Laughter, according to Dr. Robert Provine, is part of the universal human vocabulary. We don’t do it consciously; it is an impulse, and we’re all born with the ability – even Dick Cheney, although you may have never seen him do it. A variety of sensations and visual cues make us laugh; we sometimes laugh when we’re nervous or afraid, and nearly all of us laugh when we see someone do something stupid that we could have forecast was going to happen. Like the woman at the intersection whose car is sticking out into it, but the light turns red before she can make her turn. She backs up, but you can see by the back-up lights she’s forgotten to take it out of reverse. You know when the light changes, she’s going to nail it, and crash into the car behind her. Or the guy in the mall who’s half-turned watching the curvaceous bottom of a passing girl going in the other direction, and walks face-first into a support pillar. The exuberantly uncoordinated drunk dancing by himself in a nightclub; the girl returning from the bathroom who has unknowingly tucked her skirt into the back of her pantyhose. Okay, that last one is a little harder to predict, but it’s still funny when it happens. Our fellow humans provide us deep reservoirs of amusement.
In that spirit, please join me now in laughing at the latest hyperbolic effort of possibly the most predictably stupid nutjob in America.
Unfortunately, recognition of this piece will be interpreted by its author as acknowledgement that it is some kind of powerful threat, instead of the farcical nonsense it is. That’s too bad, because it serves as an excellent example of unintentional comedy.
Let’s begin at the beginning, shall we? Oh, dear….this looks like trouble for Mr. Putin. The Netherlands has voted to sanction all the individuals on the “Magnitsky List”, and they won’t be able to enter the Netherlands, and perhaps their assets in the Netherlands will be frozen. The thing is, as far as I can make out, Mr. Putin is not on the list. Some 20 prison officials who were found culpable by a Russian investigation into Magnitsky’s death were already fired, so presumably that trims the list down a little. But it seems actually to be pretty hard to find out who is on the list. This reference does helpfully point out it includes,
“Individuals who were engaged in any act that was instrumental in causing Sergei Magnitsky’s death;
– Individuals who conspired to commit tax fraud against the Russian Federation through a scheme targeting Hermitage;
– Spouses, sons, daughters or parents of the same individuals.”
You know, at this point one would have to wonder why Sergei Magnitsky was so important to the United States and, apparently, the western world. I mean, Osama bin Laden – who killed 3000 westerners, mostly Americans, on their own soil – rated only, “I truly am not that concerned about him“. This was eloquently discussed with excellent attention to perspective by Eugene Ivanov. Yet Mr. Magnitsky’s death while in custody was so fundamentally horrifying that even the children and parents of anyone engaged in any act that was instrumental to his death must be punished.
You see, that puzzles me. Because violent death while in custody shouldn’t be shocking to U.S. senators – they’ve seen it before. But for Senator Cardin – co-sponsor of the “Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Act”, the unwillingness of the U.S. Attorney-General to consider waterboarding at Abu Ghraib and in Afghanistan “torture” was only “deeply disappointing”. The deliberate destruction by the CIA of tapes recording interrogations, some of which resulted in the death of the subject, merely “raised additional concerns”. For his part, Representative McGovern (the other co-sponsor) – while acknowledging that the war in Iraq was based on deliberate falsehoods, therefore the deaths of those who died in U.S. custody were for nothing – felt that “the abuse and torture by U.S forces of detainees…have made [the USA] an unpopular force in Iraq…” Gee, d’ya think?
What do you say, boys; are we going to see a “Justice for Dilar Dababa Act”? A “Justice for Abdul Wahid (who died under interrogation while shackled and gagged) Act”? Considering President Medvedev fired 20 people – among them the Deputy Minister of the Federal Penitentiary system – while President Bush blamed the deaths in custody in Iraq on “a few bad apples” and punished a handful of low-ranking soldiers – it occurs to me the USA is not in the best moral position where deaths of prisoners are concerned.
Something else that seems to rankle the Justice for Magnitsky (which apparently nothing less than the resignation of the entire Russian government will satisfy) crowd is that some members who are on the “Magnitsky List” were “promoted” since his death. Well, just by way of perspective, let’s look at what happened to Major-General Geoffrey Miller, United States Army, the Commanding Officer at Guantanamo Bay who was invited to come to Abu Ghraib to stiffen the spines of those sissies who were failing to get results because they were squeamish or something. Major-General Miller’s harsh tactics were directly blamed for the cascade of abuses at Abu Ghraib, by General Taguba. But he was allowed to retire honourably, after being twice cleared of wrongdoing by fellow military commanders, and presented with the Distinguished Service Medal, the highest non-combat honour for General Officers.
On the occasion, outbursts of choler and high dudgeon by Senators and/or U.S. Representatives were conspicuous by their absence.
The whole Sergei-Magnitsky-as-inspirational-figure thing gets easier to understand, though, the more reports you read on the “Magnitsky List”, because a couple of names pop up in every one of them – multimillionaire William “Bill” Browder, and Hermitage Capital, the firm of which he is CEO, which was implicated in a tax-fraud scheme and fled Russia just ahead of being kicked out. In fact, in documents ranging from minor legal declarations to scandal-rag whisperings t0 plants in business circulars, Browder and Hermitage Capital keep surfacing, along with another name – Renaissance Capital. Renaissance Capital is the biggest investment bank in Russia, run by New-Zealander CEO Stephen Jennings, and is still doing business and making big money in Russia. So I guess it’s only to be expected that Renaissance Capital is also accused of helping the Russian government swindle Hermitage out of a fortune.
Also naturally, according to La Russophobe, Putin is the puppetmaster pulling the strings of all the players – except Bill “Diogenes” Browder, of course – the quintessential searcher after honest men, flitting from country to country stirring up trouble against Russia and his remaining rivals.
Curiously, Browder didn’t always feel that way about Putin. In fact, he once had a bit of a crush on him. Let’s go back in time, to 2004 (insert shimmering time-travel keyboard effect here). Putin, we hear, is “a true reformer, the one ally of Western capitalists who have come to Russia to create a new market economy but have found themselves adrift in a sea of corrupt bullies”. Say what? Vladimir Putin, protector of western capitalism? Wow; perhaps there’s more – let’s look. Oh, my God. Andrew Kuchins, Director of the Carnegie Moscow Centre, calls Bill Browder “the chief cheerleader for Putin”!!! On the battle between Khodorkovsky and the state, Browder is actually quoted as saying, “I would trust Putin any day of the week”. Jeez, Bill, what happened?
It might have something to do with the fact that when the article was written, Hermitage Capital – which specialized in wrecking undervalued Russian companies in which it owned a significant interest, then stuffing its pockets with money when the state came in to clean them up – was the biggest foreign investment fund in Russia. Now it’s….you guessed it – Renaissance Capital, Browder’s arch-rival. Hmmmm….
Well, this is fascinating, but let’s move on. Oh, no – Germany had to withdraw Putin’s nomination for a prize hardly anyone had ever heard of. Actually, that’s not exactly what happened: the anti-Putin baying was so loud that the organizers canceled the prize and the ceremony altogether, and now nobody will get it. That’s very mature, I must say, and certainly provides Russians with a powerful inducement to be just like westerners as quickly as the transformation can be accomplished. Did you hear a lot of Russian shrieking when Tony Blair (self-serving, smug, lying leader of the U.K. who backed the American invasion of Iraq, and was probably the brains of the operation, considering George W. Bush was barely able to dress himself without adult supervision), Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Bremer (the idiot who kicked off the Iraqi insurgency by disbanding the Iraqi Army) and George “Slam-Dunk” Tenet were all awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom? You did not. I think that’s all we need to say about that.
Continuing the “Oh, no!!” chorus, we learn that oligarchs Alexander Lebedev and Mikhail Prokhorov have leveled “devastating criticism” at Putin’s administration.
You mean proud KGB spy Alexander Lebedev? That Alexander Lebedev? The one who’s possibly one of Putin’s agents? The one who was recently accused of “bowing and scraping before Putin“? Yes, that criticism will carry a lot of weight, I imagine. Putin is probably packing his bags to flee the country right now. What about Mikhail Prokhorov? Aside from being another of Putin’s potential agents, he was also a major investor (to the tune of half a billion) in and part-owner of Renaissance Capital, the “corporate raiders” allegedly in league with the state to ruin Hermitage Capital – keeping his pirozhki-hole shut might be a wise course of action at this point. Especially if this is the extent of his political chops – Mubarek was a dictator who was propped up by the United States for thirty years – something his people evidently did not care for, since they tried six times to assassinate him. That’s an average of two assassination attempts per decade, for those fascinated with statistics. Egypt does, however, have something in common with the USA – they shared similar levels of unemployment last year (the USA was, in fact, slightly worse, although the “Arab Spring” fixed that problem, as Egypt’s unemployment rate went from 8.92 to 11.9%). The USA currently has 9.2% unemployed, while Russia’s rate is 6.1%. None of the countries or continents named by Gorbachev (under whose leadership per-capita GDP in Russia was less than half what it is now), Lebedev (Zimbabwe per-capita GDP $400.00, Russia per-capita GDP $15,900.00; yep, lots of similarities there) or Prokhorov has anything in common with Russia other than being situated on the same planet.
Last, but not least, we come to the tragic sinking of the passenger vessel Bulgaria, of which Vladimir Putin was apparently Captain. What?? He wasn’t? Well, then, what has the accident got to do with Putin? Hold on; perhaps he helped build it – nope, it was built in Czechoslovakia. Well, then, perhaps it was a state vessel of the Russian Federation. No, no…it was owned and operated by a local touring company in Bolgar. Well, it sank in Russia! Oh, wait, no it didn’t – it sank in Tatarstan. Aha! Gotcha!! Putin is Prime Minister of Tatarstan!!
Well, actually, no. He’s Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, of which Tatarstan is a member state – but Tatarstan declared its sovereignty in 1990, and has its own president and everything. If you’re still wondering what the sinking of the Bulgaria has to do with Putin, you’re not alone.
Oh – maybe you meant that as a head of state, Putin should have anticipated the tragedy, and followed advice from experts who urged him to take action to prevent a completely preventable tragedy that resulted in loss of lives which otherwise would likely not have occurred. Maybe you meant that Putin was cocky, assuring his countrymen that the nation was completely prepared for such a disaster when no preparations whatever had been made. I sure hope so, because that almost exactly describes the performance of the U.S. president in the days just before Hurricane Katrina struck, killing 1,836 Americans.
That doesn’t make what happened on the Bulgaria acceptable by any stretch of the imagination – it was the result of stupid negligence, and I am glad to see the incident is being followed by recriminations, arrests, punishment and a reexamination of the regulations. It does, however, point out once more that few are legitimately in the chair of international critic.
As well as being social and contagious, our laughter is a message that we send to other people. Most often, it does not follow jokes. This case, however, is an exception to that rule.