Thursday, November 09, 2006

Lena River Delta from Space


Earth from Space | Smithsonian Institution | Lena River Delta

Just a quick note - this is cool as hell. Clicking the above link allows you to zoom in with great detail to the image of the Lena River Delta (as well as other natural and man-made features).

The Lena River flows north for more than 2,800 miles (4,500 kilometers) through Russian Siberia to the Arctic Ocean. As the river enters the Laptev Sea, it divides into many channels to form a biologically rich delta. Such images help determine the extent of wetland vegetation.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Kyrgyzstan's New Constitution Accepted


In an apparent spirit of compromise, I am told that the Bakiev administration and Kyrgyzstan parliament have worked out and accepted changes to the Constitution. In effect, this completes Bakiev's initial promises from last year and resolves the recent stand-off between reformers and pro-Bakiev supporters.

Kommersant has an interesting interview with the former Kyrgyz president Akaev. In it he discusses his views on the current stalemate in Kyrgyzstan, and his life in Russia away from politics.


Political Compass and How Democrat/Republican Are You?

I had started this post on my LJ, but decided it was an interesting topic here as well. First is the Political Compass test. My result is below:


The political compass test is set up as follows:


And famous political figures would be mapped out, as shown:

Yep, me and Gandhi ... we're tight.

And then we have, How Democrat/Republican are you (2 different quizes). It seems like an appropriate quiz after the elections. Here are my results ... if you're curious, give it a shot yourself.

You Are 48% Democrat

You aren't a full fledged Democrat yet, but it's likely the party that fits you best.
You probably consider yourself an independent Democrat. You usually support the party, but you also think for yourself!


You Are 8% Republican

If you have anything in common with the Republican party, it's by sheer chance.
You're a staunch liberal, and nothing is going to change that!

To be quite honest, I was surprised by some of the so-called "Republican" questions. Both sets of questions were overly simplistic, but the Republican questions are worse. I thought these tests were more biased towards liberal test scores. To me, the Political Compass test was more interesting.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Live Webcam at Ala-Too Square, Bishkek


For those interested in following events live in Bishkek today. The image above is from about 10:20 am, Wednesday morning (Bishkek time).

Events in Kyrgyzstan Take a Turn for the Worse

Clashes between pro- and anti-government demonstrators today in Ala-too Square led to Bishkek police firing tear gas (Черемуха), buck-shot, and some form of noise-makers to disperse the conflict between the two groups. Photos from photojournalist Elena Skochilo (Елены Скочило) are shown here on Lenta.ru.

Various news agencies are reporting casualties as a result of the police action. It is estimated that approximately 2,000 pro-government protestors clashed with a equal number of pro-reformers. From Monsters and Critics:
The longer-term political fate of the Central Asian nation was unclear. Large-scale rallies began last Thursday after President Kurmanbek Bakiyev failed to accept a new constitution that would limit executive powers.

Since then, not a day has passed without pro-reform demonstrators taking to the streets. Roughly 200 tents have been set up on squares in the center of Bishkek. On Tuesday, a Kyrgyz national holiday, opposition lawmakers told a crowd gathered on the central Alatoo Square that a parliamentary committee had passed the new constitution.

"The creation of the (special committee) and acceptance of the constitution were a necessary step from our side, dictated by the developing political situation in the country," said Deputy Kubatbek Baibolov, Russia's Interfax news agency reported.

But the government refused to recognize the committee's legitimacy, saying the new constitution would not be passed before protesters dispersed.

"The government is working, the president is working. It is only the parliament that has problems," Bakiyev said in Russian at a news conference.

"The constitution should be passed not when a crowd of demonstrators is standing beneath our windows, but only in peaceful conditions," Prime Minister Felix Kulov, formerly a political rival of Bakiyev but now mired with him in the constitutional crisis, said.

The opposition has yet to win the clear lion's share of the country's support. The pro-government rally, dubbed For Stability in a play on the For Reforms opposition party, attracted its own healthy share of demonstrators on Bishkek's Old Square.

It was unclear whether there was any pressure applied to increase support for the government. Bakiyev said Tuesday that he was ready to discuss the constitution with the opposition and that he had no intention of disbanding the parliament. Bishkek itself was otherwise relatively peaceful Tuesday. Streets were open to traffic, and public transport functioned normally, Interfax reported.

Various pundits are busily writing their opinions about the events that are unfolding in Bishkek and Kyrgyzstan. Of course, these columnists write about the vested interests of both Russia and the United States in the region, and look for the invisible hand of each in the politics in the region. Depending upon who you read and believe, the Tulip Revolution was created by the US or Berezovsky, but Bakiev is seen as Pro-Russian or possibly Pro-Berezovsky. Asia Times columnist M. K. Bhadrakumar cites the whole situation as being the result of US interference in the region, without regard for its history. Poor Russia is working to remedy and stabilize the tiny country.
Arguably, Moscow cannot really complain about Bakiyev's policies, even if there are shortfalls in its expectations (as there are bound to be), but it has been nonetheless disinclined to be seen endorsing his policies. The lessons of the "color revolutions" in Georgia and Ukraine have been well understood in Moscow. Thus Moscow has diversified its contacts with various political constituencies in Kyrgyzstan and is careful not to be seen as partisan.

Moscow certainly has encouraged the Bakiyev-Kulov "tandem" to continue, and may well continue to do what it can behind the scenes to ensure that Kyrgyz politics do not descend into anarchy, while steadily expanding and consolidating Russia's strategic gains in Kyrgyzstan in the aftermath of the abortive "color revolution" last year.

Moscow has been astutely exploiting the lack of any creative content in the United States' regional policy, especially in the all-important economic sphere. But there are limits to what Russia can do in resuscitating the Kyrgyz economy. Moscow also probably realizes that the enduring legacy of the Tulip Revolution is that the US has pushed Kyrgyzstan into the status of a faltering state, and even a restoration of the status quo ante, let alone economic progress and healthy social development, will be a long haul.

The anarchic conditions of rioting and arson that followed the US-engineered "color revolution" last year have fundamentally shaken up Kyrgyzstan's state structures and undermined the rule of law. No amount of rhetorical justification for the Tulip Revolution in the name of the US administration's democracy agenda can hide the fact that the attempt to impose lively, youthful US-style democracy on a society as old and tradition-bound as Kyrgyzstan was bound to be catastrophic.

Meanwhile, Kommersant reports that the crowds are against what they see as an Anti-Russian policy of Bakiev and his reported ties to Berezovsky:
“The slogan of today's meeting,” parliament member Temir Sariev told the crowd, “is Kyrgyzstan with Russia, Bakiev with Berezovsky.'”

There has been talk in Bishkek for a long time about Bakiev's secret ties to Boris Berezovsky. Several months ago, information appeared in the press that Berezovsky had flown from London to Bishkek at the personal invitation of the president's son Maxim Bakiev.

“Are you purposefully focusing attention on the information about Berezovsky's trip to Bishkek to deprive Bakiev of Kremlin support?” I asked parliamentarian Melis Eshimknaov as the meeting was reaching high pitch. “Do you think that will help you gain Kremlin support.”

“Of course we are trying to get on Putin's nerves, to show him that his ally has connections with his blood enemy!”

Just then lawyer Oleg Trofimov began speaking from the truck. “Bakiev would seem to be an enemy of the people,” Trofimov began. “About 500,000 of our Kyrgyz brothers live and work in Russia. What will happen if they cannot send money to their families? But Kurmanbek Bakiev has pushed our relations with Russia almost to the breaking point with his connection with Berezovsky! Say no to Bakiev and Berezovsky!”
I'll have more details on the events in Bishkek later this evening when I return home. Lunchtime only affords me a few moments for this post.


Quick Note: Elena informs me that 17 from special forces and 22 protestors from rally were taken to hospital as a result of todays events. More details of the day are provided on her blog.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Kyrgyzstan: Rally in Bishkek downtown goes on quietly

Rally at Bishkek central capital goes on. As a REGNUM correspondent was informed by director of Center on human rights protection ‘Kylym Shamy’ Aziza Abdirasulova, “the rally goes on quietly.” “Just the fact that policemen relax sleeping on lawns, smoking and playing cards, means something. Such peaceful coexistence is a good feature,” she stressed.

Meanwhile, according to one of policemen, they are not going to let the protesters pass to a fence of the House of government, as well as erect tents at the fence. “it is our place,” policemen of Police Special Forces troop stated.

Number of policemen in Ala-Too Square and in front of the ‘White House’ has not changed totaling about 2,000 persons. The crowd of protesters scans: “Kulov, Kulov.” As for Prime Minister Felix Kulov, according to certain information, he is going to go out to the protesters in the near future.
For those that require up-to-the-minute details of events in Bishkek, I refer you to Elena Skochilo, aka Morrire and her LiveJournal.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Map of Borat in Kazakhstan by Aardvark Map

Map of Borat Sagdiyev in Kazakhstan by Aardvark Map

Yep, people are actually using the Sasha Baron Cohen character Borat of Kazakhstan to demonstrate their mapping program/plug-in/doohickee. The map below supposedly shows all the places in Kazakhstan that Borat has visited.


The film, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan opens in 2 days, but it seems the world can hardly contain itself for the goofiness to come.

Of course, the real joke is on the people in the film, who don't realize that the character is an outrageous joke.

Katja, having being born in Almaty and lived the first 11 years of her life there, is actually quite excited to see this film. Of course, when my buddy Jim the limo driver was recently driving Nazarbayev to Kennebunkport to meet Bush the First, she was also excited to get Nazarbayev's autograph. I'm pretty sure we'll catch it this opening weekend. Maybe I'll have a chance to post a movie review as well.

Tulips Redux


The so-called Tulip Revolution of March 2005 is being revisited tomorrow with a series of protests and rallies in downtown Bishkek. The slow pace of reforms, continued corruption under President Kurmanbek Bakiev and Prime Minister Feliks Kulov, and the recent unmet demands of opposition groups have all coalesced into the frustration that makes this November 2nd rally a reality. All sides are ready for a potentially prolonged and hopefully peaceful demonstration:
Opposition leaders met with President Kurmanbek Bakiyev on October 31, and the meeting was anything but amiable. According to human rights activist Tursunbek Akun, the opposition had put forth five demands and a consensus with the authorities was reached only on the issue of the constitutional reforms. The president will address the parliament on November 2 in the morning. The authorities reassure the population that the opposition rally in the central square will be peaceful but the locals are concerned all the same. Businessmen and owners of stores remember last year pogroms and looting and take precautions.

Ruslan Omurbekov of the Press Service of the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry claims that readiness status of the city police force was upped on October 30. The number of patrols in Bishkek streets was increased. The traffic police was put on alert as well. Volunteer detachments are being formed by socially active citizenry all over the city. Parliamentarian Yuri Danilov promises a special hot line for reports on disturbances in Bishkek. A special police team will be dispatched in response to every call.

Edil Baisalov, leader of the Coalition For Democracy and Civil Society, maintains that the rally will be permanent. A tent camp will be set up in the central square for protesters from other cities and regions. Hot meals will be available. Demonstrations will set out at 1 p.m. Bishkek time from three directions at once and converge in the central square where the rally will begin at 2 p.m.
And from the Radio Free Europe report:
Another For Reforms leader, Melis Eshimkanov, who was also at the meetings, indicated that while some progress was made, the two sides remain far away from a general compromise.

"[President Bakiev] gave his verbal agreement to two out of our 10 demands," he said. "First, he said that he will propose the draft constitution that had been agreed on by us and prepared together with our group. The draft broadens the power of the parliament. Secondly, he agreed to make the Kyrgyz State TV and Radio Company a public company. But as for the rest of the demands, including his [reported] family business and other issues, he said he is not ready to resolve them."

The demonstration has received wide publicity and people from various parts of the country are reportedly headed to Bishkek to take part in the rally. Like Adilet Aitikeev from northern Kyrgyzstan, who told RFE/RL why he is going to Bishkek.

"[The rally] is demanding not only the resignation of Bakiev, but also the removal of all of [former Kyrgyz President Askar] Akaev's system," he said. "This is the essence of the rally. This is our goal."

Many of the current government officials who came to power after last year's Tulip Revolution were themselves former officials under Akaev. Among them are President Bakiev, who served as prime minister, and Kulov, who was vice president and served in several other positions under Akaev.

Meilikan Emilbaeva, head of the Osh branch of Tekebaev's Ata-Meken party, is also en route to Bishkek for the November 2 rally.

"Fifty party delegates came from the Osh region," she said. "We support the main demands [of the opposition], especially, regarding constitutional reforms and fighting corruption."

Some traveling to Bishkek are more interested in expressing dissatisfaction with the quality of life in their part of the country rather than to protest for constitutional and other reforms.

Police and security forces in Bishkek have issued numerous warnings to demonstrators that disorder will not be tolerated and will be put down using force if necessary.

When Kulov addressed his Ar-Namys (Dignity) party yesterday he spoke against rash actions that could worsen the situation in the country.

"The use of force to resolve the political crisis will not solve anything, because the problem -- in the final analysis -- is not in a conflict of personalities but in the difficulties of the transitional period," he said.

Some store and restaurant owners in Bishkek's center near where the demonstration will be held were removing goods from the shelves and vowing to keep their businesses locked up on November 2.

Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht, the chairman-in-office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, called on October 31 for Kyrgyz authorities and opposition parties to show restraint during the demonstration.
It is expected that as many as 10,000 protesters may appear for the rally, and there is much nervous speculation regarding the outcome. My friend, photojournalist and blogger Elena Skochilo, will be at the rally reporting for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting and writing for her blog. She was, of course, there during the events of March 2005 and the looting that occurred the night afterwards.

I am very skeptical that this event will turn out so peaceful as even the first event. To illustrate the differences between now and then, this time there will be a member of Elena's group carrying a Saiga - literally riding shotgun in case events get out of hand.

Russian officials have accused oligarch Boris Berezovsky of having arrived in Bishkek and having a mysterious hand in the upcoming events:
Addressing the Jogorku Kenesh (national parliament) earlier today, [Kyrgyz] Prosecutor General Kambaraly Kongantiyev said no proof of [oligarch Boris] Berezovsky's visit to Kyrgyzstan had been found. "I officially appeal to Russian Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika to provide corroborative documents concerning Berezovsky's arrival," Kongantiyev said.

Kyrgyz border guards and customs already informed the parliament officially that Berezovsky, Yelenin, and Yelevin had never crossed the border of the republic.

According to Kongantiyev, the cable from the Russian Prosecutor General's Office received yesterday does not offer any proof of Berezovsky's presence on the territory of Kyrgyzstan. The official therefore called the claims of the Russian Prosecutor General's Office peremptory. "What do they want? Our structures - border guards, customs, criminal police of the Interior Ministry - officially state that he hasn't been here," Kongantiyev said.

The Kyrgyz Prosecutor General's Office cabled Russian Deputy Prosecutor General Zvyagintsev twenty days ago. "We asked for what corroborative data they had to substantiate the claim concerning Berezovsky's visit to Kyrgyzstan," Kongantiyev explained. "The Russian Prosecutor General's Office has never answered the cable."

As far as the prosecutor general is concerned, Kyrgyzstan has honored its international obligations. "By the way, Russia has never approached us for help in the matter of Berezovsky," Kongantiyev said. "There are no necessary documents, you know."
So what are the likely outcomes of this rally? Many are hoping for Bakiev and Kulov to step down and quickly and quietly as Akaev did last year. However, the potential for this large rally to become an entrenched and stubborn impasse seems greater than a quick and peaceful resolution. From the RIA Novosti opinion column by
Professor Nur Omarov of Russo-Kyrgyz Slav University:
These last days before [the rally] begins are full of suspense: the March 24, 2005 revolution, almost free of violence, may be re-enacted in a far darker way and lead to unforeseeable results. Somber expectations loom as the government and the opposition are evidently unable to meet each other halfway on key issues, and each treating the other's initiatives with suspicion. As President Kurmanbek Bakiev addressed the parliament on November 30, everything he said was lost on regional elites posing in their clash as conservatives and reformers.

Scheduled to open on November 2, the rally may drive Kyrgyz politics into a deadlock. Personal enmity has driven recent allies to abandon their dialogue, so the peaceful rally can become the start of a massacre. Even if the worst does not come to the worst, November 2 and the days to follow certainly hold little promise of a halcyon future for the nation and its budding democracy, with mutual prejudices and unbalanced political and financial interests splitting the self-styled political elite. Whoever wins the tug-of-war will inevitably turn to violence. Short- and medium-term forecasts predict a dictatorship that would trample the emerging civil society underfoot. With a weak central government, which is quickly losing its influence, Kyrgyzstan is likely to be torn apart by mutually hostile regions. There is another option, no less ominous, of a third power gaining the upper hand: Islamist groups, with their growing impact on certain parts of the country.

A steadfast search for a way to harmonize the government's and opposition's interests in an earnest of civil peace and accord dominates the final days before the rally. Come what may, the conflicting parties must not recur to violence, which threatens innocent civilian lives.

All pragmatic Kyrgyz forces appeal to the government and opposition to give up confrontation and open a civilized dialogue to work out mutually acceptable government policies. What Kyrgyzstan needs is a constitutional reform to provide balanced distribution of rights and duties between the three branches of power, thus preventing the diktat of any. What the country has now is office appointment according to clan; what it needs is a professional managerial elite. The progressing national economy demands transparent decision-making and practical efforts not solemn words against corruption rampant at every level.

Last but not least, the conflicting parties must strike out of their programs the items that clearly cannot be met, in particular, the demand of Bakiev-Kulov tandem resignation, which rules out whatever chance of talks and compromises.

November 2 will show which road the Kyrgyz government and opposition choose to follow.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Charles in Space


Charles in Space

Not to steal any thunder from Suzy's Russian Space Blog, but Dr. Charles Simonyi has started a website and blog documenting his experiences and training for his traveling to the International Space Station via a Soyuz TMA spacecraft with Soyuz-FG launch vehicle (big big rocket to you and me).

As of today, he has only a single entry in the blog, announcing that he'll be writing more in the coming weeks. Anyone interested in such things should definitely check this page out.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Straight Dope: What's the real story on Che Guevara?

One of my favorite websites, The Straight Dope, has written about Che Guevara today. While not exactly a related topic, I thought it was worth providing a quick link to the article.

Dear Straight Dope:

A lot of people are using and promoting the image of Che Guevara, selling shirts, etc. What does anyone really know about this guy? What impact or achievements did he have? How does "history" regard him and what he did? Was he much like Fidel? What did he want for the Cuban people/peasants of the world and the USA? What's the real deal on this guy? –Biff, Planet Earth

SDSTAFF Bricker replies:

Che Guevara was a self-sacrificing revolutionary who gave up a comfortable bourgeois existence to fight for the impoverished and oppressed, a staunch believer in the cause who rejected the trappings of power to return to the battlefield.

Or he was a violent, cold-blooded killing machine, a sociopathic hooligan who exulted in the death of his enemies, mismanaged the Cuban economy, and won battles by bribing his opponents to surrender in advance.

Like other polarizing political legends, the “real deal” about Che Guevara depends largely on whom you ask, and through what political lens your source views the world.
For those interested, the rest of the article is here.

Worldwide Increasing Risk of Reporting the News

A synchronicity of articles by Mark Ames, Sean Guillory, and Tim Newman has led to our discussion today regarding the erosion of the "free press" ... not just within Russia but worldwide. I doubt that either Americans or Russians will like the direction that each news media seems to be turning. The annual Reporters Without Borders report discusses the relative ranking of each nations press freedoms. Sean Guillory has a discussion on this topic today as well (and gave me the kick in the pants to complete this article that I started on Sunday.)

The Russian problems with maintaining a free and independent press and news media are well documented. I could try to reiterate those problems, but Sean explains them admirably:
Russia, which suffers from a basic lack of democracy, continues slowly but steadily dismantling the free media, with industrial groups close to President Vladimir Putin buying up nearly all independent media outlets and with passage of a law discouraging NGO activity.

Each year several journalists are murdered in Russia with complete impunity. The person who ordered the July 2004 killing in Moscow of Paul Klebnikov, editor of the Russian edition of Forbes magazine, remains publicly unknown. The murder of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya in early October 2006 is a poor omen for the coming year.

When put into context, the decline in the free press in Russia is symbolic of a global phenomenon. The index also notes that even traditionally high ranked countries like France, the United States, and Japan has seen press freedom deteriorate. Since 2002, when the ranking was created, the US has fallen from 17th to its current position of 53rd. It dropped seven ranks in the last year. RWB explains the drop in the US as a result of, “Relations between the media and the Bush administration sharply deteriorated after the president used the pretext of “national security” to regard as suspicious any journalist who questioned his “war on terrorism.”
To put a really fine point on the similar issues with the American free press, we have thd recent article by gonzo (I can only imagine he would enjoy the comparison) expat writer/journalist/editor Mark Ames of eXile.ru - Where Is America’s Politkovskaya?:
The West has used poor Anna Politkovskaya's corpse to do exactly what she fought against: whipping up national hatred, lying, and focusing on evils committed safely far away, rather than on the evils committed by your own country. The West has exploited her death with all of the crudity and cynicism of an Arab mob funeral...only at least the Arabs use their own people's corpses to demonize an enemy that actually kills them. Whereas in this case, the West stole another country's corpse, then paraded it at home in order to whip up hatred against the corpse's birthplace. It would be like the Palestinians slipping into Tel Aviv, grave-robbing Rabin's corpse after his murder, then parading it around Gaza City, ululating hate towards Israel for allowing the great peacemaker to get killed.

That's kind of how Russians reacted when they saw that the West crudely exploited Politkovskaya's murder. The West's crude reaction only increased Russia's crude counter-reaction...

If you ask me, what is most significant for us in the West about Anna Politkovskaya's death, and her courageous life (btw, a big "fuck you" to our [Russian] nationalist readers who don't agree with this), is not so much what it says about Russia -- it doesn't say much new at all, to be honest, but instead is another chapter in an increasingly depressing story that started under Yeltsin.

Rather, what is significant about her death is this: Why doesn't America have an Anna Politkovskaya? Why don't we have someone as courageous as she was to tell the story of how we razed Fallujah to the ground Grozny-style? How we bombed to smithereens and ethnically cleansed a city of 300,000 people in retaliation for the deaths of four American contractors? Where is the American Anna Politkovskaya who will tell us about how we directly killed roughly 200,000 Iraqis, and indirectly are responsible for about half a million Iraq deaths since our invasion? Why isn't there a single American willing to risk almost certain death, the way Politkovskaya did, in the pursuit of truth and humanity?

One reason why is because they risk getting killed not only by Iraqi insurgents and Al Qaeda terrorists, but also by the highly efficient American forces. (Not that this stopped Politkovskaya, but it stops America's righteous Politkovskaya-bearers.) And even if they get the story out, it gets quashed by the mainstream press, you lose your job, and you get met by a hostile, even bloodthirsty public who doesn't want to hear about it.
Perhaps you don't believe that the American military might specifically target journalists. It doesn't mesh very well with Americans self-image of our free country. Certainly, as Tim Newman of White Sun of the Desert discusses regarding the death of Terry Lloyd, some of these increased deaths in Iraq are due to reporters blatantly and foolishly putting themselves in harms way:
From what I could gather from the initial reports which came out at the time, Lloyd and his crew had disappeared into the battlefield area well ahead of coalition lines, unescorted and without telling the coalition soldiers of their plans. They came across a small convoy of Iraqi soldiers, most of whom were bearing arms, and decided in their wisdom to join them as they headed towards American lines. There is speculation as to whether the Iraqis were planning to surrender, but it seems that no white flag was raised or armaments abandoned to indicate such intentions. Nevertheless, Lloyd and his hapless crew stuck with the Iraqi column as it sped towards American lines. Unsurprisingly, the Americans believed the armed Iraqi soldiers to be attacking and opened fire, and somehow Lloyd was hit by either an American or Iraqi bullet. Lloyd was then transferred to an unmarked minibus which was being used as an ambulance, along with four Iraqi soldiers. The Americans then opened fire on the vehicle, killing Lloyd and the other passengers.

Far from being a deliberate murder of a journalist on the part of the Americans, those responsible for the killing were more likely dumbstruck at the stupidity of a civilian press crew accompanying an Iraqi military convoy which was, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, carrying out an attack.
However, this circumstance doesn't explain all 85 journalists deaths in Iraq. There have been many other cases of reporters killed or "discouraged" in Iraq, often while conducting investigations into unsavory deeds and under circumstances that beg questions. Not enough questions have been asked about some of these well-known attacks. Mark Ames again provides bloody details:
Take the case of Yasser Salihee, an Iraqi correspondent for Knight Ridder. Salihee was shot by an American sniper with a bullet to his head on June 24, 2005. At the time, he was gathering material for an investigative piece about how the US was training death squads -- the very same death squads which are now responsible for the savage civil war that kicked into high gear this year.

Salihee was killed; the American sniper was cleared; and Knight Ridder washed its hands, declaring "there's no reason to think that the shooting had anything to do with his reporting work." Imagine an analogous situation in Chechnya, the hue and cry from the Applebaums -- it'd be as inversely loud as the silence over Salihee's death. At least even the Kremlin admits Politkovskaya was killed for her reporting.

Indeed Salihee is just one of a number of journalists killed in Iraq, by far the most dangerous place in the world for journalists. And it's not all the insurgents' fault either. Some more marginal journalists, from Robert Fisk to Dahr Jamail, have written about how US forces in Iraq target journalists for murder. But no one wants to hear that -- so these kinds of reports stay on the margins. Journalists were targeted and killed at Al Jazeera; at first, reports that the Americans targeted them were dismissed as "conspiracy theory" talk, but recently, admissions that Bush, Blair, and a former Blair minister all explored ways to bomb Al Jazeera during the war are finally raising questions. Well, not really. Should be raising questions, leading to impassioned editorials by the Post and Anne Applebaum. But they're not, because they're too busy demonizing Russia.

Giuliana Sgrena, the Italian journalist who was kidnapped last year in Iraq and freed by an Italian intelligence agent, was shot and wounded (the agent was killed) by US forces when she was returning to freedom. She insisted that US troops deliberately targeted her. A smear campaign in the US press -- labeling her a Communist and an anti-American with Stockholm Syndrome-- effectively nullified her story, but even pro-Bush Berlusconi was so incensed by the incident that he started to back away from Bush's war.

Italian TV later discovered evidence that US forces had used an illegal WMD, white phosphorus chemicals, during its destruction of Fallujah the year before. In spite of all the evidence, including burned corpses whose clothes were still intact, eyewitnesses, and even friendly Iraqi ministers who denounced it, the American media largely ignored it. Why the fuck did Italian TV, and not American TV, break this story? Where was Anne Applebaum on the atrocities in Fallujah?

The case of Eason Jordan, CNN's longtime superstar news chief, might explain the mainstream American media's silence. This is what happens when you're a mainstream American media man who dares to tell the ugly truth about Iraq. While hobnobbing with the Global Aristocracy at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January of 2005, Jordan made the mistake of telling his fellow elite what was really happening in Iraq: American forces were "out to get journalists, and some were deliberately targeting journalists."

Within two weeks, the longtime CNN honcho was out of work. His resignation came complete with a Stalin-esque confession that's chilling to read today:

"After 23 years at CNN," he wrote, "I have decided to resign in an effort to prevent CNN from being unfairly tarnished by the controversy over conflicting accounts of my recent remarks regarding the alarming number of journalists killed in Iraq. I never meant to imply U.S. forces acted with ill intent when U.S. forces accidentally killed journalists, and I apologize to anyone who thought I said or believed otherwise."

Yes, he was a wrecker and a Trotskyite, and he begged for forgiveness. Because the man was dead -- in America, losing your job like that, after bad-mouthing America, means you're as good as dead.

A number of journalists have had their careers destroyed for not following the Party Line: Peter Arnett, Ashleigh Banfield, to name two of the most prominent. Meanwhile, the editors at the New York Times and the Washington Post who pushed for war, who spread lies about WMDs and helped bring about the 500,000 deaths reported today (a figure that of course is being attacked and demonized by the same people who cheer an organization's "courage" when such figures are arrived at in Chechnya), get to keep their jobs.

You can see now why we have no Politkovskaya, as badly as we need one. If you go against the "fascist" tendency in your home country, you're targeted for death and career destruction by the government and a bloodthirsty right-wing population. Just as with Chechnya, Iraq has been made too dangerous to work in, and the American government has put a perfectly air-tight lid on information, not even allowing photographs of the coffins of dead American servicemen.
The overwhelming message is, that in a world-wide society that is becoming increasingly polarized and politicized, speaking out against your government's or citizenry's "official" or popular point of view is becoming more and more hazardous. Careers and lives are being lost in the free reporting of ideas and many citizens are becoming increasingly intolerant of differing points of views. Those opinions that remain free to be spoken are increasingly under large corporate or government influence, in a manner that stifles free expression. When those who have the most to lose by exposure, own the free press, the results are not likely to be good for the general population.

There is good news, of course. We have a tool for free discussion that scarcely no one could have imagined even 20 years ago - the Internet. Tied in with our increasingly wired and high-tech world, the Internet can provide free range for a multitude of ideas and rapid development of stories - with all the pluses (mobile phone photos and videos of incidents) and minuses (flash mobs) that brings.

However, there is evidence that the internet actually might increasingly polarize peoples opinions and serve as a tool of intolerance. Certainly, the biggest bigots on the planet suddenly have a weapon in the internet to smite upon ideas that they don't appreciate or outright hate.

For comparison, we have below a compilation of journalists deaths during prior wars of the past century. Information is from Committee to Protect Journalists and Freedom Forum:

  • Algeria (1993-96): 58
  • Colombia (1986-present): 52
  • Balkans (1991-95): 36
  • Philippines (1983-87): 36
  • Turkey (1984-99): 22
  • Tajikistan (1992-96): 16
  • Sierra Leone (1997-2000): 15
  • Afghanistan (2001-04): 9
  • Somalia (1993-95): 9
  • Kosovo (1999-2001): 7
  • First Iraq war (1991): 4
  • Central American (1979-89) 89
  • Argentina (1976-1983) 98
  • Vietnam: (1955-1975) 66
  • Korean War: 17
  • World War II: 68
  • World War I: 2

Monday, October 23, 2006

Putinisms: Has Putin Lost His Mind?

You know Americans used to have the right to be very proud of the fact that our president was an absolute boob when speaking impromptu. It was a certain fact that our dear Dubya might open up his mouth and say any number of kooky or strange tongue twisting words or remarks. There was even a word invented for them ... Bushisms.

Remember "strategery"?

Remember when he joked about Peter Wallsten of the Los Angeles Times wearing sunglasses indoors - apparently not realizing that Mr. Wallsten is blind?

Remember earlier this year when he referred to UK companies as "Great British compan(ies)".

Well, lately Putin has been making Bush look like a Rhodes Scholar. If he keeps this up, we'll have to define a new category of crude jokes and remarks to diplomats as "Putinisms".

Of course, Russians are familiar with Putin making strong, borderline rude statements. It just seems that recently his tongue has become particularly unhinged. Starting with his lack of remarks and then boorishly sedated remarks regarding the murder of Anna Politkovskaya. His statements might reflect his true state of mind, but that doesn't mean that as a leader and diplomat, that he isn't obligated to assuage people's fears and concerns. To not do so is coarse behavior and bad politics.

Then there was the statements reportedly caught on microphone, regarding the Israeli Presidents criminal charges for rape and sexual abuse. Привет передайте своему президенту. Оказался очень мощный мужик. Десять женщин изнасиловал. Я никогда не ожидал от него. Он нас всех удивил. Мы все ему завидуем. (Hello to your President. There was very powerful muzhik! Ten women has raped. I never expected from him. It has surprised all of us. All of us are envious.)

Today in Finland, we have the following remarks that were caught by the European news media:
Speaking during a summit with European Union leaders in Finland, Putin reportedly defended himself from charges that organised crime networks dominate business in his country by noting that 'the word mafia was born in Italy, not Russia', Spain's El Pays reported Sunday. The remark was splashed out on the front pages of Italy's leading dailies Monday and drew condemnation from government officials.

'It was an incredible remark. Instead of speaking nonsense, Putin should explain what has happened with the murder of (Russian journalist Anna) Politkovskaya,' Italian Foreign Ministry undersecretary Gianni Vernetti told reporters. [...]

While Prime Minister Romano Prodi's office sought to play down the incident, saying Putin's remark was meant to be ironic, other lawmakers called on the government to issue a strong reaction. 'Italy should respond to the serious remarks made by Russian President Putin,' said Angelo Bonelli of the Green Party, which is a member of Prodi's centre-left ruling coalition.

Putin had come under fire during the summit over human rights violations in Russia and reportedly also accused many Spanish mayors of being 'corrupt'.
Some other famous phrases and comments by Vladimir Vladimirovich:

  • When the news conference had been running for two and a half hours, Putin suggested a toilet break. "I don't suppose anyone put on a nappy (diaper) when they were dressing for this meeting so we should start winding this up," he said.
  • "These people deserve one, very brief, response: 'To hell with you,'" Putin said when talking about critics of Russia who he said were still living in the Soviet past.
  • "Sorry to be crude but we did not pick these prices out of our nose," Putin said when explaining why Russia raised the cost of the natural gas it exports to its neighbour, Ukraine.
  • Promising tough action against insurgents opposed to Moscow's rule in Chechnya, then-prime minister Putin said in 1999: "If we catch them in the toilet, then we'll wipe them out in the outhouse."
  • "If you really want to become an Islamist radical and go as far as getting yourself circumcised, I recommend you come to Moscow ... we'll do it so that nothing ever grows there," Putin told a journalist after an EU-Russia summit in Brussels in 2002.
  • "Why can't we do things (like EU countries)? Because, pardon my language, we spend our time chewing snot and scoring political points," Putin said in 2003.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Ineffectiveness of the Russian Police

Lives Are Much Better and More Dangerous

A recent editorial from Vedemosti reprinted in the Moscow Times, discussing violent crime and murder in Russia, lays much of the blame at the feet of incompetent or corrupt police:
Dmitry Fotyanov, a candidate for mayor in the Far East city of Dalnegorsk, was murdered Thursday. The chain of high-profile killings continues. The murder of Central Bank First Deputy Chairman Andrei Kozlov was followed by more in the banking sector and one in the political sphere -- the journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

Have we returned to the criminal levels of the 1990s?

The answer is no -- it's even worse. High-profile murders are only drawing more attention to the problem. According to the State Statistics Service and the Interior Ministry, the number of murders registered annually in the country from 2000 to 2005 was, on average, 10.6 percent higher than for the period from 1992 to 1999. The killers haven't gone away. Under former President Boris Yeltsin, there were 19 cases of violent death per 100,000 people, while under President Vladimir Putin the figure has been about 22. By comparison, during the 1980s, when crime levels peaked in the United States, the number of violent deaths per 100,000 people was 10.2. That number fell to five in 2000.

According to Supreme Court statistics, 1.2 million criminal cases were heard by Russian courts in 2005 (9.8 percent more than in 2004), of which about 27,000 were for premeditated murder (against 26,500 in 2004). The overall number of registered crimes rose from 2.7 million in 1995 to 3.5 million in 2005. And according to the State Statistics Service, the number of suspects apprehended for crimes fell -- from 1.59 million in 1995 to 1.29 million in 2005.

The country has grown richer, but this hasn't meant greater peace and order. The problem would appear to be in law enforcement. According to a number of different studies, the end of the 1990s saw a shift in the 'protection' business, with payments to the police and state security agent becoming more popular with businesses.

Even if you dismiss these studies as mere slander against the police, it's hard to ignore law enforcement's complete ineffectiveness. There are about 800,000 police officers in Russia, or more than 550 per 100,000 people. The figures for Europe per 100,000 people are less than two murders and slightly more than 300 police (according to statistics for 2000). That crime fighters here are either not fighting crime or not doing anything at all is supported by public opinion: According to polls by the Levada Center, the public confidence indicator for the police was minus 24 in September, minus 31 in March and minus 28 in September 2005 (calculated by subtracting the percentage of respondents who said they had no confidence from those who said they had full confidence).
Of course, the police don't invent the crime to begin with; however, the number of murders and violent crimes that remain unsolved and untouched speaks to a system that encourages such violence.

Sean's Russki Blog also tackles this topic and its possible implications to the Russian Federation in depth.

Call Center Preparing Putin’s Interview Receives 450,000 messages

Call Center Preparing Putin’s Interview Receives 450,000 Messages
MOSCOW, October 22 (Itar-Tass) -- The unified call center, which is preparing a live interview with President Vladimir Putin, has received 447,972 messages from citizens of Russia and other countries.

Some 432,567 questions were asked by phone, and another 15,405 were asked on the Internet as of 6:00 p.m. Moscow time on Sunday, the website www.president-line.ru said.

The president will answer the most important and interesting questions on Wednesday, October 25. The fifth live interview with Putin will start at noon and be broadcast by Channel 1, Rossiya, Vesti, Mayak and Radio Russia.

The unified call center will be receiving messages until the end of the live interview.

Stationary and mobile phone calls from Russia will be received for free at 8-800-200-4040. A special line (7-495-645-1010) has been opened to receive questions from abroad. A toll will be levied on calls from abroad.

SMS-messages will be received at 0-40-40 starting from 6:00 a.m. Moscow time on October 25. The messages from any place of Russia will be free regardless the mobile phone operator. They must be in Russian and do not exceed 70 characters.

Internet messages will be received at www.president-line.ru. The website has posted verbatim records of the previous live interviews with Putin.
So now is your chance to write your question to Vladimir Vladimirovich. I'm fairly well impressed with the Kremlin's attempts at technical saavy, if not exactly impressed with their execution. Questions from past have included asking VVP ... what he was going to do about high gasoline prices in Russia, housing and infrastructure problems, complaints and questions about small pensions, and how he was going to bring meaningful jobs to the Russian economy. Predominantly populist or bread-and-butter politics, with a great deal of formal politeness.

Actually, in this sense it points out that when it comes to politics in Russia, thinking with your wallet is as common as in the USA.

Red Hot Sharapova beats Hantuchova to Win Zurich Open

Sharapova beats Hantuchova to Win Zurich Open

Red-hot 19-year old Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova (Мария Юрьевна Шарапова) earned her fourth title of the year at Zurich today, beating Slovakian Daniela Hantuchova 6-1, 4-6, 6-3. This win was Sharapova's 14th career title. According to ESPN:
Sharapova, who won her fourth title this season, still has a chance to finish the year as the top-ranked player. She'd need to win next week in Linz, Austria, and at the season-ending Women's Tennis Association Championships in Madrid.

Amelie Mauresmo, who withdrew from the Zurich Open with a shoulder injury, and second-ranked Justine Henin-Hardenne, who hasn't played since mid-September because of a knee problem, still lead the U.S. Open champion in the rankings.

Mauresmo leads Sharapova by 630 points, but many of the Frenchwomen's points will expire before this season ends. Henin-Hardenne would have to fail to reach the WTA final for Sharapova to finish on top.

Neither Henin-Hardenne nor Mauresmo are expected to play before Madrid.

"Becoming No. 1 is a huge achievement, but I don't personally think ending the season as No. 1 is a huge deal," said Sharapova, who was top-ranked in August 2005. "I honestly can't remember who finished last year No. 1. You remember who won the Grand Slams and who has been No. 1, not who finished the year No. 1."

Sharapova, who withdrew from the recent Kremlin Cup with a foot injury, said she was playing through pain in Zurich. She picked up her 14th career title, her other wins this season coming at the U.S. Open, in San Diego and Indian Wells, Calif.

Hantuchova had to save three break points on her first serve before Sharapova swept the next six games.
The lovely and talented Sharapova has won three of the WTA Tour's top 10 events, including winning the 2004 Wimbledon Championship, beating Serena Williams of the USA. She was the third-youngest Wimbledon women's champion in that tournaments history.

She also has the distinction of being
Maxim Magazine's Hottest Female Athlete of the Year for the past four years.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Westerners Trophy Hunt Russian Brown Bears to Extinction

IFAW's Animal Rescue Blog: Video Feature: Russian Winters are Cold Towards Brown Bears

IFAW has a video detailing the 5,000+ bears hunted every year in Russia. Many are killed by American and European trophy hunters, who pay as much as $1,500 to shoot brown bears for trophys. The video details the release of orphan bear cubs into the wild, once they have been raised to sufficient age by the Russian Bear Orphanage. Efforts like this continue to restore the population, despite heavy hunting of brown bears as trophies and for their pelts. The Russian Duma is considering new laws that would ban shooting of brown bears in the winter. But with brown bear pelts fetching almost $2,000, it is unlikely the laws would completely stop the hunting. According to IFAW, in some areas of Russia, and in Western and Eastern Europe, brown bears are already extinct. The bears being hunted in Russia are from the last healthy population in the world.
10/20 - Another Bear Hunting Headline

Vodka Bear Hunt Investigated
October 20, 2006 12:00am - Russian hunt organisers keen to make the visiting King of Spain's chances of killing a bear easier reportedly provided a tame one drunk on vodka.

A spokesman for Vyacheslav Pozgalev, governor of the northwestern Vologda region said: "The governor has ordered a working group set up...to check the facts published in local press about the killing of the bear."

National paper Kommersant carried a letter from Vologda's deputy chief of regional hunting resources management, Sergei Starostin, which accused hunt organisers of plying a captive bear named "Mitrofan" with vodka-drenched honey and then forcing him from a cage to be shot by Spain's King Juan Carlos I.

"His majesty Juan Carlos killed Mitrofan with a single shot," Mr Starostin wrote in his letter.

Russian hunt organisers are not complete strangers to such tactics. Keen hunter and former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev had trouble with his aim in his later years.

Some of the animals he liked to stalk were either tied to trees or plied with booze.

Royal Row Over Russian Bear Fate
A Russian official has claimed that a tame bear was plied with honey and vodka before being shot dead by King Juan Carlos of Spain. The official alleged that the king had killed the bear during a private visit to Russia earlier this year. "It's not hunting - it's murder," Sergei Starostin, deputy head of Vologda region's hunting resources department told AFP news agency.

A Spanish monarchy spokesman said the claims were "ridiculous". "We have no comment to make because this story is totally ridiculous and the source is sensationalist," a palace spokesman told AP news agency.

The palace said it would not confirm or deny that the king had been on a hunting trip during his visit to Russia.

Almost 100 NGOs Suspended in Russia

About 100 NGOs Suspended in Russia

Of course, those of us interested in such things have been waiting to see how the NGO laws in Russia would play out. Even C.J. Chivers of the NY Times took time away from his busy schedule of discussing trout and salmon in Russia, to write about the NGO suspensions. While much had been made of the new laws and how absolutely terrible they would be (insert hand-wringing here), it was widely acknowledged by those with knowledge about laws governing NGOs, that the Russian laws were not more restrictive than long-standing NGO laws in other countries. From a February 15, 2006 NGO Watch article:
Despite sizzling criticism from leading human rights groups, the new law on nongovernmental organizations is not as restrictive as similar legislation adopted by France, Finland and other developed democracies.

What makes it potentially dangerous, however, is a lack of clarity over how it will be enforced at a time when the Kremlin is methodically tightening its grip on every area of public life and courts are not generally viewed as independent.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov pointed to laws governing NGOs in France, Finland and Israel when he defended Russia's legislation in an open letter last month. He said worries raised by Russian human rights organizations were "inspired by an incomplete understanding of the situation in the given field of the legislation of leading Western democratic countries."

A review of legislation in France, Israel and Finland shows that they indeed are more restrictive. In France, an NGO must report all donations and bequests and can collect the money only with authorization from the head of the local administration, who first must examine the group's activities. Russian NGOs, in contrast, will have to report only donations from abroad.

Also, a French NGO is required to submit on request its accounting records to both the local administration and the Interior Ministry. In Russia, authorities will be permitted to carry out a financial check on an NGO only once a year.

Russia's law empowers authorities to examine whether an NGO is spending money on its declared program, while the French law only allows authorities to review whether an NGO's economic activities are unfairly competing with the commercial sector.

Russian NGOs have complained that the law uses vague language to describe the reasons a Russian branch of a foreign NGO can be denied registration. The list reads "threats to sovereignty, political independence, territorial integrity, national unity and originality, cultural heritage and the national interests of the Russian Federation." Most of those terms are left unexplained, opening the door for arbitrary interpretation on the part of bureaucrats.

But the French, Finnish and Israeli laws are nearly identical in their language. In France, an NGO can be denied registration or shut down if it is found to operate "contrary to the law, morals or integrity of the territory or the republic." Finland's law says almost the same thing.

In Israel, an NGO's purpose must not contradict the law, morality or public order. Public associations there are also prohibited from undermining Israeli democracy or serving as a screen for illegal activities.
Well, now we come to a deadline in the registration of NGOs in Russia, and it seems almost 100 were suspended. Is it a Russian crackdown ... or a self-fulfilling prophecy by NGOs who didn't get their act together in time? From the AP article:
Western governments have expressed strong concern about the law, which imposed strict limits on all NGOs but especially Russian ones, as likely to curtail civil freedoms. The State Department on Wednesday urged Russia to speed up the re-registration process and to allow all NGOs to continue operating.

But Justice Ministry official Anatoly Panchenko said authorities were unable to process the registrations of 96 NGOs by the midnight Wednesday deadline, although he promised they would do so as soon as possible.

"We will do our best to process them as quickly as possible so they can resume their work," he told the AP.

He was later quoted by the ITAR-Tass news agency as saying that the number of pending applications had fallen to 93. The Danish Refugee Council, an aid group active in Chechnya that has had uneasy relations with the Russian government, said it was told that its permit would be issued Friday.

However, medical aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders, said it had to halt some of its humanitarian work in Chechnya and a program in Moscow involving homeless children because two of its three offices - those based in Belgium and France - had not obtained registration.

The law obliged foreign-based groups to complete the procedure by the deadline or suspend their activities.

"We attach paramount importance to the principle of freedom of association and we hope the NGO law will have a positive rather than negative impact," European Commission spokesman Pietro Petrucci said.

An official from the Council of Europe, Europe's leading human rights body, urged the Russian government to issue the necessary permits. "We deeply hope that the authorities will very quickly give registration to organizations such as Amnesty," Annelise Oeschger said.

The National Democratic Institute for International Affairs and the International Republican Institute, both U.S.-based organizations that promote democracy, were also affected by the suspension order - which lets NGOs keep paying staff and remain in their offices.

Officials have accused NGOs of filing their applications too late, saying many only began the process in July, although the law came into force in April.

But the NGOs complained of shifting guidelines and onerous red tape; one requirement stipulated that organizations had to submit personal details on their founders, even if they were dead. Some devoted lengthy time to searching for death certificates or affidavits from widows.

A Western NGO activist, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid jeopardizing the registration process, accused authorities of deliberately seeking ways to obstruct the applications.

Panchenko said 107 groups completed the procedure in time. The Justice Ministry had earlier estimated the number of foreign groups in Russia at between 200-500, but Panchenko said only about 250 were probably working in the country.

Russian NGOs face even more onerous controls under the law, which allows authorities to ban financing of specific NGOs or projects if they are judged to threaten the country's national security or "morals."
So it would appear that more than half of the NGOs were able to complete their required registration on time, and those suspended appear to be so only temporarily while they are allowed to complete their registration. However, as these groups are supposed to be professionals and they have known this date was coming for quite some time - I have very little sympathy for their suspension.

Small History Lesson - The American Invasion of Russia

Russian Civil War, 1918-1920

This is a topic that likely most students of history remember, but most Americans never learned - The Russian Civil War of 1918-1920 and the Allied intervention on behalf of the White Army forces. Even fewer Americans are likely to remember that we committed almost 13,000 troops to the invasion forces and that 275 Americans lost their lives on Russia soil.

The Regiments website is a military historians dream page, with extensive detailed descriptions and dates of various wars in which the British Empire was engaged. There is information on uniforms, regiments, and formations as well.

But for our purposes today, we are interested in the Russian Civil war. The Allied Forces at the end of World War I. As Regiments discusses the causes of the civil war (which might be debatable from the Russian point of view):
Russian military reverses, heavy casualties, and economic hardship contributed to the Russian revolution which withdrew the country from the First World War, releasing German forces for an offensive against the other Allies on the Western Front. Chaos led long repressed nationalist aspirations around the perimeter of the Russian empire to declare independence. Bolshevik excesses soon began to coalesce various factions, and civil war broke out. Japan was the first to exploit Russian weakness with an apparent view to annexing the maritime provinces in the East.

The British, French, and Americans hesitantly and fitfully intervened with a four-fold goal:

1) prevent Japan from creating an empire in the East,
2) prevent massive Allied stores originally sent to the tsarist armies from falling into German and subsequently Bolshevik hands,
3) assist the White Armies in overthrowing the Bolshevik regime and bring Russia back into the war against Germany,
4) rescue the Czechoslovak Legion trapped in central Asia so that they could rejoin the war against Germany.

Allied intervention joined White armies on four fronts:

1) White Sea ports in the north,
2) Black Sea ports in the south,
3) Caspian and Caucasus region, and
4) the Far East.

The plans of some Allied politicians called for advancing with the Whites on all these fronts to link up in the centre and crush the Bolshevik regime.
To paraphrase Vizzini: They fell victim to one of the classic blunders. The most famous ... never get involved in a land war in Asia ...

But I digress. Regiments provides a detailed chronology of the Allied forces invasion and eventual withdrawal from Russia two years later. 160 Americans were killed in action and another 168 died by other means (disease, cold, famine, STDs). All wars are chaotic - the Russian Civil War perhaps more chaotic than most, as Regiments explains:
Although the civil war fronts fluctuated wildly, the Bolsheviks gradually developed discipline, and had the advantage of defending the central Russian homeland. Opposition White forces never developed military or political cohesion, and were hampered by appearing to be the tools of foreign imperialist interests. The civil war did much to harden the Bolsheviks from a relatively democratic party into a ruthless and draconian regime, which eventually reunified much of the splintered Russian empire by force.

Allied intervention was insufficient to provide meaningful support to the Whites, and the November 1918 armistice on the Western Front removed much of the raison d'etre for intervention, namely to bring Russia back into the war against Germany and protect stores from falling into German hands. Motivated in part by fear of world communism, Allied occupation of Russian territory did much to sow the seeds of distrust which grew into a fifty-year Cold War between the Soviets and the West.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Ethnic Cleansing In Boston?

5th slaying stirs fears in Cape Verdeans - The Boston Globe

Just a quick link to a story in the Boston Globe today, about a 5th member of Boston's Cape Verdean Creole community who has been killed this year. Two were murdered last year and five have been murdered thus far this year.

Upon reading this story in the paper, I was struck by the decided lack of racism accusations in the article. Instead the article makes it sound death by murder is a lifestyle choice. Funny.

One can easily imagine how this story would have been written if the city were Moscow or St. Petersburg or Ekaterinburg, etc. We've seen this before, with African students who were killed in St. Petersburg. It would have been picked up by more than just one newspaper as well.

This isn't to excuse murder or violent behavior against minorities, which is obviously amoral. But it does demonstrate how biased reporting of problems can create an image that isn't accurate when compared to the facts. I would love to see a real statistical analysis of violence and crime against ethnic peoples - compared to violent crimes against all other people - in Russia. I have a feeling that it isn't significantly more dangerous for ethnic peoples in Russia than it is in the US.

Of course, given the high rate of violent crimes committed by and against ethnic minorities in the US, that isn't necessarily a high achievement.


As a footnote - I want to make it perfectly clear that I am not making excuses for racial or ethnic violence anywhere - it is obviously wrong. What I am pointing out is the difference in press and media coverage of events that occur here in the US ... versus events in Russia. The killing of an ethnic minority in Russia is immediately seen as an act driven by racial hatred. Similar acts that occur here in the US are not given a similar presumption.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Moscow Cats Theater


Come one, come all ... The Moscow Cats Theatre is on yet another US tour.

What? You think I'm joking? In fact no - this famous Russian children's theater, with clowns Yuri Kuklachev, his wife Elena Kuklacheva, son Dmitriy Kuklachev, and 26 cats will initially be performing in the following US cities:

  • Atlanta - October 28-29
  • San Diego - November 4-5
  • Los Angeles - November 11-12
  • Phoenix - November 18-19
  • Los Angeles - November 25-26
  • Los Angeles - Deccember 2-3
  • Detroit - December 9
  • Chicago - December 10
  • Columbus - December 16-17
  • Detroit - December 22-23
  • Chicago - December 26-30

More dates are yet to be scheduled, but as this is the 2006 - 2007 tour, it is likely there will be other cities after the New Year holiday. From the New York Times article describing the 2005-2006 tour:
The theater has a total of nine different routines, including "Cats From Outer Space" and "Nutcracker." No one show is ever exactly like another. "Cats are like actors," Mr. Kuklachev said. "They do what they want. Sometimes a cat doesn't want one trick, so he does another."

The next day, in rehearsal, Mr. Kuklachev gave a preview. A cat called Tamara was brought out onstage and began rocking on a glittering pink rocking horse, nearly tipping over at one point.

There would also be a "tightrope" act. Two people held a pole horizontally while Belok, who is white, walked across it, with an intent manner. A black cat named Charlie did the same thing, but upside down, grasping the pole from underneath with his four legs. Motia, who is off-white, outdid them both. She made her way across the pole from underneath using only two legs. As the cats worked, Mr. Kuklachev clucked and cooed encouragingly, rewarding them with gentle strokes of his curved palm.

The story of "Queen of the Cats" is a kind of allegory, Mr. Kuklachev explained. He plays a painter who goes to sleep and dreams that aliens arrive from outer space in a U.F.O. and try to steal his cats.

At one point, one of the cats stands on a mirrored ball that looks as if it has been borrowed from "Saturday Night Fever." She is emitting "rays of goodness," he said, spreading kindness throughout the world.

The idea of performing cats came to Mr. Kuklachev in 1971, he said, when he found a stray begging for food by performing on its hind legs and doing somersaults for onlookers. Mr. Kuklachev, the son of a truck driver and a factory worker, had attended clown school. He realized he and the cat might be able to do something together. He named her Strelka, and soon she was performing with him at the Moscow State Circus.

Mr. Kuklachev did an act which would become well known as "The Cat in the Pot." A cat would sit in a pot. He would take her out, and she would keep jumping back in again. In 1988 Mr. Kuklachev left the Moscow circus, and in 1990 he founded the Cats Theater. It is very popular in Moscow, Mr. Kuklachev said, and over the years he has traveled to 80 countries and won many awards.

There are 120 cats altogether in the company. The other 94 are back in Moscow at the theater on Kutuzovsky Prospekt, where 10 caretakers and four veterinarians look after them. There, they live in the theater in glass-fronted spaces - not cages, Mr. Kuklachev insists - where they each have a bed and a chair to play on. They are allowed to roam but must enter and exit their rooms on his command, he said.

"We have no mice," Mr. Kuklachev noted.

... And a more critical BroadwayWorld review by Michael Dale:
But despite its name, the show is mostly a silent clown act, with Kuklachev center stage and in the spotlight for most of the hour-long intermission-less performance. (I've seen web postings from audience members saying the show had an intermission and was 80 minutes long. That wasn't the case when I attended.) He performs standard routines like continually stepping on a broom that always winds up hitting him in the back, pretending to be a great artist and painting portraits of audience volunteers or miming umbrella mishaps on a windy day. It's all very cute and suitable for the youngsters, but no more interesting than the average professional clown you might hire for a kid's birthday party.

As the show moves along, we start to see what is meant by "death defying acts" and some of the stunts become a little disturbing. One cat is placed on a platform attached to two bonded hula hoops and Kuklachev twirls it in the air at high speeds. Another cat is placed at the end of a pole and carried into the audience, allowing anyone to touch and pet it. Another has parallel bars placed under its kitty arms and it shimmies from one end to the other. The difference is that for most of the show the cats perform stunts by following commands, but in these cases, and others, they are placed in situations where they have no choice in the matter. My guest was a life-long cat lover who was very excited to come see cats jump through hoops and do balancing tricks, but she left the theatre repulsed by some of the stunts. I wasn't all that thrilled myself.

I don't want to suggest that there is any mistreatment of the animals. They are frequently petted and shown affection by the clowns throughout the show. But even if they were perfectly comfortable because they've done these tricks a hundred times, they still looked frightened during the more dangerous moments, and it's hard to be entertained by animals whose body language seems to say they don't want to be there.

Who would have thought that training cats to do tricks might be controversial? It is probably a good thing this guy didn't catch our "cat tricks" when I was a teenager in Bad Nauheim, Germany.

In the interest of fairness and a complete review, I also have a third, less critical review by CurtainsUp:
The Lamb's Theater in the heart of the theater district is small enough for Dmitri Kuklachev's Moscow Cats Theater to still come off as a uniquely entertaining mom and pop style circus for the whole family. So, yes, it's still the cat's meeow and the human ensemble contributes more than its share of talent and laughs.

I was a little concerned about whether training cats -- not an easy task, as any cat owner will confirm -- would cause more sympathy than admiration for the cats. But the 20 cats racing across the stage, climbing poles, riding go-carts and tricycles seem none the worse for having weathered the rigors of becoming show cats. My feeling that the animal rights activists don't have much cause for complaint was confirmed by the frequently heard " ooh"s and "ah"s and "how cute" from the many cat lovers in the audience.
Katja says Kuklachev is quite famous in Russia and his cat Theater is considered pretty amazing. I guess Russians are pretty surprised to see cats perform these tricks.

I'm waiting for them to cough up a hairball on command ...

A Russian Course

A Russian Course

As part of the Tower of Babel project by the late Sergei Starostin, The Accidental Russophile presents to you - A Russian Course - as published by Slavica Publishers of Columbus, Ohio (1977). The entire 612+ page text book isn't bad, but it is quite dated and this results in some unintentional humor, as follows:

как живут ударники?
Ударники живут хорошо.

Где они работают?
Они работают на заводах.
Как они работают?
Они работают с энтузиазмом.
Katja comes up with a better translation of ударники than "shock-worker". She says an ударники is just a very hard-working, motivated person. You know, the model Soviet citizen. Actually, that would also be the model US citizen.


Как живут бездельники?
На работе они крадут карандаши.

В парках они ведут себя плохо.

Да, товариши.
Вот как живут бездельники!


Ударники часто культурные люди.
Культурные луди читают книги.
И они моются каждый день.

Бездельники часто некультурные люди.
Насколько Я знаю, некультурные люди не моются.
Никогда?
Да, они никогда не моются.
И они любят курить в троллейбусах.

Nice explanation of boorish behavior at the end of this page. Hmmm ... Мы знаем каких-нибудь некультурных людей?

The unintentional humor continues:





Don't be a hooligan!


How to avoid answering a question - this could be very useful, товариши!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Russian Women's Tennis - Dominating the World

Maybe you don't pay much attention to Women's tennis. I mean, it isn't as though it is a highly rated sport in this country, particularly these days. So, if you haven't been keeping up with such things, it might come as a bit of a surprise to you to learn ... that Russian women are hot.

According to the WTA Women's tennis rankings - 5 of the top 10 wome
n are Russian (Maria Sharapova, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Nadia Petrova, Elena Dementieva, Dinara Safina). The US doesn't have a single player ranked in the top 10, and only 1 in the top 20. Among the top 50 ranked Women's Tennis players:

11 - Russia
6 - France
5 - Italy
4 - USA

In fact, 16 of the top 50 women originate from Slavic nations. Even 10 years ago,
there may have been only 1 or 2 top ranked Russian women tennis players. 20 years ago, there were none. So where did all these beautiful and talented Russian women tennis players come from?

From Serge Schmemann of the International Herald Tribune (9/28/06):
Where in frozen Siberia did these Russians learn how to swing a racket? Svetlana Kuznetsova took the China Open. ... The glamorous Russian teenager Maria Sharapova swept past Belgium's best, Justine Henin-Hardenne, to win the U.S. Open.

And so it goes, the extraordinary invasion of ... women's tennis, by players from a country that shouldn't be playing tennis at all. Sure, Russians excel at ice hockey, or chess, and we wouldn't think twice if they dominated, say, gymnastics, or synchronized swimming. These are endeavors that sit well with our Western notion of what Russians should do well: sports that require year-round refrigeration, endless indoor drills and lots of brooding. But tennis? The quintessential bourgeois pastime?

Two decades ago, there were no Russian names among the top 100 players, much less among the glitterati of the sport. Today, Maria Sharapova is a trademark, and behind her is a cascade of top-ranked Russians with jaw-challenging names: Anastasia Myskina, Elena Dementieva, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Vera Zvonareva, Nadia Petrova, Mikhail Youzhny, Nikolai Davydenko, Dmitry Tursunov, Marat Safin. (Please, it's Sha-RA-pova, not Shara- POH-va; it's Kuzne-TSO-va, not Kuz- NET-sova...Oh, never mind.)

And there's nothing of the shy newcomer about them. They seem to have emerged as prepackaged, beautifully turned out stars, complete with obsessed parent. Tursunov, like Sharapova, was exported by a relentless father to the United States at a precocious age, and it's hard to tell whether either is more Russian or American.

So what spawned these stars?

There's a time-honored tradition in the West to approach Russia as a riddle, devising elaborate explanations for Russia's admittedly befuddling ways. I know: I was a foreign correspondent in Moscow for 10 years, and filled quite a few bytes expounding on the effects of endless winter, endless expanse, the collision of East and West, long subjugation by Mongol hordes, the absence of a Renaissance, vodka, and other such formative influences. I've always had a soft spot for the swaddling theory, wherein the practice of binding babies like mummies between feedings formed a nation given to lurching between total passivity and total anarchy (Full disclosure: I may have been swaddled).

So there is certain temptation to seek a Dostoevskian explanation for the rise of Russian tennis. Are these young stars a post-Soviet reaction to the collective ethic of the Soviet era? Are they another version of the trillionaire oligarch, people who frantically grasp for all the riches and glory denied them for 70 years? Tursunov has admitted in an interview that Hugh Hefner of Playboy fame was a model: "After tennis, I want to have a big house and wear a velvety robe." The Cincinnati Enquirer suggested that tennis was the Russian equivalent of basketball in the American inner city - a way out: "Think of a tennis court in Siberia as analogous to a basketball court in the Bronx."

The fact is that there was always tennis in the Soviet Union, even if it was often on lumpy courts behind high walls. But the Communist party always preferred to send teams abroad, because when stars went alone they had a nasty habit of defecting. All that changed in 1988, when tennis returned to the Olympics and the Soviet Union began to loosen up. Courts quickly began to sprout across the land. The game got a further boost from Boris Yeltsin, who was often photographed wrestling with a racket.

That was the era when most of the current stars got their first racket. Then Anna Kournikova showed how a Russian player can become a big bucks marketing star. Combine that with the fact that Russia is still a country where children are expected to master skills, whether chess, ballet or tennis, through relentless practice, and the head of Russian tennis, Shamil Tarpishev, says the invasion has only just begun.

Why women's tennis in particular? For that, the playwright Edvard Radzinsky has a compelling explanation. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, he noted that professional sport was one of the few fields where women had a measure of equality in the old USSR. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, women were also freed to plunge into business. And so the two merged, most noticeably in tennis. "The role of the Tennis Lolita, of the Beauteous Champion, is but Russian womanhood's most public face," Radzinsky wrote.
It should also be noted that with the wane of American influence in tennis, golden sponsorship and marketing opportunities have opened up for the Russian women.