Friday, July 5, 2013

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Katherine Helmond, 85. Terrific on Soap; and solid in Brazil.

And some good stuff for this semi-holiday:

1. Elizabeth Nugent on Egypt.

2. Jay Ulfelder on Egypt.

3. And Timothy Lee on why secrecy is bad for presidents. Very good.


  1. Lee's argument about transparency reminds me of Gorbachev's original purpose for glasnost in the Soviet Union in the 1980s. When virtually everything is considered a state secret and the press is worthless, the leader is dependent solely on subordinate bureaucrats for information about conditions around the country. Stalin's approach to reducing dependency was to create multiple lines of reporting (police, party, state, various ministries within the state), promote rivalry among them, and have them report on each other, openly and secretly. This worked for a while, but conditions changed under Khrushchev and Brezhnev. Brezhnev, known for the slogan "trust in cadres," built his "constituency" by promoting the end of fear and insecurity among party and state officials. Whereas Khrushchev stopped the practice of shooting every bureaucrat who botched a minor task, Brezhnev went farther and stopped firing them and constantly reassigning them. Officials were more secure in their lives and in their positions, but they were also locked into the same job for years, even decades. As a consequence of that, they also got to know each other pretty well and formed local mutual-protection societies with the other bureaucrats in their localities. By the time Gorbachev came along, the local officials in, say, Tashkent, could make up any story they wanted in reports to Moscow, and all the rival lines of communication would back them up. Glasnost was to give local residents and dissident officials a means to complain about the local officials in charge and give the Kremlin an inkling of what was really going on. Thus it was originally an attempt to reassert central control over the localities. Gorbachev was surprised when it got such a loud and positive response from the intelligentsia, and he then played it up as a democratic reform.

    (Hope that wasn't too off topic.)

    1. It seems on topic to me. But it's also INCREDIBLY fascinating. I'd never heard of Glasnost being described this way. I never even thought of all of this in those terms. I guess I've never really studied the Soviet Union.

      Although, I'm reminded of Kundera's "The Joke"

  2. Regarding Ulfelder, or at least the part about whether this was a coup, the reason the Obama administration won't call it a coup is not that they don't know what one looks like, it's the legal obligation to withhold military aid if a coup takes place. As long as they think that withholding aid will make the situation less stable rather than more stable, they won't call it a coup.


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