Rockin’ in Russia

Murti-Bing Pills in America

The Department of State also warns U.S. citizens to defer all travel to the Crimean Peninsula…Russian forces have occupied the Crimean Peninsula in support of the Russian Federation’s claim of Crimean annexation and these forces are likely to continue to take further actions in the Crimean Peninsula consistent with its claim. The United States and Ukraine do not recognize this claimed annexation. The Russian Federation maintains an extensive military presence in Crimea and along the border of eastern Ukraine…Additionally, groups advocating closer ties to Russia have taken on a more strident anti-American tone, especially in eastern Ukraine and Crimea. U.S. citizens who choose to remain in conflict areas should maintain a low profile and avoid large crowds and gatherings.

— US Department of State, Travel Warning, June 2014

Imagine the feeling an American might get listening at peak volume to Queen’s “We are the Champions and We will Rock You” while driving down the main street of Sevastopol, Crimea — Federation of Russia — home to the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea flotilla. More on that later.

Insatiability, written in 1927 by Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz, describes a society that is decaying from within whilst from without they face an external threat of “Sino-Mongolian” forces. In Witkiewicz’s domestic society, religion, philosophy, politics, art, literature and sex have become devoid of any transcendent qualities. These critical life-moving functions have been twisted into propaganda in order to create disgust for “the other”, stir up nationalism and patriotism, and keep the citizens busy. The masses spend their days darting back and forth from one drone-like task to another. Witkiewicz describes them thus, “all those dukes, counts, farmers, peasants, workers, craftsmen, army are vacuous automatons….Because of a spurious sense of social duty and a desire to instruct petty people in petty virtues…whatever appears uncomfortable is either glossed over in silence or else deliberately misconstrued and misinterpreted…What can be expected of the public if the critics themselves are below the average reader?”

Part of the reason for this is to avoid the realities of life by ingesting Murti-Bing pills.

More Zoloft, Crystal Meth Please

“A man who used these Murti-Bing pills changed completely. The problems he had struggled with until then suddenly appeared to be superficial and unimportant. Those once tormented by philosophical insatiability now entered the service of the new society. Instead of writing the dissonant music of former days, they composed marches and odes. Instead of painting abstractions as before, they turned out socially useful pictures,” writes Czeslaw Milosz author of the Captive Mind (in his forward to Insatiability). In the end, hooked on Murti-Bing pills, Witkiewicz’s characters are, in essence, lobotomized. The characters that Witkiewicz created live dismal lives and are incapable of recognizing that their spirits, souls are bankrupt. “Sturfan wrote abominable things—novels without any heroes, whose role was now assumed by groups…Lilian continued to perform [mechanically] in theater…[They] operated exclusively within the collective psyche, dispensing entirely with dialogue. Art and literary criticism were at last completely abolished.”

Witkiewicz’s characters no longer refuse — they join, they are indoctrinated by mass audience media and peer pressure and always conform. Indeed, it is far easier and more lucrative to praise and promote the established order than it is to challenge it. The  analysts/critics in Insatiability were either employed by organizations who circumscribed their views to preserve the bottom line, or they held a particularly snobbish view of the changing world around them.

Are Americans becoming like the characters in Insatiability or Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We? Is the American mass audience media portraying the world in 2014 based on a reality created by American contractors, bureaucrats, technicians, financiers, politicians and academics, rather than the world as it is?

Hazards of Centralized Mass Media

According to the US Army Special Operations Forces Unconventional Warfare guide (2008) the following are the USA’s Instruments of National Power (INP’s): Diplomacy, Information, Military, Economic, Finance, Law Enforcement and Intelligence. Although all the INP’s are critical to American interests (and work in a synergistic fashion), it is the Information section of the INP’s that deserves special attention.

The US Army document describes the Information INP this way.

The information environment is the total of individuals, organizations, and systems that collect, process, disseminate, or act on information. The actors include leaders, decision makers, individuals, and organizations. Resources include the materials and systems employed to collect, analyze, apply, or disseminate information. The information environment is where humans and automated systems observe, orient, decide, and act upon information, and is therefore the principal environment of decision making…A medium of information is anything that conveys meaning to a person who perceives the conveyed information. It includes the symbolic meaning perceived in anything taken in by the one who perceives, to include stationary inanimate objects, nature, or man-made images. It also includes messages sent in human interaction—large or small—regardless of whether the message actually delivered was the one intended by the sender or whether the message received was understood as the sender intended. Very broadly, anything and anyone can be an information provider, intentionally or unintentionally.

Freedom to create and disseminate information, whether in print or electronic form, is the direct result of  the First Amendment to the US Constitution and the ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence (various US court cases and Congressional legislation as well). Accuracy and truth in Information is essential particularly as it pertains inside the borders of the United States. According to the Army Special Operations Forces Unconventional Warfare document, “accuracy is distinct because it concerns truth. Truth is a combination of both scientifically verifiable fact and perception…Undemocratic use of media can lead to indoctrination, propaganda, and exploitation.

The  US Army Special Operations Forces Unconventional Warfare publication also warns of the dangers of a mass audience media that becomes centralized, collusive and monopolistic. And yet in the USA a relatively small number of corporations own newspapers, radio stations, publishing houses and television networks, according to Pew’s State of the Media.  Media power is becoming more centralized at a time when corporations (including media) and the US government have managed to infiltrate and record American life-habits ranging from credit card purchases to telephone conversations.  The collected data is used for marketing and behavioral analysis of the American people. No conspiracy here. Edward Snowden’s documents released to the journalist Glen Greenwald of the Intercept show the extent to which the US government seeks to know what Americans are thinking and transacting. And, of course, private corporations in the form of defense contractors and telecommunications giants are in on the gig.

Trust Us

The two primary, semi-official US government/corporate organs The Washington Post and The New York Times have often lent their services/journalism to America’s intelligence agencies, particularly during the Cold War. On the overt front, Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos’ company Amazon has a newly minted $600 million dollar contract with the Central Intelligence Agency to improve its computing operation. has this to say about famed Washington Post national security reporter Walter Pincus. “According to published reports, Pincus worked for the CIA during the early 1960s, though when John Deutch was asked directly if Pincus was an ‘asset’, he claimed not, but did express familiarity with the non-asset. The CIA did pay for him to attend two overseas conferences by Pincus’ own 1967 admission. The Washington Times (a Moon publication) on 31 July 1996 described Pincus by saying that “some in the agency refer to [Pincus] as ‘the CIA’s house reporter’”.

Carl Bernstein reported that American journalism and intelligence operations fit hand-in-glove. “The use of journalists has been among the most productive means of intelligence gathering employed by the CIA…By far the most valuable of these associations, according to CIA officials, have been with the New York Times, CBS and Time Inc.” With America over a decade into a worldwide war on terror, and, by design, headed into a next generation Cold War with Russia and China, one can only speculate how many journalists are being recruited to work with the CIA.

If the mass audience media, telecommunications providers/ISP’s, content providers and social media companies work on and off with the US national security establishment and corporate marketers to promote the fashion or war of the day, does America really have a “free” press?

As Americans move from early youth on to later years, they increasingly define themselves through interaction with a spectrum of content transmitted via human-to-human, electronic, print and symbolic mediums as indicated in the Army Special Operations Unconventional Warfare document. Americans see themselves in technology, in automobiles, in the latest fashion,  in fictional characters on television or the movie screen, in the liberal and conservative opinions of academics and commentators, or the favored professional sports franchise marketed by a corporation.

USA Favors Cold War America

This forces questions: What is an American? Who, really, are “you”? Are “you” merely the sum of what others want “you” to be, to wear and eat? Do “you” believe the rationale for more American military, intelligence and contractor intervention on land, sea (and under it), air and space? Do “you” know anything about the world other than searching the World Wide Web? Is the information you depend on to define “yourself” true and accurate?

According to the US Army Special Operations Forces Unconventional Warfare publication, the “hazards of centralized mass media include the following: A disproportion of power occurs. Disproportionate informational power accrues to those who control centralized mass media; arguably, it is inherently undemocratic. An inability to transmit tacit knowledge — the context of content presented must either be explicitly explained or is assumed to be understood by the receiver. A focus on the unusual and sensational to capture the receivers’ attention, leading to a distortion and trivialization of reality. The deliberate promotion of emotions such as anxiety, fear, or greed can be used to sell a particular agenda.  An inability to deal with complex issues because of time and economic constraints leads to simplification, further distorting and trivializing reality…Democratic and independent use of media theoretically serves to educate the public or electorate about issues regarding government and society.”

The United States now, arguably, has a centralized media that has no inhibitions about pushing a view of the world outside US borders because it is good for business. The American public is being misinformed about a world that has largely moved beyond Cold War thinking and action. Indeed the rapidity with which China, Russia and Turkey have absorbed “the American way of life” and Western European fashion/culture/music is astonishing.  They have adapted “us” to “them” so to speak. Ironically, the USA is engaging in the sort of rhetoric used by the former USSR which tried and failed to convince the world of Western decadence. Russia is evil, China is evil, the Axis of Evil is evil. It is absurd.

Learning and Partying in Russia

Consider Moscow, Russia. Think of a combination of Houston, Texas; Chicago, Illinois and New York City all merged together. Ford, Chevy, BMW, Mercedes, Honda and Hyundai automobiles populate their roads. Drivers are on mobile devices from Apple I-Phones to Samsung mobiles. The autobahn that encircles Moscow is jammed with vehicles cutting in and out of traffic at high speeds. Traffic jams are common even at 10:30 pm on a Sunday (it is light until nearly 11:00 pm). There are no noticeable speed limit signs or speed traps. It is a drag race where one has to be supremely confident in speed racing. American conservatives and liberals would not know what to make of this “freedom” to get where one needs to get without having to worry about a speeding ticket which finds its origin in a severe regulatory regime.

Moscow is a gritty city. Some describe it as dirty but that is incorrect. Building facades are not something the Russians are concerned with. So they are dusty, apparently not maintained. But enter what looks to be a crummy shopping Mall, or an apartment, and the interiors are well-kept (one such Mall was similar to Pentagon City).

Sevastopol, Simferopol and Yalta on the Crimean coastline are beautiful, tastefully constructed and clean with fine highway systems and reliable mass transit. The longest electric trolley bus service in Russia runs from Simferopol to Yalta. Those communities have the most beautiful women in the world, even beyond Tel Aviv’s.

Young children (and families) were everywhere to be seen in the Crimea (in Moscow too).  Sevastopol and Yalta were packed with tourists from all over Russia celebrating Russian Independence Day. World War II and Crimean War remembrances were included in that three day holiday event and mixed with celebrations that included traditional music and dance, patriotic songs, and rock and jazz concerts. Beer dominates and is for sale 24/7. Burger King in Sevastopol advertises a meal not with a Coke but with a beer. On that note, Coke, Pepsi and Budweiser can be purchased with ease.

Business was  brisk along the Crimean boardwalks (made of concrete and granite) in spite of US sanctions. It is a carnival of sorts similar to the scene at the fish market in Seattle in Washington State, USA. Visa and Mastercard function in Crimea.  The banking system of Crimea has collapsed, for the moment, so paper money is used for many transactions. Cruise ship tours to Crimea have ceased due to economic sanctions and Western Union money transfers can’t be made there, but the Russians take it all in stride. As one Russian remarked, “They will come back in time. Life moves.”

There are no tanks, no armored vehicles, no soldiers or police lining the public roads. Only at Simferopol International Airport could many security personnel be seen. Interested in see the warship Moscow and other military vessels in port? Negotiate for a private boat tour and take a picture, up close. Want to travel into a former USSR nuclear submarine pen where the seriousness of the Cold War comes to life? Get over to Balaclava and walk the miles of concrete and marvel at the construction (which must mirror US submarine pens of the era). The site of the Charge of the Light Brigade took place not far from the site of the Cold War submarine base.

Vineyards populate the island of Crimea and the wine there is tops. And there are 2500 BCE year old Greek and Roman ancient ruins to be discovered. Orthodox Russian churches and cathedrals dot the landscape and anyone is welcome to walk in and light a candle for a minimal fee. But the character and strength of the Russian people is, as Vasily Grossman wrote in the novel Life and Fate, their faith in “simple acts of kindness”, and their history and the ties that bind them to their ground, their piece of the Earth.  “People are basically the same everywhere. Marketing is the same everywhere. Politics is the same everywhere. Freedom comes from within and if you don’t know where you come from and belong and you can’t change and you can’t discover yourself,  life will be miserable for you,” said a Yalta barkeeper.

The USA is an exceptional country and one worth arguing for. But the USA has become a conventional, conservative behemoth stuck in a Cold War exceptionalist mindset. Americans can’t seem to accept their “victory” in the Cold War. In so many ways the world has adopted the “American way of life” to suit their unique cultures. And it’s not about “loving or leaving the USA.” But it most certainly is about fixing the USA so one loves to come back to it without disillusionment.  So Americans will have to decide what kind of people they want to remain as or advance to.  They will have to take it upon themselves to become informed.

As Czeslaw Milosz puts it:

Perhaps sunlight, the smell of the earth, little everyday pleasures and the forgetfulness that work brings can ease somewhat the tensions created by this process…But beneath the activity and bustle of daily life is the constant awareness of an irrevocable choice to be made. One must either die–physically or spiritually–or else one must be reborn according to the prescribed method; namely, the taking of Murti-Bing pills. People in the [USA] are often inclined to consider the lot of converted countries in terms of might and coercion. That is wrong. There is an internal longing for harmony and happiness that lies deeper than the ordinary fear of the desire to escape misery or physical destruction.

Oh, I almost forgot, it was awesome listening to Queen’s “We are the Champions” and “We will Rock You” while racing in a Japanese car down the main road in Sevastopol, the home of the Russian Black Sea flotilla. It was like being home in the USA.

John can be reached at He published a book in 2019 titled Cancer for Jokers, an irreverent, black humor based look at his first cancer diagnosis. Read other articles by John.