Let The Train Take The Strain, or, Dave Essel Is Just Special

Uncle Volodya sings, "He got a big chain...around his neck...and he's goin' down...like a train wreck"

The Russian Flag, as it appears on the side of SAPSAN

Mark Adomanis made a fan of me when he referred (during an online interview rating the Russia bloggers by La Russophobe) to Paul Goble as a “whore” whose methodology is “to studiously dig through rags like Novaya Gazeta, find the most unhinged anti-Putin rants he can lay his hands on, translate them, and then print them as “authoritative” sources.” Another such prevaricating prostitute is La Russophobe’s sometime “translator” and full-time chucklehead, Dave Essel.

Obviously, Russophobes don’t want to give positive press to any Russian initiative, and the notion that it might be in American foreign policy interests to support and cultivate a cooperative relationship with Russia is received with the same welcome as a fart in an elevator. But the apparently deliberate distortions in this piece make it the electronic equivalent of a pretzel. Let’s take a look at Essel’s smug assertions one at a time, shall we?

Let’s start with the juvenile assumption that the new SAPSAN train is “not that fast”, being apparently capable of only 129 kph. Mathematician Essel arrived at this conclusion by factoring the variable of distance covered (1100 kilometers) against time elapsed (8 hours 25 minutes). This supposes that not only is the train incapable of going faster than 129 kph, but that it accelerates instantly to that speed upon closing its doors in St Petersburg and never slows for any reason until it gets to Nizhny Novgorod. He closes with the smirking observation that real high-speed trains can do 300 kph.

In fact, the SAPSAN’s top operating speed is 217 mph (349 kph), and during tests it achieved 255 mph (410 kph). Various factors may make it unwise to have the throttle all the way open (figuratively speaking, as SAPSAN has no locomotive, and passengers sit in the front car as well), such as weather, entering or leaving a station and so on, but the SAPSAN achieved a very respectable 250 kph on its initial passenger run, and 281 kph during trials on Russian rails. Want more explanation? Sure. From the NYT reference I already cited, “Pulling out of the St. Petersburg station on the test run, the Russian conductor kept the Sapsan throttled back at a modest 90 miles an hour as it rattled over older track in the city, making the typical clickety-clack noise of a train. High-speed rails are welded together and silent. It was like driving a new Porsche over a rutted road. Out on refurbished track, the train accelerated to 150 miles an hour, the threshold until additional track improvements are made.”

Had enough of Dave Essel’s fantasy island bullshit yet? No? Good; let’s move on. Mr. Essel’s “curiosity was sparked” by his observation that the joint venture with Seimens sounded more like a purchase contract, and his detective skills were speedily rewarded! All Russia is contributing is money!!

So what? If you go back to my first train reference, you’ll note Siemens views its contract with Russia as an opportunity to demonstrate what it could do…..in America. Yes, American “high speed rail” – currently mulling an increase in top speed to 220 mph –  is a national embarrassment, and Siemens is looking to displace the government-subsidized AMTRAK. If and when it does, against such stiff competition as SNCF of France and JR Central of Japan, what do you suppose will be the American national contribution to the joint venture? That’s right – money. Obviously, Japan and France already know a considerable amount about building high-speed trains, and if AMTRAK was America’s contribution, just get out of the way. You might get to paint little flags on the doors, though – maybe an eagle or two.

Moving right along, we learn that Dave Essel is shocked, shocked!!! to discover that Russia is purchasing rails from Japan. Can’t Russia even make proper rails? After all, don’t they have, like, a huge steel industry or something? Why, yes, they do. Doesn’t America have a huge steel industry as well? Yes? Then why is America the world’s fourth-biggest importer of steel (after China, South Korea and Germany)? Can’t Americans even make steel? Look; a couple of years ago the U.S. imported $11 Billion worth of steel from BRIC countries, including Russia.

It’s called trade, Dave. Countries do it all the time. This isn’t hard stuff, you should know it, especially since your country ran a trade deficit last year of better than $380 Billion, most of which was stuff Americans are perfectly capable of making for themselves. As your mistress is fond of saying; ouch, ouch, ouch.

Getting progressively crazier, Essel goes on to point out that tickets for the high-speed trains are much more expensive than regular trains, putting them out of reach of “plain folks”, and cites an article reporting that some of these “plain folks” throw things at the SAPSAN, thus proving the proletariat hates it. This is ridiculous; SAPSAN carried 77,000 passengers in its first month. Know why the tickets are more expensive than regular train tickets, Dave? Because high-speed rail is designed to compete with….air travel. Going back once again to the NYT reference, “In other countries, high-speed trains have roundly beaten planes on price, overall travel time and convenience at ranges up to 600 miles between major cities. After high-speed trains between Paris and Lyons became well established, for example, commercial flights all but disappeared. And in the first year of operation, a Madrid-to-Barcelona high-speed link cut the air travel market about 50 percent.” SAPSAN can carry about 100 more passengers than a Boeing 747.

“The €630 million spent on buying the trains from Siemens would have gone a long way towards upgrading Russian train production.” Yes, it might have. It would also have allowed you to go on mocking Russia’s antiquated rail service, which I suspect is much more on your mind than any real concern for Russian technological advancement.

“Due to lack of safety procedures along Russia’s railway tracks, since December 2009 the trains have already killed 5 people in 5 separate incidents.” Yes, unfortunately, train accidents happen even in countries that pay attention to safety.

Overall, a smug, know-it-all “analysis” from a Russophobe whose primary reference appears to have been – Russian Wikipedia. Nice try, Dave. A person who says stupid things isn’t necessarily a stupid person. But that’s the way to bet.

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21 Responses to Let The Train Take The Strain, or, Dave Essel Is Just Special

  1. Misha says:

    Nice blog Mark.

    I’m in general agreement with your takes.

    Thanks for linking my AC column.

    I’ve been of the view that it’s not beneficial to get too wound up by what’s said at a particular venue you reference.

    Your informative reply leads me to second guess that stance a bit.



  2. marknesop says:

    My pleasure, Mike; I like your style.

  3. Misha says:

    Mark, if not already aware of, I suspect you might like this chap as well:


    In a non-PC way, he covers issues like Ukraine and disputed former Communist territories in a way that neocon, neolib and flat out anti-Russian folks don’t prefer.

    Russia can be spun in different ways. Some immediate examples come to mind.

    I suspect that Russia’s recent success at the FINA (aquatics) and IAAF (track and field) European championships isn’t mentioned at a certain venue. On talking points regarding BRIC, which of the four countries has the higher per capita ownership of cars and middle class?

    I look forward to reading your future posts. There’s certainly no lack of commentary out there to refute.

    • marknesop says:

      Thanks very much, Mike; I have seen this site on others’ blogrolls and have been meaning to add it – almost everything on my blogroll comes from Russo-realist heavyweights like Sean’s Russia Blog, Sublime Oblivion, Poemless or A Good Treaty, or general feel-good sites like Dividing My Time. I’ll add this site.

      Thanks for the sports tips – that’s certainly an area of bizarre unreality at the venue you mention. You’re right that there’s no lack of commentary out there to refute; but on the bright side, I never have to ponder what I’m going to write about. All the heavy lifting is done for me! Warmest regards,


  4. Misha says:

    I’ll let him know Mark.

    I see you’ve posted another gem sice my last visit.

    Among blogs, I like The Ivanov Report’s way of breaking down WaPo articles. Eugene at that bog has written gems on some other issues as well.

    • marknesop says:

      I love Eugene Inanov – he’s so logical, and has that dry, wry delivery that pokes fun at people in a way that’s not confrontationally insulting (which, I’m afraid, I lack the self-discipline to do). He’s also quick to respond to comments, and makes you feel like your opinion is valuable. I have a notion he’d make a pretty good mid-level public servant. like perhaps regional governor somewhere, something like that; I’d vote for him in a minute. He has a way of telling you that you’re full of shit in a manner that makes you ashamed for having wasted his time, but at least you learn something.

  5. Richard says:

    Who is this Essel idiot?

    • marknesop says:

      I’m damned if I know – a google search reveals one well-known Dave Essel, who doesn’t appear to be this guy; he’s a guest lecturer on health and diet or something. This is probably some guy much like the academic Russia watchers – A Good Treaty, Sublime Oblivion, Mark Adomanis – who has an academic background in the field and (obviously) reads and speaks Russian, but who has decided to use The Force for evil. I’ve seen a couple of his articles, some of which he reports on himself, and some of which he simply translates and lets LR run with them like a chew-toy. His tone is invariably smug and virtuous, as if he were turning in his parents for thoughtcrime or something. It’s funny, how some people get off on hating another entire demographic to the point they won’t give them credit for anything.

      • Misha says:

        At times, the unofficially if not at times officially “Russophile”-“Russophobe” “debate” comes across as a freak show intentionally leaving out some better options. Cronyism seems to be at least one key factor.

        “Russian Studies” as such covers a wide range. I’ve yet to see someone who is excellent at every issue falling under that field.

        • marknesop says:

          There are a couple of genuine academics in the field whose education I respect; AGT, Mark Adomanis, Poemless, people who have actually studied the subject. All my knowledge of Russia is practical, balanced with a working lifetime of studying their military forces in a professional capacity – as the enemy, during the Cold War.

          Dave Essel is still fighting the Cold War, still sowing the earth with dragons’ teeth of propaganda and misdirection. That’s easy enough, for the audience to which he and LR cater is not particularly demanding.

  6. Misha says:

    Besides the ones you mention, there’re others as well Mark. Like I said, it’s a vast field where no one appears well versed on everything. Someone knowledgeable in some areas stands to lack in some others.

    Issues like Russo-Ukrainian relations, Russo-Polish relations and disputed former Communist bloc territories are areas where anti-Russian views have gotten the upper hand. Not all of the media biases against Russia get fully covered by some sources. This is why it’s good IMO to diversify within reason as much as possible









    A partial listing to underscore the point on other available sources which are quite competent.

    I’ve little doubt that on one of my bad days, anyone of the propped critics of Russia would’ve a tough time getting a hit off of me.



    • marknesop says:

      Good morning, Mike; you’re absolutely correct, and typically the genuine Russian-studies intellectuals have tenure somewhere, rather than pounding away at a blog. I have no objection to the educated and the cloddishly stupid alike expressing dislike of Russia for a good reason. It was an empire once, and made a lot of enemies. Its methods could certainly be described as heavy-handed, and it went on the odd psychotic purge in which it killed many of its own.

      Although Israel, for example, has little such ancient history (being an artificial country created by fiat) it is unacceptable in any media to criticize Israel. Even genuine, well-founded criticisms are met with vigorous pushback, and unsubstantitated criticism is rapidly elevated to hate speech. Sometimes it is, and when this is so it should be exposed and eliminated.

      Not so Russia. Casual ignorance on the part of politicians and media figures is encouraged. Russians are stereotyped as “dirty Commies” in a way that Germans never are as Nazis, and terrible things Russians (such as Stalin) did are regularly reviewed to keep them fresh, as if they happened yesterday. You might say that the Germans don’t put pictures of Hitler on the sides of their buses, and that’s true – I can’t imagine what made Russians do that with Stalin . He’s a part of the country’s history, of course, but giving him that kind of exposure inevitably appears as approval.

      It’s a strange country, but I don’t believe today’s Russia is anything like as evil as its descriptions, and deliberate falsehoods about its progress and prosperity serve no sensible purpose.

      • Misha says:

        Hi Mark,

        I once again appreciate your thoughtful comments.

        Stalin was on the winning side in WW II unlike Hitler. I suspect that has a good deal to do with the point you raise. What if the situation was the reverse? Keep in mind that during WW II, Hollywood treated Stalin as “Uncle Joe,” without mention of his shortcomings.

        I see your point about Israel partly relating to my observation that a La Judeophobe site wouldn’t be as accepted as the one with a similar name that’s directed at Russia and Russians.

        I believe that Stalin’s overall popularity in Russia is limited from what some suggest.

        Intelligence and stupidity can be found among people with seemingly good paper credentials and those who aren’t as comparatively impressive on paper. Technically, I think there’s a reasonable enough way to determine what is and isn’t quality material. I suspect that many elitny shy away from this aspect as a means of maintaining an imperfect status quo, which they feel comfortable enough with.

        I sense a “culture” (more like a lack thereof) of wannabe types who suck up to this situation for advancement sake.

  7. Corey says:

    If you want to read something really funny about Dave Essel I can refer you to a very humorous link. http://libertypeace.blogspot.com/2010/07/russian-spies-and-aerated-crisps.html . There is also an immigration for Russians help group(RF Foundation I think) that criticized his translation work at the bottom of their internet posting of his translation. Just to let you know. La Russophobe gives this guy a good deal of space which tells you…

    • marknesop says:

      Hi, Corey! Yes, I read that story – he’s the commenter from La Russophobe who was formerly identified as “Voice of Reason”, and he does a great job stitching Essel up here. Dave Essel is an idiot, but it’s his smug conclusions that drive me around the bend. Who is this guy? He seems to be as anonymous as “Zigfeld” herself. Both seem to be advancing a claim to know Russia better than anyone, when they plainly get almost all their information from anti-government niche newspapers. When they detail a practical experience (as Essel did with the aerated crispbreads) they report a personal impression as if it were confirmed and irrefutable fact.

      • Corey says:

        Thanks for the replies Mike! I finally found the RF link I mentioned above but could not remember. It’s http://www.rf-agency.ru/eng/stat en.htm. I’ve never seen anything quite like this link either!

        • Corey says:

          My link doesn’t seem to be working so I went back manually. If you go into the Bing search engine and put in R&F Agency Inc. the first thing that is listed is the home page. On the upper left side of the home page is a list with facts and digits at its bottom. Click it and you’re there. I found the translated page to be humorously cynical in tone and quite funny. Translational criticism is right at the bottom. Dave Essel said something on LR about his positive view of this group. Says a lot right there.

          • marknesop says:

            Wow. That certainly sounds like him. What a tool. He’s a big fan of quoting statistics and percentages that most people are too lazy to look up. I liked the part where Zbigniew Brzezinski said Russia would cease to exist as a state by 2012. Better get your army trained up, Zbiggy, because it doesn’t look like that one’s coming true! Thanks for this!

  8. Well, I think that clears up two issues for me personally. How about any person else?

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