Daily Archives: August 3, 2008

August 3, 2008 — Contents


(1) The Sunday Photos, Part I

(2) The Sunday Photos, Part II

(3) The Sunday Sign of the Apocalypse

(4) The Sunday Book Review

(5) The Sunday Sacrilege

(6) The Sunday Funnies

NOTE: In addition to the two-part “Sunday Photos” YouTube material included below, Robert Amsterdam publishes a five-part YouTube series called “Murders in Putinland.” Well worth viewing.

The Sunday Photos: YouTube Edition

Source: Garry Kasparov’s blog.

The Sunday Photos, Part II

Is this the only thing the USSR was ever good for?

The Sunday Sign of the Russian Apocalypse

In an informal poll among LR staff members, this story has been universally agreed to be the single most repugnant piece of news we’ve ever published about Russia. It’s so repulsive that words fail us to describe the horror. So much for separation of church and state. We can only wonder what they did with the nation’s Muslim atheletes — ate them, maybe. The Moscow Times reports the blasphemy:

Russia’s Olympic team received religious icons and a crash course in Orthodox church history in China during a Kremlin cathedral service on Tuesday.

The athletes and their coaches also met with President Dmitry Medvedev for a pep talk for the Summer Games, which start in Beijing on Aug. 8.

“You are going to China as representatives of Russian Orthodoxy in a critical period of Russian-Chinese relations,” Bronnitsky Bishop Ambrosy said at the service in the 15th-century Assumption Cathedral.

The two countries have been mending once-strained ties, most recently ending a 300-year dispute with the signing of a pact demarcating their 4,300-kilometer border on July 21.

The bishop on Tuesday offered a brief history of Russian Orthodoxy in China, noting that the church had suffered because of a lack of religious freedom in the country. “Unfortunately, the life of our religion has struggled during the 20th century in China,” he said.

However, he said, the athletes will be able to worship in Orthodox churches in Beijing.

He extended to the athletes a blessing from Patriarch Alexy II, who was home resting from a recent trip to Kiev.

Before the church service, the entire Olympic delegation attended a meeting with a cautiously optimistic Medvedev in the Grand Kremlin Palace. “Today, we won’t make any forecasts, but all Olympians should know that we support you with all our hearts,” Medvedev said in televised excerpts of his address.

Athletes said they appreciated the attention from the president and the church. “The meeting with Medvedev was official and spectacular and was meant to give us confidence,” said Yevdokia Grechishnikova, who will compete in the modern pentathlon in Beijing. “The blessing, however, was for our souls. Without it, going to China would be hard.”

“God always helps,” said Lyudmila Bodniyeva, a member of Russia’s first Olympic women’s handball squad. “I’m glad that we’ve been promised Orthodox services in Beijing.” In a brief discussion with reporters before the church service, a priest said attendance was optional and that only one-third of Russia’s 467 athletes and coaches were expected to show up.

Francesco Cuzzolin, an Italian assistant coach for the men’s basketball team and a Roman Catholic, said he attended the church service out of curiosity. “This is just like what happens at the Vatican for the Italian delegation, but 200 times smaller,” he said.

The entire delegation was dressed in team outfits — blazers emblazoned with the double-headed eagle and sneakers and shirts patterned in a Russian folk style. Male athletes wore blue and cream, while women were in red. “I’m not sure how we look individually, but as a whole, we make a beautiful impression,” Bodniyeva said of the uniform made by Bosco Sport, a general sponsor of the the country’s Olympic team.

At the end of the church service, athletes were given diptych icons encased in red and blue velvet. The athletes hurried out of the Kremlin and onto Red Square, blocked off to visitors for the afternoon, for a buffet that included asparagus sushi and white chocolate-covered strawberries. An actor dressed as the Olympic team’s mascot, the fuzzy, giant-eared Cheburashka, was present on Red Square to greet the athletes, who for the most part ignored the creature while they ate their lunch.

The Olympic delegation will leave for Beijing over the course of the next week, according to the Russian Olympic Committee’s press office.

The Sunday Book Review

Town Hall reports:

The International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. displays a list of what are called Moscow Rules – commonly accepted guidelines for the good guys during the Cold War. Basically, they are based on a through-the-looking-glass approach to reality, where nothing is as it appears to be.

Some directories note as many as forty of these espionage nuggets, including things like, “float like a butterfly; sting like a bee” (guess who inspired that?), or “Murphy is right,” or “technology will always let you down” (actually, I think that one’s true). But ten are in the commonly accepted list:

  • Assume nothing.
  • Never go against your gut.
  • Everyone is potentially under opposition control.
  • Don’t look back; you are never completely alone.
  • Go with the flow; blend in.
  • Vary your pattern and stay within your cover.
  • Lull them into a sense of complacency.
  • Don’t harass the opposition.
  • Pick the time and place for action.
  • Keep your options open.

Author Daniel Silva [pictured] has brought these deep-background precepts to life in his latest novel that bears the actual name, Moscow Rules. His eleventh book is a bit of a departure from recent ones because it shifts from using the Middle East as a backdrop in favor of the intriguing world of present-day Russia.

The spy novel has come back home.

With the feel of a Cold War story, and a pace unmatched by most war-on-terror thrillers, this book is likely Silva’s best to date. Spy-Mystery-Thriller writers all have their favorite characters. John Le Carré gave us George Smiley, William F. Buckley introduced us to Blackford Oakes, Jack Higgins writes about Sean Dillon, and, of course, there’s Vince Flynn’s creation, Mitch Rapp. But in art restorer-Israeli top spy Gabriel Allon, Silva has a hero for all seasons, shapes, and sizes – a man who is intensely human, fiercely intelligent, and quite good at what he does.

In Moscow Rules, Allon finds himself moving with ease between worlds of religion, politics, and history. From the Vatican, to a CIA house in Georgetown, to the dark and dank inner-sanctum of old Soviet-style brutality in the Lubyanka, he’s a hero for everyone who still believes that there are good guys and bad guys.

Mr. Silva’s style matches the prose gold standard of Mr. Le Carré. He then, however, leaves the Brit far behind to wallow in his well-worn and historically inaccurate arguments about Cold War moral equivalency between east and west. Moscow Rules reminds us that the U.S. and Israel, though far from perfect, provide the world a vital strategic partnership against enemies of freedom. And it’s especially important to have such a relationship up and running when nations like Russia and Iran draw close to each other for their own ends and agendas.

In a sense, Daniel Silva has written a new Cold War novel. By that I mean, a story that’s very much about how an old enemy has come back from the abyss to taunt and haunt us once again. History is repeating itself. This time, however, the weapon we ultimately used to defeat that old “evil empire” – our economic strength – is no longer completely available to us. And it’s very available to them.

Today’s Russia is vastly different from the empire we tried to contain fifty years ago. It’s a place no longer marked by colorless uniformity and severe deprivation. Quite the contrary, today we find a land of great contrasts and contradictions. And we also find a nation recently flooded with petro-dollars. If the Soviets of old had been able to tap into that kind of resource-driven wealth, the Cold War would have never ended. And the rules of engagement, even history itself, would have been very different.

The fact is that Russia today represents a greater threat to the security of the world than it ever did in the days of Cold War bipolarity. And our old adversaries are taking great pains to reconstruct an empire, one that would include their strong presence, as was once the case, in the Middle East.

Daniel Silva’s story is told against this backdrop, and it has a ripped-from-the-headlines feel. Readers encounter stories that are reminiscent of recent real-life dramas such as the intriguing murder of former FSB Colonel Aleksandr Litvinenko, who died while investigating the death of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya. The new Russia is starting to strongly resemble the old Soviet Union – only with nicer cars.

Along the way, the novel takes the reader on a jet-set paced ride to places like Saint-Tropez, Courchevel, Paris, London – but back time and again to Moscow. All the while it tells a cautionary tale, one that should be widely heard these days. It’s not just the Islamists we should be watching – and watching out for – we need to keep our eye on that big old bear roaming once again in the global woods.

As Russia becomes stronger and stronger, and as its leaders tighten the reins more and more on all aspects of national and international life, the world becomes a more dangerous place with each passing day. Vladimir Putin and his puppet, Dmitry Medvedev, have an agenda. They have empires in their brains. And, if the past is any indicator of the future (of course it is!), they will also play by a sinister set of rules – the most important one being: the ends justify the means.

When it comes to characters out of Cold War literature and media, I can’t help but resonate with something said by Boris Badenov. No, he wasn’t a KGB leader. Nor was he ever on the wall overlooking Red Square as the missiles rode by on May Day.

Boris was a diminutive fellow with a distinct accent who, along with his wife and side-kick, Natasha, tried to foil the good guys, Rocket J. Squirrel and Bullwinkle the Moose. He had a memorable saying I thought about as I read Daniel Silva’s book, Moscow Rules. It came to mind every time one of the bad guys did something rotten. In fact, what Mr. Badenov had to say should be heeded by both candidates for the presidency this year.He said: “Never underestimate the power of a schnook.”

The Sunday Sacrilege

So much for “godless” Communism. The Telegraph reports:

The Soviet dictator, who was responsible for the deaths of around 15 million people during his 31-year reign of terror, is in second place in online voting for the Name of Russia competition.

Stalin last week surrendered a narrow lead to Nicholas II in the contest, which is based on the BBC’s Great Britons series.

But with a result not expected until the end of the year, the country’s Communists are convinced that Stalin will still emerge the victor.

While the poll, conducted by the state run Rossiya channel, has been criticised for allowing multiple voting, there is little doubt that Stalin has undergone a remarkable renaissance in recent years.

Opinion polls regularly name him Russia’s greatest post-revolution leader after Vladimir Putin, the prime minister.

The wartime leader’s resurgence owes much to the Kremlin, which under Mr Putin’s presidency appeared to support a campaign to rehabilitate Stalin, with television documentaries, films and books released in recent years eulogising him.

A newly published history text book, approved by the Kremlin for use in all schools, glossed over the more unappealing parts of Stalin’s rule and ultimately concluded that he was the Soviet Union’s most successful leader.

“Stalin is the most popular name in Russia,” said Sergei Malinkovich, the Communist party leader who is driving the Stalin canonisation campaign.

“The people have forgiven him for the repressions, the collectivization, the elimination of cadres of the Red Army and other inevitable errors and tragedies of those cruel military and revolutionary times.

“Stalin has become the true national leader of Russia. He turned a backward country into an industrial giant.”

Yet the idea of tuning Uncle Joe into Saint Joe has so far won little official backing from the Orthodox Church, which was one of Stalin’s chief victims.

Seeking to establish atheism as the Soviet Union’s official creed, Stalin destroyed thousands of churches and sent tens of thousands of priests to the gulags and their deaths.

Despite the church’s reluctance, St Petersburg’s Communists are convinced their vision will come to pass. They have already commissioned religious icons depicting Stalin with a halo round his head that have reportedly sold very well around the city.

“By the end of the 21st century, icons of St Josef Stalin will be in every Orthodox Church,” Mr Malinkovich said.

The Sunday Funnies

Translation — On the roller-coaster car is written: “Oil prices.”

Source: Ellustrator.