Archive | 2007
December 3, 2007

Two hours and a bottle of whiskey

russian_voter.jpg

NYTimes reporters interviewed several Russians after they voted on Sunday’s elections. Here are a few of the quotes:

“I voted for United Russia because for the last few years quality of life has improved and the country’s economy has stabilized. Without political stability, there can be no economic stability. In the presidential elections, I will probably vote for Putin: I approve of his course.”
— Dmitry Sablin

“For Putin, specifically for Putin. Everyone trusts him. We see the results of his work. I’d need two hours and a bottle of whiskey to explain all that he’s done.”
— Nadezhda Aleksandrovna

“I voted for Putin because Russia has become a strong country. I lived through that nightmare of the Yeltsin era. It’s like night and day.”
— Sergei Troshin

Voted for Mr. Putin, “for our beloved,” because “he is smart and just.” “Things are not all good, but he’s trying. Pensions are paid, and I had a free eye surgery.”
— Antonina Kotova, a pensioner

For United Russia. “I am tired of instability. I do not fear a one-party system because there are enough old people to vote for Communists. And Russia has already crossed a certain line, so we are not going to have a new father of the people in this country.”
— Larisa, a doctor

“Actually, I voted for Putin, I like him and just wanted to do something nice for him.”
— Lyudmila Akekseyevna, pensioner

Wife: “My husband voted for the Communist Party and I for United Russia. My husband has a technical education, and was swayed by the Nobel Laureates, like Zhores Alfyorov, who are in the Communist Party.”
Husband: “And in the other parties, there is only junk.”
Wife: “Don’t interrupt! I have thought long about this.”
Husband: “Yes, you’re only sorry for poor Putin.”
Wife: “Of course, there are many in United Russia whom I don’t like, so if Putin wasn’t there, I wouldn’t have voted for the party.”
— Mikhail Ivanovich and his wife, who would not give her name, both pensioners

russian_voter.jpg
No Diebold voting machines?

November 30, 2007

United Russia’s GOTV activities

russian_gotv_1.jpg

russian_gotv_1.jpg

A small sampling of GOTV, Russian style:

Ivan, power station worker, Ufa

Every worker is being forced to take an absentee ballot and instructed to vote at one particular polling station with the rest of the workforce, all together for United Russia. It will be very easy for them to count who has turned up, who hasn’t, and how they’ve voted. On every shift, in every department we are constantly being told that if you don’t comply you’ll get the sack.

Yelena, nurse, Ulan Ude
Every week we have a work briefing in our poliklinik [doctor’s surgery]. They are always pressing on us to vote for United Russia. The head doctor … says that if we don’t vote for United Russia we won’t get our Putin pribavki [federal funds added to nurses’ salaries].

Dasha, 19, student, Moscow
I was hanging out with my friends in Novogireyevo [in Moscow] near the metro. There were six of us. We were approached by a car. A young man came out. He started talking to us about the elections and said if we wanted to vote for United Russia we could get 500 roubles. I didn’t agree but four of my group did. They filled in some kind of form – name, surname and passport data. They were given the numbers of polling stations where they should go and vote and get the cash.

Anastasiya, 40, librarian, Buryatia
There was a meeting in the village where all doctors, teachers, nurses were gathered by the culture department of the local government … The doors were closed and we were like hostages. We were told write a declaration saying “I, name and surname, pledge to vote for United Russia and these are my passport details …” We were told that if United Russia got a high percentage in the village we would get a bonus on our salaries.

Natalia, 29, Novosibirsk
Some activists from United Russia came to my home. They asked if I was going to vote for their party. I said no because I don’t agree with its ideology. And they replied, Well, look, there’s blacklist of people who aren’t voting for United Russia. We know where you live and we are going to add you to that list.

Masha, student, Vladimir
We were told – you study in a state university, so you should vote for the state party. I don’t know what to do. I wanted to vote for another party. But it was so difficult to get into university, I don’t want to be thrown out.

My personal favorite was the line “Well, look, there’s blacklist of people who aren’t voting for United Russia. We know where you live and we are going to add you to that list.” I’ll have to try that out the next time I do some campaign work here in the States.

russian_gotv_2.jpg

November 29, 2007

Because he can

putin_tv_address.jpg

putin_tv_address.jpg

In a televised address, Putin urged voters to back United Russia, warning that the liberal opposition would return Russia to the “humiliation, dependency and disintegration” it suffered after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

Russian Parliamentary “elections” are being held this Sunday, with Putin’s United Russia Party set to steamroll the opposition.

His valor is extolled on billboards across the nation, and his daily feats dominate the television news. At a keynote election speech last week, his handlers even showcased a shimmying girl band singing an ode to that heartthrob in the Kremlin: “I want a man like Putin, full of strength!”

Thousands of candidates are vying on Sunday for seats in the next Parliament, but the election is really about only one politician, President Vladimir V. Putin. After steadily securing control over Russia since taking office in 2000, Mr. Putin has transformed the election into a vote of confidence on his leadership and on the nation’s economic recovery, and he is throwing the full weight of his government and party machine into the fight.

Election monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) are sitting this one out. Problems with the visa paperwork, or something like that. Employees are told by their bosses “Vote for United Russia or else…” and members of opposition parties beaten and thrown in jail:

Opposition parties have been all but suffocated by strict new election laws, scant television coverage, curbs on their ability to organize and criminal inquiries. Workers at government agencies and companies that receive state financing said they were being exhorted by their bosses to pull the lever for Mr. Putin’s party, United Russia.

A professor in Siberia named Dmitri Voronin, for example, said in an interview today that he and others at his university had been repeatedly called in by administrators and told that if they did not vote for United Russia, they would be dismissed.

[…]

Prosecutors confiscated more than 15 million campaign newsletters, calendars and fliers from the Union of Right Forces, one of the mainstream liberal parties that has come under regular harassment. In some cities, leaflets were anonymously distributed saying that the party was employing people with AIDS as canvassers.
Nikita Y. Belykh, a party leader, said he could not recall the last time that the party was covered by the main television news programs positively. Mr. Belykh was briefly detained by the police last weekend during protests conducted by an opposition coalition, Other Russia, that is led by Garry Kasparov, the former chess champion. Mr. Kasparov was arrested and sentenced to five days in jail.

[…]

He added that the party had received numerous reports from around the country of people being threatened with retribution if they did not vote for United Russia.

That was the experience of Mr. Voronin, the professor in Siberia, who lives in Prokopyevsk, 2,000 miles east of Moscow. Speaking by phone, Mr. Voronin said local United Russia officials had guaranteed party leaders that they would receive 80 percent of the vote in the region.

“They periodically summon directors of the local branches of the universities, directors of technical schools, specialized schools, head doctors of clinics and hospitals and give them instructions on how to vote,” Mr. Voronin said. “They also call together different categories of voters — for instance, young people who are going to vote for the first time — and explain to them how they should do it ‘correctly.’”

Via Robert Amsterdam (I’m amazed he has the time to blog…he’s the lawyer for Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the jailed former CEO of Yukos oil) comes this information on Nashi, the Kremlin funded youth group:

Here’s an interesting bit of exclusive news: a trusted colleague of mine has leaked to me copies of a series of worrying placards being printed right now in Moscow by the Nashi for distribution on Sunday following (or during) the successful elections. These items of propaganda urge Putin supporters to take to the streets in premature celebration, to defend the outcome before it is announced officially on Dec. 6. It is in many ways an open gesture of confession that even the Nashi don’t believe that a real election is taking place.

The posters use highly incendiary language and aggressive caricatures in the name of the president, similar to an exhortation to riot seen in other countries far less developed than Russia. I’m considerably concerned about this development, and I warn all friends and colleagues in Moscow to exercise extreme care in the days between the election and the announcement of results. It seems that the murder of a Yabloko candidate, the arrest and jailing of Kasparov and others, and the ongoing violence at any opposition rally isn’t enough to satisfy the Nashi. I fear the worst could still be yet to come.

putin_cutout_rally.jpg
I take my cardboard Putin everywhere, too

Anne Applebaum asks the question, “If Putin (and by extension, United Russia) is so popular, why even bother to harass the opposition?”:

Kasparov himself answers this question—one of many political mysteries in Russia at the moment—by arguing that Putin is far less secure than he appears to be. During a recent lecture in Warsaw, I heard him convince a large crowd that Russian opinion polling in general should be taken with a grain of salt: In an authoritarian society, especially a post-Soviet one, who tells the truth to a stranger over the telephone? He also claimed that polls asking more specific questions—”Is your city well-run? Is your mayor corrupt?”—produce a far less contented portrait of Russian society than questions like, “Do you approve of Vladimir Putin?”

Maybe so—but that doesn’t exclude the other, grimmer explanation, which is that Putin beats up his opposition because he can. The dollar is sinking, Bush is fading, and Europe still doesn’t have a unified Russia policy. Meanwhile, Russia is awash in oil money, next week’s parliamentary elections will go the Kremlin’s way no matter what, and why should the Russian president care if there’s some name-calling in the Washington Post?

Exactly. Putin…does…not…care. What can the U.S. do? Not a damn thing.

November 27, 2007

CCCP shirts now fashionable

putin_shirt.jpg

The $600 shirts, anyways. Still, I feel so trendy now.

Empowered by an oil boom that pushed the country’s trade surplus past $94 billion this year, Russia has been flexing its muscles abroad. At home, meanwhile, young and trendy Muscovites are in the throes of nostalgia for the staples of Soviet childhoods, relics of a time when the U.S.S.R. was at the height of superpower status.

That may explain why one of the most popular fashion designers this fall is Denis Simachev, who is selling overcoats fastened with hammer-and-sickle buttons, gold jewelry minted to look like Soviet kopecks and shirts festooned with the Soviet coat of arms, complete with embroidered ears of wheat.

“People in their 30s see these kinds of symbols as reminders of happy memories, like going to pioneer camp where they lived together, ate breakfast together and played sports,” said Mr. Simachev, 33, who wears his hair in a Samurai-style ponytail. He insists he is no Communist — for one thing, his overcoats sell for about $2,100 and his T-shirts for about $600. His boutique is sandwiched between Hermès and Burberry stores on a pedestrian lane, Stoleshnikov, that is one of the capital’s most expensive shopping streets.

Mr. Simachev first attracted notice with a collection of retro Olympic tracksuits emblazoned with C.C.C.P., the Cyrillic initials for the U.S.S.R., and T-shirts printed with the likeness of President Vladimir V. Putin, which served as a wink at the cult of personality forming around the leader.

By tapping into a generation that is experiencing an identity crisis, Mr. Simachev, who is also known here as a D. J., a Ducati motorcycle rider and a snowboarder, has quickly become the epitome of Russian cool for a subset of gilded Moscow youth.

putin_shirt.jpg
It’s already on my Christmas list

For those who would rather not spend $600 on a t-shirt, yet still want to participate in the resurgence of Soviet nostalgia, please note that you can acquire low-quality CCCP shirts for a few bucks at your local Russian souvenir market.

November 26, 2007

Missing Romanovs found

Tsarevich Aleksei and a Princess whose identity has yet to be determined. Discovered by a group of dedicated amateurs who spent their weekends scouring the forests outside Yekaterinburg:

Eleven people were said to have been killed that day in July 1918 on Lenin’s orders. Just nine sets of remains were dug up here and then authenticated using DNA. The remains of the czar’s son, Aleksei, and one daughter, whose identity is still not absolutely clear, were missing. Did their bones lie elsewhere, or could it actually be that they had escaped execution, as rumor had it for so long?

Only in the past few months have these questions dating from the Russian revolution apparently been resolved here, and only by a group of amateur sleuths who spent their weekends plumbing the case. In fact, it appears that the clues to what happened to the two children were always there, waiting to be found. All that was needed was to listen closely to the boastful voices of the killers.

Their accounts are in secret reports in Soviet-era archives, one of which offered the most tantalizing hint: a single phrase in the recollection of the chief killer that seemed to suggest where the two bodies might have been deposited.

“All of them wanted to leave a trace in history, for they considered that this was a kind of heroic deed,” said Vitaly Shitov, who lives in the area and undertook a review of the testimony to hunt for the remains. “They wanted to promote their roles.”

Following that wisp of a clue this summer, Mr. Shitov and other amateur investigators went to where the other remains had been found — and they kept walking. Away from the road, about 70 yards from the first burial ground, is a slightly elevated area among the trees.

It is there that the bodies of Aleksei, 13, and his sister were apparently consigned.

November 25, 2007

I’d like to lay my weary bones tonight on a bed of California stars

I was in California for the Thanksgiving holiday but am now back in hell, more commonly known as Washington, D.C., our lovely nation’s capital.

This is only the third time in the past seven years that I’ve actually spent Thanksgiving with my family, so it was a welcome change. In the past, it’s been too short a period of time to fly all the way out there for the holiday, as well as incredibly pricey, so I always opted to stay in DC (or London). This year, though, I decided to take the extra day off (Wednesday) as well as fly into the less desirable Ontario airport so that I could make it work.

Of course, with my luck, I was struck with an incredibly nasty bout of food poisoning on Monday thanks to a chicken salad sandwich from Corner Bakery. On the food poisoning scale, it was just a step above the Paris incident of ’05, in which the French attempted to kill me with Brie.

I woke up on Tuesday morning fully intending to go to work for most of the day (flight wasn’t leaving until late afternoon) but realized that I couldn’t stand up for more than two minutes without becoming incredibly nauseous, so decided I should stay home. I am not quite sure how I managed to drag myself to the airport, but looking back I really should have taken a taxi instead of the metro. After checking in, I had to sit down and rest for a few minutes before heading to the security checkpoint, which was full of newbs who were oblivious to the fact that you can’t walk through a metal detector with your cell phone, iPod, and assorted bling without setting the damn thing off.

I caught my connecting flight in Houston (where, I kid you not, a girl asked “Is there, like, a time difference between here and California?” WTF!) and arrived in Ontario before midnight. I finally got into Palm Desert a little after 1am. Unfortunately, I had to skip the obligatory double double from In-N-Out due to being damn sick.

I thought I would be over this food poisoning by Wednesday morning, but woke up in even worse shape. I basically spent the majority of the day curled up in bed, dressed in a fluffy oversized Ritz Carlton – Rancho Mirage robe (legally acquired!), downing liters of Gatorade and wishing someone would just put me out of my misery. Katerina and I were supposed to go hiking in Ladder Canyon, but for obvious reasons had to cancel.
As you can see, our training regimen for Mount K is going quite well.

Thanksgiving rolled around, and I was feeling a little better, but still not well enough to eat anything substantial. I had a few bites of mashed potatoes and stuffing, but that was about it. I am quite possibly the only American who lost weight over the Thanksgiving holiday.

By Friday morning, though, I was back to normal. My face had regained its color, and I no longer looked like a starved zombie. The rest of my time in PD seemed to be a non-stop schedule of engagements. I had people to see, double doubles to eat, Mexican food to enjoy – the usual Palm Desert activities.

This morning, I left the house at 3 to catch my 6am flight out of Ontario. While our plane was pulling away from the gate, the girl sitting directly across from me screamed “Oh my God! Did you see that?!?!” Well this is great, I thought, I’m sitting next to an insane person. But then a flight attendant said that she had seen something as well, and they both concurred that a large mouse had scurried across the aisle. So our plane pulled back into the gate, an operations crew boarded, and after several minutes of deliberation, a decision was made that we would proceed to Houston with the mouse on board. The captain announced that anyone who did not wish to fly with the mouse could get off the plane and take a later flight. No one took him up on his offer.

And now here I am, back in DC. Food poisoning aside, I loved being able to spend Thanksgiving with my family. Hopefully next year I will be able to do the same without having to fly 3,000 miles. I’ll steer clear of the chicken salad as well.

November 15, 2007

They are not helicopter parents, but they do read this blog

And they occasionally comment, for instance, on the last post:

Lindsay if you wanted to be a slacker in San Diego couldn’t you have gone to San Diego State instead of those high price schools. I think it’s a little late to think of you as a slacker, Miss LSE.
Mom & Dad

FINE! I’ll go to business school in Houston!

(I know how much you love that city.)

November 13, 2007

Fifty years of this stuff ahead of me

I’m sick of Washington.

The slacker part of me just wants to move back to California and do whatever. Live in San Diego, surf, work for whoever.

The ambitious part of me thinks that maybe I should move to Houston and work for a gigantic corporation while pursuing one of those part-time MBAs. Rice University, or something. I can’t believe I just typed that.
There’s gotta be a compromise somewhere.

November 12, 2007

London School of Evil

I’m about 300 pages into Kurt Eichenwald’s Conspiracy of Fools, which details the rise and fall of every Californian’s favorite company, Enron. One of the main players is Michael Kopper, Andy Fastow’s right-hand man and all around immoral prick (originally from Long Island…figures). He’s also a fellow alum of the London School of Economics (MSc Accounting and Finance). While reading about his financial shenanigans and overall evilness I was reminded of an article that was originally published in The Ecologist (a UK-based hippie-ish rag of no particular distinction) a few years ago. I came across it while I was an RPSS student googling for a copy of “Soviet Communism – A New Civilization” and, after reading the article, was surprised to learn that my graduate school was apparently responsible for all the evils plaguing the world.

Webb Of Evil – Sidney and Beatrice Webb, London School of Economics
The hell that bedevils society, believes THE GROW, can be traced to a single source: the academic teaching of institutions like the London School of Economics.

Surely it is no accident that the LSE was founded very largely by Sidney and Beatrice Webb, the patron saints of the Fabian Society. The Fabians are of course renowned for their promotion of large-scale, socialist, centralised planning, a gospel reducing the status of the individual citizen to that of a shopping mall customer: everything clean, neat and tidy, and the freedom of the individual to decide how he or she will live, rendered non-existent.

The Webbs travelled all over Russia as privileged guests in the heyday of the Stalinist terror, when millions were being shot and frozen to death in Siberia, or being used as slave labour on giant construction projects, or starved as a result of Stalin’s forced farming collectives. On their return, they published a massive tome entitled, believe it or not, Soviet Communism — a New Civilisation. In hundreds of pages they endeavoured to show just how democratic centralised Soviet anarchy was supposed to be. A prominent historian at the time described it as the most monumentally useless book ever written.

Today, in quite fundamental ways, the LSE continues to run true to the form of its founding spirits. At heart the Webbs were fascists, just as are Fabians in general: indeed some may argue that the prevailing doctrines being taught at the LSE exude fascism.

Yet these founding principles are only the beginning: the school’s mischief goes much deeper. Almost the first sentence any student is likely to read in one of its texts on elementary economics will reveal the school’s overall philosophical stance. He or she will be informed — as though it were a natural law, rather than the product of slipshod, amoral reasoning — that the factors of production are land, labour and capital. We need to grasp precisely what is being stated here: the LSE is saying that in economics labour, human beings — creatures gifted with powers of imagination and creativity of seemingly limitless extent, people able to love, dream and inspire, able to evoke unparalleled acts of generosity, self-sacrifice and even their own deaths in the service of their fellows — are of no more account than a bag of money or a cabbage patch. Just that.
It is a statement which annihilates morality on the altars of Mammon, a statement which demeans human striving to the level of an economic calculation and opens the doors to all the social, political and environmental disasters which have been inflicted on successive generations all over the world during the last two centuries or more.

We do, of course, need a new approach to economics, we need one that realises that human beings are not factors of production and never can be, that far from being a factor of production they are the only morally intelligible object of it, an approach which recognises that any system of teaching which denies the validity of human uniqueness is guilty of the most monstrous degrees of evil. Such denial carries with it the assumption that economic activity that ignores or rejects morality is nonetheless valid and generally acceptable.

But economic activity divorced from or opposed to moral principle is simply brigandage. However much the brigands may manipulate global markets, receive knighthoods and other decorations, operate in giant, opulent city offices and generally dominate the political and social scene, brigands they are and brigands they remain.
Today we are surrounded by portents: global warming, finite resource rapacity and excessive squandering; the elimination of a vast range of entire species of fauna and flora, all vital to ensuring the planet’s otherwise self-sustaining equilibrium; the proliferation of thermonuclear, chemical and biological war weapons now able to eliminate life over large areas of the planet; these and more are portents of limitless disaster stemming from in-built economic assumptions. And these assumptions in turn emerge from the academic teaching of institutions such as the LSE.

Ultimately human societies are governed by the ideologies of those who control and manipulate their dominant institutions. It is the teaching of the London School of Economics, with its academic endorsement of the subjection of human uniqueness to economic processes, in addition to its endorsement of the ideology of greed as the motivating principle of today’s society, which has brought us to our present pass.

As an institution it is evil incarnate and the continuance of its current teaching inimical to any prospect of social advance or moral progress.

I do not dispute this article’s description of Sidney and Beatrice Webb, the founders of the LSE. With their praise of Stalin’s regime following their tour of the USSR, they were perfect examples of the useful idiots who turned a blind eye to the horrors of the Soviet Union. The Webbs were committed Fabian socialists who founded the LSE as an institution dedicated to the betterment of society (and for them, that ultimately meant a socialist society achieved by gradualist, rather than revolutionary, means). If they returned to LSE’s campus today, however, they would be surprised to see that their beloved academic institution is turning out a bunch of drones who line up for interviews with McKinsey & Company and Deutsche Bank (admittedly, I went from thinking I would pursue a PhD in Russian history to asking my friends “Hey, wouldn’t it be awesome to work for ExxonMobil or Shell?” Must be something in the air around Houghton Street).

LSE has certainly graduated its share of terrorists (and quite a few, if you believe the Russian government), white collar criminals, Presidential confidantes, and neo-cons, but I wouldn’t agree that the university is fascist and “evil incarnate.” If that were indeed the case, surely you’d expect the LSE Facebook groups “Future White Collar Criminals” and “Future Dictators of Third World Countries” to have more than 100 members each.

And I will neither confirm nor deny membership in either of the aforementioned groups.

November 11, 2007

By the time I get to Arizona

arizona_sunrise.jpg

Well, so much for posting every day, but whatever.

I got back from Scottsdale last night around 10:30pm. Returning to DC is always a bit depressing, especially when the temperature has dropped to a level in which flip-flops are no longer feasible, and the bullets continue to fly in your neighborhood. Also, there is no one to clean your room, bring you cappuccino at seven in the morning, or lay out your robe and place chocolates on your pillow. You have to do that yourself.

arizona_sunrise.jpg
Early morning in Scottsdale, as captured by horrible camera phone

Arizona, and especially Scottsdale, reminds me a lot of the SoCal desert where I grew up. Our hotel, situated on a beautiful golf course, could very well have been in La Quinta or Indian Wells. The weather was perfect – sunny and temps in the 80s. We went horseback riding through the desert one afternoon. I used to ride a lot when I was a kid, but can’t remember the last time I’ve been on a horse. The ride itself lasted about an hour and a half, and led us through valleys filled with giant saguaro cacti and across the Verde River, where wild horses lounged on the banks. Admittedly, I felt incredibly city-slickerish riding a horse while dressed in Puma sneakers and a polo shirt, with a Treo repeatedly buzzing in my pocket. It’s a good thing my grandfather, an Oklahoma born, cowboy boot and hat wearing, ranch-owning rodeo participant, was not around to see this faux pas.

While in Arizona, I also learned how to play tabletop shuffleboard in the hotel bar. I even somehow managed to win a few games despite having had seven pints of beer by that time. We ended up playing a bunch of guys from Honeywell, who were also in town for meetings, and I won a home security system off them (which would be quite useful in my current neighborhood – more so that a missile guidance system, anyways). When we moved on to pool, however, I lost both games so our wagers with each other ended in a wash.

The food at the hotel was delicious, but after three days of eating like the bourgeoisie, I started to crave something with a bit more of the proletarian ambiance I am accustomed to. Thankfully, the good people at In-N-Out were kind enough to export California’s finest to the citizens of Arizona:

in-n-out_arizona_sm.jpg
No, this was not all just for me

We stopped at In-N-Out on the way to the airport. I got my usual double double, fries, and chocolate shake.

Yeah, life in the energy industry is rough, I tell ya.