else wearing coats I didn’t stand out.  The coat, a heavy black wool one, I wore tonight is one of my all-time favorites.  Since I bought it about a year before we left Colorado Springs to move to Henderson, it still feels like a new coat.  I wore it for a winter in Colorado Springs and now just rare occasions when visiting Utah and Idaho or when coolish weather hits southern Nevada. 

Anyway, tonight as I put the coat on, I felt some crinkly paper in the interior pocket.  Curious about what receipt or candy wrapper I may have had in there, I unzipped it and pulled it out—a newspaper clipping from the English version of The St. Petersburg Times dated Friday, February 19, 2010.  I pulled it from a paper during my last visit to Russia.  The article that drew my interest is titled “Dispersing the CIA Myth”, by Yevgeny Bazhanov, at the time a vice chancellor of research and international relations at the Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic Academy in Moscow.  (He is now the president of the Diplomatic Academy.)  Looking back through the haze of Maidan in Ukraine and the subsequent annexation of Crimea by Russia, I find the article intriguing.

So, for everyone’s reading pleasure, here is the article:

It has become customary in recent decades to blame the United States for every catastrophe afflicting the planet — from tsunamis to revolutions. Before the United States, it was the Jews who were blamed for the world’s problems. In medieval Europe, for example, Jews were said to have spread the plague — and, ironically, the accusations were most virulent in those regions where Jewish people didn’t even live.

Governments have often blamed foreign elements for instigating revolutions. Opponents of the 1789 French Revolution considered it the fruit of an English and Lutheran plot, and Russian authorities considered the Decembrists to be French agents. Bolshevik leaders were thought to be agents of the German military, and Adolf Hitler viewed the Bolsheviks as part of a global Jewish plot. The capitalist West invariably implicated Moscow in national liberation movements of the 20th century, and the Kremlin was convinced that every right-wing dictator was a puppet of Uncle Sam.

But the truth is that all of these political upheavals were the result of internal forces. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, many Russians thought that it was caused by the Central Intelligence Agency. No doubt, Washington did concoct various schemes during the Cold War to weaken the Soviet Union and possibly hasten its collapse — for example, drawing Moscow into an arms race by launching the “Star Wars” program and conspiring with Saudi Arabia to precipitate the collapse of oil prices in the 1980s.

But accusations that the CIA alone caused the Soviet Union to collapse are ridiculous. Why do Russians seemingly hold the CIA in such high regard? It can’t even uncover the simplest intelligence, much less cause the collapse of the Soviet Union. Take, for example, the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. Shah Mohammad-Reza Shah Pahlavi, a close ally of the United States, had been ruling the country, and various individuals operating as U.S. agents filled his inner circle. Nonetheless, the Islamic revolution, which had been brewing for years, came as a complete surprise to the shah and his cohorts. Then-U.S. President Jimmy Carter summarily fired the CIA chief and decided to conduct a thorough housecleaning at the agency.  

Nor did anybody in the CIA expect that the collapse of the Soviet Union would occur as soon as it did. After it happened, the U.S. Congress ordered an investigation to determine why the intelligence service did not predict the Soviet collapse, much less organize it.

The key reasons for the Soviet collapse had little to do with the United States. The reasons were internal, of course — not least among them were the perestroika reforms introduced in 1987 under Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who understood that the economy had no chance of surviving without at least a modicum of democratization and economic liberalization. But those democratic reforms ultimately caused the already weak Soviet foundation to collapse. The political kettle had been boiling for years, and as soon as Gorbachev opened the lid even a tad, the country experienced a violent overflow of opposition to Soviet rule in the Baltic states and an outbreak of interethnic fighting in the Caucasus. The political explosions sharply exacerbated the country’s acute economic woes.

Things did not go well for the former Soviet republics either after they gained independence. People expected conditions to improve, but instead they witnessed the emergence of oligarchic “bandit capitalism,” which resulted in a huge gap between the few rich and the many poor. The great disappointment, disillusionment and chaos in the decade following the collapse of the Soviet Union paved the way for new “color revolutions” in three former Soviet republics. The West may have funded some of the opposition forces, but it is ridiculous to claim that it caused these revolutions.

The Feb. 7 Ukrainian presidential election proved that the hyped-up claims of Western subversion in its color revolution was patently false. Conservative groups in Russia love to claim that the Orange Revolution was designed in Washington and that Yushchenko’s victory allowed the United States to control Ukraine and dictate Kiev’s “anti-Russian” policy. But when Yushchenko received only 5 percent of the vote in an election declared democratic by all international monitoring groups, this was a crushing defeat not only to Yushchenko, but also to the fearmongers in Russia who claimed that Washington had completely orchestrated the Orange Revolution. On the contrary, thanks to the democratic Orange Revolution, Ukrainians were able to remove an unpopular, pro-Western president through free elections.

Yevgeny Bazhanov is vice chancellor of research and international relations at the Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic Academy in Moscow.

(The article was also in The Moscow Times; see link above.)

Also, for an exciting recap of my last trip to Russia, please check out this post:

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Master

Today the master woke me from a sleep, well deserved and peaceful.  
“Opportunity is slipping by,” said he, “with each tick of the clock.”
I cleansed, dressed, and groomed; my meal did not make me full.
“Quickly to the shop,” demanded the master, “It’s time to shape rock.”

A lump of material in hand, the master insists I give it meaning.
Upon the shelves sit forms and figures, successes and failures bygone,
My present task a thing new, a challenge perhaps beyond my doing.
“A skill tried, a talent gained. a basic step to progress won.”

Exhaustion, tedium, excitements, distractions beset, entice, and mount.
Perchance it is enough, I consider, this small creation mostly fashioned.
Yet the master drives me, “Halfway, partway does not, can not count.”
“The best, the most, must be given for effort as worthy to be deemed.”
The piece now complete, but not in harmony with my plan designed.
“Oh, it is well.  You gave the day your full measure, the best was done.”
Experience past employed, knowledge and skill new is obtained.
“You know now what you lack; lasting failures there need be none.”

At end of day, on my knees thanks, glory and honor given to my King
Firm is my commitment, deep and solid is my resolve for the morrow.
I, I am the master answerable for the effort and desire that I bring.
My own reason essential, my will vital; As master, those I cannot borrow.