poemless. a slap in the face of public taste.

March 2, 2010

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

Filed under: Odds & Ends — poemless @ 6:09 PM
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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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19 Comments »

  1. I’m sorry — was that bitching-about-the-Olympics Yulia Latynina or American-Olympic-hero-in-concocted-winter-sport Shaun White?

    Just sayin’.

    Comment by EdgewaterJoe — March 2, 2010 @ 6:28 PM | Reply

    • The spooky resemblance has been noted by many…

      Comment by poemless — March 2, 2010 @ 6:45 PM | Reply

  2. I read this Latyninya latest. I really wanted to give you some help deciphering this gobbledygook, but I’m afraid that after reading it twice, I’m still at a loss. And I don’t think I have the patience to read it a third time. Sorry.

    Palestinians and Jews, Kyoto, Olympics, and the Soviet Union all rolled into one. If there is a thesis in here somewhere, I believe it’s bureaucracy is bad, profit is good. I think she is indeed traumatized by growing up in the USSR because she seems to equate all bureaucratic institutions with the Soviets, and if I follow her illogic, Olympic athletes are like sweatshop workers because they are exploited, just like the Soviet Union exploited its athletes and its millions of citizens. Perhaps I’m taking this a bit to far, but one needs a measure of imagination with deciphering her rants.

    I think Latynina is more like Gossamer from the old Bugs Bunny cartoons. Albeit, with a hideous mug.

    Comment by Sean — March 2, 2010 @ 10:52 PM | Reply

    • The issue is, that we don’t have much better “liberals”. And who would you propose to listen to instead of Latytina? Sean Guillory? Well, no problems for me, if Sean Guillory was a citizen of this country.

      Comment by Evgeny — March 3, 2010 @ 10:13 AM | Reply

      • What do you mean by “liberals?” Sean’s probably (I don’t know, just a guess) considered “liberal” in the US, which implies support for civil liberties, preference for regulation & social safety nets ensured by the law… Russian liberals, as best as I can tell, are “liberal” in the European sense of the word, which implies support for the free-market, privatization. They also call themselves democrats, but I have no idea what that even means anymore. The DPRK call themselves “democratic.” So does Howard Dean. I suspect they have different ideas about the word they’re using.

        Who should Russians listen to? Well, if I apply the same standards to Russia as I do America, I should not be telling people who to listen to. They should listen to a lot of people, and decide for themselves. I don’t base my politics on who I listen to. I try to hear everyone out and if their arguments hold water, I respect them, if they hold water and in practice benefit the common good, I admire them, if they make no sense, I point out the fact. This should not be about whom to listen to and whom to ignore. That kind of thinking seems to breed confirmation bias and dysfunction. Everyone is wrong some of the time, and everyone should be prepared to have the ideas challenged. I think Sean and I (and several other bloggers, it seems) are just exasperated that such nonsense -and I don’t mean that as an ad hominem attack, but literally without reason- is published daily in respected media outlets. It’s maddening.

        Comment by poemless — March 3, 2010 @ 3:16 PM | Reply

        • Poemless, you certainly made quite an intelligent answer to my rather shallow remark. Respects 🙂

          Comment by evgeny — March 3, 2010 @ 3:51 PM | Reply

        • Sadly, most Americans regard me as a liberal even though I keep telling them I’m a communist.

          Comment by Sean — March 3, 2010 @ 11:50 PM | Reply

          • Russian Communists are in no less ideological trouble than Russian Liberals.

            Guess who said the following: “We are the last bastion of speech freedom and democracy in Russia. Without us there would be such extent of crime and the police state, that all of you would do bad. Essentially, you hear and watch that every day. You are treated now very simply: if you say something wrong, you are thrown from your job in 24 hours. But we will guarantee the speech freedom and normal democratic elections.”

            Do you think it’s some Kasparov guys? No, it’s Gennady Zyuganov!!!

            Do you understand that it’s the ultimate ideological collapse of the Russian Communists?

            The Communists should protect interests of workers and employees, organize labour unions and so forth. But there are no reasonable labour unions in Russia!

            Russian Communists are only politicians who in fact do not care about workers. That’s a pity.

            Comment by Evgeny — March 4, 2010 @ 8:04 AM | Reply

          • I sympathize… 😉

            Comment by poemless — March 4, 2010 @ 5:11 PM | Reply

    • She is on quite a roll…

      At the end of an op-ed about the modernization-democracy debate, she writes:

      “So there is no reason to spend a lot of time discussing whether modernization is possible without democratization. The Chinese example proves that it is, in fact, possible. But that argument is irrelevant in this case. No matter how hard Surkov tries to build a Silicon Valley in Russia, it will just end up being another Lake Seliger.”

      I don’t think she has any political ideology; she’s just out to spread doom…

      Comment by poemless — March 3, 2010 @ 3:23 PM | Reply

  3. For what it’s worth, Russia’s liberals are basically stuck in the 19th century. At the time, European liberals represented the bourgeoisie, stood against the conservative / peasant alliances which favored greater democracy (because the conservatives were confident about retaining control over their peasants). Their equivalents in the US today would be the Tea Partiers, who are actually quite a distinct grouping from mainstream Republicanism.

    However, since the vast majority of Russians are essentially statists (unlike Americans who, for various geographic, historical, and cultural reasons are far more individualistic), the Russian liberals get very little support from the bulk of the population. Whereas the Tea Partiers have the sympathy of perhaps 30% of Americans, their Russian counterparts have the sympathy of no more than 10% of Russians (in practice the frequent, uncritically Russophobic and pro-US tendencies of most of their leaders drives their real level of support even further down to around 2-3%).

    PS. It is actually very natural to have tensions between liberalism and democracy. Though not quite opposites, they are certainly orthogonal. It is not unusual to have a liberal economic structure (e.g. Chile, the East Asian dragons up till the 1980’s) while suppressing democratic calls for more accountability and consumption. And the natural tendency for pure democracy is to become essentially a tyranny of the masses, i.e. not liberalism. Combining the two – liberalism and democracy – is very hard, and has only ever been really successfully achieved in a few states that have been distinguished, at least up till now, by more or less continuous economic growth.

    Comment by Tolya — March 3, 2010 @ 7:58 PM | Reply

    • I don’t agree with the Tea Party comparison with Russia’s liberals (perhaps I need to find a different word for the liberal opposition since I regard all of Russia’s leadership liberals in that they support capitalism–but that is a different debate.) Anyway, the Tea Partiers have a language of class–shrouded in traditional American rhetoric of anti-government etc, but nonetheless is a very populist, class based rhetoric.) I think the best American equivalent are old pre-Reagan conservatives, and even that doesn’t totally fit, but is close enough.

      Perhaps in the end these comparisons aren’t very helpful (even with my tendency to make them). I think it is best to say, as you have, that Russian liberals are stuck in the 19th century. They are neo-Kadets. And I think this is what most American supporters of Russian liberalism don’t understand. Liberalism has a very distinct tradition in Russia. One that is very bourgeois and has much animosity for the dark masses.

      Btw I am continually struck by the many toms of books on Russian liberalism in intelligenty bookstores here in Moscow. I should consider picking up a few . . .

      Comment by Sean — March 4, 2010 @ 12:04 AM | Reply

      • Yo Sean,
        Just making sure, you got my email reply?

        Comment by Tolya — March 4, 2010 @ 4:02 AM | Reply

      • So do the current crop of liberals in Russia see themselves as the direct descendants of those 19h cent. liberals? And good grief, AGT is over there mewing about a debate that is decade old, while this this liberals v. conservatives (slavophiles, nationalists, whatever their current incarnation is) has been brewing for centuries! Which brings up a point: It’s not just the liberals who remain stuck in that 19th cent. mindset…

        I agree that that Tea Party comparison is unhelpful. But I see their logical Western ideological equivalent (which will never be a perfect equivalent) as American neo-cons, or the European neo-liberals. They’re very David Brooks-y, IMO.

        Comment by poemless — March 4, 2010 @ 5:18 PM | Reply

        • So do the current crop of liberals in Russia see themselves as the direct descendants of those 19h cent. liberals?

          Some do. But I think there are two wings of Russian liberalism. The first, I think see itself as part of the Tsarist reformers Stolypin, Witte, and to a lesser extent the constitutional parities: Kadets, Octoberists, etc. This is why I think many liberal intellectuals, especially historians, are currently reevaluating the 1905-1914 period with the hope of providing lessons for the present and turn the Russian revolution into a sonderweg. For example, International University in Moscow which is a bastion of liberalism sports photos of Yeltsin, George H.W. Bush, and Gorbachev, who sponsored its founding, and giant portraits of Stolypin and Witte in its lobby. The latter were exactly liberals, but they were the closest you could get and still be effective in the Tsarist government.

          Personally, I don’t think we can really grasp the current effort of modernization without thinking about the late Tsarist period. The Russians are. The Western press is not because it has little clue about Russian history and think everything begins and ends with Stalin.

          The second wing of liberals (who are also obsessed with Stalin) see themselves as direct descendants of Soviet dissidents (plus there still some of them active). They don’t seem to have much of an stated ideology, but an ideology nonetheless. These are the people we keep referring to. Their politics, with all its variations are based in inversion of the current order and an imagined West. That, imagined West is one of human rights, free speech, and free markets.

          The first group deserves thinking about since they are actually rooted in Russian thought and conditions. Plus I think the current leaders of Russia are part of that tradition (which is why I call them liberals). The latter are, well, idiots, imho.

          Comment by Sean — March 4, 2010 @ 11:58 PM | Reply

          • I’d be interested in hearing more from/learning more about this first group.

            Comment by poemless — March 8, 2010 @ 1:28 PM | Reply

  4. again about Olympics… you watch [ed] too much American TV, it seems. Maybe you would like to know how other people see Olympics (I mean in other countries). Of course their national broadcasters show national heroes like Amy Williams in UK (single golden medal in luge). I believe BBC had put the recorded translation into prime time [in UK time zone]. Here in Asia we were watching Olympics on British channel ESPN (Asian edition).

    So not so much interest in medals, you see. A lots of commercial breaks at the most dramatic moments. [We’ll return after these few messages…]. Then cameramen were looking for some smart faces so they curiously stuck on Russian female curling team which was filled with 19-year old beauties like Anna Sidorova. ESPN were not interested in curling and did not show any matches [only in reports] yet at least three matches with Russian team were transmitted live for many hours. Even local newspapers like Bangkok Post had put big articles “Seductive maidens on the ice” about Russian curling team in Vancouver which badly lacking luck or experience finished somewhere at the bottom of competition. Some Asian nations like South Korea, China or Japan probably concentrated on short track and figure skating where they had good chances. And that’s all.

    As for Canadian and American – I am glad for them. And I feel sorry for Russian team – twice unlucky after scandalous Solt Lake City games with judging scandals.

    I was playing ice hockey in school (in fact every boy around played which is understandable considering climate) but professional sport is considered by many cynics as showcase of achievements in farmaceutical industry. One theory claims that sportsmen from the third world countries (including Russia or India) tend to be caught with steroids for lacking access to modern technologies of hiding dope use. I don’t know whether such claims (at least in some Russian newsforums) have any ground but I don’t buy into patriotic hysteria which follows any defeat or victory in professional sport.

    One thing for me is certain – Olympic games is just a giant periodical commercial show run by IOC mafia. These international sportsbusinessmen no longer abide by Olympic spirit of peace and justice (otherwise they would throw out teams of Georgia and Russia out of Beijing Olympiad and would ban all Western teams long ago).

    Judging scandals were obvious on Salt Lake City games where judges shamelessly were promoting North American athletes. This time there were no major controversies but in many competitions especially where judging was more important than seconds or sheer force judging was still subjective and controversially favourable to North American athletes (Yet again so no surprise).

    Don’t you find it’s strange that European teams did overall badly this time and did very well in Torino 4 years ago? Mr Jacque Roggue is looking more and more like TV showman than UN-style independent international bureaucrat. He is more interested in TV ratings than fairness of games. No doubt he should be pleased with Vancouver as I heard Olympics translations in US have finally topped the charts beating mindless shows of Lenos and Lettermans.

    Comment by FarEasterner — March 7, 2010 @ 12:00 AM | Reply

    • Haha! Thanks for the view from abroad. It’s interesting to see how the rest of the world perceives it. I agree that things were curiously favourable to the North Americans.

      As to watching too much American TV, I don’t actually watch much TV (the Olympics being a huge exception!) but as I live in America, the TV I watch is largely American. NBC has a monopoly on the Olympics here, so little choice for me. A few years ago NBC botched the coverage with lots of commercial breaks and commentary, and viewers didn’t get a chance to see a lot of the actual sports competition. There was a huge outcry, and they seem to have gotten the message. They load up on commercials and commentary before and after major competitions so that they can show them in full.

      FWIW, the TV station I mainly watch airs mostly international programming.

      Comment by poemless — March 8, 2010 @ 1:19 PM | Reply


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