Getting to Grips with the Craziness: An Introduction
Well, let’s start off slow, and take a look at the latest example of brain damage from La Russophobe. Note for further reference that the supplied links in these “editorials” often don’t say anything like what the hyperlink suggests. For example, the link that suggests Russians “scurried and mumbled and tried to cover their shock and pain” actually says nothing of the kind. In fact, you don’t have to look further than the title to see that Russia shrugs off the criticism. The Russian reaction, we are told, is “astonishingly calm, even muted”…. a “model of restraint”. Does that sound like scurrying and mumbling? I asked that you note this technique because you will find it a common one at La Russophobe. Links she cites in support often say nothing at all as she infers. Perhaps she hopes you’ll just take her word for it, and not bother to check the reference.
In fact, Russia behaved exactly as you might expect seasoned politicians to behave, because Russia’s goal in this situation is to prevent the inclusion in NATO of Georgia and Ukraine. In this, Saakashvili is a cooperative partner; the reference cited analyzes this possibility as “increasingly unlikely”. This begs the question, “what’s the champagne for?” What is there to celebrate in a political whistle-stop that didn’t achieve anything? Similarly, Russian statesmanship is evident in the conversation offered in the first linked reference; Prime Minister Putin “responded by chiding Georgia for involving Washington rather than negotiating directly with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the two breakaway enclaves at the center of its 2008 war with Russia”. To do otherwise would imply an acknowledgement that they still belong to Georgia. The NYT reference also reports “Poland and Russia are in the midst of an unprecedented warming after the catharsis of this spring’s plane crash, which killed Poland’s president and other top officials.” Scurrying and mumbling there? Nope, not so much.
Just before we leave these bogus references, my favourite quote from the NYT reference; ““If you want to eat hamburgers with the president of America somewhere in a civilized place, it means you have to behave in a civilized way,” Mr. Saakashvili told Georgian television last weekend.” Georgia has attacked South Ossetia or Abkhazia, in attempts to either stamp out secessionist movements or reclaim the territories by force of arms, three times – 1991/92, 2004 and 2008. On the first two occasions, according to the print edition of Foreign Affairs magazine, “the ragtag Georgian Army was beaten back by a combination of local fighters, irregulars from the Russian Federation and stranded ex-Soviet soldiers who found themselves in the middle of someone else’s civil war and chose to fight on behalf of the secessionists”. More recently, of course, the Russian military became formally involved. In this case, agreements negotiated between the two governments as a condition of the cease-fire provided for Russian peacekeepers to remain in place, and their numbers are balanced by numerically equal forces from South Ossetia and the Georgian Army.
But let’s take a closer look at Georgia under Saakashvili. First, for the doubters who still maintain Russia started the war in 2008, note that Saakashvili bragged of his intentions for South Ossetia and Abkhazia before he was even re-elected. And how about that Georgian judicial system; how’d it rate? Well, according to the International Republican Institute – an NGO which specializes in state start-ups and promotes the rule of law – only the mafia rated lower for corruption.
Blogging for pay??? Say it ain’t so!
Well, that was fun; let’s do another one! How about this disingenuous and selective analysis? According to the author, a “network” of (so far) 38 Russian bloggers has been paid to write positive posts about the Moscow Police. She goes on to suggest you ignore the “false analogy” to the U.S., which is another way of saying America’s practice of trying to influence public opinion through blogs is not the same thing at all. Paying somebody to say they like a particular product, she says, is quite different from paying a blogger to say the police “don’t crack skulls”.
Is that what these blogs are saying? There is no evidence offered which suggests bloggers are whitewashing police crimes or pretending violence doesn’t happen. The article (which La Russophobe simply copied and pasted in its entirety) says bloggers were invited – for pay – to write positive “puff pieces” about the Moscow police. The angle that they’re being used to paper over police violence – which, when it occurs, is presumably reported in other sources that have a much wider circulation – is a typical unsupported intuitive leap for this loopy basket case.
But that’s not what really interested me. La Russophobe wants you to ignore what the linked reference says about blogging-for-bucks in the USA. Let’s not. Let’s take a look at it. According to the Wall Street Journal, nearly as many Americans make their living as bloggers as do Americans practicing law. About 1.7 million bloggers in the U.S. profit from their work, we are told, and of those nearly a half-million do so as their primary source of income. What were those 38 Russian bloggers supposedly getting? Around $63.00 for the first post, and $31.00 for each successive post? Be pretty hard to make a living at that, what?
Again quoting from the reference regarding blogging for pay in the USA, “Less and less of our information flow is devoted to gathering facts, and more and more is going toward popularizing opinion.” That sounds considerably more ambitious than being paid to say you love Proctor & Gamble’s new shampoo, wouldn’t you say? Well, how much money are we talking, here? “Bloggers can get $75 to $200 for a good post”. And Russian bloggers are maundering on about how nice the Moscow Police are, for $31.00 a post? Guys, get with the now; maybe you could actually make a living at it if you knew your own worth. Try $75,000.00 a year for a median income as a paid blogger.
I’m not sure that accurately expresses what it is about the La Russophobe post that annoys me; it’s the typical (for her) implication that Russians are engaged in something underhanded and sneaky, which Americans would never do simply because Americans don’t do sneaky underhanded things.
Is that an accurate representation of fact, do you think? Once again I must bless the George W. Bush presidency – which was so sneaky and underhanded it might as well have been called “Sneaky & Underhanded R Us” – for providing so many graphic examples of its dedication to spin and message control even unto breaking the law and beyond. Check out this memorable example, in which conservative columnist Armstrong Williams illegally accepted nearly a quarter-million in taxpayer money for making Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” program look like something other than the pig’s ear it was. In case you thought about going with the former president’s opinion that this practice was not illegal, you should know that the General Accounting Office (GAO) said it was. Let me see; who to believe…..a known knee-jerk liar, or a bunch of lawyers who are paid to know what’s illegal and what’s not. Boy, tough call. It’d be slightly less a mockery magnet if that were the only example – but it’s not. The GAO ruled the Bush government also broke the anti-propaganda laws when it disguised promotional spots on federal drug policy and the new Medicare prescription-drug policy as TV news segments.
America has always been a can-do nation, unsatisfied with the status quo. Sometimes this extends to increasing the grip advertising has over public opinion. Not contented in merely seeding the news with policy plugs disguised as investigative journalism, some prominent American media outlets simply hire extremist bloggers to write the news. It’s worth noting that nutbar former blogger Marc Thiessen defended waterboarding, and uses a personal yardstick rationale that says, “If you’re willing to try it, it’s not torture”. No, I’m not kidding.
Another favoured theme over at the cornucopia of clownishness that is La Russophobe is sports – the vast majority of the time, tennis. Almost always, women’s tennis; although there are exceptions, such as this article.
Invariably, sports analysis Russophobe-style suggests the Russian athlete/team was “shockingly humiliated” or “embarrassed”. This usually means they lost. I don’t know how familiar you are with sports as a concept, but in general terms, only one athlete/team is the winner. Using the logic above, then, it is apparent that everyone who did not win was shockingly humiliated. You might be surprised (or not) to learn, then, that this fate only befalls Russia and Russian athletes.
Let’s look at the example above. Because Argentina beat Russia, Russia was “shockingly humiliated”. How, then, must the United States have felt when the country didn’t even make it past the playoffs? Waxed by Serbia, no less, who has never won the Davis Cup. Gee, what’s worse than shocking humiliation? Grovelling, tear-stained obliteration, perhaps? Fellow weeping, grovelling victims of obliteration in that particular bloodbath were Switzerland, Germany, India, Sweden, Ecuador, Israel and Belgium. Oddly enough, the unashamedly pitiful performance of these countries was not deemed of sufficient importance to be noted in print at La Russophobe.
But let’s not let the point go just yet; it’s too much fun. Let’s look at La Russophobe’s pet sports subject – women’s tennis. Her pre-eminent favourite is the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena. Inarguably, both are great athletes with a tremendous record as champions. Noteworthy, too, is Russia’s presence in women’s tennis. Not at La Russophobe, though. In that alternate universe, any Russian who doesn’t win is – you guessed it – shockingly humiliated.
Turn back the clock for a couple of weeks, to that defining standard among tennis events – Wimbledon. The world knows that Serena Williams, brilliant performer with a fireball serve that heats the air it passes through, won Wimbledon this year, as she has done before. If we look closely at overall American success, though, there are some wormholes in the underpinnings of victory.
The Williams sisters lost the Doubles event, to….Russia. The unseeded team of Vera Zvonareva and Elena Vesina broke the twice defending champion Williams sisters like a dry stick, and if not for Serena’s excellent performance, it would have been over much earlier. Venus, though, was just circling the toilet bowl at this point. Despite confident previews that she would advance to the finals, the world #2 was beaten like a red-headed stepchild by Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova: the lowest-ranked woman remaining, #82, a player who had never made it past the second round in 18 previous Grand Slam events and never made the final at any tournament. Other references which were less sensitive suggested Pironkova ran Williams all over the court, and that she stumbled about like a drunken bear.
Mention of Venus Williams in connection with the words, “shocking humiliation” at La Russophobe? Zip. Nada. I’ll bet if you go back in the archives to 2005, when Venus was run over by a 15-year-old Bulgarian Spice Girls fan (yes, a tennis player, although she was ranked 98th) and in which the word “humiliating” was used in the press, you’d find it didn’t come up.
Got it? Any failure by a Russian to win the top spot is a “shocking humiliation”. Any occasion in which an American performs the sports equivalent of pissing their pants is simply not acknowledged, as if it didn’t happen. Like American men’s tennis hopeful Andy Roddick who, by amazing coincidence, also got slapped silly by the world #82 at Wimbledon.
The Amoeba That Ate Leningradskoye Schosse Bridge
Regular followers of La Russophobe will remember “Hero Journalist”, part-time-science-fiction-novelist-and-full-time-loose-cannon Yulia Latynina with warm affection. La Russophobe has a soft spot in her heart for her, too, for a couple of reasons. For one, she likes the cut of Latynina’s jib, since she appears to hate Russia nearly as much as La Russophobe does. For another, she’s one of the few genuinely ugly Russian women, although she might well have been a smokin’ babe when she was, say, 20. Finally, and most importantly, she does a great deal of the pick-and-shovel work for La Russophobe, penning acidic complaining rants about the government that La Russophobe simply copies and pastes. Money for jam, as the British say.
Consider their most recent effort. Closure of the bridge on Leningradskoye Schosse has Latynina’s dudgeon in overdrive. Well, in the next sentence we learn that the bridge is not actually closed. It’s reduced from three lanes to one. Reducing traffic flow in order to carry out roadwork is the signature of an amoeba, according to the intrepid Hero Journalist and would-be Transportation Minister.
I did a little research, and leadership at the municipal and national level by amoebas is considerably more common than you might expect. In England, for example. And Ohio, where the Fulton Road Bridge in Cleveland was closed for four years. Minneapolis. Washington State, where Interstate 405 in Renton is shut down. The proliferation of amoebas at this point in my search so depressed me that I had to stop. For the less faint of heart, try a google search that includes, “traffic delay roadwork (insert name here) airport”. There are many, many more examples.
“This kind of stupidity happens only in Russia — or maybe Zimbabwe as well”, trumpets Latynina furiously. I beg to differ, brillo-head. Reducing traffic flow in order to carry out roadwork is not only prudent everywhere for the safety of motorists, but maintenance crews as well. If all traffic lanes in this case were left open, and crews tried to dodge cars as they shoveled hot asphalt and strongbacked steel beams, inevitably someone would be killed. Then you’d have to change your story to, “Idiot Russian maintenance crews try to fix bridge without stopping traffic due to incompetence of Chief Amoeba”. Latynina acknowledges the bridge has needed repair since 2000. When they finally get around to doing it, of course that’s wrong, too. While we’re on that subject – if Latynina could spot that the bridge needed repair since 2000, why was it such a surprise to Sheremetyevo management when maintenance work commenced?
Briefly channeling President Thomas Jefferson (who authorized and put up the cash for construction of what became known as the National Road), Latynina wants to know why they didn’t build another road around the bridge, so travelers enroute Sheremetyevo would not have to experience delays. How many non-amoebas thought of that solution elsewhere in the world? Well, none, apparently. Is there really a need for a ramp to be constructed around every major bridge in Moscow, just in case it might sometime need fixing? Well, probably that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but Latynina insists this bridge is critical, because it’s the only way to get to Sheremetyevo. Is that true? Well, no, actually.
“Last week’s transportation debacle on Leningradskoye Shosse is a good example of the possible collapse of Putin’s Russia. Both underscore our leaders’ complete lack of strategic planning, their habit of stealing everything they can get away with, and the absurdity of Russian reality when the stupidity of a minor official can cause a complete disaster affecting millions of Russians”, foams Latynina.
Can you think of an occasion when the stupidity of a minor official caused a complete disaster affecting millions of people somewhere other than Russia? Yes, I thought perhaps you could.
Tiring slightly as she staggers into the home stretch, Latynina lurches into Defense-Minister mode, and proposes (jokingly, of course, the gal is a cut-up) that a quick fix would be to have tanks line the bridge abutments, and “bomb every other car” so as to clear the traffic jams. She does not say how she could get a tank to function as a bomber, but doubtless an explanation will be forthcoming in a future science-fiction novel.
Meanwhile, if you’re planning to fly out of Sheremetyevo this weekend, you’ve got a choice to make – about five hours in your car, or thirty-five minutes via AeroExpress. Take your time, you don’t have to make up your mind right away.
Crossing The Line
Usually, I view La Russophobe’s nonsensical ramblings with the indulgent good-humour normally accorded the other half of a parasitic relationship – after all, if she didn’t churn out hysterical nuttery on a regular basis, my blogging days would be done, so soon after they began (coming up to the end of week one, folks).
This, however, is offensive. “Russians pay no more attention to the election of their leaders than they do to the care of their children; instead, they pay attention to the best way of laying hands on vodka….” I won’t bore you with the rest, you can read it for yourself – suffice it to say that much of it is unsupported attempts to work in favourite chestnuts about statistical violence and underachievement in Russia.
The horror of what happened on the Sea of Azov should not be trivialized – stupid neglect which leads to children being harmed or killed should be held up to condemnation wherever it occurs. It should not, however, be used as a springboard to draw sweeping conclusions or prop up cherished hatreds.
The gauntlet is thrown down with the headline, “A Nation of Drunken Murderers”, and I gladly take it up. This is another favoured editorial quirk of La Russophobe – attribution of a particular behavior or deviation to all Russians if she can find an example of it in a few. All right, let’s take a closer look at it.
Are Russians really the biggest drunks in the world? Not even close. According to the World Health Organization, that dubious honour goes to…Luxembourg, with a recorded (averaged) annual alcohol consumption of 15.6 litres of alcohol per person over 15 years of age. I know!! I was surprised, too; I was expecting it to be Ireland or France; you know their reputation. But notice also who else beat out Russia in the blotto sweepstakes: Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, the aforementioned “Loaded” Luxembourg, Nigeria, Portugal, Saint Lucia, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. To employ a treasured La Russophobism, ouch, ouch. That’s a lot of drunken murderers. Nations of them, you might say.
I’d point out, too, that the United States didn’t come in all that far below Russia on the consumption index; 8.6 compared with 10.3. No comparative study is going to be 100% accurate without testing every single person in every country, and like most such studies, this one is likely based on an extrapolation which is in turn tied to population. However, the WHO is as reliable a scientific standard as you’re apt to find on health matters. It’s not as if the Russian government isn’t making any effort to combat the problem, either: other WHO-related sites point out that, ironically, Russian government closure of distilleries and bars has served only to drive alcohol manufacture and marketing underground, where it’s even more difficult to regulate.
Now that we’re a little clearer on who is the rightful claimant of the Booze Crown, let’s look at attitudes to children. I’d have to say my own observation of Russian parenting is extremely positive, but I haven’t seen a very broad sample. How about Americans? In my personal experience, they’re attentive, informed and caring parents. Do kids in the care of American camp counsellors die? Why, yes, they do. In this sickening case, the counsellor repeatedly dunked the 4-year-old, then swam away from him. The lifeguard (call me crazy, but isn’t it his job to pay attention to people in the water?) failed to notice him, and the child drowned only feet from him. What’d be a good representative headline for that, do you think? “America is a Nation of Sadists and Dozy Halfwits”? Of course that would not accurately portray a nation that is mostly progressive, aware and kind-hearted. Neither is it accurate to suggest all Russians are drunken murderers who pay no attention to their responsibilities for children who depend on them.
We won’t bother going into the cases of Andrea Yates, disturbed bughouse lunatic who drowned her 5 children in the bathtub like unwanted kittens, or the Gravelles of Wakeman, Ohio, who starved 11 adoptive special-needs children in their care, kept them in cages at night and locked the kitchen cupboards. These are not generally representative of American attitudes or morals, and I think the lesson is clear enough.
This excellent tell-it-like-it-is article is brutally honest in holding up Russia’s shortcomings as regards standards in the supervision of children by adults. It holds up the U.S. as an example in a manner that’s generally a fair comparison. However, it implies camp counsellors in the USA must be accredited and licensed. That’s not entirely so. Only 25% of summer camps are actually accredited, states have different requirements for licensing, and accreditation in some cases is entirely voluntary.
This was a wrenchingly sad tragedy for Russia. Riding it to a cruel and manifestly inaccurate mini-manifesto is just ghoulish. Stay classy, baby.
Wanted: Expert Vaginal Balls Demonstrator
Yes, remember you heard it here:
Russians, presumably – but not necessarily – women (I mean, vaginal balls are not the kind of thing a guy buys for a first date, and I know if I brought them home for our anniversary, I’d be in a twelve-step program quicker than you could say, “Alcoholics Anonymous”) are unable, given one vagina and a couple of impermeable balls, to figure out how to use them! Even more incredibly, those who have not been laid in ages don’t know “why a dildo is needed”, and lubricant? Forget about it!
I can’t imagine why New York Times reporter-in-situ Michael Schwirtz wasn’t instantly forthcoming with priceless advice, considering his lifelong experience as a dildo. Perhaps his report should have been written by someone who has actually had sex with a Russian woman. Speaking from that standpoint, I can best describe it as a kind of naked rodeo (minus the spurs and the ten-second horn, thank you very much) in which one is mostly focused on staying on without breaking anything.
Well, let’s not be hasty. Lets look at the empirical evidence from which Mr. Schwirtz drew for his report. What? There isn’t any? You mean he just walked around at a convention for sex shop owners, listened to them bitch about how poor business is, and then wrote a story about it? You’re kidding me, right? Oh; you’re not.
One of the fascinating things about websites like La Russophobe is the dichotomy, the staggering leaps from one fevered extreme to the other. Consider; as recently as 2007 and 2008, Russia was a nation of prostitutes. Today, they’re “scared of sex”, and don’t know one end of a dildo from the other.
Let me propose an alternate theory for the flaccid market. Again drawing from the vast pool of knowledge at La Russophobe, we learn that Russians can’t even afford to feed themselves. Taken in the context of a 30% drop in global sales of sex toys as reported by the French, generally acknowledged as the global experts of weird stuff to stick inside yourself or others, not having that kind of money to throw around might have something to do with it. Let me see…not much left in the grocery budget…I need to buy potatoes: oh, the hell with it, I’m buying a big rubber dick.
Or perhaps there’s another explanation. It just depends on who you choose to listen to. Perhaps a lifestyle in which sexual promiscuity does not figure so prominently accounts for the perception in promiscuous nations that Russians don’t much care for sex. Most promiscuous nation as rated by the defining 2005 Bradley Report – the United Kingdom. There’s something to be proud of. I notice Russia was not mentioned at all, although it was presumably part of the study, since small nations like Croatia and Latvia were included. The United States was sixth.
Knowing your way around a set of vaginal balls appears to be an overrated talent.
Something Old, Something New, Something Boris….
Maybe it’s just me, but there seems to be something
increasingly strident and hectoring about the latest attempts to remake Boris Nemtsov as the Savior of Russia. What is it about dissidents like Nemtsov that inspires adoration among their western followers? The Russophobe Russian Leadership Dream Team would be Boris Nemtsov, Boris Berezovsky and Mikhail Khodorkovsky, implementing the Nemtsov White Paper. Oh, and maybe Gary Kasparov, to run the games room. If you suggested that Obama should have been agitating to overthrow the Bush government back in 2005, before the damage got too bad, they’d go all wall-eyed and scream, “traitor!!” So, what is it about Nemtsov? I mean, he’s never won an election in which he stood as a candidate, and frequently lost by embarrassing margins – including standing for mayor of his home town. He’s considered a bit of a harmless fool in Russia, and you’d be as likely to see Russians voluntarily make him their leader as you would see advertising for an Elvis comeback tour. Still, he maintains a cult following among the nutjobs.
Look; it’s not my purpose here to deconstruct Nemtsov’s spin as promulgated in his latest effort. That’s already been done – far better – by the razor-sharp Anatoly Karlin over at Sublime Oblivion. However, spin is a given, because Nemtsov’s a politician. That means his job is to not have a job, while the wage slaves and the corporate bobbleheads front him with cash so he can do what he does. In this, he’s not much different, and certainly no more or less a liar, than pretty much every other politician. Oh, I’m sure he puts in some long days and catches a few red-eye flights – I’m not implying he does nothing but nibble canapes and work on his tan – but it’s nothing like the weekly grind you’ll labour under for the rest of your working life. When you think about it, even a lawyer gives you more for your money. He or she uses their professional skill to fight for you when you don’t have the ability to do it yourself. All a politician does is offer to represent your concerns to decision-making authority because you don’t have time to do it yourself. Wow; that made me lightheaded for a moment, I don’t think I’ve ever defended lawyers before. Although putting them a step above politicians is hardly an endorsement.
All right, then: what’s the Nemtsov plan? Can anyone tell me? Is it easy to criticize the way things are, and blame them on the current leadership, thus implying you could do it better if you were running things? Easiest thing in the world. Nemtsov says Russia’s birth rate is declining rapidly. That’s not even true, but pretend it is. What’s your plan, Boris? How are you going to encourage people to have more children, because a lot of them would like to. What’s that? Raise minimum wage, so people can afford to support a larger family? The minimum wage has risen steadily under Putin – it’s 10 times what it is in Georgia, and I don’t hear westerners bitching about what a shitty job Saakashvili’s doing – but pretend that’s not true. What’s your plan, Boris? The money’s going to have to come from somewhere. Russia relies too heavily on its energy income, says Nemtsov. It’s got nothing else that anyone wants to buy. That’s also not true, but pretend it is. In fact, of the top ten sectors that are major earners for Russia, less than half are energy. I still don’t hear anything coming out of Nemtsov that sounds like a strategy for getting to there from here.
The thing is, people in Russia are just not that discontented. Every time he goes over like a lead balloon, Nemtsov claims the vote was fixed, that his candidacy was suppressed and he had no way to get his message out. Well, it’s not like he’s an unknown: he was once the most popular politician in Russia. That was before he confidently predicted – speaking as “an architect of Russia’s fiscal strategy” – the ruble would not be devalued. A little more than 2 weeks later, the ruble collapsed. A lot of Russians got hurt, but it didn’t end there. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania sank into recession. Kazakhstan’s exports were in shambles, and their foreign exchange reserves were halved in an attempt to hold on to their currency. It cost Moldova 5 % of their GDP. Ukraine’s currency fell 60% in value, prices rose 20% and Ukraine’s National Bank lost 40% of its gross reserves. Quite a few people both inside and outside Russia might have been forgiven for thinking Boris Nemtsov didn’t know if his ass was bored or punched when it came to economics.
None of that would matter now, if the Russian people honestly thought Putin wasn’t worth a tin whistle as leader, and that Nemtsov offered the chance for them to have a decent life. The notion that Russia is under some kind of glass bubble, and the people don’t know what’s going on except for the saccharine propaganda that Putin whispers in their ears, is nonsense. Internet use is widespread in Russia, and Russians know what’s happening as well as anywhere else. If they believed Nemtsov was the savior the Russophobes pretend he is, nothing could stop them from electing him.
Nemtsov, too, would do well to be curious about why the west supports him. Is it because the west wants Russia to become a powerful representative democracy, with a high standard of living and a strong voice in international affairs? Ha, ha, sorry, I tried not to laugh. The west encourages Nemtsov because destabilizing Russia is kind of a western hobby. If there was a Chinese Boris Nemtsov, you can bet he’d be on the short list for an interview with the Wall Street Journal. The west encourages political dissent by opposition firebrands in every society but its own.