Monthly Archives: March 2016

Children in charge

Let’s start with a little story time. A long time ago, when I was probably about seven, I had a little spat with some of the neighbor kids that shared the same after-school babysitter. At some point I unleashed my nuclear option at the time- I flipped them the bird. The two kids immediately said that they’d tell my mother that I’d used the rude gesture when she arrived to pick me up. Yeah, pathetic little snitches, I know. Of course this was a pretty serious threat in those days so I had to come up with a plan.

The first part of the plan was a little hazy, but I think I remember trying to spot my mom’s approaching car and get into it in the driveway, hopefully avoiding the two tattle-tales. As I remember this part of the plan worked, but for some reason she actually had to go visit the babysitter’s apartment, and that’s when I needed a Plan B. With the tactical thinking of a seven-year-old Sun Tzu, I came up with a brilliant gambit. I informed my mother that these two kids, who she would probably see in the apartment, were planning to lie to her about me, claiming that I gave them the middle finger. Jimmy, you magnificent bastard!

Of course this was met with skepticism.

“Why would they tell me you flipped them off if you didn’t do that?”

“We were arguing, and then they said they’d do that,” a basic paraphrase of my defense.

“Okay but why would they say you did that?”

So. After Action Review time. Clearly the preemptive denial was a bad idea, because in the mind of an adult it’s suspicious when their child says that other children are planning to falsely accuse them of some very specific offense. A better plan probably would have been to keep my mouth shut until my mother finished whatever business she had with the babysitter. For one, the children might have given up on their snitching plans, given their typically short attention spans. But had they told, I could have just feigned exasperation at their claims, as though I had no idea what this so-called “middle finger gesture” meant. It could have failed, but it had a much better shot than my proactive course of action.

The lesson learned? If you’ve done something bad, and you know someone’s about to expose it, don’t call attention to it and deny it in advance. This only invites suspicion. Of course I learned that at the age of seven, but what happens when you have a country whose leadership displays the mental age of a seven year old? Well you get this.

If you follow Russia on Twitter, you’ve no doubt heard about Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov’s recent warnings about a pre-planned “information attack” that was going to be launched by the “Anglo-Saxon” media (these guys?) against Russia and in particular, president Putin. Since then there has been some speculation as to exactly what Peskov was referring to, but today we see one possible example. Reuters, which has already broken a major story about corruption and Putin’s daughters, recently published another story that deals with corruption and the president’s family.

Typically the response of any Kremlin official to any revelation of their corrupt dealings is to blame America, specifically the State Department. Investigations such as that published by Navalny about the dirty deeds of prosecutor Chaika and his son are alleged to have been “ordered from abroad,” which of course means America. Naturally nobody ever comes forward to try an debunk any of these charges, nor do they ever present evidence that people like Navalny are working in conjunction with the US State Department or intelligence services, something that should be a piece of cake for the FSB. This time, however, the game plan had changed. Peskov and some other Russian “experts” were openly predicting an “information attack” against president Putin, as though everyone in Russia doesn’t already know that there’s corruption surrounding the president. In other words: “The West is going to say a bunch of mean things about our Glorious Leader and corruption, but don’t believe him because it’s just an information attack.” It didn’t work for seven-year-old me, and it hasn’t worked for the Kremlin either.

I could just end it here, but there are a couple more examples in that TASS article which demonstrate what I mean when I say that the country is in the hands of people with the minds of children. In that article, the author makes the case for their US government-ordered “information attack” by drawing a link between the Center for Public Integrity and one of its funders, the MacArthur Foundation. In the minds of pro-Kremlin “experts,” all you need to do is find a link between one thing, another thing, and then yet another thing that has some connection to the US State Department and then- BINGO! The whole investigation is nothing but a government-sponsored information attack!

In adult land, however, it’s worth taking a look at what this mysterious Center for Public Integrity organization actually is. The Center for Public Integrity was founded by ex 60 Minutes producer Charles Lewis, and its stated mission is “to reveal abuses of power, corruption and dereliction of duty by powerful public and private institutions in order to cause them to operate with honesty, integrity, accountability and to put the public interest first.” Hmmm…I don’t see anything about “fuck Russia” in there. But let’s dig deeper, starting with their home page. As of the time I was writing this, I didn’t notice any stories about Russia on the entire front page.

What are most of the stories about? The vast majority are about problems with American politics, and they certainly live up to their claims of being non-partisan. In fact, the CPI achieved fame early on for exposing the Lincoln bedroom scandal under the Clinton administration, and Bush’s insider trading in connection with Harken energy. How did I know about that, you ask? I’ve known it for years, ever since I watched this documentary that heavily features commentary from Charles Lewis and material from the CPI:

 

Yeah, there’s a real neocon film for you! That’s exactly the sort of thing the State Department would be associated with. Of course I’m just kidding. It’s obvious that this 2003 documentary, which is extremely critical of Bush’s Iraq invasion among many other US government policies, must have been nothing but an early information attack constructed by Vladimir Putin’s fledgling propaganda machine. They were just jealous because of America’s successful conquest and pacification of Iraq!

Obviously I jest, but that does seem to be the way many of these pro-Kremlin people think. Because their media system is largely a state-controlled top-down structure that sees information war and propaganda as its mission, a priori deciding that objective reality doesn’t exist, they assume, or I should say project the same idea onto the rest of the world’s media. They actually believe that journalists all around the world deliberately make up negative stories about Russia, when “negative” includes anything that contradicts the Kremlin’s narrative, and of course their editors are happy to publish those phony stories without question. Why not? This is how it works at First Channel; it must be how it works everywhere! It has to be, because otherwise feelings of guilt and uneasiness might arise. Best to believe everyone’s doing the same thing.

Let’s get one thing straight. There is bias in foreign media when it comes to Russia. If you pitch two stories to an editor, one about the vibrant new life one sees in Moscow’s new pedestrian areas and the other about some random Russian politician’s empty threats about nuking some country, we all know which one is more likely to get published. Add to this a very bizarre obsession with prostitution and mail order brides, particularly in the British press. But on the other hand, if you come to an editor and say you have a story about Russian soldiers butchering children in Donetsk, and when they ask you about your source and you reply that it’s just “some guy” but that the story should be published because it makes Russia look bad and we’re in an information war, you’ve got until the time that editor realizes you’re not joking before getting sacked. You’re done. Forever. In the Russian state media, however, this just doesn’t happen. If your story turns out to be bogus, you just shift the burden of proof to the viewers and say they must show that a certain little boy wasn’t crucified in Slovyansk.

It’s child-like thinking, and it’s just another reason why people really need not panic about this Kremlin propaganda offensive. It’s own internal contradictions essentially guarantee its demise, especially considering how much money is being spent on such an ineffective project. Any dissent within the system will almost inevitably be seen as disloyalty, and as is the case everywhere else in the power vertical, flattery and sycophancy get rewarded. The best they can do is confuse and spread cynicism, and if they’ve had any success at all it is largely due to the failure of Western governments. What sort of leaders let themselves be bested by children anyway?

Then again, maybe we got Peskov wrong all along. Maybe there is a bullshit story about Putin coming out of the West. Perhaps he was referring to this story that claims Putin is now dating Rupert Murdoch’s ex-wife Wendi Deng. But hey, if it’s true I say good for him. Deng really sticks up for her man:

The Lost Art of Awesomeness, reborn in Russia

Do you remember a time when movie posters weren’t just blue and orange? Remember when movie posters and video game boxes were awesome? What do I mean by awesome? See below:

exterminator

That, dear readers, is the art of awesomeness. Where do I even begin to describe the sheer insanity of this masterpiece? Alright first of all we’ve got a guy who clearly does not give a fuck. Massive explosion behind him. Zero fucks given. The beautiful woman who is mildly concerned about the explosion clinging to his shoulder? Nope. Still reading 0.0 on the Fuck-o-meter. Why is he so nonchalant? There are some mysteries man is not yet ready to know, but I think it has something to do with that gun.

I mean look at that weapon! It is as far beyond our most modern firearms as they are beyond the first matchlock muskets. It spits in the face of all known knowledge of firearms engineering. It literally feeds from three magazines at the same time, and seems to consist of a double-barrel shotgun, an assault rifle, a grenade launcher, and two who-the-fuck-knows-whats on the bottom. I don’t care how many Magpul after-market parts you put on your AR-15; it will never achieve but a fraction of this awesomeness.

Of course in America, the other source of artistic awesomeness was to be found on the cover of home video games, such as those for the NES, Sega Genesis (Mega-Drive for you Europeans out there), and SNES. Let’s take a look at a couple of examples.

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You picked the wrong day to break out of your glass tube, Mr. Giant Scorpion!

That there is the box art for the first release of a Contra game on the Nintendo Game Boy. Now I can tell you from personal experience that prior to this release, nearly all Game Boy games were puzzle-games, typically variations on Tetris. That ended with Operation  C, and the very box itself seems to proclaim just that.

Just look at that! Drink it in. We’ve got a massive mutant scorpion that’s just clawed its way out of a glass tube in some kind of lab, but just before it can turn and claw our hero to shreds he starts pumping round after round into its thorax with what appears to be some kind of futuristic assault shotgun.

Hell, back in my day, even silly-looking games had incredible box art. Just look at this clusterfuck:

amagon

What’s going on in that picture? Well let me rephrase that so we won’t be here all night: What’s not going on in that picture? You’ve got everything. First we’ve got the contrast: despite very Mario-style cartoony graphics, our happy ginger hero is blazing away with what is clearly meant to be an M16A2 (yeah I know it’s ejecting from the wrong side, gun nerds). Virtually everyone around him is terrified by this. That weird lizard thing by his left leg, that skull, and even the metal Wehrmacht bird behind him. The dinosaur just looks kind of pissed, but then again there’s a fuckin’ dinosaur in this picture! Then you’ve got the evil crab. The evil grab isn’t impressed. He’s about to sink one of his claws into our hero’s leg to see what happens, but something tells me he’s only going to end up getting his shell perforated by about a half dozen 5.56x45mm rounds.

This box art has everything. There’s an undead sentient skull, a weird blue lizard, a goddamned dinosaur, a UFO, an evil crab, a blazing firearm, a dude on steroids, the official seal of Nintendo… Oh and if you think this game’s a joke, go ahead and run it in an emulator. I’m betting you’ll get a game over half way through the first level.

Of course just like movie posters, game art has declined over the years. This is what the covers of our hit games look like now:

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Oh wow! Look at that angsty, brooding hero. This could just as easily have been an album cover for Staind. No surprise that the games are easier too. There’s no “Press F to win the game” in Operation C or Amagon.

Luckily, however, the art of awesomeness has not been lost. It has survived in a new medium, specifically the cover art of Russian sci-fi and alternative history fiction. In the past I’ve shared a few examples of such art, but today I’ve got a much larger haul. Let us experience and evaluate some of the finest specimens of Russian fiction book covers.

american

The first example is from the book The American: Path to the North by Roman Zlotnikov and Igor Grinchevskiy. This piece resonated with me because it’s called “The American” and in fact this image captures exactly what it’s like to be an American in Russia. I mean that might as well be me on the cover there. Alright I don’t have hair like that, but the lab coat, the pocket watch, the scientific laboratory with firearms and ammunition- it’s basically as if you compressed my nearly-ten years in Russia into one image. I’m sure other American expats and former expats would feel the same way about this image.

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There’s plenty of modern Russian art depicting WWII scenes, but how many of them have a Red Army soldier wielding dual TT33’s John Woo style, shooting an Estonian Waffen SS man? The answer is I have no idea, but this book cover sure does. Had to take points off for the cuffs on SS-man’s tunic, however.

book2

Look, I’m the first person to say that the whole zombie genre isn’t just getting old- it’s been old for at least five years by now. But if Hollywood is going to give us Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, we might as well have a zombie apocalypse set in the early Soviet Union. And if we have Stalin armed with a hammer and decapitating zombie Trotsky with a sickle well, so much the better.

bookcover

Tsar Nicholas II and his father Alexander III blazing away with machine guns designed in the state which overthrew their regime (and killed the former). What else can I say about this? I can’t help but notice this book has three authors. The only thing that could make this novel more awesome is if neither of them ever spoke to one another until after the work was published.

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Okay this book, entitled A Conversation With the Leader, posits one of the most simplistic alternative-history premises I’ve ever seen. What if, at the battle of Brest fortress in 1941, one of the defenders had a cell phone and could call Stalin with it? How would this change the course of history? One hopes that in addition to giving our hero a cell phone, the author also remembered to give the USSR a functioning cellular network as well. Otherwise this phone would be reduced to a mere distraction device to confound the German besiegers.

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Young Andrei Ivanov was always getting trouble at school. The bigger kids picked on him. His teachers said he’d never achieve anything. His parents yelled at him. He thought he was a loser…until one day. Now Andrei has been transported back to the battle of Prokhorovka in 1943! But does he have what it takes to go from zero to hero and liberate his Motherland from the fascist invaders? There’s only way to find out! Master the Russian language so you can read this novel.

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Trotsky becomes a Ukrainian nationalist and attacks Stalin, who defends himself with a portrait of Lenin. I really don’t know what to say here. My thought process has ground to a halt.

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Alright let’s start with the obvious- that’s a Nazi SS man wielding the M41A pulse rifle from Aliens. No, it doesn’t just look like it, it is the pulse rifle, full stop. Beyond that this cover turns it up to 88 with Hitler, flying saucers, and what I can only assume are snow panzers. The only question is- can allied agents manage to survive long enough to organize a resistance movement among the Antarctic penguins and end the Nazi occupation once and for all? I think we all know the answer is: You’re goddamned right they can!

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Okay so we’ve got a WWII era Red Army soldier equipped with late 30’s era German sub-machine gun killing a 1920’s Civil War era Bolshevik commissar of some sort, ostensibly to save the Russian emperor. How is this not going to cause a time paradox?  Imagine that- renegade Red Army soldiers team up with the Nazis to travel back in time and save the Russian empire from the Bolsheviks. Then, as soon as they rescue the Tsar’s family and kill their captors, each member of the time-traveling assassination squad suddenly realizes that he is illiterate, and dressed in traditional Russian peasant clothes. Oh yeah- their kids all died before they reached the age of five.

putinshirt

If only there had been Putin’s Russia instead of the Soviet Union during the Second World War! Driven on by love for their glorious leader, the ethnically homogeneous Muscovite Russian army would have easily defeated the entire Wehrmacht with knives instead of wasting precious bullets. Who needs that Red Army anyway? It was so full of Ukrainians it might as well have been the UPA!

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All I have to say about this cover is that my wife is very lucky this young woman doesn’t actually exist.

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So this cheerful novel is called Death to Britannia, and the cover is a depiction of what Anne Applebaum believes will immediately happen to the UK should it exit the European Union. Of course the comparison isn’t 100% accurate, because like many of those other books, this novel is alternative history. In this case we’ve got contemporary Russian paratroopers descending on what appears to be late Victorian Britain (the rifle appears to be inspired by the Martini-Henry). Of course just to make it “fair,” our Russian heroes are using PPS machine pistols from the WWII-era. There’s no sport in it if there’s no challenge, right?

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Saving the best for last, we have a Russian police officer magically transported to a fantasy world. Noting that the brave mounted knight may in fact Central Asian in appearance, our hero detains him with his sword.

“I bid thee halt, good citizen,” officer Kuznetsov said, saluting with his new found blade.

“Wherefore did thou stoppest me, officer?” asked the rider in a clearly foreign accent.

“I must see thy documents if thou wishest to pass!”

Hanging his head in exasperation, the rider reached into a saddle bag and produced the desired item- a scroll of vellum wrapped in hemp twine. He handed it to Kuznetsov with a sigh.

Kuznetsov looked over the strange writing and frowned.

“Thou hast not the proper seal on thy document, good rider, I fear that this carries a penalty of four hundred gold coins!”

The rider rolled his eyes.

“Perhaps, dear officer of the law, there is some way I could pay this penalty…here and now?”

Kuznetsov nodded. The rider reached into his saddle-bag again and tossed a small but heavy sack into Kuznetsov’s waiting hand.

“Methinks thou will find all the proper seals on those documents, sirrah!”

Kuznetsov felt the weight of the bag in his hands and peered into the opening at the top. Gold sovereigns, fifteen or twenty at least.

“Indeed, good rider, these documents have the proper seal. I dare say everything is in order. Thou art allowed to pass.”

And thus the rider saluted and went on his way. Kuznetsov pocketed the gold and began walking along the road toward a small town. Hopefully it would have an inn that could offer him both victuals and lodging for the night, for the next day he would set off on his true quest- the Dark Fortress Morthian at the foot off Dragonskull Mountain. There he would either wrest the Amulet of Wisdom from the corrupted elf-mage Q’alla’dain or he would perish like so many others who came before, their bones piled high about that cursed land!

***

Thus concludes our brief survey of the art of awesomeness in Russia. I look forward to feedback from the reader, as well as other examples of awesome art from around the world.

Kovpak’s Law

I’m coining a new term. Kovpak’s Law. Mark the date. What is Kovpak’s Law? Well it’s similar to Poe’s Law, which states that without knowing the author’s intent, it is difficult if not almost impossible to tell the difference between an extremist viewpoint and a parody of said viewpoint. Kovpak’s Law is a variation on this which states:

Some Kremlin propaganda is so bad that one cannot determine whether it is the product of gross incompetence or intentional sabotage from within.

In my studies I have learned that there is strong evidence of deliberate but subtle sabotage within the Kremlin propaganda machine. It is quite possible that many Russian students and young people working in media or pro-Kremlin youth groups may resent their bosses and their mission and thus have set about to sabotage the message in various ways. At times the various fuck-ups in Kremlin propaganda are so great as to suggest that there was some effort behind them, as in this case of a propaganda art exhibition. The saddest thing is that you almost feel sorry for their bosses, because the Kremlin pours a lot of money into these efforts and due to their lock-step mode of thinking they are unable to create any semblance of quality control within their ranks.

One might ask why I’m choosing today to unveil my new “law.” Well as it turns out, we actually have a new case study that concretely demonstrates the law in action. Take a look at this video:

 

Now I already know what you’re thinking- it’s fake. Of course it is; it’s been traced to the Savushkin Street Troll Factory. What interests me, however, is how badly it was faked. I’m not going to go through the many obvious mistakes and inconsistencies, but rather I want to focus on the areas where it almost seems they made an effort to screw this up so badly.

First let’s take the text. Most Russians with even an intermediate level of grammar could write better than this. It shouldn’t be hard to find a few who are advanced, who can then watch some actual gun reviews and then come up with something far more believable. And speaking of watching gun reviews, note how the video makes it seem as though the point is to prove that “American weapons are the best ever.” In truth American gun enthusiasts, including if not especially veterans, love many Russian or Soviet weapons. Saiga shotguns, last time I checked, are respected. The Kalashnikov is highly regarded and there are plenty of Americans who will defend it online indefinitely. Nothing about the theme of this video makes any sense whatsoever.

The accent. Come on- really? I get that they hoped using a dark-skinned man would make it easier to believe that this video was made by Americans, but in many places it sounds as if the voice was added later and it appears to have some kind of African accent. Do you know what I would have done if I were making such a video? I’d get the best English-speaking Russian I could find and give him a name tape that has some Slavic surname on it. I’d trick an expat into recording a clip for me where they say something like: “Hey KOWALSKI! Just shoot the fuckin’ thing already!” Bingo- he’s the child of Polish immigrants. Accent explained. Too far fetched? In basic training there was a Ukrainian immigrant in my company. Later in AIT I ran into a soldier from some Eastern European country, most likely Russia, Belarus, or Ukraine, who had an obvious Slavic accent. Hell, there was an army recruitment commercial with an “immigrant” from Ukraine. Sadly I couldn’t find that commercial on Youtube, but I did find this story about an immigrant from Ukraine in the US army.  Then again, this could be a genuine screw-up because in my near-decade stay in Russia I still encounter a widespread belief that Slavic Americans do not exist.

Now let’s talk about that uniform. It is no trouble to get NATO uniforms in Russia. In fact, they are quite popular and a lot of militaria shops actually advertise that they have NATO gear. I didn’t go over the video with a fine-toothed comb, but the most obvious inaccuracy is the helmet and the uniform, which has long since been retired by the US army. For him to be wearing that uniform the video would have to be from 2003 or earlier.

The real kicker, however, is that it would have been really easy to get realistic “American” soldiers, both for the shooter and the guy in the background who is inexplicably wearing a red and white keffiyeh. Russia has a huge airsoft community which includes all manner of reenactors. It wouldn’t take me too long to get authentic-looking US army Rangers in full battle rattle shooting at a Quran. Hell, you want authentic-looking military personnel shooting at religious literature? In the same amount of time I can get you Vietnam-era US army Special Forces shooting at a Bible. I can get British Commandos lighting up the Book of Mormon. I can get the Waffen SS to shoot at the Bhagavad Gita. Or maybe you’d prefer 1980’s Delta Force shooting a copy of Dianetics? Name your price.

Again I come back to the language. America is full of jackasses who make a big deal about publicly destroying Qurans. At no point does this “American” jackass mention that he is shooting a Quran. In the beginning he says “It is not a weapon. Strike a book.” Later he says what sounds like “I shoot this book here.” Again, even an intermediate speaker of Russian could do better than this, at least when it comes to writing. It’s almost as if someone wanted this to sound like bad English, and if that was the case- mission accomplished.

The text says that the Saiga 410k fires the same round as the Kalashnikov rifle. Of course it does not. Saiga mainly makes shotguns, and the 410 is a shotgun. There is no way an American soldier would mix up shotgun shells of any gauge and the 7.62x39mm or 5.45x39mm Kalashnikov rounds. Saiga shotguns can often be found in Russian shooting ranges, of which there are several within short distance from Savushkin street in St. Petersburg. And lookie at what we have at one of those ranges- the last weapon is a Saiga 410k. The choice of the Saiga also seems odd, as if it wasn’t what they originally wanted but rather was the only weapon the range would allow them to use.

The “soldier” complains about accuracy and claims to have made a bet against another soldier for $10. Yet when he fires the weapon he is essentially firing from the hip. If I’m going to make a bet with somebody about whether a weapon is accurate or not, I’m going to be the one who fires it, and if I did let them fire it I’d never agree to let them shoot from the hip. All US army personnel must qualify in Basic Rifle Marksmanship and re-qualify with their assigned weapons every six months thereafter. Also, isn’t it odd how they’d make a bet about the accuracy of a shotgun?

At the end of the day it’s clear that the people in charge either gathered the absolute worst, most incompetent people for this job, or the people responsible for the video made a deliberate decision to make it as laughably bad as possible and thus expose it as a fake. In either case it gets disseminated and the makers get paid by the government because in the minds of those in charge of this idiotic failed strategy, it doesn’t matter how fake it is. It’s disinformation! It will confuse Russia’s enemies! I can almost see the guy in charge waving his hands around menacingly as he explains this to his superiors, who then shake his hand and assure him that the money will keep flowing.

Personally I wonder where this will lead to next. Will they start breaking the fourth wall in the future? Will there ever be a point where someone gets publicly fired after putting out a video so unbelievably idiotic that nobody can claim it has some kind of information war value? This video makes you wonder what it will take for the whole ineffective, wasteful operation to get shut down.

 

 

F#@k it.

Once again terrorism has struck Europe, this time in Brussels, and the whole cycle begins anew. What cycle am I referring to? I guess the best comparison is something like a morbid, shameful version of “the 12 Days of Christmas.”

We’ve got Americans who’ve never had a passport talking about how this could have been prevented if only Belgians could carry concealed handguns.

Out of those, a certain portion will explain what they would have done in that situation, had they been allowed to carry their concealed firearm.

There are the Islamophobes screaming “I told you so” while totally ignoring the fact that the vast majority of Muslims don’t do anything like this, and if even 1% of them were, European cities would look like a war zone.

We’ll get the over-compensating liberal who insists that this has “nothing to do with Islam at all.”

There’s the snarky little shit who needs to remind everyone that changing your Facebook profile pic “doesn’t actually do anything,” because obviously anyone doing that believes that it does.

There’s the radical leftist demanding to know why these people didn’t change their profile pic to the flag of some other country that recently suffered a terrorist attack, just as they did as soon as they heard about the attack in Brussels.

Perhaps another leftist, maybe the same as the one above, will immediately remind everybody that this terrorism is the result of foreign policy, specifically that of the US, because otherwise nobody would know. And yes, I’ve already received reports of folks like this blaming the attacks on Belgian colonialism in the Congo. You read that correctly.

You’ve got Russian political figures rubbing their hands with glee over the misfortune of Europeans. And before you claim that there wasn’t enough sympathy over the Russian Sinai airliner bombing- keep in mind that the Russian government took a long time to even acknowledge the possibility that it was a terrorist attack even as Western governments were strongly suggesting that terrorism was the cause of the disaster.

And I don’t even need to check to know that hundreds if not thousands of people were declaring the attacks to be a “false flag” staged by the government even before the blood dried.

 

I don’t pretend to have answers to this situation. Yes, foreign policy, specifically the Iraq War, played a role. Yes, we shouldn’t let that get in the way of being outraged at terrorism and the ideology that fuels it. We should stand up against xenophobia and do what we can for innocent refugees without being afraid of criticizing Islam or refusing to tolerate those who deliberately refuse to tolerate others. We ought to wake up and realize that terrorism isn’t going to be stopped by the knowledge that one in so many dozens of people might be carrying a concealed handgun. Maybe we ought to just shut up and take at least a few hours to express sympathy before we go through the usual rituals that have come to be associated with these events.

At times I can’t help but think that on some level ISIS is a kind of punishment for our collective cynicism as a species. There’s the cynicism of neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism. The cynicism of the “left.” Everybody’s attitude in the post-Iraq War world seems to be resigned, and if it had a motto it would be “Fuck it.”

Yeah okay so Trump talks about events in living memory that never happened. He’s anti-establishment. Fuck it.

Sure, Hillary is one of the least progressive liberals in history, but we’ve got to beat Trump so fuck it.

Assad kills a few hundred thousand people but some of the people fighting him are bad so fuck it.

Sure, Putin runs a right-wing capitalist regime that supports far right wing parties around the world, but he hates NATO and the US government hates him so he must be doing something right. Fuck it.

Venezuela’s leaders ran their economy into the ground while claiming to be socialists, but again the US government doesn’t get on with them so they must be right. Fuck it.

Sure ISIS slaughters people with joy, but Iraq War, so fuck it.

Afghanistan? Either way fuck it.

I can’t be bothered to actually learn about history and the politics of the Middle East, so I’ll just let some con man tell me how he’s got it all figured out with this conspiracy theory. Fuck it.

The early 21st century is a tragic period indeed. According to most indicators people are living better than they have ever lived before, with more access to information than any other generation in our relatively short history, and yet we cannot enjoy it. We cannot stand up for the most basic values, because con men used those values to dupe us into all manner of folly both at home and abroad.

I don’t want to overstate the threat of ISIS. Movements just as barbaric and destructive as theirs have lasted far longer and probably done more damage. But it seems that they’re the only people who believe in anything, as horrible as that anything is. Maybe the reason we haven’t smacked them down yet is that we have become so cynical about our values, so disconnected from them, that we can’t muster up the courage to stand up for them.

Again, I have no answers at the moment. I’m just tired. I think from now on when I see another example of the responses I’ve listed above, I’m just going to say “fuck it” and move along.

 

 

Not gonna happen

Certain Russia watchers have been throwing a fit recently over a supposed bromance between Donald Trump and Putin. They have indeed made positive comments about one another, and it would seem that the Kremlin does look forward to a Trump victory, but anyone who believes that Trump and Putin will be the next Hitler and Mussolini (which was itself a troubled marriage) is clearly not looking at the bigger picture. If you need any more proof, take a look at this video on Trump’s Instagram account:

Is this what we want for a President?

A post shared by Donald J. Trump (@realdonaldtrump) on

 

It’s pretty clearly implied that Putin is an enemy of the US, and one of its toughest to boot. The video puts Russia on the same level as ISIS, which for most Trump voters means they’re in the top tier of the rogue’s gallery that includes ordinary Muslims, Mexicans, and people who read books and think about things. It’s also implying that Hillary won’t strike fear into their hearts, which begs the question as to what Trump plans to do.

As I’ve said plenty of times before on this same topic, there will be no Trump-Putin Axis. Nothing Trump can do will stop the Putin and his media machine from shit-talking America, and a man who promises to “Make America Great Again” while insulting anyone and everyone who so much as looks at him the wrong way is not going to take that kind of verbal onslaught lying down. I’m not saying that he’s going to go to war to shut Putin up, but the rhetoric will continue to be heated, the insults will fly back and forth, and we can expect more passive-aggressive foreign policy moves on both sides.

From the Russian side, “getting along with Russia” means basically doing whatever they demand. But since doing that won’t actually lead to big improvements in Russian living standards, the Kremlin will still have a need to blame all its problems on the global American conspiracy. Meanwhile, who really expects a candidate who loves tarring his opponents as weaklings to happily give into Russian demands in a way that can be only be interpreted as unconditional surrender?

Remember, Putin can make all kind of concessions to the West and still remain relatively secure. He’s not democratically accountable and the state controls most of the press. Just like in the case of this recent withdrawal from Syria, his media machine can spin anything into a brilliant gambit. This is a luxury that Trump doesn’t have. So let’s stop with this fantasy about Trump and Putin making a pact to carve up Ukraine and Europe. It’s not going to happen.

But why is Trump making positive statements about Putin, and why does the Kremlin seem so eager for Trump to win? I cannot say for sure, but let’s start with Trump. I think Trump is very aware of what groups are supporting him. While he seems willing to say anything to anyone in order to secure their support, some of his opinions sound like dog-whistles aimed at certain people. White nationalists, who are supporting Trump in droves, have long entertained hilarious fantasies about Russia being the savior of their “race.” When Putin took power, this delusion grew even more popular as various “legends” about the man were created. Of course self-identified white nationalists are not a big enough group to influence Trump’s speeches in this way, so I’m guessing that he’s thinking about the isolationists, “paleoconservatives,” and other groups that feel so disenfranchised that they look at Russia as “the enemy of my enemy.”

As for the Kremlin’s endorsement of Trump, I can put forth a couple possible reasons. The first is that it could be a simple misunderstanding. One interesting thing about the Russian elite, and in particular their ideologues such as Alexander Dugin, is that they are utterly unaware of how little they understand about the West and the rest of the world. They all believe that Russia is so unique and esoteric that no non-Russian could possibly comprehend her, yet they simultaneously believe that they understand the mentality and culture of virtually any other country regardless of whether they’ve ever visited it or speak the language. It could be that the actually think Trump is a politician they can work with, by which I mean one that will do whatever they say.

The second possibility is that they’re actually smarter than we think. They know Trump would be an incompetent president and see him as an American Zhirinovsky-like figure. Whereas Zhirinovsky is never really considered as a serious presidential candidate in Russia, people in the Kremlin might be pleased to imagine that such a figure could actually reach the White House in the States. It’s easy to see what they would get out of this. Trump’s incompetence will lead to more domestic problems and thus more grist for RT’s mill. He won’t be able to mount any kind of defense when it comes to foreign policy. Lastly, he might be willing to go along with Russian proposals simply to make certain problems “go away.”

There is no doubt that the Kremlin has managed to forge close relationships with numerous neo-fascist and far-right parties and leaders in Europe. This does not mean, however, that they can exert the same influence over the White House, especially over such a belligerent American chauvinist. So let’s stop the hysterics about the Trump-Putin Pact of Asshattery and focus on stopping Trump, both at the ballot box and by addressing and unpacking the ideological roots of his movement.

 

A parable on expat privilege

Yesterday was, oddly enough, the first time I got a look at the area near Pushkin Square in front of the Izvestia building since the destruction of the shopping centers that used to stand there. My immediate reaction was very positive. The area looked much more open, far less cluttered. And that’s when I caught myself doing it, giving into that expat privilege.

As it turns out, this little vignette provided a example of how this mindset works. Sure, a less cluttered space was nice for me, and no doubt many Muscovites agree. However, the city authorities have failed to prove their claim that these structures were in fact illegally built in most cases. This was being disputed when the authorities suddenly started destroying dozens of shops and shopping centers in one night.

As an anti-capitalist I have no intention of weeping crocodile tears over someone’s property rights, but on the other hand I acknowledge that a functioning capitalist system is far preferable to a dysfunctional one, and for that system to function you have to have well-defined property rights and a state that defends them. What is more, there is speculation that many of these structures will be replaced by new structures owned by other, better-connected businessmen. So it’s not like their property was expropriated and socialized by the workers they were exploiting, but rather bigger capitalists managed to use the state to squeeze out smaller ones.

Getting back to the lesson on privilege, we see how many Russian citizens are just a few steps away from having their livelihood destroyed almost on a whim. While the city had warned these business owners about their paperwork in advance, many other changes in the Russian law have been made with far less warning time. Imagine, for example, if you’d had a business based around importing European food products from EU countries back in 2014. Imagine you’re an independent trucker in Russia.

Oftentimes foreigners prefer life in Russia because it is more exciting than back home. Some expats who took advantage of Russia’s weakness during the “wild 90’s” would later lament about how “boring” the country had become by the mid-2000’s. What they fail to realize is that if you are actually a citizen of a certain country, and you have no plans to emigrate, “boring” is good. Boring is stability. Boring means that your business doesn’t get knocked down in the middle of the night in spite of your legal documents being in order.

Putin’s regime managed to provide a certain level of boring in the mid-2000’s with the help of high oil prices, foreign investment, and far less batshit insane policies, but he never made the country truly predictable, i.e. boring. Now the roller coaster has crested the hill and is plummeting downward. It’s hard to predict exactly when, but soon the “excitement” will return to Russia like it did in the 90’s. No doubt a great many expats, keen on exploiting Russia’s suffering, will rejoice that they too can now live or re-live the adventures they read about in publications like The eXile. Hopefully I won’t have to witness it.

A Putin for everyone

One of the most bizarre aspects of the Putin cult is how flexible his image is, especially in the West. Vladimir Putin can basically be whomever you want. If you’re a leftist who hates the IMF and “neo-liberal” economics, Putin’s a quasi-socialist who stands up to imperialism, US hegemony, and fascism. Of course Putin presides over a state with one of the most staggering rates of wealth inequality in the industrialized world, the minimum wage is roughly 80 euros a month, and the state promotes, organizes, and supports far-right wing neo-fascist movements at home and abroad. On the other hand if you’re a far-right wing conservative who sees Putin as a defender of the Christian faith and Western values, you might be very dismayed to walk the streets of Moscow in some neighborhoods, while Kurban bayram will make you shit bricks of rage. Of course when you do, be sure Kadyrov and his friends don’t find out about it.

These days, the molding and manipulation of Putin in the minds of Westerners goes beyond simple left-right dichotomies. Now it seems whatever you hate, Putin hates, and what’s more he’s doing something about it. As it turns out, while real Putin is pulling out of Syria, Fantasy Putin is waging a new war- against vaccines. No seriously, vaccines. Check it out.

I don’t really need to think I need to thoroughly debunk something this insanely stupid, particularly since none of the quotes are properly sourced and the information supposedly comes from an “insider” in the Russian health ministry. Still, there are some really funny bits like this:

“Russian president Vladimir Putin says that Western governments are enslaving humanity through vaccines.

‘When your children are barely human, psychologically-altered bots, their nerve cells and synapses failing to connect, and their neurodevelopmental processes dulled to the point of restricting them to sub-human level repetitive grunts and gormless stares, what are you going to do then?’”

Here’s a little tip- Russia has certainly been sliding in the science department as of late, but they vaccinate children. Thank God, Allah, Carl Sagan, or whomever that Russia, as stressed as its health care system has become, vaccinates kids. Putin shut down foreign adoptions and food imports practically on a whim, so if he ever really said that the West was enslaving humanity via vaccines, he could just as easily shut that down. Hell, he’s very slowly shutting the healthcare system down via cuts and poor spending decisions. But in this case the latter doesn’t matter because RUSSIA VACCINATES ITS CHILDREN!

Now that second bit is supposed to be a direct quote from Putin. No. Just no. Putin never said that. Putin never said anything like that. Mark your calendar. Remember this day. This is the day I actually got genuinely offended on behalf of Vladimir Putin simply by the implication that he would say something so monstrously ridiculous. I know from personal experience that Putin often says stupid, delusional things, and yet this is beneath him. Far beneath him.

Whoever came up with that (I’m guessing the author of the piece) must really hate children. I mean is that what modern children look like to you? Are they anywhere close to being restricted to “sub-human level repetitive grunts and gormless stares?” This is approaching Nazi eugenics theory in its depravity.

Given the kind of disinformation put out by the Kremlin via seemingly independent blogs and websites, I know what some of you might be thinking: “OH GOD NO! PUTIN IS WEAPONIZING ANTI-VACCINE CONSPIRACIES!” I wouldn’t venture that far just yet though. Global Research, a conspiracy site often cited by the Kremlin press, does traffic in anti-vaccine nonsense. Still, I don’t think the source is from the Russian media. Were that the case, we’d probably see more anti-vaccine bullshit in Russia. I suspect these people are attracted to conspiracy theory clearing houses like Global Research because the latter is happy to promote any anti-Western government claim.

No, I think what we have here is an example of a phenomenon that actually pre-dates the Russian information offensive in 2014 and in fact pre-dates the existence of networks like RT.  Global Research, for example, was founded in 2001, only a year after Putin became president and roughly four years before the debut of RT, which in those days was actually about Russia. Unfortunately these days many of our Western pundits like to pretend that Putin and his propaganda bullhorn are reaching out and creating legions of useful idiots in the West, when in fact long ago many of these people were working their way toward Putin and not the other way around.

nondisparagement

“Did somebody say propaganda bullhorn?!”

For many people in the West, there’s a very simple way to explain world politics. If you don’t like your own government, see who they criticize, and see who criticizes them back. Whoever that happens to be is your “ally.” For those who believe in various conspiracy theories, it’s very easy to imagine that the real reason the West criticizes Putin is because he must be doing something “right.” The neo-Nazis believe that Putin is preserving a “white” nation, that he “kicked out the Jewish oligarchs,” and that he preserves “traditional values.” I remember some more mainstream conservatives admired Putin because they thought he had a no-nonsense approach to the war on terror, and that he was not beholden to political correctness when dealing with Islamic terrorism. Now these neo-hippies have apparently decided that Putin is an enemy of vaccines, Big Pharma, and he loves organic farming. No doubt we’ll soon see a new article claiming that he has personally endorsed daily coffee enemas.

It’s not that the recent information offensive by the Kremlin hasn’t exacerbated this sort of thing. They certainly figured out long ago that many Americans and other Westerners are susceptible to this sort of thing, but sometimes the image of Putin these people have is, as in this case, truly bizarre. That and I’ve never seen a confirmed example of genuine pro-Kremlin media totally fabricated quotes by Putin. It seems like the kind of rare thing that could get someone fired.

Realizing that people can and indeed do concoct their own imaginary Putin hero-avatars, it makes you wonder what Fantasy Putin might do next. Maybe he’ll be a radical feminist who calls out another politician for their “problematic” comments and dismissive attitude toward others’ lived experience. On the flip side, maybe he’ll publicly lament how feminists are destroying video games and thus hammering the nail in the coffin of masculinity. Maybe he’ll announce that his health is due to his all-organic kale diet. In spite of his, shall we say, cold family situation, perhaps we’ll find out he has some really strong opinions about home-birthing, if not child-rearing in general. Then again, he may say something along the lines of that statement he made to the State Duma a couple weeks ago:

“True, at first I didn’t like Russia Without BS. But then it grew on me because it’s become increasingly clear that I cannot rely on my advisers to be anything but batshit insane. Look where that got me! Look where it got us! And would somebody for the love of God please tell me what’s on my spokesman’s head? What am I even doing here? I just wanted to do judo and try out some of these so-called video games everyone’s been talking about! God bless that Jim Kovpak, who has not only made me see Ukraine’s point of view, but also reality itself. As for all of you guys, you can go eat the world’s biggest bag of dicks. They’ll be served to you with snow shovels. Now I’m going to hold this microphone out in front of me and drop it in a nonchalant fashion.”    -Vladimir Putin