Culture and Economics
Boris Borisovich Razumov was a man with two masters and a deeply confused sense of mission. One master was the ambassador, or, more immediately, the first secretary. As a cultural attache at the Soviet embassy in Washington, Boris' mission was that of establishing good relations with as many American organizations as possible. That meant, in effect, making as many friends as possible. Boris liked to be liked, and he was willing to like in return. He also loved to be loved by women, and, in exchange, he was willing to offer a certain generalized affection.
The other master, Yuri Mihailovich Mikulin, was much more shadowy, and was himself a quite controversial figure. Boris had reason to believe that the name Comrade Mikulin used was not his real one, but he had no idea what the real one might be. In fact, he had never even met Mikulin. But he had received documents and instructions from the highest levels of the NKVD assuring him that he should follow Mikulin's orders. Those orders came only infrequently, and there had been a single, highly memorable, telephone conversation.
Where Comrade Mikulin's directives conflicted with those of the embassy, Boris had to obey Mikulin without even telling the embassy that he had received contrary instructions. The first secretary and the ambassador became furious with Boris at fairly frequent intervals, but, whenever they tried to get him removed, they found themselves mysterically blocked by un-named higher powers. Not only that, they were told that it was necessary for Comrade Razumov's mission that he be given access to all intelligence reports on the United States and its nationals that came into the embassy.
The people at the embassy were of the opinion that Boris had acquired too strong a taste for capitalist luxuries, and a dangerous taste for decadent western women. But Yuri Mihailovich Mikulin apparently believed that Boris was uncorrupted, and that he needed to carry on in this way to perform his real mission. That mission, which was kept from everyone in the embassy, had been given Boris two years previously in that telephone conversation that he remembered so vividly:
"The Americans have a power elite which runs to several hundred people. When they're on the point of launching a nuclear strike, those people will get their families out of Washington. It will be a minor exodus, secretly carried out, but it will be impossible to hide it from a man with a trained ear and the right friends. You, Boris Borisovich, are to meet as many of those family members as possible. Find excuses to call them often. When you discover that a couple of them are leaving town, call a few more. If those people are also leaving, call all your acquaintances to invite them to a party. Then, if all or most are unavailable, inform me immediately. Nothing else that you do, or don't do, around the embassy makes any difference."
That was all very well. Boris understood. He began every day by checking the reports which had so helpfully been made available to him, and he then read the newspapers exhaustively, not omitting the society pages. These researches allowed him to occasionally up-date his list of the elite, and they generally informed him of the current presence in Washington of some of the people on it. That part was work, but it was straight-forward enough.
Boris also attended virtually every diplomatic party given in the city to see who turned up. That was sometimes work and sometimes fun. And then came the real fun. He would often have an affair with, say, the wife of a man who was himself the assistant to someone who would be in the know. Since the assistant and his wife might both be left to burn in Washington, the object was to get his illicit partner to talk about her husband's boss' wife and family. Sometimes it was easy. If the wife found the boss' wife hateful and arrogant, she might be happy to pour out venom for an hour or more. In the course of this, it would generally be clear whether the woman was in Washington. It would then be periodically possible to jokingly make such remarks as,
"You're looking well today. Mrs. ______ must be out of town this week."
Occasionally, Boris could even get the boss' home phone number. In an emergency, he could call, perhaps pretending to be an assistant, and at least verify the presence or absence of the family.
The fun and games apart, Boris soon discovered that it was extremely difficult to accumulate any reasonable picture of the daily whereabouts of the elite in this fashion. Even when he graduated to some of the wives and daughters of the important people themselves, he would only learn when they planned to take their vacations. Although one would occasionally call to break a date and say that she was going out of town, there was never any note of panic that he could detect. Nor had there ever been any suspicious congruence of the travel and vacation plans of his contacts.
There had been a couple of minor scrapes when daughters had wanted Boris to marry them, but it had been part of their idea that he defect to America. All he had to do was to insist on his loyalty to the Soviet Union. A more serious problem, from Boris' point of view, was that he had to remain on the go constantly. The amount of time he spent on the telephone every day was phenomenal.
In some ways, the worst thing was that, despite all this frantic activity, Boris never got credit for doing anything. Indeed, he never would until and unless he gave the warning. And, then, it was very likely that nothing would matter anyway.
Finally, Boris discovered a short-cut. There was a journalist, really just a glorified gossip-columnist, who interviewed Mrs. Eisenhower on a regular basis. Boris had found it easy to seduce Miss Kittredge, or, more accurately, to allow her to seduce him. After all, he was exotic and she was running short of men.
Miss Kittredge combined intense patriotism with her curiosity about Russians, and wouldn't have given him any information that was at all sensitive, or even anything that was revealing about Mrs. Eisenhower. But Boris only wanted to know whether she was in town.
Of course, that wasn't really enough. Boris couldn't keep day-by-day track of the first potential evacuee in this way, but it led to something else. Miss Kittredge's most valuable possession was her list of private phone numbers. It had been built up over the years, and, even though some entries had been there a decade or more, the sorts of people who had those numbers tended not to change them very often.
If Mikulin was right, and an American nuclear strike was imminent, there would be no answer at most of those numbers.
The awkward thing was that Miss Kittredge was fully aware of the value of her possession. She once said to Boris,
"The other journalists may not think much of me, but I've got one thing they'd give their eye teeth for."
That was her list of phone numbers.
As nearly as Boris could make out, Miss Kittredge was worried both about losing her list and having it copied. To guard against the first, she kept two copies, one in the form of an address book in her purse and the other next to the telephone in her bedroom. To guard against the second, she kept her purse with her at all times and never allowed anyone in her bedroom alone. Boris supposed that he could arrange with his people to have her purse snatched, but he hoped that it wouldn't be necessary to resort to anything so crude.
At the next diplomatic corps soccer game, there were six on a side, enough for 'goaltenders,' as the English called them. There were still no proper goals, but the gym bags were spaced farther apart, to something like the regulation distance.
Because of the relative inaction, no one wanted to be goalie for very long. After each player had done what he considered enough, he simply left the goal untended and joined the game. Then, when it was noticed that there was no goalie, someone else would fill in.
When Tom Williams volunteered, he felt quite natural. He could use his hands for once, and the ball was easier to catch than a football. The most interesting plays came when someone broke loose with the ball and came in on him alone. Tom found it to be an effective tactic to charge right at him and dive at his feet. Tom's body blocked the goal directly in front of the opponent, and, if the attacker dodged right or left, Tom could reach out with his arm and grab the ball. While this turned out to be legal, it subjected him to a certain amount of razzing.
In addition to the written rules, there appeared to be many unwritten ones. In general, it seemed that the rough abandon of most American sports was felt to be not quite the thing. Charles would call out, "Nicely done," when someone executed a deft maneuver, but Tom's headlong charges from the goal merited only,
"I say, old boy, what an unseemly display! Have you ever worked in a carnival?"
At this point, however, Tom was confident enough in his growing soccer ability to think that he might possibly invent a few tactics that had been overlooked in the enormous conservatism common to most games.
They played, as usual, until everyone was exhausted. But it took longer with more players, and they had to actually chase the lemonade vendor when he packed up and started for home. He seemed quite alarmed, as if the group intended to steal his lemonade, but it was soon made clear that they were willing to pay. When they settled down on the grass, the relatively large group fragmented into a number of smaller ones. Tom was sitting with Charles and Boris, each of them propped on one arm with a drink in the other hand. Charles said to Boris, with a sidelong glance at Tom,
"I wonder what our young intelligence agent has been up to this week."
"Nothing less than testing capitalism and communism against each other."
Since there was nothing secret about it, Tom described his emerging model. As he did so, Boris became visibly interested. At the end, he said,
"If you keep it up, you might qualify for a position at Gosplan. We were always juggling prices, but we had to do it for every kind of good and service, not just a few."
Tom then said, somewhat disingenuously,
"The trouble is that, when one price is raised, we have to guess how much it will reduce demand. Then, we have to guess what else people will want to buy with their money."
Tom caught a little look from Charles. Charles knew that he was testing a hypothesis. Boris wasn't necessarily less smart or sophisticated than Charles, but he was more emotional and less devious. When something tied in with intense experiences that he had had, either pleasurable or painful, his face showed it. On this occasion he clapped his hand to his head and said,
"The central planner is lucky if the people in the field conceal from him the changes that occur. Then, he can go on as before."
It was a joke, of course. Boris often joked, but Tom was learning to take jokes seriously. Charles said,
"Well Boris, if you continue to provide this young man with insights, he won't end up at Gosplan. You'll find yourself recruited by the CIA."
Boris said to Tom,
"Charles is what you Americans call poker-faced. If he ever allows the corner of his mouth to twitch, it will be because he knows that the queen is contemplating an affair with Elvis Presley."
Tom went out with the Goldsteins after work on the Monday, and was brimming over with talk of his model. Goldstein said,
"You need to give your model a long name, and then refer to it with an acronym."
"How about 'Free Ranging Competition in an Environment of Limited Index Pricing.' That comes out 'FRACE LIP', which sounds about right.
Goldstein was delighted, and said,
"Go around talking about FRACE LIP, as if everyone knows what it is. A lot of people will think they ought to know about it, and some will pretend they already do. When it then comes out that it's yours, that'll increase your prestige within the organization."
Tom could hardly take Goldstein seriously. Ellie said,
"That's the way organizations are. It'll work. Try it."
"I want to be there when you mention FRACE LIP in front of Bruce."
A little later, Tom said to Ellie,
"My friend Boris was joking the other day that central planners don't want to know about changes in the economy so that they won't have to adjust their plans to deal with them."
"That's not a joke. And it happens in Russia. If a factory manager exceeds his production quota, he'll hide the surplus in the back of the warehouse. Then, if he can't make his quota the next year, he'll draw from it."
"But he can't keep that up forever if some basic change has occurred."
"Factory managers can also trade goods back and forth, and they have various other strategems. They can conceal structural changes in the production system for a long time."
"I dare say that the central planners could uncover a lot of this if they went out into the field and poked around and asked questions."
"But they don't. They don't want to find out. There aren't many people in any economic system who'll willingly make their jobs harder. They'll only do it if they're impelled by greed or the possibility of advancement."
"The trouble is that none of this is numerical. It's hard to measure quantities of information in the first place, and we have no idea what proportion of the information about economic change does get through to Gosplan, and whether it increases or decreases over time."
"That's what you'd need to know to predict when the Soviet economy will collapse. I'm pretty sure it will eventually, but I don't see how anyone can say just when."
Goldstein seemed much more impressed with Soviet economic power than Ellie. Tom had been too, but was changing his view, in large part because of his experience with the models. Goldstein remained unconvinced. He thought that the models were too small, and the other evidence too anecdotal, to really establish anything. He then announced his news,
"You probably haven't heard. I've finally gotten rid of Jacky."
"Congratulations! I thought you looked happy. Who've you got instead?"
"She's the one Jacky and his friends think needs to be gang- banged."
Ellie let out a gasp, but Goldstein replied casually,
"That's a recommendation in itself, but I've already done some work with her. She's smart and she's a good programmer. We'll get along fine."
"I just can't imagine what goes through the minds of men like Jacky. Do they have any idea what a mass rape would be like for the woman?"
"Probably not. In Hemingway's description, the woman's skirts are pulled over her head and one man sits on her head while the others take turns. I don't think Jacky or Ted, or even Pete, would really do that, even if they were sure they wouldn't be caught. I think it's just a lower-class way of talking."
"It's upsetting to me. I've noticed, particularly when I'm dressed up, that certain kinds of men I pass on the street give me quite hostile looks. I bet that's what they want to do to me. I don't think it's just talk."
"I'm sure some men really would. I just don't think our group would. Ted, for example, is quite protective of Sid. He as much as warned me not to try to fool around with her."
Ellie shook her head and said,
"That's part of the pattern. Protect some women and gang bang others. I bet they wouldn't talk that way about Eileen in front of Sid."
"No, she'd bite their heads off. It was Anna who was there."
Ellie seemed almost as upset at this as by Tom's report of what the men had said. She asked,
"What did Anna do?"
"Well, she disagreed with the sentiment and said something about Eileen being okay. It was as if she also thought it was just talk."
Goldstein, who had been silent, said,
"I don't suppose anyone is less a fan of Jacky's than myself, but even I can't see him organizing a rape. He's not an ogre, he's just hopeless."
"On one level, it's just talk. But it's also true that men who talk that way can turn very ugly if the circumstances are right, or if they're drunk. And they can be vicious in other ways. If Jacky were Eileen's boss, she'd do well to quit on the spot."
Tom pointed out,
"At any rate, it's lucky that Bruce and Sam are totally different."
"Would Sam have fired Jacky if he'd heard that remark?"
Goldstein looked interested, and replied,
"People never say things like that in front of Sam. But Tom could go and tell him."
Tom was horrified. The last thing he wanted to do was to go and tell Sam that Jacky and Ted and Pete all thought Eileen needed to be gang-banged. Both his companions started laughing, and Ellie put her hand on his arm and said,
"It's okay, Tom. We won't demand that much of you."
"That's an interesting thing about Sam and his style of leadership. No one wants to bring tales to him, and, since he hears no evil, he doesn't have to do anything about it."
Ellie burst out,
"He's like Gosplan. He wants to remain in ignorance, and he manages to communicate that in subtle, probably unconscious, ways to everyone else."
As they were just about to break up, Ellie said,
"I hope you're free Friday night, Tom. Goldstein's going to be in New York and I have an extra ticket to a play."
Goldstein smiled benignly and Tom accepted.
The next day, Tom stopped in unannounced to see Mac Hollins. His secretary, the one he suspected of being the source of the rumors about his secret mission, said,
"I don't think he's really busy at the moment, just reading probably. He'll see you."
Mac was as good as her word, and Tom filled him in on recent developments, not quite having the nerve to use the term 'FRACE LIP'. Mac seemed impressed anyway, and replied,
"Is this model to be part of our model for predicting a Red attack?"
Up to that moment, it had seemed to Tom that his model was only a training exercise for himself and Sid. It was true that it had some interesting economic overtones, but that just amounted to education of a somewhat different sort. And, of course, the FRACE LIP name was only a joke. But, now, in an instant, he realized that there were great possibilities. Anyone who studied FRACE LIP would realize that it could never really predict anything. But half the models at DRI were probably like that. All he had to do was nod or give some sort of assent and Hollins would put him in business. He said,
"The present model is limited in many ways, but it does have relevance. It might at least provide us with parameters we can use later on."
Hollins nodded in agreement, and they talked economics for a while. Tom remarked,
"I've learned a lot about Soviet economics from Ellie Goldstein."
"Really? Is that Goldstein's wife?"
"Yes. She works for the Icelandic embassy as a trade counsellor. Although her training is in physics and astronomy, she's learned economics on her own."
"I've met her once or twice, and I'm sure she's quite brilliant. She is Jewish, isn't she?"
"No, she's actually Greek. But she's a sort of Jewish intellectual by courtesy."
"People think I'm anti-Semitic, which I'm really not. I believe that every ethnic group produces undesirables, but that they vary according to the culture. Anglo-Saxon undesirables don't get into an organization like this because they're stupid and boring. There's no need to worry about them. But Jewish undesirables aren't usually stupid and boring, and they do end up in universities and such-like places. So one has to look out for them."
"So you have to know if someone's Jewish or Irish in order to know how to determine whether they're undesirable?"
"Exactly. It's a labor-saving device. If I don't know the background, I have to start from scratch and check them for every possible kind of character defect."
It was a strange position that Tom hadn't previously encountered. It might have been a cover for bigotry, but, on the other hand, Hollins seemed to think no better of Anglo- Saxons like himself than anyone else. Tom asked, somewhat facetiously, what to look for in a Greek. Hollins replied,
"I'm not enough of an anthropologist to know, and I haven't had much experience with Greeks. But I'm sure there's some characteristic way in which they can be awful. Is there anything about this lady that strikes you particularly?"
"She describes both herself and Goldstein as city intellectuals. That may say more about them than their origins."
"It says a good deal about their current adaptation to the world, but it doesn't tell you what they'll fall back on in a crisis."
Hollins was obviously curious about the Goldsteins. Tom didn't want to let slip anything damaging, and, since he hardly knew what might be damaging, he managed to change the subject back to the proposed model.