25 August 2022

For Faina

I looked truth in the eye today,
in both of her lake-green eyes:
pools in whose depths
too much wordless fear and
anguish had been anchored.

And then I heard her speak.
She had a child’s voice,
soft and high and sterling-clear.
Such a voice should not belong
to eyes which have seen so much,

to tear-stained eyes which have taken
in from the tender age of five
the explosions of the shells,
the shredded bodies in rubble,
the flowers laid at infants’ graves.

But, even more than that,
when one hears such a voice
from a face with such eyes,
it is hard to turn away from.
And so, many choose not to hear.

Truth speaks, and she writes.
Her mind is full of starships,
and her heart is full of cats;
for that I’d praise her courage
but my throat catches on such a word.

Not for any lack in her of courage!
No! I balk at the obscenity:
no thirteen-year-old girl
should ever have her ‘courage’
tested under shell fire for eight years.

And yet still that voice comes:
soft and high and sterling-clear,
defying those who would consign her
to darkness and to silence.
Truth has always spoken thus.

- Matthew Cooper, 25 August 2022

14 August 2022

A letter to the OPF listserv

As a member of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship mailing list, I get to see a lot of e-mails from people with a lot of different perspectives on global affairs. Sometimes the discussion gets somewhat spirited. This time I was moved to respond. A certain member of the group, responding to this story on NPR, held it up as an example of how our government was ‘empowering an adversary’ and ‘exacerbat[ing] the threat’ of an ascendant China to world peace. I was compelled to respond in the following way (sans the links):
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

I have deep concerns about labelling China as an ‘adversary’. And not only because my wife is Chinese and my children are half-Chinese by ancestry.

In the Orthodox Church, we must consistently remember that ‘we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places’. The factory worker in Dongbei who puts together a vanadium redox battery is not my adversary. The engineer who designs the battery isn’t my adversary either. It seems to me that both of them must work to eat. It seems to me that neither of them is motivated, at least prima facie, by lust for power or desire for dominance over others. They are not the enemies. It seems to me that the enemy in this story is not China at all, though of course NPR will nowhere acknowledge this because NPR is state propaganda. Gary Yang tried to get American banks and American companies to invest in his batteries but couldn’t. They were looking for a quick turnaround. The enemy here is instead a system that looks for instant gratification and short-term returns on investment, and which prioritises profit over the common good. In short: the enemy is of this story is not godless Chinese communism, but godless American capitalism. And it is precisely this concern American companies and American banks have with gaining advantage, gaining profit, gaining power over others, that requires us to participate in the spiritual struggle against ‘wickedness in high places’. Blaming China might feel good, but it fixes nothing about our own flaws. If it wasn’t China, it would be India, or Brazil, or South Africa.

Furthermore, I think that the inability of Americans to look inward, to search out their own faults, to understand the failures of their own spiritual laziness of habit and their own comfort with ‘the way things are’, is at the root of many of the world’s problems right now. We blame Russia for the war in Ukraine, and to a certain extent rightly so, but this is a lazy stance, which is why it is so popular. It costs Americans nothing to condemn Russia. Scapegoating Russia and no one else means that we don’t have to look at the long-standing debt politics of the IMF (which has operated this way since the 1960s and 1970s, putting poison-pill terms in their loan agreements to rob governments of their ability to provide social safety nets or discipline international capital in the national interest) that turned Ukraine into, essentially, a puppet government of Western corporations who have no interest in the well-being of the Ukrainian people. We don't have to examine how over a quarter of Ukraine’s total arable land is now in the hands of Monsanto, Dupont and Cargill corporations, rather than in the hands of Ukrainian people themselves. And we don’t have to examine our own culpability in participating in and upholding a predatory system of international finance, and supporting policies which continue to rob Ukrainians of the same agency we praise them for supposedly defending.

It strikes me that there are not enough Saint Moseses among us, who are willing to look at the leaky sack on our own backs with our own sins trailing behind us. It strikes me that there are not enough Alexander Solzhenitsyns among us, reminding us that the moral universe is never so simple as the ‘bad people over there’ in Russia and China doing evil things, but instead that the line between good and evil cuts through every human heart. It strikes me that there are not enough Saint Marias among us, to take us to task for the social sins we are engaged in every day, while we blithely condemn and disparage our brothers. It strikes me that there are not enough Saint Tikhons among us, to encourage us to love each other beyond artificial boundaries erected by power politics, or indeed by domestic ‘blue vs. red’ politics.

If we wish to quote Franklin's old yarn about ‘an ounce of prevention’, it strikes me that first we ought to follow his advice regarding civic virtues: fasting; imitating Jesus and Socrates; not wasting anything; not injuring others; not practicing deceit; avoiding extremes; avoiding excessive worries; not despairing over common setbacks; avoiding hurtful speech and trifling conversations; keeping all of our things to their own places; promising to do what we ought and doing what we promise to do. Worrying about what China is doing, and not about what we are doing--this is emphatically not what Benjamin Franklin would advise us to do. (And please, let’s not be unkind and point out those places where Franklin failed to follow his own advice. All of us are hypocrites - myself foremost of all.)

With love in Christ,

07 August 2022

One German musician’s wise perspective on the Ukraine conflict

I have reposted this from the public Facebook profile of a German industrial-rock musician, a certain Mr J—, with whom I share a mutual contact. I am providing here my own translation of his post. Speaking for myself, I think his perspective here is quite wise, and should be shared broadly.
For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me.
- Job 3:25

If this war has shown us anything, it is primarily that each side invested in it has achieved with its actions, the exact opposite of what it wished to achieve.

Putin (likely) hoped for a ‘liberated’ Ukrainian (brother-)people, who would throw themselves around the necks of the Russian soldiers as soon as they marched in. Instead, he got embittered enemies who only hated his people even more, and wanted even less to do with him than they already had. He also wanted ‘less NATO’. But now, he has even more NATO countries around him: an even more cohesive NATO with greater manpower.

The Ukrainian state leadership, politically driven by ultra-nationalist and Russophobic white supremacists such as Azov, who honour as Ukrainian national heroes war criminals and Jew-murderers like Stepan Bandera, name boulevards after them and depict them on postage stamps, wanted economic prosperity (especially for their oligarchs and corrupt political elites) and territorial integrity. They will get – as it currently stands – a country in even greater ruin, and even more lost territory.

The USA wanted to crush their rival Russia and expand their global hegemony. Instead, they have damaged themselves economically and politically, and promoted an alliance between Russia and arch-rival China, thereby finally destroying their chances for hegemony. The arch-rival, China, is thus ‘the laughing third party’. In turn, the West in turn wanted to harm Russia, but have primarily harmed themselves, politically destabilised themselves and further damaged confidence in their political leadership.

Hopefully, this will prove to be a lesson for all, that conflict is better off being settled peaceably, than ‘rendering evil for evil’ (1 Peter 3:9), and it will hopefully lead to the realisation that war is simply ‘not worth it’. Anyone who is involved in it in any way, only loses.

06 August 2022

Pointless video post - ‘Как болит голова’ by Август

What month is it again? Oh yeah:

The Saint Petersburg formation August (or Август) was one of the first-ever Soviet rock bands, and they shared a label (Melodiya) with other acts like Black Coffee, Master and Cruise. At first they played a rather eclectic mixture of pop-rock, art-rock and heavy metal (in part due to the Soviets’ disapproval of certain styles of rock music), but later on their style congealed into something similar to Rainbow or Deep Purple or Uriah Heep. Their first album, from which this song comes, was a runaway success. Enjoy!