poemless. a slap in the face of public taste.

March 31, 2010

START up the Hot Tub Cold War Time Machine!

Contents: Russia Today‘s “Crosstalk” discusses Gorby and perestroika, WBEZ‘s “Worldview” discusses nuclear disarmament, and David Hoffman (the homely guy who wrote The Oligarchs, not the hot guy I want to run against Daley) writes about the Cold War arms race. Bust out your vhs of War Games and tight-roll your jeans, we’re goin’ on a trip…

No, I was just kidding about the jeans! Please! Stop!

I. CrossTalk: “How should Gorbachev’s perestroika be remembered?”

Starring: Stephen Cohen (with whom I am in love, and with his wife too, actually, I think we’d make a fabulous threesome…), Mary Dejevsky (whom I aso really like, but not in that way) and some other people. One of whom is the host, Peter Lavelle. I don’t know how Peter got that job, but I’m pretty sure I should have it.

Nuggets of wisdom:

~Mary: “The Russia of today and the Russia of perestroika are totally, totally different countries.” It irritates her that this perspective is seemingly lost in Western reporting about Russia today. Like, Russia currently, not the tv station…

~Peter (eternally frustrated): The frequent references to Stalinism when talking about modern Russia in Western journalism doesn’t help us understand either modern Russia or perestroika.

~Stephen (eternally forlorn): Reporting on Russia during the Cold War was even better than it is today… grumble grumble gumble…

~VCIOM (not a guest, a poll): A growing number of Russians actually see perestroika as a positive thing, though that number is still under 40%.

~Stephen : De-democratization (me: can we just call it “mocratization?”) began with Yeltsin, not Putin. Me: Kasparov agrees, you know…

~Mary (eternally sane): The ailing state of reporting on Russia is due to the cost-cutting measures in journalism that has shut or pared down bureaus in Moscow and the loss of Russian language and cultural expertise in the West. And young people’s and intellectuals’ sense of history, which dates back only to the 1990’s. They remember the 1990’s as an era of ideological freedom, and find today comparatively worse. Most Russians who can remember the 80’s and 70’s find today comparatively better.

~Stephen: Only two other people share his view that American policy toward post-Soviet Russia since 1992 has been a dangerous disaster because the U.S. has not changed its policy re: Nato expansion and because there exists no organized opposition calling for better relations with Russia. Stephen, get out more! You are not alone. I bet I can find at least 2 people right now who agree with you! Me, and, oh, probably everyone who reads this blog. Which is at least 2 other people. Stop awfulizing, Stephen. You are not as alone as you feel.

Except for in the way that, existentially, we are all alone…

II. Worldview: “President Obama’s Nuclear Nonproliferation Vision.”

Starring: Joseph Gerson, peacenik. And host, Jerome McDonnell. I don’t know how Jerome got that job, but he’s freaking brilliant at it, thank god. He should take over Charlie Rose’s show when he dies. (A terrifying potential power vacuum my friends and I fret about when Charlie’s not looking so well.)

Dr. Joseph Gerson is Director of Programs and Director of the Peace and Economic Security Program for the American Friends Service Committee. His most recent book is titled Empire and the Bomb: How the United States Uses Nuclear Weapons to Dominate the World.
Listen here.

Nuggets of wisdom:

~Re: “realists”: The idea of nuclear weapons ensuring the peace is like ensuring the peace by handing out hand guns to school kids. Even people like George Shultz (me: George Shultz, fer chrisssake!) have come to the conclusion that it is necessary to pursue real nuclear disarmament.

~Obama is investing in nuclear labs (and I’d add missile defense) as a compromise so Republicans will vote to ratify the New START. (me: Good luck with that, Barack. Remember all those compromises we made in the health care bill? Remember how many Republicans voted for it? If you held a vote banning the feeding of infants to sharks for entertainment, the fuckers would vote “no.”)

~The U.S. maintains a 1st Strike mandate defense policy. Official policy is that nukes can be used not just as deterrents. Madness.

~”8 years from now the U.S. and Russia will still have over 90% of world’s nuclear weapons.” Madness! Gorby, come back!

~Young people don’t remember or are not aware of nuclear freeze movement of the 1980’s. Without the Soviet threat, people are not afraid, but we still have the weapons. After the Cold War people just stopped thinking about it, were exhausted. (<– I think the theme of exhaustion is one of the least explored and most important aspects of the Cold War, actually. I've been thinking about it a lot lately. It's exhausting.)

~Gerson says the nuclear freeze movement forced Reagan to negotiate with Soviets which in turn ended the Cold War. (me: Well, if it makes him feel better.)

~Nuclear weapons: outta sight out of mind. No one even knows where they are. It's an abstract idea, which makes it difficult to organize around, make people care about.

If you want to join Gerson's peace movement, Click here!

… Before I continue, I think it is important to note that however much of a dreamy hippie you think Gerson is, Cohen has repeatedly asserted that the current American posture toward Russia persists because there is no opposition lobby to it, like there was during the nuclear freeze movement. Personally, I think we should start a lobby. But we don’t have one. At least Gerson is trying. Ya know? … I’m serious about the lobbying thing. Anyone got some money? If a hippie can get a lobby, surely we can too.

III. David Hoffman’s The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy.

Description:

During the Cold War, world superpowers amassed nuclear arsenals containing the explosive power of one million Hiroshimas. The Soviet Union secretly plotted to create the “Dead Hand,” a system designed to launch an automatic retaliatory nuclear strike on the United States, and developed a fearsome biological warfare machine. President Ronald Reagan, hoping to awe the Soviets into submission, pushed hard for the creation of space-based missile defenses.

In the first full account of how the arms race finally ended, The Dead Hand provides an unprecedented look at the inner motives and secret decisions of each side. Drawing on top-secret documents from deep inside the Kremlin, memoirs, and interviews in both Russia and the United States, David Hoffman introduces the scientists, soldiers, diplomats, and spies who saw the world sliding toward disaster and tells the gripping story of how Reagan, Gorbachev, and many others struggled to bring the madness to an end. When the Soviet Union dissolved, the danger continued, and the United States began a race against time to keep nuclear and biological weapons out of the hands of terrorists and and rogue states.

So I read this book. Or, I’ve been reading it – not yet finished. Because it is so freaking tedious to read. But I’ll come back to that. I picked up this book because I hd just finished reading Hoffman’s previous opus, The Oligarchs, which was astonishingly informative and exquisitely written. I guess I was expecting the same from The Dead Hand. It is true, data about nuclear warheads is not something that normally holds my attention. But honestly, neither do business schemes. Plus, with the New START, the anniversaries of the ends of the Cold War, the appearances of a New Cold War, it’s not like I just didn’t have my heart in it. Plus, biological warfare! How can that be boring? Hoffman’s gritty, detailed, fly-on-the-wall narration, filled with anecdotes and atmosphere, that made The Oligarchs such a page turner is replaced in The Dead Hand with rote historian banalities. Blech. Lots of on such and such a date so and so called so and so to set up a meeting with so and so and nothing ever came out of the meeting. Kill me now. Worse, it is not as well organized as his previous book. Which was, I must say, painstakingly well organized, so he’s set the bar high on all accounts. The Dead Hand follows a vaguely chronological order, but within the chapters things get messy and you have to flip back a few pages to find out what year it is. It lacks flow. More disappointing is that it lacks the narrative arc of The Oligarchs, which was a classic Shakespearean plot. It’s not like there weren’t historical events in the nuclear arms race to re-create that same kind of narrative crescendo. It just drags. Maybe Hoffman’s only fault is choosing to write about … negotiations. Week after week, month after month, year after year of … negotiations. The people who were in the room the first time were probably bored too, and thinking, “Haven’t we already been over this part before?” There is also the difficulty of conveying the tension and crisis of events that happen in minutes or seconds when writing a larger, epic, even, story.

That said … I have incredibly high standards for prose. I generally won’t touch 99% of the stuff that’s written. The Dead Hand is probably on par with most quality history writing. Most importantly, I think everyone under 35 should read this book! Ignore everything I just criticized the book for. That criticism was for those of us who have the luxury to read, or not read, this book. The rest of you don’t pass class until you’ve read The Dead Hand. Because I’m sick and tired of listening to smug young realists downplay the importance and difficulty and necessity of nuclear disarmament treaties. Damn it. Kids these days. I don’t care how they dress (but tight-rolling your jeans? for real?), what music they like, what sexual mores they have, what drugs they do. Don’t care. But I do care that everyone forgot to teach them about human civilization pre-2001. Yes, I am being curmudgeonly and rude. But while you were busy not being born yet, or watching Sesame Street, the rest of us managed to scare ourselves shitless over the prospect of nuclear war. Since you missed the initiation into the scared shitless club, we need to do something so we don’t have to go through it all again.

Why do we read history? That’s right, children.

Yes, I am a bitch. If that’s what I have to be to save the world, so be it. :)

Ok, thanks for reading!

March 29, 2010

March Elegy

Filed under: Culture: Russia,Too Much Information — poemless @ 4:26 PM
Tags: ,

Park Kultury on my mind…

(image c/o bbc.co.uk)

I’ve been working on a post about how the New START and the issue of nuclear deproliferation are dangerously underappreciated in this age of the GWOT. About how terrorism is the new It War because it is sexy and sells but it’s frankly over-rated and largely a ruse blah blah blah.

Call it the Worst. Timing. Ever.

Said diary will be postponed.

It’s a very weird feeling to wake up, open your e-mail and suddenly be in a panic about a bomb blast on the other side of the world. Sure, I have friends and acquaintances in Moscow, but what are the chances they’d be among the 30+ victims in a city of 8.5 million? Besides, I swiftly accounted for the closest of them. Of course, there are the infinite number of people who come in and out of your life, with whom you lose or never bothered to keep contact. Still, those people could theoretically be on any plane that crashes or in any city struck by an earthquake. Why the freak-out, poemless?

It’s been many years since I’ve set foot inside Park Kultury Metro station. But at one time in my life I set foot in it every single day. Moscow must be one of the few places in the world where the metro isn’t just a way to get from point A to point B, but a whole microcosm of society. I once imaged that anything you could get above ground you could get underground in Moscow. And that you could possibly live forever underground there. It was a disturbing concept. Even the subway is above ground where I am from. Only worms live underground, right? I felt like I’d stumbled into some dark sci-fi genre. A Twilight Zone episode. In the Metro, you could buy a puppy and take the puppy to the vet, have its prescriptions filled, buy some lingerie and some guns, grab nachos fromTaco Bell, see a performance, see fine art, see people die and be born, have your hair done, watch fixed, shoes re-soled… The possibilities in Moscow Metro were only limited by one’s imagination. In this way it was like a mini-Moscow. But warmer. My most vivid memory of Park Kultury stop was buying ponchiki on the sidewalk in front of the station during the harsh winter, and ducking inside to eat them. For those who don’t know, ponchiki are doughnuts. But these were not like any American doughnuts. They’d been deep fried and then tossed in a plastic bag with sugar just moments earlier, and a huge waft of sticky steam would escape when you opened the bag. For some reason this had to be done on the down lo. The ticket ladies were not too fond of people loitering with food in the entryway. Which was a bit odd since every human incursion fathomable was taking place in the bowels below us…

Anyway, idiot terrorists blowing people to bits for no good reason is a pretty horrific image to begin with. And I can’t imaging what it was like for those who experienced it first hand. But I guess it just made it a bit more vivid, the bloody scenes on the tv combined with my crystal clear memories. Like a dream. Or a nightmare, as it were.

I’m glad I have been able to account for my friends and very saddened for those who will not be able to. I can’t say I blame the terrorists for changing my memories of Park Kultury. My second most vivid memory of the place was when I discovered a dead body outside the doors late one night. Apparently a homeless drunk had succumbed to hypothermia. Oh, who am I kidding? I saw all kinda of horrors in that place. A lady who walked down the metro car on all fours barking like a dog. Someone hit and kiled by a car on the highway outside. People being generally abusive toward each other. Sad, stray animals (we took a kitten home one night).

And even then there were bombings. Bombings by Chechens, by gangsters, by lunatics…

Life went on. People continued to take the metro to the ballet and library and the university and the park and the museum and work and school and shopping… I don’t know if people continue to duck inside for illicit kiosk ponchiki. I think if I could do that right now, I’d feel a little better about all of this. But I can’t, so a poem will have to do.

March Elegy

I have enough treasures from the past
to last me longer than I need, or want.
You know as well as I . . . malevolent memory
won’t let go of half of them:
a modest church, with its gold cupola
slightly askew; a harsh chorus
of crows; the whistle of a train;
a birch tree haggard in a field
as if it had just been sprung from jail;
a secret midnight conclave
of monumental Bible-oaks;
and a tiny rowboat that comes drifting out
of somebody’s dreams, slowly foundering.
Winter has already loitered here,
lightly powdering these fields,
casting an impenetrable haze
that fills the world as far as the horizon.
I used to think that after we are gone
there’s nothing, simply nothing at all.
Then who’s that wandering by the porch
again and calling us by name?
Whose face is pressed against the frosted pane?
What hand out there is waving like a branch?
By way of reply, in that cobwebbed corner
a sunstruck tatter dances in the mirror.

~Anna Akhmatova

March 24, 2010

LQD: What’s really wrong with Russia?

Filed under: Politics: Russia — poemless @ 1:16 PM
Tags:

[Note the invisible "w" in front of the word Russia.]

Ben Aris has an article in Business News Europe titled, “What’s really wrong with Russia.”

I spend some effort exposing terrible journalists and good journalists’ mistakes. I don’t actually have anything against the traditional media, I just have high expectations of them. I should point out the good with the bad. Aris’ piece is not brilliant, nor do I agree with every assertion made in it. But it is refreshingly sober. Earlier today I witnessed two people writing about Russia go at it. Both had valid points, but the tone became hysterical and weirdly personal. I wanted to scream “Stop! Neither of you are helping yourselves and you certainly are not helping your readers…” Then I read this BNE article and thought, yes, this is what I’d like to see more of. Well organized, impersonal, full of data while not painfully wonkish, entertaining while not substituting entertainment for analysis. Sadly this is what passes for exceptional journalism these days…

The article begins with a quintessentially Russian little anecdote about a couple who breeds rabbits in their garden and desire to open a little corner store and sell rabbit meat, fur and livers. There is no law against this, but corrupt local bureaucrats keep thwarting their dreams of becoming bunny-mongers. What a great story! For the bunnies, anyway.

Aris points out that corruption is a serious issue in Russia, but this problem is not unique, esp. among emerging markets. He also notes that Russia per-capita income has doubled in the last five years, performing much better than some of her less corrupt neighbors. So he poses the question, “Once you start digging into the detail, the picture becomes quite confusing, begging the question: what is really wrong with Russia and are things getting better or worse?” He proceeds to take a look at some of the issues commonly cited in answer to, “What’s wrong with wRussia?”

On Infrastructure:

“Russia’s most obvious problem is that its Soviet-era infrastructure is crumbling and won’t be serviceable for much longer. A massive amount of investment is needed into pretty much everything. The hot spots are power and transport.

Before the crisis knocked the economy onto its back, the demand for electricity matched the country’s ability to generate it. Any further economic growth was going to result in blackouts, which in turn would become a major drag on growth. The crisis has brought the Kremlin some time, but the problem will resurface in the next few years as the economy recovers.

Happily, the Kremlin is well aware of this problem and has already done much of the groundwork.[...]

The big omission here on the Kremlin’s part is that while they are spending on power and trains, they have ignored badly needed investment into social infrastructure. The president’s modernisation programme is doomed to fail unless the state spends equally heavily on education. Likewise, the World Health Organisation released a study a few years ago that concluded the very best returns on investment for the economy were investments into the health system: not only does a healthy population work harder for longer and retire later, but the savings made from not having to care for sick pensioners for decades is incalculable.

And the Kremlin’s botched pension reform must be fixed. The Kremlin has just hiked pensions by 50%. However, there is a hole in the pension fund that already accounts for a quarter of this year’s deficit. As the demographic window closes, caused by the aging population, the pension system must be made to pay for itself or this problem will only get worse.

Behold! One can acknowledge both the Kremlin’s accomplishments AND failures, without poof! turning into a gremlin. Hell, even suggesting they’re giving any thought to their problems is considered radical in some circles…

On Oil addiction:

“…Russia’s economic growth is closely tied to the price of oil.

However, the state has actually been pretty prudent when dealing with oil revenues. Oil is heavily taxed, with the state taking 90 cents on every dollar when prices for oil are over $27. The extra revenue has been used to subsidise income and profit taxes (13% and 24% respectively) in an effort to boost economic diversification. Even this largesse can’t soak up all the petrodollars, so the excess cash is siphoned off into the “lockbox” of the Stabilisation Fund and kept out of the reach of free-spending MPs by Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin. It is hard to see what else the Kremlin could have done to minimize the impact of Dutch disease on Russia. Indeed, even with oil prices at $150 a barrel the government still managed to bring inflation down into single digits at the start of 2008. (Ukraine let its inflation rate soar to 25% in the same year, the highest in the world.)

Still, Russia’s economy already has a bad case of Dutch disease. Russia has some the best scientists and engineers in the world, but yet it doesn’t export anything of note other than oil and arms. Everything in Russia is now expensive. Choosing one example at random: according to Moscow’s real estate consultants, the cost of building a distribution centre in Moscow is 34% higher than building the same thing in London, which is crazy.”

Moscow recently fell down the list of most expensive cities. Though I am sure “to live in” and “to do business in” look at different criteria.

On Diversification and top-down reform:

Katinka Barysch, deputy director of the Centre for European Reform, spoke for many recently in a recent paper when she wrote: ‘A genuine modernisation alliance would have to be bottom-up and driven by the private sector. The Russian leadership is pursuing a model of modernisation that is state-centric and top-down. It throws money at new institutes to foster research, it nationalises big industries, it tells state-owned banks which sectors to lend to. It does not do the things that would be required for genuine economic diversification.’ [...]

Barysch assumes there is a foundation of business that will flourish if the shackles of government are removed, but the Kremlin is facing an economy where rafts of products and services are simply missing and can’t get started.

State spending is inherently wasteful, but as Russia has the money thanks to oil, the issue at hand is not the efficiency of state spending, but rather its effectiveness: can the spending create sectors that don’t exist now or upgrade those that can’t compete now? ‘As there is no vibrant [small and medium-sized enterprise] sector, the only option left is heavy state spending. The Kremlin is doing this not because they want bigger versions of the existing state-owned behemoths, but because how else are they going to change the nature of the Russia economy?’ says Plamen Monovski, a veteran investor into emerging Europe and CIO-designate at Renaissance Asset Management.”

This is something I rarely hear and frequently think: Why do we commonly assume that the Kremlin’s strategies are always ideologically motivated, and not often simply reflections of a lack of alternatives or short-term practical solutions?

On Corruption and bureaucracy:

“When he was president, Vladimir Putin called for something to be done about corruption in every one of his State of the Nation speeches – and absolutely nothing happened. But since Dmitry Medvedev took over as president in 2009, the new president has launched Russia’s first ever concerted attack on graft. [...]

You can question the size of the official numbers, but clearly the government has gone on the offensive. However, the actual numbers prosecuted are still tiny compared to the million-plus strong army of bureaucrats. This is no anti-graft pogrom, like in Georgia where Mikheil Saakashvili sacked the entire police force (which worked beautifully). Rather, the strategy currently seems to be to fire a warning shot over the bows of government to say: ‘Change is coming, mend your ways.’ But it will take years, if not decades, to make a real dent in the problem.”

I think I remember Putin had a few people fired and put in jail… But he was less Mighty Mouse about it.

On Political risk:

“Conventional wisdom has it that Putin is a virtual dictator, but bne’s sources in diplomatic, business and government circles say that Putin is visibly under an increasing amount of strain, frustrated by the government machinery’s failure to implement his plans. On top of this, bringing in Medvedev has considerably weakened his position. ‘Two camps have formed around Medvedev and Putin. The first wants to see Medvedev go further with the liberalisation of the economy and politics, whereas the people close to Putin want to keep things as they were prior to the crisis – where they were making money,’ says an economist who has been advising the government at a top level. ‘Putin is visibly stressed, as some people are starting to ignore him and others are openly calling for him to leave.’

Putin’s big gift to Russia was political stability. As a lone figure at the top of the political tree, he was able to balance all the interests of the various factions. But the arrival of Medvedev has upset that balance, as now there is an alternative power centre.”

Aris ends with a a joke his top secret sources say is making its way around the Kremlin:
“There are two camps that belong to Vladimir Vladimirovich and Dmitry Anatolevich. The only question is: which camp does Dmitry Anatolevich belong to?”

Bad duh bum!

Since I’ve quoted quite liberally, you are now required to go click through and apply for a subscription to BNE. Seriously, these LQD’s are probably copyright infringements, all 30 of you having read for free here what you technically should have had to read for free at BNE, and the outlet could probably use the money to buy sources with better access to jokes.

Anyway, discussion is open.

March 22, 2010

Surkov: Out Standing in His Field.

Filed under: Politics: Russia — poemless @ 1:27 PM
Tags:

While I’ve been curled up in a ball of stomach pain and obsessing about the health care bill in Congress -can the two be unrelated?- apparently all hell has broken loose in Russia.

Hundreds of people took part in the “Day of Wrath” (“wrath” even! brilliant!) participating in demonstrations across the country calling for Putin’s head on a platter. Or police reform. Or lower taxes. Or another issue that has filled them with wrath. Not sure, to be honest… Nor am I sure who the wrathful are. Democratic opposition or Commies or free marketers or something. Wrath is a big tent, it seems.

In other news, it has been reported that Chubais (architect of 90’s liberal economic reforms, which led to a ruble crash and widespread suffering) and Surkov (architect of numerous Putin doctrines and campaigns, which have led to increased authoritarianism) have banded together on behalf of Medvedev to form a new party -or simply take over another party like Just Russia, or Right Cause, no one really knows- which will address the [...drum roll...] economic disparity and sham democracy facing Russia under Putin. And Medvedev. Or something. This idea is like a fine wine. Take a moment to savor it; you won’t regret it.

Anyway, while I’m trying to separate the truth from rumour, propaganda, pipe dreams for people just f-ing with my mind for cheap thrills, here’s a dose of Surkov. He’s done another interview, this time on RT. With video! I know, it is magical. I asked RT for video interview of Surkov, et voila! WordPress, however, still won’t let me post the damned video. Which makes Russian state-run tv more open to suggestion than WordPress. Hm.

“We should learn to earn money with our brains” – Vladislav Surkov. Transcript and video from RT.

Slava, lookin’ all Mr. Burns:

An excerpt from the transcript:

Question: But why did you decide to build this town in an open field? Why did you decide to start everything from scratch?

VS: This is an issue for discussion. This decision has produced various reactions. We have excellent scientific centers, which were created in Soviet days in Siberia, near Moscow and in many other regions. Excellent experts and highly-qualified scientists work there. These centers have a very interesting and very qualified population. In fact, these are entire towns of mathematicians, scientists, etc. They have attained huge achievements. But, nevertheless, a decision has been made and it is not supposed to offend anybody.

We should understand what I have already said. Our task is to enter a new stage of civilization. Our task is not to carry out a European-style makeover in our Soviet home, but to build a new Russia with a new economy, and in order to do that it is sometimes very useful to find yourself in an open field. And I think that it is not accidental that Peter the First went into an open field because he understood that in the traditional tissue of Russian life he would do what he wanted at a much slower pace.

“Sometimes it is very useful to find yourself in an open field.”

I don’t know. Sounds pretty ominous to me. I mean, we’re not talking about farmers here. I think we all remember that last time the Russian government decided to put its great minds into open fields. Yikes.

In all seriousness…

Recently, someone quite well-informed and smart referred to Surkov as “a Goebbels of our time.” Let us take a deep breath, exhale, and look at the facts. Sure, he looks a little evil, like a vampire, especially when he clasps his hands together like that. And yes, he’s a political propagandist, the architect of the “Sovereign democracy” doctrine and has overseen some rather Machiavellian political campaigns. But Goebbels isn’t known to every soul on earth because he looked a little evil or was a political propagandist or architect of any old national doctrine no one took seriously or any old election campaign. He is known to every soul on earth because he was evil, he was a Nazi propagandist, the architect of Kristallnacht and oversaw a political campaign to annihilate the Jews. In what universe are unfair elections, exceptionalism and plain ol’ politicking on par with genocide? That’s really f-ed up. I mean, I can understand not liking the guy. Go for it. But until I see evidence that he’s constructing gas chambers instead of R&D institutes out in his open field, such assertions seem about as credible as those comparing Barack Obama to Stalin because he’s passed a damn health care bill.

After various exercises of logic and reason, part of me is convinced the rumour of Surkov’s involvement in a new Party of Medvedev is a sick joke. Or he’s in on this while simultaneously remaining involved in UR, all double agent-like, which I can weirdly, totally see. However, there is another, darker part of me who wants it to be true, despite my loyalty to Vova. Just to see how those who despise Surkov so viscerally react when he’s running the anti-Putin campaign. The man def. knows how to win an election. Hey, maybe he really is the devil. Out to reveal man’s true selfish nature… It’s all purely hypothetical, of course. But these are the kinds of things I actively fantasize about.

Which might explain why I have an ulcer…

March 17, 2010

Odds & Ends: Crazy Talk Edition

Filed under: Odds & Ends — poemless @ 12:46 PM

Contents: Demons, bestiality, the Soviet Union, and other threats courageous Republicans are confronting head on. Guns don’t kill corpses, people kill corpses. Just what does epilepsy smell like, anyway…? Prokhorov, proving my theory that Russia will achieve world domination with a checkbook. And VVP, now available in plush form. (Pony sold separately.)

Normally this would be just one more depressing example of Tea Party members advertising their ignorance on cheap posterboard. Except that Irkutsk just elected a Communist Party-backed candidate over the ruling United Russia’s choice. So… Maybe they really do want their socialism back. But they’re not calling us for it. Seriously, dimwits, if you pick up the phone and the caller identifies himself as “Vladimir Putin,” you are on the receiving end of a practical joke. I know. Just one more instance of you being on the receiving end. Screwed by your education system. Screwed by your government. Screwed by the media. Poor, poor you, tea partier. I suggest the next time you have a party you serve something more potent than tea. That way you can make an ass of yourself in the company of friends instead of on cable tv. What’s that, you say? Making an ass of yourself on cable tv is a time-honoured American tradition? You read in a Texas textbook that it’s a Constitutional right? Well then, never mind…

And the prize for “Most Backwards Country Posing as a Developed Superpower” goes to …

Variously, from HuffPo:

~ “Demons” have invaded the U.S. capital, according to Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.):

Speaking shortly after he riled up a crowd at Tuesday’s Tea Party protest, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) declared that “demons” – yes, demons – have invaded the capital (and likely the souls of Democrats), forcing lawmakers to mislead the public about the content of the health care bill.

“Well it would take a demon to be this dishonest about a bill,” the Texas Republican told the Huffington Post. “If they would just read the bill, they would see what they are saying is dishonest.”

Asked to expand a bit more on what he meant, Gohmert stepped back a bit from a literal interpretation, though still floating the possibility that Democrats were possessed. “Well, somebody is making people be dishonest and it is a play on words, too,” he said.

Moments earlier, the congressman energized an audience in the hundreds who had come to hear him and others protest the possibility of health care’s passage. Gohmert insisted that the bill the House was set to consider would appropriate $700 million for abortions — defying the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal money going to such a procedure.

“I brought an abortion to show you today,” he said, hosting a copy of the health care bill in his right hand. The crowd responded with a chant of “Abort the bill!”

And then, out of nowhere, Gohmert began spreading the word that underworld spirits were lurking around the Capitol building behind him.

“There’s a whole lot of demon going on,” he said. “There are a lot of demons around here apparently.”

“A whole lotta demon going on.” He better go copyright that asap before I steal it right out from under his nose. Oh! Too late!

~ Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) compares America’s current government to Prague under communist rule and urges a “Velvet Revolution”:

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) urged a smaller-than-expected crowd of Tea Party protesters on Tuesday to launch a Velvet Revolution-style uprising against the federal government, saying the parallels are striking between America’s current government and Eastern European communist rule.

Speaking to the Huffington Post shortly after his speech, King declared that a peaceful uprising, a la the successful overthrowing of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia on the streets of Prague in 1989 “would be fine with me.”

“Fill this city up, fill this city, jam this place full so that they can’t get in, they can’t get out and they will have to capitulate to the will of the American people,” he said.

“So this is just like Prague under communist rule?” the Huffington Post asked.

“Oh yeah, it is very, very close,” King replied. “It is the nationalization of our liberty and the federal government taking our liberty over. So there are a lot of similarities there.”

If there is one thing I cannot abide, it is the nationalization of liberty. Oof.

~ Former Congressman J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.) claims a six-and-a-half-year-old same-sex marriage ruling in Massachusetts could conceivably pave the way for men marrying horses:

Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) primary challenger, former Arizona congressman J.D. Hayworth, warned this past weekend that the same-sex marriage decision handed down by the Massachusetts Supreme Court is so loose in its logic and wording that it could lead to a man marrying his horse.

Appearing on Orlando, Fla. radio station WORL on Sunday, the Arizona conservative had what could be described as a Rick Santorum “man on dog” moment.

“You see, the Massachusetts Supreme Court, when it started this move toward same-sex marriage, actually defined marriage — now get this — it defined marriage as simply, ‘the establishment of intimacy,'” Hayworth said. “Now how dangerous is that? I mean, I don’t mean to be absurd about it, but I guess I can make the point of absurdity with an absurd point — I guess that would mean if you really had affection for your horse, I guess you could marry your horse.

Yep. Except in Switzerland, where animals are not allowed to have lawyers, and would therefore be prevented from filing for a divorce from your sick ass.

And from the New York Times: Texas has axed T. Jefferson and separation of Church and State from textbooks and added Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract With America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association:

The conservative members maintain that they are trying to correct what they see as a liberal bias among the teachers who proposed the curriculum. To that end, they made dozens of minor changes aimed at calling into question, among other things, concepts like the separation of church and state and the secular nature of the American Revolution.

“I reject the notion by the left of a constitutional separation of church and state,” said David Bradley, a conservative from Beaumont who works in real estate. “I have $1,000 for the charity of your choice if you can find it in the Constitution.”

They also included a plank to ensure that students learn about “the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract With America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association.”

There’s some kind of karmic school shooting just begging to be the end of this story.

If America and Russia have anything in common, it is people who say crazy shit. And the love of fire arms. A match made in Heaven.

~ Telegraph: “Gunman tries to attack Lenin’s corpse in Red Square”:

The man, named as Sergey Karpentsov, is quoted as saying he wanted to let loose a volley of bullets at Lenin’s carefully embalmed corpse, one of the Russian capital’s most popular and ghoulish tourist attractions.

“My main demand is the quick bulldozing of the mausoleum which contains the body of the anti-Christ,” he said. “I wanted to open fire on the tomb with an assault rifle but I was advised not to do that in case the tomb is armour-plated.”

I guess if you’re so passionate about your cause that you must take up arms, it’s better to aim them at people who are already dead than at those who still have their whole lives ahead of them? Though I am curious about the metaphysics of killing the Antichrist with an assault rifle…

~ Janes: “US, Russia account for half of global arms sales”:

Russia and the United States dominated the international arms export market from 2005-09, although there was significant growth for other exporters, most notably France and Germany, according to figures collated by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

The data – which was included in the SIPRI Fact Sheet ‘Trends in International Arms Transfers, 2009′ – showed that the US and Russia accounted for 30 and 23 per cent of exports respectively between 2005 and 2009.

As my brother-in-law says, “Never pass on a gun raffle.”

And speaking of crazy shit people say:

~ Dmitry Rogozin:

“Mishiko’s provocations smell of epilepsy.”

You say shit like this and Western leaders have no choice but to throw up their arms and walk out of the room. Whose brilliant idea was it to put Ivan Nikiforovich in charge of public diplomacy?

~ Mikhail Prokhorov:

“I suggest we buy Greece,” Prokhorov said on the Spotlight Paris Hilton television show on March 13. Acquiring Greece, home of the Olympic Games, would be a marketing opportunity for Russian gas exporter OAO Gazprom, which could use the Olympic flame as its trademark, he said.

“We could sell our gas to every home together with an Olympic torch,” Prokhorov said. “I suggest we start with Ukraine.”

First the New Jersey Nets, now Greece? A pony for the person who can tell me what this guy would not buy.

If this was not a member of the Village People, it should have been:


c. RIA Novosti

The Khakassia village people, that is…

I make fun at his expense, but there have been many a Chicago winter day I totally could have gone for something like this. And the pretty pony too. Especially the pony. And the guy on the pony. Is there some discount if I get both? What, you think Putin’s not for sale? Prokhorov might beg to differ…

Ok, that’s all for today, my lovelies! Thanks for reading and Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

March 11, 2010

Some Thoughts on Russia and Feminism…

Filed under: Culture: Russia,Culture: U.S.,Too Much Information — poemless @ 6:35 PM
Tags: , ,

Oh this will be fun. What demon of masochism has sent me running into this busy highway? I suppose I sense some explanation is required. Some frustration is pent up. Some wiggle room is in short supply. Since I began writing about my interest in Russia, I have repeatedly been confronted with the popularly accepted notion that Russia is generally unenlightened, backwards, conservative or otherwise markedly hostile to feminist ideals. While I’ve no intention of arguing that the opposite is true, these assertions send me climbing up the walls, despite the fact that I consider myself a staunch feminist. Even as I write this, I suspect that the “well, it’s actually a bit more nuanced than that” line of reasoning is next up after “whataboutism” for entry into the trash bin marked “Russophile Apologia.” Good thing I am a feminist and don’t allow the opinions of others to shut me up.

Before I explain why I’m climbing up walls, some clarification:

~ I don’t expect everyone to conform to my ideas about things. I’m not the purveyor of feminist credentials and have no say in who is a feminist and who is not, and of those who are, which ones are bad and which ones are good. Just not interested.

~ I personally believe it is up to the individual woman -not the state, not the church, not men, not other women- to decide for herself what her ideal of womanhood is, and if she wants to pursue it. And that she has the right to change her mind about it. Or to not care about it at all.

~ When I say I am a feminist, I mean I expect women to have the same rights, opportunities, recognition, pay, respect, recourse, protection, etc. as men, and in a way that takes into account the fact that women’s anatomy brings with it added responsibilities and vulnerabilities, and that we live in a world where we have not yet achieved the aforementioned equality and are therefore forced to put up with an incredible amount of unnecessary shit.

~ The following is simply attempt to shed light on my thought process. Nothing more, nothing less.

Now, how is it that I can admire Russia, call myself a feminist and not fall into a self-loathing pit of despair?

1. The Fetishization of Russian women’s beauty, femininity, blah blah blah. When Americans do it.

International Women’s Day Special: Girls Of The Siloviki, by Team eXiled.

Yes, it’s the eXiled. But this is not a condemnation of their treatment of women. This is an illustration of the power of myth and those who propagate it.

“But then there was the other side of Women’s Day that makes us a bit nostalgic: Russia’s devushki. An abundance of devushki. So many devushki it gave you a headache. As this recent Komsomolskaya Pravda story on the “Girls of the Siloviki” shows, even the scariest devushki had a certain tantalizing “Amateur Hardcore MILF” quality about them that made it hard to think responsibly. (If you want to know more about the siloviki, click here. Would you like to know more?)

So here then is a March 8 photo essay showing off Kremlin Femdom at its best: The Girls of the Silovki:”

What follows is a number of photos of women in various professional and casual outfits. Far be it for me to start judging who is beautiful and who is not. But please look at these women and ask yourself, were they in American uniforms, had the article introduced them as the beautiful women of Omaha, would we still be gushing over them? For a country that churns out supermodels and ballerinas, I’m incredulous. Natalia Vodianova is out of my league. These women are not. I think I’m in a pretty nice league so that’s no insult. My point is that American men are just as swift to project stereotypes and see that world through a prism of ideals that don’t nec. reflect reality as anyone else. Another example:

What a Woman!!!, by American Russia Observations.

This post admittedly recognizes a lot of the hard work and achievements of Russian women, but I was struck by this:

“Personal appearance is a top consideration for most Russians, and especially for women. They do not throw something on to go to the store, but rather, like my mother in the 1950’s, get dressed carefully in a feminine way. Russian men are used to being around carefully dressed women and usually do not like the casual American look.

No matter how busy or how tight the budget, the women dress well. Russian women tend to be high achievers but don’t feel this in any way precludes their interest in appearing traditionally beautiful.

No woman will race out of the apartment without first checking the mirror for last minute touches on makeup and hair style.[...]
Russian women accept a feminine role as normal and desirable. What makes the difference between her and a woman in France or the United States is the order of her priorities. Nurturing and comforting are high on her list.”

It may well be the case that the Russian wife who inspired this post by her American spouse meets these criteria. It may be the case that many people have wives who meet these criteria. But can I just say … get out more? Please. I have several female Russian acquaintances who will probably make your brain explode. Why the sweeping generalizations? You do realize that those same Puritan ideals of submissive women also dictate that they don’t go out looking like sluts. Oh wait, Russian women go out looking like sluts all the time. Everyone knows that Russian women are either prostitutes or open to that. They love to slave in front of the stove for their man, too. All American women, in contrast, are frigid and eat microwave dinners. Russian women are just perfect! Perfect for men, anyway!

… Kill me now please.

Russian women do tend to put more emphasis on their looks than American women, because America sets that bar astonishingly low. I won’t leave the apartment without first checking the mirror for last minute touches on makeup and hair style, but I get shit about it. People think I am vain and shallow. The difference is not our natural tendencies as women, but the effect of being judged by others. Every minutiae of women’s lives is subject to social scrutiny, and depending on where you live, you choose your battles accordingly. Compare the women in Manhattan to those in Peoria. I know many American women who’d love to dote more on their appearance but can’t find the time, or if they can, sense no one would care anyway, so why bother?

In the two previous examples, those espousing “objectifying” or “outdated” attitudes about Russian women are … American men. These are relatively harmless examples. But let’s take another: sex work and trafficking. Home-grown economic conditions, organized crime, etc. are certainly directly responsible for the enslavement of women, but without the ostensibly enlightened modern foreigners to buy them, the market would be far less profitable, no? What about the less literal commodification and objectification of women, the promotion of unattainable perfection as a marketing tool? The culprit there is Capitalism. Anyone wanna argue that there is anything uniquely Russian about that?

I’ve no intention of denying the social, legal, economic, cultural Zeitgeist in Russia of responsibility for what has become a sometimes cartoonish ideal of Russian womanhood. But the idea that these potentially limiting ideas about women is a purely Russian phenomenon, borne of and propagated by their own innate backwardness and conservatism, appears to be bullshit.

2. International Women’s Day, or, “Waiter! There’s political correctness in my soup! And where’s the salad? I ordered salad! With no onions and extra olives.”

Domesticating March 8th, by Sean Guillory.

I have to say, this is an otherwise spot on post. But these two paragraphs bring back traumatic memories of of the burqa ban debate:

“Roses, tulips, and other colorful flowers extend from the hands of Russian women like prostheses. One day a year they replace the broom, the pot, and the child. The flowers, like the wedding bands on women’s fingers, are a symbol of property. Almost every woman strolling through the metro or down Moscow’s avenues has one hand around a man’s arm while the other clutches a bouquet. Thus, the object on their left hand says, ‘I’m taken’ while the man on their right says, ‘by him.’

What an ironic scene International Women’s Day has become in Russia. What was once a day calling for a ‘struggle against patriarchy,’ has in many ways become patriarchy’s reinforcement. Nothing says this more than the popular gifts bestowed on this day of ‘struggle.’ According to the Russian polling service VTsIOM, flowers are the most popular gift for March 8. Forty-four percent of women want them, and 54% of men are willing to give them. Candy comes in second with 19 and 39% respectively. This is followed by make-up and perfume. Gender equality has been substituted with gendered commodities.”

Well meaning men (and women) all over the world want to fight the good fight against patriarchal oppression by … uhm, telling women how to present themselves in public. It’s unavoidable. Because they have balls they should not get an opinion? Well… it’s just that… Look, if your female companion finds holding hands and getting flowers or wearing a wedding ring a symbol of oppression, respect it, or get a new companion. If you sire children, you probably have the right to impose your values on them. But why do leftist men have any more right to police the behavior of women than, say, the Church? Do you think the Church doesn’t believe it is well-intentioned? In the end, isn’t it an “enlightened” “feminist” position to allow women to decide for themselves what their attire or relationships “symbolize?”

And come on, Simone de Beauvoir would be the first to remind you that Marxism did a pretty lame ass job of acknowledging the value of women beyond their economic situation.

Ok I’ve done enough finger pointing. I hope no one takes it personally, they’re simply examples. Here’s a perspective that actually seems to avoid offending me, as a feminist:

Happy March 8th! Now smile and put on some make-up!, by Natalia Antonova.

A woman. Shocking.

“International Women’s Day has its roots in socialism, but where I come from – it has degenerated mostly into Valentine’s Day, minus fat-bottomed cupids. I appreciate indulgences as much as the next person, and (sincere) male courtesy besides, but it grates on even my flower-loving, frivolous soul that a day that originally centered female workers and female solidarity has degenerated into a ceremonial throwing-of-a-bone.

“It’s alright, ladies, if your salaries are crap, domestic violence rates remain high, and some of you aren’t even viewed as proper football fans anymore – here’s something pink to make up for it!”

One of my Russian friends – a largely conservative, Christian stay-at-home mom – recently ranted about the present futility of International Women’s Day:

“At least my husband realizes that I don’t WANT flowers and candy on one stupid day of the year. I just want a little respect on all days of the year. Anything else is tokenism. It means nothing.”

When I told her about how Engels viewed the traditional marriage as exploitation of women, she didn’t even bother to respond with a clever retort, as she normally does:

“What do I care about Engels? He’s just some guy who was supposed to help us all usher in a ‘bright future.’ A lot of good it did. Hah.”

Post-Soviet disillusionment is probably one of the main reasons why International Women’s Day is in such shambles across much of the former USSR. The earnestness of this day is a reminder of the crises and failures of the last twenty years – so it must be smothered in roses and champagne. Marx and Engels had us all bamboozled, as it turned out. Might as well pop a chocolate and forget the bastards ever existed.

March 8th-fatigue has been settling over many people I encounter nowadays as well. Last year, the popular Russian site APN.ru published a misogynistic yet oddly hilarious screed by a Russian Orthodox extremist who asked, among other things, that “Does the very sight of champagne bubbles not make one think of the sin of adultery?” [translation mine] as a way of discouraging the faithful from celebrating March 8th.

One can only hope that the vacuum of romance on this day is not going to be filled with foaming-at-the-mouth fundamentalism. If there’s one thing more annoying than advertisements for cheaply made knickers as awesome March 8th gifts, it’s some bearded guy excitedly comparing fizz to ejaculation and how it will bring on the tortures of hell (as opposed to the tortures of a really bad hangover).

I sense more hope in the manner in which women congratulate each other on this day. My inbox has overflowed with e-cards – pink, flowery, but honest and true wishes for a great spring, great sex, tons of love and money, and any success I can ever dream of besides – from my fellow ladies. This makes me happy. A great spring, great sex, tons of love and money, and any success you can ever dream of to you too, ladies.

May you be celebrated for your amazing personhood – on any day of the year. And may somebody *cough* finally bring me some chocolates, dammit.”

Personally, I don’t see revolutionary female solidarity and gifts of chocolate and flowers … and knickers as mutually exclusive. If I am honest with myself, I want them all. If I can’t have one, I still want the other. I dated a boy who refused to celebrate Valentine’s Day for feminist reasons. In a misguided attempt to protect my dignity, he was humiliating me. Here I was in love with someone who was telling me romance was a myth dreamed up by the capitalist patriarchy. Fuck him. If I have to live in a capitalist patriarchy, and I do, can’t I at least be allowed to reap the few benefits it offers? In what universe is having to work a crap 9 to 5 job to line some powerful man’s pockets and getting no flowers, chocolates or knickers progress over having to be a housewife and getting the flowers, chocolates and knickers? [More about the flowers and the women doing it for themselves later.]

The other thing that strikes me about this article is “Marx and Engels had us all bamboozled, as it turned out. Might as well pop a chocolate and forget the bastards ever existed.” How is a country that actually attempted to institute women’s equality less evolved than those of us slowly climbing that hill? I mean hell, the way Russia celebrates International Women’s Day might be as cheap and depressing as all get out, thanks largely to Western influence, but America doesn’t even celebrate it at all. No one has ever asked me how I can reconcile being a feminist with being American. In fact as a feminist in America, I’m mostly just asked for money.

Anyway, let’s look at an “official” interpretation of the holiday:

Congratulation to Russian women on March 8. by Prime Minister of Russia Vladimir Putin.

“March 8 is today – an easy, joyful, spring holiday. But it started quite in earnest – in the fight for the interests of women for equality with men. In this regard, and in this sense, our country, we in Russia have very, very much still to do – and for the protection of motherhood and childhood, and women’s access to various activities, to equal pay to equal working conditions. Let us face it – we still have some to work to do. And of course we will strive to ensure that all these problems are solved. And yet – in pursuit of equality with men – we will always appreciate in a woman that belongs only to women – tenderness, grace, charm.

Happy holiday!”

His actions speak louder than his words. He claims women have a monopoly on charm while putting on his most obnoxiously charmy smile possible. (It’s kind of creepy, so he may actually be right about the charm thing.) This is also the man who teaches little girls how to kick ass in Judo. Weirdly, I’m less offended by this proclamation than Mark’s, Robert’s or Sean’s. I personally find the tenderness, grace and charm shtick a bit rich and it makes me want to scratch his little eyes out. Gracefully, for effect. But at least Vova’s not asking women to choose between righteous prole and delicate flower. He’s clearly capable of holding these two seemingly conflicting ideas in his head. How hard is that? Pretty hard actually. But it’s something we’re asked to do each day. [More on this later.]

So far the most “enlightened” posts -IMO- we have are by a pretty Ukrainian woman and Russian macho man. Damn. It’s the backward brigade! And mysteriously, they’re the ones acknowledging that women are these multifaceted creatures, with both practical and impractical attributes, each of which have value don’t need to be apologized for. To this I can only say, bring on the backwards. It’s better than being valued ONLY for my contribution to the international communist struggle or ONLY for my skills as a housewife/mother/lover. You know what? Both of those perspectives only recognize women for what they’re doing for you. Building your airplanes, fighting your class struggle, making your dinner, sucking your dick. Giving a woman flowers is a way to say, “Today it’s not about me. Me and my airplanes and my politics and my dick. Its about you.” Why is this lamentable, precisely?

No, I can’t get riled up by the sight of a wedding band or bouquet of flowers.

3. Real Fucking Problems.

I bet you are expecting me to pull out some facts about how many American women ever actually win sexual harassment suits, let alone how many even get to court. Nope. Sexual harassment is ubiquitous in even the most “enlightened” countries, but there’s no excuse for not having a law against it. Shame on you, Russian government. And shame on the men who do it. Seriously, I was once pinned in the back of a bus by a couple of frisky young militsia guys who seemed to think I was on the evening’s menu. Who, please tell me, do you run to when the police are threatening to rape you? And you know what, shame on every single person on that bus who saw it and did nothing to help. Shame on your whole damn culture! Shame on your whole horrible country! Am I right? I don’t know. That’s not rhetorical. I don’t know.

4. По вечерам над ресторанами…

~ Do you know who was the first person whom I ever felt maybe had an inkling of what it was like to be a woman mistreated by men? It’s perverse, really. Dostoevsky. Seriously. And you just don’t know how many times in my life when, thinking I must be going mad, alone, feeling that no one could possible ever understand what this is like, there is a shelf of Dostoevsky. How can I explain this? It’s one of the things I don’t force myself to explain, but just accept. He’s there, and has saved my life on more than one occasion.

~ In college I became enamoured with the Russian Symbolists and “Sophiology.” Sophia. Eternal Femininity. Goddess of Wisdom. There was a whole philosophical movement based on women being symbols of this unattainable plane of mystery and wisdom and strength and grace and all of these beautiful, transcendent things. I found myself in the lead role in a theatrical adaptation of Aleskandr Blok’s Neznakomka. I was surprised by how much power I had in that character. It was sublime.

~ You can imagine my shock after growing up hearing my mother talk about the struggle for equal rights, she and her girlfriends in the 1960’s, ahead of the curve, on the front lines, marching for economic parity and political representation, to find that this was accepted thinking among many 19th century Russian revolutionaries…

~ I was floored by women in Russia. Just floored. They ran everything. At the time, it appeared there were neither men for jobs nor jobs for men. Women were doing just about everything. Running the households, the schools, the shops, the trains. Anything you needed permission for you needed to go through a tough ass bitch to get. Old ladies weren’t sitting at home mewing about aches and pains, they were sweeping the street and policing society while raising grandchildren and perhaps engaging in some entrepreneurial work. Young women held several jobs while attending school, and sometimes returned home in the evenings to cook meals and do laundry for the family because mom had gotten fed up with that shit and left. I knew a single woman who was a doctor and raising two boys, doing everything herself – no babyshka, no nanny, no nothing. What was exceptional about this was that she was not at all exceptional. I met a lot of women with similar stories. I thought this must be what the U.S. homefront was like during WWII. And there was something to some of the stereotypes. Dr. Mom also always looked fabulous and didn’t do a heck of a lot of complaining. I think I would have been less intimidated had they all complained more. There was a just a practical resignation: if we don’t do this who will? Not in a defeated tone, but in a, “Well, if we have to save civilization by kicking the Martians’ asses, we’ll just have to do that,” tone. They weren’t doing all this because they were women, and it was in their nature, it was their place or they were submissive. They did it because they were the adults in the room. All of these women deserve a hell of a lot more than flowers and chocolates. Sexual harassment laws would be a nice start. Then, more of those massive monuments recognizing their contributions.

~ You could travel from one coast to another in the U.S. and not see a massive granite monuments recognizing the contributions of women. In Russia, you have be blind to avoid seeing one.

~ One evening, going down Varshavskoe Shosse, the hot summer sun was setting and the hugeness of Russia hit me. A vastness I could not even comprehend. It was a vastness with a heartbeat. I thought maybe this is was it feels like to be in the womb, if we could remember that. The whole “Mother Russia” thing clicked. It was visceral, not intellectual. I dare say spiritual.

~ One of the many many things I like about being a girl in Moscow was the female camaraderie. My girlfriends and I would go around town holding hands, buying each other gifts, having all night commiseration sessions in the kitchen, with loads of blini and Nutella on hand. Maybe it was just that I was a foreigner, but there was always some sisterly or motherly figure looking out for me. A posse. Oh, I wanted to say something about flowers. In Russia everyone was always buying flowers. You didn’t show up on doorsteps without flowers. And chocolate too. People regularly bought boxes of chocolates just because. This in an economic crisis. I really liked these small gestures. Guests expected to make an effort. No one being made to feel guilty for buying a box of chocolates just because. I really liked being able to revel in platonic female friendships without it being taken as a rejection of men. On the other hand, I can see how, being so commonplace, such favors inspire little gratitude on March 8.

~ I also really enjoyed not having to limit myself to one “role” or risk suspicion of having a mental defect if I strayed outside it. I like to dress up. Make-up, skirts, cute shoes, product in my hair. I also expect to be taken seriously. For me, Russia was a magical place where this seemingly perverse combination of attention to beauty (and even, gasp, sexuality) and being well read, intelligent, competent, willing to debate the merits of various theories of film, etc. was not only not considered “weird” but was even kind of expected of me. Which blew my mind. It was a bit heavenly. It made me aware of how strictly compartmentalized we are in America. If you are a mom, you are expected to look, act, be a mom. Anything else is irreverent or sign of an identity crisis. If you are an academic, ditto. Of course, reality forces us into different roles throughout our lives, days even. So the standard procedure is to choose the least conspicuous qualities, preferably ones that can go from day to night with minimal tweaks. Strip ourselves of all individuality or emotion or peculiarity. All the fun things about being alive, cover it up in a shapeless neutral tone sack, learn to deny ourselves things and hate ourselves for wanting those things, don’t be too feminine, don’t be too masculine, choose androgyny-it’s most comfortable. Don’t worry, if you are a mom, you’re not expected to know anything about dialectics. If you are a philosopher, you’re not expected to be familiar with anatomy. Gah!! I hate this!! And don’t even get me started about the horrorshow that is America’s approach toward sexuality.

So this is what I think about when I think about being a feminist and Russia. Most of my love of Russia is feminine (as I define it) in nature. It doesn’t fit nicely into our enlightened but restrictive compartments we are obsessed with over here. Just being a woman alive in the world requires feats of cognitive dissonance. So does giving two seconds of thought to Russia. So if being a feminist who adores Russia creates it’s own cognitive dissonance – it’s not exactly throwing a wrench in anything. Besides, life is more fun when you stop stressing out about consistency. What’s the point of being a good feminist if it means you have to be stressed out all the time? Isn’t the goal less stress, more freedom to be ourselves? And isn’t being a feminist choosing to believe that whatever nightmare situation faces us, women have the intelligence, strength, determination, etc. to confront and improve it? Domestic violence, for example, is routine and sadly accepted by many in Russia, but there’s no reason it must remain so. There are enough Catherine the Greats, Alexandra Kollontais, Anna Akhmatovas in Russia’s history to convince me there is nothing in the gene pool that predestines them to lives of submission. And while Ukraine is not Russia, Yulia Tymoshenko, Russian speaking, born in the USSR, just came incredibly close to being president (and held significant political power before that.)

Perhaps some will accuse me of downplaying the plight of women in Russia. Perhaps some will say I’m only a feminist when it is convenient. Perhaps some will accuse me of imposing my Western values onto a culture that already has its own values thank you very much. Perhaps they are correct. I just wanted to illustrate that actually 1) us modern, enlightened types are complicit in much of Russia’s ill treatment of women, 2) us modern, enlightened types have our own ways of policing women and providing pre-approved options for them and 3) Russia speaks to the part of me that America does not. And that part of me is a woman. An irrational, poetic, emotional, beautiful, fierce, intelligent woman… For all our Cold War rhetoric about Communism, it seems that now it is America who sucks out our souls and everything that makes us messy complicated humans, who values us only for our labor, who demands conformity. Irony of ironies, Russia provides the antidote. My inner feminist rejoices!

March 5, 2010

News Roundups, the New Black.

Filed under: Odds & Ends — poemless @ 6:05 PM

Which is quite convenient, as I’m going into mourning for winter. The rays of sun (the kind that actually radiate warmth!), the vast pits of mud in every direction, the minutes wasted staring indecisively at the closet of jackets, trying to remember which one is best for this weather… It appears the season of my discontent has arrived. I’ll spend the weekend in existential panic about it. And having dinner with friends, going to a play, watching the Oscars… Any time left for writing will be devoted to Andy’s interview questions. In the meantime, here are some articles of note:

Featured Articles.

~ From openDemocracy: So what do Russia’s people think?

In the first of his regular monthly reports for odRussia, Alexei Levinson of Russia’s prestigious Levada Centre offers a round-up of Russian public opinion at the start of 2010. Even when the economic crisis lead people to judge their government, he notes, approval of Prime Minister Putin remained high. Nor do people seem particularly bothered by Russia’s imaginary elections.

~ From A Fistful of Euros: Russia on the rebound.

Two interesting facts:
1) After sharply negative growth last year, Russia’s growth is predicted to exceed 6% this year. Okay, that’s just clawing back what they lost. But it’s still better than almost anywhere else in Eastern Europe.

2) For the first time in many, many years Russia’s population grew slightly: by a little over 20,000 people in 2009.

This growth is a combination of a slight downturn in the death rate, a noticeable uptick in the birth rate, and a sharp rise in immigration — it hit a ten year high, with about 240,000 people moving into Russia.

So: short-term blip, or sustainable?

Funny Pages.

~ From The Daily Rash: Harlequin Romance Replaces Fabio with Vladimir Putin!

“Don’t get me wrong! I’ve never read one of those books! But that Russian guy is at least believable! I was wary of Fabio when he started doing those butter commercials.” Newt ordered another scotch and lit a cigarette.

“I saw Last Tango in Paris with Brando.”

Newt puffed on his cigarette.

“So, I know what butter is used for.”

~ From Eternal Remont: Comming Soon: Jersey Shore, Russian Edition.

Apparently, it will correct the same kind of false stereotypes about Russian-Americans that Jersey Shore has so excellently dispelled for Italian-Americans.

Classifieds.

~ From the fine State of Illinois: Forget law school, apply for Lieutenant Governor!

Illinois Democrats are trying to find a candidate for Lieutenant Governor, but they haven’t been taking the traditional route. Democrat Scott Lee Cohen originally won the nomination in February but dropped out of the race due to a scandal. That’s why the Illiniois Democratic Party is letting anyone apply for the position online. Seriously, no joke.

~ From the fine Russian Envoy to Nato: Rogozin…

“I’ll give a million dollars to the person who will prove that NATO is not pursuing military planning against Russia.”

Society.

~ From Tim Newman: Goodbye Sakhalin.

On 1st March I demobilised from Sakhalin Island having lived there on a residential basis since 12th September 2006, a period of 3 years, 5 months, and 19 days.[...]

I’ll miss it like hell.

~ Seen around blogistan:

RuNet Echo. “Global Voices’ RuNet Echo editors interpret and report on the Russian-language internet for a global audience.”

GosLiudi. Polit.ru creation for the “promotion and standardization of blogging and participating in online social projects of public people: government officials, governors, mayors, officials, deputies, heads of state-owned companies, experts and analysts in the state and e-government.”

Gov-Gov. Blog about government sites. “I am interested in all types of public web-projects – agitation and propaganda portals, Real Innovations, personal blogs and regular ministerial officials, foreign and domestic developments.”

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely weekend!

March 2, 2010

Odds & Ends: Scatter our heads with ashes and beat ourselves with chains Edition!

Filed under: Odds & Ends — poemless @ 6:09 PM
Tags: , , , ,

Contents: Your pressing questions, answered!
Q. What are the Olympics really about? A. Giant inflatable beavers, Hot tub time machines and free-market democracy!
Q. WWJD? A. Read Marx, of course.
Q. Yulia’s Latynina’s hair: Fashion statement or symptom? A. Symptom (but I suspect her politics are a fashion statement.)

I would like to thank everyone who commented in the previous post for their feedback, suggestions, advice, encouragement and ideas. After careful reflection, I have decided to ignore you and do what I want. Call it “authoritarian democracy.”

This Week in the Olympics!

First, let’s talk about Canada. They won most of the gold medals and beat both the US and Russia in hockey. I’m thrilled for them. Genuinely. Because, from the looks of their closing ceremonies, they don’t have a hell of a lot else going for them, culture-wise. Giant inflatable beavers? I should feel sorry for them for not having more choices, but as someone who respects the spirit of the Olympics, I’m offended they resorted to something just shy of a frat house prank. It took Russia, land where zoo animals have drinking problems, leaders romp around like retired Chippendale dancers doing GI Joe at the seniors center and Dima Bilan is a hairstyle, to add some fucking class and culture to that show. Opera, ballet, classical music, supermodels… Russia may have come home almost empty handed, but at least they have something to come home to. Hell, the Canadians don’t even get to go home – they are home – they have to live there, ya know. If your greatest contribution to humanity is giant fucking inflatable beavers, William Shatner and beer, you better be good at sports… S’all I’m saying.

And speaking of pathetic:

Matt Taibbi: “AP: Russians Still Sucking on ‘Miracle on Ice.’”

Seriously, can we get over ourselves about the Miracle on Ice? It was great and all, but you hear about it every five minutes in this country. I lived in Russia for 10 years and didn’t even once hear about a bunch of Soviets with hideous mustaches whipping the asses of David Robinson, Danny Manning and Mitch Richmond in basketball in Seoul in ‘88. I heard a lot about the 1972 thing, but that was only in the context of Russians being so amused by how much we whined about getting jobbed by the refs.

I mean really, whatever happened to acting like you’ve been there before? I’m trying to imagine what the citizen of someplace like Liechtenstein or Reunion Island thinks when he sees Americans keeping a 30-year boner over the image of themselves as longshot underdogs who beat the odds.

(Something is afoot. US/CCCP hockey rivalry. War Games and Nine to Five were on local tv this weekend. I recently purchased a pair of leg warmers. Between you and me, I think there is something to that Hot Tub Time Machine idea.)

Don’t think that by insulting Canada and the US, I am trying to deflect attention from Russia’s sorry showing. Mimicking Obama, Medvedev vowed to go after the “fat cats” responsible for the Russian sporting crisis. (Why is his English site all Tsar-ed out, while his Russian site has a “some guy with a blog” feel?) Putin, who loves cats, chose some less market-tested rhetoric to express his dismay:

“Of course, we expected more,” … “But all the same it’s not a reason to lose heart, scatter our heads with ashes and beat ourselves to exhaustion with chains.”

In a hint that heads would roll in official Russian sports bodies, Putin called for “serious critical analysis and conclusions, perhaps including organisational conclusions.”

I join VVP in calling for serious critical analysis and conclusions about official Russian sports bodies. Let’s start with his:

After serious analysis, I have come to the conclusion that it rocks. Ya’ll should put him on your Olympic team. As soon as they ok it as a sport (I have faith they will) he’d be the favorite to win the topless polar-bear cavalry biathlon. <–Note: The best way to win medals in make up sports no one else has ever heard of or even considers a sport, like snowboarding and skeleton, get good at it, and get it in the Olympics. In that order. Easy money.

I’m not the only one with this idea:

President Medvedev, in your pal, Mr. Putin, you have a national treasure but more importantly, an athletic and versatile golden goose.

If you don’t want him, surely I can petition the Mexican government to grant him honorary citizenship so at least we can hold our heads high at the next Olympic Games.

I can see it now in Sochi, El Putin and El Beto wiping the floor with the field in the 2-man luge and the cheers ringing out from El Zócalo to Cabo San Lucas: ¡Putin! ¡Putin! ¡Putin!

The WSJ must exist in bizarro land. Rather than regonizing Putin as the clear answer to Russia’s Olympic woes, they blame him for this year’s horrible tragedy:

A fragile national pride is now, as then, tied up in beating other countries in sports, or in the nuclear arms race. That’s why losing stings more than in other places.

This thought runs against centuries of Russian tradition, but why not try to measure Russia’s greatness by its ability to build a free and prosperous country, a good global citizen at peace with its neighbors? This kind of Russia might also fare better at the Olympics. The four leading medals winners in Vancouver are free-market democracies.

It’s the free-market democracies that win medals then? That’s interesting. Because…

All-time Olympic Games medal count:

United States (USA) [4] 25 929 729 637 2295 21 87 95 71 253 46 1016 824 708 2548
Soviet Union (URS) [24] 9 395 319 296 1010 9 78 57 59 194 18 473 376 355 1204

… the Commies have the second highest medal count of all Olympics in modern history.

You know what pisses me off more than Christians who ignorantly and arrogantly attribute all success to God and all failure to godlessness? When the free-market liberals do it.

This Week in Religion!

Some Russian guy once told me “Jesus was a Communist” in an attempt to impress me. All Americans being god-fearin’ psychos or something. I told him I was a Communist, and then he took me to church. For real. True story.

Apparently the Church is so eager to get me back in the pews, they’re ready to throw in Marx for the price of a one-way ticket to heaven.

Damn it. They’ll win me back, yet!

Times Online: Vatican thumbs up for Karl Marx after Galileo, Darwin and Oscar Wilde.

Karl Marx, who famously described religion as “the opium of the people”, has joined Galileo, Charles Darwin and Oscar Wilde on a growing list of historical figures to have undergone an unlikely reappraisal by the Roman Catholic Church.

L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, said yesterday that Marx’s early critiques of capitalism had highlighted the “social alienation” felt by the “large part of humanity” that remained excluded, even now, from economic and political decision-making.

Georg Sans, a German-born professor of the history of contemporary philosophy at the pontifical Gregorian University, wrote in an article that Marx’s work remained especially relevant today as mankind was seeking “a new harmony” between its needs and the natural environment. He also said that Marx’s theories may help to explain the enduring issue of income inequality within capitalist societies.

“We have to ask ourselves, with Marx, whether the forms of alienation of which he spoke have their origin in the capitalist system,” Professor Sans wrote. “If money as such does not multiply on its own, how are we to explain the accumulation of wealth in the hands of the few?”[...]

This overturns a century of Catholic hostility to his creed.

This is not an appropriate place for me to go off on Protestants (Calvinists in particular). I will just say, I adore a great many things about the Catholic Church. The art. The mysticism. The schools. The social justice mission. The drunk Irish priests who kick your ass at poker. Now I can add Marx to the list!

However, my IQ and radically evolved values prevent me from embracing your primitive faith in the existence of God:

Science Daily: Liberals and Atheists Smarter? Intelligent People Have Values Novel in Human Evolutionary History, Study Finds.

More intelligent people are statistically significantly more likely to exhibit social values and religious and political preferences that are novel to the human species in evolutionary history. Specifically, liberalism and atheism, and for men (but not women), preference for sexual exclusivity correlate with higher intelligence, a new study finds.

Intelligent, atheist, liberal, monogamous men are novel? You need a scientific survey to tell me this?!!!! Gah! Just … gah!

This Week in Trying to Figure out WTF Yulia Latynina is saying!

Yes Yulia, I might call you crazy. Because you might be.

Q: How to do you know if you are a neo-con?
A: You don’t like human rights OR Vladimir Putin.

Yulia Latynina: The Olympic Sweatshop.

I don’t like human rights, environmental activists or the Olympic Games. You might call me crazy for this belief. After all, these three things are beneficial to mankind, and most of their participants don’t make a lot of money.

Maybe I have been shaped by the fact that I was born in the Soviet Union, a country that was determined to bring peace and happiness to the whole world, and I’m a bit distrustful of these “do-gooders.” I prefer the guys who work for a profit, provided that the country is built in such a way that they contribute to the common good.

If anyone can tell me what this op-ed is about, please give us a hand. I feel like some quotes or a crucial paragraph has been accidentally omitted. Or she’s speaking in tongue or codes. Or she’s channeling the ghost of some smartass college student who was trying too hard to be irreverent just before, stoned out of his mind, he fell from a 12 storey window.

The global bureaucracy wants to succeed where the Soviet Union has failed. It is anxious to help the poor and save the planet — not by discovering and making a profit, but by regulating and distributing.

Sooo, I think she’s not in favor of regulating and distributing, because she’s traumatic memories from when the Soviet Union tried that. But … can someone explain helping the poor and saving the planet by discovering and making a profit? Are the poor in need of discovering now? Can anyone make a profit by helping them? I mean, really helping them, not conning them into high interest mortgages and credit cards. Hm… I do not know what Miss Freaky Hair (no really, I LOVE her hair – except I think she should pick one: crazy hair or crazy talk and stick with it, because only a chosen few can really pull off looking and sounding like a lunatic without being mistaken for one and admitted to the psych ward) is smoking that makes her able to see the world in ways I never have before, in ways that transcend the thought shackles of reason and common sense.

But I want to try it.

Ok, that’s all for today. Thanks for reading!

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