Paradoxically, I’m always glad when Miriam Elder puts out another piece for Global Post or The Guardian; it’s a bittersweet kind of thing, because on the one hand, it’s always such a venomous, catty piece of trash. But on the other, it offers me such enjoyable opportunities to contrast her breathless confidences and giggly rubbish with the real world.
The Guardian, as many know already, is turning into something beyond embarrassment in journalistic circles. It apparently doesn’t bother to research anything, and also employs serial paint-chip-eater and plagiarist Luke Harding, as if one gluebagging Russophobe were not enough. It obviously is in business solely to sell newspapers, and if it has to turn into something like a comic book for adults in order to achieve that goal, so be it, by God. Suffice it to say that just when you think the profession of journalism cannot get any more maudlin, dozy, lazy or mendacious, the Brits will surprise you. And The Guardian is the kind of paper Brits like to pretend is printed somewhere else. Like Burundi, or Côte d’Ivoire.
Ms. Elder is always at her lyrical best when her subject is Vladimir Putin; a shiver of loathing seems to ripple through her whenever she sees his picture or hears his name, and she is compelled by inner demons to write something spiteful. Consider, for example, this past Thursday’s piece announcing Mr. Putin’s upcoming birthday, this weekend. Entitled, “Lavish Celebrations Planned for Vladimir Putin’s 60th Birthday” (thanks to Jon Hellevig for the link), it promises binge-shopping-expensive events that are apparently being extorted from a country that doesn’t really care much for him, but is too weak from his endless crackdowns to protest beyond a quavering exhalation as it gives up its last ruble for the Great Dictator’s Neroesque bacchanalia.
I just know we’re going to run into controversy over the meaning of the term “lavish”, so let’s get Webster in our corner before we go any further. According to Merriam-Webster, in the context and grammar Ms. Elder is using it, “lavish” means “marked by profusion or excess”; synonyms are exorbitant, extravagant, extreme, immoderate and excessive. Pay attention, because you’re going to be seeing those again.
Ready? Let’s take a look.
Right away, we learn that Mr. Putin is a man who has everything. He has been presented on previous birthdays with tiger cubs and sexy calendars featuring scantily-clad women. The latter was a project by extremely attractive journalism students of Moscow State University, although extremely attractive young women in Russia are the rule rather than the exception. I should just like to mention the western press had kittens over that, although none of the women was even close to nude and the calendar was their idea – they were not exploited. But almost immediately – because use of “Putin” and “joke” in the same sentence is not permitted unless the sentence is “Putin is a joke” – a “protest calendar” was rushed out which also featured attractive women; however, all were completely and severely dressed, and wore an “x” of tape across their mouths, suggestive of forced silence. The lighthearted captions were gone, replaced with weighty liberal favourites like “When will you free Khodorkovsky?” and “When will the next terrorist attack be?” and “Who killed Anna Politkovskaya?”. There was a difference in these calendars beyond the amount of bare skin on show – one was made without prompting by political forces. Can you guess which one it was? I might add the second calendar was very well-received by the British hypostocracy, where bare tits in the news are as common as breakfast cereal and are regularly featured alongside it in the morning paper.
Mr. Putin celebrated previous birthdays with his old friends Gerhard Schroeder and Silvio Berlusconi, we hear, the latter a virtual poster-boy for corruption who wears a custom wristwatch that cost over a half-million dollars. This is evidently a disdainfully sniffing, you-are-judged-by-the-company-you-keep sort of comment that is meant to suggest Mr. Putin fits well in a threesome of the corrupt.
That so? I have to feel a bit sorry for Silvio Berlusconi, because he didn’t seem to grasp how toxic his friendship was, but he was nonetheless a great friend also to western democratic boasters Tony Blair – who he endorsed for EU President – and George W. Bush. Time Magazine described him, in 2008, as Bush’s last best friend. I guess that means Bush and Blair were corrupt, too. Who knew? Well, in Bush’s case, quite a few people knew – while we’re talking about birthdays, how did George W. Bush spend his 60th birthday? At a private, invited-guests-only dinner party at the Chicago Firehouse restaurant, with his good buddy, Chicago mayor Richard Daley. At the President’s specific request. That was a big day. While the President and his good buddy, Mayor Daley, were chowing down at the Chicago Firehouse, four of Mayor Daley’s top aides were convicted in federal court….of corruption. Well, well; imagine that. Oh, and four American soldiers were killed in Iraq, where President Bush told them they had a job to do that still wasn’t finished. For them, it would stay unfinished forever. The oldest of them was 22.
Sorry about that. Something just comes over me when American journalists working for British tabloids draw snarky parallels about how corrupt you are because other people you know are corrupt. Let’s move on.
Well, if we needed anything to lighten the mood, here’s the suggestion that Putin’s rule as President “faces an unprecedented challenge…from tens of thousands of opposition protesters”. Is this challenge unprecedented, really? Did more than tens of thousands vote for someone other than Putin in the Presidential election? They certainly did. He still won easily. There are more than 13 million people in Moscow alone, and “tens of thousands” is about as much of a threat as….as….well, I can’t even think of a comparison, but it’s not very challenging. But thanks all the same for that sad little bit of comedy.
Banners celebrating Putin will be hung on a bridge in Rostov, we hear. Ooooo…lavish. I would almost have to say excessive, and the poor citizens of Rostov will likely see their taxes doubled next year when the bill for that disgusting extravagance comes due. Of course we’re going to contrast that with something, and I’m kind of partial to the subject of George W. Bush’s birthdays, because they are truly the gift that keeps on giving. How did he spend his birthday the second year he was in office? By flying his entire family – brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, right down to Barney the Presidential Scottie – at taxpayers’ expense aboard Air Force One to the 6-acre family summer home in Kennebunkport, Maine, one of only 6 sites in the USA over which aircraft are forbidden to fly. I’m afraid that sounds immoderate to me, to say nothing of lavish. If you were wondering how much it costs to operate Air Force One, it’s just a hair under $180,000.00 per hour. Average flight time to Portland, Maine from Washington, DC, 68 minutes. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest the cost of some Happy Birthday Mr. President banners, bridge size, would run you quite a bit less than that.
A poetry reading will be held on Arbat, in honour of Mr. Putin’s birthday. Will it be more prestigious – lavish and extreme, even – than bringing top-ranked golf pros Phil Mickelson, Fred Funk, Justin Leonard, Jeff Maggert and Brad Faxon to the White House for a birthday bash? I daresay not, but it’s the thought that counts, right?
Oh, this is my favourite part. Children from “at least one school” (that means “one” when you want to imply there are many, many more that have passed below the radar) have been “tasked” with coming up with 100 pictures of The Dear Leader, in tribute to his birthday. Yes, the children of Taganrog will not be going home until the pictures are complete, as they colour until their little fingers bleed under the soulless gaze of mirrored sunglasses worn by pitiless FSB agents. According to “documents leaked on the internet”.
Really; is there any need of anything as silly as this? The suggestion the “documents” were “leaked” makes it appear they were something horrible that was being kept a secret until some decent soul exposed them to Ms. Elder’s unflinching gaze. Meanwhile, reporting that the children were “tasked” makes it appear involuntary and forced, even though it was no more so than a math assignment.
But if we need to continue providing a counter-argument, fine; let’s roll. In 2006, at the White House Easter Egg Roll, 100 children assembled from the Gulf Coast States (according to leaked documents found by Google) were waterboarded by the CIA until they sang a song of praise to President George W. Bush, Congress and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for the sterling services rendered by the three to their states, which were pounded to shit by Hurricane Katrina. According to the song, “Our country’s stood beside us/ People have sent us aid./ Katrina could not stop us, our hopes will never fade./ Congress, Bush and FEMA/ People across our land/ Together have come to rebuild us and we join them hand-in-hand!” According to What Really Happened, the response by all three to what sources call the most devastating natural disaster in American history could not have been more fucked up if Pee-Wee Herman was in charge and he sent the Minnesota Quilters to handle it.
Let’s take a hop across the pond (not on Air Force One, though; we can’t afford that kind of gas bill) to Merrie England, where somebody else had a celebration; Tony Blair’s 11-year-old son, Leo. The Blairs hosted an end-of-term party at their £6 Million country home – but then charged all the children who attended £10.00 apiece to ride a bus up to the door, for security reasons. That’s kind of refreshing, really – none of that draw-me-a-picture or sing-me-a-song stuff, just show me the money. One can only imagine the shriek of horror were Putin to pull either stunt. In fact, on the occasion that children sang a song to current President Barack Obama, Republican National Committee Chairman (at the time) Michael Steele called it “the type of propaganda you would see in Stalin’s Russia or Kim Jong Il’s North Korea. I never thought the day would come when I’d see it here in America.”
There’s much more foolishness in the same vein, such as Putin’s giving a poolside interview to a “giddy” (presumably – but not necessarily – female) interviewer while Putin was in the pool. He was, we are told, “bare-chested” – highly unusual for a man in a swimming pool, where most men wear a dinner jacket, snort, snort – and wearing “small black swimming trunks”, which Ms. Elder apparently scoped with her X-Ray vision as he was up to his armpits in water.
Much is made in this article of the significance of Mr. Putin’s 60th birthday, the age when Russian men are pensionable. I wouldn’t put too much stock in that; Mr. Putin is in good physical shape and does not appear to be much of a drinker, or smoke. Unless stress blows up his ticker, it looks like there’s a lot of life left in him yet. He can draw on inspirational examples like Winnifred Pristell, a 70-year-old great-grandmother who is also a powerlifter, a current world-record holder who can bench-press 176.2 pounds and deadlift 270. Or Jennifer Figge, who swam the Atlantic at 56. Meanwhile, if you feel like making fools of yourselves by holding “flash mobs” carrying eyeglasses and carpet slippers, be my guest. Just don’t act surprised when your party polls less than 5%, as if Russians didn’t know what they were missing by not electing such a bright bunch. As Moscow Exile points out in a comment to the last post – it’s the same old message, which just gets shouted louder the more often it’s contradicted.
Happy Birthday, Mr. President. Happy Birthday to you.