Currently viewing the tag: "russia"

A libertarian panel hosted by Lucy Steigerwald, where ranting is encouraged, and smashing the state is mandatory.

-Lucy Steigerwald: Columnist for VICE.com, Antiwar.com, Rare.us, and Editor in Chief of The Stag Blog; @lucystag

-Joe Steigerwald: Publisher for The Stag Blog, technical dude; @steigerwaldino

-Michelle Montalvo: Perpetual intern, sci-fi enthusiast, technical failure; @michellePHL

-Adam Berkeley: libertarian-sympathetic friend who knows foreign policy and hates DC.

-M.K. Lords; editor at Bitcoin Not Bombs, writer for various bitcoin and anarchists sites, firedancer, poet; @mklords

Our cranky, liberty-loving panel discussed warmongers, necons, Israel, and other depressing news of the day, then wrapped it up with a comic chat about the impending death of Archie, and the new female status of Thor.

Steve doesn't know what the KHL is.One Hour Rebuttal is a new feature in which Joe Steigerwald attempts to discredit, rebut, or unmercifully troll a news report or story in one hour or less.

Tuesday, 2:02 pm:

Normally I wouldn’t bother mentioning or even acknowledging a website as pedestrian as theDailySurge.com. It’s a mundane, conservative ripoff of a thousand similar sites that regurgitate trending news stories with snappy headlines and bad commentary. However, being a Steigerwald, it is my duty to criticize poorly researched hockey articles. And we have ourselves a doozy.

Sanction Russian NHL Players,” written by Steve Eubanks, a New York Times bestselling author and former golf pro is a poorly thought-out, hastily written, unresearched collision of American exceptionalism and a misunderstanding of global hockey dynamics. No offense Steve, but you should stick to golf, never mention hockey again and recuse yourself from talking about politics while you’re at it.

Mr. Eubanks’ theory, which he finally stumbles onto after a “lesson” on the use of sanctions, is that:

If President Basketball Bracket wants to get the attention of the Russian people and send a strong message to Czar Putin the Shirtless, there’s one simple way to do it: revoke the work visas for all of Russia’s hockey stars, send them home and freeze their assets in the United States.

It’s hard to believe the Putin shirtless obsession and weak cliches aren’t the worst part of this sentence.

In order to properly refute this “theory” one has to be aware of the existence of one thing: the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), the number two hockey league in the world after the NHL. Now for those of you unaware, the KHL is played in Russia, home of Czar Putin the Shirtless. The KHL is also home to many world-class hockey players including Ilya Kovalchuk, who walked away from a $77 million NHL contract to go play in Russia. Using a fairly obvious simile, the KHL is to the NHL like Putin is to the United States. In other words, the KHL is unhappy with the NHL’s hockey hegemony and wants to be viewed as a legitimate competitor. The KHL endeavors to achieve this goal by poaching players from the NHL through lucrative offers. Dynamo Moscow of the KHL tried to lure NHL superstar Alexander Ovechkin during the NHL’s lockout.

Now if Obama decided to send the 28 Russian born players in the NHL (down from 64 in 2004) back to Russia who would that benefit? Is the answer A) the NHL, America’s premier hockey league or B) the KHL, pride of the Russian motherland. Obviously the answer would be B.

So when Steve opines that:

Given the option of heading home to an unknown future or “defecting” and continuing to draw a paycheck, you’d have to believe a few would bid the Motherland a fair adieu.

Granted, NHL honchos would have a conniption fit, but not like the full-blown, chest-beating meltdown the Russians would have. Hockey is football in Russia: closer to religion than sport.

If you want Muscovites protesting Putin’s every step and pressuring him to stop his westward advance, hit them where they live. Send their hockey players packing.

Let’s see how many of today’s modern stars give up their lifestyles for a CCCP jersey and the honorary rank of captain in the new Soviet Army.

It’s not Steve is dumb, it’s just that Steve doesn’t understand that there is another hockey league that operates in Russia and has been trying to do, for years, the exact thing that Steve has just proposed. Okay maybe he is dumb (or incapable of using Google). Or maybe he had never heard of the KHL. Maybe he wasn’t aware that going back to Russia to earn comparable paychecks and playing in their homeland was not only a possibility, but one with strong allure for many Russian players.

Putin would love to see the Russian hockey players back home, in front of the Russian people, generating money for the Russian state. The KHL would receive a massive boost in credibility, and the NHL would in turn suffer. KHL fans would get to watch their heroes in person instead of tape-delayed from the US and the league would undoubtedly flourish.

So, sorry Steve, your brilliant strategy of leveraging the Russian NHL players in backing down Putin’s unstoppable march towards Europe probably isn’t going to work. It was a really stupid idea, without any real thought and you would be laughed at if you suggested it to anyone other than the Daily Surge.

End. 3:07 PM. Total time 1:05 minutes. I promise to do better next time. Don’t be a doofus, follow me on Twitter. And like The Stag Blog on Facebook while you’re at it.

snowproblemIn case you didn’t get the memo, today is International Polar Bear Day. It’s a day filled with poorly-researched articles where “science” writers bemoan how evil humans will wipe out polar bears, and cry over spilt carbon.

Yahoo is running a “5 Weird Facts About Polar Bears” on its front page. A dubious list of four “weird” facts with a fifth that trumpets “Two-thirds of polar bears could disappear by 2050.

Polar bears rely on sea ice to hunt, and studies predict that global warming could melt enough sea ice to lead to the disappearance of two-thirds of polar bears by 2050. The decline in sea ice has forced the bears to swim longer distances, consuming energy they cannot afford to use.

The United States listed polar bears as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in May 2008, and Canada and Russia have listed them as a species of special concern. Unless climate change slows, eventually there may not be any bears around to celebrate Polar Bear Day.

It’s an especially poor attempt by author Tanya Lewis at making a valid point about polar bears. She doesn’t even link to an article that supports her theory of polar bear disappearance other than they have to swim longer distances. The least she could do is try to make an effort — if she’s so concerned about the polar bears — to write a compelling article based on facts. The whole thing is just a way to drum up uninformed outrage.

Not that Tanya should be singled out.

Time has its own hysteria inducing “Save the Polar Bear, Especially Today.” Basically a rehashed, non-listacle version of the Yahoo article, (now with more hysteria!)

Many scientists and conservationists fear that there may be far fewer polar bears in even that single-decade time frame, thanks chiefly to the effects of climate change. Polar bears use sea ice as a platform to reach their prey, chiefly seals, and summer sea ice is melting fast. Despite a rebound from a record low in 2012, the extent of Arctic sea ice is generally trending downwards, often dramatically. As the ice vanishes, polar bears are forced to swim longer and longer distances to reach those hunting platforms, which is taking a toll on the species.

Once again, there’s no link, no data to back up his claim that swimming long distances is killing the species. It’s the standard global warming doomsdayers trope. The Time article also goes on to make various other wildly unsubstantiated claims like:

Still, most experts agree that there are about 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears alive, scattered around the Arctic—a perilously small number though some subpopulations have rebounded, in part because of restrictions on hunting.

So perilously small that some populations may have reached their carrying capacity.

In fact, research shows that polar bear populations have been increasing, to between 20,000-25,000 bears. Far more than the 12,000 estimated in the late ’60s before an international ban on hunting in the 1970s. What’s more, scientists still don’t even have sufficient data about eight of the 19 known polar bear habitats. But of course the lack of data won’t prevent a lot of people from spouting off about the imminent destruction of the polar bear.Polar Bear Map

(And don’t let the facts dissuade you from using these “sexy” beasts as the mascots for your climate change hysteria.)

Fortunately the truth is out there. Zach Unger, who originally set off to write “an elegy” for the certain destruction of the species, ended up writing “Never Look A Polar Bear in the Eye,” a chronicle of the massive success and rebirth polar bears have enjoyed in the past decades.

And then there’s this article about polar bears from Canadian Geographic that highlights two experts who view predictions of extinction as “joke”:

Consider Mitch Taylor’s story. He spent more than two decades as a polar bear researcher and manager for the Nunavut government and has published around 50 peer-reviewed papers. That should garner widespread respect. But Taylor has been highly vocal about his belief that polar bears are mostly doing fine, that cub mortality varies from year to year and that the much ballyhooed predictions of extinction by 2050 are “a joke.” He also alleges that a lot of the “exaggerated decline” is just a way to keep certain scientists well funded and to transfer control of the polar bear issue from territorial to federal hands.

[…]

Yet by 1990, Ian Stirling — at the time, the senior research scientist for the Canadian Wildlife Service and a professor of zoology at the University of Alberta; basically, one of the most respected polar bear scientists on the planet — felt comfortable answering the question as to whether polar bears are an endangered species by stating flatly: “They are not.” He went on to say that “the world population of polar bears is certainly greater than 20,000 and could be as high as 40,000 … I am inclined toward the upper end of that range.”

So next time you see a picture of some poor polar bear “trapped on an ice floe” or Leonardo DiCaprio Photoshopped into the arctic, ask yourself this: “Who benefits from all the polar bear hysteria?”

(It’s not the polar bears.)Vanity Fair and Knut

soviet exhibit interior

The Soviet National Exhibition took over the L.A. Convention Center in November of 1977 to try to impress Americans with their shiny spacecraft and crappy consumer goods.

 

Looking for Anya X

 

Anya was not a happy communist travel agent.

It was Nov. 17, 1977. We were eating an inexpensive lunch together in the crowded cafeteria at the Los Angeles Convention Center in downtown LA.

I was a 30-year-old divorced bartender and freelance journalist living in Hollywood. She was married and living in New York, where she was a guide for Intourist.

Anya Ryukhin was one of 200 lucky bureaucrats, public relations specialists and KGB agents who had been sent to sunny southern California to staff the Soviet National Exhibition, a massive Cold War propaganda show that took over the convention center from Nov. 12 to Nov. 29.

Only 28, Anya was already a privileged citizen of the Soviet Union. Smart, personable, youthful as a schoolgirl, she was blessed with an easy smile and thick dark hair that piled up on her shoulders. Born in Moscow, a straight-A graduate of Moscow State University, she spoke English better than I did.

Since 1973 she had been working for Intourist and living in Manhattan with her husband, who worked for the Soviet mission to the United Nations. I had become friendly with Anya on the first day of the exhibition by taking photographs of her and her more businesslike sidekick, Tanya, as they worked in their information booth.

During our lunch Anya and I exchanged life stories and avoided East-West politics. She was in good spirits until she began telling me how little fun and excitement she was having in the entertainment capital of the “Free World.” After two weeks, she had seen virtually nothing of Los Angeles’ nightlife, tourist attractions or famous beaches.

Picking at the remains of her fruit salad, saying she felt “empty inside,” she looked like she was going to cry. She wanted to go out to a jazz club. Most of all she wanted to see the Pacific Ocean — and swim in it. They were two things I did all the time, I told her.

And she wanted to go out by herself or with Tanya, not on a tour bus with a dozen comrades and security chaperones, which was how she had seen Disneyland and the starry mansions of Beverly Hills.

But she knew an unsupervised night on the town was impossible. She and her colleagues were forbidden to leave their motel at night unless they went with a boss. Her boss was a real nice guy. He knew how miserable she was and he sympathized. But he didn’t have any free time in Los Angeles either.

Anya was disappointed, frustrated, emotionally worn out. She was being treated like a child — or a prisoner. All she wanted were some good memories to take home with her. All she had were memories of work and a Holiday Inn hotel room.

When I said I wanted to help her in anyway I could, Anya surprised me. She said she might be able to sneak out of her hotel late at night. It sounded like a great idea to a fun-loving libertarian like me. I encouraged her to try it.

And I told her that if she could escape from her unhappy outpost of the Soviet Union, I’d pick her up in my tiny $1,000 red 1960 MGA sports car and take her wherever she wanted to go.

Anya Ryukhin working at the  Intourist booth at the Soviet exhibit in L.A. in 1977.

 

Part of the reason Anya was so unhappy during our lunch was her punishing work schedule.

For the previous five days, from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., she had stood behind an Intourist information booth at the Soviet exhibition, smiling sweetly, handing out pamphlets, answering questions and explaining what ordinary life was really like in the Soviet Union under Leonid Brezhnev.

The exhibition was the first of its kind in the U.S. since 1959. It was a major news event in a town known for movies and rock ‘n’ roll. Heavily protected by police and primitive metal detectors, it was besieged each day by hundreds of anti-Communist protestors and activists from across the political spectrum.

soviet exhib -- exterior

Outside the convention center it was a circus of demonstrators, activists and cops.

Demonstrators waved Armenian and Ukrainian flags, held up “Free the Baltic States” signs and shouted epithets like “Bolshevik Murderers.” Socialists, Jews and “Save the Whales” environmentalists pushed newspapers, pamphlets and fliers into the unwilling hands of disinterested Americans.

The exhibition was free to the public. It was designed to impress Americans with the glorious scientific, industrial and cultural achievements of 60 years of Communist Party rule, but it often     looked like an unintentional self-parody of the Soviet Union.

It was a crazy jumble, half government science fair, half flea market. Shiny Soyuz spacecraft, Kosmos satellites and arts and crafts from Russia’s 15 captive republics shared the floor with silk-screened banners celebrating the fall of the tsar and scale-models of shopping malls, hydroelectric dams and BN-600 fast neutron reactors. There were few consumer items — television sets half the size of American refrigerators and piles of poorly printed travel brochures for places like Armenia and Ukraine.

Though crudely ideological and a fat target for derision, the Soviet exhibition was grossly over-praised by the Los Angeles Times as “splashy” and “seductive.”

Apparently the newspaper didn’t notice the dearth of consumer goods, the fixation on industrial production statistics or the huge silk-screened banners carrying Orwellian slogans like “Guaranteed Employment for Everyone,” “Space Serves Peace and Progress” and “The Welfare of the People is the Goal of Socialism.”

The exhibition’s main brochure itemized how many lives, towns, villages, mines and large factories the heroic Soviet Union had lost in World War II. An Intourist handout aimed at potential foreign travelers to the U.S.S.R. included useless statistics about electric power capacities, rolled ferrous metal output and 10-year plan goals.

The best example of how helpless the Soviet Public Relations Ministry was in trying to appeal to Americans was a cheap 32-page booklet containing a speech that Leonid Brezhnev had recently given at a Communist Party gala marking the 60th anniversary of the “Great October Socialist Revolution.”

Unrolling a string of wrong predictions, Brezhnev droned on and on about the  political accomplishments of the party, the superior socioeconomic achievements of socialism and the already clearly evident death spiral of capitalism.

The Soviets made another PR mistake when they scattered guest books around the exhibition space for visitors to write in their comments. Many entries were naive love notes to the Soviets for their dogged pursuit of mutual East-West understanding.

Other Americans could see through the Soviet smokescreen. “Very interesting, but stupid,” one wrote. Several quipped, “This is almost as impressive as the Berlin Wall.” Another asked, “No toaster, no microwave?” Another wondered where the SAMs and AK-47s were. One wise guy said, “Your planes kill more people than any other airline in the world — so do your disastrous space missions. P.S.: Lenin needs a hair transplant.”

While I was copying down these all-American comments, a deadly serious Soviet staffer asked me what I was doing and expressed concern that I was taking down names for “the police inspector.” “No,” I told her. “I’m writing a newspaper article, and I thought some of the entries were really funny.”

I showed the woman the “Berlin Wall” quip, but she didn’t laugh. “I don’t like that humor,” she said. “It is not friendly.”

She disappeared but returned with the deputy manager of the exhibition, who somehow managed to be even more humorless. As I explained myself and asked him a few innocent questions, the woman picked up the guest book and took it away.

For those seeking sanctuary from the onslaught of Soviet-style boosterism, there was a small, somber but powerful counter-exhibition on the convention center’s second floor.

It had been mounted — despite formal complaints lodged by Soviet officials — by Soviet Jews to protest the denial of their human, religious and political rights in the Soviet Union. Called “Soviet Jewry: Six Decades of Oppression,” it focused on the plight of thousands of “refuseniks,” the Soviet Jews who were denied the right to immigrate to Israel and elsewhere.

Little more than panels papered with black-and-white photographs and letters from refuseniks, it told the stories of the Soviet Jews who filed for exit visas and subsequently lost their jobs, had their apartments taken away and were sometimes dispatched to the gulag. It drew 62,000 visitors, 30 at a time.

For the next few days, while I hoped Anya would find the courage to risk a night of illicit freedom in Los Angeles, I played journalist/spy.

I went across the street from the convention center to the Holiday Inn, where two Soviet security men in bad suits sat in the lobby pretending to read newspapers.

The hotel manager said the FBI ordered him not to tell anyone how many of the “Russians” were staying there (nearly all 200 were) or what floor they were on (the seventh).

He said the guests were quiet, polite, patient and well-behaved. They didn’t loiter in the lounge and definitely weren’t allowed to go out at night.

A maid on the seventh floor said the Russians were neither especially clean nor dirty, and — despite the stereotypes — they didn’t do any heavy drinking or partying in their rooms.

If this were a Russian fairy tale, my story would end with Anya sneaking out of her motel room, us dancing till dawn in the surf at Zuma Beach and then falling in love and living happily ever after under assumed names in Malibu.

If this were a bad American TV docudrama, it would end with me helping Anya defect, getting in a shoot-out with KGB assassins on the Santa Monica Pier and creating an international incident that discredited the Soviet propaganda show and hastened the collapse of the evil Soviet Empire.

But this is a true story.

The Soviets National Exhibition — an unflattering but accurate microcosm of the U.S.S.R. and its sociopolitical and economic failures — was deemed a success. It drew 310,000 people in 18 days and closed without any acts of violence or a single defection.

I went on to become a modestly successful newspaperman at the Los Angeles Times and two Pittsburgh newspapers. As for Anya, she never did have to risk sneaking out of her motel.

Her boss finally responded to her lamentations about being tired and unhappy in Los Angeles. He let her go back to New York early. And before she left, he took Anya to the Universal Studios movie lot and to the beach at Santa Monica, where she got her wish and swam in the Pacific.

I said goodbye to Anya Ryukhin on Nov. 21, 1977, on my final trip to the convention center. She wrote her name and New York business address on my notepad and later I mailed her some of the best photos I had taken of her. She never wrote back.

Six years ago I tried to find her. I Googled Anya’s last name, visited web sites in Moscow and sent e-mails asking for help from people at Moscow State University, The Moscow Times and Sistema, the private company that now owns Intourist. No one responded.

At the Moscow bureau of the Los Angeles Times, reporter Sergei Loiko did some checking around for me, but it only deepened the mystery. According to Intourist’s personnel records, Loiko said, no person named Anya Ryukhin ever worked at Intourist in the 1970s or later.

 

anya hair down

So did Anya befriend me, tell me details of her personal life, expose her fragile emotional state to me and consider sneaking out of her hotel to meet me for a midnight joyride — and then give me a phony last name? Maybe, but not likely.

Today Anya would be 64 years old. I don’t know if she lives in Russia or even if she’s still alive. I don’t know if Ryukhin is her last name. Was it her maiden name? Her alias? Was she KGB, as her husband probably was?

Anya has become my personal “riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” For obvious personal and journalistic reasons, I want to find out what became of her. Maybe someone in Moscow who reads this will tell me. But for now, Anya’s trail is as cold as the global propaganda war that brought us together for lunch in Los Angeles.