Daily Archives: June 10, 2007

June 10, 2007 — Contents


(1) The Sunday Photos: Oborona Edition

(2) The Sunday Essay: Gary Shteyngart

(3) The Sunday Funnies: Ellustrator Edition

(4) The Missile System Red Herring: Whom do they think they are kidding?

(5) Kick the Russians Out!

(6) Comment Publication Guidelines

NOTE: FYI, if you are interested in browsing the contents of La Russophobe in chronological order by article title, all you have to do is go to the bottom of the sidebar and click the “contents” entry in the “Index to Recent Posts” area. Clicking here is the same as doing that, and will show you a list of all the post titles for the last month (click “older” at the bottom of that page to see older lists). You can click on any post title to pull up that item. With minimum scrolling, you can efficiently scan our back issues for items of interest.

NOTE: Yesterday, our page view counter from SiteMeter rolled over the 200,000 milestone. This means that since LR was born about a year ago, pages we’ve created have been viewed by readers 200,000 times. It doesn’t mean 200,000 people have visited the blog, because each person can view more than one page per visit (by clicking one of our many links in the sidebar or in a post). To date, over 105,000 people have visited the blog (sometimes the same person more than once, of course).

Above is SiteMeter’s graphic showing our visits and page views June on June (visits are in gold, with he bar extended in red to show the total number of page views made by those visitors — last month, this number crested above 25,000 for the second time in our history). As we’ve previously said, the StatCounter service shows a significantly higher page view count than does SiteMeter, which means that the 200,000 milestone was actually reached some time ago and our current page view count is more like 230,000.

This is as much the achievement of you, the reader, as it is of the publisher and contributors. So congratulate yourself on a job well done!

The Sunday Photos: Oborona Edition

Would you like to see what a real Russian patriot looks like?

Here they are. Lots of them. The fingernail off
of any one of them is a far greater patriot
than Vladimir Putin’s entire Kremlin.

Aren’t they beautiful? These women make
Maria Sharapova look like Baba Yaga.

These are scenes from Oborona’s very first public
demonstration, taken from their website.






The Sunday Essay


by Gary Shteyngart

The New Yorker

June 11, 2007

In 1985, when I became a man according to Jewish tradition, my family summered in a Russian bungalow colony in the Catskill Mountains. The colony consisted of a dozen sunburned wooden cottages squeezed in between some unimpressive hills and a daunting forest-and-brook combination that to kids from Rego Park, Queens, might as well have been the Amazon. During the workweek, it was inhabited by grandmas and their charges (a few grandpas had survived the Second World War to play competitive chess beneath the easygoing American sun), our lives revolving around the intermittent delivery of stale baked goods from the back of a station wagon. “Bread! Cakes!” an unhappy middle-aged local woman would yell at us, and we would jostle for a week-old raspberry Danish on sale for a quarter which tasted as good as anything we had ever known.

My grandmother was always in the background, chewing an apricot down to its pit, her eyes fixed firmly on my weak, somewhat flabby body, making sure nothing and no one would cause me harm. Other kids had similar minders—women who had come of age under Stalin, whose entire lives in the U.S.S.R. had been devoted to crisis management, to making sure the arbitrary world around them would treat their children better than it had treated them. My grandmother talked about going to “the next world,” and that bar-mitzvah summer, having passed a milestone of my own, I began to see her as an older woman in decline: the shaking hands clutching the apricot pit, the trembling voice as she begged me to swallow another forkful of sausage; a figure as anxious and helpless before eternity as any other. Maybe this was what America did to you. With the daily fight for survival abated, you could either reminisce about the past or face the singular destiny of the future.

On Friday nights, we kids would sit at a picnic table by the quiet country road, alert as terriers for the difficult sounds our fathers’ secondhand cars made. I remember my first love of that year—not a girl but the gleaming new beige Mitsubishi Tredia S sedan that my parents had bought, a boxy little number known mostly for its fuel efficiency. The front-wheel-drive Tredia S was an indication that we were slowly ascending to the middle class, and whenever my father and I were out on the road I would rejoice if I saw the more basic Tredia model (the one without the “S”).

My father was at the apex of middle age then, a deeply physical man who feasted with great emphasis upon garlic cloves on hunks of black bread and who, with his small, tough physique, best resembled a cherry tomato. He lived for fishing. Each year, he would pluck hundreds, if not thousands, of fish out of streams, lakes, and oceans with a three-dollar bamboo fishing rod and a chilling competence. I believe he single-handedly emptied out a lake near Middletown, New York, leaving behind just a small school of dazed, orphaned crappies. The bar mitzvah may have made me a man, but when my father and I entered the forbidding, grasshopper-ridden forest by the bungalow colony and he reached into the ground to sift for the juiciest worms, I felt coursing through me the Russian word for “weak”—slabyi, an adjective that from my father’s mouth could reduce me to near-zero.

When we weren’t fishing, we entertained ourselves at humble cinemas in towns like Liberty and Ellenville. The movie of that summer was “Cocoon.” Its premise: aliens—Antareans, to be exact—descend upon southern Florida to offer eternal life to a group of nursing-home residents. At that point in my life, Hollywood could sell me anything—from Daryl Hannah as a mermaid to Shelley Duvall as Olive Oyl and Al Pacino as a rather violent Cuban émigré. Watching movies, I felt close to my father, removed from the difficulties of worm-gathering while being attacked by aggressive grasshoppers, free of my constant fear of getting my thumb impaled on one of the gigantic rusty hooks with which he terrorized the local trout. At the movie theatre, my father and I were essentially two immigrant men—one smaller than the other and not yet swaddled in a thick carpet of body hair—sitting before the canned spectacle of our new homeland, silent, attentive, enthralled.

Here was the geriatric Don Ameche break-dancing after being energized by the aliens’ fountain of youth, while back at our bungalow colony my grandmother and her fellow senior citizens mulled over the price of farmer’s cheese and reminisced about the Great Patriotic War. Here were Floridian palm trees, ocean breezes, and Tahnee Welch—daughter of Raquel—taking off her clothes while Steve Guttenberg, playing essentially himself, peeked through a peephole. I had never seen a woman as easily beautiful, as effortlessly tanned and as New World lovely, as Ms. Welch the Younger. The fact that my sexual awakening peripherally involved Steve Guttenberg I have gradually accepted.

The theme of the movie is immortality. “We’ll never be sick,” the character played by Wilford Brimley tells his grandson before the aliens beam him up. “We won’t get any older. And we’ll never die.” Brimley’s character is casting a fishing line into the Atlantic Ocean while his worried grandson looks on, a sliver of a boy next to a fully formed, famously mustached mastodon of a man. As my father guided home the Mitsubishi Tredia S beneath the bright rural canopy of stars, our sedan redolent of dead fish, live worms, and male sweat, I wondered why Wilford Brimley didn’t take his grandson with him to Antares. Wouldn’t that mean that he would outlive his grandson? Were some of us destined for a flicker of physical existence while others exploded like supernovas across the cold mountain sky? If so, where was the American fairness in that? That night, as my father’s healthy snores rumbled in the bed next to mine and my grandmother wandered in and out of the bathroom, I considered both the nothingness to which we would all eventually succumb and its very opposite, the backside of Tahnee Welch partly shrouded in a pair of white shorts. I wanted Wilford Brimley to be my grandpa and I wanted him to die. I kept thinking of what he told his slabyi, obsessive little grandson at the start of the film: “The trouble with you is you think too much and that’s when a guy gets scared.”

The Sunday Funnies: Ellustrator Special

Here’s an opportunity for in input from Russian-speaking readers. It seems Ellustrator is trying to show a Russian (Vladimir Putin) speaking Russian with an Indian accent and looking at a photo of Gandhi. Putin is recently reported to have said: “Since the death of Gandhi I haven’t had anyone to talk to.” The western press generally translated this (also correctly, since this was his meaning) as: “Since Gandhi, I’ve been the only one (true democrat).” Some Russophiles have claimed that Putin wasn’t serious in claiming to be a democrat, attempting to use the first translation rather than the second to show that since he wasn’t alive when Gandhi was, he wasn’t serious. If they’re right, it’s a horrifying thing to contemplate that Putin would joke about such an issue while enmeshed in massive world criticizm over his anti-democratic moves, hardly a presidential thing to do (not unlike when he joked about rape in front of an official Israeli delegation). LR would find it much more disturbing that he would joke about such a subject than that he would actually believe he’s a democrat. The latter only implies mental infirmity; the former implies pure evil. Russians all over the internet have been having a good time with this statement. They’ve been poking fun at Putin, as if he had some lifetime love of Gandhi as has been longing for him daily since his death. The caption has Putin rambling on about how centralizing power (building the “verticals of power” as they call it in russian) will lead him to Nirvana, and how a third term is his Karma/destiny. But it seems that perhaps there’s something else going on in Ellustrator‘s mind as well, like maybe it’s a takeoff on an actual Hindu prayer based on a remembrance of the time when Indian culture was a fad in the Soviet Union as the USSR tried to expand its influence in South Asia. Further commentary from Russians would be most interesting.

The leaders of Western Europe (Germany, France and the U.K.) shove Bush towards Putin and tell him: “Now go tell him what we think about him, and whatever you do, DON’T LOOK INTO HIS EYES!”

NB: These are LR staff translations, our professional translators have nothing to do with them. We’ll be delighted to be informed of any errors.

Russian Duplicity Knows No Bounds: The Missile System Red Herring

The EU Observer reports that Russia’s alternative suggestion for a missile defense system outside Eastern Europe is so full of holes it makes Swiss Cheese look like Cheddar. It’s clear from Russia’s panicked reaction that this idea is a brilliant one, and must go forward exactly as planned. Now, at last, Russia can taste the results of provoking the entire world into a second cold war. It’s quite amazing that even after being whipped in the first cold war, Russians not only want a second but continue to believe they are so much smarter than we are that they can dupe us with ridiculous red herrings of this kind.

The head of NATO has welcomed Moscow’s apparent backing down from its Cold War rhetoric over the US plan to place an anti-missile shield in central Europe, but also cautiously questioned Moscow’s offer to use a Russian-operated radar base in Azerbaijan instead. “I am not a technician but I do think that the geographic location of Azerbaijan is different from other choices that the United States has made”, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said on Friday (8 June), although he did not draw any final conclusions. “It is a bit close to the rogue states”, he added, however, referring to Washington’s argument that the envisaged system – consisting of 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar base in the Czech Republic – is meant to defend the US and Europe from Iran and North Korea.

Mr Scheffer’s comments come a day after Russia opened a new front in the already overheated debate. Speaking at the G8 summit in the German city of Heiligendamm on Thursday (7 June), president Vladimir Putin announced he had secured agreement from Azerbaijan to use its Soviet-era radar station Gabala, which Kremlin leased for ten years in 2002. The station is said to be capable of detecting all launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles in Asia and parts of Africa. “This will make it unnecessary for us to place our offensive complexes along the borders with Europe”, Mr Putin said on Thursday (7 June), referring to his previous icy warning that he would target Russian weapons towards European territory, if the US builds its missile shield in Europe. In response, US president George W. Bush described the proposal as “interesting” and something to be further studied by military experts.

Mr de Hoop Scheffer, for his part, stressed that any given solution should not create an A-league and a B-league within NATO. “For me indivisibility of security remains the key principle”, he said. At the same time, the NATO chief slammed Kremlin for its sharp tone which he described as “unhelpful, unwelcome and anachronistic.” “We need to get on with addressing together the 21st century security challenges, rather than resurrecting those from the past”, he said, adding “it is always useful, when the two presidents – Bush and Putin – constructively talk to each other on this subject”.

Who decides?

Meanwhile, Russia has made it clear that in its view the ball is in the US’ court, with the Russian parliament’s Konstantin Kosachev saying the White House’s response will reveal its true colours. “If the Americans reject Russia’s offer under a certain pretext, we will know for sure that their true goal is not only to stave off a potential threat from Iran or North Korea, but also to neutralize Russia’s nuclear potential, which we could have assumed earlier,” Mr Kosachev was cited by Russia’s news agency RIA Novosti. But according to Tim Williams from the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, Russia’s offer is “politically motivated . . . to cause problems in negotiations with Prague and Warsaw as well as in discussions within NATO”. The Azerbaijan radar station involved in the proposal is not a “sensible” substitute for the Czech site, as it is so close to Iran that it can become a target and too far from the planned US interceptor base in Poland, Mr Williams argued, adding it was Russia who should explain its true intentions.

According to a NATO diplomat speaking to EUobserver, it is unlikely that Washington would sacrifice its Czech base, as the offer was already tabled at the working level of the NATO–Russia Council few weeks ago, but the two sides disagreed on one fundamental issue. While the Kremlin portrays the Azerbaijan site as an alternative to a site in central Europe, Washington considers it to be a contribution to the broader system. In addition, it is “a matter of trust”, a diplomat said, rhetorically asking whether it is possible to put a key part of the missile defence system in the hands of Russia after the recent war of words. We would run a risk that the second part will complicate the access to crucial systems in times of a crisis, he said.

Condi Rice is not fooled. She’s announced the US will go ahead with its own plan, ignoring Putin’s silly artifices.

Kick the Russians Out!

The June 4th editorial in the Telegraph:

Kick the Russians Out

Russia’s membership of G8 is becoming awkward. If it were not for Vladimir Putin’s presence at the table at the annual summit, the principal topic of conversation would be him.

Relations between Russia and the West are at their worst since the end of the Cold War. There have always been arguments about Nato expansion, human rights abuses in Chechnya, UN vetoes and Russia’s sympathy for its erstwhile allies in the Third World, including Iran.

Now, though, the quarrels have moved closer to home. Moscow is furious about the US’s anti-missile defence shield and, as we report today, President Putin has threatened to aim Russian missiles at European cities.

At the same time, Russia is accused of violating the 1990 Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, which set upper limits to the deployments of the former Cold War blocs.

The Kremlin has used energy prices as a weapon against Ukraine, Moldova, Romania and Bulgaria, cracked down on imports from Georgia, banned beef from Poland and flooded the email system of the Estonian parliament.

And, in the background, there is the continuing row over the Litvinenko murder, where Russia at best is being obstreperous and at worst may have been involved in the assassination – the assassination, let us recall, of a British subject living under the Queen’s peace.

It is worth asking why Russia is in the G8 at all. It certainly doesn’t qualify on the basis of the size of its economy. The answer is that it was admitted under Boris Yeltsin in the hope that membership would encourage further democratisation.

Yet such freedom as was introduced in those years is now being revoked. Russia is showing all the signs of incipient dictatorship: the harassment of opposition politicians, the closure of independent media, the arrest of dissidents on spurious charges.

Membership of G8 bestows a credibility on the Putin regime which its actions no longer merit. It is time to go back to G7.

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