As promised, we’re going to move on with the remainder of our Rogue’s Gallery; having a look at their stock in trade, poring over their smug prognostications and speculating on what might make them so virulently opposed to people who have done nothing to them and who do not threaten their lifestyle or security.
Now, as at other occasions, it strikes me that no people are so burdened with the constant requirement to provide proof of their intentions, only to have it mocked or derided. Have you heard the expression, “A woman must do everything twice as well as a man in order to be thought half as good”? I’m sure all the women have. This seems to me to apply with particular emphasis also to the Russian people. If they say the economy is improving, the topic is switched to their life expectancy or some other measure in which they come off poorly. If they say an election was clean, all the attention is offered to dissidents who say it was not. If they complain that anti-ballistic-missile systems to be located close to their borders are designed to cancel out their nuclear deterrent, they are told that the systems are to guard against attack by an enemy who currently has no weapons that could reach the nations the systems are supposedly designed to protect, and they are scolded for not happily accepting those assurances. Nothing is ever good enough, and their behaviour is consistently portrayed as unreasonable.
Setting unrealistic standards that nobody else is expected to maintain is one thing – just making shit up is something else altogether. An excellent example of the latter is offered by Nicholas Eberstadt, whose report, “Drunken Nation: Russia’s Depopulation Bomb” quickly became a go-to reference for all the self-congratulatory pseudoacademics disposed to believe the nonsense in it. Mr. Eberstadt, by most standards of measure, is too smart for this kind of ignorance, being the holder of the Henry Wendt chair in Political Economy, Harvard-educated and a demographer.
Would you be a little disappointed if the computer tech you hired to reformat your hard drive came credentialed from MIT and had written a couple of books on computer repair, and then you came into your office to find him dressed in hyena skins, ululating at your hard drive on the floor while sprinkling it with handfuls of little painted bones? That’s the kind of gap between education and performance illustrated by Drunken Nation. Let’s take a look at it.
“The current Russian depopulation” he writes, in 2009, “which began in 1992 and shows no signs of abating…” In fact, what became known as “The Russian Cross” – that point at which births and deaths crossed into the net negative in 1992 – reversed in 2011, as was most knowledgeably discussed by Anatoly Karlin at Sublime Oblivion. You could excuse Mr. Eberstadt for not knowing that would happen, perhaps, since Seeing The Future is not on the curriculum at Harvard. However, suggesting the imagined “depopulation bomb” showed “no signs of abating” looks kind of stupid considering the Russian population grew by about 20,000 in 2009. I expect he was the laughingstock of Demographers Summer Camp 2010. This same reference adds that much of the growth is due to a falling death rate – how does a demographer with as many notches on his gun as Mr. Eberstadt has miss something like that? History offers no examples, he assures us, of of a society that has demonstrated sustained material advance in the face of long-term population decline. However, Goldman-Sachs economist Jim O’Neill forecast the following year that Russia’s economy could overtake that of Germany by 2029 and that of Japan by 2037. Did I mention Mr. Eberstadt is also an economist? Yes, I can see why you’d be surprised.
I don’t want to make this whole post about Eberstadt’s flailings, but I simply can’t overlook his extensive squeaking about the declining marriage rate, and how many Russians are born out of wedlock. No European nation, he once again assures us, that has embarked upon the same demographic transition as Russia’s—declining marriage rates with rising divorce; the spread of cohabitation as alternative to marriage; delayed age at marriage and sub-replacement fertility regimens—has reverted to more “traditional” family patterns and higher levels of completed family size.
That so? I beg to differ. The marriage rate in the UK is down to less than half now, at 48%, and has been declining since the 70’s. Last time I looked, the UK was in Europe. But if not being in Europe is not a showstopper, then this might be a good time to mention that the marriage rate in the USA is hardly better. That should not suggest that either country has “reverted to more traditional family patterns”, (quite the opposite, obviously) but nobody seems to have spotted their rapidly-approaching collapse, either, since nobody seems to think it’s worth an academic report. Remember, you heard it here first.
Next out of the chute, Tsarina of Sarcasm Miriam Elder. The article that accompanied the photo – speaking of marriage – is illustrative of her style. A romantic bit of whimsy that appeared in the Moscow Times, entitled “For Whom the Wedding Bell Tolls“, it nonetheless cannot resist the opportunity to showcase how pedestrian Russians are compared to their racy, with-it American counterparts. Russian girls marry because they are raised to believe it’s what you should do, not necessarily because they want to. Perhaps that’s why Russia has the world’s highest rate of divorce, according to the UN. Dig on that a little, newlyweds. Hope I didn’t spoil your happiness.
Except, as the learned Mr. Eberstadt tried to tell us, above, marriage is critical to demographic stability. Forget for a moment that he seems to know as much about raising kangaroos in captivity as he does about demographics. He seems quite clear that not getting married is bad for the nation’s long-term stability. Is that important? Might be – because, as we’ve already established, half the couples in the United States are not married. Oh, and the divorce rate? I’ll take Ms. Elder’s word that the UN says Russia has the highest rate of divorce, because she doesn’t substantiate it. Maybe the UN is also guilty of passing along that trope, one of those urban myths that gains credibility through repetition. Because the highest rate of divorce in the world belongs to the United States, followed by Puerto Rico, which is a U.S. Territory. The USA is ahead of Russia by about a third. That’s according to NationMaster, which is recognized by the Harvard Business School and the American Library Association, and is sourced from the OECD, the UN, UNESCO, the CIA World Factbook and the World Health Organization.
Time Magazine‘s Man In Russia, Simon Shuster, seems to have twin obsessions with Putin and alcohol. Here he tunes up on Putin, suggesting the man who just got re-elected to a third term on the first ballot has a popularity problem – managing also to work in the word “Potemkin”, so beloved of Russophobes regardless of context. His coverage of the United Russia summit expresses dismay that there were so many United Russia supporters there, which causes him to be suspicious that they were all coached and choreographed to cheer for Putin. Some people had those little earpieces (call me crazy, but I imagine the Prime Minister and Presidential candidate travels with security), and Mr. Shuster speculates that those were used to coordinate the cheering. Putin is beginning to fall apart, he suggests, because – at 60 – he is entering his dotage and is “not the spry young populist he was when he took power 11 years ago”. His math, at least, is better than Eberstadt’s, but he seems oblivious to the fact that only 4 years ago his own country seriously considered electing a spry young populist of – at the time – 72. I’m not surprised he didn’t pick up on that, since it is obvious from his smirking over “the phalanxes of bureaucrats, the micromanaged crowds” that he has never covered an American Republican convention. As far as the security arrangements for the United Russia summit, does he not remember when Bush visited the German city of Mainz? Six major traffic routes were shut down, two rivers were closed to water traffic and airspace 60 miles around the city was closed to non-commercial air traffic. In the runup to the election, he relayed from fellow Russophobe Masha Lipman, “Putin will have little choice but to avoid the public”. Funny; NPR had him “running a vigorous campaign” and “speaking with martial fervor”. Never mind; there’s no penalty for being wrong as long as you’re supporting the opposition – nobody calls you a dunderhead or a fool, or wonders aloud why anyone listens to you when you’re so consistently wrong. “This is a telltale sign of absolutism,” says Evgeny Gontmakher, a Kremlin-connected pundit. “The circle of men around the leader strives to bring him good news but is afraid to show him the actual news, which is quite often bad.” The result, he adds, is a “gradual detachment from reality.” Except Gontmakher was not talking about Lipman or Shuster, but about Putin. You know; the guy whose next-closest rival got about 15% of the vote. Detached from reality, indeed.
And what’s this penchant for reporting about alcohol consumption as if Russians do nothing all day but drink popskull vodka and spend all night snoring drunkenly in preparation for the next marathon binge? For the record, Russia is not even close to the biggest alcohol consumer per capita, and is dwarfed in that department by the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, Ireland, Portugal, France, Austria and Germany – to name a few – according to the WHO. And naturally, he manages to get in a dig at Putin, for switching to a per capita financing system for schools, so that those which had too few students had to close. That this is happening all over the world as the population drifts to cities seems to have escaped him; more than 75% of the world’s population now lives in cities. And the people of Pskov did not simply evaporate – in “Russia’s demographic catastrophe”, as he colourfully puts it – they moved, likely to a city. But no amount of artistic license is too much, it seems, when the goal is making the folks back home feel snug and secure in their knowledge that they have a great life, as measured by the imagined misery of others. It must be such a comfort in the trailer park to know there’s a country full of drunks from which the best and brightest have fled, and which the liberal opposition is always just about to take over so they can release its bounty and reverse the decline caused by the reprehensible leader who cut its poverty rate in half and quintupled its per-capita GDP between 2000 and 2011, according to Citigroup.
Yes, that distinctive hairstyle – which invariably reminds me of Sideshow Bob from The Simpsons – belongs to Yulia Latynina. We’re not going to spend too much time on her here, because I just finished a post on her in which she castigated her own country for “invading Georgia”, and a quick stroll through her journalistic career reveals many elements of that strange duality we’ve been talking about in comments lately. Russia’s leader is so low he could dangle his legs off the edge of a kopeck because he “invaded Georgia”, but she cannot stop singing the praises of the country that invaded Iraq, did most of the donkey work and put up a great deal of the money to invade Libya and would have loved dearly to invade Syria. Russia’s arms industry should be lined up and shot because they were part of a deal (abandoned under western pressure) to sell missile systems to Iran, but thank God we have a beacon of freedom on this planet like the nation that sold Iran its Air Force and, during the Iran-Iraq War, sold weapons to both sides. The USA and Iran also cooperated in covert operations against the Soviet Union in Project Dark Gene and Project Ibex, in which American pilots flew Iranian-registered aircraft that officially did not exist (since Northrop had purged their serial numbers from its production records) into Soviet airspace. One of these aircraft was destroyed in a ramming attack by Soviet Air Force pilot Gennady Eliseev, who was killed in the attempt to prevent that aircraft from escaping. The crew of the “Iranian” aircraft – an Iranian Major and an American Colonel – survived and were released 16 days later. Fascinating stuff.
Suffice it to say that there is no Liberal boot Latynina will not lick, no level to which she will not stoop in deriding, ridiculing and undermining her country, no warning so hysterical that she will not shout it – such as the brutal manner in which Putin suppresses free speech, murdering all who dare speak their mind. And yet she remains in Russia, and yet she lives. Perhaps the Great Dictator continues to spare her because she evokes pity, like those you sometimes see who are wearing enough layers of clothing for the high Arctic even though it is summer, bedecked with crudely-scrawled signs announcing the imminent return of Jesus.
Editor’s Note: The section on Fred Weir has been removed at Mr. Weir’s request, owing to his energetic and strenuous defense of his position (see comments). Although serious differences remain with Mr. Weir’s position regarding Russia’s demographics and he seems far too willing to go along with the “brain drain” refrain, he has successfully refuted the charge of stupidity, and it is hereby withdrawn with my apologies. The original argument was based on a 2002 article which suggested Russia was losing a million people annually and that the decline was accelerating. Statistics simply do not support that, and such misconceptions contribute to a mistaken belief that the situation in Russia is irreversible and hopeless. In fact, Russia lost about 3 million people between 2002 and 2009, and has gained back a million since 2010. Similarly, a recent piece linked by Mr. Weir in his defense featured a speech by Mr. Putin that did say if a decline continued without intervention the Russian population would sink to 107 million by 2050. However, he also said that with solutions he intended to attempt, the population could rise to 154 million, which would be higher than the Russian population has been in living memory. In Mr. Weir’s piece, he described Mr. Putin’s projections as “between pessimistic and dire”.
Nonetheless, Mr. Weir presented his position in a gentlemanly and dispassionate manner, and while I don’t think he made any converts, I believe he won the respect of most for his sincerity. Others who believe they have been miscast as Russophobes are encouraged to engage.
Saving the best (looking) for last, we come to Julia Ioffe, gadfly journalist-at-large. We used to cross swords from time to time on her blog, but she scarcely has time for that any more in favour of paid work.
Julia is generally a very competent writer, and I admit I cracked up at her description of Gennady Zyuganov as resembling “nothing so much as a smooth woodcarving”. But as an American, Julia mostly follows the U.S. government default line: Putin is bad for Russia, and he must step down in favour of a liberal democrat who will implement sweeping reforms. It apparently does not matter that, as she cites in the linked article, advance polls by the non-partisan Levada Centre (who were even called to a meeting in the USA prior to the election, and can hardly be labeled pro-Putin) suggested Putin would get 66% of the vote. That’s almost exactly what he did get. But somehow the concerns of the protesters – variously characterized as “mass street protests” and “a wave of street protests” although the largest one constituted .001% of the registered electorate of about 110,000,000, and the protesters themselves were by no means all old enough to vote – are more important than the will of the majority, and Putin is an inconsiderate brute for insisting majority rule must be obeyed. Is that the way it works in western democracies? You know it isn’t.
Like most of the liberal-leaning western advisors of Russian public opinion, Julia would like to see a “progressive” liberal opposition leader like Boris Nemtsov in the driver’s seat. I don’t know how that could be expected to happen, considering he has never polled even half the vote achieved by Gennady “smooth woodcarving” Zyuganov and probably could not get elected if the voting were restricted to Homes for Unwed Mothers. That 5% or so of the population gets it, damn it.
Where Julia really stoops to meanness is in her dis-affinity for attractive Russian women. Putin’s personal photographer, because she is attractive, must be a slut. A Russian girl who won a beauty contest is an airheaded bimbo. Anna Chapman (no relation, I’m afraid) is a gold-digging tramp because she wore the wrong type of shoes for a photo shoot, in which most of the world probably did not notice she had feet.
I’m afraid that’s all the time we have right now, folks, and I ask your pardon for dragging you along for better than 3000 words this time around. I hope you’ve enjoyed our Russophobic Rogue’s Gallery, and perhaps it’s something we could do again in the future if the field changes significantly. If you are a Russophobe and I missed you, maybe you’ll make the cut next time.