Friday, December 30, 2005

Mean Russian Jokes

America is fighting two wars: one with terrorism and another with obesity. It’s double luck when it finds a fat terrorist.

New TV show “Who want to be a millionaire”. Its host Vladimir Putin invites all Russian billionaires to participate.

2020. After the crush of the European Union Latvia demanded monetary compensation for European occupation of the country. It also demanded that NATO occupation forces immediately leave the country together with 3 million of alien citizens of Turkish decent.

Soccer new. The hamster of Abramovich bought Yaroslavl’s Shinnik soccer team.

A team of construction workers from Kazakhstan will put tiles on your Shuttle.

Officer on duty reports to the Siberian jail chief, “Bad news: we don’t have any money, there’s no electricity, no water, no food, our guards are on strike. Good news: Khodorkovkiy is coming.”

When Jesus wants to punish America he sends storms, tornados, fires and floods. When he wants to punish other nations he sends Americans.

George Bush secretly visited Iraq. The level of secrecy was unprecedented. Only five persons knew about it. Lora Bush was informed an hour before the flight. George Bush wasn’t informed at all.

In order to make French police work in Paris more humanitarian it was decided to equip them with foam plastic baton, jets with warm water and banana flavored tear-gas.

Ukraine is a free democratic country at last. Before its president was elected in Moscow. Now in Washington.

After the democratic revolution in Kyrgyzstan its new government stated that it would be as warm and friendly towards Russian subsidies as before.

George Bush visited the State of Georgia and met its governor Mikhail Saakashvili.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Natural Gas Wars

Sean Guillory from Sean’s Russia Blog comments on current Russian-Ukrainian natural gas crisis. I like Sean’s blog and although I almost always disagree with his conclusions I find his analysis well-thought, deep and logical. But this time it seems to me that Sean is misinformed.

Sean writes,
But some will argue that the political independence Yushchenko’s government seeks from its eastern “big bother” means that it must also accept an end to economic dependence and pay natural gas prices closer to “market value.”

Ukraine was the first to demand from Russia at the start of 2005 to stop barter exchange (natural gas for transportation) and use market prices. Russia eagerly accepted the idea but it turned out very soon that Ukraine means: market prices for natural gas transportation but the price of the gas itself should be as in 2004 50 USD per 1000 cubic m.

Ukraine has continued to enjoy the Russian gas subsidies at a rate of $50 per 1,000 cubic meters, but a few weeks ago Gazprom upped the price to $160 to begin at the new year.

Sean! Not a few weeks ago but in March 2005! A few weeks ago Ukraine decided that it’s time to bring ‘glasnost’ to negotiations. They decided to play the political card hoping to find support in the US and in Europe. It made an impression that the price was upped just a month ago. That’s wrong.
I don’t understand why Sean used inverted commas with the word market value? Does it mean “so-called market value” or “would-be market value”? Actually an average European market price for natural gas is 432.57 USD per 1000 cubic m.

When Ukraine resoundly rejected this as blackmail, Gazprom raised the price again to $230 in retaliation.

Again wrong. Dmitriy Medvedev stated it very clearly that the price became 230 USD when Gazprom discovered that Ukraine started selling natural gas to Rumania for 260 USD. Ukraine buys gas from Russia for 50 USD and then sells it to Rumania for 260 USD. That’s what we call market economy!

If one thinks that this is simply Russia adjusting to the laws of supply and demand and is not punishment for Yushchenko’s independence, keep in mind that Belarus, which is soundly in Moscow’s political pocket, will continue to get gas for $46 per 1,000 cubic meters.

Sean forgot to mention economic reasons for this price. In exchange for discount Belorus handed over to Gazprom control over Belorussian pipelines. Sean should remember that the war between Belorus and Gazprom was also very intense and that Gazprom also turned off the gas tap for Belorus. Only that fact was ignored by Western commentariat as it distorts the image of Putin who always supports Belorussian dictator because for some irrational reasons Putin loves tyrants.

I think it’s just common sense – Gazprom doesn’t need Ukraine. Gazprom needs Ukrainian pipelines in order to lower political risks and to prevent Ukrainian government from stealing gas with impunity. The moment Gazprom gets Ukrainian pipelines; Ukraine gets the same price for natural gas as Belorus.

All in all, I think there's one simple way out from this crisis. As Ukraine became pro-Western and pro-NATO why the US and EU don't compensate Ukraine the price disparity. It's only 3,6 billion USD. What a good way to demonstrate support for Ukrainian democracy.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Is AIDS a Scam?

kurtkilgor commented on my post Is AIDS a Hoax?

Read this for an explanation of why the virusmyth site is at the least worthless, if not harmful: summarize, The central claim of the virusmyth-ologists is that nobody has proved that HIV causes AIDS. But the scientific method does not demand absolute proof of a theory -- it only demands that there is no DISproof. And there has not been found a substantial population of people suffering from AIDS who do not have HIV or some other known ailment such as congenital immunodeficiency.

Kurt is quite right when he says that the scientific method does not demand absolute proof of a theory – it only demands that there is no disproof. Carl Popper is one of my favorite philosophers and I also support his falsification methodology.

The problem is that AIDS theory is not falsifiable. It means that virus-ologists can not and will not state under what experimental conditions they would agree that they were wrong. The reason – AIDS theory is logically inconsistent. It says there is a strict causal connection that goes: HIV – immune deficiency – death. But people don’t die from AIDS. Their deaths are caused by innumerable mortal diseases caused mostly by immune deficiency. The most common is pneumonia.

Thus the logic of virus-ologist is shaky. When a person dies from pneumonia and he wasn’t HIV infected they say, “Pneumonia was the cause”. But if a person was HIV infected they say, “AIDS was the cause”. It’s impossible to falsify AIDS theory. Ergo, this theory belongs to the realm of pseudo-sciences.

Looking at the problem from strictly logical position we can (and should) treat equally several approaches in the causal sequences:

1. HIV – immune deficiency – death,
2. Immune deficiency - HIV (a harmless satellite virus) – death
3. HIV (harmless until...) - immune deficiency - HIV (make the deficiency worse) - death
4. Immune deficiency – HIV (a virus that actually HELPS fighting deficiency) – death
5. Immune deficiency – death.
plus any other possible combination.

Now if someone thinks that scientists work in all five directions he is absolutely wrong. All efforts are directed on sequence #1 plus some research on sequence #5 (as a helping tool for #1). All other possibilities are treated as malicious a priori and any scientist who makes an attempt to research #2, 3 or 4 is immediately ostracized. Peter Duesberg is one among the hundreds.

At the same time: (1) there are thousands who live with HIV for 10, 15, 20 years and die from causes that have nothing to do with AIDS and (2) the vast majority of AIDS victims are junkies but drugs abuse always destroys immune system.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Again on NGOs in Russia

It was a real surprise to find an unbiased and balanced opinion on the Russian NGOs bill. Here's an article by Mary Dejevsky from "Open Democracy".

The desire to prevent foreign governments from using aid organisations and other NGOs to exert influence on domestic policy is the chief motivation for similar legislation that exists in several southern African countries, including South Africa. The registration of NGOs (mandatory or voluntary), the filing of accounts, and the exclusion of all political activity are among the requirements.
It is worth noting that in reporting this state of affairs in southern Africa, Human Rights Watch adopts a neutral, uncensorious tone. Russia’s proposed law, in contrast, has drawn a response verging on the hysterical. Is this another example of the
double standard the west seems so often to apply to Russia, or is it rather that Russia’s draft law on NGOs is seen not as an isolated bill meeting a particular need, but as part of a wider illiberal and retrograde trend?

Another reason to support Putin

Sometimes I get really scared when I read editorials on Russian politics in American newspapers. Ok. I know well that editorials are mostly subjective rants and ramblings but Richard S. Williamson is a former U.S. ambassador at the United Nations. This man represented the most powerful country in the world in the UN. Here’s the link.

Concerned by the spread of democracy and the contagion of color revolutions, Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer, is moving to restrict Russian civil society.

This is an ugly example of logical inconsistency. “Is the king of France bald?” presupposes that France is a monarchy and it has a king although the question itself seems to address another topic. Let’s dissect the sentence. It implies that a spread of democracy = a color revolution but is simply untrue. As a president of a democratic country Putin MUST be concerned with the contagion of ANY revolution regardless its color. In 1917 Kerenskiy was couldn’t not stop the spread of the red revolution (financed by German “NGOs”) and the result was catastrophic.
What about changing “former KGB officer” to “the best friend and counselor of Anatoly Sobchak – one of the founding fathers of Russian democracy”?

The march of freedom has advanced in Georgia, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Iraq and Kyrgyzstan.

Iraq and Afghanistan! One of the reasons we should support Putin is the fact that Russia still has nuclear weapons. Otherwise the march of democracy could happen in this country year ago.

President Putin fears the challenge from pluralism and democracy at home. Therefore, since the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, Putin has rolled back freedoms in Russia.

Look at this sentence more closely. Again he read Putin’s thoughts and made a conclusion. It doesn’t matter that I – a person who lives in Russia – didn’t notice how my freedoms were restricted. Mr. Williamson knows it better.

Putin's government has launched a broad campaign to ensure that Russia's corrupt autocracy survives. Independent national television stations have been taken over.

Delirium! What campaign exactly? What independent television stations since the orange revolution were taken over? Even if we agree that 1st Channel, RTR and NTV are controlled by Putin there are 9 other NATIONAL television stations, including Putin-bashing RenTV with its 2% rating and 78% of coverage.

Pro-western parties have been driven out of parliament

They were driven out of parliament by the PEOPLE OF RUSSIA. In this country we don’t need pro-Western parties. We need PRO-RUSSIAN parties.

Business magnates who challenged Putin are prosecuted.

Business magnates who challenged the freedom of the Russian people and the integrity of the country. Thugs who not only stole the natural resources of the country but didn’t even bother to pay taxes.

The bill would force all foreign and domestic nongovernmental organizations regardless of their funding source to re-register with the authorities, inviting greater scrutiny and possible abolition of any group deemed threatening to the Kremlin's interests.

Deemed threatening to the interests of the people of Russia. I hate an idea that foreign governments finance Russian parties, train “orange revolutionaries” and open the city gates for the “march of freedom”.

The proposed law would drive most foreign NGOs out of Russia. It would be impossible for foundations such as the National Endowment on Democracy and the International Republican Institute to operate in Russia. And all Russian civic groups deemed suspicious by the authorities for any reason could be denied registration.

Two lies one after another. Oh, sorry. NED and IRI are financing opposition parties in Russia? Do they finance Chechen terrorists? Most foreign NGO’s financing opposition? Then they had to be kicked out of this country ages ago. The registration according to the bill COULD NOT be denied. It stated very clearly – you fill the form and you are registered. Just don’t forget to state your sources of financing.

As recognized in various human rights documents and numerous international treaties to which Russia is a party, people have a right to associate with whomever they please, to organize and express their views.

Exactly. Exactly. This is actually the essence of the bill. Mr. Williamson found a non-existent scare and is fighting it as a lunatic. If Bin Laden decides to register an “International Pan-Arabic Institute” in Washington, DC Mr. Williamson without doubt would support his right to associate with whomever he pleases, to organize and express his views.

The United States must stand with the people and against Putin's latest assault on Russian freedoms. Faced with criticisms from America and Europe, Putin has said he'll relax the planned crackdown on NGOs. Now is the time to redouble our efforts to support Russia's civil society.

Thank you, Mr. Putin for saving and modernizing Russian nuclear arsenals! I hope it would make people sharing Mr. Williamson views think twice before starting bombing my country to freedom.

Russians living in freedom, in a pluralistic society, and sharing our values are our natural friends and enduring allies.

We already live in freedom. We already live in a pluralistic society. We don’t share YOUR values because we have our own values. And we are ready to fight for them.

A corrupt autocracy seeking to roll back freedom, retrench and re-establish authoritarian rule will not be able to sustain stability at home nor be a friend on whom we can depend.

What is really scaring that the very same scenario was played with Serbia. First, blew the country’s problem out of proportion. Second, with the help of the mainstream media make a bloodthirsty monster out of the head of the country. Third, bomb the country into freedom. Forth, with the help of an well trained "orange" crowds install the marionette.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Thursday, December 15, 2005

WEF Survey

A global public opinion survey carried out for the World Economic Forum in 20 countries, interviewing more than 20,000 citizens, paints an alarming picture of declining levels of trust. The survey, carried out by GlobeScan, shows that trust in a range of institutions has dropped significantly since January 2004 to levels not seen since the months following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks. The poll also reveals that public trust in national governments and the United Nations has fallen the most over the past two years.
Click here for the full report and better quality graphs.

Of all the institutions examined, national governments have lost the most ground over the past two years. In twelve of the sixteen countries for which tracking data is available, public trust in the national government has declined by statistically significant margins, leaving only six of the tracking countries today with more citizens trusting their national government than distrusting them.

The major exception to these declining trust levels is Russia, where trust in the national government has increased steadily since 2001. Such consistent increases in trust are unique for any institution in any of the countries polled over this period.

In Russia, despite significant growth in trust, national companies are still distrusted by the majority.

My comment: I think this growth is due to two major facts: (1) trial over the Russian thug #1 Mr. Khodorkovskiy and (2) consequent “understanding” of survived oligarchs that this country is not their private property.

Decline in trust for NGOs is probably explained by the above mentioned Khodorkovskiy trial. It was outrageous when so many “independent” organizations spent millions and millions of dollars defending this thug – one of the worst human rights abuser in 90s.

It reminds me of a Russian joke. Mr. Ivanov returns from a Human Rights Watch conference in Moscow. “How was the conference?” he’s asked. - “It was really great. You know, guy, I was always mistrustful about all these abstract and surreal human rights. But now my eyes are open. Only it’s a pity that this Human should spend next 9 years of his life in jail.”

Monday, December 12, 2005

My Political Credo

What's my political credo? I'm a liberal intelligent who supports the state although it sounds as an oxymoron. Sergei Roy, the editor of (you find the English version of this site at the sidebar) defines it better than I do. Here's his thoughts about the poor state of Russian liberalism published by Peter Lavalle's Untimely Thoughts.

Putin is indeed a statist, and thus the opposite of liberal, in that he has stopped the country rolling along an inclined plane into the abyss of disintegration. By the end of Boris Yeltsin, the Liberal Pretender’s, rule, Russia was fast becoming an assemblage of fiefdoms that were “territories of free hunting” (Khodorkovsky’s phrase) for oligarchs/barons of two types, regional and financial-industrial, without a clear demarcation line between them. It came to pass that the biggest and the most impudent of these, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, made a grab for ultimate political power, buying the services of 250 deputies of the Duma and preparing to sell to a U.S.-based transnational 50 percent of the biggest oil company in the land, which would have put him beyond the reach of Russian law.

Putin put a stop to that, in the nick of time, and did some other things to restore the notorious “vertical of power,” which on closer inspection proves nothing more nor less than a functioning system of governance securing a more or less unified legal, political, and economic space.

What about Putin, the Statist Pretender’s, liberal credentials? Alas, they are no better than his predecessor’s. Although some of the oligarchs have been slapped into line, the oligarchy as a system of post-communist order is still with us and, which is more, it is thriving. Some of the members of Putin’s government – Mikhail Zurabov, German Gref, Viktor Khristenko – enjoy the tags of liberals, or neo-liberals, or radical liberals. In my view, these appellations can only be applied to these people if the word “liberal” has irreversibly passed into the swearword section of the Russian vocabulary. Monetization of social benefits was one example of their liberalism, housing and utilities reforms will be another. As a result of these liberal reforms, oligarchic profits (say, Zurabov’s pharmaceutical interests) will swell, while the populace at large will find itself in a still harsher grip of those oligarchic interests and at the mercy of the state’s handouts. Liberalism, forsooth.

I have stressed in the above the primary tenets of liberalism: freedom from state intervention and control over the sovereign individual’s affairs. In Russia, this principle has undergone a fantastic perversion: an owner or top manager of a company is free from state control and intervention precisely because he himself is the State – a government minister or a member of the President’s Administration. That’s what oligarchy is in a nutshell. And that’s what we have.

A few words on the subject of Russia’s political parties and liberalism – simply because they do not deserve more than a few words. I will leave Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal-Democratic Party entirely out of account; it is the proper provenance for the Public Prosecutor.

The Union of Right Forces, or SPS: Headed to this day by the founding fathers of oligarchic capitalism, it is a graphic illustration of the perversion of liberal principles, as described above. Chubais’s call for a “liberal empire” is a classic, in this respect: it will be an empire for a few “liberals” up top, just as it is now, and the masses vainly awaiting liberation from the slavery of poverty, at bottom.

Yabloko, the left-leaning branch of the liberal intelligentsia: For one thing, it is tarred with the oligarchic brush, much as it would like to expunge that memory. For years it fed out of Khodorkovsky’s hand. For another, it has shown a readiness to take Russian liberalism to a point at which Russia would simply disappear. During the 2000 presidential campaign, Anatoly Chubais had every right to call Yabloko head Grigory Yavlinsky a “traitor,” very publicly, on NTV, because of Yavlinsky’s stance on policy vis-?-vis Chechnya. I would hate to agree with Chubais on the time of day, but here he hit the nail right on the head: any concessions in the matter of Chechnya’s independence mean one thing, and one thing only – wave after wave of Islamic fundamentalism hitting Russia from the Caucasus, threatening to split it right down the middle, along the Turkic-populated regions of the Volga. As president, Yavlinsky would one day be crowned with the same laurels of Russia’s destroyer as Mikhail Gorbachev and Alexander Kerensky before him, not counting the scum that started the Times of Troubles.

So, aren’t there any true liberals left in Russia? There are. We are simply looking for them in the wrong places.

One locus is the same as decades and hundreds of years ago: the liberal intelligentsia. True, its role is pitiful right now, reduced to criticizing the current state of affairs and preaching to the younger generation that things can be different from the existing heap of manure as long as they keep the faith. A sad role, but a necessary one, and there are enough memories to sustain the intelligentsia in this role; it has seen much worse times. Words can barely say just how much worse they were.

The other agent is a much more robust one: the non-oligarchic capitalist. His fate is perhaps even worse than the pensive intellectual’s, for it is he who has to grapple with the forces of the bandit bureaucracy, the pressure of bandits in the more traditional sense, and of oligarchic monopolies. These people would be very much surprised if you informed them that they were the brightest hope of liberalism in Russia. Yet that is a fact. Of course, they are mostly extremely rough diamonds, their esthetic taste is abominable – you only have to look at the “castles” they are building all around Moscow or any other city. But, as Anna Akhmatova said, “If only you knew out of what garbage poems grow, unaware of shame.” Liberalism seems to be akin to good poetry, growing out of garbage. Among other things.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Freedom of Speech Is Finished

Click here for a secret LA Times template for articles about life in Russia.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Fredom of speech and freedom of press

When we want to make sense of what’s happening with freedom of speech and freedom of press in Russia we should make clear some basic premises. First, freedom of speech (or of expression) is the right of an individual. I – personally – have the right to speak whatever I like or to express any opinion possible. Press is nothing but a means that serves my personal freedom of speech. Not the other way round. Press is an institution that provides me with all necessary information I need to form my opinions. In some cases I pay them directly to get the information, sometimes I pay indirectly (TV gets money from advertisers that in their own turn include these expenses in the price of products), sometimes I don’t pay at all (blogs) and in some cases some “kind” government or NGO does it. Anyway, my freedom of speech should be unrestricted as long as I don’t maliciously abuse the rights of others.

It is true for all ‘natural’ human rights. Freedom to cook – freedom of grocery stores. Freedom to eat – freedom of restaurants. Freedom to travel – freedom of transportation agencies. Freedom to sleep – freedom of hotels.

For example, I have the undisputable right to eat and freedom to cook whatever I like, from any ingredients I like and with whatever cooking utensils I choose. Thus, grocery stores should be free to provide me with whatever products I fancy. At my home I also enjoy an undisputable freedom to treat my family, my friends and my guests with the fruits of my cooking exercises. And I hate the idea that some government inspector would try to suppress this freedom of mine (as long as cyanide is not my spice of choice).

But the moment I open a restaurant my personal freedom of cooking will be seriously limited and restricted by the government. When my friend asks me for a recipe of my bortscht I can say, “It’s my little secret” but in my restaurant my clients have every right to demand the answer. Government inspectors have every right to make bio-chemical analysis of my pelmeni, to control the quality of ingredients and to close down my outlet if they find rats there. In the same way freedom of press doesn’t mean that a newspaper has the right to defame, to libel or to slander simply because libel restricts my freedom of speech. It forces me to form wrong opinions. My freedoms – freedoms of an individual – always have priority over freedoms of commercial (or no-profit, irrespectively) organizations.

Next, if freedom of restaurants is here as a means to exercise freedom of eating, then it should adapt itself culture, religion and values of the people. Not the other way round. When 90% people are vegetarians but 90% of fast-food chains aggressively promote beef hamburgers, it could only mean that (1) restaurants owners are morons who refuse to make their outlets profitable or (2) they don’t give a damn about profits because they have their own agenda. Their activities could be financed by American Association of Free Butchers, for instance. Freedom of restaurants means that even when in the whole country there are only 50 people who like Thai food, the government shouldn’t prohibit opening of a single small Thai restaurant.
Let us go on with the freedom of cooking metaphor a bit further. Let us imagine that in some country in 1917 the power was taken over by the Party of Vegetarians. The idea of vegetarianism is very attractive and scientifically grounded. Then there was one wise German who in his book “Das Kooking Buch” proved beyond doubt that vegetarianism is the future of humankind and that total victory of vegetarians is inexorable historic necessity. Party of Vegetarians banned all protein containing foods. Even possession a single egg was punished by death. Some fifty years later Vegetarians allowed such products as milk or eggs but meat was still banned. People who doubted vegetarian ideas were sent to asylums. How can anyone in his right mind support the act of gorging flesh of murdered animals?

But one day the people lost all patience and overthrew the power of vegetarians. The Age of Freedom broke out. Freedom of eating and freedom of cooking. There were three major fast-food chains in the country that used to feed 100% of the population. They sold boiled broccolis and mashed carrots before. Now they started to sell hamburgers. Pretty soon people began to notice that the quality of those hamburgers was abysmal. New owners made hamburgers of rats, dogs and cats; they fed customers with rotten freedom fries and mildewed milk. Thousands died, millions got sick. But any time someone protested he was called the enemy of freedom and a supporter of evil ideas of vegetarianism. Freedom of eating was a sacred cow of the new regime but they made no difference between freedom of eating and freedom of fast food chains to use any means they see fit to make profits.

Some five years ago after another velvet revolution meat eaters lost total control over cafes, restaurants and grocery stores. At last people got an opportunity to eat whatever they like, be it broccoli, fish, bortscht or even hamburgers. Yes! There are dozens of very small outlets where hamburgers are served although most of the people hate them. Not that hamburgers per se are bad but the guys who cook (and cooked) them are. It seemed that only dishonest, corrupt, greedy and sleazy people could make hamburgers. Honest men are exempt from that profession.
Today the state of freedom of eating is not perfect at all. There are still a lot of problems sometimes very ugly ones but in general everyone can find a restaurant of choice with his favorite cuisine. 70% of population prefers traditional products, 15% are vegetarians, 10% have no definite preferences and only 5% like hamburgers. Unfortunately the most rich, powerful and ambitious organization in the world today is McDonalds. :-)

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

What's up with Olga Romanova?

Alistair (Ruminations on Russia blog) posted:

MosNews reports that TNT has taken Olga Romanova off the air allegedly because she reported that Sergei Ivanov's son would not be charged for killing a elderly women whilst driving. You would have to look pretty hard to find that piece of news in the Russian language.
It does not mark the end of free speech on broadcast television; it was already dead. It is however, another example of the 5th directorate thugs believing that they can control the flow of news when it proves to be embarrassing. The good news is that the Russian narod are at least 2 steps ahead of the thugs and no longer get their news from the television.

One needs to watch Olga Romanova’s analytical show only once to come to the conclusion – she’s a junk journalist. And it’s absolutely irrelevant if she’s pro-Western liberal or pro-Putin nationalist or anti-everyone anarcho-syndicalist. She’s sloppy, cynical and definitely suffers from narcissistic personality disorder. But her personal problems are of no importance if only she could do – before going on air – such simple things as (1) research, (2) thinking about problem she wants to talk about, (3) looking for logical integrity or (4) writing down some plan of the show. Ok, not the plan but just some notes, like “First, I talk about this and then about that”. I tried to watch Romanova’s show two times and both times I couldn’t stand the test. A couple of weeks ago she was “analyzing” the crash of a Russian MiG in Lithuania. I listened to this delirium for two minutes:

Generals from the Ministry of Defense said there were secrets about the poor MiG but today they said there are no secrets. So one day there are secrets but then they suddenly disappear. What happened to them? How comes secrets become not secrets? I mean secrets should be kept secret. Right? If secrets are not secret they are no secrets at all. No one calls not secret things secret. You know what I mean. But under Putin’s regime secrets suddenly become no secrets in just one day. What if we suppose that they were not secrets but were made secret by someone who loves secrecy?

And this verbal diarrhea goes on and on and on and on… Romanova reminded me a freshman who wrote a 340 words essay and was thinking how broad should be margins so the essay could be 15 required pages long. In comparison with Romanova even Yilia Latynina sounds like a solid quality political analyst. At least Latynina always manages to insert a couple of non sequiturs into her columns. Romanova cannot do even that. But somehow we are supposed to view Romanova as a beacon of free and democratic journalism.

She wasn’t fired from RenTV. She just argued with security at the studio door. Somehow she got an idea that she was fired. She went hysterical, rushed to Ekho Moskvy Radio and gave an interview condemning Putin and his KGB hounds of crushing the freedom speech in Russia. Next morning at least a dozen of American and European newspapers run the story “Romanova is fired from RenTV. Free speech on broadcast television is dead”. I wonder if their readers’ memory span exceeds one week. When for a thousand and the first time they read about total annihilation of free speech in Russia, do they ever think, “Hey! Didn’t I read the very same story five years ago?” Like in a joke: Mr. Pupkin committed suicide by firing six shots into his head. One revealing fact: when it turned out that Romanova’s dismissal from RenTV was a false alarm, not a single Russia bashing newspaper even mentioned it.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Russian Chronicles

Lisa Dickey and David Hillegas did a great job with their Russian Chronicles project. I’m truly amazed. This is one of the most unbiased and honest report on life in Russia I ever read made by a journalist not by a casual tourist. Someone said, “If in Russia you find a dilapidated house in a god forgotten Siberian village. If there’s a dead drunk Russian wino lying in dirt near that house. If that drunk is shouting “Down with Putin”, then be sure to find a Washington Post reporter nearby interviewing the man.” The last book from Washington Post reporters “Kremlin Rising” is a true example of this kind of junk journalism. Here’s a very good review of the book by Mark Ames “Bullshit Rising”. Nice title.

Russian Chronicles is a quite different report although the blog is hosted by WP.

Lisa writes:

It's been a long, illuminating trip. I really didn't know what to expect when I arrived here in August; though I'd lived in St. Petersburg from 1994 until the end of 1996, I'd only been back to Russia twice in the nine years since, for a week each time. All I knew about what was going on in Russia was what I gleaned from the news. And the news, of course, is mostly focused on politics and catastrophic events, such as the Kursk submarine sinking and terrorist attacks.

For that reason, I wanted to keep this blog as apolitical as possible, and as focused on the ordinary lives of ordinary people as I could make it. I wanted to know how Russians were really living -- not just how their politicians and oligarchs were faring.

She and David spent more than two months traveling by rail from Vladivostok to Moscow, then to Murmansk and to St. Peterburg. They visited 12 cities and met dozens of people.
I’m looking forward to the release of the book “Russian Chronicles. 10 Years Later". I’ll definitely be the one of the first to buy it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Weird statistics

Of 34 Americans who read my post "How to drink vodka and stay sober" in the last three days 9 visitors are from Beverly Hills, California. Can anyone explain it?

Monday, November 21, 2005

Calendar Wars

Here's a very interesting article by Kirill Pankratov published in Exile that I fully endorse:

Thus Putin's entourage wanted to come up with a historical date close to November 7th. They found it in the events of 1613-the end of the twenty year-long "Times of Trouble" and the beginning of the Romanov's dynasty. They chose the particular date of November 4th. That's when the popular militia headed by Minin and Pozharsky-a merchant and a noble -breached the defenses of Moscow, which was occupied by Polish troops and their local collaborators, and took Kitai-Gorod (the Chinatown-there was such a thing even then).

The liberal media opposed the date from the start. Actually they oppose anything at all suggesting Russian pride, especially if it has to do with encounters with Western armies. The popular militia was a truly democratic, up-from-below movement organized by ordinary citizens themselves. It was a moment of truth comparable in American history to the Paul Revere's ride and the march of the Minutemen militia in Concord and Lexington against the British redcoats. This is exactly why it is hated by the liberal and much of the Western media-because it runs counter to their established line that Russian history is nothing but "a thousand years of slavery and autocracy." Some papers bitched that this new holiday would antagonize Poles (big deal, they built their own whole history around antagonizing Russians). The idiocy of political correctness went as far as claiming that it can't be celebrated because apparently some Jewish merchants in the Polish supply line were slaughtered in the ruckus.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

I never expected that

Amazing! If you google “how to drink and stay sober” my blog comes at the very top of the list. I’m Number One! But if you google “how to stay sober” you get a long list of rehab services, groups and clinics, together with religious sites.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Is Andre Glucksmann mad?

Paris - French intellectuals have maintained their silence, despite more than 6,000 burnt-out cars, wrecked schools and vandalized creches and the one death resulting from the riots that have raged since October 27. Now at last the philosopher Andre Glucksmann has spoken out with a provocative thesis: The disturbances are not the result of alienation but a sign that the young rioters are becoming integrated. 'They are integrating themselves by the very act of setting cars alight, even by the fact that they are setting people alight,' he told the German newspaper, the Franfurter Rundschau. According to Glucksmann, negation is a typical form of French integration.

Actually this is a typical non sequitur. All cats like milk. John likes milk. Ergo - John is a cat.
For those who don't know - Andre Glucksmann is a Russophobe No.1 in Europe who sincerely believes that Russia in any form and under any government is a threat to the world.

Slightly edited Soviet poster - "Africa is fighting. Africa will win"

via ahom

Monday, November 14, 2005

Response to Anonim

Anonim commented on my post “Why Russian students cheat”.

Are we living in the same country with you? In Russia I live in, you would never get into a good university or school without a bribe or connections.

The answer depends on what is meant by a “good” university or school. In Russia I live a good university is the one that gives your career a boost upon graduation. People who talk a lot about total bribery and corruption miss the fact that Russian employers are far from being na?ve or stupid. If you are an owner of a dental clinic, would you hire a dentist when you know that he got his degree at a corrupt university? Never! If you hear only once that dentistry students at the XYZ School of Medicine pay bribes for their grades, for your clinic their diplomas are not worth the paper they are printed on.

Serious employers are very scrupulous about the reputation of colleges they hire people from. For example, the receptionist at our office has a diploma magnum cum laude from, let’s say, Mukhosransk University. Although she personally was really a very good student the bad reputation of her school is her damnation now. If she were pickier about her school she wouldn’t be sitting here receiving and directing phone calls. On the other hand, job descriptions from the top Russian corporations often go, “Applicants with degrees other than from MFTI, MVTU or MIFI need not bother”. You see, these three schools are known for their impeccable reputation, so their degrees are worth at least five times more than a degree from Mukhosransk. It’s all about money, nothing personal. Employers need to filter applicants earlier before they prove their total incompetence. If the school is known to be corrupt, don’t expect to find a good job. Besides, security at serious companies doesn’t like people who solve their problems by giving bribes.

Go and talk to university students, they'll tell you that in many cases you can pass the exam by putting some money in your student's record book.

Two sons of my neighbor are currently students at MIFI. I asked them the question. The answer was “NEVER!” Although MIFI is a so-called engineers’ college (Moscow Physics Engineering Institute) its diplomas are welcomed everywhere. An average starting salary for a MIFI graduate is US$ 900. An oil company I worked for hired accountants and finance managers only from MIFI or MFTI even if they studied nuclear physics there. The rationale – a person who “survived” five years at MIFI can cope with a 2-year course of financial accounting in about two months. If you made it there, you make everywhere.

And what is so special about lecture-tutorial-lab srtucture? This is how it is done in the US too as far as I know.

You are wrong. Russian system is basically German albeit stemming from the 19th century. American system is basically British.

Moreover, there is much less opportunity for a professor to be biased towards a particular student, because it the exam is written, noone can say that a person who wrote it knows less, than what he wrote. And believe me, not many students in the US would risk being expelled by cheating or plagiarizing, which is a common practice in Russian universities.

You didn’t get an idea of my post. You also don’t need to say, “believe me” as I got my MBA in the US. As graduate students we were often allowed to “cheat”: open books exams or one library card “cheat sheet” (microscopes were not allowed). All in all, American examination system makes most of cheating methods useless. Just consider this – you have 3 hours to answer 50 multiple choice questions, 20 open questions and solve 10 problems. Where do you expect to hide your 600-pages cheat sheet?

Considering your age, you probably have not been able to fit into the present state of things and are still living in the communist past.

Aha! Now I see. First, you made a pre-supposition that I’m old and didn’t fit into the present state of things (whatever it means). Then using argumentae ad hominem tactics you decided that your blanket statements on total corruption of Russian educational system should be taken as logical. Your blanket might be well sized, but it covers only a part of the bed, as all global generalizations do.

It's sooo annoying that so many Russians use every opportunity to talk about how something in Russia is better than in America.

I recommend taking an anger management class not to be soooo annoyed. Particularly, when I didn’t say a word about Russian education being better than American. They are different with their unique pros and contras. I only tried to give a rational answer to the question why Russian students cheat.

Monday, November 07, 2005

McDonalds... Did we love it?

I remember 15 years ago in January when the temperature was -15C me and my girlfriends spent almost two hours in line just to get inside McDonalds in Moscow. What idiots we were! Actually that was not McDonalds itself but a rare opportunity to test a "legendary" Big Mac - symbol of the West.

Some thoughts about McDonalds then and now read at Russian Marketing Blog.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Why Russian students cheat

Jane Keeler raises an interesting topic on cheating at Russian universities. Some explanations should be added:

Almost all exams in Russia are oral. At the start of an exam first five or ten students enter the room where they pick randomly so called “billet” – question cards. A typical card includes two questions on theory and one or two “practice” problems. A student is given about half an hour to get ready and then for another twenty minutes the examiner and the student talk on the topics from the card. All cheating is done during the preparation phase of the exam. Although cheating is definitely illegal examiners usually wink at it. Reasons are simple:

1. The exam is oral so it doesn’t really matter if a student wrote down correct answers from cribs. Examiner can ask any number of questions and it’s very easy for him to prove that the student doesn’t know anything on the topic. It’s almost impossible to get a good grade cheating. The whole thing is just a somewhat hypocritical tribute to the 19th century traditions of university examinations. Nowadays many examiners allow students to bring textbooks and notes to exams and I think it’s a good idea.

2. Russian higher education system is “lecture – seminar – laboratory”. At lectures students listen, take notes and ask questions. Lectures are followed by seminars where they discuss with the same professor the topic of the previous lecture. This way the professor (=examiner) has plenty of time to get to know students. Long before the exam he knows who is good and who is bad. Students who skipped classes had no chances at the exam no matter how brilliantly they cheat. For Russian students it’s very important to be liked by professors – always asking smart questions, showing up good knowledge of professor’s books and articles, participating actively in discussions at seminars. But again even the best should work hard for exams. When a good student at the exams shows his ignorance it’s considered offensive. That’s real cheating! “Did you think I like you so much that you get A just by showing up at the exam?!”
3. Russian (or Soviet) higher education system puts a lot of pressure on students. Actually only the few are up to the mark. If you follow official standards than 80% of students should be kicked out immediately. Not that they are bad – standards are too high. This way Russian (Soviet) education system produced some A-students who were times better than their American or European counterparts and about 80% who were below average. And almost no one in the middle.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Russian Jokes

YUKOS gas station.

Khodorkovsky 12 years. Lebedev 9 years. Shakhnovsky 5 year.

Picture by Zhgun

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Putin Is Tired

Moscow News published a very interesting interview with Helene Carrere d'Encausse. This belongs to a tiny group of experts on Russian affaires who (judging from the interview) is smart and open-minded. There some lines from the interview I liked most:

But I rather suspect that he is already tired of working. He goes to different places a bit too often and practices sport a little too much.

It’s evident to most of Russians. Putin is not a politician and never was. Every politician should love power above all but he doesn’t. Putin is doing his job as if he was appointed to be a president. And that is the main reason why Russians like him. It’s also a reason why so many Western experts simply couldn’t grasp the idea that a person with so much power doesn’t want to use to become a president for a third term. Maybe they think it’s an axiom that only power mongers can be politicians as it always was in the West? Money and Power is ueber alles.

This may sound a bit harsh, but I get the impression that our [French] elites are irked by the fact that Russia has extricated itself from Communism on its own, without any outside assistance.

Exactly. The Russian revolution of 1991 was probably the only one in the modern history that happened without “help” from the West. Not a single NGO or a “freedom-in-the-world” foundation played any role in the process. No Western politicians showed their support on Moscow squares. Not a single dollar was spent on training “democratic” youth organizations. They didn’t even consult with the leaders of the free world on what is the most appropriate candidate to lead the revolution. Russians overthrew the Communist regime and established democracy in this country all by themselves. They had the cheek to do it! Barefaced impudence!

Yes, we see that Russian television reports on every step that Putin takes, to the exclusion of all else. But then French television is so PC that it is simply a nightmare. We have laws that not even Stalin could have devised. A person risks being sent to prison if he says that there are too many Jews or blacks on television. People may not speak their minds on ethnic groups, World War II, and many other things. This is a statutory offence.

Political correctness on French television is probably the same as media censorship in Russia. But Russia has some terribly interesting newspapers, while in France, all major newspapers write more or less the same stuff.

Again I agree. I don’t know what is more boring: watching stupid coverage of every step Putin makes on TV, or being hypnotized by irrational and distilled PC stream from CNN or BBC. France is not an exception. It’s like watching a castrated old lion in a zoo playing with his tail. When I need good political analysis I read Russian newspapers. When from time to time I feel pessimistic about life in Russia I read Wall Street Journal or Washington Post. It gives a real boost of patriotism. If Putin only wanted to make his power much stronger and chances of liberals puny, he only needed to start a daily show on TV “What European and American mainstream newspapers write about life and politics in Russia”.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Russian Chronicles

Thanks to Jane Keeler I found this wonderful travelogue “Russian Chronicles”. Lisa Dickey and David Hillegas come back to Russia and make the same trip they did in 1995 visiting the same places and interviewing people that met ten years ago. Apart from being a very interesting story teller Lisa Dickey is also very open minded. She is probably the first American mainstream journalist that is sincerely friendly towards this country. Her criticisms do not sound as mean finger pointing. No meaningless rants and preaching. Then she is probably the first journalist that openly accepts that life in Russia became much better in general. Not the usual ‘rich Russians are obnoxiously rich but most of the people live in poverty’ stuff one reads in Washington Post or Wall Street Journal.

My previous post was about Russian rudeness. Lisa Dickey’s last post is about Russian railway trains and over the top Russian “friendliness” one finds there. I prefer to travel by air but from time to time as I take a train I meet the same problems as JJ. Only she had to stand for America and answer questions about Bush politics but I have to defend Moscow and ‘filthy rich’ Muscovites who grab resources from all over the country.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Russian Rudeness

Usually statements (usually made by Americans), like “Russians are rude” actually mean “Russians don’t smile.” In other cases it could be translated as “I behave in Russia as I’m used to behave back at home. I view my behavior as universally accepted all over the world. Then there people in Russia who find some aspects of my behavior insulting and when I refuse to adjust it they become rude.” In Russia one should be very careful about adjusting the everyday behavior to dozens of sensitive norms and regulations. This is true for every culture that is different from American or European. Only in Japan or in India cultural differences are visible and felt immediately. Unfortunately, Russia “looks” like a European country and Russians look like ordinary “white” people.
Rudeness could not be a prevailing trace of national character in principle. Every culture is a stable self-organized system. When most of its elements are “rude” it would disintegrate. In every culture people become rude when they want to give a strong and definite signal to the offender that his/her behavior would not be tolerated. I would say 99% of Russians live their daily life without being rude to each other. It only takes some openness, readiness to throw away some intercultural clich?s and a strong will to understand.
I try to illustrate this idea with one typical example – how to deal with rude shop assistances or waiters in Russia. First, let us dig deeper into Russian history. Only 80 years ago Russia was a predominantly rural country. Only 150 years ago most of Russians were serfs. Serfs are not slaves. Russian peasants never thought of themselves as slaves. They truly believed that they belonged to the land, that they were an integral part of the land. But the land belonged to the landowner thus making them also belong to the landowner. When in 1861 the tsar granted personal freedom this news was met with hundreds of peasants’ revolts. There’s no paradox here. Peasants simply couldn’t grasp it – they are free but their land stays with the landowner. It meant no freedom.
Landowners were “tolerated” by peasants just because by the evil fate they happened to possess peasants were bonded with by the God’s will. Doing obligatory part-time work for a landowner personally (barschina) was a God’s ordeal – a hard cross to bear. One couldn’t escape it so it was morally justified to revenge the landowner by doing barschina poorly, sabotaging the work, breaking instruments or stealing. Anyway, God wouldn’t treat it as a sin – stealing from a person whose ancestors grabbed our land ages ago. The most despised people among peasant were house-sefs – serfs who were taken from their land to serve at a landowner’s house: cooks, butlers, coachmen, etc. Those people were degenerated to the lowest rank – doing personal services for someone. Below were only prostitutes, thieves, and homeless – people whose bond with the land was broken forever.
Is it so surprising that nowadays people who work as waiters or shop assistants feel that they are doing a very humiliating job – serving other? I remember one American movie with Demi Moore playing a role of a strip dancer. She hated that job, hated customers, hated her boss but was still working because she was poor, she was a lonely mother and she needed money. In that movie Demi Moore looked at the strip bar patrons exactly like many Russian waiters look at their customers. “You see how humiliated I am. I degraded to being a restaurant-serf. Don’t you dare to humiliate me more by your stupid demands! I’m still a free man and can rebut your insults”.
Have patience with Russian service people. These people found themselves in this position not of their own accord. Evil fate forced them to do this degrading work.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Russians and Europeans

The All-Russian –°enter of the Public Opinion Studies (VTSIOM) presented to the public the results of it poll about how frequently Russians and the citizens of the European Union think about the sense of life.

As a study showed, 43% of Russians and 35% of Europeans frequently think about the sense of life and its ultimate purpose, while 32% and 39% respectively do it from time to time.

Russian women (49%) think about the sense of life more frequently in comparison with men (37%). It seems that philosophizing is closely correlated with the level of income. Only 39% Russians with higher incomes contemplate on the purpose of human existence.

On average, Russians are as religious as Europeans. 53% of Russians believe in God (plus 25% believe in the existence of life after death). Respectively, 52% of Europeans believe in God (plus 27% believe in life after death). In Russia there are 16% of atheists comparing to 18% in EU.
45% of Russians and 54% of Europeans practically always or frequently have trust in other people, sometimes 31% and 34% respectively.
Rarely or almost never trust other people 23% of Russians and 11% of the EU citizens. Russians over 60 years of age trust other people more often – 55% of respondents. Almost as Europeans in general.

The poll was conducted in September 2005, 1,6 thousand respondents were in almost all regions of Russia. The results were compared to the results of the poll conducted in the countries of the EU in June 2005.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Why Russians Do Not Smile

Russia Profile published an article by Olga Nikitina “Combining a Rude and Very Hospitable Reputation” on a very interesting topic about Russian culture. How can the same people be so rude and so hospitable in different situation?
Olga Nikitina writes:

Foreigners who come to Russia are often struck by the indifferent, closed, or even hostile looks from people on public transportation and in the streets. One widespread opinion is that Russians rarely smile. On the other hand, Russians are also well known for their hospitality, and have a reputation for being extremely generous friends.

There are sociological reasons behind both types of behavior. According to Elena Zdravomyslova, a professor at the European University in St. Petersburg and research coordinator at the Center for Independent Social Research, the apathy demonstrated by Russians in public could be a means of psychological defense. “In post-Soviet Russia, the level of personal security has decreased dramatically,” she said. “If you are attacked in the street, the police cannot help you. Nobody can really defend you. The instability of social structures also makes people avoid contacts that could jeopardize their safety, or even develop aggressive behavioral strategies. Being autonomous is safer.”

This conclusion is very surprising and to my mind unprofessional. I don’t think it’s correct to explain a cultural phenomenon that is at least 500 years old by some 15 years post-Soviet period. The opinion about Russians as at times unsmiling and rude but in other circumstances as very friendly and hospitable one easily finds in the accounts of European travelers on Russia already in the 15th and 16th century. For example, E. de Corte compares French peasants who are friendly when they are sober and very aggressive when drunk to Russians – when sober they are sullen but when drunk hug and kiss each other.

One only needs to read about Levin’s relationships with his peasants in “Anna Karenina” to find the “secret” of this paradoxical behavior. Bezukhov’s adventures during the French retreat from Moscow in “War and Peace” also give a lot of insights.

Russian culture is basically the culture of Russian peasantry communes. I believe hundreds of ethnographers wrote about it. Commune here is a key word. Why is this culture so prevailing today? In 1917 before the Communist Coup 87% of Russian population was rural. At the beginning of 1970’s only 18% of Russians were engaged in agriculture. Most of Russians can live in big cities but they still behave as if they belong to a small community and the nearest village is a hundred miles away.

When you live in Siberia in a small rural commune you should be very distrustful of every stranger. Moreover – strangers should feel immediately that you are hostile towards them. Only when a stranger proves beyond doubt that (1) he wants to belong to the commune, (2) he accepts all laws and traditions of this particular commune, (3) he can be trusted; only then he is accepted. And an accepted member of the commune enjoys so much trust, friendliness, openheartedness and sincerity that is very surprising to Europeans and who think that Russian openness is over the top.

Actually the “secret” of Russian democracy is also rooted in the culture of peasantry communes. Inside the commune people have their own laws, traditions, judges, principles and values. Every time the government tries to impose its laws, its attempts are met with peasants’ revolts and revolutions. On the other hand people delegate the tsar and the Orthodox Church all the problems outside communal life. The tsar can make any laws he likes as long as such laws help keeping this huge country together and do not contradict the laws of the commune. Not “commune” in general but every particular commune with its particular laws, be it in Siberia, in the Far East, in the Northern taiga or in the Southern steppes.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Million Pieces of Shit

I looked up sales ranks and couldn’t believe my eyes – “Million Little Pieces” by Frey is No.1. It’s recommended by Oprah! What happened to America? What happened to Oprah? I got this book about three months ago. I gave one American exchange student Pelevin’s “Omon Ra” and she gave me Frey’s masterpiece as a sample of contemporary American literature. I read about 50 pages and put the book down. That student definitely hated me or wanted to taunt me with this worthless piece of junk.
There’s an alternative newspaper “Exile” in Moscow that published probably the best review of that Frey’s book. It’s written by John Dolan. Here are some extracts from that review – “A Million Pieces of Shit”

John Dolan writes:

That's it. 400 pages of hanging around a rehab clinic.
It feels longer. It feels like years.
For all Frey's childish impersonation of the laconic Hemingway style, this is one of the most heavily padded pieces of prose I've seen since I stopped reading first-year student essays. Frey manages to puff up this simple story to book length thanks to one simple gimmick: he repeats. Repeats the beginnings of sentences. Repeats the beginnings of phrases. And the endings. Endings of phrases. Phrases and sentences.
And while his prose is repeating, his tale is descending. Descending into Bathos. Bathos in which he wallows. Wallows. In bathos. Bathos, bathos, bathos.
The results can be quite funny, altogether unintentionally, as when Frey tries to dramatize the travails of love:
"I start crying again.
Softly crying.
I think of Lilly and I cry.
It's all I can do.
I found myself laughing every time I read this, imagining Daffy Duck doing the scene: "It'th all I can do!" then turning to the audience to clarify things: "Cry, that ith."
I found myself becoming morbidly fascinated by the number of conjunctions Frey could pile into a single sentence. The one I just quoted has six "and"s. Not bad, but hardly a record. A few pages earlier, Frey offers a sparkling account of getting a bowl of oatmeal which is sustained by seven "and"s; "...I see that I'm late and I see People look up and stare at me and I ignore them and I get a bowl of gray mushy oatmeal and I dump a large pile of sugar on it and I find a place at an empty table and I sit down."
Walking on a trail outside the clinic, Frey names and capitalizes everything: "Trail," "Tree," "Animals." Then he sees a lower-case "bird." I was offended for our feathered friend. Why don't the birds get their caps like everybody else?
But then Frey is no expert observer, as he proves in one of the funniest scenes from his nature walks, when he meets a "fat otter": "There is an island among the rot, a large, round Pile with monstrous protrusions like the arms of a Witch. There is chatter beneath the pile and a fat brown otter with a flat, armored tail climbs atop and he stares at me."
Now, can anyone tell me what a "fat otter with a flat, armored tail" actually is? That's right: a beaver! Now, can anyone guess what the "large, round Pile with monstrous protrusions like the arms of a Witch" would be? Yes indeed: a beaver dam!
Luckily, Daddy has to take off for Brazil, and Frey can return to bizarrely detailed descriptions of every single hug and tearful farewell between him and his new pals.
And I mean detailed. It takes Leonard and his new son three pages just to get out to the limo. And there, of course, there must be another maudlin goodbye, stretched to absurd length. Anyone else would've said, "We hugged and said goodbye," but Frey takes you through every step of the process, padding his bathos as if explaining "hug" to a Martian: "Leonard steps forward. He puts his arms around me and he hugs me. I put my arms around him and I hug him. He lets go and he steps away and he looks in my eyes and he speaks."
Frey and his tough-guy friends spend more time weeping and hugging than the runners-up in a Miss America competition. Frey's aggressively male stance has something archaic, even campy about it. Frey has placed the entire book in a gender-segregated institution, recalling Hemingway's title Men without Women. (Male patients are not allowed to say anything more than "Hello" to female patients in Frey's rehab center.) And like most homoerotic novelists of the 1930s, his true period, Frey resorts to violence to prove he's no homosexual, confessing (that is to say, boasting) that he beat a French priest to death for daring to place his hand on Frey's utterly masculine thigh.
Oh, but that's nothing. He's got a million sob-scenes more self-indulgent and false than that one. How about this example of closely-observed detail: "[Lilly] smiles. With her lips, her teeth, her eyes, her shaking hand." I just wish I could figure out how she managed to make her shaking hand smile. That would be worth watching.
As his utterly unconvincing romance with Lilly progresses, Frey dives deeper and deeper into cliche: "I am in love with a Girl, a beautiful and profoundly troubled Girl who is alone in the World...."
The man was born too late; he should have been writing subtitles for silent-film melodrama.
And before we can even wipe the tears from our eyes, Frey is parting from his counselor and her tough yet sensitive Fisherman boyfriend: "I step forward and I hug her. There is emotion in the hug, and there is respect and a form of love. Emotion that comes from honesty, respect that comes from challenge, and the form of love that exists between people whose minds have touched, whose souls have touched. Our minds touched. Our hearts touched. Our souls touched."
If you can find a worse paragraph than that in any published book, I'd like to see it. At least it disposes of one more character. Alas, Frey must still hug the Counsellor's boyfriend, who says -- I swear to God, this is a direct quote: "I ain't much for words, kid."
Never mind, never mind; it's time to take the bags out to the car and meet Frey's brother, who's come to take him home. Guess what they do first! Yeah: they hug: "He hugs me. I hug him." It's these sudden twists that make Frey's story such a page-turner.
And this self-aggrandizing, simple-minded, poorly observed, repetitious, maudlin drivel passes for avant-garde literature in America?

I agree completely.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Take this test!

Hmm... That's flattering. I thought it would be Yeltsin.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

You don't need to be smart to be a CEO

What strikes you first when you start reading the book “Jack: Straight from the Gut” - Jack Welch is definitely not dumb, but he is not smart either. He's IQ should somewhat between 90-100 but as his story shows you don't need to smart to be the most admired CEO in the US. Actually what you really need for success:

(1) Single-mindedness and total concentration on one goal. Devote all your time and all your efforts on reaching this goal. Just don't analyze it, don't think it over and as a result - never hesitate. It's surprising how many people miss one thing - Welch's idea "be No.1 or No.2 or ..." is flawed! Later he admits himself that managers could narrow the market and become No.1. And this is not just "hmm, thanks for telling me this" - it's a fundamental methodological mistake. It simply means that the whole idea was not really thought over and was never analyzed. But thousands of people who didn't like it were fired from GE.

(2) Create corporate culture. As Jack shows this actually means - meet as many people as you can and if you find someone who is like you (passionate, loud, confident, concentrated, ruthless and aggressive) make him your VP immediately (and fire the "non-culture" guy who occupied it). Then - and this is the most important thing! - give him impossible goals and if he doesn't deliver - fire him too. This way very soon you have your top management who look like your clones and your middle management tries hard to mimic. And it's a surprise how many people missed it - Welch's list of GE values is flawed. They are not values - they are personal traits of character, description of certain individuality, self-portrait of Jack himself.

(3) Never have any emotional attachments to anyone - business and nothing but business. Welch describes all his so called "friends" only from the business and effectiveness point of view. The only person he is emotional about is his mother. His words "I loved my dad" sound as an excuse. Jack ruined his family not because he was working too hard - he had all week-ends for himself (even long week-ends!). He spent them playing golf instead of playing with kids. It comes to him as a surprise that golfing is not a good idea when you invite your girlfriend for a romantic weekend.

Please, pay attention - Welch never reads books, Welch had only two weeks of business training in marketing, Welch likes to teach but hates to be taught, Welch prefers learning by trial and not by analysis. And then - read this book again if you don't agree - Welch lacks strategic thinking. With his one "strategic" in head he just makes a lot of selling and buying everything that he has a gut for. Anyway, you don't need to be smart to be a CEO.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

No comments.

Monday, September 19, 2005

How to drink vodka and stay sober

Russians are renowned for drinking a lot of vodka staying sober. That’s not something to do with biological inheritance but with the way we drink. Russians believe that foreigners don’t know how to drink. They don’t eat while drinking. They mix cocktails. They sip vodka instead of taking shots. They drink vodka with highly carbonated sodas. In short, they do everything to get drunk from the minimum amount of alcohol. May be it has something to do with innate Western avidity or expensiveness of alcohol.
Russians, on the other hand, do everything to stay sober while drinking as much alcohol as possible. How do we do it? We try to neutralize alcohol as long as possible. I try to outline the basic principles of vodka drinking for uninitiated.

One hour before the party.

1. Eat a couple of boiled potatoes.
2. Drinks one or two raw eggs.
3. Drink one or two table-spoons of olive oil. Sunflower oil will also do.
Thus it’s guaranteed that at the Russian party you will stay sober for at least one bottle of vodka. I’m not kidding. Raw eggs are the most important part of Russian pre-party preparations.

At the party.

1. If you start drinking vodka – drink only vodka. No beer or wine. No water or juice. Carbonated drinks are taboo.
2. Drink vodka only in shots. Never sip.
3. Eat immediately after taking a shot. Russian zakuskis are often translated as appetizers. That’s not quite correct. Zakuskis are something you ‘zakusyvayesh’ with after taking a shot of vodka. They are very important to neutralize alcohol. That’s why they all contain two most important alcohol neutralizers – acid and salt. I recommend taking the following sequence:
- immediately after taking a shot – two slices of lemon;
- then some salted cucumbers, pickles, marinated tomatoes or caviar.
- then something with a lot of oil: herring (traditionally with cold boiled potatoes and onion), sardines, or shproty (small smoked sprats in olive oil);
- then traditional Russian salads, like Oliviye or Herring with boiled beet and mayonnaise. Almost all Russian salads come under heavy mayonnaise dressing. Remember – acid, salt, eggs and oil. Ukrainians and Southern Russians prefer smoked lard with garlic but it’s a zakuska for professionals.

4. Only three first vodka shots at a Russian party are ‘obligatory’ so to say. That means you have to take them if you want to show you’re a friendly person but not an unsociable person. After that you can ‘miss’ one or two shots. Just say, “Ya propuskayu” (Literally, I make it slip) and cover your glass with your palm. That doesn’t mean you can abstain from drinking till the end of the party. It means (excusing yourself that you’re a foreigner) can take one shot out of two your Russian guests take.

I think, some Russian party traditions need to be explained here. In Russia we party around a big table with bottles and zakuskis. We drink only when someone makes a toast and we drink all together. The person who makes a toast usually pours vodka to all glasses. Taking a bottle yourself and drinking vodka without others is a faux pas. Actually you (and all others) are ordered to drink after a toast. Everyone at the party is supposed to make a toast – being a foreigner is not an excuse. So be prepared – buy yourself a book on party toasts (there are a lot of them on sale in Russia) and learn some by heart.

5. Zakuskis part of the party take about an hour – or something like 200 grams (4 shots) of vodka. Then comes “goryacheye” (hot dishes). Even though zakuskis could be very filling – you should eat goryacheye if you want not be become drunk.
6. Actively participate in intellectual talks around the table. Mental activity is probably the best method to keep you excited but sober. Try, for example, to drink two pints of beer while reading a philosophical book and see the result.
7. At the end of the party come tea and cakes. Don’t miss it too. This way you show your hosts that you’re survived the party without dire consequences.

Now in the course of 4 or 5 hours you drunk a bottle of vodka (500 grams) and you’re only slightly tight.

After the party.

1. Keep a small bottle of beer in refrigerator. Wake up at about 5 in the morning, drink your beer and go back to bed. It prevents hang-over in the morning.
2. If the early morning beer didn’t help (it usually does), drink a glass of brine from the jar you kept you pickles in.
Many Russians recommend taking a shot of vodka in the morning to fights hang-over. Don’t do it. It helps only alcoholics. If you’re not, it will make things worse.

More on the subject of vodka drinking in Russian Marketing Blog.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Russian Jokes 5

Please, help the invisible man!

More jokes on Russian Marketing Blog

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Is AIDS a hoax?

Ostap Karmodi from the Moscow News newspaper intereviewed Peter Duesberg - A Startling Claim about the AIDS Virus.

In 1986, Peter Duesberg became a member of the National Academy of Sciences and was considered a probable candidate for the Nobel Prize. Next year, his career crashed. In 1987, Duesberg published an article in which he claimed that the HIV retrovirus doesn't - and cannot possibly - cause AIDS.
The consequences for his career were devastating. Colleagues branded his views not only wrong but dangerous. Scientific magazines stopped publishing his articles and, most harmfully, the financing of his research was cancelled. The scientific community all but set up a boycott of the reckless scientist. If Duesberg had admitted his mistake, everything would have been back to normal. But he always had a reputation as an uncompromising scientist. Eighteen years later, Duesberg still argues that HIV is a harmless passenger virus, while AIDS is caused by completely different factors.

Yesterday I talked about this interview with my friend who has a doctoral degree in medicine. He wasn’t surprised at all. He said that almost all AIDS research projects financed by the government agencies in Russia came to same conclusion – HIV doesn’t cause AIDS. Although the prevailing theory is that HIV virus is a so called ‘satellite virus’, the one that simply “accompanies” people with weak immunity. He participated in a research project in Kaliningrad that has the highest rate if HIV infected teenagers in Russia. When the research team didn’t found causal relationship between HIV and AIDS, the project was immediately terminated. “Actually, - he told me, - most of medical researchers in Russia know that Duesberg was right. That’s the main reason why Russian government itself spends kopecks on anti-AIDS projects but accepts international grants eagerly.” I was struck dumb from astonishment. “But why didn’t they say out load?” Now he smiled indulgently at my naivet?. “Can you imagine how many people became rich and famous fighting AIDS?”

Then I remembered similar stories. For example, 2k problem. At first, the Russian government took very seriously. A special committee studied the problem for six months and came to the conclusion that 2k is a scam. American and European media was hysterical about Russian irresponsibility. On the eve of 2000 the US Embassy in Moscow recommended that all Americans leave the country before the catastrophe. 2k problem turned out to be what it was – a scam. Nobody said, “Hey, Russians were right.” Does anyone know how many billions of dollars software developers made out of that scare?

I posted some more thoughts on the topic - "Is AIDS a Scam?"

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Hi Tech in 1919

Moscow Metro offers some surprises. “Kievskays” station boasts its picturesque mosaics glorifying the “eternal” friendship between Russia and Ukraine. These mosaics belong to 1957 when the station was build. Now look at a part of the mosaic “Struggle for the Soviet Power in the Ukraine in 1919”. You see a Red Army officer with a mobile phone, a notebook and a PDA.


Sunday, September 11, 2005

Russian Superstitions Part 2

It’s probably impossible to know all Russian superstitions. Some are very common but some are taken seriously only by a limited number of older people. Among not usual superstitions one can often comes across in Russia although they are not ‘universal’.

1. Cut bread only with a knife. Don’t break it with you hands. Otherwise your life will be broken.
If you’re not married don’t sit at the corner of the table. Otherwise you won’t marry in the next seven years. If you are 15 you can easily violate this rule.

2/ If you leave your house and then suddenly discover that you left something at home, think twice – coming back home for forgotten things is a bad omen. But it’s not that hopeless. When you return, look in the mirror and the evil spell will disappear.

3. Stranger should not look at a new born baby before it is two months old (or six months or one year, it all depends). Anyway, if you look at a baby, don’t compliment it – compliments can put evil eye on the baby. Say something like, “Oh, what an ugly child!” instead. A word of warning – this superstition is not common and many young Russian families are unaware of it.

4. Don’t start anything serious on Mondays.

5. Don’t boast about your future success. It may bring bad luck. You see if people you’re talking about might envy you and put you evil eye on you. It’s safer to sound pessimistic even when you’re sure of success. If you cannot help yourself, after saying, “Next month I get a promotion”, spit three times over your left shoulder. Don’t do it literally – three symbolic spits will do. You can also knock on wood.

6. If you see a woman with empty water buckets coming up to you, run away!

7. If you see a funeral procession stay aside and wait until it passes. It brings good luck.

8. Never buy or accept as gifts baby clothes, shoes, toys, furniture, etc. before the baby is born. In Russia when you see in a store an excited man who is buying in a rush and in wholesale quantities baby clothes, don’t be surprised. Most probably, he became a father today. This is an interesting superstition that was “regenerated” in the 90’s. In the Soviet Union we didn’t even know about it. In times of total deficit, when store shelves were always empty, it was simply impossible to buy all necessary things for a baby in one or two days. Actually we had to stock things months ahead. I remember it took me two months to buy a good (albeit second-hand) baby carriage for my daughter. My wife was six months pregnant when a friend of my friend finally found a family who were so kind as to sell me the carriage they no longer needed.

8. When someone sneezes, don’t forget to say, "Bud' zdorov" (Be healthy) or “Na zdorovie” (For your health). Otherwise the sneezing person will get sick. I think 99% of Russians think this “na zdorovie” thing is just a tradition. But actually it’s a superstition which meaning was forgotten long ago.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Russian Marketing Blog

If you wonder what this Russian ad means, visit Russian Marketing Blog by Konstantin Dlutskiy. It's in English.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Traditions and Superstitions

One thing a foreigner should learn in Russia is Russian superstitions. Important note – things that most of foreigners regard as superstitions are regarded by Russians as traditions or customs. For example, if a black cat crosses you pass it brings bad luck. Russians believe that this is a superstition although most of us would try to find another pass so as not cross the road “marked” by a black cat. Once I saw a driver who stopped his car when a black cat run across it until another car passed. You see, bad luck awaits only one person – the one who crosses the “marked” road first.

On the other hand, giving an even number of flowers to a woman is simply rude. For Russians it’s not really a superstition but a tradition (also in Romania, Slovakia, Hungary). If you give flowers to someone the number should always be odd (one, three, five, etc.). If you bring flowers to a funeral the number should always be even (two, four, six, etc.). Anyway in Moscow when a foreigner buys flowers and asks for four roses, the seller will almost always asks, “Are they for a funeral?” One of my American friends was indignant at the flower seller’s impudence – she refused to sell him a dozen roses he wanted to bring to a birthday party. She wasn’t really impudent – she saved his reputation before he made a very rude faux pas and upset the hostess.

Here’s a list of superstitions that Russians regard as traditions. If you don’t want to look rude, don’t violate them in Russia:

1. Whistling indoors is taboo. On one hand it means that you loose all your money soon. On the other – it’s simply very rude.

2. Shaking hands across the threshold is taboo. Also giving anything across the threshold. Just make a step and shake hands when you both are in the same room.

3. Birthday party before the birthday is taboo. If your birthday is on a working day and you want to party on a weekend, make sure this weekend is after your birthday and not before.

4. Before leaving a house for a long (even for a couple of days) journey, you and everyone in the house should sit for a minute in silence.

5. Don’t give as a gift any sharp object, like knives or scissors. This custom is not taboo and is often “violated”. My sister-in-law is a hair stylist and when we gave her as a birthday gift professional scissors she was happy.

6. If someone gives you an animal as a gift (a kitten, a canary or a puppy, for example), you should give them a symbolic sum of money. One ruble will do.

7. Refusing to drink vodka at a funeral banquet is absolutely unacceptable. It’s not just rude. It’s an outrage. If you are a total abstainer simply avoid any Russian commemoration.

8. Shaking hands while wearing gloves is simply impossible. You should always, even when it’s very cold, remove your glove from the right hand before a handshake. Actually in Russia no one will shake your hand if you didn’t remove a glove. The only exception – if you’re an extraordinary powerful person and you want to deeply humiliate someone who is totally dependent on you. In this case you extend your hand in a glove, meaning, “Shake it, you, insignificant insect”. As far as I know, this custom is common in all Eastern European countries.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Russian Jokes 4

Fidel Castro sent humanitarian aid to New Orleans: 200 barges with 200 000 Cubans.

Russia's MTV Charts No.1 - Group "CD-RW" with its new hit "700 Mb".

1990. Soviet Union. Glasnost. Everyone is totally dissatisfied with Communists, everyone thinks that the Soviet government is rotten, everyone hates Gorbachev. There is only one single person in the USSR - comrade Ivanov who is satisfied with communists, likes the government and loves Gorby. So once late at night he was arrested by KGB as an enemy of glasnost and democracy.

More jokes on Russian Marketing Blog

Monday, September 05, 2005

What doesn't kill us makes us stronger

The New York Times published an article ‘White House Enacts a Plan to Ease Political Damage” by By Adam Nagourney and Anne E. Kornblut

Under the command of President Bush's two senior political advisers, the White House rolled out a plan this weekend to contain the political damage from the administration's response to Hurricane Katrina.

What I always admire about American politics is the incredible ability to make successful PR campaigns. Putin and the company almost never managed to look better on TV or in the press. On the other hand, I think Putin is better when it comes to look at the problem rationally and not politically. After a disaster (and the history of Russia since 1991 seems to be just a long chain of crises and natural disasters) he almost never kicks asses but tries to make things work better.

One of my distant relatives is working for MChS – Russian Ministry for Emergency Situations (word by word translation). It’s a government body dealing with natural disasters and emergencies. In his opinion MCsS after every disaster that hits Russia becomes better and better. Being a lame and incompetent organization just seven years ago, today it’s the one of the best in the world in terms of professionalism. And I believe him.
Experience is the shortest way to professionalism. And experience from failed operations is twice more valuable. One fight on the ring with a professional brings more experience than months of punching a fisting bag. One wise guy said, “In the West the market is regulated by invisible hand but in Russia – by invisible foot.” Dozens of disasters and thousands kicks in the ass made Russian MChS so good.

Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda wrote:

[Russian] Emergencies Ministry planes have been under starter's orders for several days. But the go-ahead from the other side of the ocean never came. It leads you to think: Is Washington afraid of having US citizens rescued by people who are not flying the stars and stripes? Are they trying to preserve the prestige of a state that does not take easily to accepting aid from a "third-world" country? But isn't the saving of human life more important than PR or ideological considerations?

Does anyone know that Putin was the first to offer help to Bush Jr. after the Katrina disaster? It took MChS three hours to put four freight airplanes with equipment, medical personnel, rescue workers, etc. One freight airplanes had four light helicopters. Why didn’t they come to the US? You know, American visa regulations require that all people who want to enter the States should come through a personal interview with a US council officer in Moscow, leave the fingerprints, etc, etc. No exceptions.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Pavlik Morozov

A week ago I watched one of the episodes of the “Lost” series. Jack (played by Matthew Fox) – a young surgeon – saw that his dad, also a surgeon, operated while being drunk, cut an artery of the patient but reported that the girl died from natural causes. His honest son was terrified by this but when his dad promised never to drink at work again he agreed to sign the statement “nothing could be done”. But then again during the hearing of some special medical committee he was told that the girl was pregnant. We see the hurricane of contradictory emotions on the actor’s face. He cannot take it anymore and denounces his father. “Pavlik Morozov!”- we all exclaimed in unison. Pavlik Morozov was No.1 Yound Pioneer hero who denounced his anti-communist father in the early 30’s and then later was killed by his own relatives (his grandmother was among the avengers). Denouncing close relatives, no matter how evil they are, is one of the greatest crimes in Russia. It’s an ages-long taboo, the worst betrayal, an unforgivable sin. Pavlik Morozov is one of the most insulting nicknames to be given to a person. If your dad was really that bad – punish him yourself but don’t denounce him.

When Stalin made a hero out of Pavlik Morozov the message was quite clear. “You guys think that your homes are safe and you can freely say what you think of your government and Comrade Stalin? Not if your son is a Young Pioneer who wants to become a hero.” And then – “if you ever say that denouncing close relatives is immoral you will be treated as an enemy of the people”.

Catriona Kelly did a great job of researching the story about Pavlik Morozov in her book “Comrade Pavlik”. What she found is really surprising – the whole story is nothing but a Soviet myth. Pavlik Morozov didn’t denounce anyone. He and his friend were found dead in the forest and there were no proves that he was killed out of revenge. He was not even a Young Pioneer. His father was not an enemy of the people. It’s still unclear how the whole story came into being.

Catriona Kelly’s work was so thorough that he even translated into English one of the 'chastushkas' about Pavlik I liked when I was seven. We called them “sadistic poems”.

Daddy is lying in the street,
All in blood from head to feet.
His little son – oh, what a shame!
Was playing a Pavlik Morozov game

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Dostoyevskiy Style

Some people say that Russians in Dostoyevskiy novels are unrealistic. People don't burn millions of rubles just because they are angry. Oleg Liakhovich from "Moscow News" collects news you can afford to miss. This one is very interesting.

Russian Pensioner Burns 20 Kilos of Cash in Revenge
A pensioner from the city of Pyati-gorsk in southwestern Russia has burnt down the apartment of his common law wife, where he used to keep about three million rubles (at least $100,000). During their 15 years together, the man led an anti-social existence, drinking heavily and picking the garbage for food. He managed, however, to put away his tiny pension (an average monthly pension in Russia amounts to less than $100) since the 1970s, accumulating the hefty sum of about $100,000.
But a recent quarrel made him decide to destroy the stash to get back at his lover, who never even knew about the money. A spokesman for the local police unit told journalists that fire-fighters collected at least 20 kilos of scraps of 100-dollar and 1,000-ruble notes at the burnt apartment.