poemless. a slap in the face of public taste.

April 14, 2010

Lessons to be learned from Katyn.

Filed under: Politics: Russia — poemless @ 5:54 PM
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Putin, embracing Polish counterpart:

Note the resemblance between Vladimir Putin and John Locke… No, not the father of liberalism. The leader of the group in the TV drama where there is a really terrible plane crash in a deserted area where evil lurks, followed by inexplicable phenomena and events that appear to be taking place in a parallel universe. Sound familiar? Like, maybe, the news over the past several days?

I live in a very Polish part of the world, except it is not Poland. Nevertheless, we have a Polish TV station, signs on businesses which read, “mowimy po polsku,” and a gigantic memorial to Katyn in one of the cemeteries, the local creator of which perished along with nearly 100 others in the forest near Smolensk this weekend. Taken together with the fact that on a good day I have a finely tuned radar for people talking smack about Russia and VVP, I prepared to be a busy little blogger after learning of the accident. “Oh wonderful. It’s going to be like August ’08 all over again,” I thought. I braced myself for the barrage of conspiracy theories, russophobia and general scapegoating and hysteria that was about to be unleashed in the media.

And I braced myself. And waited. … And waited.

Then I realized I was living in some kind of freaking Twilight Zone episode where the horrific deaths of masses of Poles in Russia bring the two countries together.

I mean, it was sad. Mostly it was just incredibly sad. The news. Polish people crying, everyone crying, masses, obituaries, memorials, vigils. Some balanced tributes to the fallen President “whose patriotism was only matched by his controversial politics.” Some explanation that the pilot had ignored requests to land elsewhere, there was a lot of fog. Some questions about why so many VIPs were on one plane. Some interviews with Polish dignitaries praising Putin for “opening his heart, and Russia’s heart, to the world.” Some …

Wait! What?! The KGB spy who kills journalists for sport and plans to invade Eastern Europe just because he can? The man my very own Secretary of State cum theologian has assured me has no soul? Y’all have suddenly decided he has a heart? Putin? … Really?

So now I am thinking, T- that’s it, you’re watching far too much RT. You need to stop loading up on delicious propaganda carbs and consume your media more responsibly. “Healthfully” as they like to say. So I flipped off RT and the local news (which I assumed had some unwritten mourning protocol before launching into the political aspects of the tragedy, out of respect for the dead. Who were Polish. A very important ally of America. A very important demographic in our town.) Like any good blogger I, though paralyzed with the immensity of the tragedy and hating myself for what I was about to do, proceeded to google for the red meat. Which I guess makes me even more heartless than Vladimir fucking Vladimirovich.

And here’s what I found:

BBC: “Russia-Poland thaw grows from tragedy.”

WSJ: “Poles and Russians unite.”

RIAN: “Poland thanks Russia for help in presidential plane crash probe.”

NYT: “Tragedy as Harbinger of Change.”

Guardian: “Poland and Russia: reconciled in tragedy.”

The winner for the best headline?

“Is Poland Becoming Pro-Putin?”

The winner for the best observation?

From Vadim Nikitin:

“But it is not only Russia which rose to the occasion and above pettiness. Poland must be equally praised, especially when it could have easily turned the tragedy into an opportunity to whip up anti-Russian sentiment and conspiracies.

Russia’s behavior is reminiscent of its outreach to the US after the September 11th attacks, when Putin, in the words of the US government, “seized upon the tragedies of the World Trade Center and Pentagon as an opportunity to transform relations with the U.S. from distant and sometimes hostile to one of broad cooperation and new opportunities in many fields”.

Yet Poland’s magnanimous response is very different how the US responded to Russia’s unprecedented overture…”

But nothing could have prepared me for THIS:

Slate: “Another Tragedy in the Haunted Forest But this time, no one suspects a conspiracy to kill the Polish elite.”

By … Are you sitting down? … Anne Applebaum.

“On Saturday, the Polish president, the Polish national bank chairman, the chief of the Polish general staff, and a host of other military and political leaders, some of whom were my friends and my husband’s colleagues, died in a tragic plane crash in the forest near Smolensk, not far from where 20,000 Polish officers were secretly murdered by Stalin 70 years ago. But this time around, nobody suspects a conspiracy.

Of course, a few fringe Web sites might make that claim, and the odd politician might voice it. But the Russian and Polish governments, the Russian and Polish media, and the vast majority of Russians and Poles believe the culprits to be pilot error and fog. More to the point, discussion of these potential causes has been open and frank. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk immediately flew to visit the crash site, accompanied by his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. Polish forensic investigators were on the ground within hours. The Russian government is offering assistance and waiving visa requirements for all families who want to travel to Russia. There are TV cameras everywhere. Russian airport officials have been speaking in public, answering questions, talking to journalists. […]

Indeed, Russian officials are showing more transparency in the wake of this tragedy than they have shown following some of their own.

And yet there is no law that says the past has to strangle the present: Countries can change, political cultures can grow more open, politicians can learn not to shroud difficult events in mystery and deceit. Over the last 20 years, Russian and Polish officials have begun to acquire the art of speaking with the public, even if they don’t always choose to do so. This is a real change, and we have seen what kind of impact it can have over the last few days.

Although there is not much to be grateful for this week, I am thankful, at least, that the families of the dedicated public servants who died on that plane will not have to wait 70 years to learn what really happened. This terrible disaster, in that strange and bloody forest, contains eerie echoes of the past. But it is not destined to become yet another “blank spot” in this region’s dark history.”

Alrighty, then. Still don’t believe that whatever happened in that horrible crash did something to the space-time continuum?

I realize some of you reading this will immediately find fault with the article. Well, I’m a blogger too and I know that game. I’m not about to cherry pick this looking for one good reason to rake poor Anne over the coals to preserve my bad ass reputation even though the woman undoubtedly just lost friends and acquaintances in smoldering wreck on the floor of a forest/mass grave. As I wrote in the past:

“I did not exactly need another reason to dislike the journalistic hacktastrophe that is Ms. Applebaum’s Washington Post column. Oh, no. No, what I need – and I am being serious here – is for Anne to write something really insightful, responsible, constructive, for her to put me in my place, so that I could humbly bow to her wisdom and walk away. Inspired. Filled with grace and knowledge. Because appreciating people is much more rewarding than resenting them.”

Given Anne’s past penchant for conspiracy theories and blood-curdling heartlessness, I struggle to explain her generosity of perspective. I’d like to think that it’s simply the matter of Death reminding us of our own mortality, wrenching our priorities into place. Life is short; what’s to be gained by endless grudges and mistrust? Or perhaps it took a real tragedy, and not some small-time thug pinching her pocketbook (which is so boring only blaming it on Putin could make anyone fucking care) to make Anne take the weight of her words seriously, to use her power a journalist responsibly. Or maybe it’s the shale. Who knows? All I know is that I was not the only one expecting a radically different response from her. The day of the accident, Mark Adomanis wrote:

“The only question I have is who is going to be the first person to blame the death of Polish President Lech Kaczynski, and a number of other high-ranking Polish military and civilian officials, on Vladimir Putin? Any takers? Speaking personally, my money is on Anne Applebaum, who is not only married to Poland’s hawkish foreign minister but has some real experience in the “blaming everything on Putin” field as she once wrote a column directly blaming him (really!) for the theft of her purse. However, as always, there are a number of other strong contestants in the field so this is far from a done deal.”

Mark’s received some heat for this. And deservingly so. It’s one of those things everyone is thinking, but you can’t actually write a post about it until the event has occurred somewhere that is not your imagination if you want to maintain any credibility. That said, I only found Mark’s article because I thought, “Damn. Applebaum blamed Putin for her fucking purse. You know she is going to go for his throat over this. Christ almighty. Here we go…” And there I was, ready to have his back. Ready to lecture her on not having any decency or dignity in this time of terrible loss. Ready to be better than her. And so I googled “poland applebaum putin plane crash.” … Nothing but Mark’s piece came up.

So, if Anne wants to lecture me – I’m pretty sure I am the one who deserves it. For falling into the very same trap of cynical, lazy and downright sick and perverse thinking that has previously defined her columns. Which I now understand. While it is still ludicrous to assume Putin stole your wallet or Roman Polanski isn’t a child rapist, it is incredibly easy to fall into a narrative, a well-established pattern of discourse, a particular set of expectations and roles. When the world around you stopped making sense a long time ago, why continue to operate within confines of reason and logic? When you’ve seen the lowness to which people are capable of stooping, why expect the world to behave with dignity and compassion? It’s so much easier to just go batshit crazy, become vicious and follow a script. This approach provides both a coping mechanism and muse.

But what about everyone else? Seriously, the goodwill fest has me a bit perplexed. Of course, logic and dignity would dictate this outcome. Every time there is a freak tragedy on a massive scale, the world comes together, tries to show compassion for the victims, their loved ones and their country and compensates for the deficit of compassion with money, aid and resources. Look, I’m not arguing that Poland and Russia are typically incapable or even unwilling to embrace reason and compassion, but let’s face it, these are not usually the first lines of defense in their relationship. If these two countries were renowned for their sobriety and responsibility, a planeload of VIPs would not have been on their way to commemorate a massacre in the first place.

Here’s my theory. Instead of reading this weird lovefest as Russia finally not being evil for once, I suggest a more practical explanation. For once, what happened was not Russia’s fault. Usually terrible tragedies, for which this country is a magnet (<– note another LOST allusion), are their fault, directly or indirectly, through injustice or, more commonly, incompetence. Not forced to busy themselves with damage control PR, the Russian administration could proceed to behave the way any normal person would logically be expected to behave: generously and compassionately. Which had the effect of prompting Poland to respond to Russia's overtures the way any normal person would logically be expected to: gratefully and graciously.

Fuck.

How hard was that?

The last lesson of the day, children, is that this was actually so simple it should not have taken a plane full of people's mothers and fathers, people's children, people's leaders to go down in flames on the way to commemorate a massacre to get people to behave the way any normal person would logically be expected to behave. As I bemoaned in my Cold War diatribe, it takes an unacknowledged effort to maintain hostilities, even if they are only emotional or ideological. I'm not suggesting everyone declare bygones and join in a round of kumbaya. But to quote Anne, "there is no law that says the past has to strangle the present: Countries can change."

In the course of writing this (yeah I know it's too long – countries can chage; writers cannot), a Polish MP has blamed Russia for the crash, Latynina has blamed Russia for creating such distrust that the Poles “suspect[ed] that the fog was just a political ruse instigated by Putin,” and some nut has compared Russia to Dracula.

So perhaps this was a fluke. Plane crash improving ties? Madness! Is it time to return to reality and leave reason and compassion back on the island and wait for another plance crash before we return to them? To be continued, I suspect…

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December 16, 2009

Odds & Ends: These are a few of my favorite things Edition

Contents: Kurkov, Kremlin comics and Applebaum’s antics, Democracy and Capitalism and Swiss minarets. Overweight hedgehogs and Barack bitching, These are a few of my favorite things…

“Now get a good night’s sleep, children. For tomorrow we must hike across the Alps to Switzerland, where we will be safe from the Nazis … I mean … the Muslims.”

POLITICS.

1. You may stop holding your breath now. Of course I cannot allow the Swiss vote banning minarets to pass unmentioned here, a site borne of Swiss oppression. Everyone and their mother was blogging about it. (“Today, we are all Swiss jihadists!”) But I don’t like to contribute to the noise level or take part in op-ed epidemics. It only perpetuates the phenomenon of knee-jerk reaction + moral authority + Internet connection that has come to replace the profession once known as journalism. It discourages reflection and sobriety. That said, there was some memorable commentary in the days following the referendum. My favorite was from Crooked Timber:

One can only suppose that, having waited until 1971 to give women the vote in Federal elections, and in some parts of the country until 1990 in Cantonal elections, the Swiss are now making up for lost time making good on their commitment to feminism.

And now that my wait is over, I am not here to simply indulge in Schadenfreude for the fallen Swiss. Or to give a lecture on why the banning of minarets is perverse. Or to present another exhibit in my case against this fair (no, really) nation. Or to even wonder aloud with a hint of nefarious intent, “What kind of country, do you imagine, would remain neutral during the Holocaust, but take a firm stand against Islamic symbolism?” No. Rather than lavishing the Swiss or the Muslims with attention, I suggest this story has a much more profound implication that transcends issues of nationality or religion or Europe’s race problem.

The implication is that DEMOCRACY can be totalitarian. Sure, we can blame a majority of Swiss for being xenophobic. Baaad xenophobic Swiss. Whatever. Sometime the majority are assholes. Or in the case of my country, dangerously undereducated. The result is George W. Bush and Swiss minaret bans. Maybe democracy is still the best of all of our terrible ideas, but shouldn’t we be asking, “Why?” Is it because our personal opinions or “values” based on fear, ignorance, greed or any of our most base instincts are more precious than the equal application of rights to all people, regardless of race, religion, gender, etc.? Is Joe Blow down the street a better steward of our rights than those whose job it actually is to protect them? Do we champion this institution because it recognizes and empowers The People, or because it it recognizes and empowers … ourselves?

Do people even think about these things when they’re mewing about democracy and authoritarianism?

2. Wait, I’m not done with Switzerland! Remember Anne Applebaum and her indignation at the Swiss authorities who had the sick nerve to jail a man who drugged and sodomized a young girl and then fled the police? Taking together all the words in that previous sentence, you would be left to assume that darling Anne must harbor some kind of irrational hatred of the Swiss. (Or an irrational affinity for rapists…) But no! (Must be the latter….) Who should come to the defense of the Swiss minaret ban but the woman who came to the defense fo Roman Polanski?! I see a pattern here. Mark Ames’ new opus, “Anne Applebaum is a dingbat,” tries to explain the WaPo column in which she states:

This decision has been interpreted across Europe, and particularly in the United States, as evidence of Swiss bigotry and rising religious intolerance. But it was not — or at least not entirely. More important, it was evidence of fear, though not fear of “foreigners” or “outsiders” as such. […]

There is, therefore, nothing especially Swiss, or especially isolationist, about the recent referendum result. A similar question, put in a similar way, might well have led to a similar result anywhere in Europe. The growth of the “far right” parties in the recent past is almost always connected to fear of Islamist extremism.

Ames comes back with:

First of all, why’d she leave out the word “racist” or “bigoted”? The criticism wasn’t that the Swiss are Swiss, or that they’re isolationist–it’s that they’re Nazi fucks whose gilded streets are paved with Jews’ gold teeth and African blood diamonds.

Applebaum argues that the Swiss aren’t really Swiss, they’re just regular Europeans. Because all the other European countries would do the exact same thing–so long as we’re talking about a highly qualified conditional reality in which a similar (though not the same) question, put in a similar (though not the same, so now it’s twice-removed from sameness) way– run it through the modal verb tense “might well have led to” … and voila! All Swiss are Socrates!

If that makes no fucking sense whatsoever, then ask yourself the real question here: why the fuck is Anne Applebaum trying to cover for far-right European racists?

Answer: because her husband, Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski, is one of ‘em.

In fact, Sikorski is the perfect Archie Bunker to Anne Applebaum’s dingbat. Just consider this knee-slapper Sikorski told last November shortly after the election of President Obama:

“Have you heard that Obama may have a Polish connection? His grandfather ate a Polish missionary.”

You get it? Because Obama is black. And blacks, according to Polish bigots, are cannibals. Seriously, it’s funnier in the original Polish, you had to be there–it kills ‘em in Krakow every time–bowls ‘em over in Gdansk.

Wow, the Swiss and Applebaum all in one package. Santa came early! In fact, Swiss Applebaum sounds like the kind of delicious holiday treat I might find at a local European bakery. But lo, what do I find in the stocking hung by the chimney with care?

True story: Anne’s car blew up and she got secret service protection because maybe the Kremlin was trying to off her or something but really her car just malfunctioned and she kept slamming on the accelerator and blew it up!

3. Wait, I’m not done with Democracy! Or rather, Russia’s non-Democracy. Or rather, its general eeeevilness. First, I feel I should weigh in on the death of Mr. Magnitsky, the Russian lawyer who perished in prison awaiting trial for tax evasion. Acc’d. the Wall Street Journal’s “Murder by Natural Causes”:

This week Vladimir Putin’s regime proved an even colder and darker place than what a Russian winter alone can offer.
Ethicists may debate when not preventing a death becomes murder. But one doesn’t need a Ph.D. to conclude that the death of Sergei Magnitsky was just that—a state sanctioned murder. […]

Hermitage chief William Browder describes his late attorney as “a healthy 37-year-old professional” when he entered the jail. But being completely cut off from his family, and the physical pressures he endured while in custody, proved too much. Magnitsky made numerous official complaints of his treatment, including a 40-page report to the general prosecutor describing squalid conditions, treatment bordering on torture, and the onset of gallbladder stones, pancreatitis, and a severe digestive ailment. […]

With this new milestone, Moscow consummates the marriage of brutality and revisionism. Contemporary Russia is almost comically weak when viewed from the West, which once feared Moscow would destroy the world. But that doesn’t mitigate the merger of Stalinism with Putinism, nor the tragedy that means for the Russian people.

While denying ANYONE medical care is deplorable, I wonder why it is “murder” when Russia does it and, er, the free market at work when America does it. What’s up with that shit? And if the WSJ is correct … America is a Stalinist country. Just sayin’. And BTW, Dima axed a slew of prison officials in response to the Magnitsky death. Why can’t Barack axe a slew of insurance providers who take the same decision to deny medical treatment to those who need it? Oh yeah, democracy…

It seems I’m not the only one who quibbles with the equation of Stalinism to Putinism. Human rights activists in modern Russia are quick to differentiate between the Communist era and the current regime, citing that the latter is … more dangerous:

Former Soviet dissidents criticized the condition of human rights in Russia under Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, saying their work is more dangerous than in the final decades of the communist regime. […]

While Russians today enjoy many more freedoms, there were “much fewer” killings of dissidents during the communist era, said Lyudmila Alexeyeva, 82, who was forced to emigrate to the U.S. in the 1970s because of her anti-Soviet views.

Kovalyov, Alexeyeva and Oleg Orlov, head of the Memorial human rights group, will receive the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought later this week in Strasbourg. Estemirova was a member of Memorial, which documents Soviet-era repression and human rights violations.

Get yer irony on.

While “comically weak” was not among the list of explanations University of California Berkeley undergraduates provided for their negative associations about Russia, the WSJ’s colorful language is certainly illustrative of the PR crisis facing the country these days. Clearly they just need to re-brand themselves. “Multicultural Russia.” ”Eco Russia.” “Resilient Russia.” I’ve earnestly been making this point for a while (no one listens to me!), though I was thinking about it mostly in terms of policy initiatives and less in terms of … branding. When Americans wrap crap in a pretty package, it is branding. When Russians do it it is called a “Potemkin Village.” Apparently some lies are better than others. Hell, even when Russia does make an effort to do something genuinely democratic all anyone talks about it how obnoxiously stage-managed it all is. As if the entire Western political system is not rapidly becoming nothing more than a high-budget made for TV production. Though perhaps it would help if Putin’s set design team were a bit less inspired by the dystopian aesthetic of Zamiatin’s We, “… shining all sky-blue crystal regularity through the glass …”

Unless that’s what he’s going for, of course.

CULTURE.

1. If you are not new to this blog, you are well aware of my low threshold of intolerance for irresponsible journalism. I’m also forever fascinated with the phenomenon in which Western cultural institutions become some kind of absurd parable of the Emperor’s New Clothes when they get into the hands of our Russian friends. I mean, it’s just genius how that happens. Anyway, the following story caught my attention the way Reeses Dark candy bars have: two of my favorite things, combined to serve absolutely no benefit to society:

From AFP: British tabloids inspire Russia’s school for scandal:

As students scribble in notebooks, a lecturer draws on a flipchart in what might look like any regular night class — except these are budding reporters picking up tips from the editor of Russia’s most muck-raking tabloid.

The editor of the weekly Zhizn, Aram Gabrelyanov, has opened a tabloid journalism school at the newspaper’s Moscow office, offering classes taught by staff reporters and jobs for the best students.[…]

“Unfortunately no one likes tabloid journalism in Russia. It’s customary to say it’s ugly and unethical,” he said. “I completely disagree. There are two types of journalism: interesting and not interesting.”[…]

How quickly they learn and mimic our bad behavior, like impressionable young children…

“I’d really love to work here,” said one student, Maria Tokmakova, who studies advertising by day. “I think it’s yellow press, but it’s what people need.”

Another student, Ali Shartuni, agreed. “It’s the most progressive (paper) here. It’s like a Western country’s way of working,” he said.

Nevertheless, the criticism most frequently levelled at Zhizn is that it fawns to the Kremlin.

Gabrelyanov makes no secret of the fact that any negative coverage of the country’s rulers is banned.

“My direct order to my journalists, I don’t hide this, is that we don’t write anything about President (Dmitry) Medvedev and (Prime Minister Vladimir) Putin,” Gabrelyanov, referring to Russia’s ruling tandem.

“We don’t write and we won’t dig. First because there’s no point and secondly because it’s not needed for the foundations of the state.”

Impressive. Combining the absence of social value encouraged by the Capitalist School with the absence of independence encouraged by the Communist School. What monster has this coupling managed to spawn, I wonder? On the other hand, I’d probably do worse to get a meeting with Surkov.

Gabrelyanov said he consults regularly with a man seen as the Kremlin’s gray cardinal, deputy chief of staff Vladislav Surkov, whom he described as “the cleverest man I know,” as well as Kremlin media advisor Alexei Gromov.

But he denied acting on Kremlin orders. “Of course (Surkov) doesn’t phone me. Why would he phone me to say publish this or that? That’s small stuff,” Gabrelyanov said.

Alexei Simonov, the president of the Glasnost Defence Foundation, a media freedom group, said Gabrelyanov’s school would teach journalists to impose limits on their reporting.

“I think that Zhizn is one of those newspapers that shouldn’t teach journalists,” Simonov said. “There’s nothing good about this.”

No. There isn’t. And that’s why people like it.

2. Possibly the only people in America who care about poetry anymore are uptight feminists and cowboys.

What? I say that as an uptight feminist.

You know, after that “Who are Russia’s Top Thinkers” nonsense, I’ve begun reading a lot of Pelevin, who came highly recommended in the comments. I’m really enjoying it very much! (“Yellow Arrow” and “Buddha’s Little Finger” so far.) However, I always keep my eyes peeled for more Kurkov. Someone at SRB linked to this little piece in which Andrey waxes poetic on Ukrainian fads, including an explanation of the popularity fo Radio Chanson:

Whenever I get in a taxi, I immediately seem to fall into a world of romanticised crime. In virtually every car the radio is tuned to ‘Radio Chanson’. Its playlists are extensive but homogenous: almost all the songs – most in Russian – concern the tragic and romantic lives of their criminal ‘heroes’, macho Russian types who drink port and vodka – men who value the faithfulness of the women waiting for their release from prison and their ‘real’ male friendships above all.

Why on earth is this music popular? When the Soviet Union collapsed the ensuing democratisation legalised a huge stratum of criminal and ‘gutter’ culture. The songs of the street used to be direct attacks on oYcial patriotic music. That official music is now long buried. In the void, these songs caught on, floated to the surface of social taste and became a lucrative engine of showbusiness. Much of this genre’s repertoire became hits with the middle-aged and older generations in the post-Soviet era.

Listeners’ fondness for these songs is easy to account for. In a country where millions of people have spent time in jails and camps, people identify more easily with prisoners than with, say, security guards or policemen. The persistent distrust of authority has eroded any faith in the criminal justice system. Almost everyone can consider himself hard done by, and this sense of unfairness is the real subject of most of these songs. Hence the rise of a new Russian macho type who, unlike his Western equivalents, is not clean-shaven and wears no perfume but instead smells of sweat. He has a keen sense of justice and is not afraid to defend his honour with his fists. The criminal ballad is a male cult of justice that can express itself in the coarsest tones.

I only mention it because a while back a commenter here mentioned that Radio Chanson was on in every cab he got into too. I respect Kurkov’s cultural insight, but wonder if there isn’t a more obvious explanation. One that involves financial incentive. … Hey, that branding thing just might work if the Kremlin can buy off the cabbies of New York City! Brilliant. Those kids should hire me.

3. Oh the Dom Khudozhnikov…. Or House of Artists for you anglophiles. There are not words to describe the tender place in my heart reserved for this institution. I’m all sentimental about it. There was a kind of bar in the basement where you could get real Turkish coffee, with a casual art galleries above. Gorky Park across the street, Parisian-style art fair along the river embankment, the Graveyard of Dead Monuments around the back. Steps from both home and a Shokoladnitsa. A gem. A true gem.

On the other hand, the building itself is not much to look at. So I’m a bit conflicted about this:

From the NYT: Moscow Cultural Landmark Is Seen as Threatened:

Artists and preservationists are in uproar because Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin has signed a decree that critics say would allow developers to demolish a Soviet-era cultural landmark, the Central House of Artists.

The property houses. among other things, the 20th-century works of the Tretyakov Gallery, including paintings by Malevich and Kandinsky as well as Soviet Socialist Realists. Covering 23 valuable hectares, or about 57 acres, along the Moscow River and opposite Gorky Park, it has long been in the sights of Yelena Baturina, a billionaire real estate developer and the wife of Mayor Yuri M. Luzhkov.

Last year, Ms. Baturina unveiled a design commissioned from Norman Foster. It resembles a disco ball sliced into sections like an orange and is known by that name, apelsin, in Russian.[…]

Ms. Baturina presented her apelsin project as a multipurpose complex that would include a hotel, retail space, restaurants and space for a museum.

Officials of the Tretyakov Gallery and the Confederation of Artists’ Unions, which owns the other 40 percent of the building, and leases the land under it from the Moscow City authorities, expressed shock at her announcement. Several months later, after meetings with government officials, they voiced support, saying they would get much-needed state-of-the art spaces, to be built next to the existing structure, which would then be demolished.

Supporters of the Central House have signed petitions, held protests, and packed hearings advertised by Moscow city officials as a forum to take public opinion into account.

Mr. Bychkov, the director of the Central House of Artists, also owns a company called Expo-Park that rents space in the building for popular events. He said in an e-mail message that he would fight on, using a new tactic.

Experience “has shown that it’s senseless to organize campaigns within Russia,” he wrote. “We would like to involve the international art community. This won’t be a political discussion, but an ethical, professional and artistic one.”

The architectural premise sounds cool. I mean, it is an ugly building in its current form. I specifically remember being perplexed that the place set aside as the “Home of the Artists” was so very unremarkable. Someone informed me that “Communism made everything ugly.” But a hotel and shops? And Ms. Baturina? Gah! I’m not a member of the international art community, but would like to know where I can sign up for this cause.

Speaking of exhibits, this month in Moscow will be held an exhibition of reprints of famous drawings of nudes, scribbled upon by Joseph Stalin.

From English Russia (look, it’s been reported in a lot of other places too – it’s real): “Gay” notes of Stalin on the celebs reproductions:

The leader “completed” 19 pictures of such artists as Repin, Ivanov, Surikov, Rubinstein, Serov and others with some notes and drawings made in a red, blue and grey pencil. Thus, on one of them, the generalissimo crossed out the genitals of a nude personage with a red pencil that he usually used to write the names of those who should have been shot. On another one, with a female nude, he wrote something obscene in the Georgian language. On the third – the male nude was “dressed” by Stalin in underpants. On the fourth – next to a nude ancient hero he inscribed: “One thoughtful idiot is worse than 10 enemies. I. Stalin”… On the fifth – in a blue pencil – he wrote: “Is he afraid of the sun? Coward!!! I. Stalin” and the nude itself was crossed out in bold. There is also a picture where Stalin drew underpants on each nude person and inscribed: “Do not sit on the stones with your bare ass! Enter Komsomol and the workers’ faculty! Give out trunks to the fellow! I. Stalin.”

Yes, this is the man who saved civilization from the Nazis. Some have suggested his scribbling doth protest too much and signifies a latent homosexuality. Who cares at this point? The man clearly had major psychological issues, and I don’t think being trapped in the closet was chief among them.

Click here for pictures!

3. Staying on topic, it seems Russia is looking to get rid of its pride. Gay Pride that is.

From Russia Blog: Moscow Outsourcing Gays to Berlin (Kyiv Might Be Better Option):

In a strange twist of history, Moscow has asked Berlin to host Moscow Pride in order to avoid Neo-Nazis (and grandmas) that might want to harm defenseless Satanists. The Commissioner for Human Rights in Moscow, Alexander Muzykantsk, outlined his proposal:

“In recent years, Berlin became de facto the world capital of sexual minorities. Because there are friendly relations between the mayors of Moscow and Berlin, why not an agreement in which the representatives of sexual minorities in Moscow will hold their parade in Berlin with the support of the city?”

Russia Blog cites a Soviet Realist monument featuring a rainbow and handsome, buff male comrades holding hands as reason to relocate the parade to Kiev. Because Kiev is sooo welcoming to sexual minorities, right…

You must by now be pondering the prevalence of latent homoerotica in Soviet aesthetics. Maybe you are thinking, “Aha! So all of this posturing about Russia being a culturally Christian, heterosexual country, about homosexuality being an evil imported by the West along with jeans and Pepsi, it is a sham! Homosexuality was alive and well (ok, not well…) even during the time of Stalin!” Pardon my eloquence, but, “Duh.” In fact, Tolya has translated an article which dates it back to the 16th Century. I suspect even that is embarrassingly naive…

ODDS, ENDS.

~ The Saddam Channel, airing “mostly a montage of flattering, still images of Saddam” Hussein, has begun broadcasting throughout the Arab world.

~ “Russian scientist who trains seals to carry out military missions has complained that Russia is losing the race against the United States to arm sea mammals.”

Psst. Use octopuses.

~ Watch a fat hedgehog swim around a bathtub.

You know you want to.

~ Obama complains that he “gives nicer stuff” than he gets, pointing to an obnoxiously fine piece of jewelry the First Lady has some nerve wearing on TV in this economy.

Actually, this gives me hope. First of all, I can totally relate. Which is not something I’ve ever been able to say about a President. Secondly, it means he has the capacity for bitchiness & honesty (to which I can also relate). I just wish he’d aim these skillz at the health insurance industry, and not his wife.

~ Deep Thoughts, by Dmitry Rogozin.

He’s filling in for Jack Handy now:

“Internet is a funny thing. Man becomes girl, young guy becomes veteran, liberal becomes Nazi. At the same time everyone is rude to everyone.”

“Their touching care about HR in Russia causes me to feel like when you talk to someone who hasn’t washed their socks for quite a while.”

“Today in Antwerp fine-art gallery saw picture by A.Kabanel “Cleopatra testing poison on prisoners”. It’s genius!”

Good to know where he stands on testing poison on prisoners.

~ Totally stood up by M. Sarkozy, Vova breaks out his trademark sarcasm, remarking, “I wish you could have friends who don’t turn their back on you when you take a more modest job.” Poor Vova…

But wait, are congratulations in order? I can’t say, but if they are, I’d like to see Liudmila go all Elin Nordegren on his ass.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Ok, that’s all for now.

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely holiday season!

Comments Policy

October 2, 2009

Anne Applebaum. [updated]

Filed under: Journalistic Hacktasrophes — poemless @ 5:09 PM
Tags: ,

Journalist. Historian. Champion of human rights. But one with curiously little regard for professional ethics, facts or morals. Clearly the responsibility with which she has been charged is too much to ask of her. The humane thing would be to relieve her of this burden.

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

Strike 1.

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

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

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

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

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

Huh. I can’t imagine why…

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

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

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

But not for the rape? Ooooookay.

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

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

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

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

Is the freedom from rape NOT a human right?

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

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

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

Strike 2.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strike 3.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In response to those who disagree with her:

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

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

Oh fuck – There is MORE.

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

Out!

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

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

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

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

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

Not to mention, terribly written.

Addendum.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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