I had the pleasure of volunteering for a math festival for elementary school children. There were puzzles, mathematical games, various fun math worksheets (sometimes with figures of animals as variable names heh), building blocks, and the likes. It was organized by some Russians working in technical fields in the area, of which one family has produced some relatively distinguished mathematicians, which go back to, of course, the Soviet era. I was thoroughly impressed by their organization, energy, and enthusiasm, as well as their variety. I had briefly attended back when I was a high school student the math circle that they had started well before then even and kept up till now.
Again, this furthers my impression that Russians/Soviets have quite a culture of pure pursuit of excellence, that some highly educated ones in STEM have brought over to the US as well. When they were not satisfied with what kids were getting here, education wise, they started their own math circles. I was actually, at the crypto-arithmetic station I was mentoring, with this adult adult, who was mentoring the same station. I would, expectedly, when there were no kids there, talk with him (occasionally in my very limited Russian) about various things, such as software technology and also competitive programming in Russia. On the latter, this year’s ACM ICPC, held in Beijing, was won by Moscow State and Moscow Institute of Physics & Technology, with Peking University and University of Tokyo taking third and fourth, despite the home field advantage. This is consistent with Russians beating Chinese and Japanese on TopCoder and CodeForces as well, with the former American organized one in decline, much out of its outdated Java Applet (and almost certainly an over-bloated, unmaintainable legacy system) user interface and the latter Russian organized one on the rise. On this, that guy was like: in Russia, people really care about doing things well, in America, people do things for money, which only sometimes leads to good results. He said that back in the Soviet era, life was much better for kids, because activities such as sports and math were free, though of course, there were selection mechanisms in place on limited capacity, which really encouraged kids to become really good at what they chose to do. Moreover, he was like if America, with its abundant resources, actually utilized it very well for education, it would be like a paradise, except that’s far from the case. I told him that it seems like Russia’s economy and science research, despite difficulties, is resurging. On that, I had read on Zhihu that the younger generation of Russians has produced some real stars in math, most notably this guy named Alexander Efimov, who is the youngest invited speaker of the International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM) this year, or something like that, and they are staying at that Steklov Institute or similar places instead of coming to America. I also brought up my knowledge of the existence of Yandex and vKontakte, Russia’s Google and Facebook respectively, as well as its vibrant defense sector. While at the event, something came to my mind, which was given all the hype of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 elections, will there be backlash soon too for supposed Russian interference in American education, with events like these? Yes, I noticed how the event was full of Russians and parents and immigrant kids of other nationalities, and Americans were few. I like how the Soviet Union and Russia has quite a different ecosystem, both culturally and technologically, which is a positive for diversity. It seems like though Russia is essentially Western culturally, white and Christian, the West is so reluctant to accept her as a member of the Western community, and on the contrary, many of these idiot American politicians are always seeking to give her trouble. On this note, I remember how Gwydion Williams keeps emphasizing and reiterating how the West blundered in the 90s by ruining Russia with awful economic advice instead of more wisely integrating the fallen USSR into the Western system, which she would have been eager to be part on, so long as terms were reasonable. In any case, I find that the USSR left us some pretty damn good stuff culturally, scientifically, technologically, and artistically, and I am willing to acknowledge and appreciate that notwithstanding how many in our current culture might perceive me for it.
Bob Sykes on Disqus once said:
Russia’s economy is often derided as merely Spain East, but the range of things they do indicates that their economy is at least as large as Germany’s and might be as large as Japan’s. Our economists not only produce deeply flawed policies, they can’t even count.
I agree. I heartily believe that GDP is a deeply flawed measure of economic power. It is a very artificial, human construct. It does not take into account the quality or self-sufficiency of the economy, and is prone to artificial inflation. In Russia’s case, it is transparently clear to me that they are grossly underrated, both right now and potential wise, largely for political reasons. It is transparently clear to me that Russia has the advantage of possessing, for the most part, 1) the expertise and infrastructure to create military hardware that is at least close to American/Western levels 2) a highly scientifically literate and technologically skilled workforce and population 3) ethnic and cultural homogeneity (which America certainly lacks and could be ruined by, eventually) 4) a culture and education that emphasizes excellence and substance over superficial flash and showmanship. So despite what on the surface appears to be deep difficulties and a near permanent state of collapse, I am confident that Russia will make quite a comeback in a matter of time. Of course, altering and correcting perception, under American/Western controlled world public opinion and political norms, is another matter.
In order to not digress too much into politics, I’ll conclude with some photos I took from today’s event.