Lenin “Sought to Destroy” Russian Peasants

(p. B14) A forceful, stylish writer with a sweeping view of history, Professor Pipes covered nearly 600 years of the Russian past in “Russia Under the Old Regime,” abandoning chronology and treating his subject by themes, such as the peasantry, the church, the machinery of state and the intelligentsia.
One of his most original contributions was to locate many of Russia’s woes in its failure to evolve beyond its status as a patrimonial state, a term he borrowed from the German sociologist Max Weber to characterize Russian absolutism, in which the czar not only ruled but also owned his domain and its inhabitants, nullifying the concepts of private property and individual freedom.
With “The Russian Revolution” (1990), Professor Pipes mounted a frontal assault on many of the premises and long-held convictions of mainstream Western specialists on the Bolshevik seizure of power. That book, which began with the simple Russian epigraph “To the victims,” took a prosecutorial stance toward the Bolsheviks and their leader, Vladimir Lenin, who still commanded a certain respect and sympathy among Western historians.
Professor Pipes, a moralist shaped by his experiences as a Jew who had fled the Nazi occupation of Poland, would have none of it. He presented the Bolshevik Party as a conspiratorial, deeply unpopular clique rather than the spearhead of a mass movement. He shed new and harsh light on the Bolshevik campaign against the peasantry, which, he argued, Lenin had sought to destroy as a reactionary class. He also accused Lenin of laying the foundation of the terrorist state that his successor, Joseph Stalin, perfected.
“I felt and feel to this day that I have been spared not to waste my life on self-indulgence and self-aggrandizement but to spread a moral message by showing, using examples from history, how evil ideas lead to evil consequences,” Professor Pipes wrote in a memoir. “Since scholars have written enough on the Holocaust, I thought it my mission to demonstrate this truth using the example of communism.”
. . .
In “The Russian Revolution,” he wrote:
“The Russian Revolution was made neither by the forces of nature nor by anonymous masses but by identifiable men pursuing their own advantages. Although it has spontaneous aspects, in the main it was the result of deliberate action. As such it is very properly subject to value judgment.”

For the full obituary, see:
William Grimes. “Richard Pipes, Historian Of Russia and Adviser To Reagan, Dies at 94.” The New York Times (Friday, May 18, 2018): B14.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date May 17, 2018, and has the title “Richard Pipes, Historian of Russia and Reagan Aide, Dies at 94.”)

The early Pipes book, mentioned above, is:
Pipes, Richard. Russia under the Old Regime. revised 2nd ed. London, England: Penguin Books, 1997 [1st ed. 1974].

The later Pipes book, mentioned above, is:
Pipes, Richard. The Russian Revolution. revised 2nd ed. New York: Knopf, 1990.

Russian Movie Director Bravely Criticizes Putin

(p. A8) MOSCOW — While shooting “Loveless,” an Oscar nominee this year for best foreign film, Andrey Zvyagintsev repeated virtually every scene again and again — 12 takes on average, according to his cinematographer, sometimes as many as 28.
The differences between takes often proved undetectable to others, said the cinematographer, Mikhail Krichman — even to the core crew that has worked on all five of his films. But the director sought some fleeting “magic.”
It might be several leaves fluttering off a tree in the background, Mr. Krichman said, or the angle at which snowflakes struck a window. “These kinds of things deliver the magic of the scene, and he uses them to decide to take it or not for the movie,” Mr. Krichman said of Mr. Zvyagintsev. “That makes him very different from other directors.”
. . .
His role as social critic, . . . , is another reason the art-house crowd tends to respect Mr. Zvyagintsev. He is one of the few high-profile artists still brave enough to openly criticize the Russian government.
He has disparaged the recent crackdown on the arts, including the house arrest of a prominent theater director and the use of censorship for the first time in years to ban a foreign movie, “The Death of Stalin.”
“We believed that in 1991 that we were present for the burial of the C.P.S.U.,” he said referring to the one-party state of the Soviet Union. “The burial did not take place. Instead, the corpse rose from the coffin and is walking around and frightening us once again.”

For the full story, see:
NEIL MacFARQUHAR. “A Master of Depicting Russia’s Underbelly on Film.” The New York Times (Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018): A8.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has a date of Feb. 23, 2018, and has the title “A Russian Master of the ‘Dark Side’ in Film.”)

How Communism Hurt

(p. 8) In an episode near the end of her thoughtful and eloquent memoir, “Among the Living and the Dead,” Inara Verzemnieks accompanies a cousin on her mail route in rural Latvia. They stop at a crude mailbox nailed to a tree. The mailbox belongs to an old woman who has elected to live alone, deep in the forest. Verzemnieks is drawn to the mystery of this woman and imagines seeking her out to pose the question that infuses her book: “How to live with this hurt?”
. . .
. . . the hurt Verzemnieks refers to is not directly her own; rather it is something she has imbibed and inherited from the paternal grandparents who raised her, ethnic Latvians who settled in America after World War II. It is the pain of their exile, the yearning for family left behind and the burden of memories from the war itself — her grandmother’s long, perilous flight across Europe from the Soviet forces, and her grandfather’s service as a conscript for the German Army, about which he does not speak.
. . .
Her family’s true home was in the region of Gulbene, in the northeast of Latvia, not far from the Russian border. More specifically, it was at her grandmother’s ancestral homestead, called Lembi. When the Soviet Union collapsed, her grandparents succeeded in returning once. After they died, Verzemnieks went as well, spending parts of five consecutive years living with her grandmother’s younger sister, Ausma, one of the last surviving members of her grandparents’ generation. The book interleaves stories from her grandparents’ past and from Ausma’s, along with Verzemnieks’s impressions of life in present-day rural Latvia, governed by its traditional rhythms, intricately and spiritually fused with the natural world. She is there to experience this life, to connect with her family, but also to gain Ausma’s trust so as to elicit her story. That story is the complement to her grandparents’, the two together constituting the Latvian national wartime narrative: those who suffered the pain of leaving and those subjected to the pain of staying — which meant life under the Soviet yoke, collectivization and, often, expulsion to Siberia. Ausma shared this fate. In 1949, she, her mother and her invalid brother were stripped of their beloved farm and sent into the taiga. They survived largely because Ausma withstood grueling physical labor and dreadful privation. For her great-niece’s sake, she recounts this past, even though it often brings her to tears.

For the full review, see:
DAVID BEZMOZGIS. “Homeland.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, September 17, 2017): 8.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date SEPT. 15, 2017, and has the title “A Writer Visits Latvia in Search of Her Roots.”)

The book under review, is:
Verzemnieks, Inara. Among the Living and the Dead: A Tale of Exile and Homecoming on the War Roads of Europe. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2017.

Soviets Expelled Math Innovator from High School, When He Denied That Dostoyevsky Was Pro-Communist

(p. A12) Vladimir Voevodsky, formerly a gifted but restless student who flunked out of college out of boredom before emerging as one of the most brilliant and revolutionary mathematicians of his generation, died on Sept. 30 [2017] at his home in Princeton, N.J. He was 51.
. . .
Vladimir was kicked out of high school three times, once for disagreeing with his teacher’s assertion that Dostoyevsky, who died in 1881, was pro-Communist. He was also kicked out of Moscow University after failing academically, having stopped attending classes that he considered a waste of time.
. . .
How do mathematicians know that something they prove is actually true?
This question became urgent for him as mathematicians were discovering — sometimes decades after publication — that proof after proof, including one of his own, had critical flaws.
Mathematical arguments had gotten so complicated, he realized, that other mathematicians rarely checked them in detail. And his stellar reputation only made the problem worse: Everyone assumed that his proofs must be right.
Dr. Voevodsky realized that human brains could not keep up with the ever-increasing complexity of mathematics. Computers were the only solution. So he embarked on an enormous project to create proof-checking software so powerful and convenient that mathematicians could someday use it as part of their ordinary work and create a library of rock-solid mathematical knowledge that anyone in the world could access.
Computer scientists had worked on the problem for decades, but it was territory only a few mathematicians had ever ventured into. “Among mathematicians, computer proof verification was almost a forbidden subject,” Dr. Voevodsky wrote.
The problem was that these systems were extraordinarily cumbersome. Checking a single theorem could require a decade of work, because the computer essentially had to be taught all of the mathematics a proof was built on, in agonizing, inhuman detail. Ordinary mathematicians intent on expanding the borders of the field could not possibly devote that kind of effort to checking their proofs.
Somehow, computers and humans needed to be taught to think alike.
Dr. Voevodsky developed a stunningly bold plan for how to do so: He reformulated mathematics from its very foundation, giving it a new “constitution,” as Dr. Hales put it. Mathematics so reformulated would be far friendlier to computers and allow mathematicians to talk to computers in a language that was much closer to how mathematicians ordinarily think.
Today, Dr. Voevodsky declared in 2014, “computer verification of proofs, and of mathematical reasoning in general, looks completely practical.”

For the full obituary, see:
JULIE REHMEYER. “Vladimir Voevodsky, Dropout Turned Revolutionary Mathematician, Dies at 51.” The New York Times (Sat., OCT. 7, 2017): A12.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)
(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date OCT. 6, 2017, and has the title “Vladimir Voevodsky, Revolutionary Mathematician, Dies at 51.”)

Natural Gas Tanker Reaches South Korea 30 Percent Faster, Through Arctic

(p. 12) A Russian-owned tanker, built to traverse the frozen waters of the Arctic, completed a journey in record time from Europe to Asia this month, auguring the future of shipping as global warming melts sea ice.
The Christophe de Margerie, a 984-foot tanker built specifically for the journey, became the first ship to complete the so-called Northern Sea Route without the aid of specialized ice-breaking vessels, the ship’s owner, Sovcomflot, said in a statement.
. . .
The ship, transporting liquefied natural gas, completed the trip from Norway to South Korea Thursday of last week, in just 19 days, 30 percent faster than the regular route through the Suez Canal, the company said.
Sailors have for centuries sought a navigable Northwest Passage: a shorter, faster route between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans that transits the Arctic.

For the full story, see:
RUSSELL GOLDMAN. “No Icebreaker Needed: Thaw Lets Tanker Traverse Arctic.” The New York Times, First Section (Sun., AUG. 27, 2017): 12.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date AUG. 25, 2017, and has the title “Russian Tanker Completes Arctic Passage Without Aid of Icebreakers.”)

Russian Regulators Jail Entrepreneur for Innovating “Too Fast and Too Freely”

(p. A1) AKADEMGORODOK, Russia — Dmitri Trubitsyn is a young physicist-entrepreneur with a patriotic reputation, seen in this part of Siberia as an exemplar of the talents, dedication and enterprise that President Vladimir V. Putin has hailed as vital for Russia’s future economic health.
Yet Mr. Trubitsyn faces up to eight years in jail after a recent raid on his home and office here in Akademgorodok, a Soviet-era sanctuary of scientific research that was supposed to showcase how Mr. Putin’s Russia can harness its abundance of talent to create a modern economy.
A court last Thursday [August 3, 2017] extended Mr. Trubitsyn’s house arrest until at least October, which bars him from leaving his apartment or communicating with anyone other than his immediate family. Mr. Trubitsyn, 36, whose company, Tion, manufactures high-tech air-purification systems for homes and hospitals, is accused of risking the lives of hospital patients, and trying to lift profits, by upgrading the purifiers so they would consume less electricity.
Most important, he is accused of doing this without state regulators certifying the changes.
It is a case that highlights the tensions between Mr. Putin’s aspirations for a dynamic private sector and his determination to enhance the powers of Russia’s security apparatus. Using a 2014 law meant to protect Russians from counterfeit medicine, investigators from the Federal Security Service, the post-Soviet KGB, and other agencies have accused Mr. Trubitsyn of leading a criminal conspiracy to, essentially, innovate too fast and too freely.
. . .
(p. A9) Irina Travina, the founder of a software start-up and head of the local technology-business association, said Akademgorodok was “the best place in Russia,” with “outstanding schools, low crime and a high concentration of very smart people.”
But she said Mr. Trubitsyn’s arrest had delivered a grave blow to the community’s sense of security.
“In principle, anyone can fall into this situation,” Ms. Travina said, praising Mr. Trubitsyn as a patriot because he had not moved abroad and had invested time and money in science education for local children. “It can happen to anybody,” she added. “Everyone has some sort of skeleton in their closet. Maybe nothing big, but they can always find something to throw you in jail for.”

For the full story, see:
ANDREW HIGGINS. “Russia Wants Innovation, but Jails Innovators.” The New York Times (Thurs., AUG. 10, 2017): A1 & A9.
(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date AUG. 9, 2017, and has the title “Russia Wants Innovation, but It’s Arresting Its Innovators.”)

“Unfettered Science, If We Have the Courage to Let It Unfold”

(p. 26) “How to Tame a Fox” sets out to answer a simple-seeming question: What makes a dog a dog? Put another way, how did an animal that started out as a bloodthirsty predator become one that now wants nothing more than a nice belly rub and the chance to gaze adoringly at a member of another species? In the late 1950s, a Russian scientist named Dmitri Belyaev decided to address this puzzle by taking the unheard-of tack of replicating the domestication process in real time. He and his colleagues took silver foxes, widely bred in vast Siberian farms for their luxurious pelts, and made them into friendly house pets. It was a deceptively simple process: Take the puppies from only the friendliest foxes, breed them and repeat. Lyudmila Trut, the current lead researcher of the silver fox experiment, who began work as Belyaev’s intern, along with Lee Alan Dugatkin, an American scientist and writer at the University of Louisville, documents their monumental effort in this sparkling new book.
Belyaev died in 1985, but the experiment is still ongoing, with 56 generations of foxes bred to date — a far cry from the snarling creatures that used to snap at the hands of their caretakers when the research began. The new foxes run toward people, jump on the bed and nuzzle one another as well as their human caretakers. Such a behavioral transformation was to some degree expected, since they were bred from the tamest members of their groups. Perhaps more intriguing, they also look more doglike, with floppy ears, wagging tails and piebald fur.
. . .
The book, . . . , is not only about dogs, or foxes, or even science under siege from political interests. . . . It may serve — particularly now — as a parable of the lessons that can emerge from unfettered science, if we have the courage to let it unfold.

For the full review, see:
MARLENE ZUK. “Fox and Friends.” The New York Times Book Review (Sun., MAY 7, 2017): 26.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date MAY 5, 2017, and has the title “How Do You Make a Fox Your Friend? Fast-Forward Evolution.”)

The book under review, is:
Dugatkin, Lee Alan, and Lyudmila Trut. How to Tame a Fox (and Build a Dog): Visionary Scientists and a Siberian Tale of Jump-Started Evolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017.