Monday, April 26, 2010

Saying good-bye to Irkutsk--the visual in words

So, here I am, standing on the tarmac at the Irkutsk airport. This moment provides a glimpse of all that is Russia. To the right--a brick building, dilapidated Soviet, but still in use.
To the far end of the runway, military helicopters and planes simply left where they were last used, decades ago, slowly expiring in the Siberian Winter.
A gleaming new marble, brick and steel airport building--state-of-the-art--flanked by its Soviet-era predecessor.
On the horizon, cranes erecting modern apartments, condominiums and office buildings (far more cranes, by the way, than I've seen in a very long time in any Northern US city. These are, by the way, not government buildings, a-la the endless building at public expense at UW and by the State and Federal governments.)
Of course, you still take a bus from the terminal to the plane in Irkutsk and even in Moscow. Efficient, I suppose, in Cozumel, Mexico, but Siberia and Russia? Some habits will not die.
The Russian people have learned from the mistakes of their government. Capitalism is, I think, here to stay, as are the expectations of a free people.
As I pass thru Moscow today's headline reads "Russia seeks to Privatize Health Care"--really that is what it said. The irony of this shift away from socialism at the moment the US seeks to emulate it is not lost on the articles author. These are indeed interesting and unpredictable times.
So, I bid farewell to Irkutsk and to Russia. A truly great trip with Dr. Morgan
Thank you especially to Galiana Iseava--Gala. I can never thank her enough.
I have made friends and I hope left some legacy of the value of liberty and freedom.
Das Vidania.


We had just completed an important stop--vodka & cigarettes to the Gods--when Andrew, the dentist, said we should take a bit of a side trip to see a particular mountain. It seems taht this particular peak was important to the native Boriats because it is the lcoation of athletic contests similar to the Olympics. To get to this peak though requires a horse. We have no horse. We have a car. If you saw this road you would agree that a car is a poor subsitute, or as we say this was a road made for a rental car.
We're dodging holes the size of the car and every imaginable rock, boulder and log that they have in Siberia, when I notice a series of huge old brick buildings to our left. They are obviously abaondoned (but then some things that look abandoned here, are not, so we stop). Of course, Jimmy will ask about anything and it turns out those buildings were the area Cooperative Farm, an industrial centralized 'collective' farm of the Soviet times. When the Soviet collapsed, the farming systems collapsed overnight. There were widespread food shortages and to this day much of the land remains unused. Here was a genuine monument to the stupidity of government control. It was a sight I will never forget. Painful to think about for these people I have come to know, like and respect. As I sat thinking of this trip and all its memorab le moments, I think that sight was the most poignant and perhaps the most memorable.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Saying Goodbye Again

So, my trip is winding down. Yesterday we took this picture as I presented certificates to each of the students, and what extraordinary students they were.
They asked me to describe the differences between them and American students and I hesitated a long time before answering. It was a real surprise, a real pleasant surprise, in 2008 and again this year to realize these students are as bright, as inquisitive and as challenging as any I've known in America. The more senior law students would match against any of the brightest law students in US law schools.
The methods of teaching are different here, and so it takes several days for the students to adapt to the idea that there is never a simple right answer to most questions and to adapt to having to argue with me and others in defense of their answers. But, once freed, it is katy-bar-the-door.
I like to believe the students both enjoy the class and gain something special from it. I am certain they leave with much more respect for the american lawyer and the dedication those american lawyers have to the system of justice. Today at a final lunch with the dean and senior faculty we had a lengthy discussion about Russian corruption that became a way of life as government took-over the lives of the people. They all commented on how long it will take to overcome that mentality, but they believe it has begun. (I heard the same thing from a judge two days ago.)
Candor does not come naturally.
Several former students stopped by and today I am going to an art exhibition by one of my former pupils (the one who presented me with an amazing fish made from the petals of siberian flowers in 2008). Hearing from former students--now that's a satisfying moment.
As before, I was a bit choked-up saying good-bye. This is an extraordinary place with extraordinary people. That they have shared some of that with me--that too is extraordinary.
I hope that I will have an opportunity in the next several days to talk about several events--an art museum that is unknown to the outside world, and some thoughts on today. But that will wait until I am on the way. Until then....Iceland willing...
Das Vidania

The world out there

Did you ever wonder what you would do if you were oblivious to 'events'? There was a time, you know, that one did not live from minute to minute, crazed by the latest Washington DC debacle, or fearful of what might become of the world if, say, a volcano erupted. As I stood on the porch of my apartment last night looking at the same moon I will see each day at my home, I did think what a joy it is to 'not know.'
I suppose folks in Washington or California think of those of us in Cross Plains as akin to residents of Siberia. Far from what matters. But really, what matters? Aside from family and friends and their day-to-day lives, what really matters? 9-11 is the only thing that stands-out as a public event in several decades, and now Americans seem hell-bent on forgetting about that as well. (I think the politically correct term is we need a "reset" button. By the way, there was an article in the Moscow Times (a pro-West paper, by the way) about how Putin's visit to Chavez was very much a middle finger gesture to Washington. So much for the reset, and that was Pro-West paper's view....Sorry, I digressed.)
So, though many people think of me as truly an addict to politics and news, I think there is a therapy for such an addiction. Come to Siberia. There is an ancient lake here sorrounded by lands sacred to many cultures for centuries. When the Czar 'gave away' Alaska it was with a comment, "We have enough. More land is just more problems." And look what it has given us--Sarah P., and on that I'll let you make your own judgments. (She can, afterall see Russia from her house, right?)
It may be cold in Siberia, but it is a breath of fresh of air.
Das Vidania

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Fiesta Russkie

Now, you can not make this stuff up!
That's the Vice Rector (#2 at the University) and Former Dean of the Law School, and the Fajitas were very good.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Teaching:the Process '10

Teaching here is its own experience. As I've gotten to know the students abilities and interests I've had great fun adding material and restructuring the presentations. All this is, of course, a great frustration for Gala, my extraordinary translator, as she studies my presentations to be comfortable with the specialized vocabulary. None-the-less she smiles and says nothing directly to me about my callousness.
This time around I've tried to take pictures around town and then I add those pictures each day into the presentation in order to illustrate a point. That marvelous puppy picture from the weekend (printed in another blog) became a great tool for the students to tell me why the puppy dealer should prefer a "sole proprietorship" over a "corporation" or "partnership." The picture of the meat counter was a great vehicle for me to ask about what constitutes a contract and would there be a cause of action for breach of contract if the meat was tainted. I'm quite certain they've never had a class like mine. To steal a phrase "Law is all around us...."
Of course, I still use a fish picture each day. Justice Bablitch with a walleye, Sarah with a huge northern, James with a redfish in New Orleans (I used that to ask about 'gifts'--are they enforcable contracts?). Today we needed something to talk about why one would form a corporation, so I put up my law Christmas Card picture with Christ, Stew Karge, Sarah and me in front of float plane in Canada. I asked what type of entity they would suggest for the outfitters/airplane business and then asked why would they want to choose a corporation. (Limit risk, of course. Because Airplane travel is always a risk--just ask my colleague Bill Morgan who is now stranded in Moscow trying to fly back to the States.)
So, while all the teachers here use a simple lecture system, this class is a exercise in making the law real and making the obligations of lawyers something above and beyond 'self'--to protect the Rule of Law.
Tomorrow we move to Environmental Law. I'll illustrate that with pictures of a host of contaminated sites around town and I'll also ask them to propose legislation that is consistent with the general rules of freedom, liberty and capitalism. We will also use the film Civil Action--which they say in Russian yesterday--to talk about environmental laws and a lawyers obligation to his clients. After class tomorrow, they will watch To Kill a Mockingbird. (They have all read the book as part of their English classes and wanted to see the film, in English. Atticus is the epitome of a lawyer for them (and most of the rest of us, as well)). Should be fun--as is every day of teaching.
Das Vidania.

To the Market We Go

Not to put a fine point on it, but this really is Capitalism on Steriods. I know somewhere there is a Russian who is not 'into' free markets, because afterall that's what the New York Times says, but you won't find that guy here in Irkutsk. I thought two years ago our wanderings had taken us to all the Irkutsk markets--I was wrong.
In addition to the endless seed vendors (can't find a garden anywhere, but sure can find seeds, seed potatoes, onion sets--you name it), there is that marvelous 'doggie' market. (This is NOT Korea, so it's properly a "pet" market. I know they are pets because Gala, my translator, was complaining that her 19 year old daughter brought home a new dog recently for her. With three grand-pets (two dogs, one cat) I get the point.) [More really cool stuff about the Siberian Bear at the Humane society later this week. I'm not kidding, I have the pictures. (again, one of those teasers to make you come back)]

But the best of all was the 'super' market. We could not, this time and last, figure out why the small grocery store seemed to be the only place to buy food in the area of any size. It is no larger than a big convenience store, though it has everything you could want. Well, now I know. Hopefully some fo the pictures above provide a bit of flavor.

Das Vidania