1. Some other people who don't like competition.
There's going to be an election to decide the next President of the Russian Federation, which will be Dmitry Medvedev. The NY Times covers the contest:
NYT: Kicking Democracy's Corpse in Russia
(How awesome is that headline, btw?! That totally rocks! I bet Dima could do some head banging to that headline. So much better than "From Russia with Corpse of Democracy.")
Look into the eyes of Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, and what you see is a K.G.B.-trained mind that apparently cannot tolerate leaving any detail of an election to chance.
WTF is up with the constant gazing into Putin's eyes? Hey, NYT, Valentine's Day is a few weeks off. Pull yourselves together, ok?
What else could explain the latest ugly twist in Russia's rigged presidential election: the forced withdrawal of former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov for allegedly invalid signatures on his nominating petitions?
Most people who manipulate elections usually try to pretend otherwise. Mr. Putin does not even bother. Even though he, or a chosen proxy, could easily have won a fair election, he was not about to take the chance.
There has never been any doubt that Mr. Putin's designated successor, Dmitri Medvedev, would win the March 2 presidential election. And the loyal Mr. Medvedev has already promised to name Mr. Putin as his prime minister. As further insurance, a campaign of official harassment drove the leading democratic challenger, Garry Kasparov, out of the presidential race.
Insurance? Leading democratic challenger? Kasparov? That's hi-larious. That's so funny, I wonder if Putin wrote it himself. Hehe. Insurance... Anyway, regardless what the oglers at the NYT want you to think, which is that Putin goes around kicking the dead for fun, there are actually 4 nominees for President. So, I don't know if that's democracy on the receiving end of Vova's boots, but it's not quite a corpse. To their credit, sometimes the living do look like corpses in Moscow. Well, that's also true in New York, but the NYT journalists never go to those parts of town.
You kids are smart, so you probably already know that Zyuganov (Commie) and Zhirinovsky (Xenophobic nut job) are also running. They perennially run and perennially lose, keepin' it real. But did you know about Andrei Bogdanov? Click the link and check out his fabulous hair!
Mr Bogdanov is the mystery candidate. He is 37, almost unknown and has a blog with holiday photographs of him in his swimming trunks. With his long slicked-back hair, he looks more like a 1980s rock musician than a politician. His Democratic Party won 90,000 votes in the parliamentary election. And yet Mr Bogdanov apparently managed to collect the two million signatures he needed to register as an independent candidate for the presidential election. He is accused of being backed by the Kremlin, with the aim of splitting the opposition vote. It has been reported that he was previously a senior member of the URP. One of his main pledges to the electorate is to take Russia into the European Union. Opinion polls indicate he will get 1% of the vote.
1%? Probably more than McKinney will get... Damn, he sounds pretty cool. BTW, they may not have taken to our idea of "democracy," but they sure have embraced the rock. Dima's a head-banger, Surkov is a lyricist for Agata Kristi (Russian goth rockers), and this guy, mysteriously connected to their party (which is either kicking, killing, managing, soverignizing or improving democracy, depending upon who you ask), looks like a rocker? Jesus, all the cool people are taking over the Kremlin!
So, it's well enough to have hard-rocking democratically elected fascists in the executive branch. That's all for show. A sneaky Russian tactic to make us submissive with envy. But what about the Duma, where all the boring work of rubber-stamping Plan Putina takes place? In a country without democratic freedoms, what must go on in the legislature? Are crickets chirping, or is Goebbels handing out orders? Let's see:
That place smacks of despotism!
Let's find out what they do when they aren't acting like bunnies...
Kommersant: Putin and Medvedev Exchange Vows
You just have to read this whole article. Pleeeeeeze. I swear to god Gogol has returned from the grave and is writing for Kommersant. Ok, fine, here's some of the funny stuff:
"Cameras?" echoed Kulakov. "What do I need cameras for? I have enough cameras in Magadan. They have good cameras there."
We can guess whom Kulakov represents.
"You don't believe me?" he continued to pester Mutko. "Come and see."
Mutko, head of the Russian Soccer Union, firmly refused to visit Magadan, where there is not soccer team, not just no champion league soccer team - no soccer team whatsoever.
"Come on!" Kulakov nagged. "I'll buy you a ticket. Round trip even. I repeat. Round trip."
A few cameras were already turning on their direction and Mutko fell silent, although not because he had nothing to say. He didn't want to say the wrong thing, and anything that would have escaped his lips at that moment would have been the wrong thing. Kulakov cheerfully continued to harangue those around him about the underappreciated cameras of Magadan.
People who sat without haranguing also attracted attention to themselves. For example, the female journalists couldn't leave chairman of the Federation Council Committee on Social Policy Valentina Petrenko in peace. And the way Petrenko looked gave no one around her any peace either.
It wasn't her tight, bright blue blouse that left a glowing impression in your eyes after you looked at her, exactly like the Northern Lights, except with little yellow bunnies frolicking through it, which was all you could see for several minutes. Nor was it the necklace of pearls, each of which was the size of my five-year-old son Vanya's fist. (They recently learned to make pearls like that in China out of nothing - literally nothing.)
No, it was Petrenko's hairdo. It was fabulous. Maybe she goes to work every day with her hair done like that. I don't know. But I don't think it is possible to do your hair like that every day. You could spend your whole life fixing a hairdo like that. What was it like? Like a pastry that had fallen off the shelf and been kicked aside by an ill-tempered customer? Like a stale Napoleon cake? Like the foam they seal the windows of new buildings with that lets the bugs through any way? No. More like a ball of papier-mache with the top cut off. You wanted to touch it to make sure it was secured tightly. And you wanted to get up and jump around.
The president of Russia sat between First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Vladislav Surkov and said that it is more important than ever to ensure a policy of continuation. (Eight years ago, it was not so important.) He called on the Federation Council members to refrain from using unsecured resources and devastating populist measures. (For some reason, I immediately thought of Valentina Petrenko's hair.) The people at the table wrote that phrase down. And they kept writing, as if they had to write it 100 times for the teacher.
"Skuchno na etom svete, gospoda!"
Some people believe that Russia has never ever been a democracy (can you kick the corpse of one who was never born?), attributing their lust for authoritarianism to either genetic predisposition (!) or profound ignorance (!!). But that's simply not true. Apparently, in 1918, Russia was a democracy for 12 hours and 40 minutes a moment in time being celebrated at the State Historical Museum in Moscow. The exhibit runs through the campaign season. (Hat Tip: Dmitri Minaev.)
Here is another way Russia is subverting democracy and being just perfectly brilliant at the same time.
For those who don't read Russian, or those like me who do but get a headache from it, this is some kind of radio-contest elections being held in which literary figures are competing against each other. Oh, how it rocks. I've been voting for Begemot (Behemoth, the Devil's walking, talking, vodka-swilling, pistol-toting cat, from Master and Margarita) but I don't know if he's still in it. They even have these debates, like, what does it mean if the electorate votes for devilish forces? Are devilish forces at work in this election? What does it say about the real political situation? ... (This is the part in the scary movie where the dead corpse sits straight up and everyone shrieks bloody murder.)
You realize, this is like my dream election, right? I'd like to see a Myshkin/Stavrogin face-off. You know, this is why I can't help but adore Vladislav Surkov (aside from the sexy Chechen thing), even if he is a bit, oh, nefarious. He's always going around comparing people to literary characters and talking about Russia's glorious literary past. I'm such a pathetic sucker for that. If any political operative in the US even hinted at book-reading, they'd be slammed as an elitist. So jealous... Oh, he also says things like this:
I hear often: we have to build a democracy. This assumes some sort of an end-goal, where once democracy is built, one can relax and have a pleasurable life. It is the same as saying that we need to "build" a person. A person always evolves; whether he becomes better or worse is a different question. He is not static, and nothing is static. But such is the property of an idealistic view of life, where ways of life are dwelled upon and attempts are made for their installment on Earth.
Hm. Is that a valid point, or the kicking of a corpse? You decide... And speaking of Surkov, it seems his creepy little brain-child, those awful Nashi kids, are being disbanded! Robert Amsterdam thinks it might be the beginnings of Medvedev asserting some ideological power over the old guard. Others think it might just be that the United Russia party is so confident that they no longer feel they need some freaky youth movement to rally support. Whatever the cause, I won't shed any tears. Sycophantic teens scare me to death. Good riddance. Now, if Dima gets rid of Surkov, I'll cry...
2. On Dyevs.
I have seen several articles recently obsessing about beautiful Russian women. The question is, "Where did they all come from?" Outerspace? Cloning? Capitalism? WWII? The Selfish Gene? Mark Ames' daydreams? Anne Applebaum's nightmares?
Slate: Where Did All Those Gorgeous Russians Come From?
The eXile: The Theory Of Dyevolution.
My theory is that as the number of pirates has decreased, the number of hot dyevushkas has increased. My other theory is that there are hot people and ugly people everywhere.
Look. We fetishize ugly Americans. They are all fat with bad posture and sweatpants and are sexually repressed. And beautiful Russians. They are all thin with good cheekbones and high heels and are sexually liberated. We're both countries with histories of bad eating habits: one eats too much & the other too little, and both instances belie poverty. It is certainly true that money helps by providing access to beauty products and wellness services. And healthy food. I think gender roles in each society also play a role. In America, I feel pressure to look thin, but not feminine, to look rich, but not sexy. I honestly don't remember feeling "ugly" in Russia (Estonia & Finland, yes), just unfeminine. (My second day in Moscow I went out and bought more dresses and heels.) I also think celebrity is a factor. Who do we see on TV? Tennis stars, supermodels, actresses. In my job, I see a lot of Russians, academics. They do not look like supermodels. They look like normal people. Like academics.
So, this fetishizing of beautiful Russian women is annoying me. Beautiful Russian women do not annoy me. Just the "OMG where did they all come from?!" It's like the plot of some B-movie in which Anne Applebaum's quiet ugly town is overrun by Slavic goddesses. Poor Anne. Now we know her fear. Maybe it's because I'm neither 1) a man or lesbian (though I've been invited to a Dyke Anti-VDay party, so that could change...) who notices these women nor 2) a woman who feels threatened by them. Maybe I should feel threatened... Maybe this invasion of beautiful Russian women is why I haven't had a date in so long! (Why can't beautiful Russian men invade?!) But flying in the face of all conventional wisdom about American girls, I have dated a number of Russian men, in a number of different countries, so I must be somewhat competitive in the looks dept. Fuck. There's that competition again! That's what this is really about, isn't it? You're right Anne. I don't know if Capitalism has made Russian women more beautiful, but it seems to have increased the competition, eh?
Obviously, I don't have a problem fetishizing hot Russian men. But I'm pretty sure my influence is negligible enough to safeguard everyone's dignity. Well, ... except my own, of course.
Speaking of the continued aesthetic improvement of the Russian people, the young ladies aren't the only ones getting extreme makeovers with their country's new-found wealth. Next we will be wondering where all those hot soldaty suddenly came from...
Times Online: Dressed to kill: the Russian forces are back in fashion, 19th-century style.
Russia's armed forces will not only be stronger in future. They will also be better dressed. A couture collection of new military uniforms has been shown to President Putin by Valentin Yudashkin, the country's famous clothing designer, at a fashion parade in the Defence Ministry headquarters.
The uniforms will get their first public display in Red Square on May 9 in a parade marking the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany in the Second World War. Controversially, Mr Putin is also reviving the Soviet-era practice of parading tanks and nuclear missiles on the square past Lenin's tomb.
Fashion commentators said that the uniforms revived some of the glamour of Russia's imperial tradition in combination with its recent Soviet history. Izvestia newspaper said that the designs recalled the Hussar style of 19th-century Russia. The Soviet Red Star, which Mr Putin restored in 2002 along with the former Soviet anthem, has been replaced by the imperial double-headed eagle.
Wow, it's like Project Runway meets Russian Military Kitsch! This would also be in my version of heaven. Oh, it's true that I am a peacenik and don't believe in war. But I do believe in fashion. (It was once my dream to be a fashion designer.) And if you absolutely have to kill someone, you might as well look fabulous doing it. Those uniforms are a lot of fun to wear too, the coats and hats. Especially when the coat and hat are the only thing you have on... Maybe you think that's kinky, but it gets really cold in the winter. It's extremely practical, actually.
3. My New Year's Resolution
...was to up the kulturnyi ante around here. Specifically, to make you read. I'm even more motivated now after reading the findings of a recent NEA study:
NEA Survey Shows Steve Jobs Is Right: Nobody Does Read
Among the key findings:
Americans are reading less well - reading scores continue to worsen, especially among teenagers and young males. By contrast, the average reading score of 9-year-olds has improved.
~ Reading scores for 12th-grade readers fell significantly from 1992 to 2005, with the sharpest declines among lower-level readers.3
~ 2005 reading scores for male 12th-graders are 13 points lower than for female 12th-graders, and that gender gap has widened since 1992.4
~ Reading scores for American adults of almost all education levels have deteriorated, notably among the best-educated groups. From 1992 to 2003, the percentage of adults with graduate school experience who were rated proficient in prose reading dropped by 10 points, a 20 percent rate of decline.5
The declines in reading have civic, social, and economic implications - Advanced readers accrue personal, professional, and social advantages. Deficient readers run higher risks of failure in all three areas.
~ Nearly two-thirds of employers ranked reading comprehension "very important" for high school graduates. Yet 38 percent consider most high school graduates deficient in this basic skill.6
~ American 15-year-olds ranked fifteenth in average reading scores for 31 industrialized nations, behind Poland, Korea, France, and Canada, among others.7
~ Literary readers are more likely than non-readers to engage in positive civic and individual activities - such as volunteering, attending sports or cultural events, and exercising.8
Being the intellectual Petri dish ET is, I assume you all read. And I know you are not all Americans. But I do come to ET and find diaries about how the Russians are threatening us, warning, "The Russians are coming!" Do you know who scored highest in a recent international literacy survey? Da, da, da... So, maybe instead of wigging out about the Russians, we should just start reading more.
Specifically, more Russian-centric lit. The Russian Reading Challenge has begun, and I hope someone here will bother to give it a go. As I hope I've illustrated, the rewards are not simply developing a deeper understanding of the Russian psyche (or any understand of it at all, actually), but the ability to participate in radio contests and reference Gogol when analyzing the news. It's a gift that keeps on giving. Even if you refuse to pick up a book that weighs more than 20 pounds, there are still options for you. I'm probably no more brilliant for it, but the Arkady Renko mysteries got me through a recent stint in bed with the flu. Poor Arkady. Having a virus wage war on your body seems pretty manageable in comparison with being exiled in Siberia and shot in the head. That's the other great thing about Russian lit. It will put your own suffering in perspective. Either that or it will make you embrace your own suffering. If you generally do not suffer, Russian lit might not be for you. You should read something French, maybe. But since you are here, you're probably in some state of psychic malaise. So pick up that kniga and get to work.
The goal of The Russian Reading Challenge is to finish 4 books this year, either by Russian authors or about Russia. I haven't made a list yet, but I have picked up Young Stalin. Over the holidays, as I debated politics with my step-father, he remarked that his generation needed to read more philosophy, and that mine needed to read more history, and we made an agreement to do just that. Thus, I begin with a biography of Stalin as a boy. It's huge and imposing, and I'm still not finished with Renko's travails, but a quick flip through the illustrations in the bio reveals some dyev of Stalin's described as a "sexually liberated feminist Bolshevik," so ... this looks like the perfect book for me!! Oh. She probably ends up in a camp, huh?
Maybe you're looking for book recommendations? There are lots of sites out there that will tell you what you should read. I assume. I don't know what they are. But if they don't exist, I'm really disappointed in this Internet business... But, did you know that there are sites that will tell you what not to read? For example, Books That Make You Dumb compares popular books to the SAT scores of their fans. Who cares if it is not a scientifically soundproof study. It's confirmation of your suspicions about the people loitering in NYT Bestsellers section. And, psst, locate the Russian lit on the list. Yep. What more reason do you need to hit the literatura? It will make you smart, people!
If you are still holding out, you are either some kind of resentful monster or one of those "would rather share a nice meal than read a book" types. In that case, I have the perfect read for you!
The Joy of Cooking Humans!
From the author's statement:
I think the reason a lot of purists rejected Romero's Land of the Dead fits right into this same idea. A lot of people don't want to see zombies learning, using tools and weapons or taking care of each other. It does make them harder to hate, and as result, it makes it more difficult to cheer when they get blown to bits. But that final element- the idea that the zombies were forming a community- is what really pushed the idea for my zombie cookbook.
Obviously, I am a world away from being an anthropologist, so in my head human civilization went something like this:
As you can see from my super professional list there, it took us a while to get from Flintstone-esque slabs of meat to bleu cheese foam with port wine reduction. Zombies are still developing; they're a very young civilization, if you can call them that. They're still in the "braaiins, braaiins!" phase right now, but as we've seen in the progression of Romero's films, and as I've just discussed here, they're moving right along. The sort of communal packs we saw in Land of the Dead could eventually develop into more complicated family structures. Families lead to domestication- building houses, making those houses comfortable and eventually, I believe, to culinary advancement.
- single cell goo
- crawly things
- monkey people
- cave men/clans
- communal meals
- advancements in communication
- wearing clothes
- families/separate housing
- advancements in food preparation
It is my personal belief that the success of a society can be determined, for the most part, by examining it's cultural developments. If a specific society produced art, music, delectable foods and harbored a certain level of creativity and artistry, it was a successful society. In order to thrive, zombies will eventually need to tap into their creativity. I wrote this book with a sort of zombie Martha Stewart in mind. She's quite self-sufficient, creative and successful; and often times it seems as though she exists solely to teach the rest of us poor uncultured fools about being more civilized. With The Joy of Cooking Humans I attempt to teach my fellow zombies a little bit about civility through a variety of recipes based on real foods fit for human consumption. But of course, in this cookbook, "human consumption" takes on a completely new meaning.
Brilliant! It's not Russian Lit, but it's totally messed up, which is a step in the right direction. To compensate for the educational shortcomings of this otherwise certainly profound book, you can go learn some simple Russian and go look at some nice pictures of Moscow. If you can find a way to incorporate the language and imagery into your reading about the civilized undead, you'll basically probably have the same experience as the person who reads Master and Margarita anyway.
Er, there is no classy way to make this segue...
BBC: Khodorkovsky 'on hunger strike'
Vasily Aleksanian, a former executive of the Yukos oil firm, has AIDS and his health is said to be getting worse.
Mr Khodorkovsky says officials are punishing Mr Aleksanian for refusing to sign false confessions against him.
The two men were jailed in 2005 for fraud and tax evasion in a trial critics said was politically-motivated.
In a letter posted on his supporters' website, Mr Khodorkovsky said Mr Aleksanian had been refused medication and deliberately placed in poor conditions.
He said he had no choice but to "abandon the legal framework" and start a hunger strike.
"I am facing an impossible moral choice: admit to crimes I haven't committed and save the life of a man, but destroy the fate of innocents who will be charged as my accomplices," he said.
Mr Aleksanian has said he has developed serious health complications and is nearly blind.
Mr Khodorkovsky's international lawyer Robert Amsterdam said Russia was "flouting not only international law but the norms of morality".
Mishenka, dear, eat something! Drink something! Please! You have to keep up your strength! Bob, tell him to eat. No point in having 2 dying convicts on our hands...
Sigh... Well, that wasn't as much fun as it usually is, was it? Hm. Sorry. Misha's put a bit of a damper on my hot guys fest. I could throw in a pic of Putin or Surkov, but I'm feeling a little solidarity at the moment. Feel free to post your own beauties below. ... God, I'm really bummed out. It really is a dreary world, gentlemen, isn't it?! Someone post something fun for me. And send Misha a pie.
Thanks for reading, and have a lovely week.