Friday, December 30, 2011

Russia: AIDS Epidemic- "Shame Russia Shame"

          AIDS came to Russia after it hit epidemic levels in other regions of the world. During the Soviet era, population movements were restricted but that changed in the early 1990s. Russia registered its first case of AIDS in 1987; by the end of the 20th century there were an estimated 20,000 cases, and some estimates suggest that the number of AIDS cases in Russia has doubled every year since 1998.
          Recent international attention has been directed toward Russia's healthcare system, the stigma attached to those infected, and Russia's drug policies; the country's geographic location puts it between Central Asia, where heroin is produced, and Europe, where it's sold.

'Red Ribbon' symbol of solidarity of people living with HIV/AIDS. Image by Flickr user Andy McCarthy UK (CC BY-NC 2.0).
Image by Flickr user Andy McCarthy UK  

          Writing for Foreign Policy Blog, Elizabeth Dickinson put Russia's AIDS epidemic in context with a September 2010 post entitled, "Is Russia's HIV/AIDS problem worse than Africa's?":
The New York office director of UNAIDS, Bertil Lindblad, is worried about the one region of the world where HIV infections are increasing, even as rates in the rest of the world level off. It's not in Africa or Asia, or even Latin America. It's Eastern Europe -- countries like Russia and Ukraine -- where a recent UNICEF report notes that increases in infection rates of as high as 700 percent have been seen since 2006. 
"There is an urgent need for the whole Eastern European and Central Asian region to act quickly," Lindblad said this morning. "This is really quite scary given the fact that there is denial, and so much stigma and homophobia [in that region.] This could really create huge problems if HIV continues to spread from smaller groups in the population to wider."
          The world is taking notice of the epidemic as evidenced by a Russian Embassy Protest Blog press release on December 5, 2011, pertaining to the World AIDS Day protests:
On World Aids Day, 2011, just a few short days ago, harm reduction organisations led by people who use drugs and supported by the International Network of People who Use Drugs (INPUD) gathered outside Russian embassies in cities across the world in the largest ever global show of solidarity by and for people who use drugs. 
The protests, entitled ‘Shame Russia Shame’, was directed at Russia’s highly controversial drug policies which are believed to be driving the EEC regions HIV and TB epidemics. Injecting drugs with contaminated equipment is driving Russia’s HIV epidemic, now the fastest growing in the world and it is reflected in the numbers; as many as 80% of new infections are occurring amongst people who inject drugs (PWID), in a total HIV positive population of approx 1.3 million. With this in mind, recent projections forecast an additional 5 million people could become infected with HIV in the near future, unless Russia drastically transforms the way it is dealing with its HIV pandemic.
          Masha Ovchinnikova posted a 2007 text for AIDS and Social Justice Blog entitled, "Harm Reduction Activism in Russia." A former drug user living in Moscow, Ms. Ovchinnikova discussed the challenges drug users face in Russia when they seek treatment:
Many financial, bureaucratic and moral barriers keep drug users from being able to take care of their health, or sometimes their lives. People can’t receive any medical help at the usual clinics if they are “kicking.” If you want to go into a detox program, you have to wait a few weeks, sometimes more. You have to prepare a lot of documents and take some tests (including HIV testing). Then, there is no guarantee you’ll get good medicine — but what’s for sure is that you’ll be blamed and humiliated by the clinic staff. 
Another problem is confidentiality of “drug user status.” You can’t get free treatment without official registration, but this list sometimes becomes available to the police. Although the situation has become somewhat better recently, the level of police abuse is still very high. Sometimes it’s still dangerous to buy a new syringe because the police are watching drug users near the pharmacies.
          Psychiatrist Blog illustrated how the organisation of the Russian healthcare system inhibits effective AIDS treatment:
In my clinic, the psychiatrists work in rooms next to the medical doctors. Today in clinic, I spoke to Mark Sulkowski, infectious diseases doc specializing in HIV-hepatitis C coinfection. We have several patients together. I know I can knock on his door anytime he’s not with a patient to discuss a patient or the latest new drug for hepatitis C (we have two new protease inhibitors that will likely increase cure rates). We also have social workers and pharmacists and case managers and primary care docs and OB/GYNs and dermatologists and ophthalmologists and neurologists. And we all write in the same charts and manage the same patients together. 
In Russia, no such system exists. Last week, we were discussing the tricky problem of managing patients with HIV infection, active tuberculosis, and active injection drug use. The biggest problem is there is no system. TB is treated in the TB clinic, HIV in the HIV clinic, and drugs in the “narcology” clinic (which is independent of both psychiatry and general medicine). And nobody talks to anybody else.
          In a post entitled "AIDS in Russia - Why Russia is Particularly Vulnerable," I discussed how Russian healthcare professionals are ill-equipped to treat those infected with HIV. Regional centers claim that they provide both pre- and post-test counseling, but that is not always the case, as illustrated by an account of a young woman in Nizhny Novgorod:
When I tested positive, I was completely shocked. I was told to go see a counselor. When I met the counselor, she said: 'You are infected with HIV. Please be advised that knowingly spreading HIV is a criminal offense under Russian law. If you have unprotected sex and spread the virus, you will be incarcerated. Sign this document to show that you have understood.' That was all the counseling I got. When I got in the hallway, I thought I would faint. I didn't know anything about ARV's [anti-retrovirals]. I found out about them only last year when I was in Moscow.
          As in many countries, the attitude toward those infected with HIV/AIDS is a real issue. posted a music video intended to mitigate this stigma by showing how an attractive young couple coped with learning that they were HIV+. A popular Russian-language LJ blog discussed the issues [ru] surrounding the stigma:
In our society, there is a pattern in conduct directed towards people who are HIV+ in that they are effectively "buried alive." Friends only contact those infected sparingly lest they too become infected. Any excuse would be used to expel [an infected person] from school and there's no way to find a new job. And the problem isn't even with the evil employers - you yourself would be the first ones to protest if a nanny at your kid's kindergarten is HIV-infected. [...] Even doctors, who would seem to be knowledgeable people, deny people treatment if they recognize the patient has HIV. 
But this is not the only problem - many people, fearing the stigma associated with infection, refuse to get diagnosed, and when they do learn their diagnosis, they conceal it, and this in turn leads to a rapid development of the epidemic. The only way to combat this is the re-education of society. [...]

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Russia: Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the 2012 Presidential Election

          Formerly Russia's richest man, jailed oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky is once again in the political spotlight, as Russian presidential candidate Mikhail Prokhorov vows to pardon Mr. Khodorkovsky if he's elected next spring. Mr. Khodorkovsky has been incarcerated since 2003, when he was arrested for non-payment of back-taxes as part of the "Yukos Affair". Many have doubted the validity of the charges against him and view his prosecution as part of PM Vladimir Putin's political agenda.
          In a Nov. 16 post entitled "FC Anzhi and the Yeltsin Era Money," Global Voices described Russia's economy since the fall of the Soviet Union, the origin of the "oligarchs," as well as Putin's attempts to control and direct their activities:
The Yeltsin era of the 1990s was characterized by a struggle over who would emerge from the transition with holdings of Russia's major sources of wealth, such as its natural resources. The victors in that struggle are known as the ‘oligarchs' because they possess a degree of wealth that surpasses most people's ability to conceptualize. [...] 
Vladimir Putin's rise has had unexpected effects on the power of the oligarchs in that he has been able to enforce limitations on them and to direct their activities.
          The early Putin years marked a divide between the oligarchs who fell in line with Putin's wishes and those who didn't. During this time Mr. Khodorkvsky, CEO of the oil giant Yukos, was praised by international organizations for being the first of Russia's elite to make public his financial records; he met with world leaders, he engaged in well-publicized domestic relief efforts, and he mentioned running for President in 2008. Mr. Khodorkovsky was then arrested in 2003 and his assets were seized.
          Pavel Khodorkovsky, Mikhail's son, wrote in a blog associated with CNN on Nov. 15 about his father's 2003 arrest and incarceration.
It’s been eight years since Vladimir Putin’s thugs forcibly removed my father, Mikhail, from a plane and took him to prison. 
The last time I saw him was a few weeks before his arrest, when he was visiting me at college in Boston. There were already concerns about his safety in Russia; his business partner, Platon Lebedev, had been locked up earlier that summer. And despite the urging of American friends and colleagues to stay here, my father remained firm and returned home. 
In the intervening eight years, after enduring two show trials and countless other indignities – all while the international community’s condemnation of his imprisonment fell on deaf ears within the corrupt Russian regime – my father has not given up hope. 
Even as the term of his first sentence ended two weeks ago – and, therefore, by all accounts, he should be set free – he remains optimistic. 
He is encouraged that in the last few months, the chorus of those who denounce his imprisonment has grown louder. In May Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience. Then the European Court of Human Rights ruled that he was not afforded fair hearings and had been subjected to degrading conditions in court and in prison. This fall the International Bar Association concluded that his second trial was unfair, based on “mistake-ridden and self-contradictory” charges that were at odds with the Russian criminal code.
Protesters at a rally demanding freedom for Mikhail Khodorkovsky outside the Khamovnichesky District Court in Moscow. Photo by RFE/RL RFE/RL, copyright © Demotix (12/27/2011)

         Khodorkovsky's life story has been immortalized by a 2011 documentary film. Samuel Rubenfeld wrote in a blog associated with the Wall Street Journal about the film:
German filmmaker Cyril Tuschi directed the film, which Corruption Currents saw at a special press screening on Nov. 3. He began with painting a picture of the Wild West landscape of post-Soviet Russia. Graft ruled, and it still does: The World Justice Project’s 2011 Rule of Law Index (pdf) warned of a lack of checks and balances in Russian government, leading to “an institutional environment characterized by corruption, impunity and political interference.” 
Such was the case of Khodorkovsky, according to the film, which features the first interview with the man since his detention.
          There were issues with finding Russian theaters willing to screen the film, and in the interview Tushci was asked to discuss that process. This post was published on Nov. 29, which was days before the controversial parliamentary elections, and yet this film maker, who had a limited understanding of the Russian language or Russian culture, as he indicated earlier in the interview, seemed to be aware of something ominous. He seemed to be aware of a powerful link between Putin and Khodorkovsky:
I’m very surprised that they are so open-speaking about it. They don’t screen it out of self-censorship. I don’t think…that the Kremlin said, “Don’t do it.” I think the cinema owners fear state revenge if they would do it. [What kind of revenge?] Very simple. Tax inspections. Not enough fire doors, so you get a fine of a million or something silly like that. But maybe it’s just inherited in their genes the authoritarian character. 
Not in everybody. I’m very happy people are changing, and the air is changing in the last 72 hours. It changed a lot. [What happened in the last 72 hours?] Something’s happening, and it’s not only the film. The film’s only triggering something that’s already in the air. All the…approval for Putin is going down. People are criticizing and laughing at Putin on live TV, and this wouldn’t have happened before. Something is changing and I’m curious what will happen.
Russian billionaire and presidential candidate Mikhail Prokhorov at a news conference in Moscow. Photo by RFE/RL RFE/RL, copyright © Demotix (09/14/2011)

          In a Dec. 16 post, the Khodorkovsky and Lebedev Communications Center announced how the upcoming Russian presidential election could affect Khodorkovsky's fate:
Mikhail Prokhorov, the Russian billionaire who plans to challenge Vladimir Putin in Russia's presidential election said that his first move if elected will be to pardon Mikhail Khodorkovsky [...].
          The post went on to cite a Wall Street Journal article, which quoted Putin's response to whether he would be equally willing to free Mr. Khodorkovsky if he were to win the election:
"Freeing Khodorkovsky is the president's right. For the pardon to happen, Khodorkovsky would have to write an appeal for a pardon, and effectively assume the guilt, which he hasn't done so far. If he writes it, the pardon will be possible by law. If Khodorkovsky writes such an appeal, I will consider it, but I will have to become the president for that first."
          A Russian-language blog devoted to Mr. Khodorkovsky's cause cited a article in their Dec. 2 post:
Самый известный российский заключенный считает основным риском после возвращения Путина на третий срок возникновение новых проблем для бизнеса и экономики и отмечает, что власть в России утрачивает каналы для объективной оценки ситуации.
Russia's most famous prisoner said the main risk after the return of Putin for the third term is the emergence of new problems for business and economics. He notes that the Russian authorities are losing their power to effectively form an objective assessment of the situation.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Russia: Holy Relic Visits a Nation Emerging From State-Sponsored Atheism

          During the past few months people from across Russia traveled great distances and endured freezing temperatures in order to view the belt said to have been worn by the Virgin Mary. Such a display of religiosity in Russia is remarkable, given that the country only stepped away from an atheistic form of government 20 years ago. However, the fact that this particular Holy Relic is known to promote fertility might explain why a nation enduring a demographic crisis would take an interest in it.
          Kievan Rus adopted Christianity in the late 10th century from the Byzantine Empire, and for almost a millennium until the early 20th century, when the Romanov Dynasty was overthrown and a communist government was put in its place, Russia was among the most devout nations in the world. During the eight decades of communism, religion was discouraged and a new moral code was instituted based on respect for the working class. When the Soviet Union fell and the communist sense of morality no longer had as many proponents, Russians were tasked with deciding for themselves what they thought about spirituality and religion.

          Russia Blog quoted an Izvestia article in a 2006 post entitled, "Are Russians Becoming More Religious?" The author noted that an alternative explanation for the increase in the number of Russians who claim to be religious was reflective of the comfort level of those polled in divulging their religiosity rather than an increase in religiosity:
In 2006, 15 years after the fall of the atheist Soviet Union, 84 percent of Russian citizens said they believed in God, according to a study conducted by Izvestia and the polling agency, VTsIOM. A similar VTsIOM poll in the early 1990's found that 34 percent believed in God. Among respondents, 63 percent considered themselves Orthodox Christians, 6 percent were Muslims and 1 percent Catholics and Buddhists. Another 16 percent said they were atheist. The percentage of Russians who attend religious services has grown from 4 percent during perestroika to 10-12 percent today.
          Fr Stephen Smuts, a TAC Clergyman in Southern Africa, posted a blog entry in March 2011 entitled, "Religion Will be Studied in All Russian Schools by 2012":
After a trial year, “Foundations of religious culture and ethics” will be taught in all Russian schools throughout the country next year, the Russian Ministry of Education announced at a press conference held on March 23 in Moscow with representatives of the four major religions. According to authorities and religious leaders, especially from the Russian Orthodox Church, the trial year was a “success”, but nobody was able to respond to journalists questions with exact figures on the course participants and the degree of satisfaction. 
Banned during the Soviet era, religion made a comeback in schools in April 2010, but only in some regions, with an initiative strongly supported by the Patriarch of Moscow and blessed by the Kremlin, which aims to a cement national identity on shared values. Students of primary and secondary schools may choose to study between the history of one of the four traditional religions – Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism – or more general courses on “foundations of religious culture” or “fundamentals of public ethics”. So far the lessons were held for only one semester of the school year, but the Orthodox Church has asked that in 2012 they be extended over the year.
          Such is the societal and governmental context present to receive the Holy Relic. And Amazing Grace Blog described the relic's visit to Russia in a Nov. 25 post:
The Virgin Mary's Cincture, a belt that Christians believe was worn by Jesus' mother, was brought to Russia last month from Mount Athos, a monastic community in Greece. Kissing the relic, which is encased in an ornamental box, is believed to help barren women conceive and heal other ailments. 
The line of people, mostly women, waiting to enter the golden-domed Christ the Savior Cathedral stretched for 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) along the Moscow River despite temperatures that dropped to below minus 5 Celsius (23 Fahrenheit).Hundreds of buses brought pilgrims from other Russian cities. Some 150 buses were parked along the embankment with their engines running so the faithful could get warm as they waited. The city provided free tea and food and put up portable toilets. Police officers announced through bullhorns that it will take worshippers 24 hours to get to the relic as the line swelled to tens of thousands.
People queueing to see the belt of the Virgin Mary, which was on display‎ in Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior for a week last month. Photo by Veronica Khokhlova, Nov. 22, 2011
          Ruth Institute Blog quoted a Voice of Russia report last month, which contained an interview with Vladimir Yakunin, the head of the Council of Trustees of the St. Andrew Foundation, the organization that facilitated the artifact being brought to Russia from Greece:
“We did no expect to see such a great number of people willing to pray before the shrine. We saw a lot of pilgrims in Saint Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, Ussuriysk, Tyumen and other cities. And those were not only orthodox Christians but people of different beliefs. For example, in Saint Petersburg we saw a Muslim woman, who was taken from a hospice to see the shrine. This proves that more and more people are striving for spiritual revival, and they believe in better. Monks who accompanied the shrine from Athos were astonished at such a huge number of believers arriving to pray before the Belt”.
          In the Russian-language LiveJournal blog of user Alliruk, there was a discussion pertaining to the relic that brought forth several issues that affect religion in Russia. There was talk of the generational divide between those who had been socialized under atheist communism and the younger generation. Members of the generation socialized under communism suggested that this religious fervor associated with the relic is a sign of a form of 'de-modernization' in Russia. They seemed to believe that it's not rational to look to a relic for help. Alliruk had this to say [ru] about modernization:
Modernization in a culture is described as the narrowing of the sphere controlled by religion, and a consistent policy of secularization of politics, life, work, family relations, etc. That is - if people are praying less to be relieved of certain ailments, but are eating more antibiotics instead - it is part of the modernization process. [...] You may not like modernization, [that's okay], it's an argument about values, but modernization includes secularization, nothing can be done about it. 
The Soviet project was [...] one of the most consistent of all modernization projects in history. This includes secularization (again - this statement is not my assessment of the Soviet experience as positive or negative, I'm just stating the facts. It is bad to persecute priests, if you want to know my opinion). As a result, the Soviet society was more or less modernized (in addition to the attitudes towards religion, this, of course, also involved upgrade in terms of education, industrialization, social mobility, and much more). 
What we've seen in the last two decades - is many indicators of de-modernization. We've seen crises, the crash of high-tech industries, a fall in the level of education, the elimination of social mobility, and the transformation of state mechanisms into what euphemistically have been referred to as the proliferation of "alternative methods of solving problems" (in fact, methods taken from the traditional, pre-modern society). And finally, we have this triumphant return of orthodoxy in the form of a quasi-public religion. All this together is described with the word 'de-modernization'.
          Francis Phillips wrote in a blog associated with the British-based Catholic Herald about how if one were to focus on the authenticity of this artifact one would be in danger of missing out on its significance:
Before sceptical people point out that venerating a belt allegedly worn by the Virgin Mary in order to become pregnant displays the worst kind of medieval Christian superstition, I will add that whether the relic is authentic or not is not quite the point: it is a vivid and reverent reminder of the supernatural, telling the faithful that this world, its woes and social ills, is not all there is: and who can say that new life might not spring from heartfelt prayer in its presence?
          The Nov. 28 post went on to cite an article written by demographer Nichols Eberstadt for Foreign Affairs, which claimed that of all of the tragedies that have occurred in Russia since the Soviet collapse, the country's demographic decline has been the most catastrophic. Ms. Philips added:
Obviously a religious relic alone cannot change things; healthcare, housing, employment are all involved. But it can provide the inspiration to change the climate of despair that makes people choose not to have children and the spur for individuals to think of creative solutions.

Russia: "Why are Russians Protesting Now?"

          On Saturday, Dec. 10, the world watched the biggest protests Russia has seen since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. It has been almost exactly 20 years since Christmas Day in 1991 when power passed from Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to Russian President Boris Yeltsin. It is believed that Yeltsin did not even make a personal appearance to accept from Gorbachev the suitcase filled with the means to activate Russia's nuclear arsenal. Such an uneventful day contrasts greatly with today's demonstrations directed toward alleged election fraud committed by Prime Minister Putin's United Russia Party.
          Signs of public discontent started weeks ago, however, when Putin was met with a hostile crowd at a Mixed Martial Arts competition in Moscow on Sunday, Nov. 20. Global Voices covered the incident and cited Alexey Navalny's blog:
Blogger and anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny posted in his LiveJournal [ru] two videos of Putin's speech at the Olimpiysky Sports Complex in a post entitled, “The End of an Era.” In the videos, Putin stepped on stage after Mr. Emelianenko defeated American Jeff Monson and did not say anything provocative. Speaking Russian, Putin simply referred to Mr. Emelianenko as a “genuine Russian hero,” he congratulated him on his victory, and thanked him graciously. It appears from the video that the crowd was not reacting to Putin's words but rather they were reacting negatively to his presence. Navalny's post has generated nearly 3,000 comments.
         Daniel Bennett, a Ph.D. student based at the BBC and the War Studies Department at Kings College, London, announced on Dec. 7 in Frontline Club Blog that Navalny had been arrested:
Russian blogger and anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny has been arrested after participating in post-election protests in Moscow against the Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.  In March this year, the Russian business daily Kommersant was forced to retract an article which attempted to discredit Navalny's exposure of large scale fraud at Transneft, the state-owned pipeline company in 2010. [...]
Police officers detain a protester during a rally at Triumphal Square on Dec. 7. Photo by Maria Pleshkova, copyright © Demotix (07/12/2011)
         The following day, on Dec. 8, a blog associated with the American-based CNN wrote that Putin accused the United States of instigating the protests:
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin blamed the United States Thursday for encouraging opposition protests that have broken out since parliamentary elections Sunday. His accusation followed comments by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this week on Russia's election in which she called for a "full investigation" of apparent irregularities. [...] Speaking on state TV, Putin said Clinton had criticized the elections as "neither fair not free - even before receiving reports from international observers." This had sent a signal to opposition figures, Putin said, who "with the support of the U.S. State Department" then began "active work."
          The main event, however, came on Saturday, Dec. 10. A blog associated with the British publication The Guardian posted a timeline of the day's events, which included a bulleted summary and a reminder of the upcoming presidential election:
5.12pm: We are wrapping up the blog now, at the end of an historic, but peaceful day of mass protests across Russia. The protests come three months before Putin, who was president in 2000-2008 and effectively remained the country's leader while prime minister, is to seek a third term in office. [...] 
• Russia saw the largest political event of its kind in nearly 20 years with tens of thousands of furious protestors rallying across the country against alleged electoral fraud
• An estimated 50,000 people gathered in Moscow and 10,000 in St Petersburg. There were around 1,000 arrests on a day that passed off largely peacefully 
• Protestors pledge to take to the streets again on December 24 
• Protestors demand annulment of Sunday's election results; the resignation of the head of the election commission and an official investigation into vote fraud. 
• They also want new democratic and open elections and registration of opposition parties
          Alexander Kolyandr quoted several protesters as well as a spokesman for the Moscow Police in a blog associated with the Wall Street Journal on Saturday:
Rustam Kerimov, 33, architect: “I have concerns that if new voting is announced, leftist parties and populists may get greater support. I’m a democrat, and I don’t see a real alternative to Putin now, as there are no real opposition candidates. But those in power must respect us, our votes, our will.” Mr. Kerimov says he never goes to rallies and was very surprised by the number of people. [...] 
Ksenia Korneyeva, magazine editor: “We just want to show that we exist.” Ms. Korneyeva defaced her ballot in the recent election with a large X. She carried a white chrysanthemum as a sign of peace at a peaceful protest. [...] 
Dmitry, 18, student: "I think the elections were falsified. Not completely, but in part. We want the results to be re-examined." [...] 
Viktor Biryukov, spokesman for the Moscow police: “Everything is calm, and there are no extremists here, unlike at the previous gatherings. See for yourself.”
          Sean Guillory of Sean's Russia Blog included a link to a Russian-language article, which announced the results of Sunday's Duma elections, in a Dec. 9 post entitled, "Why are Russians Protesting Now?" After all, United Russia lost its super majority which is necessary in order to alter the Russian constitution at will: the final count shows United Russia with about 238 seats, the Communist Party - 92, Fair Russia - 64, and LDPR -56.
As a day of protests against Sunday’s Duma election begins in Russia’s Far East, the big question is why are people protesting now? After all, it’s not like this is the first Russian election with shenanigans, fraud, etc, etc.
          In an effort to answer the question, Sean referred to an article found in Svobodnaya Pressa, which included a report by Leontii Byzov, a senior sociologist from the Institute of Sociology of the Russian Academy of Sciences:
Byzov: There are several overlapping factors. First, the rise of a new generation of young people who don’t remember the “trauma of the 1990s”. They are not afraid of change, it is more attractive to them than the “gilded cage” of Putinist stability. Young members of the middle class want social mobility and dream about meteoric careers. 
Another factor is the swelling internal opposition within the Russian elite. In the 2000s, Putin served as a certain guarantor of balance between elite groups with completely opposite interests. Such as, for example, the siloviki and liberals in the government. Under President Medvedev this process became unbalanced. One was for Putin, the other for Medvedev. Those who stood with Medvedev felt the taste of power and property. They urged the President to remove Putin from the Premiership and run for a second term. For them, this was a chance that would have called for a struggle against the financial flows Putin’s people control. For control of Gazprom and other state corporations. Therefore, it was hard to presume that these groups would submit to defeat and quietly leave and put aside their plans for the next several years and, perhaps, forever. [...]

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How the Church of England Came to Ordain Women Priests

This is the true story of how the Church of England came to ordain women priests.

         My great-grandpa, Sam Welles Sr., saw Tchaikovsky perform at the inaugural concert of Carnegie Hall in 1891 when he was a seminary student in New York City. Here's the Wikipedia account of the event:

         "Another area in which Tchaikovsky promoted Russian music in general as well as his own compositions was as a guest conductor. In January 1887 he substituted at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow on short notice for the first three performances of his opera Cherevichki. He had wanted to conquer conducting for at least a decade, as he saw that success outside Russia depended to some extent on his conducting his own works. Within a year of the Cherevichki performances, Tchaikovsky was in considerable demand throughout Europe and Russia, which helped him overcome life-long stage fright and boosted his self-assurance. Conducting brought him to America in 1891, where he led the New York Music Society's orchestra in his Festival Coronation March at the inaugural concert of New York's Carnegie Hall."

         When he was ordained as an Episcopal priest, he was sent to Oklahoma to live as a missionary. He had two sons on the farm- Sam Welles Jr. (my grandpa) and Edward Welles. One day in 1913 a black man wanted Holy Communion and so my great grandpa gave it to him. The town found out about it and informed my great grandpa that he and his family would be killed if they did not leave Oklahoma immediately. Sam Welles, by then a Canon, had a priest friend in New Jersey who gave him a job ministering to prisoners and hospital patients but the church never trusted him with his own parish again.

From Left: Sam, Mabel, Mary, Muriel, Bishop Edward
Mabel DeGeer, Canon Sam Welles

         My grandpa, Sam Welles Jr., was a Rhodes Scholar out of Princeton and he served in the State Department during WWII as the Special Assistant to Ambassador Winant at our London Embassy. After the war he worked as a Senior Editor for Time Magazine and he was invited to the 1947 Moscow Council of Foreign Ministers. He wrote a book about his trip titled, "Profile of Europe". For a while there was a photo of Sam Jr. with Shostakovich hanging in the Kremlin. Sam Jr. married my grandma, Margery Miller Welles, who was one of the founding authors of Sports Illustrated as well as their boxing expert. She has been placed on a list of nominees for the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
         Edward Welles ran track at Princeton where he met David Cecil, AKA Lord Burghley. Lord Burghley was immortalized in the film Chariots of Fire- his character was Lindsay, the man who stood and smoked a cigar while his butler poured champagne into glasses fixed on top of hurdles. My Uncle Edward Welles has been to that house. The real Lord Burghley was a conservative British politician who served as the Governor of Bermuda during WWII.
         Edward went on to become an Episcopal Bishop and he had a daughter, my cousin, Katrina Welles who was absolutely brilliant. I believe she graduated from Harvard by the age of 20 and she wanted to be a priest. Remember, Uncle Edward was on that farm in 1913 and he remembered what his father had done - so he and two of his bishop friends who were also retired ordained the first class of female Episcopal priests. Today those women are referred to as the Philadelphia 11 and they consisted of my cousin Katrina and her classmates. And this is the Church of England, so that meant that from that point on, women across the British Empire could be priests. The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church today is a woman named Bishop Katharine.
         Below is a picture of Bishop Edward Welles with FDR and Churchill during the war at Christ Cathedral in Alexandria, VA. (Edward is the one shaking hands with FDR.) Soon after this picture was taken, my grandpa was at our London Embassy as the SA to the US Ambassador. Churchill isn't looking at Uncle Edward but he almost certainly knew who he was- he's Sam's brother, but he's also Lord Burghley's friend.

From Left: Edward Welles, Winston Churchill, FDR at Christ Church in Alexandra, VA

         Also, while this picture was taken my grandma was a student at Wellesley. She would choose for her senior thesis to write a bio of Joe Louis which was reviewed by Eleanor Roosevelt and published before she graduated in 1945. So, to Mrs. Roosevelt- Edward Welles was Margery's brother in law and Sam the Rhodes Scholar/diplomat/Time-Life Executive was Margery's husband. Katrina Welles, one of the Philadelphia 11, was Margery's niece.
Katrina Welles Swanson
(My cousin)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

"What is he really like, this Joe Louis?" - Margery Miller Welles

A founding author of Sports Illustrated, my grandma has been 
nominated to join the International Boxing Hall of Fame. 

Margery Miller Welles -my grandma- witnessed one of the 
most important sporting events in American history in 1938 at age 15 when 
her father took her to Yankee Stadium to watch Joe Louis fight Max Schmeling. 
For her Wellesley College thesis she wrote a bio of Joe titled, 
"Joe Louis: American" which was published before she graduated in 1945 and 
reviewed by Ring Magazine founder Nat Fleischer and Eleanor Roosevelt. 

My grandma's 1945 Wellesley Senior Thesis - "Joe Louis: American"
which was reviewed by Eleanor Roosevelt and Nat Fleischer 

Here is an excerpt from Joe Louis: American

         People have been prompted to ask, What is he really like, this Joe Louis who is a Brown Bomber in the ring and who ranges himself on God's side outside of it? Joe Louis is not a paradox. Inside the ring he is intelligent, sincere, honest, and a gentleman. He is exactly the same outside of the ring.
         It would be ridiculous to paint as a paragon of virtue. He has had this share of faults. He is easy-going to a degree which has, in the past, brought embarrassment and trouble to himself and a great deal of anguish to his relatives and friends. His over-fondness for sleep and food has provided many a laugh for sports reporters covering his training camps. His manners are not quite polished. Yet the qualities which have made him stand out both as a fighter and a man are mostly desirable ones.
         Louis' ring brains are evident even to the uninitiated few. Joe does not charge out at the opening gong and try to smother his opponent with a fusillade of blows. His movements in the first minutes of the fight are usually cautious. He takes time to figure out his opponent, to find his weaknesses, and to plan his battle in a way that will take advantage of them. After knocking out Billy Conn in the thirteenth round, he explained to reporters that he had been waiting all evening for Billy to lose his head and leave himself open. "I figured once he got mad, he'd forget himself. So I just waited for that opening."
         Joe's maneuvering of Max Baer also showed the method behind Louis' punching. Toward the end of the second round, Louis began working his way back to his own corner and the unwary Baer followed him, sparring. When the bell rang, Louis had only to sit down. Max, a much more experienced athlete, had to walk across the ring to his stool. Joe has learned to make every moment count in the ring. He realizes energy is precious. When he expends it, he does so for a purpose. His every action is planned to speed up the defeat of his opponent. As a boxing fan once remarked, "Joe always acts like he's fixing to catch the early train back home to Chicago."

Memo I got from the IBHOF saying that my grandma had been nominated
and that my letter would be passed along to the selection committee. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Russia: PM Putin Gets Booed - “End of an Era” or “Wishful Thinking”?

          When Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin stepped out to congratulate Mixed Martial Arts champion Fedor Emelianenko on Sunday, Nov. 20, he was visibly taken aback when he received a less than warm response from Moscow spectators.
          Putin's approval ratings have declined in recent months, but this public display of animosity towards him is perhaps the first of its kind during this election season, and it is remarkable because Putin's Russia has seen only a handful of incidents where the media captured a story that truly caught Putin off guard.
          Blogger and anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny posted in his LiveJournal [ru] two videos of Putin's speech at the Olimpiysky Sports Complex in a post entitled, "The End of an Era." In the videos, Putin stepped on stage after Mr. Emelianenko defeated American Jeff Monson and did not say anything provocative. Speaking Russian, Putin simply referred to Mr. Emelianenko as a "genuine Russian hero," he congratulated him on his victory, and thanked him graciously.
          It appears from the video that the crowd was not reacting to Putin's words but rather they were reacting negatively to his presence. Navalny's post has generated nearly 3,000 comments. Here is LJ user poo-lin's video from Olimpiysky, which has been viewed 558,688 times on YouTube and received 2,630 comments since Navalny re-posted it on his blog:


 In the comments section to poo-lin's LiveJournal video entry [ru], LJ user largannn writes [ru]:
Thanks for the video! In the annals of history it will be [remembered] as "The beginning of the end of V.V. Putin's political career" )
Twitter users responded to the incident as well. Valery Dementiev:
Audience booed #Putin (#Emelianenko [himself is a member - ru] of United #Russia party.)
Alec Luhn:
#Emelianenko win=litmus test 4 Russian media. is booed, was booing Monson, Izvestiya:no mention of booing
          Putin's United Russia party has been campaigning aggressively in recent months through a variety of mediums. Global Voices Author Alexey Sidorenko posted an article earlier this month, which described an incident of controversial campaigning in Russian schools by the United Russia party.
          Danger Room blog on posted a video of a United Russia ad, which sparked controversy due to its blatant use of sex appeal, but also because it depicted irregular voting habits when more than one person occupied a voting booth:
[...] Titled with the double entendre (in English, at least), “Let’s Do It Together,” the ad follows a teenaged everyman as he chases after an attractive girl in a polling station. She flashes him a come-hither glare. The two set off into the polling booth to mark their ballots for Putin and who knows what else. Vote Vlad and this could be you. [...]
          Democracy Digest, a blog associated with World Movement for Democracy, contextualized Putin's current approval ratings by citing a Moscow Times article in a Nov. 9 post:
[...] "With 61 percent of respondents expressing approval for Putin’s actions as prime minister, the Oct. 28-Nov. 1 poll indicates that Putin will have little trouble carrying out his plan to return to the Kremlin. But his approval rating, down from 66 percent in a Levada poll conducted Oct. 21-24, was the lowest since August 2000, when he was dogged by the botched reaction to a naval disaster that killed all 118 crewmen aboard the Kursk submarine." [...]
          Ekaterina Vinokurova wrote in blog last month about a study conducted by Moscow State University which analyzed public opinion toward politicians and political parties. The data shows that Putin's approval rating is the lowest it has been throughout the ten years the study has been conducted:
[...] According to the study, only 44.5 per cent of the population approve of Putin's political views at the start of the campaign. This contrasts against the 70 percent support, which was expressed by respondents in the 2004 campaign and 47% in the campaign of 2000. 
Respondents were asked to assess different qualities of Putin from physical attractiveness to business performance. Compared with the year 2000 until the second term of Putin's admiration, voter approval has fallen by almost half: at the start of the campaign's second term and before the start of the campaign actually the third term of only 14% of respondents indicated that they like Putin's appearance against 28% in March 2000. 
Most importantly in the eyes of voters, according to the study, the professional and business qualities of Putin have suffered in his years in power, in March 2000 they were praised by 69% of respondents and in the March 2004 - 64%. Before the current election campaign only 17.1% of the interviewees approve. [...]
 blog ran an editorial written by Andrei Kolesnikov earlier this month about Putin's relationship with the media. Mr. Kolesnikov reminded readers about the Kursk disaster in Aug. 2000 when the Russian submarine sank off the Barents Sea losing all hands. The Kursk had been one of the first submarines commissioned after the fall of the Soviet Union and during the tragedy when the crew was stuck underwater, media outlets captured President Putin on vacation:
[...] In summer 2000 Putin, who just started to enjoy his presidency, saw on TV something he didn't like. (Maybe he'd prefer that nobody knew about this tragedy at all). A substantial part of Russian population didn't like that story. That same part of the Russian population forgave Putin the Kursk tragedy, and since then, his rating is like teflon, and the wool has been pulled over the eyes of the Russian audience so deeply that they hardly notice and their morally unexplainable indifference is huge. [...]
          Putin reacted to the Kursk incident by limiting the power of independent television stations. Mr. Kolesnikov continued in his editorial by reminding readers of the 2004 Beslan hostage crisis which in turn was followed by Putin's efforts to limit the power of the media:
[...] And then it happened again in 2004, when Chechen terrorists took a thousand schoolchildren hostages on the 1st of September and Izvestia national newspaper editor-in-chief did what every editor in the world was doing then – published the photographs showing the horror of what had happened. 
After 2004, TV and print media controlled by Kremlin didn't make such mistakes anymore– and by that we mean in their professional work, they avoided offending the aesthetic feelings of Russia's National Leader. The curtain of stagnation fell over TV screens and across front pages, and the "Father of the People" still calls it 'Social Stability'. Everything that crosses that line of TV series, where Comrade Stalin is a protagonist, the talk-shows with him again, the borders of dance reality shows and humor programs – it's all called "accruing of political capital". [...]
          Yuri Mamchur described in RussiaBlog in Dec. 2007 just how popular Putin was in anticipation of the 2008 Russian presidential election. He also suggested that with regard to Putin, sometimes election outcomes don't always reflect approval ratings.
Hugely so, judging from Russia's Dec. 2 parliamentary elections. Putin's United Russia party and its allies captured 400 of 450 seats in the Duma, making it highly likely that Putin will remain in power when his term ends next year. With widespread reports of voting irregularities, the election was not exactly a pure measure of Putin's popularity. Many voters were forced to mark ballots in full view of soldiers, for instance, and United Russia reportedly bought votes with cash and vodka. Still, such tactics were probably not necessary. Pre-election surveys put Putin's approval rating above 70 percent, and by all accounts, most Russians revere him.
          In the comments to Navalny's video post, many bloggers do not seem too impressed with the booing of Putin and call the "end of an era" interpretation of the incident "wishful thinking." Others, like LJ user mig_25tt, agree [ru] with Navalny:
Here we go - the opinion of the electorate... Honest and objective.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Russia: FC Anzhi Makhachkala and the Yeltsin Era Money

          Ever since the fall of the Soviet Union 20 years ago, the world has watched Russia's transition into capitalism with great interest. The Yeltsin era of the 1990's was characterized by a struggle over who would emerge from the transition with holdings of Russia's major sources of wealth, such as its natural resources. The victors in that struggle are known as the Oligarchs because they possess a degree of wealth that surpasses most people's ability to conceptualize. The January 2011 acquisition of a Russian Premier League soccer team FC Anzhi Makhachkala, in the most volatile region of Russia - Dagestan - by Suleyman Kerimov, a billionaire politician native to the region, is the most recent display of how that wealth is being used.
          Vladimir Putin's rise has had unexpected effects on the power of the Oligarchs in that he has been able to enforce limitations on them and to direct their activities. In August 2011, Jonathan Wilson wrote in a sports blog associated with The Guardian about Putin's influence:
[...] It's a fairly open secret that oligarchs are encouraged by Vladimir Putin to invest in sporting ventures. Kerimov may be a diehard Anzhi fan, but it seems just as likely that he was advised to invest. After all, if Anzhi do well, it 'normalises' the situation in Dagestan, just as Terek Grozny's ongoing presence in the top flight supposedly makes Chechnya a more palatable place. Decentralisation, reaching out to the regions, has been a cornerstone of Putin's policy in all spheres (its success in football is seen in the fact that none of the last four champions have been from Moscow). 
The issue of funding is a tricky one. Moscow pumps millions of pounds each year into developing the Caucasian region. If some of that money ends up being used to fund football clubs, it's little wonder that fans from Moscow feel aggrieved: why should their taxes indirectly subsidise Eto'o's wages? Kerimov, after all, didn't buy Anzhi; rather he was given it by the president of Dagestan, Magomedsalam Magomedov, in exchange for a promise of £120m of investment in infrastructure, including a new 40,000-capacity stadium. [...]
          This is not the first time, however, the oligarchs have delved into the sports world. Mr. Wilson reminded readers that in 1999 Mr. Kerimov entered into a business arrangement with fellow oligarchs Roman Abramovich and Oleg Deripaska:
[...] The three became notorious for their aggressive takeovers. Abramovich, of course, as well as buying Chelsea, funds the Russian state youth academy at Togliatti, as well as contributing to funds to pay for the 2014 Winter Olympics and the 2018 World Cup. Deripaska, who has been linked with takeovers of Arsenal and West Bromwich although his representatives have always denied any links with any UK football clubs, was a part-owner of Kuban Krasnodar until 2008. [...]
          The FC Anzhi venture is unique, however, in that the region is simply so volatile. Writing for a blog associated with Time Magazine in September 2011, Ishaan Tharoor quoted a Washington Post article to describe this volatility:
[...] Police have killed 100 people they identified as rebels since the beginning of the year, Interior Ministry officials said in June, and human rights activists accuse police of killing first and then finding a crime to assign to the body. Local journalists estimate that 1,000 to 1,500 armed men are in the forest at any one time, with perhaps 5,000 others prepared to join them. The forest shelters organized terrorism as well — the U.S. government has offered a $5 million reward for information leading to Doku Umarov, a Chechen terrorist with al-Qaeda connections suspected of hiding in Dagestan who has been accused of terrorist attacks on Moscow. [...]
          It has not yet been two decades since the brutal Chechen Wars of the 1990's. Mr. Tharoor later described an incident where a Russian FC Anzhi player was heckled when he stepped out to play for the Russian national team due to his affiliation with FC Anzhi:
[...] Nor is the rest of Russia all that pleased with Anzhi's emergence. When recent Anzhi arrival Yuri Zhirkov, formerly of London's Chelsea, turned out for the Russian national team, he was booed savagely by his own country's fans. They were angry about the perceived political leg-up afforded to a number of North Caucasus sides — a sentiment likely tinged with longstanding prejudices against those from the Caucasus. [...]
          Tatyana Bokova-Foley wrote on Russia! blog about the Suleiman Kerimov Foundation, which was established in 2010 and has since donated about $60 million to charitable causes. She explained that the Foundation does a variety of good works in Dagestan, many of which are not intended to earn a profit:
[...] The Kerimov Foundation continues to work in the [Dagestan] region. At a meeting about Dagestan, Medvedev praised the installation of computers in all the region’s general education schools. At some schools this was financed by the foundation, which spent around $1 million on modern computers and the total reconstruction of three general education schools in Derbent. [...] Kerimov is directly involved in the foundation’s operations, and uses his business skills to ensure it meets its goals, even if those goals are not to make money but to help people. Experts say that it is a model for the most effective nonprofits in Russia and the world.
          In February 2011, FC Anzhi acquired the Brazilian World Cup champion Roberto Carlos as well as Jucilei da Silva. Moroccan Mbark Boussoufa was then signed in March. This summer, however, marked a truly defining moment for FC Anzhi when it signed Cameroonian phenomenon, Samuel Eto'o, who is considered to be one of the very best strikers in the world - as well as the highest paid.

Roberto Carlos of Anzhi (R) vies for the ball with Roman Shirokov of Zenit (L) during Russian Premier League match between FC Zenit St. Petersburg and FC Anzhi Makhachkala. Photo by Mike Kireev, copyright © Demotix (21/03/2011)

          Soccer Village Blog described Mr. Kerimov's commitment to recruit world class talent in an October 2011 post:
[...] Roberto Carlos himself was in fact the club's first high profile signing when he joined back in February as a player.  Following the sacking of their coach, Gadzhi Gadzhiyev, in September Carlos was installed as joint caretaker manager.  The 2002 World Cup winner spoke further about Kerimov and stated quite matter of factly that the billionaire owner will continue to aggressively pursue more top international players.  He said: If Real, Barcelona or Manchester United cannot pay the transfer fee, we will pay it. Suleyman Kerimov can offer what he wants.’ [...]
          The post also mentioned that none of the FC Anzhi players live in the region. Instead they live over 1,000 miles away near Moscow and must commute at least 15 times per year in order to play their "home games." The official FC Anzhi Facebook page, which now has over 10,000 followers, posted a link to a Russian language article, which described the plane they use to travel. The article mentioned that former Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov was once a patron of that same plane. Two comments just below this article express contrasting views of Mr. Eto'o's decision to move to Russia:
Ewodo Dominic: samuel eto'o always makes the difference everywhere he goes. He is the best footballer the world!
Ian Mellor: what an idiot to go to Russia to waste his talent

Friday, November 4, 2011

Russia: Reactions to Arms Smuggler Viktor Bout's Conviction

          Many citizen media outlets from around the world have captured the controversy surrounding the Nov. 2 conviction of a Russian man named Viktor Bout by an American jury. Arms Control Now, the blog associated with the Washington, DC-based Arms Control Association (ACA), an organization founded in 1971 for the purposes of monitoring the world's most dangerous weapons, announced Mr. Bout's conviction:
After two days of deliberations, a New York jury has convicted Russian arms smuggler Viktor Bout on multiple conspiracy charges that could lead to his life imprisonment. Bout was found guilty of conspiring to aid the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist group, providing it with surface-to-air missiles, and conspiring to kill U.S. nationals and officials. A Feb. 8 sentencing has been scheduled by the Southern New York U.S. District Court. Bout’s lawyer has indicated that his client will take further legal means to challenge the verdict.
A website created in Mr. Bout's support offers this view on the convicted arms smuggler's identity:
Victor Bout is a Russian businessman who became one of the world’s famous on the basis of fictitious tales and stories which were generated from one source -- a corrupt United Nations contractor who was generously paid for the UN contracts he arranged with the help of others for Victor’s companies, and then became mad for vengeance when Victor refused to continue paying him. All you know about Victor Bout is traceable to Johan Peleman’s report, a report that was written as a novel and made Peleman an expert, a hero, and a very wealthy man. [...]
Viktor Bout extradited to the United States aboard a Drug Enforcement Administration plane on Nov. 16, 2010. Photo by Drug Enforcement Administration (in the public domain).

          At the heart of the controversy is the notion that although Mr. Bout's activities were international in nature, he was tried by an American jury, and therefore his accusers might have had political motives. Mr. Bout was not initially arrested in the United States but rather in Thailand. Russia opposed his extradition to the United States from Thailand. Douglas Farah, a Senior Fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, announced Mr. Bout's extradition in his Aug. 20, 2010, post:
Well, it is a day I had long predicted would never occur, but I have never been happier to be wrong. A Thai appeals court today ruled the Russian weapons merchant Viktor Bout could be extradited to stand trial in the United States. [...]
          In her Oct. 31 post on's Global Public Square blog, Kathi Austin, a former arms trafficking expert for the United Nations, described her perception of the trial itself, which she had witnessed in person:
[...] Viktor Bout’s defense has been built around the notion that he was conning the undercover DEA operatives, posing as the FARC, about a potential arms deal only because he wanted to sell them a couple of airplanes – ones in his fleet that Bout still had parked in the Congo despite the fact these assets should have been frozen under the current UN sanctions regime. The U.S. called the aviation witnesses in an effort to provide additional corroboration that Bout had the intent and ability to supply arms as in the past. The prosecution has argued that the airplanes were just part and parcel of the entire package deal, as it would typically be for multi-capacity arms dealers like Bout. On the surface, the positions of the prosecution and defense may appear to be different. But on closer examination, each point to the same conclusion when it comes to the problematic way arms trafficking networks conduct their murky business by air. In the wrong hands, as Bout exemplifies, aviation can contribute to a diabolical ecosystem destroying many lives when weapons are illicitly delivered. When it comes to tightening arms brokering controls in the future, this sector must be included. [...]
        On Twitter, Andrew Osborn, a Moscow correspondent for The Daily Telegraph, posted this ominous appraisal of the trial's outcome:
Viktor Bout's conviction will definitely damage the already faltering reset in relations between the US and Russia #russia #bout
Mr. Osborn also mentioned the reactions inside Russia:
In Russia hardcore nationalists like LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky regard Viktor Bout as a wronged innocent of the motherland #russia
          The Russian daily Izvestia published an opinion piece by businessman and suspected criminal Alimzhan Tokhtakhunov, aka Taiwanchik, who captured a Russian perspective [ru] on Mr. Bout's conviction:
[...] The problem with these kinds of stories is that the United States regularly and harshly blamed our citizens for some incredible crimes, after which it takes a long time to prove one's innocence and clean oneself of negative impact. This means that Americans gain trumps in the political game against Russia, and we have no way to fight it, no recourse. Americans might intervene everywhere, and we, as it turns out, can not adequately respond. Why can the US authorities arrest a Russian citizen in a third country and extradite him and try him without our intervention? And we do not intervene, because Russia is still in some ways a dependent country. It is difficult for us to utilize strong initiatives to protect our citizens - we want to get into the WTO and to show civilized politics. [...] [...] In this case, time is a doctor. Thanks to our current authorities, the country is growing mightier, and maybe in 5-10 years, in some cases, we'll be able to unzip the fly [on our pants], so to say, and show them.
          The publication of Mr. Tokhtakhunov text has surprised and outraged some of the Izvestia readers; below is a selection of their comments [ru]. Elena wrote:
Oh, [Russia has reached a new low] - bandit [...] Taiwanchik expresses his "expert opinion." He unzips his fly - and his mental development becomes obvious right away.
Ilya wrote:
When will this respected publication offer us an expert opinion of another bandit? We, the citizens of the Great Power, are unable to sleep and eat until the thugs teach us how to live.
Lyokha wrote:
We are eagerly awaiting texts by [mobster Aslan Usoyan, aka Grandpa Hassan] and other noteworthy individuals.
Bonzai Aware wrote:
The author of the article features in the film "Thieves by Law," talking passionately about his career as a thief and about how hard it is to escape [Interpol]. Astra Film 2011 - Thieves by Law - watch it on YouTube. This is definitely someone we shouldn't be defending. We do not need such people.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Russia: Retired Tennis Star Marat Safin to Run for Parliament

          Russian tennis phenomenon, Marat Safin, has announced that he will run for the Russian State Duma in the December 4 elections. Born in Moscow in 1980, Mr. Safin began his professional tennis career in 1997. In 2000 he became the number 1 ranked player in the world when he defeated Pete Sampras in order to win the US Open. He won Australian Open in 2005 and helped lead the Russian team to Davis Cup victories in 2002 and 2006.
          Certainly, Mr. Safin is a talented athlete. However, his public image, as illustrated by citizen media outlets, has until now not been focused on public service.
          Russian Politics for Dummies Blog announced Mr. Safin's campaign in a post on October 28:
Safin, the 2000 US Open winner and 2005 Australian Open champion, said he was serious about his political ambitions. 
“I am running for Federal Parliament in Russia,” Safin told the ATP Champions Tour website. 
“The elections are on December 4th so I will find out soon. It’s a new challenge. I think I am an intelligent guy and I have a lot to bring and a lot of ideas about things and what to do. I am very committed to it.” 
Safin added: “I could be the best looking guy in the Duma, but that’s only because all the other guys are over 60.”
Marat Safin at the XV International ATP tennis tournament St. Petersburg Open 2009. Photo by Mike Kireev, copyright © Demotix (27/10/2009)
           Russian blogger, Gleb Mekhed, contrasted his admiration [ru] for Mr. Safin's athletic ability to his distaste for Mr. Safin's antics in an August 2011 post:
[...] I must say that I play tennis a bit myself, and for a long time Marat was a man I admired. His graceful game sometimes reminded me of a tiger. However, I was always annoyed by his antics with the smashing of rackets, etc. Honestly I do not know what he needs politics for. Maybe just because it's trendy. [...]
          Miriam Elder, GlobalPost blog's Senior Correspondent in Moscow, placed Mr. Safin's State Duma run into political and geographical context in her July post:
What does somebody like Marat Safin do after retiring from tennis? There are plenty of options: he could model, he could act, he could marry me, I mean, somebody
But this is Russia and if you want to stay on top here, best to link up with United Russia. And guess what – that’s what Safin is doing. 
According to the United Russia website, Safin is taking part in the election primaries currently being held in consort with the People’s Front (I wrote about them this weekend). The idea is to formulate United Russia’s candidate list for the December elections. Safin is standing for the Nizhny Novgorod region, which is weird, considering he was born in Moscow, to ethnic Tatar parents, and Nizhny has nothing to do with either one or the other. [...]
          Mr. Safin's own 2006 blog - which was hosted in Russian here and translated into English on ATP World Tour site - offers insight into his life as a tennis player. In one blog entry, he discussed his relationship with his parents:
[...] Last night my father called me at around 1am and asked me to use one of my cars to take my grandfather to a medical check this morning. Since I am a good son, I told him to come to the apartment in the morning and pick up the keys. When he arrived, I gave him some laundry as a present for my mum… 
For some reason, after a certain age our lovable parents enjoy doing things for their kids, like laundry, looking after your flat when you are not around. They are just happy to do anything, anytime for their kids. But when you are young, you have to do all these things, laundry, doing the dishes, cleaning the apartment and all the c—p you hate doing, when the only thing you want to do is go out, hang out with your friends and do whatever is on your mind. Every age has its good parts and bad parts, it is important that you enjoy both of them. [...]
And here are Mr. Safin's thoughts about what it is like to participate in a tennis tournament:
[...] The day was long, the ladies took over on court and they took forever to decide who wanted to win and lose. Apparently, nobody wanted to lose. So I was waiting, eating and drinking coffee. I went to sleep and almost fell from the massage table a couple of times because when you sleep your body sometimes shakes – so I almost fell down. I slept and then drank another couple of coffees. I ate again and drank again. Basically, my stomach was like an aquarium. A mixture of pasta, soup, Russian blinis, jam, coffee, tea, peach juice so you can imagine how I was going to look after a few hours. 
They then called us. Everyone is happy two Russian girls and two guys are in the final. It was a full stadium today, pretty amazing as the stadium is pretty big. We are only using one quarter of it for the Center Court. More or less, today was around 10,000 people. It was not 100% full. [...] 
It is my first final in Moscow, so I am happy. A final nobody can complain about. No one will make me feel guilty of going away to sleep and not doing my job properly. [...] 
After today’s match, I did press and signed around 5,000 million autographs so I could perfect my signature. A lot of kids coming, running up with balls. At least kids here they know who I am. For example at some of the tournaments like in Cincinnati or Montreal, they come up and don’t even know who you are. They then ask, “Excuse me. Who are you?” I always use the name Roger Federer. For sure they know Roger. Then they ask, “Yeah, sure, who are you?” So I am still using his name. [...]
          People from around the world who had been accustomed to seeing such a flamboyant persona from Mr. Safin reacted on Twitter to the news of his political ambitions.

Temidayo Oluyede from Nigeria wrote:
murray-bruce running for office...marat safin sef running for breed of politians
New Yorker Daniel Kaplan, a tennis reporter for SportsBusiness Journal, wrote:
Marat Safin running for Parliament! He wasn't exactly a statesman as a player! [...]
          Russian Politics for Dummies blog reminded readers that Mr. Safin is not the first Russian tennis player to have political ambitions:
The 31-year-old Safin is the second Russian tennis star to target a seat in the Duma following 2007 US Open women’s semi-finalist Anna Chakvetadze announcement in September that she was to stand for the Right Cause party. 
The 24-year-old, formerly ranked in the top five in the world, has not played since Wimbledon in June because of poor health. 
Chakvetadze said she wanted to “try something new” and focus on women’s rights and children’s sports. 
“I joined the Right Cause Party because it’s a young party,” she said.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

American Civil War: Early Form of Trench Warfare

My great great grandpa, Edward T. Miller, carried this musket for the 
Union at the Battle of Antietam (1862). Edward's pension papers formed part of 
my Daughters of the American Revolution application as 
his ancestor, Daniel Warner, fought and died at the Battle of Bennington (1777). 

         When studying American politics it's easy to be distracted by tabloid-like antics. Sometimes, however, that can be detrimental. Perhaps if military historians had taken a closer look at battle tactics used during the American Civil War, World War I would not have been as costly.
         During the last year of the American Civil War, a form of trench-style warfare based upon the rifled musket was developed. Military commanders learned that if they armed a soldier standing in a trench with one of these muskets aimed at advancing troops, he could eliminate 3-4 X his number. Thus, it began to no longer make sense to send large numbers of soldiers running at fortified positions.
         Half a century later during WWI, military commanders did not utilize the lessons learned of the nastiness and ineffectiveness of trench warfare; millions and millions of soldiers died. The commanders relied on Napoleonic tactics that had been effective before the development of the machine gun. Even American commanders did not utilize the knowledge that was gained from the Civil War trenches. For example, General John Pershing used Napoleonic style tactics during the Meuse-Argonne offensive in 1918.
         With regard to American politics, I try to listen a lot more than I talk because there are important subtleties that can be missed.
Rifled Musket Carried by my ancestor Edward T. Miller at the Battle of Antietam

Pictured Above: My ancestor - Edward T. Miller - carried this musket with him at the Battle of Antietam in the American Civil War. 4 X the number of Americans were killed/wounded/captured during that battle as on D-Day in 1944. If you point a flashlight down the barrel you can see the rifled grooves. Edward T. Miller's granddaughter, Margery Miller Welles, has been nominated to join the International Boxing Hall of Fame - she was one of the founding authors of Sports Illustrated