poemless. a slap in the face of public taste.

June 1, 2010

Odds & Ends: Spring Cleaning Edition

While I’ve not been writing about Russia (but instead cleaning, from top to bottom, in a fit of hoardophobia, every square inch of my apartment) a lot of stories have piled up in my bookmarks. Now I’m cleaning out those as well, before you show up one day to find me rotting under a heap of old news items.

THE POLITICAL DISH

~ David Hoffman, author of “The Dead Hand,” asserts that the Prime Minister does not have a nuclear suitcase.

I, author of, “poemless. the blog,” assert that David Hoffman is rather gullible if he believes that. But why on earth didn’t Vova change the law before he switched positions with Medvedev?

~ Russian Democracy: The Game Show!

Seriously. This looks like a scene from a Japanese game show. Whoever fails to cast enough votes for a quorum before the buzzer goes off will be doused with Ready Whip from a fire hose. Go team UR!

I wonder what is to stop the AWOL deputies from having their votes cast, say, against the Kremlin? The lackeys should do that, change the votes. How would the deputies defend themselves? “Prostite, esteemed Vladimir Vladimirovich, but the tool I paid to cast my vote while I was getting drunk pushed the wrong button.”

~ NFTEB on the topic of the vote:

“The law in question is President Medvedev’s pet project to lower the drink-drive limit; effectively reducing the amount of drinking you can do before legally driving to nil. This has created quite a furore. It turns out that Members of Parliament like to have a lunchtime tipple as much as the rest of us. Unlike in Britain, budget cuts won’t be soon forcing them to take platzkart from Krasnoyarsk when parliament is in session (or will they? That would be great). Furthermore, claims that drinking refreshing yet mildly alcoholic kvas or even eating black bread can be enough to push you over the limit have bolstered opposition to the law.

Some of my Russian friends claim that it has been scientifically proven that some people naturally have a certain amount of alcohol in their blood, even if they don’t drink. Naturally, I have had great fun winding them up about this. What was the alcohol level in the blood of the control group? “Are you sure you haven’t been drinking this morning Boris?” “Nyeeeet! Znachit, (hic) – it must be naturally occurring!” Russian scientists have proven a lot of things that my British brain has difficulty accepting.”

Russian scientists would probably find this proves a defect with British brains…

~ The now legendary VVP smackdown of DDT rocker Shevchuk.

Or, a master lesson in how to school your opponent. Looks like this is the new past-time over at Kremlin Inc. Below, Vladik responds to threats that businessmen are ready to flee Russia (“sitting on their suitcases”) by suggesting they should be a little more humble, telling them to unpack and make themselves at home.

~ Garbo, I mean, Surkov, Talks!

It’s not terribly humble of me, but Surkov can unpack and make himself at home here any time. What? It’s no more out of the realm of possibility than Ilya Yashin’s fantasy…

~ …in which Surkov would be thrown in prison for producing sextapes.

You know you want to believe him. Just as one day we will find Putin was indeed behind every journalist’s death in Russia between 1999 and 2029, we will find dear Slava was behind every filmed dissident orgy. It’s not terribly humble of me, but Surkov can … oh, never mind.

THE WORLD IN BRIEF

~ The U.S. ranks 42nd in child mortality, behind the United Arab Emirates, Cuba and Chile.

But we live in a democracy and that’s all that counts.

~ Amnesty International goes after Switzerland for their racism.

Oh, snap!

~ Jane Goodall goes after Switzerland for their materialism.

Double snap!

~ [T]here really is an urgent and perilous threat to Israel. It’s called “the Israeli government.”

No seriously, you guys are making Iran look like the sane ones.

BE AFRAID – VERY AFRAID.

~ Freedom of expression is not dead in Russia. … It is undead!

Apparently Vova isn’t worried about a zombie invasion tying up traffic to hospitals.

~ Chupacabra washes ashore in Canadia.

Even the Chupacabras hate American health care.

~ This is not an Onion story. Gulp.

“Not to be outdone, the owner of a religious museum near Lubbock claims that he has a stuffed chupacabra.
The Independent Creationist Association in Crosbyton is advertising: “See the real chupacabra. … Finally one has been caught.”

Curator Joe Taylor says he has always believed that man walked the earth with dinosaurs.

Now, he believes that both walked with the chupacabra.

“Sure, I believe that,” he said by phone from Crosbyton.

At his Mount Blanco Fossil Museum, he said, he spends a lot of time looking at animal bones.

“This isn’t the mythical chupacabra,” he acknowledged, adding seriously: “There’s two kinds.”

One was more intelligently designed than the other?

~ ” Frogs!”

What is more disturbing, a movie genre called “1970’s B-movie eco-horror” or the fact that it is so very timely in our age of global climate change? This film is like “An Inconvenient Truth” and “Wallstreet” rolled into one, but with scary close ups of frogs! Freaking Brilliant!

THE SOCIETY PAGES

~ Matt Taibbi is leaving True/Slant to devote more time to his Rolling Stone.

Good for him. True/Slant is perhaps the most user-annoying news outlet on the Internet.

~ Lyndon is seriously blogging again.

Just a word of advice: if you have been remiss in your blogging duties for an extended period of time, and then get at it again, please tell everyone! After a while we just stop checking your site, ya know…

~ Get Slavoj Žižek to Host SNL!

Though the collision of the meta and dialectical natures of such a stunt might result in something approximating a nuclear reaction, it would totally be worth it.

~ This Week In Facebook.

Vova writes a poem for his status update. Russia uploads Yanukovich wreath attack video.

WHAT TO READ

~ Orlov: “The Great Unreasoning.”

A reader sent me this. It’s a wonderful piece, pondering upon the whispers of cats, argument v. observation, the perverse role of opinion in political science, the diminishing returns of reason and … Merleau-Ponty.

~ Cohen: “An End to Silence: Uncensored Opinion in the Soviet Union, from Roy Medvedev’s Underground Magazine Political Diary.”

Found it lying on a shelf in the lib. You can’t go wrong with Stephen Cohen and Roy Medvedev, can you?

~ Shkolvsky: “Zoo, or Letters not about love.”

Josephina remarked that, “Russian literature is better than sex.” Russian literature is certainly like sex: When it’s bad, it’s mediocre but still better than most anything else you might have done instead, but when it is good, it blows your freaking mind. It’s a religious experience. Such was the case with “Zoo, or Letters not about love.” From Khlebnikov’s Menagerie, “Where the bats hang suspended, like the heart of a modern Russian,” to Remizov’s secret monkey society and everything in between: sermons disguised as heartache, literary theory disguised as poetry … well, if you are reading my blog you must read this slim tome of genius. It’s a new rule. Like, an initiation rite.

I promise she’ll be one of the best lovers you’ll ever take.

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May 14, 2010

Baby pictures!

Filed under: Culture: Russia — poemless @ 3:38 PM
Tags: ,
No – I didn’t have one. 
 
God forbid.  I hate babies.  “Hate” may be the wrong word.  I hold no real animosity against babies themselves.  They didn’t choose to be babies.  Mostly it’s the parents I hate.  And the cult of parenthood.  Oof.  But babies, children, mostly I feel sorry for them.  They all seem a little confused and angry and sad on the inside, and hysterical on the outside.  The other day my cat ran into a little girl in the hallway of my apartment building.  They were both bewildered.  I like putting animals and babies together.  It’s miraculous.  The little two legged beasts turn into angels, the absolute personification of the sublime, and the little four legged beasts turn into saints, nobly tolerating the demands and abuse of the two legged beasts because that is why they were put in this earth.  Like star-crossed lovers, they eventually had to be torn apart and returned to their proper families.  Oscar actually seemed somewhat terrified and disoriented when we got back inside.  He’s not used to children.  I can’t even verify that he’s ever been handled by one before.  I tried to explain to him what children were.  “Like, half space alien, half pet,” I told him.  Keep in mind I treat pets like children, so I’m not advocating giving kids as presents or locking them in the garage.  I just mean, they are small and needy and silly and it makes us feel good to care for them.  Yet they grow in us and often need to be cut out of our stomachs, they make up their own languages and can’t really be trusted. And have big eyes and small bodies.  Like aliens.  Oscar looked at me like I was the alien and sat down in front of the tv to watch a documentary on the Spanish Inquisition.
 
Anyway, baby pictures!  Care of FP Passport:
 
Dima! 
 
 
Aw…  Normally when I’m shown pictures of people’s children I have to lie and pretend like I care and then I punish them by showing them photos of my cat which instead makes them pity me for some reason and frankly it’s not right because I think I’ve got the better deal.  But you have to admit, this is a cute kid!  Those eyes!  My mother warned me of Russian boys before I got on the plane to Moscow.  Then she repeatedly sent letters repeating those warnings.  Specifically, she warned of “puckish” Russian boys with their “impish” eyes.  Looks like they’re born with them…  Also, Medvedev’s mother (far right) is beautiful too.
 
Vova!
 
 
Once a nature boy, always a nature boy…  I suppose the only real surprise should be that he manages to put on a shirt for formal occasions.  Truthfully, though, he seems a bit cold.  Well, it doesn’t look like he had the same picture-perfect happy childhood as his protege.  Life in Post-War Russia must have been rather hard.  Compared to all of the cheezy, goofy, nary-a-care-in-the-world childhood pictures of my family (and all others I’ve seen) in mid-1950’s America, this looks downright tragic.  Could be right out of a Dovzhenko still taken decades earlier.  Or one of those late-nite Feed the Children PSA’s.  No wonder we were afraid of Communism. 
 
And no wonder they were afraid of us…

April 22, 2010

Odds & Ends: Sick and Wrong Edition

Contents: Who’s the snotty nose now, Vlad? Soapy Peter v. the Nazis. The bastard Czech offspring of Houellebecq and Lautreamont. Rahm Emanuel’s eyes are bigger than his b … oh don’t make me be crass. Let’s just say his appetite is disproportionate to his performance.

HEALTH:

I was originally going to entitle this “A comparative study in Russian and Swiss propaganda,” but found out that Euronews is not Swiss, or not just Swiss, but comes out of Lyon (meh, same diff…) and is “European.” Whatever the hell that means. In America it means white. As in, “Where are your grandparents from?” “Europe.” “I can see that. What country in Europe?” “Switzerland.” “Ah. Well, that explains a lot…” Maybe it was this subconscious “whitenews” that made me believe it was Swiss. I don’t know.

Maybe I just needed someone to blame for news of Vovochka’s illness.

So I was watching Putin’s Duma address on RT, thinking, “Gah. He’s boring them to death. He’s even boring himself to death. Look at him. What a crap job. Hasn’t he already done enough for his country? Can’t he get some lackey to give his boring speeches while he’s off riding his pony around his empire, stealing from the rich to give to the State?”

Then I saw it the very same story on Euronews

“The recession in Russia is over according to Vladimir Putin, who has delivered his annual report to the lower house of parliament.
The prime minister likes to project a healthy image. But he was visibly ill, addressing members of the Duma with a trembling voice and regular coughing.

He admitted the economic situation was far from ideal.

“I would like to reiterate how important it is for everyone, not only the government but for everyone in this room today, to maintain a responsible economic policy and avoid holding our hand out to anyone,” he said in the speech.”

… and thought, “Ah. Well, that explains a lot… Like, why he has enough water on the podium to take a bath in. I just thought he was really, really thirsty. And bored delirious. He must have a fever. Why isn’t he in bed? Hasn’t he already done enough for his country? Can’t he get some lackey to give his boring speeches while he’s tucked in bed, sipping honey tea and having fairytales read to him?”

Seriously, I admire his work ethic and all, but how effective can you be when you are trying to convince the world your country is robust and healthy as you’re about to pass out from weakness? Especially if you are the action hero leader of said country? Haven’t you ever shown up at a doctor appointment to find your physician has a cold, and thought, “What a terrible doctor!” Even though you intellectually know they can get colds too? It’s like if your dentist were missing teeth. So I don’t see how a clean economic bill of health benefits by delivery from someone pale and shivering with illness.

Or maybe he’s not sick. Maybe Surkov bit him and turned him into a vampire and that’s why he is pale and lightheaded. And all those water bottles and tea cups are meant to distract from the cask of blood he’s sipping from behind the podium.

In any case, I hope you feel better soon, Vova!!!

SOCIETY:

One of the legacies of the repressive Communist era is the ability of Russians to always find inventive ways to entertain themselves. Another is homophobia. Another is police brutality. You see where this is going…

Moscow Times: Bubble-Blowing Teens Attacked in Gay Mix-Up.

“ST. PETERSBURG — Young people who gathered to celebrate spring by blowing bubbles at an annual flash mob in central St. Petersburg were attacked by a group of suspected neo-Nazis who mistook the gathering for a gay pride event, flash mob organizers said.
Some 500 people stood blowing bubbles on the steps of Gorkovskaya metro station and in the surrounding Alexandrovsky Park at about 4 p.m. Sunday — the agreed time for the start of the flash mob — when about 30 men ran up and started beating them and firing rubber bullets.

Several people fell to the ground before the attackers fled at the sight of approaching OMON riot police officers. A reporter saw officers detain at least one attacker. Police also detained about 30 bubble-blowers for five hours on suspicion of walking on the grass, a charge that they denied, organizers said.[…]

The annual bubble-blowing flash mob, known alternatively as “Dream Flash” and “Soapy Peter,” presents itself as nonpolitical and mostly attracts teenagers.

“It has nothing to do with the gay community or with any political, ideological or any other organization,” Yulia, the flash mob’s organizer, said by phone Monday.

She spoke on condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal for staging the event, which is not sanctioned by city authorities.

“It’s simply a celebration of spring with the idea that a group of people come together and walk around the city center blowing bubbles and enjoy spring,” she said.[…]

Several minutes after the attackers struck, OMON police declared the flash mob an illegal gathering and started to drive the participants, many of whom continued to blow bubbles, away from the metro and then out of the park with the aid of two police vehicles.

“Put away your bubbles,” one police officer barked through a megaphone.”

Enter: a group of neo-Nazis attacking a flashmob. Enter: a group of teens upset that their “Soapy Peter” bubble blowing event was confused for a gay pride spectacle. Enter: scary OMON forces ordering people to put away their bubbles. There is a curious innocence to the whole scene, as if it were a prank skit made by university students as a metaphor for the senseless, random cruelty of society. Except that it it isn’t. Well, I hope we’ve all learned the lesson from this tragic story:

Don’t name your town “Peter.”

(In unrelated news, Evo Morales says eating chicken makes you gay.)

LITERATURE:

I ran out of books to read last night. I’d been to the library looking for Ice by Sorokin on the recommendation of Scowspi, but it’s been checked out. Rummaging through my own stacks, I found a little tome I acquired free on the last day of a booksale and had proceeded to never read. It’s Czech. It’s surrealist. It’s compact. Why haven’t I read it? It’s pornographic. Which is no reason not to read a book, but the thing is I didn’t acquire it to read it. I acquired it to give the prudes at the library booksale something to giggle about. Anyway, I took it off the shelf, convinced myself hell is for silly people and dug into it last night. The title is Edition 69, and it is by Vítězslav Nezval and Jindřich Štyrský. You would not expect a book full of obscene -and I do mean obscene; I’m not being quaint now- pictures to have much quality to offer in the way of prose. Ah, but do the Czechs ever disappoint?! It’s brilliant, in simple way. I was thinking it reminded me of Les chants de Maldoror in its surrealist autobiographical style, with some of the more unredeeming aspects of Houellebecq thrown in for bad taste.

I’d never heard of the authors so today I googled them:

“Vítězslav Nezval was a member of the avant-garde group of artists Devětsil (literally “nine forces”, the Czech name of the Butterbur plant but to a Czech-speaker an obvius reference to the nine founding members of the group). Devětsil members were the most prolific Czech artists of their generation. In 1922, the Devetsil group included, but was not limited to, Vítězslav Nezval, Jindřich Štyrský, Jaroslav Seifert, Karel Teige, and Toyen (Marie Cerminova). Also associated with the group was the later founder of the Prague Linguistic School, Roman Jakobson. Like the proletarian group before it, Devětsil looked to France for inspiration for their avant-garde literature and their Marxist political ideology originating from Russia. Though the Czechoslovakian state was newly formed after World War I, the younger generation felt there was still room for improvement and that a radical solution was necessary to gain true liberation. Most of these intellectuals had a zest for revolution and professed their allegiance to Lenin. Though their philosopher-president, Thomas Masaryk gave them the first real socially-minded democracy, Nezval and others in his group did not accept this regime as representative of their beliefs and goals. In their writings they expressed their preference for the Marxist-internationalist consciousness of class solidarity.[…]

Nezval was also a founding figure of the Poetism movement. His output consists of a number of poetry collections, experimental plays and novels, memoirs, essays, and translations. Along with Karel Teige, Jindřich Štyrský, and Toyen, Nezval frequently traveled to Paris where he rubbed shoulders with the French surrealists. His close friendship with André Breton and Paul Éluard was instrumental in founding The Surrealist Group of Czechoslovakia in 1934. It was the first group of this kind outside France and Nezval served as the editor of its journal Surrealismus.”

The Devětsil:

“The Devětsil (Czech pronunciation: [ˈdɛvjɛtsɪl]) was an association of Czech avant-garde artists, founded in 1920 in Prague. From 1923 on there was also an active group in Brno. The movement discontinued its activities in 1930 (1927 in Brno).

Founded as U. S. Devětsil (Umělecký Svaz Devětsil – Devětsil Artistic Federation), its name was changed several times. From 1925, it was called the Svaz moderní kultury Devětsil (the Devětsil Union of Modern Culture).

The artistic output of its members was varied, but typically focused on magic realism, proletkult, and, beginning in 1923, Poetism, an artistic program formulated by Vítězslav Nezval and Karel Teige.

The group was very active in organizing the Czech art scene of the period. Members published several art magazines – ReD (Revue Devětsilu), Disk and Pásmo, as well as occasional anthologies (most importantly Devětsil and Život) and organized several exhibitions.

For the most part, Devětsil artists produced poetry and illustration, but they also made contributions to many other art forms, including sculpture, film and even calligraphy.

For about two years Devětsil functioned without any particular theoretical grounding, but as the members changed and those that remained developed and modified their style, it was decided, particularly by Karel Teige, that they begin formulating theories behind their activity. Most of these theories were to be spread through manifestos published by the group. Like any good theorist, Teige was always ready to change his ideas and sometimes moved from one aesthetic to an opposite one. The group formulated a movement that they called Poetism. The long echoed cry, “make it new,” was vital to the Poetists way of thinking. The Devětsil members were surrounded by the new in science, architecture and industry. Even their country was new. In order for art to survive, or at least in order to be worthwhile, it had to constantly be ahead of other changes in life. The Poetists advocated the law of antagonism. This law explains historical progress as reliant on discontinuity. New types and styles of art are continuously necessary for development and vital to these changes are conditions of contradiction. The first manifesto of Devětsil urged new artists to look deeper into ordinary objects for poetic quality. Skyscrapers, airplanes, mimes, and poster lettering were the new arts. Inspired by the Berlin Dadaists, Seifert claimed “art is dead.” Following him, Teige remarked, “the most beautiful paintings in existence today are the ones which were not painted by anyone.” [1]”

Incredible! Why have I never heard of these people? A Czech Marxist-Leninist-Poetist-Surrealist-Gothic Avant Garde? It’s like one of those crazy genres Netflix invents to cater to your own personal tastes (those “based on your interest in Critically-acclaimed Cerebral Dark Foreign Erotic Films” recommendations freak me out!) Anyway, I’m quite enjoying Nezval and his ilk. Since beginning this post. I’ve torn through Edition 69 (which contained, among other things, a manifesto about p0rnophilia and the class system) and several slender collections of poetry. Exquisite, sublime poetry. Don’t even get me started on “The Lilac By The Museum On St. Wenceslas Square” which burst into bloom while he slept… It’s all too much.

POLITICS:

Apparently Rahm Emanuel has nothing better to do than sit up at night scheming up new ways to piss me off. And to his credit, it seems to be the one thing he’s quite successful at. There was that time he ran someone against my friend in a primary, won the primary and lost the general. Actually, that’s the most tolerable part of that story… And then there was the time he showed up at Glen’s Diner, sat next to me, was waited on hand and foot while I waited an hour for my salad only to be informed they’d run out of salad dressing. Then there was the week I woke up to helicopters each morning because my neighbor had decided to take the position of Chief of Staff. And then there was the time he could barely even get his own party to support a watered down piece of crap masquerading as a healthcare reform bill.

But I’m less vocal about his D.C. failures. Because I want him to stay there. Democrats all over Chicago cheered when he took the White House gig. Because they love him and were happy for him? Oh hell no. Because it meant he was leaving! The poor citizens of my fair district were finally given the opportunity to have a decent Congressman when he left. Our whole neighborhood could not get an audience with Emanuel during the run up to the invasion of Iraq. My new Rep. came to my holiday party and brought a whole cheesecake. Just sayin’.

So I am thinking it’s ok if he’s wrecking national policy so long as he’s not here and I can eat a fucking salald in peace. And I get cheesecake.

It’s unfortunate I’ve already used the phrase, “Oh hell no.” It would have been a perfect response to this:

Obama aide Emanuel: I’d like to be mayor of Chicago.

Damn it! You are the chief advisor to the leader of the free world, but that’s not enough? Why won’t you just LEAVE ME ALONE! PLEASE… Insatiable freak.

Below are the reasons Emanuel would be a crap mayor of Chicago:

~ Chicago likes two kinds of mayors: dictators who rule with an iron fist, and progressive reformers. Emanuel is neither of these, as the recent healthcare debate illustrated. He could not even get his whole party on board, let alone one member of the opposition. Apparently they are not afraid of him. This would have been excusable were he presenting some radical socialist legislation that was ahead of the curve. But he never even entertained the possibility of a public option, let alone single payer healthcare. Fail. Fail. If you can’t even get a few Democrats to support a rather reasonable request, how are you going to get 3 million people to cream “How high?” when you shout, “Jump!” Not gonna happen.

~ Emanuel likes to wear finely tailored suits. That’s cool, if you are running for mayor of New York. I just can’t see our little rascal in a beige trench and fedora, the Mayor of Chicago uniform.

~ Chicago is not Ravenswood. Chicago is not all the cool little trendy neighborhoods and posh suites in mile high skyscrapers. It’s the inner city. There are poor people there. This man believed it beneath his station to communicate with and represent a rather well-off area while he was Congressman. What is he going to do if he has to communicate with and represent rather uneducated and smelly people? Who have no money to give him!!! But who need the snow removed like ASAP.

~ Uhm, we don’t want him to be Mayor. I’m not one of those trite progressives who won’t be happy until Ralph Nader is running the city. I like Mayor Daley. I admire him. Sure he’s corrupt, but you can tell he loves the city. Sure he’s divisive, but the man gets things done. Emanuel tells people to fuck off by calling them names and giving them the finger. Daley tells people to fuck off by bulldozing the airport he wants to turn into a park in the middle of the night. It’s the difference between a schoolyard bully and a leader.

~ Salad.

~ Cheesecake.

Ok that’s all for now. Thanks for reading and Happy Lenin’s birthday and Earth day!

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!

February 24, 2010

Guilty Pleasures…

Filed under: Odds & Ends — poemless @ 6:29 PM
Tags: , , ,

Contents: A cartoon, a video, a photo and a magazine article. All you need is a glass of chardonnay and you’ve got yourself a serving of superficial bliss.

The heated discussion ignited by the previous post has me seeking lighter fare. (So if you came here looking for a bunch of overeducated Westerner know-it-alls arguing about the relative merits and horrors of 90’s Russia, that’ll be the next post down.) For now, a few indulgences provided for my own enjoyment. But feel free to help yourselves.

I. Oh, snap!

From xkcd. (H/T: Sublime Oblivion)

Question #1: Can it be called “navel gazing” if stick figures do it? I mean, they don’t have navels.
Question #2: Has xkcd yet published the cartoon of stick figures going online to post xkcd cartoons of of stick figures going online to post xkcd cartoons?

II. Colbert takes on the Swiss, Irish and Russians!

February 23, 2010: Olympic International Houses

I hate WordPress. Why can’t I embed a damn video?! Well, follow the link – it’s worth it for the Swiss-bashing alone, though the praise for Putin is fun to watch as well…

III. Vova’s rockin’ the vampire suit.

How many old guys can rock the all black get-up and pull it off without looking like a washed up rockstar or a washed up theater critic or a washed up vampire? Johny Cash and… …. Just Johny Cash and Vova.

I am a sucker for a world leader who dresses like Johnny Cash and says stuff like this. I turn right into that girl at the party who politely informs you she’s had too much to drink. I know one day I will be on the stand explaining myself and begging for forgiveness before my willing executioners, but for today, I think he is just divine…

IV. Vanity Fair’s magnum opus on the eXile.

What? Looks like I am not the only one suffering withdrawal. But why are they publishing this now?

“Lost Exile.” Excerpts:

Ames on the 90’s:

Everything was about free markets and capitalism and democracy, and it was all leading us to some great new future, but all you had to do was look around in the streets and see there was something fucking wrong with it,” Ames says. “We were in the middle of total devastation, one of the worst, most horrible fucking tragedies of modern times.”

Fred Weir on the 90’s:

Ames had just turned 28. He ran around the city, chasing tank fire, ducking behind soldiers until they kicked him away. “It was this different world where everything was more intense and consequential and full of surprises,” he says. This was home.

By the mid-90s, a different species of expatriate was flocking to the Wild East, as it was known. The decade had all the indulgence of 1920s Paris and Weimar Berlin, without the bothersome art and poetry. There was too much money and sex to be had. Perestroika and glasnost were all very nice, but Russia was broke, and Yeltsin, committing to a raft of hasty privatization measures, ushered in Western bankers, consultants, lawyers, entrepreneurs, and opportunists of every other stripe, who joined the nascent capitalists and native raconteurs of Russia. According to The Christian Science Monitor’s Fred Weir, “It was, of course, the sexiest story in the world, because the great Soviet giant was transforming itself—we thought—into a Western country.” In fact, he says, “the fuckers were just looting Russia.”

The Hungry Duck:

“They would get up and continue dancing, blood everywhere,” Baseav says. Steele recalls a night when the deputy head of a Moscow police unit, drunk beyond all reckoning, emptied his pistol into the ceiling and made everybody lie on the floor for three hours. Lavelle claims he saw a man stabbed to death next to him one night. “No one thought it was unusual.”

Edushka, being disingenuous:

“One thing I couldn’t stand was Westerners who thought they had higher moral values than Russians, these people who came preaching Western civilization and then become connived,” The Economist’s Edward Lucas says. “The Exile exposed them.”

Ames on America:

“It’s kind of terrifying being back here. I find the rules here suffocating,” Ames says when I ask how it feels returning to the States after a decade and a half in Moscow. “I miss the extreme melodrama” of Russia, he says. “Here there are so many horrifying layers of décor and piety. Everything is at stake in this country—in theory it’s Rome, and yet it operates like small-town Nebraska. There’s so little real drama here.”

“Certain people” on how it ended:

Certain people close to The Exile, including some of those investors, claim Rossvyazokhrankultura did not cause it to fold. They say that Ames was tired of publishing it and that he used the government as a scapegoat. Alex Shifrin, The Exile’s lead investor, whom Ames accuses of abandoning him, would say only, “There are a lot of half-truths as to what happened.” Another investor claims the officials were simply looking for a bribe. “There was no government plot. I think everybody had it out for The Exile to some extent,” he says. But the investors didn’t “want to get involved with a media fight [Ames was] having with the feds.”

As always, thanks for reading!

January 29, 2010

The Month in U.S.-Russia Relations and Russia(Male)Watching.

All kinds of things going on in the world of U.S.-Russia relations: meetings, agreements, meetings without agreements, agreements to meet again, Lavrov and Clinton making out in a London elevator… Ok I just made that last part up. But not this:

1) The Son of START may or may not be in the final stages of negotiation, almost 2 months after our decades long arms reduction treaty was allowed to expire un-renewed.

2) NATO and Russia are officially on speaking terms (which makes me feel like I’m writing about middle school students) for the first time since their falling out over Georgia.

3) Re-set Button brainchild, the Russian-US council on civil society, which up until now I assumed was mythological, is apparently holding its first official meeting in D.C. this week.

What does it all mean? It means, “We intend to make an effort to create a situation sometime in the future where we can try to work together, but we reserve the right to not get along if you insist on being so stubborn; we both know I’m better than you anyway.” Which is considered enough of a diplomatic coup in the Obama administration to earn mention in the State of the Union address. The President’s definition of accomplishment seems to be “we kinda sorta maybe (not really) tried to make something better and it hasn’t happened yet but it will eventually, so long as everyone just ignores our actions and only listens to our words or otherwise the magical spell we’re counting on to make this all work will be cursed and fail and it will be all YOUR fault. Yeah, I’m talkin’ to you!” [<–Shorter SOTU.]

Anyway, I picked the wrong week not to visit friends in D.C.

I. Mr. Surkov Goes to Washington.

He’s making a list and checking it twice; He’s gonna find out who’s naughty and nice.
Vladislav is coming to town… Vladislav is coming to town…

I can be naughty, or nice, whatever you prefer. I’m flexible…

(OMG: I image googled “Surkov McFaul” and a picture of my dead cat came up. It’s a haunting!)

Here is RT’s transcript of an Izvestia interview with the fine Mr. Surkov (what? no video, RT? you know looking at him is half the fun!): V.Surkov: “We do not intend to lecture one another.”

(No wonder there has been such stunning silence from the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission Civil Society working group. Aside from the fact that just saying “the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission Civil Society working group” is enough to make your mouth want to take a two week vacation and hardly lends itself to acronymn. The U.S. has illustrated that it only knows how to communicate with other countries through lecture or military force. These meetings must be epic awkward silences. Still, agreeing not to lecture one another is a remarkable step in right direction. Now let’s agree not bomb each other. Or save the children. Or something. Anything. Please.)

A Russian-US council on civil society that was created due to the initiative of the presidents of both countries will meet in the United States on January 27.

It will tackle issues left over from the Cold War, such as corruption, children’s rights, and stereotypes about Russia on the other side of the Atlantic.

The council will be co-chaired by Russian Deputy Presidential Chief of Staff Vladislav Surkov, who was interviewed by the Izvestia daily, ahead of his trip.

Q. Lately, the Russian-US presidential commission council, which you are co-chairing, is being talked about quite a lot. Could you outline the plans of the working group for the nearest future?

Vladislav Surkov: The working group will meet for the first time in Washington, DC, on January 27. A substantial amount of preparation has been done ahead of it, with both sides coordinating the objectives and directives of our sphere of action.

The United States proposed to include only state officials into the council. We did not object to the idea. On top of that, we proposed the inclusion of Russia’s Human Rights Commissioner Vladimir Lukin; chair of the Civil Society Institution and Human Rights Council of the Russian Federation Ella Pamfilova; Presidential Ombudsman for Children’s Rights Pavel Astakhov; and several other persons who are not quite state officials. But since no equivalent posts exist in the US government, they were included in the delegation.

Q.Did you agree on the council’s agenda?

VS: The Russian side initiated the following topics: fighting corruption, migration – the issue of illegal immigration first of all – prisoners’ rights, and a crackdown on crimes against children.

The US side has offered to discuss negative myths and stereotypes, which still exist in relations between our countries. We tried to avoid, where possible, issues which we will most likely not be able to reach an agreement on. We will approach them gradually, as our mutual understanding deepens.

Q. And all of these five issues will be discussed during the visit to the United States?

VS: In Washington we will cover the issues fighting corruption, crimes against children and negative stereotypes only.

Q.What motivated the Russian side to choose its priorities for the discussion?

VS: All the issues approved are supported by explicit statistics, assessment criterions and, most importantly, all are significant for both Russia and the US We have plenty to talk about.

The problem of corruption, for example. Of course, in our respective countries, the problem has different roots. Nevertheless, major corruption scandals happen both in Russia and in the United States.

Another issue is immigration. Russia and the US are world leaders when it comes to the numbers of immigrants, both legal and illegal. Thus, the issue of migration is vital to both countries. The same could be said about the third matter of concern – the issue of prisoner conditions. Again, our countries continue to head the grim list of the countries with the largest number of the incarcerated.

Finally – a highly important problem – crimes against children. During the past several years the number of crimes committed against underage children in Russia has increased tenfold. The United States has extensive experience in combating this evil. That experience will be highly valuable for us, since Russia has a lot to accomplish in that respect.

Q: Will the Russian side pose any questions regarding the deaths of Russian children adopted by American parents?

VS: I would like to emphasize that we will not lecture each other on the issues covered during the meeting. This is not the point of the working group. We know that the United States is concerned over that issue and is working on solving the problem. As far as problems with adopted children are concerned – we, ourselves, have plenty of those in Russia.

Q: Some Russian human rights activists and several US congressmen have subjected you to criticism. Do you have anything to say on that matter?

VS: We hit some bumps during the preparations for the council. We are trading information with our American colleagues on those issues. Overall the process is flowing smoothly, and we have reached certain success already.

As far as my being scrutinized by some Russian human rights groups, as well as American congressmen, I believe everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I think it is a small part of a larger mass of misconceptions, and those very negative stereotypes we will be discussing. I hope we will be able to dispel them during the course of our cooperation.

Q: Will there be a need to refine the activity of the council in the future?

VS: We would really like it if meetings of the working group took place not only in Russian and US capitals, but in other places, as well. We are going to hold meetings in various states and Russian regions. We must not turn into a commission which sits in their cabinets in Moscow and Washington discussing something in abstract terms.

Q: Various mass media report that the US will pose a question on equal cooperation of Russian and US civil organizations. Is there some sort of inequality between these organizations right now, any limitations in their cooperation?

VS: We do not see any inequality between Russian and American organizations, and we think there are no hurdles for a dialogue between them at the moment. Especially considering the fact that many Russian non-commercial organizations subside on grants they receive from the American government.

As far as your question goes, I will strictly stick to the agenda we agreed on, since I’m entitled to holding talks only within its framework. I would like to emphasize once again – these issues will be discussed only within the context of institutions of civil society.

The American side has demonstrated a very civil and good-natured approach to our cooperation. On our part, we will do everything in our power to make the working group a success.

I rather they be working together to tackle the issue of child trafficking than the issue of Lilia Shevtsova’s persecution complex. Hmm. Do you think it is a coincidence that she wrote that FP article on eve of this meeting? Pretty sneaky, sis. BTW, why does Misha have an op ed in the NYT this week? (For non-Russia watcher types who read this blog: Misha is Mikhail Khodorkovsky who is in prison in Siberia on charges of … tax evasion I think. A long time ago he was a Komsomol, then after the fall of Communism, he snatched up a bunch of stuff and became a powerful wealthy oligarch. Then Putin stole his assets and threw him in jail. The peasants rejoiced. The human rights camp flipped out. Surkov worked for Misha before getting a gig in the Kremlin and throwing his former boss in the gulag. Drama! Ok, let’s continue.) His article isn’t terribly interesting. But it is an excuse to post a gratuitous photo of our caged bird who sings for the New York Times.

Hi, Misha!

It seems our leaders are not as enamoured of dear Slava as they are of jailed Russian businessmen. Why doesn’t Surkov have an op-ed piece in the NYT? Get with the program! Seriously, someone in that Moscow fortress should hire me…

This is from Peter Lavelle who got it from JRL who printed it from Nezavisimaya Gazeta. It must be true.

From the JRL today

(Surkov is facing somekind of boycott in the US since being appointed
Russia’s civil soceity point man with the US) [<–I don't know if this is commentary from Peter, JRL or Nezavisimaya Gazeta…]

Nezavisimaya Gazeta
January 19, 2010
BETWEEN THE LINES
Russian and American delegations will meet to discuss matters of civil
society next week
Author: Alisa Vedenskaya

…..”Surkov and McFaul first met on October 12 when Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton was visiting Russia. McFaul told Surkov that
the reaction in the United States to his promotion to Civil Society
coordinator was somewhat equivocal. Surkov parred it by saying that
McFaul’s promotion had gone entirely unnoticed in
Russia because nobody knew him in this country.”

Oh, snap! I’m sure their meeting today went swimmingly… And it is not just Peter Lavelle and JRL and Nezavisimaya Gazeta spreading word of Surkov’s PR problem in D.C.

II. Party of No Hides Obama’s Re-Set Button.

From Moscow News Weekly: “Obama critics slam Kremlin aide.”

Whatever happened to “The enemy of my enemy is my friend?” Do the math, kids. And can someone explain to me how meeting with your foreign counterpart constitutes an endorsement of that person or their country? What is this, diplomacy for 3rd graders? Do they write these letters when we meet with the Chinese? Russia might have issues, but it’s hardly on par with Pakistan or North Korea or Sudan.

A key Russian-US working group co-led by Kremlin official Vladislav Surkov is under fire over human rights, as US Republicans call for President Barack Obama’s administration to boycott its first meeting in Washington this week.

Though the group aims to focus on issues like fighting corruption and child trafficking, 71 Republican members of Congress signed a letter to Obama expressing concern over Russia’s human rights record and urging that the US government “not participate in any such Working Group unless and until the Russian government has taken concrete, verifiable steps to address… shortcomings in its treatment of political and media freedoms.”

The letter, dated Dec. 11, also called for Surkov, President Dmitry Medvedev’s deputy chief of staff, to be replaced with “someone who has not been involved in establishing oppressive and undemocratic policies”, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Moscow News.

The group, created by Obama and Medvedev last July, is one of 16 tackling issues from trade to nuclear non-proliferation, but it is drawing additional attention because it is headed by Surkov. Dubbed the “grey cardinal” during Vladimir Putin’s administration, Surkov was largely responsible for formulating the “sovereign democracy” concept.

Russian human rights groups have criticised the appointment of Surkov to co-chair the commission, and now US Republicans are using that criticism as a way of attacking Obama.

Interruption: I don’t think Obama’s team chose Surkov to represent Russia. Idiots.

Surkov dismissed the Republicans’ criticisms in an interview with Izvestia, published on Jan. 22. “We do not plan to lecture each other,” Surkov said of the group’s members. “As for criticism against me from some human rights organisations and [members of the US Congress], everyone has a right to [their] opinion. This is a small part of a whole complex of prejudices and negative stereotypes.”
The letter came amid mounting Republican criticism of Obama, while last week the Democratic Party lost its 60-member filibuster-proof Senate majority after Massachusetts elected a Republican senator for the first time since 1972.

Republicans are using the letter simply as a way of putting domestic political pressure on Obama and don’t really have a worked-out Russia policy, said Nikolai Zlobin, an analyst at the Washington-based World Security Institute.

Zlobin said the letter would serve to rally members of Congress against Obama, adding that they were trying to use human rights ill as a bludgeon to get their way on issues such as nuclear non-proliferation and trade. “Whatever is said about Russia is not about their policy towards Russia per se, but towards their internal political interests,” Zlobin said.

Stop. Re-read that last part about trying to use human rights as a bludgeon to get their way on their own internal political interests.

Other NGO representatives invited to take part in the group said the Republicans’ call for a boycott was counterproductive.

Kirill Kabanov, head of the National Anti-Corruption Committee, said it played into a “hysterical” policy towards Russia, and this “hysteria” was convenient for hawkish elements in Russia’s security services.

“To close opportunities for [dialogue] may benefit those parts of the Russian bureaucracy that don’t want any contact at all …because that would expose those who use international mechanisms of money laundering,” said Kabanov, a former Federal Security Service official.

“Corruption is an international problem because money is laundered abroad, and this [affects] American banks.”

Kabanov added: “We have things to say, and if they don’t give us this opportunity then we will find ourselves marginalised again.”

This is why I don’t entirely understand it when Russian intellectuals boycott meetings they are invited to by the Kremlin. Creeps me out.

But wait! There’s more! The Party of No wont stop there!

From the Moscow Times: “Reset in Danger of Being Set Back.”

Because ruining any chance for a healthcare reform bill were not enough to be proud of. (OMG how weird is it that the rhetoric surrounding healthcare reform now includes the phrase, “Bolshevik plot?” What century is this? What universe is this? Does this make the GOP Mensheviks?)

A year ago, when the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama initiated its “reset” of U.S.-Russian relations, two things were clear: First, the U.S. Congress, particularly the Senate, would have an outsized role to play in the process; and, second, the Democrats would likely have a fillibuster-proof 60 votes in the Senate, making the advancement of Obama’s major Russia policy overtures a bit easier than might otherwise be the case. A year later, the first proposition remains true, but Republican Scott Brown’s recent upset victory in the Massachusetts Senate race complicates the second since Democrats no longer have 60 seats in the Senate— the threshold that allows a party to pass legislation on a “fast track” by depriving the opposing party of its ability to filibuster. All of this means that there could be some turbulence in U.S.-Russian relations in 2010. […]

Congress is a major factor on other Russia policy issues as well. Russian accession to the World Trade Organization is a case in point. Congressional action would be required to upgrade Russia, the largest economy not yet represented in the WTO, from the Cold War-era lows of the Jackson-Vanik amendment to establish normal trade relations, which are required to secure U.S. agreement to Russia’s accession to the WTO. Russian WTO accession seems to be on the Obama administration’s congressional to-do list in 2010, but in the current cold trade climate — Russia just banned U.S. poultry imports, valued at $800 million a year — the issue is going to be as contentious as ever. That may be why Russian officials have sent mixed signals as to whether Russia itself will pursue WTO accession aggressively.

Congressional approval would also be required for the United States to enter into a “123” agreement with Russia on civil nuclear cooperation. This important area that had progressed nicely during George W. Bush’s last year in office was put on ice after the eruption of the Russia-Georgia war.

As far as U.S.-Russian relations are concerned, 2010 is truly the “Year of Congress.” It appears less likely, however, that it is going to be the “Year of Results.”

If Scott Brown ends up responsible for obliterating any hope of improving our relationship with Russia, I better at least get a consolation prize of a Surkov Cosmo centerfold out of the deal.

III. Putin: Party Crasher, Porn Basher.

Speaking of buff. And porn.

Jesse a.k.a The Russia Monitor has posted this little gem of a news story: “The Putin One-Liner Strikes Again.”

I wasn’t even going to mention this but couldn’t resist. Last week, PM Putin showed up to the the Annual Meeting of the State Council to give a speech. Now, by “showed up,” I mean he literally showed up out of nowhere to make an unexpected appearance and an unscheduled speech. The guys over at Power Vertical dissected this move yesterday. Putin made his minutes in front of the mic count, however, by dropping another one of his hilarious, debate-ending one-liners (“Putinisms”). Putin’s grammatical knockout came in a response to rumors on the internets that the recent regional Duma elections were rigged. The PM, visibly angry, hunched his shoulders in disgust and said, “Well half of what’s on the internet is porno! Why quote the internet? If you have evidence take it to court.”

One possible explanation of Putin’s indiscriminate targeting of porno? In the past, online interest in Putin has been found to be negatively correlated with online interest in pornography.

Poor Vova, walking into meeting he wasn’t invited to to complain about more people watching porn than paying attention to him on the internet. Hey, what am I? Chopped liver? I would think you’d want an intelligent poltical activist type ally – like ME -paying attention to you instead of child molesters and depressed husbands. But if he’s really miffed about it, I know of a pretty easy solution to the problem of people who watch porn not watching Vova. Hello! Althletic body? Check. Ham in front of a camera? Check. Bendy girlfriend? Check. FSB who lkes to make sex tapes? Check. BFF Oscar-winning filmmaker? Check. Seems like a no-brainer to me.

He could totally pull it off:

And lastly, I present to you the prize for Best Headline for this week’s coveage of U.S.-Russia relations:

“How Many Polish Patriots Does It Take to Screw Up US – Russia Relations?”

Stay classy, Discovery Institute!

Ok, thanks for reading and have a lovely weekend!

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

November 25, 2009

A Veritable Cornucopia of Links.

For your holiday reading pleasure.

Articles:

Inside Higher Ed: Palintology. ~speculates on Sarah Palin’s favorite work of postmodern theory (Jean Baudrillard?) and employs the phrase “performative maverickiness.”

Jeffrey Feldman: “…Why People Like to Stuff People Like You into Ovens” ~explains how to deal with people spouting violent ideology. Starting with: Don’t be afraid.

Chicago Reader: A Kink in the Campaign. ~profiles the S&M master challenging a Chicago Machine candidate for office.

Natalia Antonova: Russia is a “criminal state”? Er… ~calls out Bill Browder for political posturing.

Laws:

Why has the United States not signed on to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child?

… or the Land Mine Ban Treaty?

Russia, meanwhile introduced a permanent ban on capital punishment, offered to reduce Co2 emissions between 20 percent and 25 percent below 1990s levels by 2010, (which appears to be more than the US is committing to), and has agreed not to fine Ukraine for the next few months, scrapping the tought talk for, ahem, cordial humour. Apparently Putin’s also planning Georgian reunification, too?

Random:

RIAN: Putin’s lost female tiger found. ~even Vova’s cats sometimes run off…

Der Spiegel: Girls for Gadhafi: Libyan Leader Hands out Korans to Hundreds of Italian Beauties. ~in which Brother Leader informs, “you believe that Jesus was crucified, but that didn’t happen. God took him to the heavens. They crucified some guy who looked like him.”

Lit:

Philip Roth is nominated for the “Bad sex in fiction” Award. ~need I say more?

OpenSpace.ru: Сурков признал авторство «Околоноля» ~Viktor Erofeev says Surkov confessed to authoring that gangsta-fiction book.

Recommends:

Tool: translate.google.com. You knew it could translate for you, but did you know it could do a translated search for you?

Blog: Izo.com. Fully of art, kitsch, gossip and NSFW brilliance.

Books: Platforme, by Houellebecq, and We, by Zamyatin. Nice uplifting holiday fare…

And on that note, have a happy Thanksgiving. In honor of which I present a Turkey Day Classic:

Eat up!

October 30, 2009

Odds & Ends Halloween Special: Putin & Democracy.

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

What? You know you think it’s scary…

I. Putin.

In honor of our favourite spook.

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

This some kind of Reptilian custom?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He’s a shapeshifter! Damn…

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

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

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

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

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

Cast in bronze, now cast in a film:

~ SMH: Agent Putin cast as Cold War hero.

Oh, I totally remember that part…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psst. WSJ, I think that’s “in ’10.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

II. Democracy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ FPB Russia: Russians to Democracy: Good Riddance?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

III. Odds, ends.

And to end on a light note.

~ Vova.com

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

“Putin the superhero banished from Ukrainian airwaves”

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

“Prime Minister Putin Bitch Slaps Oleg Deripaska”

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

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

~ Rogozin.

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

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

Look, mom!  No hands!

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

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

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

Boo!

Happy Halloween! Enjoy your weekend & thanks for reading!

October 21, 2009

Odds & Ends: Dead Cat Souls Edition

Bella Piccolina

Bella Piccolina


Technically I am still on hiatus.

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

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

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