Monday, October 31, 2016

Ban Halloween?

By Stephen Wilson

(Moscow, Russia) -- In recent days, a Russian politician , Yarloslav Mikhailov, is attempting to persuade law enforcement agencies to take strict measures to formally
 forbid Halloween. In fact, Mikhailov argues that the celebration of Halloween is already forbidden and it only remains for the legal authorities to punish the culprits under existing 'counter-terrorist public safety laws' which were previously introduced by Irina Yarovarya . He claims that people celebrating Halloween are making a mockery of the Russian Orthodox church by offending their religious beliefs. The supporters of this action regard Halloween 'as pure satanism disguised in costumes and performances'. Yarloslav Mikhailov , who is a leading persecutor of gays, regards Halloween as a 'religious ritual ' as well as an
attempt to worship the 'forces of satan'.
Mikhailov has already sent papers to the Procuracy General. However, there is only one snag. None of the officials can find the documents he sent them.
They are hidden under a never ending heap of legal documents.
There exists a second problem. Hardly anyone celebrates Halloween in Russia and even less do they participate in satanic cults where rituals are used. A Levada opinion poll found that only one in twenty Russians plan to celebrate Halloween. Most of this celebrating is innocuous . It involves
young people dressing up in fancy costumes not only of vampires, witches and zombies but often soldiers , Indians or cowboys. At the worst, those people might scare people but the main idea is not to worship satan but 'to have a good time'. It rather trivalises, banalises and often overshadows church prayers for the dead.
In Britain , the celebration is popular amongst young people who simply love to make pumpkin or turnip lanterns , tell ghost stories , go guising and dress up. The roots of this custom have been obscured. Although some anthropologists such as Sir James Fraser regard Halloween as having ancient roots dating back to the Celts, there is no hard evidence. However, if the custom of Halloween , Samhain , really dates back to the Celts, then in this case, it is a pagan, and not Satanic practice. In their legends and stories, the
Celts regarded this as a time when borders between the living and the dead became thin. The dead returned to haunt the living. The living would remain in doors , and offer careful hospitality to the dead by offering them warmth food and care. The dead were treated with reverence and respect because many Irish felt sorry for them . Those customs of 'feeding the dead' ,partially although not wholly , mirror Russian customs.
What is remarkable is that Russian politicians not only betray an ignorance of Halloween but even their own Russian Slavonic customs which they purport to defend.
In the old Arbat of Moscow, anti-Halloween activists gathered to protest against Halloween. The activists have been demanding a ban on the celebration of Halloween in schools and kindergartens in Russia. One man carried a placard declaring : " Paganism has no place in schools and kindergartens'. There is only one problem . Very few ,if any kindergarten actually celebrates Halloween. Teachers are already aware that celebrating such an occasion will only provoke unwanted conflict. No representative of Sorok Sorokov, the Orthodox movement which seeks to ban Halloween, has yet got round to naming particular Kindergartens or schools which celebrate Halloween. Maybe they 'll pick them out of a lucky bag.
Of course, there are some businessmen attempting to cash in on this occasion.
For example, at a shop in Sokol you can buy decorative pumpkins and lanterns and some restaurants invite their customers to a special Halloween dinner. None of this is worth taking seriously. 
A Russian teacher sent me a message saying : " Enjoy a Happy Samhain at the weekend". Yet I , and most Scottish adults don't celebrate this.
On the contrary, it is a time for remembering the dead by going to church to light candles for them. (if you are a Catholic or Orthodox believer).
One wonders what they will try and ban next ? Will they try and fine 'ghosts' for disturbing the living?

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Ivan Grozny

By Stephen Wilson

Ivan the Terrible
(Moscow, Russia) -- A monument to Ivan the Terrible, depicting him gallantly holding the reins of a horse while holding up an Orthodox cross, has just been inaugurated in the city of Oryol. The monument received the blessing of the Patriarchy Kirill, the Ministry of Culture, some historians and artists . However, the erection of the monument provoked bitter anger and indignation from many local people as well as Russians much more familiar with the history of one of Russians real despots. The erection of the monument reveals a country which is deeply polarised by those who yearn for a return to an authoritarian strong man who rules by the iron hand and those who favour the right to freely express an opinion and agree to disagree.
This is not the first time attempts were made to rehabilitate Ivan the Terrible 's reputation. An English Physician , Dr Samuel Collins, of the late 17th century, who was the first person to publish Russian folk stories, collected some stories which presented Ivan the Terrible as a kind and generous tsar who protected the poor from the evil and oppressive Boyars. In one story he even teams up with a thief to rob
boyars. He turns out to be a generous, kind and just tsar .
During the time of Stalin, Ivan the Terrible was fully rehabilitated to such an extent the Russian film maker Sergei Eisenstein had to remake his film.
So how do Russians justify rehabilitating one of the worst tsars in history ?
After all, the tsar who ruled from 1547-to 1584, sacked Novgorod, killing a minimum of 3000 as well as massacring many people during his invasion of Siberia not to mention the opposition. Ivan the Terrible 's right -hand man , Malyuta Skuratov, strangled to death Philipp the second, the Metropolitan of Moscow in 1569. The terror of his Oprichnina , who charged around on horseback brandishing severed dogs' heads on brooms was often indiscriminate.
The answer is they play down Ivan the Terrible's atrocities and even excuse his deeds. So Ivan the Terrible's murder of his son becomes 'an accident', and the number of victims of Ivan the Terrible's wars are reduced. For example, when I spoke to an academic , Mairi Koroleva, she told me : "Demographers told me they had made a special study of the number of victims of Ivan the Terrible and claimed the losses were not as high as people previously thought. They told me that , he killed only 3000 people if you rely on accurate records. " 

Of course, if you omit many chronicles , eye-witness accounts and reports, and rely on what you dubiously regard as the only acceptable data you can come up with lower figures. Nevertheless, how can anyone simply casually refer to 3000 deaths as 'only 3000 figures? Don't those people have souls ?
Of course, many proponents consider those atrocities as irrelevant . The main point is that he made Russia strong again. According to an article recently published by Zaftra, October , number 42, (1194) ,Ivan the Terrible drove out
the Mongol occupants, defeated Astrakhan , seized Siberia and made Russian a sovereign nation. Concerning, his religious role, Ivan the Terrible built the first cathedral devoted to Basil the blessed, and inspired great art.
Aleksandr Prokhanov declared: ' The Tsar Ivan Vasilevitch opened the first printers, and published the first book . He initiated the first Zemskii sobor or assembly which kept a check on unlimted authority '.
This one-sided view indicates more about the prejudices of the proponents than what actually happened in Russian history. The facts are that by the end of Ivan the Terrible's reign, his country had been hugely devastated and depopulated as thousands of peasants fled the land to escape increased control. The results spelt disaster for agriculture . Stalin appears to have repeated rather than avoided Ivan the Terrible's mistake. So the result of Ivan the Terrible's policies was 'the Time of Troubles'. Russia almost
disintegrated ! This is the consensus of many western as well as Russian historians.
What is deeply disturbing is that if school textbooks are rewitten to impose an uncritical dogmatic view of history ! This has not yet happened. However, the new Minister of Education and Science is down on record making a public
statement where she condoned Stalin's purges. What we are witnessing is an attempted 'counter -history' where the facts have to fit with the acceptable state dogma and not 'offend' anyone. In other words , unpleasant facts must either vanish or learn to be more patriotic ! Small wonder historians are feeling anxious!

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Who's Watching Us?

Do We Know Who is Watching Us and What We Are Doing?
By Jim Vail
Special to

You know Facebook is big when the newly elected prime minister of England made an appointment to speak to Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s founder and head of a new state. They have mutual interests.

But those interests run contrary to what people here believe is a constitutionally protected fundamental right – Privacy!

The book “I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did” is a must read for all of us who are part of today’s internet world.

Kent Law School professor Lori Andrews, who is considered one of the country’s leading experts on cyberspace law, writes in her book that as we increasingly use the internet to work, shop and date, we are opening ourselves to intrusive privacy violations by employers, the police, and aggressive data-collection companies that sell our information to any and all takers.

Companies will reject candidates due to Google searches, robbers will use vacation postings to target homes to break into and lawyers will use social media to use against us in court, and the legal system isn’t protecting us. Judges have ruled against thousands of victims of privacy violations. In fact, our very democracy is in danger.

“Governments in democracies exist to protect their citizens and uphold their rights,” she writes. “Public health officials, like other government agents, are limited in the type of data they collect and publicize about citizens. Similarly, the police need probable cause and search warrants to collect evidence. Constitutional restrictions on governmental action apply. But what happens when state and federal agencies circumvent those rules by turning the job of evidence over to private citizens using social networks – or ask the social networks themselves for private information from people’s photos and posts? Should that evidence also be subjected to Constitutional constraints?”

Andrews proposes a Social Network Constitution to protect our privacy.
The book is a disturbing read into how our personal information is being used. She says Facebook is a nation that holds the cards, and its citizens have little recourse. Several federal laws that were created for the internet protect social networks from almost any liability so they cannot be sued for invasion of privacy, defamation or criminal acts based on people’s postings.

Social networks turn people’s private information into income streams, utilizing a “very sophisticated commercial surveillance system.” And to opt out is nearly impossible because of how they constructed cookies software that tracks everything you do on your computer. “But unless people’s rights are protected, social networks will serve to narrow people’s behavior and limit their opportunities, rather than expand them,” Andrews writes.

Behavioral advertising has proven very effective to sell products online, you being product No. 1. Facebook encourages people to reveal more intimate details about their lives by rewarding them with more “likes” and more attention from posts.

“Weblining” is the practice of denying people certain opportunities due to their online activities, such as using zip code information to charge someone a higher interest rate. This can also affect the information you read because browsers will tailor stories that you are interested in, possibly leaving out important information about the world. Celebrity gossip replaces world political events on your daily news feeds.

Andrews writes that today people are turning to state laws because the federal laws do not protect their privacy. For example, a woman installed spyware on her husband’s computer and the wife was found to have violated the Florida wiretap statute.
“So far, in the social network realm, little attention has been given to the rights of individuals.”

Andrews believes the Social Network Constitution can invigorate our cherished freedom of speech by guaranteeing the right to connect, which should not be abridged by concerns about intellectual property infringement or vague notions of national security (Wikileaks was exactly what the Founding Fathers said should be protected), and guaranteeing the right to anonymity that protects people’s right to express their opinions (people who protested online in Egypt were identified and imprisoned).    

Andrews noted that Finland bans employers from Googling applicants, while Germany is also considering a law that would stipulate that social networks are private spaces that employers, schools or other institutions should not have access to.

Next week we will feature the second part of our book review that will take a look at specific social network cases being challenged in the courts and how the outcomes affect us all.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Yoga & Stress

By Stephen Wilson

Second City teacher interviewed a Russian Yoga instructor Alesia

Losminskaya on questions concerning the nature of Yoga, how it

might help people cut stress in this chaotically bewildering world

of ceaseless change and her impression of her travels in India.

Before this , I had attained mixed responses on what constitutes

Yoga , from warnings that it was part of a dangerous religious cult , to

others who simply stated :"it kept them in good physical form ".

What is clear is that Yoga remains controversial in Russia . It is a discipline

which literary means 'to rein in on' or harness' mind and body. It appears

to have deep ancient roots stretching back 4000 years or more , linked to

the 'Great God ', Lord Shiva, who is often depicted in sculture and paintings

sitting calmly upon a tiger skin on Mt Kailasa or surrounded unperturbed in

a great fire.

Unlike many advocates of Yoga , Alesia does not indulge in hyperbole or

view Yoga as a panacea for all our troubles. On the contrary, she 'll point

out the discernible limitations as well as advantages.

Second city teacher

What is Yoga ? I mean is it a religion or philosophy ? Some Russians

have warned me it is part of a dangerous religious cult !

Alesia : Well I'm not a very religious person and not all Yoga teachers

go about reciting mantras at their lessons or say prayers to Shiva . My

mother , who is Catholic looks upon it as part of a negative religion.

Yes, there are some Yoga instructors who might chant mantras or are

Hindui . But Yoga is not a cult because no instructor forces their students

to pray or sing mantras . An Indian instructor even told Russians to stop

reciting mantras because the pronunciation was wrong and therefore

would not help their Yoga practise.

Second city teacher

Why did you begin Yoga ? Did you do it to cut down your weight ?


Well, actually that was the initial reason. During my first pregnancy I

had put on a lot more weight. However, I don't like to tell my instructors

this or they will be disappointed and not impressed.

Second City Teacher

How long have you been doing Yoga ?

Alesia :

I have been doing it for ten years but took a break when I seriously

fractured my knee. The doctor x-rayed me and informed me I

needed a special operation to correct it. Since the operation would cost

100,000 rubles and I learnt that following the operations, patients had

to continue taking special injections, I decided to avoid this operation.

I could not afford it . The doctor warned me I could never do Yoga

again. So for a year and a half I stopped doing Yoga. Then, I began

to get better and even found I could run again as well as swim. So I

thought , if I can run again, why can't I do Yoga ? Of course, when I

feel pain in my knee , I resort to lighter exercises.

Second City Teacher .

How can Yoga cut the stress of Russian school teachers?


Well, two of my students happen to be school teachers , and they were

going crazy with stress . They told me "I hate my job " and I saw this

psychological madness. I helped them to take more control of their

minds more -they could react to negative events and energy around

them with more composure and ease.So they could respond with more

control over a negative situation. The teachers later told me they felt

less stress and more in control over situations than before. Now they

can relax their bodies and they feel their minds are stronger. I hope

they have more patience with their school children . Yoga helps

people to make decisions and cope better with their situations.

Second City Teacher

What are the benefits of Yoga ?


Generally speaking , if you practise Yoga and are not lazy. , you get

a stronger mind, body and health. You obtain more control over your

posture and breathing . You are also able to take control over emotions

and thoughts and how you react to negative people. For example, if

I come across a person running me down or making negative comments

I don't lash out but take it calmly. So it improves human relations with

people. Your learn not to indulge in negative gossip or speak foolishly.

I can also sleep just four hours a day so Yoga can change your life


As for health, If I practice Yoga on a regular basis then I stop having colds.

I can't remember the last time I had a blocked nose ! When I practiced

Yoga every day I stopped falling ill. But if I only practice Yoga , twice a

week , then I get a cold and experience the usual problems of illness.

However, Yoga tends to make your spine longer and makes lifting

heavy weights as well as running more difficult. So you can't run as much

as you want.

Second City Teacher

Why is Yoga popular in Russia?


I don't think it is popular in Russia. Okay, Vladimir Minaev (a colleague)

thinks it is popular in

Russia but I don't. It is not as popular as in America. Whereas we

tend to have maximum classes of up to 100 , their classes can rise to

200. And In India itself, Yoga is not popular. Most of the students who

enroll in classes are foreigners and very few Indians join the classes.

This is despite the fact the fees are far lower for Indians.

Paying for Yoga lessons might strike beginners as strange to many new

students when they encounter instructors. They don't appear to do

much formal teaching or instruction but tend to just observe students

and occasionally intervene to correct a student who is doing an action

incorrectly. For example, one instructor, just handed me pictures of

instructions on how to do so many Yoga postures and told me : "Go

ahead and do this " And I did this. This might seem strange to many

students who expected more direct action and supervision from


Second City Teacher

Which school of Yoga do you belong to ?


I belong to the traditional school called Ashtanga. Of course, now there

as many different new schools and styles. Alot of new schools resemble

acrobats rather than Yoga . But learning is not always easy. You can't

learn Yoga if you are lazy. Learning Yoga is hard practice. For example,

to begin with , learning not to be distracted by your problems and to

cleanse your minds of everyday worries and distractions is not easy.

It takes time for many people to learn to meditate .

Second City Teacher

You have visited Indian several times ? How did you find it ?


I love the craziness about this country. The Indians do things in their

own way which is different from us. They drive differently from us,

on the left side of the road and at times zig-zag on the road from

one side to another. It was not difficult to get a scooter when I had

to translate my driving licence to a company. I just translated one word

' bike', and they immediately gave me a bike.

You need a lot of patience . When I was staying in a hotel I complained

that an electric current could be felt coming from the water in the

shower. Later, for many days, 8 workers were coming to and thro, trying

to fix it. They fixed it on the last day of my trip when I was leaving.

They eat differently from us. They will feed you not with a plate but hand

food to eat out of their palm ! Usually they are very tolerant in religious

matters and don't insist their religion is the best in the World.

Their attitude to women is different from Russia. A female who is less than

thirty has to ask permission to go to university from either their husband

or parents. I heard that Indian men don't like clever Indian women ! Then

Indian women are expected to cover their bare shoulders or upper arms.

So in many ways India can be a very conservative country.

They seem very childlike and do things spontaneously !

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Why Vote?

Do Elections Make a Difference?

This from one of our Readers:

It really seems like it is impossible to get anyone on even progressive TV who says elections don't change anything. Everyone is telling people to vote, whether it's for Clinton because of Trump or for a third party. This is all a misunderstanding of how capitalist society actually functions. Elections do not decide which class will rule or even which policies. They are meant to trick, bamboozle and de-mobilize the masses. To me, this becomes clearer and clearer. It isn't a question of parties, or corruption, or voter suppression, or anything else like that. It's the fact that elections settle disputes within the ruling capitalist class, and can never represent the people as long as that class runs society. But people have been so robbed of any understanding of classes or of how society really functions that this is an alien idea to them.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Delegates Vote Yes to Contract

Did the CTU Pull a Fast One?
By Jim Vail

CTU VP Pres Jesse Sharkey sold the tentative contract to delegates.

At the special meeting of House of Delegates Wednesday evening at the Holiday Inn Plaza, the delegates voted 328 Yes to 153 No to accept the Tentative Agreement for a new contract that the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) leadership agreed to at the last minute to avert another teachers strike.

The CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey told delegates that he agreed there were many things in the contract that were not good - such as CPS cutting $30 million in Special Education and cutting roughly $100 million for clinicians like librarians, but the tentative contract achieved what the union wanted - no cuts!

The big gains were no pension pick up cut (except new teachers hired will have to pay 9% into the pension but will get raises to offset their increased costs), a nominal 4.5% raise over the four years, a cap on the number of charter schools (the only deal in the country!), no major health-care cost increases, an aid for kindergarten teachers with over 32 kids in their class (unique since class size has never been agreed to in contracts) and more money for neighborhood schools.

"I agree that this is less than we deserve," he said. "But contract settlements always are."

Unlike past contract delegate meetings, the CTU did not go over parts of the contract. For example, delegates would look at each page and question anything they did not understand. 

In fact, it appeared the leadership played political hardball when impassioned delegates spoke out against accepting the tenative agreement. After the time limit ran out for delegates to voice their opinions in support or against the proposed contract deal, the delegates voted to extend the time for debate.

CTU President Karen Lewis said she thought that there were enough speakers for and against, but she said, as she has said in the past, "If you all want to hear yourselves talk, then go ahead."

Then almost immediately following the vote elementary school teacher, delegate and big bargaining team member Michelle Gunderson "called the question" to have a vote and thus bypass the continued debate on the floor. 

CTU delegate Michelle Gunderson "called the question" to stop debate and discussion of the tentative agreement, upsetting many delegates who wanted more time to discuss the proposed four-year deal.

The move based on Robert's Rules of Order for union meetings was entirely legal, however, it had people scratching their heads why someone was so eager to put a halt to the debate. 

In fact, one Northside delegate said it was totally unfair to have a big bargaining team member who had lots of time to discuss the proposed contract, quickly call the question and only give delegates a mere 15 minutes to debate a four-year contract that will not end until 2019.

Visions of the parking meter scam ran in my head - I am a voting delegate on the Southwest Side - where Mayor Richard Daley forced the aldermen to quickly vote on the privatization scam that ended up costing the city over a billion dollars. 

In other words, the more people debated and questioned the contract, the more it was in danger of getting axed. 

Politics always plays the central role.

Surprisingly, Saucedo delegate Sarah Chambers spoke most passionately against the proposed deal. Chambers is a member of CORE, the union leadership caucus. She said the city has the money and it is criminal how much they have cut special ed funding, and the paper work language is too vague to have any effect.

Fiery CTU delegate Sarah Chambers voted no to the proposed contract.

Another delegate noted that the lower number of health care options in this proposed contract will have a dire effect, especially on teachers who may have to switch doctors during treatment.

I was planning to speak up and bring to the floor the question of how we could agree to a contract that we are already letting the board of ed break - namely not having to pay our step and lane changes from last year when this proposed contract is supposed to begin.

Still, this was a deal orchestrated by the union from the start - including all the strike votes and rallies and one-day walk outs - under cover with a big bargaining team where not one spoke up at the HOD meeting Wed. to question it (one delegate said voting against this deal would amount to fracturing the union - a ludicrous charge that even the union leadership steered away from).

For example, where was the one high school delegate and big bargaining team member who said he couldn't stomach the last proposed contract Lewis said she liked because the incentives given for more teachers to retire was anti-veteran teacher. This proposal contains the same incentives - $1500 per service to retire after this school year if 1500 teachers retire. You can bet new hires will replace them.

And it was to the end the union leadership got what it wanted - the delegates voted to pass this proposal. 

The teachers will next vote in the schools to ratify the tentative agreement.