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.