Friday, August 31, 2012

Y Cross Ranch Listing

 This is the Y Cross which UW and CSU jointly own:  Y Cross Ranch | Wyoming Ranches for Sale

I've posted an earlier thread, well really a compliant, on the plan to sell this facility.  This listing, I suppose, shows why the universities are so tempted, or rather have yielded to the temptation, to sell the place.  Quite a nice location.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Lex Anteinternet: Books That Shaped America

Lex Anteinternet: Books That Shaped America: The Library of Congress has put together this recent list of books it feels have shaped the United States.  Comments? "Books That Sha...

Russian Trials, Russian Protests, and Missing the Point

I don't normally engage in political commentary here, but this seems to be the season for that, and by that I don't mean the U.S. Presidential elections. Granted, those are going on.  But, more than that, July and August seem to be the seasons for protests of all sorts.  July gave us, for example, the American Revolution and the French Revolution.  Probably an element of that was that people were hot and cranky, and that makes for some angry actions.

Anyhow, the last couple of months followers of the news have been treated to the Russian trial of the all female members of a Russian punk band, whose name is intended to be somewhat obscene, and therefore I'll abstain from mentioning its name.  Anyhow, anyone who watches the news has watched the story play out if for no other reason than that it seems odd, and that one of the band members is photogenic. The band, which I suspect may be of questionable musical quality, staged a highly unauthorized and very insulting protest near the alter of the main Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Moscow.  According to news reports, which aren't highly clear on these points, the "punk" protest was supposed to be directed at Putin, or, alternatively, the Russian Orthodox Church's support of Putin.  Those put on trial were sentenced to seven years of confinement.

Starting with the trial, there's been a flood of American new stories on this topic. Added to that, various public figures, including such luminaries as Madonna Louise Ciccone (aka "Madonna"), have chimed in to either protest the convictions or urge a lighter, i.e.., non-existent, sentence be substituted.  The band, for its part, continues to basically mock the results by its attitude.

Missing from all of this has been any intelligent commentary on what occurred, and what it means.  The absence of intelligent news analysis has been stunning.  Just today, for the very first time, I heard radio commentary, on NPR, which really accurately and insightfully commented on the entire event, but that commentary came from a Russian ex-patriot caller, not from the person being interviewed, a columnist for the New York Times.  Indeed, the NYT commentary provided a perfect example of how far off the mark the understanding of this event in the Western world is.

Generally, in the West, what seems to be the case is that most people feel that the bands actions were really no big deal, either symbolically, or physically.  That's because they completely misunderstand the nature of the act and what it symbolizes to Russians and, at this point, have such a high tolerance of offensive acts that they barely register in the public consciousness anyway..  Some people of faith no doubt find the action of this band of deluded young women highly offensive, but even that fails to really accurately explain the Russian reaction, or why the Western reaction is off the mark.  

The Russian caller on NPR was a self-avowed opponent of Putin.  He was, moreover, living in the West.  Finally, he declared himself to be an atheist.  Assuming all that is correct, his defense of the Russian court's actions would be surprising, but in listening to him, it made perfect sense.

The caller noted that almost all the opposition to Putin, in the first place, comes from Moscow and St. Petersburg and is therefore, largely urban.  Contrary to the NYT columnist's comments, therefore, he did not feel, and I'm sure that he's correct, that either Putin or the Russians in general are going to worry about looking "silly", which the NYT columnist seriously seemed to think would be a concern for the Russians.  Ignoring the fact that Russian politics of all types tends to be extremely inward looking, and pays very little regard for what the opinion of outsiders will be, for those voters, and for Putin, looking "silly" is of low importance.  Indeed, quite frankly, it would be of low importance to most American voters as well, which traditionally have cared very little about what foreign opinion of the United States is, and I suspect that this is the same feeling that most average voters everywhere have in general.  But for Russians, love Putin or hate him, looking Russian is of very high importance, except perhaps in the very large cosmopolitan cities, which share a certain sense of internationalness everywhere.  Most Russians do not live in Moscow or St. Petersburg.  As the caller went on to explain, the Russian Orthodox Church is not only the largest church in Russia, but it's so closely identified with the soul of Russia that we in the West can hardly grasp it.

The caller claimed that the Russians had "always" been members of the Russian Orthodox Church, dating back "1000 years". There was no Russia without the church and there is no Russia without the church.  In his conclusion, he was correct, even if in his history he was a bit off, probably for the sake of brevity.

Depending upon when you start the history of Russia, there was a Russia before the Russian Orthodox Church, but not much of one.  Russia, or rather Moscow at first, converted to Christianity well before Moscow became more than a city state. At that time, it converted to the Eastern Rite of the Church, there being no separation at the time between East and West.  The Russian Orthodox Church came into being later, when the Patriarch of Constantinople, under whose jurisdiction the church in Russia fell, recognized a separate seat for Russia, given its vast distance from Constantinople.  This was, in and of itself, of enormous significance not just to Russia, but to Orthodoxy itself.  When the Great Schism occurred, separating East from West, the Russian Orthodox Church generally went with Constantinople, although not consistently at first, with some major Russian Bishops, over a period of many years, declaring primacy of Rome and thereby staying united with Rome, or becoming reunited with Rome, from time to time.  In later times, a major event in Russian history would see dissenters separate from the reforms of Russian Orthodoxy and become the "Old Believers", a virtually leaderless Orthodox group which clung to pre-reform liturgy.

At any rate, however, the rise of Russia was very much coincident with the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church.  Contrary to what critics may assume, the church and the crown did not always see eye to eye, which is part of the reason that the church continues to occupy the position it does today.  It acted as a counterweight to the excesses of early emperors, feeling free to lecture them if it saw fit, and occasionally doing so publicly.  Some emperors, for their part, were very critical of the church.  When the Empire collapsed in 1917, the church acted as a bulwark, albeit a largely unsuccessful one, against the Communists, who saw fit to put its leaders on trial.  Still it remained so much a part of the average Russian's consciousness that even Stalin had to lift much of the suppression of it during World War Two, and Red Army soldiers, even at that point in the country's deep Communist history, made crosses out of scrap steel and crossed themselves before battle.  When the USSR fell in 1990, public adherence to the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia dramatically climbed, showing how strong the faith remained (and likewise, long underground Ukrainian Catholics came out of the closet as well).  Public figures, either demonstrating a long hidden faith, or perhaps wanting to identify with Russianess, began to openly identify with the church once again (although even one of Stalin's henchmen, after being deposed by Khrushchev, ended his days as a lector in the church).

In this position, it is hard to find anything that compares to the position of the Russian Orthodox Church in relation to the Russians and any Western institution and Western nations.  A person might be tempted to point towards the Catholic Church and its position in Ireland up until the 1980s, but even that wouldn't really fully be accurate, although it would be close.  Basically, the Russian Orthodox Church is the faith that claims some allegiance from most Russians, but not non-Russians who are within borders claimed by Russia, and it also forms part of the cultural identity of all Russians while also occuping a position basically occupied by the Magna  Carta for the UK, and the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution in the US.  People can claim allegiance to part or all what the Russian Orthodox Church stands for, even if they are outside of it, or they can define themselves as being against it, as Stalin and Lenin did, but they cannot simply treat it as a conventional institution.

Indeed, it's that last point which makes the actions by the band in question even more problematic to many Russians.  It isn't solely that they acted to defile a Cathedral, or to insult the Russian Orthodox Church. They just don't seem to know what they were were doing.  It's stunningly ignorant to some degree, at least according to both the suggestions of the Russian commentator and the NYT columnist.  The suggestion there is that urban Russians might be out of touch with Russia, a claim made in almost any nation about large urban populations by their less urban fellows.

Anyhow, the point is that to Russians, even non-religious Russians, and probably even to Russians who are members of other faiths, the Russian Orthodox Church is a powerful national symbol unlike nearly any that any Western nation has.  It would, therefore, be very difficult to compare what the band did to anything we can think of.  Perhaps burning the flag, which caused such concern in the US a couple of decades ago, would be somewhat comparable.  More comparable, I suppose, would be if a band broke into an exhibit of the Constitution and performed an insulting performance near and on it.  I suspect we'd hear calls for their heads, if that occurred.  Combining a major civil insult with a major religious one would, however, be nearly impossible in the West.

The point of all this is not to say that Russia's justice system, which I know next to nothing about, got this right.  Nor is it to defend the Russian government, which seems to be internationally headed in the wrong direction to me. But, rather, Western commentators simply don't know what they're talking about here. They don't get it.


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Musical Ride at the Wyoming State Fair


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This year is the 100th Anniversary of the Wyoming State Fair.  As part of the celebrations, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Musical Ride performed during the rodeo.