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If you knew the people I know, it would not require advanced science to realize there is no fundamental difference between some people and rats. Don’t get me wrong – I respect rats for their resourcefulness under pressure and for the sharpness of their teeth.

I wasn’t surprised when the English and American partners in the Human Genome Project recently announced that their count of 30,000 human genes was about the same as rats and mice; and only twice as big as the gene count for worms and flies.

There are only 300 genes in the human genome (as the human DNA sequence is called) that don’t have mouse counterparts; the count isn’t in yet on rats. Still, it is scientifically clear now that the basic difference between a rat and a man isn’t the number of their genes, but the way in which the genes work to control each other, turning them on and off; and, in the human case, switching a vaster number of proteins to their tasks.

If man is superior to the worms, this is not based on the greater number of human genes, the sequence of which will soon be able to be packed neatly on to a computer disc. Gene numbers don’t count anywhere near as much as the complexity of gene interaction.

Harry Lime, a villain played by Orson Welles in “The Third Man,” a film set amid corruption in post-war Vienna, thought he had found the moral of this. Pointing down to the ground from the high point of a Ferris wheel, he explained his trafficking in adulterated penicillin. “Look at those people on the ground,” he said. “They look just like ants. Who cares if some of them stop moving?”

Down on the ground, in the ruins of a country left behind by Boris Yeltsin, who cares if the ants stop moving? And in the moral order created by the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the U.S. Treasury secretary, Yegor Gaidar and Anatoly Chubais, what loss can there be to the future of Russia if a million worms stop their infernal wriggling every year?

(In a Limean attempt to write its own moral footnote to the devastation of Russia, the World Bank recently appointed Anders Aslund to inspect the books and determine how well World Bank funds were used in Russia in the past decade. Aslund spent the decade asserting his own superiority and did financially well out of his relationship with Gaidar and Chubais, his close friends. The World Bank has sent a moral rat to check if anything went wrong when the moral worms stopped moving. The new World Bank representative in Moscow, Julian Schweitzer, says, “We don’t necessarily take his advice.”)

People impatient with the new Putin administration divide into two groups – those who know genome science and those who don’t. Not all of the former are men, and not all of the latter are rats. Those who don’t know genome science fault Putin for striking at some oligarchs but not others; for attacking lawlessness in some places but not others; for defending human and investor rights in general, but nowhere in particular; for protecting national security, but not social security.

The conclusion of this line of thinking is that Yeltsin left so many rats behind that Putin must be one of them. The evidence proffered includes the president’s occasional use of vulgar slang; his career record; his sports; his mistakes; and human catastrophes he should have attended to immediately.

Resourceful rats under pressure are famous for spotting survival opportunities when they see them. And so, plenty of the criticism directed at the president is camouflage for the campaign to preserve those doing the criticizing.

Naturally, they have a faction in parliament; media editorialists; sources of financial support; and political patrons in foreign states.

Those who understand genome science don’t have to prove it by demonstrating they believe the opposite of those who don’t. Men don’t prove themselves by showing they are not rats. According to one of the leaders of the Human Genome Project, “there are no good genes or bad genes, merely networks that exist at various levels and various connectivities and at different states of sensitivity to perturbation.”

In Russia, there is too much perturbation, and those who have been too sensitive have been dying out. It’s the rats who have prospered.

Those who know genome science need to recognize also that, in order to change the life-cycle chances of the rat versus the man, the networks and connectivities have to be reformulated. In human history, the methodology for doing that has included civil wars, strategic bombing, concentration camps, mass terror and genocide. With the sole exception of Canada, all the G-8 member states are guilty of these practices. That’s why those who know genome science are reluctant to judge Putin so soon, either for what he hasn’t gotten around to doing yet; or for what usually takes time to produce results.

To be scientific about this requires agreement on what tests and proofs everyone, even rats and worms, can accept as evidence of what Putin is doing to the networks and connectivities he inherited from Yeltsin. The best test of that lies in answers to the following questions:

Who gives orders to whom, and who pays off whom, to what effect and for whose benefit? If the World Bank thinks Aslund is the man to answer the questions, some of the rats must be getting frightened. Biologically speaking, rats usually do worse than men at managing fear. Cornered rats, everyone knows, will eat each other

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