Worlds Lost and Found

Here are some news snippets from all around the world.


It’s a snapshot of  interesting but strange times.  Everything’s fine, but we seem just a step from disaster, trapped in a web of our own deceit, the prisoners of our own wishful thinking.   It’s as if our present civilization were engaged in a battle of wits against itself, in a kind of parody of the scene from the Princess Bride.  We poisoned a cup thinking to exterminate our enemies, now we can’t remember which cup it is.

Man in Black: All right. Where is the poison? The battle of wits has begun. It ends when you decide and we both drink, and find out who is right… and who is dead. … You’ve made your decision then?

Vizzini: Not remotely. Because iocane comes from Australia, as everyone knows, and Australia is entirely peopled with criminals, and criminals are used to having people not trust them, as you are not trusted by me, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you.

Man in Black: Truly, you have a dizzying intellect.

Vizzini: Wait till I get going! Now, where was I?

Things were a little more simple once.  An interesting story from the past surfaced recently in the Business Insider. “A Soviet-era Russian colonel who was spying for the British describes his escape from the KGB”.  The article notes escape was authorized by Margaret Thatcher despite the risks that involved.

The KGB colonel knew his cover was almost blown. … Oleg Gordiyevsky turned to his last resort — an emergency escape plan devised by the British intelligence services that was hidden in invisible ink in a collection of Shakespeare sonnets. …

The plan sketched out a risky rendezvous with two British diplomatic cars at the bend of a road near Finland. From there, Gordiyevsky would be smuggled across the border in the trunk of a car right under the nose of Soviet guards.

If the plan failed, the British security services would lose a prized asset, sometimes considered the West’s most valuable Cold War intelligence source. The plan was backed by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher: if uncovered it would spark a major diplomatic incident; for Gordiyevsky, it would mean certain death.


Gordiyevsky  related how it went down: “I was surrounded by woodland where I laid down waiting for the diplomatic car of the [British] embassy. I lay there three hours waiting for the moment when the car was meant to come. At 2:20 a.m. two cars with two drivers arrived. They managed to hide around the bend for a few minutes away from the KGB car following them from Leningrad.”

“I dived into the trunk of one of the cars. The whole operation took no longer than a minute, we managed to get going again before the KGB tail appeared round the corner.”

Luckily, a slow goods train chugging through a railway crossing had separated the British diplomats from the KGB tail and put considerable distance between them. The KGB sped forward to catch up, but the British cars had waited by a small hill out of sight and the KGB overshot them.

The convoy barely made it across the border.   That event happened only a few decades past, but it might as well have been an age or more ago, when there were places to run to and bad guys to hide from. Things aren’t quite so cut and dried now.  Words which once seemed clear and distinct have blurred at the edges.  Take the freedom that Gordiyevsky  risked his life to reach. Today it means something else. Here are some of the free zones you can find in the news. Gun-free, smoke-free, pesticide-free, Trump-free, Muslim-free, immigration-free, drug-free, child-free, alcohol-free and nuclear-free, just to name a few.  Maybe freedom ain’t what it used to be.


Today the questions are rather more nuanced. Where do we run to get away from the good times that are bad, from the boom that looks like a recession, affordable care that’s too expensive, from peace treaties that are the touchpaper to conflict?  How do we flee from politically incorrect Africa,  escape from new friends who throw gifts in our faces?  What path leads away from blackmailers who tell us we’re not only cheats but fools?

Why do all the doors lead right back into the room we left? CS Lewis observed that modern man was in the process of abolishing the world and replacing it with a subjective representation.

Gains and Titius quote the well-known story of Coleridge at the waterfall. You remember that there were two tourists present: that one called it ‘sublime’ and the other ‘pretty’; and that Coleridge mentally endorsed the first judgement and rejected the second with disgust. Gains and Titius comment as follows: ‘When the man said This is sublime., he appeared to be making a remark about the waterfall… Actually … he was not making a remark about the waterfall, but a remark about his own feelngs. What he was saying was really I have feelings associated in my mind with the word “sublime” … They add: ‘This confusion is continually present in language as we use it. We appear to be saying something very important about something: and actually we are only saying something about our own feelings.’

We’re  are perhaps having second thoughts about the world we abolished — we want it back, and not just the feelings — the real thing and like the Soviet Colonel, wish to cross the boundary into it again. But first we must convince ourselves it exists.  Defectors were convinced of its existence in a way we never could be.


During the Cold War “the Soviet Military secretly mapped the entire world.”  The Sovs were convinced of the existence of the splendorous supermarkets, department stores, superhighways and gleaming cities their official propaganda denied existed.

The maps were part of one of the most ambitious cartographic enterprises ever undertaken. During the Cold War, the Soviet military mapped the entire world, parts of it down to the level of individual buildings. The Soviet maps of US and European cities have details that aren’t on domestic maps made around the same time, things like the precise width of roads, the load-bearing capacity of bridges, and the types of factories. They’re the kinds of things that would come in handy if you’re planning a tank invasion. Or an occupation. Things that would be virtually impossible to find out without eyes on the ground.

In a manner of speaking the Soviet split level consciousness was the negative image of the corresponding fantasy of Western left, who have secretly not mapped the places they admire from the unspoken belief that the socialist paradise they so admire in Venezuela, Cuba and Argentina doesn’t really exist.

Buttercup: And to think, all that time it was your cup that was poisoned.

Man in Black: They were both poisoned. I spent the last few years building up an immunity to iocane powder.

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The War of the Words for $3.99, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
Rebranding Christianity for $3.99, or why the truth shall make you free
The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age
Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99, why government should get small
No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.
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