Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Ice is Terrible and other Random Thoughts

I hate the ice. We had freezing rain all last night, I slipped and fell down while going to my car.

Which reminds me of something I pondered while in Moscow ... why are so many stairs and sidewalks in Russia made of polished granite? I mean, after thousands of years, you would think that Russians would have come up with a smarter alternative.

Because, I do hear this rumor that it gets pretty cold in Russia.

After walking the winter streets of Moscow, I can understand why Russians make such wonderful figure skaters. Their sense of balance has to be extraordinary to manage the icy sidewalks of Moscow. No joke.

I should also add, that the polished granite stairs and walks are a pet peeve of Natasha, also. She also believes that our President should make Americans get out and walk more. He just said that we are addicted to oil and need to break our habit .. so maybe Bush and Congress should outlaw driving your petroleum-burning car to work on Tuesdays and Thursdays, or something. Ha. Ha.

Isn't it a little bit "me too" that Putin does a press conference on the same date as the US President's State of the Union address? Even though many Russians try to tell me that they don't think about or compare themselves to the US, it certainly seems that their politicians spend large amounts of time talking about and goading "the west" and US. Iran policy (blatantly cold-warish behavior on Russia's part), general talking about the superiority of Russian missles (blatant salesmenship in the wake of Iraq), and then timing a press conference for the same time as the US Presidents annual State of the Union address (blatant frontpage headline grabbing). Katja says she hadn't even heard that Bush was giving such a speech (she doesn't follow politics) but numerous news sources in Russia were discussing it and comparing it to Putin's press conference the next day.

I don't think that Putin's alternately bullying and then flirting press conference style would fly very well in the US. I'm sort of amazed that he can get away with it in Russia ... this is the behavior that women write songs about? A man who loses his cool when questioned about Russias defense of a massacre in Uzbekistan ... and implies it was all some plot by foreign states? Flirting and silly questions, coming from "all blondes"? I am also surprised that the reporters, even at the end of a long press conference, would ask such a silly question as to how Putin stays in shape. Like they don't know that already? Even I have read about Putins physical regimen ... I am sure that most Russians alternatively take pride in that or make jokes about it.

If you don't know the story of Andrei Sychev or aren't familiar with the system of Dedovshina (дедовщина) that occurs in the Russian Military, you should definitely read this blog entry and links including photos of a recent protest. Basically, as the Russian government requires military service and pays rather poorly ... the army operates on a system of seniority thuggery. Think of a perverse version of college fraternity 1st year hazing ... the kind of hazing and beatings that cause young men to kill themselves to escape it ... and you get the general idea.

It isn't a great thing and it makes me feel bad for Russian people that their leaders don't take this problem seriously. Maybe some general imagines it toughens up the soldiers. However, I can promise you it does nothing for the fighting morale of an army. Russia would be better off with a smaller army, that is paid better, and is comprised entirely of volunteers. I know this is what Putin says they are moving towards; sooner would be better.

I ordered a book on Katja's recommendation, The Golden Calf (Zolotoi Telenok) by Ilya Ilf and Evgeniy Petrov (translation by Richard Shupbach). Seems the movie was on television the other night and it got her thinking about this book, which she really enjoys and wished I could read. Maybe someday I will be able to read it in the original tongue. I'll report back when I am done with it in a couple of weeks.


Browler said...

You really, honestly think Putin planned his press conference to coincide with Bush's State of the Union address?

For whose benefit would this coincidence of events have been?

For the domestic audience? As you half-acknowledge, Russians couldn't care less about Bush's State of the Union address. (I'm British, and follow American politics, and frankly it doesn't even register to much for me, let alone the average Russian!)

As for the goading bit... well, of course they goad the West. Just like the West goads them. Or are the Russians simply supposed to concede that, shucks, those Westernes have outthunk us again, darnit! May as well just suck it up.

As for the rest: I totally agree about the ridiculous stairs into the Moscow (though not, I should add, the Petersburg) metro. Whatever were they thinking?

W. Shedd said...

Yes ... as I think that Putin has only had something like 4 or 5 press conferences in eight years, and can schedule it at any time he wishes ... that it is not a coincidence he gave a 2-1/2 hour press conference the same day as the annually scheduled State of the Union Address.

Further, Putin's government has shown a real tendency to force itself on the front page of the news on a daily basis ... either by creating news or by pressuring the TV and newspapers in that country. It is also part of the chip that Russians carry on their shoulder, regarding the west.

I don't think Western Europe "goads" Russia half as much, as Russia behaves defensively and with the aforementioned "chip on the shoulder." Perceived insults are everywhere in the mind of the Russian government, or so it seems to me. I've often thought that if Bush came out with a statement that the sky is blue, that Putin would release a contrary statement saying that Russian scientists have determined it is actually a shade of azure.

It is funny that you don't care about the State of the Union address, as I was quite impressed with the number of Brits who were writing about it on the BBC's website. Seemed like Brits were talking about it more than Americans.

I try to stay away from politics on this blog ... so many other blogs love to talk about Russian and international politics ... but I do think it is horribly naive to think that Putin didn't schedule his press conference for the same date as the State of the Union address for a reason. Just too big a coincidence. And had Putin given it on another date, it would have made it much more likely that Bush's annual address might have been front page worthy, even in Russia ... on a slow news day.

W. Shedd said...

One point regarding the timing of Putin's speech: I had thought the State of the Union address always (since 1934) falls on the 5th Tuesday of the year, which typically would make it the 1st Tuesday of February. But in fact, its scheduling is a bit more loose than that, falling usually on the 1st Tuesday in February, but only once 1934 on January 31st. The date for this years SOU speech was announced around December 12th. So it is possible that if Putin had scheduled this press conference before December 12th, that it was a coincidence. In either case, he scheduled it for a Tuesday within a week of the annual State of the Union address, which is held every year at approximately this date. Considering how rarely Putin has a press conference, its scheduling certainly invites comparison ... and I am sure he was aware of that.

Konstantin said...

Hmm, I cheched it at kremlin.ru - Putin gave 22 press conferences just in 2005 and 19 press conferences only for Western journalists. Where did you get that 4 or 5 press conferences in eight years. Give me the link.

Konstantin said...

Sorry, 19 press conferences only for Western journalists since 2001.

W. Shedd said...

Itar-Tass says "ITAR-TASS, Russia - Jan 31, 2006 ... This is Putin’s fifth big meeting with journalists. He held such a press conference for the first time in July 2001." This is quoted again at Regnum.ru at the following link: http://www.regnum.ru/english/582165.html

W. Shedd said...

Perhaps someone writing these news articles is making the distinction between ... a Kremlin press conference, a Putin press conference, or a "big" Putin press conference. Unfortunately, I have not been following the time and date of every press conference by Putin ... and if the writings of ITAR-TASS or others misled me, than that is my mistake. However, they do say no press conferences before 2001 and this was only the "5th big meeting" since that time (roughly annual).

W. Shedd said...

Found the original ITAR-TASS article:


"This is Putin’s fifth big meeting with journalists. He held such a press conference for the first time in July 2001. After that, such conferences were being held annually. The latest one took place in the Kremlin in December 2004. At that time, journalists were able to communicate with the president for a period of three hours and three minute"

This was widely quoted and requoted on other English language news sites, including Russian newspapers in English.

Konstantin said...

Ah! You meant ANNUAL Putin's press conferences when 800-1000 journalists gather. Does Bush's makes SOTU address more than once a year?

W. Shedd said...

State of the Union is an annual event held at the same time each year. It is mandated in the US Constitution that the President annually give Congress a "State of the Union"; it is not required that it be a speech. Tradition has held that the President give a speech for over 200 years, however. It is held at approximately the same time each year.

Again, just the mere fact that Putin is giving an annual press conference seems rather "me too". The fact that he put it on the same date or time of year as the US State of the Union only adds to that.

Lastly, I don't say that annual Putins press conference is any different than another. I quoted ITAR-TASS. If you have a problem with it, take it up with what is supposedly a respected news agency. I still have my doubts that the other "press conferences" you cited are with Putin, or with a press secretary, or whatever.

I've shown my quoted sources, but you haven't done the same. As I pointed out, a Kremlin press conference may not involve Putin, just as a White House press conference often does not involve Bush. ITAR-TASS does not use the word "annual", they call it "big" (whatever that means). I quoted them accurately, if you have a problem with it, take it up with them.

Konstantin said...