poemless. a slap in the face of public taste.

October 30, 2009

Odds & Ends Halloween Special: Putin & Democracy.

Filed under: Odds & Ends,Politics: Russia — poemless @ 5:29 PM
Tags: ,

What? You know you think it’s scary…

I. Putin.

In honor of our favourite spook.

~ AFP: Putin to be cast in bronze for Schwarzenegger.

This some kind of Reptilian custom?

MOSCOW — A bust of Russia’s muscle-flexing strongman Vladimir Putin is being created as a gift for ex-Hollywood bodybuilder and California’s current governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, its sculptor said Tuesday.
The bust is currently being made in Putin’s home city of Saint Petersburg on an order of Russia’s Bodybuilding and Fitness Federation and will be delivered to the movie star turned politician in March.

“Putin is such a complex personality. He’s left no one indifferent,” Alexander Chernoshchyokov, a Saint Petersburg-based sculptor who has been working on the Putin bust since June, told AFP.

In 1991 the Russian artist made a sculpture of Schwarzenegger and Vladimir Dubinin, the president of the bodybuilding federation, personally delivered the gift.

The two Russian men soon learned the Hollywood action hero collected sculptures, Dubinin said.

His collection however lacked figures of Communist-era leaders, so a few years later Chernoshchyokov made the sculptures of Stalin and Lenin.

“Then we brought him the busts of Gorbachev and Yeltsin,” said Dubinin, referring to the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and the late Russian president Boris Yeltsin.

A sculpture of Putin, a former president and current prime minister, was the next logical step, he added.

Capturing Putin’s features proved difficult however. “He’s changing every day. His features even change during the day,” said Dubinin.

He’s a shapeshifter! Damn…

Well, the news of said bust has the Guardian wondering, who would win a celebrity deathmatch between the Guvernator and the Prime Minister:

~ Poll: “Who would win an armwrestling contest between Putin and Schwarzenegger?”

I am pretty certain that “armwrestling contest” is polite British for “celebrity deathmatch.” Arnie’s winning the poll, but I couldn’t resist rescuing this from the comments:

“btw – of the 25 comments so far on this story 5 are by Guardian employees!! Please can I have a job at Grauniad Towers?”

LOL. Anyway, who knows who the victor would be. I suppose it depends on if Hollywood special effects are allowed. That’s the only possibility I see for Schwarzenegger to win. Sadly, all the special effects in the world haven’t helped him save California from economic disaster. Perhaps instead of a bust, we should send him Vova’s managerial skills?

Cast in bronze, now cast in a film:

~ SMH: Agent Putin cast as Cold War hero.

Oh, I totally remember that part…

Geez, no wonder Gorby’s so pissed at Putin right now. “Hello, over here, remember me? Glasnost? Perestroika? Ring a bell? Anyone? Bueller? …” Poor fellow’s fallen from Nobel Prize winner to Mr. Cellophane. (Take heed, Barack.) Anyway, what did our spy do that was so special?

MOSCOW: Vladimir Putin single-handedly defended KGB offices in East Germany from crowds of looters after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a documentary claims.
The program is likely to boost the Russian Prime Minister’s cult of personality as it casts him as a Soviet patriot who defied a crowd of rioting East Germans.

Mr Putin was serving as a KGB major in Dresden in 1989 when the wall fell. According to his and other accounts, he brandished a pistol to prevent the angry crowd from ransacking the spy agency’s offices.

He will be shown discussing the incident in a documentary called The Wall to be shown on state-controlled television next month.

The program’s maker, Vladimir Kondratyev, defended his decision to make Mr Putin a main character. He said he was one of the few Soviets who had first-hand experience of East German protesters preparing to storm the building.

Yeah, well, the way I heard the story was that he and his colleagues saw the angry crowd, freaked out, ran inside and began destroying documents at break-neck speed. Which is not to say he is not a hero in other respects, just not in the Cold War hero way, is all. It’s ok. He’s still got his priorities straight:

~ WSJ: Russia To Cut State Aid To Banks By More Than Half In 09.

Psst. WSJ, I think that’s “in ’10.”

The 150 billion rubles diverted from banks could be channelled to help the real sector of the economy, Putin said.

And by the “real sector of the economy” he clearly means … literature!

~ From a meeting the PM held to discuss issues brought up by Russian writers:

“First of all, it is still a government priority to encourage literature and writers. Accordingly – as I understood it – you proposed a Russian Federation Government resolution that would increase the number of Russian Government awards for arts and culture from 20 to 25.

Unfortunately, in previous years there were no writers among those who received awards. But this increase of five awards will enable additional support of talented writers, and these additional five awards will be given exclusively to writers. Let me remind you that a laureate receives one million roubles with his or her award.

In addition, grants for creative initiatives in the arts will be doubled from 25 to 50 million roubles, which also means an increase in funding for literary projects. We will allocate the necessary funds from the federal budget for 2010.

Secondly, so-called thick or literary magazines have traditionally played a major role in Russian literary life. The writers at the meeting repeatedly brought up the idea of supporting these thick magazines.

Let me point out that these magazines must be available to general readers, both directly through subscription and in our libraries.

I asked the Ministries of Finance, Communications and Mass Media, and Culture to look for additional ways and additional funds to support these thick magazines starting from 2010.

As of 2010, the Ministry of Communications and Mass Media will double the annual subsidies for literary magazines. These funds will be directed towards increasing the circulation of magazines, remuneration for the authors, and improving printing quality and design.

In addition, I consider it necessary to allocate no fewer than 50 million roubles to our leading local, district and city libraries to purchase the thick magazines.”

Hee hee hee. He said, “thick magazines.” Hah hah.

Something tells me Surkov is behind this. Clearly. Everyone knows he likes to write. He writes rock lyrics and pulp novels. He’s a total culture vulture intellectual type. Unlike those losers in Sechin’s gang. Whom he also wants out of the banking system. Coincidence? I think not… Wow, who knew it was so easy to be a Kremlinologist? Apes could do it. Especially since it’s a pastime which largely consists of pulling stuff out of your ass. I need a job at Stratfor ASAP.

II. Democracy.

While we’re on the topic of pulling things out of your ass, check out this headline:

~ Time: Medvedev Dashes Hopes for More Democracy in Russia.

I give up. Instead of a detailed smackdown every time someone writes an terrible article, I am just going to wallow in the wrongness of it all. The brilliant Natalia Antonova recently wrote, “Acceptance confuses the hell out of unhappiness. You turn to it and say, “thank you, I’m grateful that we get to hang out again, should we sit down and order a drink?” Unhappiness isn’t quite sure how to respond to that. It looks around uneasily. It wonders just what the hell you are playing at. It puts its bloody samurai sword on the table, and sits its ass down.” Perhaps instead of allowing the state of the Western journalism make me unhappy, I am going to invite it for a drink. And accidentally forget to mention the arsenic. ;)

Medvedev finally agreed to meet with the opposition leaders on Oct. 24. He clearly realized the gravity of the moment. “Let us not allow this to become the funeral of our democracy and our electoral system,” Medvedev told the deputies. “Although it is true, I made a point to wear black today, because I knew you would be in the mood for a funeral.” Three days later, Medvedev asked Churov to look into the opposition’s claims. Then the President slipped back into his usual complicity. He said the elections had been “satisfactory” and that any claims to the contrary would have to be settled in court. (Read TIME’s 1991 article “The End of the U.S.S.R.”)

This statement, aired on state television, killed off whatever flicker of hope liberals had that Medvedev might finally start moving Russia toward real democracy. The humbled opposition has since gone back to their places in the Duma. And the pro-democracy camp can only look with dread to 2012 when Putin is widely expected to run for President again. Whether he realizes it or not, Medvedev may already be a lame duck.

The nerve! Making them settle legal claims in court! Death of democracy indeed! Look with dread ye “pro-democracy” camp, upon the possible future election of the most popular politician in the country by the majority of its citizens! The horror, the horror…

Suffering an epidemic of irony, most journalism about the state of democracy in Russia focused only on the politicians and never on the actual public, to ask what they want. Which is the whole effing point of a democracy, as I was taught in good old American schools. I once asked, “What is it called when a majority of the citizens vote to not have a democracy?” Well, I was being facetious, attempting to illustrate the emptiness of these labels in contemporary geo-politics. But the question continues to bite at my ankles, demanding attention. Especially when I see things like this:

~ FPB Russia: Russians to Democracy: Good Riddance?

although 95% of Russians polled by Levada believe that they have no control over their political destinies, a whopping ‘26% believed that democratic governing was not suitable for Russia’.

In fact, when asked whether they a) either completely believe or just tend to think that democracy is needed or b) completely believe or just tend to think that democracy is wrong for Russia, the proportion narrows to just 50:31.

Moreover, “the majority (60%) also said it would be better for Russia if the president controlled both the courts and the parliament…and nearly 25% said the Soviet Union had a better political system that the current Russian model (36%) or that in Western countries (15%)”.

The following Levada Centre graph illustrates the Russian approval of three political systems: the Soviet one, the current one, or Western style democracy (the fourth line, in green, is marked ‘other’).

Contrary to almost all Western political science thinking, the most popular system from 1996 to 2007 was the Soviet one (blue), consistently winning the approval of 40-45% of the very people who were supposed to have rejected it in 1991, and twice as popular as the Western style democracy (red) they were meant to have favoured.

But the most interesting journey is marked by the yellow line indicating “the current system”. Under Yeltsin’s supposed golden age of democracy and freedom, this yellow line never rose beyond 10%. But as soon as Putin came in, in 1999, it has shown a steady rise. In 2007, it finally beat the front runner, the Soviet system, and continues to grow.

Most importantly, for the first time since the fall of the USSR, an overwhelming plurality of Russian citizens prefer their current system to either an idealised Soviet past or an increasingly demonised ‘Western alternative’.

In fact, this picture of contentment seems to demolish the liberal idea of Russians cowering under an increasingly authoritarian regime, just waiting to be rescued back to democracy.

Good. I think we’ve done enough “rescuing” of other nations for the time being.

(BTW, if you think all polls are bs, check this out! Laws of the universe have changed, my friends.)

III. Odds, ends.

And to end on a light note.

~ Vova.com

A blog devoted entirely to VVP. In case you don’t get enough of that here. Not sure why I had not discovered this before. Here’s an example of some of their headlines:

“Putin the superhero banished from Ukrainian airwaves”

“Do you think Vladimir Putin is cool, or what?”

“Prime Minister Putin Bitch Slaps Oleg Deripaska”

“Is Prime Minister Putin suffering from a severe case of Psychosis? Or is it something else like?”

“Something else like.” Definitely. I got sick in Russia and no one knew why and they took blood and they said it was “something else like” and gave me Siberian tea to drink. Prescription Siberian tea, even, Actually, it turned out to be ovarian tumours… God, I hope VVP is suffering from Psychosis and not something else like!

~ Rogozin.

I’m now obsessed with Rogozin’s Twitter account. This is how people get sucked into these social networking tools, isn’t it? I’m a bit terrified of Twitter, but it offers fascinating insight into the minds of public officials. Which is seriously creepy. But fun! And ’tis the season for creepy fun. He’s recently been going on about Belgium. Of all things.

“Last Sat saw Making love to a Belgian – performance flavored with simple humor. It is about relations of Belgian husband and his French wife”

Look, mom!  No hands!

“What do I like about Brussels? The fact that you can do motosports 24/7/365 here”

Gah! No hands! Proof again of my theory that making people believe you are truly a kamikaze madman is conscious political strategy in Russia.

~ Lastly, in honor of the holiday at hand, I’d like to share this little piece of trivia with you all. I am from the most haunted town in America! Or one of them. They jury appears to be out. Well, if there is a more haunted town than Alton, I don’t want to find out. Ghosts are all fun and games when they are in the movies. Very different story when they are standing…
right…
behind…
YOU!

Boo!

Happy Halloween! Enjoy your weekend & thanks for reading!

October 28, 2009

Surkov says something boring, Western media forced to invent interesting story.

Or, “speaking of wrecks…”

Vladik. Don’t hate him because he’s beautiful…

(c/o itogi.ru)

Surkov showed up on my radar several years ago when he told a group of journalists at a press conference they should read Dostoyevsky if they wanted to learn about Russia. He was in a mood that day and also said people shouldn’t be lecturing Russia about democracy when what they’re really interested in is hydrocarbons. Apparently he studied at the Institute of Public Relations imeni Putina. Love their policies or hate them, these fellows tell you how they really feel. Medvedev plays it a bit safer, I think. It is clear to me he wants to be liked by the world. Putin doesn’t want to be liked so much as respected. Surkov’s job is to keep Dima well-liked and Putin well-respected, but one gets the impression he could give a flying f what any of us think of him. Which has the paradoxical effect of making me think quite highly of him indeed. Unfortunately, this means he doesn’t often engage in public self-promotion. I think the last time I saw him mentioned in the news was something about the U.S.- Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission and the meeting between him and McFaul (oh, what I would give to be in that room!) and was primarily about McFaul’s latest ideological u-turn. So it was a joyful surprise to find Surkov interviewed in Monday’s issue of Russia’s Itogi magazine. Far less enjoyable and, regretfully, less surprising, was how I found out about it…

I. The Scoop.

Reuters: Kremlin warns against wrecking Russia with democracy.

If the past 9 years in America have taught me anything, it is how to read a newspaper, a skill which has also been quite valuable to me when trying to understand what the hell is happening in Russia (and is applicable to any subject which may capture your interest.) Step 1: read the headline. I know, it sounds obvious, but apparently people have never been taught this. What is it saying? This one says the Kremlin views democracy as a wrecking ball. Step 2: read the article. Does anything in the article actually support the claim made in the headline? If you answered “No,” well, get used to it kids… If you answered “Yes,” proceed to Step 3: re-read the article. Is the claim supported by verifiable facts or logic, or by hearsay, opinion or interpretation? If you answered “Facts or logic,” send that journalist a dozen roses to show your appreciation and ease the pain. Because they’re about to be axed for writing informative unsexy articles. Let’s continue with our example. The bullet points below the headline are:

* Warns of collapse if political stability threatened.
* Says Russia does not need a new Mao.

Well, neither of these bullet points support the headline, or even really qualify as “news” to anyone who has not recently undergone a lobotomy. But they use the words “threatened” and “Mao,” and now you have images of red flags and horrible commies dancing about in your head, just in case you’d begun reading this article under the misguided impression that it had anything to do with reality circa 2009. Be afraid! Be very afraid!

I think the following must have been the inspiration for the headline:

…in answer to calls from opponents for democratic reforms to liberalise the political system built under former President Vladimir Putin, Surkov warned that the resulting instability could rip Russia apart.

“Even now when power is rather consolidated and ordered, many projects are very slow and difficult,” Surkov was quoted as saying by the Itogi weekly magazine.

“If we add any sort of political instability to that then our development would simply be paralysed. There would be a lot of demagoguery, a lot of empty talk, a lot of lobbying and ripping Russia to pieces, but no development.”

Political instability does in fact tend to make things worse. But, as Surkov EXPLICITLY states in the interview in question, “it is important not to confuse a liberal, democratic society with chaos and disorder.” [Link.] Perhaps the matter of “wrecking Russia with democracy” has been inferred from the remark about ordered, consolidated power. This would assume a belief that any move toward more order and consolidation of power is a move away from democracy. It’s an argument, and I’d like to hear it, but this article doesn’t make it. Finally, maybe it is because Surkov’s warnings of instability are “in answer to calls from opponents for democratic reforms to liberalise the political system.” I could accept that logic. If the interview had gone something like, “Q: What do you say to your opponents who are calling for democratic reforms?” “A: Democratic reforms create instability, and that instability would wreck Russia. Look what happened last time we tried democratic reforms. Yikes, right? If those democratic reformer types get their way, you’ll be standing in breadlines again! Poniatno?!

Except… That’s not at all what happened.

Of course, you’d have to be bothered to actually read the original interview to know this. After my futile search of the Reuters article for the part where Surkov warns of “wrecking Russia with democracy,” I decided it must have been in the original interview and was just accidentally left it out of the Reuters article. So I read the interview. Which appears to be more than we can surmise of Guy Faulconbridge, the author of the Reuters article about the damn interview. Man, I am sick of doing journalists’ work for them. Where’s my paycheck? There I was, nervous that perhaps my “how to read a newspaper” instructions were a bit condescending, as if my readers were monkeys instead of well-educated, intelligent, adult humans. But Faulconbridge didn’t even make it as far as Step 2. And he’s a professional. See – I knew publishing them would be public service. I’m going to write a book on the de-monkeyfication of information consumption. But before that, let’s find out what our mysterious nogoodnik in the Kremlin has to say about democracy. And Cezanne…

2. The Source.

Итоги: Обновляйтесь, господа!

The title of the interview might be translated as “Update, Gentlemen!” One assumes it is meant to underpin Medvedev’s big, “Forward, Russia!” speech. Or not. I don’t know. Too bad the Reuters article wasn’t, “Kremlin warns against wrecking Russia with democracy!” It would have at least captured the aesthetic. Anyway, it turns out interview is largely about modernization, technological innovations, diversifying the economy, raising the standard of living, blah blah blah and the responsibility of the individual as well as the State in this undertaking. All Obama-like. Or was it Kennedy? Anyway. The actual discussion of democracy was not “in answer to calls from opponents for democratic reforms to liberalise the political system” but in response to the following question:

Владимир Путин на форуме “Россия зовет!” заявил, что наша экономика и впредь будет строиться на либеральных принципах. Аналогичные сигналы подает и президент. Но история модернизаций говорит о том, что они могут проводиться в том числе и силовым путем. Как по-вашему, Россия способна к либеральной модернизации?

[Trans. c/o Google: Vladimir Putin at the forum "Russia is calling!" said that our economy will continue to be based on liberal principles. Similar signals are fed and the president. But history says upgrades that they may be including by force. How do you think Russia is capable of a liberal modernization?]

Note, this is a question about the economy, not political opposition, and about liberal modernization, not nec. democratic reforms as you and I might understand them. From Surkov’s response:

В вашем вопросе, возможно, речь идет о неавторитарной модернизации, которая опирается на демократический строй. Конечно, на мой взгляд, осуществление такой модернизации вполне возможно.

[Trans: In your question, perhaps, it is about nonauthoritarian modernization, which is based on the democratic system. Of course, in my view, the implementation of such an upgrade is possible.]

Modernization based on the democratic system is possible. Huh. Where’s the wrecking? I’m not scared yet. In fact, it turns out Surkov says it is not only possible, but Russia’s “task.” Get to work kids, nonauthoritarian modernization calls!

Наша задача доказать самим себе простую мысль, что мы можем модернизироваться, опираясь на демократические институты. Но здесь важно не перепутать либеральное, демократическое общество с хаосом и беспорядком.

[Trans: Our task is to prove to ourselves the simple idea that we can modernize, relying on democratic institutions. But it is important not to confuse a liberal, democratic society with chaos and disorder.]

Here Surkov differentiates between a liberal, democratic society and chaos and disorder, a distinction which, if you lived in Russia circa 1995, as did perhaps many Itogi readers, you’d appreciate. And while the wrecking powers of chaos are well documented, I’m still waiting for the part where liberal, democratic society wrecks Russia. So far this interview is pretty boring compared to all the hype…

Хотя Мао Цзэдун и говорил, что большой хаос создает большой порядок, он скорее имел ввиду, что из разрухи рождается жесткий, а то и тоталитарный режим. Нам это не нужно. Нам не нужен Пиночет. Но мы должны знать, что неконсолидированная и несбалансированная власть, слабые демократические институты не способны обеспечить экономический подъем. Даже сейчас, когда власть достаточно консолидирована и упорядочена, многие проекты идут очень медленно и трудно. Если добавится какая-то политическая неустойчивость, то наше развитие будет просто парализовано. Будет много демагогии, много болтовни, много лоббирования и растаскивания России по кусочкам, но не будет развития.

[Trans: Although Mao Zedong and said that a big chaos creates a large order, he probably meant that out of chaos comes hard, if not a totalitarian regime. We do not need. We do not need a Pinochet. But we must know that unconsolidated and unbalanced power, weak democratic institutions are not able to ensure economic recovery. Even now, when power is sufficiently consolidated and streamlined, many projects are going very slow and difficult. If you add some sort of political instability, our development will be just paralyzed. There will be a lot of demagoguery, a lot of chatter, a lot of lobbying and stripping Russia in pieces, but there is no development.]

Aha! It’s not democracy but “unconsolidated and unbalanced power, weak democratic institutions” which threaten to wreck Russia. Well… uhm… Obviously. That’s been a frequently observed fact illustrated throughout Russia’s history. I’ve wasted all my time on this? Excuse me while I call Guy Faulconbridge and ask for 45 minutes of my life back.

Ok, I am back. I didn’t call. I decided that just because a person can alter people’s perceptions of reality using nefarious journalistic powers, it doesn’t mean a person can actually alter reality, spacetime continuum-wise. Anyway, since we are here, and since Surkov is bound to have said something controversial and brilliant in the interview because that’s how he rolls, let’s have a look. Here’s our propagandist at work:

Надо осознать, что, если мы не преобразуемся, мы обречены если не на распад и гибель, то на поражение в мировой конкурентной борьбе и довольно унылое существование. Нам абсолютно необходима новейшая экономика, основанная на творчестве, на азарте изобретательства, на создании не имеющих аналогов продуктов, полезных людям.

[Trans: We must realize that if we do not transform, we are doomed if not for the decay and death, then to defeat in the global competition and a rather sad existence. We absolutely need the newest economy based on creativity, the excitement of invention, on the creation of unparalleled products useful to people.]

That’s all ya got? Seriously? No lashings? No manifestos? No literary name-dropping? Just talking points from “How to talk like a politician for dummies?” No, you are not a dummy. You are Surkov. You are fabulous. Say something fabulous.

В свое время известный французский импрессионист Поль Сезанн был очень недоволен электрическим освещением на улицах Парижа. Он считал, что этот свет неправильный, хотя для того времени внедрение этих технологий было большим шагом вперед…

[Trans:At one time the famous French impressionist Paul Cezanne was very displeased with electric lighting in the streets of Paris. He believed that this light is wrong, although at that time the introduction of these technologies was a big step forward....]

Well, he threw me a small bone. A bone is a bone, however. I don’t see Rahm Emanuel waxing philosophical about Cezanne.

Have we learned our lesson today, kids? I mean, in addition to the one about reading a newspaper? I think we have. And it is not that the Western media is lazy and biased and make up disparaging crap about Russia because they hate Russia and their way of life. No. It is that when people from the Kremlin say very sensible, obvious, innocuous, rational and boring things, the Western media, rather than being lazy, are forced to make up stuff. Because no one wants to read very sensible, obvious, innocuous, rational and boring things. If that’s all that were in the papers, the public would eventually come to the conclusion that they don’t need the press to tell them what is going on, only an Internet connection their critical thinking skills. And then they’d stop reading newspapers. And then, and then, why, the world would abruptly come screeching to a fiery end because you can’t have democracy without the press, and you can’t have peace and prosperity without democracy! Right? Right? So it is the duty of journalists to write anything they think will keep them in business, for democracy. Even when the things they write … er … undermine the principles of democracy. Like the truth. And our intelligence.

Right?

III. The Context.

I suspect the desire to interpret anything Surkov says or does at the moment as “in answer to calls from opponents for democratic reforms to liberalise the political system” is a reaction to the recent walk-out of so-called opposition party officials in protest after their poor showing in this month’s municipal elections. The walkout was purported to be a condemnation of Surkov, who not only reportedly invented some of these parties, but is considered by many to be the brains behind Russia’s system of electoral politics, a.k.a., “managed democracy.” It’s clear the Western media would like to see a genuine confrontation between the Kremlin and its opponents for a variety of reasons. What is less clear is how genuine an opposition parties like “Just Russia” actually represent, who is to blame for their losses, and how the Russian citizenry would benefit from a collapse of the current regime. The drama seems to have largely fizzled out before escalating into anything critical. RFE/RL has a pretty fascinating interpretation of the walk-out: The Revolution Will Be Stage-Managed. I don’t know if any of it is true, but the headline is witty. And that’s what counts, right?

Was Surkov’s warning about weak democracy and chaos an allusion to recent events, or just a reasonable comment anyone could make in the context of the past 20 years? Does the Kremlin really think democracy could wreck Russia -give and inch and they take a mile- and that recent events are a foreshadowing of this? Who exactly are we referring to when we say, “the Kremlin?” Are democracy and well-ordered and consolidated power incompatible? Is one more desirable than the other? Can democracy actually “wreck” a country? These are all interesting (well, to me) lines of questioning. It would have rocked if Guy Faulconbridge, who so far as I can gather was the only mainstream Western journalist to cover the Itogi interview, had written an article raising such questions, rather than copying and pasting a handful of quotes and slapping a contentious headline on it. Wouldn’t journalism be more of a service if it forced people to think for themselves rather than told them what to think? Right now there are people out there with less free time than I walking around under the impression that Russia sees democracy as a threat. Period. As if it were 1952 or something. How is that helpful?

Let’s end on a light note. Just in case you fear, as I did, that our Presidential advisor/goth band lyricist/youth cult leader has succumbed to mediocrity, it seems Surkov’s trademark wry humour and observations were on display during an address to the country’s Public Chamber last Tuesday. According to the website, Putinania, he opened with the following remarks:

“I did not come from Mars. I am a guy. I began work as usual. I worked at a business. At a big business. I was born in the state. I am not trying to pretend. I am one of you.”

Not a martian! Good to know. We could mate…

And according toRussia Today, he made the following observation in the same address:

“I am not against [the criticism], you are welcome. The Kremlin is alright to attack – that’s what it is for. But, we have many of those who are in the opposition to power and no one who opposes a problem,” Surkov concluded.

Ouch! Yes, he’s still on. Whew.

Wait.

Maybe they are lying to me as well! Great. Now I have trust issues. Like I needed something else to blame mainstream media for. What, illegal and immoral war wasn’t enough? Now I have to go through life paranoid, singing “I am a rock, I am an island?” I should change this headline to “Poemless warns against wrecking your soul with terrible journalism.”

Be afraid! Be very afraid!

[Update: More Surkov in Stratfor's Special Series: The Kremlin Wars in comments.]

October 21, 2009

Odds & Ends: Dead Cat Souls Edition

Bella Piccolina

Bella Piccolina


Technically I am still on hiatus.

Last week I had been trying to write a serious piece on Mike McFaul’s multiple personality disorder, but Bellacat’s “refusing food and water” disorder began taking up all of my mental time and much of my available time. Then it evolved into a “refusing to live” disorder. Then she died. It was horrible! Tragic! Outrageously unfair! Oh, woe is me…

But before that happened I had put together a few items of note. In the past, I’ve run into the conundrum of collecting little stories to write about, not getting around to writing about them, the stories would become old news, and I would become overwhelmed with the sheer volume them, resulting in a certain paralysis on my part, and the paralysis would in turn result in the piling up of more items. Then Andy suggested I just delete them, and well, it was so anti-climactic. I’m pro-climax. So for your reading enjoyment, and my peace of mind, a news round-up of compromised inspiration. (more…)

October 19, 2009

On Hiatus

Filed under: Too Much Information — poemless @ 12:25 PM
Tags:

Kitty cat illness, death, bereavement.

Christ this sucks.

In the meantime, I’m currently accepting sympathy, distraction, flowers, copious amounts of alcohol, spayed cats in need of a home, antidepressants/anti-anxiety therapies and pity. And anything else ya got.

October 12, 2009

Speaking of Congratulations

Congrats to Liliya Shobukhova, the woman who won the Chicago marathon yesterday, and Lidiya Grigoryeva, who came in 3rd. Both women are from Russia and both complain that Chicago is TOO COLD. LOL!

Grigoryeva, the defending champion, agreed that Russia deserves its reputation as a cold place “most of the time” but added: “It was still too cold here for the marathon. When I left Russia, I thought it would be summertime (in Chicago), very warm weather.”

The only native Russian who didn’t find it too cold to race Sunday was women’s wheelchair winner Tatyana McFadden, born in St. Petersburg and adopted at 6 by a Maryland family.

“I put on tons of layers and didn’t think about the cold,” she said.

It was colder in Chicago, with temperatures in the 30s during the elite runners’ time on the course, than it was Sunday in Shobukhova’s hometown, Beloretsk, near the Ural Mountains, or in Grigoryeva’s hometown, Cheboksary, 400 miles east of Moscow, according to data on a weather Web site.

“My time was very disappointing,” Shobukhova said. “I was expecting to break the Russian record, but it was too cold.”

No matter what the weather had been, it would have been even more remarkable for Shobukhova, 31, to break that record than it was to win in only her second marathon in 2 hours, 25 minutes, 56 seconds.

The Russian record, 2:20.47, was set by another runner from Beloretsk, Galina Bogomolova, at the 2006 Chicago Marathon.

“Not today. Too cold,” Shobukhova said.

Even the Russians think Chicago is too cold. What the hell are we doing living here, people?

Better question, what were 45,000 people, many of whom were wearing little more than support bras and spandex shorts, thinking running 26 miles in below freezing temps? I’ve always been suspicious of runners, who think this activity is some kind of sport when there are real people out there who actually have real things to run from. Like bears, stray dogs, little brothers or even the law. Now I think we have confirmation that runners are completely nuts. Yesterday morning, sane people were in their warm homes, in warm pj’s, drinking warm beverages and watching the marathon on TV! :)

Strangely, the winning male runner, Samuel Wanjiru, who is from freaking Kenya, did not make a big deal about the below freezing temps. (more…)

October 8, 2009

С Днем Рождения, ВВП!

Filed under: Too Much Information — poemless @ 5:31 PM
Tags: ,

Grief. In the wake of yesterday’s cat-astrophe*, I totally missed the DL’s big day. And here I have been waiting around for a good opportunity to use the word “Vladurday” in a sentence ever since I discovered this strange interwebz phenomenon a few weeks ago.

I don’t know how to say “belatedly” in Russian. Something to do with “поздно” I’m sure – but too lazy to figure it out. I mean, they don’t even use the verb “wish” so I wouldn’t even know where to put an adverb in that sentence.

Anyway, Happy 57th, Mr. Prime Minister.

See, I do have a heart
see more Political Pictures

*Cat-astrophe: when you take your cat to the vet because she lost a tooth and you find out she needs expensive life-saving surgery. One day I will write about the remarkable Bella Picolinakin, about her extraordinary perseverance and sweetness, but not today. Today I’m spent. I’m off to go shoot my koshka full of hallucinogenic painkillers and watch her dance around the room.

Dance, kitty, dance!

October 2, 2009

Anne Applebaum. [updated]

Filed under: Journalistic Hacktasrophes — poemless @ 5:09 PM
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Journalist. Historian. Champion of human rights. But one with curiously little regard for professional ethics, facts or morals. Clearly the responsibility with which she has been charged is too much to ask of her. The humane thing would be to relieve her of this burden.

I did not exactly need another reason to dislike the journalistic hacktastrophe that is Ms. Applebaum’s Washington Post column. Oh, no. No, what I need – and I am being serious here – is for Anne to write something really insightful, responsible, constructive, for her to put me in my place, so that I could humbly bow to her wisdom and walk away. Inspired. Filled with grace and knowledge. Because appreciating people is much more rewarding than resenting them. And I sooo did not want to be the 10 millionth person to write about Roman Polanski. Or the millionth person to write about Ms. Applebaum’s latest stunt. Stunts. It was just one when I started this. Christ. Anyway, I am calling on the consumers of American media to institute an informal “3 strikes and you’re out” rule regarding the conduct of members of our Fourth Estate. Let’s start with Anne.

Strike 1.

From “The Outrageous Arrest of Roman Polanski.” By Anne Applebaum, September 27, 2009:

“Of all nations, why was it Switzerland — the country that traditionally guarded the secret bank accounts of international criminals and corrupt dictators — that finally decided to arrest Roman Polanski? There must be some deeper story here, because by any reckoning the decision was bizarre — though not nearly as bizarre as the fact that a U.S. judge wants to keep pursuing this case after so many decades.”

While I like to engage in gratuitous Swiss-bashing myself, it is a joy not to be underestimated, I must question how arresting a man who plead guilty to raping a young girl qualifies as “bizarre” while drugging and sodomizing a young girl and then spending decades on the lam does not.

“Here are some of the facts: Polanski’s crime — statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl — was committed in 1977. The girl, now 45, has said more than once that she forgives him, that she can live with the memory, that she does not want him to be put back in court or in jail, and that a new trial will hurt her husband and children.”

Most rape victims don’t even want to report the crime, let alone go through the trauma and stress of a trial.

Huh. I can’t imagine why…

“He did commit a crime, but he has paid for the crime in many, many ways: In notoriety, in lawyers’ fees, in professional stigma. He could not return to Los Angeles to receive his recent Oscar. He cannot visit Hollywood to direct or cast a film.”

Having to avoid the Oscars because you are on the run from the law for raping a 13 yr old is not an appropriate sentence! And criminals don’t get to choose their sentences.

“He can be blamed, it is true, for his original, panicky decision to flee.”

But not for the rape? Ooooookay.

“Polanski’s mother died in Auschwitz. His father survived Mauthausen. He himself survived the Krakow ghetto, and later emigrated from communist Poland. His pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, was murdered in 1969 by the followers of Charles Manson, though for a time Polanski himself was a suspect.”

I see why we should try to understand the motivation for his actions. I bet those people who did those terrible things to him and his family had fucked up childhoods and trauma in their lives too. That’s why people refer to the “cycle of violence.” But trauma never excuses harming a 3rd party. I have a heart. Perhaps a case for leniency can be made. But not a case for being above the law.

“To put him on trial or keep him in jail does not serve society in general or his victim in particular. Nor does it prove the doggedness and earnestness of the American legal system. If he weren’t famous, I bet no one would bother with him at all.”

Oh, Anne! Sit down and listen to what you are saying. He is a rapist by his own admission. Rape is a crime. He may be many other things, all of them admirable, but these are the facts. And allowing rapists to literally choose to opt out of the legal system does not serve society in general or his victim in particular. Nor does it prove the doggedness and earnestness of the American legal system. Moreover, it undermines the rule of law which, however faulty, is in place to protect the rights of citizens to not be raped and to ensure that those who do rape will understand that this is behavior unacceptable in any society which claims to recognize the inalienable rights of its citizens. What happened to Anne Applebaum the human rights defender? Is drugging and fucking a 13 year old and then skipping town a human right now?

Is the freedom from rape NOT a human right?

Many people have asked, in response the celebrity defense of Mr. Polanski, would they be defending him if he were a Catholic priest or Republican Senator? Since we’re talking about Anne, I wonder, would she think an arrest were “outrageous” if it were, oh, say, Vladimir Putin who had raped and drugged a 13 year old? I can already hear her response, “Well he probably has! He’s already stolen my wallet!” No, my question is, would you defend him? Right. That’s what I thought.

I wish this were all there were to the episode. Anne being crazy. Heck. On it’s own, it may even signal an evolution. She’s gone from pretending to care about innocent victims to just coming clean and admitting that, no, actually that’s bs, she doesn’t really care. Score one for authenticity. Plus, if you couldn’t use the newspapers to advocate for the subversion of the rule of law, hey, it wouldn’t be America. But don’t think I am blogging about it every time this woman gets something wrong. I have a life ya know.

It’s one thing to advocate for a rapist. Another to violate your professional ethics.

Strike 2.

Anne Applebaum is married to Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski who is lobbying for the charges against Polanski to be dropped.

Now, there is nothing unacceptable about this fact. It is understandable that she might share the same opinion as her spouse. What is unacceptable is her omission of his role in the story. It’s called full disclosure. And that someone of the professional stature Ms. Applebaum has acquired would forget to mention such an obvious potential conflict of interest is incredible.

When readers had the audacity to point out this oversight, she responded:

“For the record, I will note that I mentioned my husband’s job in a column as recently as last week, and that when he first entered the Polish government three years ago I wrote a column about that too. I have to assume that the bloggers who have leapt upon this as some kind of secret revelation are simply unfamiliar with my writing. However, I will also note that at the time I wrote the blog item, I had no idea that the Polish government would or could lobby for Polanski’s release, as I am in Budapest and my husband is in Africa.”

Having mentioned your marriage in previous columns is no substitute for disclosure. Blaming readers who are unfamiliar with your marriage is no substitute for disclosure. And frankly this is beside the point, which is not that Anne is married to Sikorski, but that her spouse is using his position as Foreign Minister to exonerate the someone whose legal case she is using her platform in the Washington Post to discredit. In her defense, she claims that she was not aware of this at the time.

The time stamp on the column in question is September 27, 2009; 3:13 PM ET.

The following is from a round up of Polanski news which appeared on Monsters and Critics at Sep 27, 2009, 16:55 GMT:

“In Polanski’s native Poland, President Lech Kaczynski and Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said they would appeal to US authorities to drop proceedings against Polanski.

The PAP news agency said Sikorski was considering a direct appeal to US President Barack Obama to end ‘once and for all’ the proceedings against the filmmaker.

Poland’s film directors’ institute had earlier issued an appeal to Kaczynski and Sikorski to intercede with Swiss authorities.

‘This is a scandalous situation and incomprehensible over- zealousness,’ institute head Jacek Bromski was quoted as saying by Poland’s PAP news agency.”

This doesn’t prove that she was in fact aware of the conflict of interest. It does prove that she should have been.

[Update]: This is what I get for trying to think the best of people… Obviously she knew about her husband’s involvement.

Strike 3.

Ok, so she might have just come forward and said, “You know what, you’re right. I misjudged x,y & z and submit the following corrections…” Had she done so, the first Google hit for Anne Applebaum today might not have been, Anne Applebaum, Child Rape Apologist?‎, which can’t be fun for her friends and family. Make mistakes, admit them, move on. Unless you are Anne Applebaum, in which case you just. keep. digging.

From “Reaction to Roman Polanski.” By Anne Applebaum, September 29, 2009:

(Actually I think these readers were reacting to her, not Polanski, but whatever…)

In response to someone who writes, “Ann Applebaum do you have a young daughter? How about I rape her???”

“He seems to believe that if you look for any nuances at all in this extremely weird, thirty-plus-year legal saga (and in my four paragraphs there was only space to mention a few of them) you are not only defending rape, you deserve to be raped. Or your daughter does.”

Anne wrote a column defending a rapist. Not because there is a shadow of a doubt that he is guilty. But because … well, she didn’t really make that part clear. It is hardly a leap to believe that a claiming the arrest of a rapist is outrageous amounts to a defense of rape. Of course, no one deserves to be raped. The commenter was rude and disgusting. But Anne decides what she writes about. She may have taken this opportunity to address the obvious question of whether she would call the arrest “outrageous” if the victim were her own daughter, or to reflect upon why she has inspired such anger. But, she didn’t. She used it to paint her detractors as the ones advocating for rape. It should be lost on no one that Applebaum finds a comment suggesting rape of her daughter outrageous (and it is) but not the arrest of the man who actually did rape someone’s daughter!

In response to someone who writes, “Applebaum’s husband is a Polish politician who is currently actively lobbying for Polanski’s freedom. Seems that Applebaum did not mention that.”

“The implication, in any case, that I am a spokesman for my husband — while not quite as offensive as the implication that my daughter should be raped — is offensive nevertheless.”

Ignoring the strawman about her daughter, how it is offensive to suggest that the her unwillingness to disclose a potential conflict of interest casts suspicion on her motives? It would be lovely to assume that all journalists are independent, but in the current media structure, we know this is untrue. When we do discover a conflict of interest, it is our responsibility to address it, to hold those with the privilege of influence accountable. And frankly, with her track record, on what grounds are we obligated to accept her assertion that she is not a spokesperson for her husband? Why should Anne Applebaum’s word carry more weight than any evidence against it?

In response to those who disagree with her:

“to all who imagine that the original incident at the heart of this story was a straightforward and simple criminal case, I recommend reading the transcript of the victim’s testimony (here in two parts) — including her descriptions of the telephone conversation she had with her mother from Polanski’s house, asking permission to be photographed in Jack Nicholson’s jacuzzi — and not just the salacious bits.”

First, this claim is not a fact, but some kind of historical interpretation produced by Anne’s imagination. The transcript does not say that. But let’s be generous. Let’s assume that instead of deliberate deception, Ms. Applebaum is just a crummy journalist and didn’t read the transcript carefully. Even if the girl had asked her mother’s permission, 44 year olds are still not allowed to drug and fuck 13 years olds. Under ANY circumstance. I don’t care if her mother was there in the room watching. By Anne’s logic, sex traffickers would not be criminals so long as they got a written note from parents. By my logic, the scenario Anne has invented absolves Polanski of nothing.

Oh fuck – There is MORE.

Ok, I have a life & can’t put it on hold to live-blog the meltdown of a WaPo columnist. I’ll stop here.

Out!

A 13 year old girl was raped, and the only one innocent, according to Anne, is the perpetrator. Anne has blamed the Swiss authorities for arresting a rapist. Anne has blamed her readers for questioning her defense of a rapist. Anne has blamed the mother for allowing the the rape to happen even though there is no transcript evidence to support the claim. And of course, Anne has blamed the girl for literally asking for it. What fucking century is this?

I like film as much as the next person and have a fancy degree to prove it. Rosemary’s Baby was a source of childhood joy for me, since my mother’s name was Rosemary and I have extraordinary eyes. When she was mad at me, I would say, “What do you expect? I’m Rosemary’s Baby. Look at my eyes. They’re… not… normal…” Good times, good times… But I don’t see what the hell it has to do with anything. And frankly it is not Polanski I am concerned about. It seems he will finally have to face the music. It’s Anne.

As a citizen of this sometimes great nation, I believe we deserve better. I’m sick of journalists who underestimate our intelligence, who defend rape or any kind of violence against other human beings, who are entrusted with the power set the public agenda but who eschew any accountability said public may ask of them, who are quick to invoke the freedom of the press and just ask quick to hide from the responsibility that freedom comes with.

If you are too, Anne Applebaum’s editor is Fred Hiatt and his e-mail is hiattf@washpost.com.

Stories about Putin stealing her wallet and Russian girls being ugly before capitalism were delusional, sure, but provided some harmless entertainment. It’s not harmless anymore. No one is entertained. This has nothing to do with freedom of the press or freedom of speech. She has the right to say whatever she likes. As do we. So I am exercising my right to say that I think her column is dangerously irresponsible.

Not to mention, terribly written.

Addendum.

Sublime Oblivion left a link to this eXile article in the comments. It is THE article I send to everyone who e-mails me Anne Applebaum columns asking for my take on whatever nonsense she’s up to that week. So I thought, well, this is as good as any time to post it here, since god willing I’ll never have to write another post about Anne again…

From “Where Is America’s Politkovskaya?” By Mark Ames:

Anne Applebaum, one of the Post’s resident neocons, went the extra sleazy mile when she got ahold of Politkovskaya’s corpse. In her October 9th column, “A Moscow Murder Story,” Applebaum simply lied about the circumstances of her murder, and quite consciously so, when she essentially blamed Klebnikov’s inconvenient death, as well as other provincial journalists killed for investigating local corruption, on Putin. Interestingly, in her article she openly narrows her focus on “journalists killed after 2000″ — gee, how convenient. Because that means she wouldn’t have to mention all the journalists killed during Yeltsin’s term, since that would muddy up the good/evil picture that her entire thesis rests on.

Applebaum is a special case, one of those moral crusaders, the American Anna Politkovskaya, who has made a living courageously exposing state crimes committed by…get this…not her own country, oh heck no! Because her own country only does good! Nope, Anne Applebaum makes her living by sitting in the safety of Washington DC, and exposing crimes committed by a country on the other side of the globe! That country being Russia of course. Hey, give that woman a Pulitzer, will ya?! Hence her book Gulag, packed with all the affected moral outrage that you’d expect. Indeed, one thing that has always filled Applebaum with rage is wondering why Russians don’t take her seriously (a question she poses as more abstract — ie, why don’t Russians care about the Gulags as much as Anne does?). Here’s why: Can you imagine how much moral authority a right-wing Russian journalist’s book about the American genocide of Indians would have in America? Answer: about as much as Anne’s book has in Russia. None.

Yes, it’s dangerous work to dedicate your life to exposing the horrors committed by a country that your husband hates. Applebaum’s husband is Poland’s right-wing Defense Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, who also serves in the neocon American Enterprise Institute, the same institute that essentially invented the current Iraq war. The current government that Sikorski serves in, by the way, includes the extreme right-wing party The League of Polish Families, leading to protests from Israel because of the party’s open anti-Semitism and xenophobia, and its notorious skinhead youth group. But that’s okay by Anne, because Poland likes America and is a member of the Coalition of the Willing. Meaning no hissy articles from Anne Applebaum about her husband’s pals or Poland’s repulsive history of Jewish slaughter. Nor will you read too many articles by Applebaum about her own country’s atrocious crimes committed in Iraq, and the hundreds of thousands her government has killed.

No person could be as far from Politkovskaya as Anne Applebaum. Given all of Applebaum’s influence and access, she only uses that power to demonize Russia and whitewash America’s fascism. Politkovskaya, on the other hand, speaking from extreme weakness and danger, used what little influence she had to risk all for the victims of her own goverment’s cruelty, fighting from within.

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