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In the Soviet Union, the name of the game was denunciation. One person would denounce another. A third person would denounce the second, i.e., the first denouncer. And so it went, the denunciations resulting in the executions of countless citizens, many — perhaps most — of them innocent. Others were sent to Siberia, which was simply a somewhat slower death. The game was an infinite recursion or regress, and if Boris Yeltsin had not mounted a tank to announce the end of the system, at some point there would have been nobody left to guard the crowded prisons. More… “The Soviet Illusion”

Kelly Cherry‘s 2015 books are Twelve Women in a Country Called America: Stories, A Kelly Cherry Reader, and Physics for Poetry (a poetry chapbook). In 2014 she published A Kind of Dream, linked stories.
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A student reading poetry aloud in 1950s Mexico
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The proxy war in Syria between Russia and Turkey is only the latest of many clashes between these two great powers. The Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78 left its mark in Anglo-American literature and culture, when it inspired the British songwriter Percy French to write “Abdul Abulbul Amir,” a comic ballad about the fatal duel between an Ottoman soldier and a Russian soldier:

The sons of the Prophet are brave men and bold
And quite unaccustomed to fear,
But the bravest by far in the ranks of the Shah,
Was Abdul Abulbul Amir …

Now the heroes were plenty and well known to fame
In the troops that were led by the Czar,
And the bravest of these was a man by the name
Of Ivan Skavinsky Skavar.

More… “The Re-Enchantment of Poetry”

Michael Lind is a contributing writer of The Smart Set, a fellow at New America in Washington, D.C., and author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.
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Come closer...
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People — women in particular — have been making themselves up for centuries, often despite fear of public derision and threats to personal health. Makeup has been used as art and artifice, for subjugation and empowerment. Read about how it has changed through the years and how it looks today, as seen in the mirror of The Good Wife. (Open Letters Monthly, The Smart Set)

Blood may be thicker than water, but alcohol is stronger than both. Read about the truth and cliché of vodka in Russia and the hangover left by Prohibition in the United States. (Gastronomica, The Smart Set)

What do you do when you know you’re losing your mind? Read about a journalist who knows Alzheimer’s inside and out and a young, forgetful woman trying to ward it off. (Nautilus, The Smart Set) •

Maren Larsen is the associate editor of The Smart Set. She is a digital journalism student, college radio DJ, and outdoor enthusiast.
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A modern Russian Orthodox icon commemorating the Butovo martyrs
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In the future, will God-fearing Russians defend Christianity against decadent, godless American atheists? The very question would have perplexed American Cold warriors who defended both America and Christianity against godless Russian communists in the 1950s and 1960s.

But consider the data. According to the Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life, the number of Russians who call themselves Orthodox Christians rose from 31 percent in 1991 to 72 percent in 2008. In the 1970s, the exiled Soviet dissident novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn scandalized Western liberals and his Soviet persecutors alike by calling on Russians to return to their Orthodox Christian roots. Under Yeltsin and Putin, this appears to have occurred. Putin led the mourners at Solzhenitsyn’s funeral.

While Russians are rediscovering religion, Americans are abandoning it. Between 2007 and 2014, according to Pew, the number of Americans who identify themselves as Christians plunged from 78.4 percent to 70.6 percent.
More… “The Future of God”

Michael Lind is a contributing writer of The Smart Set, a fellow at New America in Washington, D.C., and author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.
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The Cold War, basketball, and the Grateful Dead

Sports are full of clichés. Play one game at a time. Leave it all out on the field. There’s no “I” in team. Clichés allow fans to make sense of the unpredictable nature of athletic competition. Without them, how else would we be able to explain results that don’t make sense? How else did the underdog beat the favorite if they didn’t have more heart? The odd nature of sports clichés is that despite them being an exercise in generalities and vagueness, there can be truth behind them. There is a reason they became clichés in the first place. Sometimes a game isn’t just a game. Sometimes a basketball team isn’t just a basketball team. Sometimes a warm-up jersey isn’t just a warm-up jersey. The 1992 Lithuanian Olympic Basketball team wasn’t just a team who played in a game with an odd-looking warm-up jersey. They represented a whole lot more…. More…

They were for me, at least.

The night was far from young when I flagged down what I thought was a typical gypsy cab in St. Petersburg, Russia, in early 2003. In fact, since the sun was just starting to show itself after the more than 16 hours of darkness that is the norm at that latitude at that time of year, suffice it to say that the night was actually dead. Luckily, though, I wasn’t, even after the fatal amount of vodka I had imbibed throughout the course of that long evening. But if the copious amounts of booze didn’t kill me, something else just might. Or maybe someone. Maybe even the man driving the silver Mercedes I had just gotten into. Hmm. Perhaps, this wasn’t a typical Russian gypsy cab, after all.

 

It didn’t take me long to come to that conclusion…. More…

A lone bicyclist rides along the promenade in Sukhumi, Abkhazia.

 

The Republic of Abkhazia is one of the few countries, if you can call it that, where every tourist who shows up gets a handshake and a friendly chat with the deputy foreign minister. Or rather, it would be such a country, if it were a country at all. A wee seaside strip in the Republic of Georgia, Abkhazia hasn’t yet persuaded anyone to recognize its independence, even though it boasts many of the trappings of nationhood — a president, a parliament, and an army that guards the border in case the government in Tbilisi wants to invade again.

It also boasts grand natural beauty, an ambiguous history as a holiday playland of tyrants and diseased monkeys, and one of the most agreeable climates on earth. In Sukhumi, the capital, I can see why the Georgians have refused to give up Abkhazia without a fight. Wars break out naturally… More…