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Good Morning Nanty Glo!
     Wednesday, October 15 2003 

Jon Kennedy, webmaster

Less is adequate

After the Iron Curtain was torn down in the late 1980s through the human and divine interventions of President Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II, author Alexander Solzshenitzin, even the liberalism of Mikhail Gorbachev, and countless other proponents of human freedom, the American liberal wisdom was: "the former Soviet states are a tinderbox. They are so poor and hungry compared with the West that more revolution should be expected."

When my brother Bob and I visited Russia in 1996, we were impressed by what appeared to be a lot of personal-scale capitalism on the streets of Petersburg, where everything from bananas to souvenirs and toys were being offered by sidewalk entrepreneurs in kiosks and booths. As we made the daylong train ride from Petersburg to Moscow, the small towns and cities we went through often reminded us of the towns and cities we grew up in in Pennsylvania in the '40s and '50s. There were less pavement and fewer automobiles outside the major city. Russia may be poor compared with Switzerland and Sweden, we thought, but it doesn't appear to be much poorer than we were a few years back, and we weren't starving or plotting revolution. Maybe the liberal interpretation was skewed?

Moscow was a revelation. Though in terms of the income of the average worker there the prices in McDonald's were comparable to those in an Outback Steakhouse in the states, the Mickey D's were so crowded that we chose to try to find food more accessible. The "sausage" that came with our egg in a pub on the ground floor of the highrise that also housed our hostel turned out to be just like the franks that come in eightpacks in American food stores, but that was okay. We liked it better than the cereal we'd been served in our Petersburg hostel and better than waiting an hour to get served in McDonald's.

Moscow was also a revelation because for as far as the eye could see there were no landmarks on the horizon other than highrise brick buildings: tenements, hotels, offices, all seemingly 20 stories or more in height. The trains, subways, and articulated streetcars were up to date, clean, and efficient, and just as crowded by people (who didn't look any more impoverished than we were) as their counterparts in New York, London, and Paris.

I was in my third year as a convert to Christian Orthodoxy that year, and quite familiar with the voluntary self-effacing deprivation the Orthodox practice. More than half of the days on the yearly Orthodox calendar are fast days—no meat, dairy products, alcohol, or eggs—and the fast also encourages almsgiving and getting by with less than usual to be able to share more with others. I wondered if the millenium of Orthodox practice in Russia before the Marxist revolution was still remembered as an ethical guideline. Quite likely, as 70 years under Lenin, Stalin, Khruschev and other hardline "progressives" had been imposing standards of self-deprivation—voluntary or not—that were as rigorous or more so.

Almost 15 years after the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, there has been neither an "economic miracle" in Russia, but neither has the tinderbox exploded, nor does it seem as likely to do so now as it seemed then. There has been slow progress, slow improvement of the standards of survival, but survival without anything comparable to Stalin's liquidation of millions of his citizens to conserve or stretch the limited resources of his administration.

I think that, among other things, it's evidence that often, for many people, less is more. And even more importantly, less is adequate.

Webmaster Jon Kennedy

Think about it (but not too long)

Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly; but when they lit a fire in the craft, it sank. Proving, once and for all, that you can't have your kayak and heat it too.

—Sent by Bill Dalrymple 

Thought for today



— Sent by Alice Prewett 

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