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. :-)