Fri Mar 28th, 2008 at 06:07:35 PM EST
Contents: The usual suspects: nomenklatura, sovoks, bears, poets, ballerinas, blondes, spies, atheists, oligarchs...
N. Korean Soldier 1: Ooooh, the elusive Siberian Crane, Grus leucogeranus. So elegant, so beautiful...
N. Korean Soldier 2: Lemme have a look.
Soldier 1: Ok, I have to go read the Odds & Ends anyway, upon orders of Dear Leader. Frankly I don't know what DL sees in it, but you know how grumpy he gets when everyone doesn't read his favorite blog series. And, well, you know what happens when he gets grumpy...
Soldier 2: I didn't even know a new Odds & Ends was posted.
Soldier 1: You didn't receive the message? How is that possible, an order was issued to every subject of the DL. ... Why don't you ever check your facebook page, comrade?! Think you are too special for facebook or something? EVERYONE is on facebook. EVERYONE is doing it. Your dangerous anti-socialist networking ideas are subverting the goals of the great DPRK! Give me back those binoculars - I'm going to find the idiot who just took our picture. I can't afford to be documented in the presence of an enemy of the State, an enemy of ... Facebook!
Soldier 2: Ok. But can I look at the pretty bird when you're done?
I don't know if it is because people think Medvedev's going to be a plush pushover, or if it is because Putin just doesn't have as many opportunities these days to piss everyone off (sniff), or if it's because I've been sleeping through Morning Edition's daily dose of Lucasian fearmongering - but it looks like sanity might be making a comeback. My own, that is. Fresh out of journalistic crimes to report. Instead, here are some recent item that give me a warm fuzzy feeling inside:
1. Vitaly Churkin : A conversation with Russia's Ambassador to the U.N.
I saw this on Charlie Rose last night. Churkin's my new favorite person ever. Ok, he's being a snake about China, but otherwise, I'm relieved this is one of the people at the proverbial table. Also, I was a little, ok, absolutely outraged by Rose's inability to ask a question and ... wait for an answer, rather than interupt with the answer he wants to hear. But it's a fine interview otherwise. And fortunately Putin's not the only one capable of a few well aimed barbs. Quality TV. Justifies my staying up all night watching it. Which is probably the reason I keep sleeping through Morning Edition...
On a related note, the IHT reports, Poll finds a broad desire to cooperate with Russia.
As leaders of NATO prepare to gather in Bucharest next week, sentiment is widespread in its six largest countries that the United States should cooperate with Russia over missile defenses in Eastern Europe.
That view was expressed in a poll conducted by Harris Interactive for the International Herald Tribune and France 24 before the announcement Wednesday by President George W. Bush that he would meet with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, a move seen as an effort to reduce tension over the U.S. plan to deploy elements of a ballistic missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic.
The U.S. plan has created a clear divide across the Atlantic: pluralities in every European country oppose it, while Americans favor it, 49-25 percent. Opposition is particularly high in Germany (71 percent against, 19 percent for), Spain (61-19) and France (58-22).
Well, having Europe oppose us hasn't stopped us from, in the words of Churkin, "doing something totally crazy" in the past. We are crazy. We're not afreared of some Yuropeans or Russkies! I just don't know what excuse the Czechs and Poles have, as they clearly are...
2. Matt Taibbi's back in fine form with his latest Rolling Stone article, Barack Obama's Reverend Wright controversy, and America's squid-heart. If I had my own autocratic regime, I'd put Taibbi in charge of the Ministry of Information. He's that fabulous. And crazy. Because, mew all he likes, he's still American. Thank god. Gives me hope for the future.
So instead of talking about the fact that Barack Obama once introduced a bill to give a tax break to a Japanese company whose lawyers donated fifty grand to his Senate campaign, we're freaking out for five minutes about the fact that Obama's pastor thinks America spread AIDS on purpose in Zambia. And instead of talking about the fact that Hillary Clinton took $110,000 from a New York food company she later helped by introducing a bill to remove import duties on tomatoes, we're ranting and raving about Gerry Ferraro's paranoid ramblings about Obama's blackness. We can't keep our eyes on the ball and really think about the serious endemic problems of our system of government because we're too busy freaking out like a bunch of cartoon characters over silly, meaningless bullshit. And then forgetting about that same bullshit ten minutes later, so that we can freak out all over again about something else later on.
That's just the way we are, and maybe it's time to wonder why that is. In Russia they have a word, sovok, which described the craven, chickenshit mindset that over the course of decades became hard-wired into the increasingly silly brains of Soviet subjects. It's a hard word to define, but once you get it -- and all Russians get it -- it's like riding a bicycle, you've got it. Sovok is the word that described a society where for decades silence and a thoughtful demeanor might be construed as evidence of a dangerous dissidence lurking underneath; the sovok therefore protected himself from suspicion by babbling meaningless nonsense at all times, so that no one would accuse him of harboring smart ideas. A sovok talked tough, and cheered Khruschev for banging a shoe at America, but at the same time a sovok would have sold his own children for a pair of American jeans. The sovok talked like a romantic and lavished women with compliments, but preferred long fishing trips and nights spend in the garage tinkering with his shitty car to actual sex. It's hard to explain, but over there, they know what the word means. More than anything, sovok described a society that spent seventy years in mortal terror of new ideas, and tended to drape itself in a paper-thin patriotism whenever it felt threatened, and worshipped mediocrities as a matter of course, elevating to positions of responsibility only those who showed an utter absence not only of objectionable qualities, but any qualities at all.
We're getting to be the same kind of people.
True story: I was going to write a story titled, "America: we're all sovoks now," a while back. It was inspired by Sovok of the Week's sovokdom and my thinking, heh, s'really not so different from being American. Maybe a little. I haven't seen anyone in a tracksuit in America for a while. But otherwise, Taibbi is both able to read my mind (!) and DEAD ON. Man, if I had a kopek for every conversation I've had that evolved into a discussion about how America is becoming more like Russia and Russia is becoming more like America ... well, they'd probably be worth more than the dollars in my pocket.
3. Are you a fan of the ET News Salon? Do you appreciate Amsterdam's Daily Russian Newsblast? Like your news straight up, without the snarky commentary and stories about some girl's sad love life that have nothing to do with anything? Check out Patrick Armstrong's News Clips from Russia. I think before it was picked up by Russia Blog, it was called "RUSSIA: SITREP" which sounds so much more important and insidery. "News Clips" doesn't have the same cache. But it's one more one-stop-shopping source for all your news about Russia needs. Because I know a zillion word diary just isn't going to sate you. Gluttons.
4. Speaking of Russia Blog, a while back they published a lovely little document called, "10 Western Media Stereotypes About Russia." It's in pdf so I'll let you google it. Well, now Da Russophile has complied a list of the Top 10 Russophobe Myths.
MYTH: Russians are sexists and xenophobic racists who hate the West.
REALITY: Russian women live longer and are better educated than men, enjoy full abortion rights and participate extensively in the economy. Few Russians are predisposed against the US and there are far fewer anti-Semitic incidents in Russia than in France, Germany and the UK.
MYTH: Heroic Americans with their British sidekicks won World War Two, while the Russians just threw billions of soldiers without rifles in front of German machine guns.
REALITY: The vast majority of German soldiers were killed, taken POW or otherwise incapacitated on the Eastern front. The Soviet to Axis loss ratio was 1.3:1 and the USSR outproduced Germany in every weapons system throughout the war.
MYTH: Putin has abused human rights, personally murdered 200 journalists and returned Russia to its totalitarian past.
REALITY: Too bad that only 3% of Russians agree, despite having easy access to such views via the press, cable TV and the Internet. The number of journalists killed under Putin (17) is less than under Yeltsin (30), and only five of them can be definitively linked to their professional work. Elections have been mostly free and fair.
MYTH: Russia is Mordor.
REALITY: Scratch a Russophobe, and you find a talentless fantasy writer. Sorry to disappoint you folks, but there aren't billions of orcs beneath the Ural Mountains preparing the final phase of their assault on the West. Not as far as I know, anyway.
Although they might have a point about Moscow...
Mmm, delicious myth-busting. The kind of work The Institute of Democracy and Cooperation should be doing. :) That's right, kids, the Chicago Tribune has just now picked up that story. They don't get out much, huh? Well, to be fair, I think it has snowed, er, just about everyday since September here, so no one is getting out much. Still, I've got a case of that weird blogger esp-ness you feel when you write about something months before it is reported in a major news outlet. Call it, "Jerome a Paris Syndrome."
5. On the topic of neologism, Russians, being the intellectual wordsmiths they are, (hoo boy, THAT would explain a lot!) haven't wasted anytime making up new words to describe their unique reality. From Scraps of Moscow: Tandemocracy, DIMAcracy, and other neologisms for a new era.
Tandemocracy (which I first saw as the headline of this Kommersant-Vlast' cover story, "Тандемократия") - this is certainly a more warm-and-fuzzy term than the archaic-sounding двоевластие (usually translated into English as the even more archaic-sounding "dyarchy").
DIMAcracy (or ДИМАкратия, which I first saw mentioned on Veronica Khokhlova's blog as "DIMAkratiya") - this is a witty pun on the nickname of the new president, but we'll have to see if it remains popular - as of now, Yandex blog search provides a number of results for the term but nevertheless comments, "Typo? You may have meant 'democracy'."
Putvedev - this is a nice way to refer to Russia's two leaders with a single term. The term occurred to me - and no doubt to many others - in February, but I believe the first use of it in the English-language press was in a Guardian column on March 3rd (translated into Russian by InoSmi under the headline "All Power to Putvedev"), followed closely by Sean Guillory's Pajamas Media piece the next day; and Lenta.ru headlined its March 3 roundup of Western press coverage of the Russian elections "The New Russian Putvedev."
I like "Dimacracy." :)
1. Preved, Medved! Cartoon Exhibition on Medvedev Open in Petersburg:
St. Petersburg Gallery of the Artists' Union has opened the exhibition of cartoons titled "Preved, Medved, or Morning in Pine Forest."
The exhibition is dedicated to the "new Russian President with a lucky surname", i.e. Mr. Medvedev.
However, the main hero of the exhibition is not President Medvedev but the favourite character of Russian bloggers, Medved. Yet, the artists have not omitted current political situations in Russia.
My cat's begun coming to "Preved, Medved!" (I used to call her "Bear.") As well as "Snoopy of cats." But that's neither here nor there.
2. A while back I was talking abut how brilliant I think source material is when compared to literature about history. I just have no tolerance for the latter. I could not even finish a bio of Stalin. If Stalin can't interest me, I don't hold out much hope for anyone else. If you were ever alive, I just don't want to read about you. Unless your diaries are published. Why is it ok to read a dead person's diary but not a living person's diary, anyway? If you are smart, like I am, you write your diary with the explicit intention of it being published posthumously. Nothing can mar a brilliant legacy like poor grammar. What was I talking about? Oh, source material. Check this fun stuff out!
Yesterday's papers: 25 March 1908
There's more where that came from at Starosti.ru.
3. IHT: Baryshnikov leaps behind the lens in a bold new turn
Mikhail Baryshnikov, one of the greatest dancers in history, ever diversifying, has turned dance-photographer. His images reveal an entirely unorthodox style, as the title of his new exhibition at 401 Projects, "Merce My Way," reveals. As the title suggests, his subject is the equally unorthodox work of another dance artist, Merce Cunningham.
Baryshnikov spent much of his dance career on the other end of the camera, as he recalled at the gallery before the recent opening. "I was taken to Lord Snowdon's studio, and, of course, I was very impressed," he said of his first season in the West in 1970 as a dancer with the Kirov Ballet in London. "But also it was all so perfect. A bit anal. Very unlike me, anyway. I'm so untidy."
"Untidy" has never been an adjective for Baryshnikov's dancing. But it's certainly true that his photographs have little in common with Snowdon's.
Baryshnikov said he had used a conventional 35 mm camera for two decades, principally taking portrait and landscape shots in black and white. Dance caught his photographic fancy only two years ago, when he was watching social dance in the Dominican Republic. (He gave a little two-second précis, with quick shimmies and ripples passing up and down his body.)
Of course my first thought is that body, like another certain Misha's, belongs behind nothing (accept possibly yours truly), esp. a camera. No, this beautiful fellow should be in front of the cameras.
Then I saw this new advertisement for Disney:
I suppose a wise man knows when it is time to pack away the leotards and take up a new hobby...
4. What do you all know about this Russian Soul business? I think I once mentioned my favorite thing about Russia is that people will start talking about their soul within 5 minutes of meeting a complete stranger. You'd think nothing could shock and American. But this is a shocking practice, I think. And uniquely ... well, Russian. And I LOVE IT. But would not know how to begin to describe it to anyone. Fortunately, someone else can.
Russian Phraseology: The Русская Душа!
Already on the 28th of February 1866 a certain Mr. Fyodor Tyutchev [Фёдор Тютчев] realized what a mystery the Russian Soul is to us 'non-Russians' and that's probably what he was thinking of when he wrote these classical lines: «Умом Россию не понять, Аршином общим не измерить, У ней особенная стать, В Россию можно только верить» I'm not even going to try and translate this poem as beautifully as it deserves to be translated, not only because that's not what I planned to write about today (what I really want to talk about today is phraseology with the word душа) but also because I can't. It's not that I don't speak Russian well enough; I don't know good enough English to do it. The general meaning of the poem is as follows: it is impossible to understand Russia with one's mind, she [Russia is a woman in Russian language] is special and can't be measured in the same way as other countries; in Russia one can only believe. And what better way to believe but by using our soul? In Russian language the frequency of the word 'soul' in every day speech is so high that I don't even know where to begin, but I know that I want to speak about this, no matter how difficult it will be for me (I am after all an alien, despite all these years in the Motherland) because it is such a central, such a vital piece of Russia. If you don't try your best to understand the Russian Soul, you'll never even get the slightest chance of understanding Russia. The Russian Soul has its own logic (it really does, though at first it might seem to be the absence of logic). The Russian Soul is proud but deep, it is devoted but transitory, it is playful but serious. The Russian Soul is kind, open, tolerant, affectionate and always ready invite a stranger into their kitchen and serve them a cup of tea.
They include a long list of idioms like:
От всей души - from the bottom of one's heart
Смеяться от души - to laugh heartily
«Я всегда от души смеюсь, когда смотрю «Нашу Рашу» = "I always laugh heartily when I watch "Nasha Russia" (comedy TV-show in contemporary Russia)"
По душе (+dat.) - to one's liking
Говорить по душам (note the different stress!) - to talk heart-to-heart, or (jokingly) to talk seriously with someone
С душой - with feeling
Сколько душе угодно - to one's heart's content
У меня душа не на месте - I' m worried (lit. my soul is not in place)
Брать грех на душу - to take the blame (lit. put the sin on [one's] soul)
Just the other day someone used the phrase "prishelsia po dushe" in reference to my Odds & Ends. :)
You can read more about the Russian Soul here: Nikolai Alexandrovich Berdyaev - The Soul of Russia
5. I am currently reading "The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin" by Vladimir Voinovich. I simply adore it.
~ Times: Blonde ambition seeks to storm Kremlin
Blondes famously have more fun, but a jealous world has long joked about their intellectual limitations. Now blondes in Russia are fighting the bimbo image by forming their own political party.
Organisers insist that the Party of Blondes will establish itself as Russia's newest political force by recruiting 50,000 members within weeks. The blonde ambition, they say, is to challenge Dmitri Medvedev for the presidency of Russia at the next election in 2012.
"The Party of Blondes is for blondes, those who love blondes, and those who are blonde inside," general-secretary Marina Voloshinova told The Times. Confusingly, she is a brunette.
"We will have a blonde president and if we find a great woman leader who is not blonde, we will make her dye her hair. To become the President of Russia, every woman is willing to dye her hair."
~ MN: Somali Pirates Release Russian Vessel for Reported Ransom
Does this mean Global Warming is on the mend?
~ Spy Vs. Spy!
~ MT: Bush's Sochi Visit Comes as Surprise
It was also unclear whether Bush and Putin would go fishing in Sochi. "This depends on the working schedule of both Presidents, on the agreement and certainly on weather conditions," Peskov said. But he added that fishing in the Black Sea was fun.
Putin's invitation is believed to be a repayment of his trip to Bush's family home in Kennebunkport, Maine, last July, which included a deep-sea fishing trip.
At the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Sydney in September, Putin said he had invited Bush to go fishing "not only in the United States, but also somewhere in Siberia."
Putin has invited Bush on a farewell ... Siberian fishing trip? Like, the kind where he romps around half-naked? He's ending their relationship with quite a bang! Just in case "Brokeback Putin" didn't catch on the first time around... Hope Bush keeps his shirt on, though. Yikes. ... What is it with Volodya and his fish, anyway?
(Source: Russia Monitor)
Don't go, Vovka!
~ Mikhail Gorbachev admits he is a Christian
Evangelicals: 1, Atheists: 0
~ Gorbachev dispels 'closet Christian' rumours; says he is atheist
Evangelicals: 0, Atheists: 1
Poor Gorby. First he was a pawn in the Cold War, now he's a pawn in the Culture Wars. Leave Gorby alone! Waaah! Just leave him alone, ok!!! Sniff...
~ RT: Billionaire will dig tunnel linking Russia & US
Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich has fuelled talk of a massive tunnel between Europe and America by forking out $160 MLN on the world's largest drill. The 19-metre giant will be the first drill capable of boring a four-lane tunnel.
The project would link Russia's far eastern Chutoka region, which Abramovich governs, with America's Alaska.
The tunnel was first mooted by the Tsars and then in the 1990s, but both times it was dumped because of high costs.
President Vladimir Putin is said to back the latest idea, as it would open up lucrative freight routes from Europe and allow Russian gas to be easily exported.
Britain's Daily Mail newspaper reports that Putin has already had secret talks about the project with Washington.
Sweet. Escape route.
Ok, no Misha.
Instead I bring you the fabulous M. Depp. Apparently he's been shooting a movie about John Dillinger somewhere around where ManinMiddletown lives. I know someone who used to live in the same building Dillinger lived in. Anyway, for those who don't know, Dillinger was one of those Chicago gangster no-goodniks in the 30's. So nice choice on Depp's part. He's obviously realized I have a thing for gangsters and bad guys. But, sorry, Johnny, until you do a nude fight scene with a Russian accent, you're no Viggo. Still cute though.
Ok, mes amis. Thank you for reading ... and reading ... and reading!
Have a lovely weekend!
p.s. Don't forget about Earth Hour!