Archives for January 2013

FINAL POLL: Russia Voices Or RossPress?

For background see here, here.

Russia Voices is good because it powerfully hints at what the project is all about: Giving the Anglo-sphere some sense of what Russians from all sides of the political spectrum are saying. But downside is it’s similar to Voice of Russia (a radio station), and besides, the more “intuitive” RussianVoices.com has already been taken.

RossPress is succinct and powerful; my innumerable thanks to the glorious Craig J. Willy for suggesting it. Only downside is that many Westerners don’t know that Russia, in Russian, is Rossiya.

I can’t say I’m 100% happy with either choice but c’est la vie. This issue should be gotten out of the way sooner rather than later.

RossPress (RossPress.com) 24
Russia Voices (RussiaVoices.com) 17
Other 3

Only vote “Other” if you really hate both of them (preferably provide an alternative in that case). Thank you all for your participation.

Finally, I’d like to note that today I have translated the first two articles ever specifically for RV/RP. They are:

I have chosen to translate liberals because to date I have mostly only translated “patriots”, conservatives, and Putin supporters. This is to demonstrate and affirm that the site will be a non-partisan affair to the maximum feasible extent possible.

Edit 2013/2/2: As there is strong support for both options, I will test them out via Google Adwords and come to a decision by next week (which is when I plan to launch the site anyway).

The Russian Cross Becomes A Hexagon

One of the standard memes about Russia’s demographic trajectory was the “Russian Cross.” While at the literal level it described the shape of the country’s birth rate and death rate trajectories, a major reason why it entered the discourse was surely because it also evoked the foreboding of the grave.

russian-cross

But this period now appears to have come to a definitive end. Russia’s population ceased falling around at about 2009; in the past year, it has increased by over 400,000 thanks to net immigration.

Meanwhile, against all general expectations, the birth rates and death rates have essentially equalized. Whereas in 2011 natural decrease was still at a substantial 131,000, preliminary figures indicate that it has subsided to a mere 2,573 for this year. It could just as easily turn positive once the figures are revised. For all intents and purposes, the “Russian Cross” has become the “Russian Hexagon.”

russian-hexagon

This is a momentous landmark in many ways.

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A Chess Game To The Death

I am back to writing for the US-Russia.org Expert Discussion Panel, which since my hiatus has found an additional home at Voice of Russia. The latest topic was on whether Russia, China, and the West could find a common approach to the challenges of the Arab Spring. My response is pessimistic, as in my view Western actions are driven by a combination of ideological “democracy fetishism” and the imperative of improving their own geopolitical positions vis-à-vis Iran, Russia, and China. This makes it difficult to find any middle ground:

It is true that many Muslims in the Middle East want their aging strongman rulers out, and democracy in. Even Osama bin Laden, who purportedly “hates us for our freedom”, once mused that the reason Spain has a bigger economy than the entire Arab world combined was because “the ruler there is accountable.”

And this is also part of the reason why we should refrain from fetishizing “democracy” as the solution to all the region’s ills.

That is because liberal democracy as we know it in the West, with its separation of powers – in particular, that of the Church and state – isn’t at the top of most locals’ priority lists. It only really concerns the liberal youth who initially headed the revolt, while the other 95% of the population is concerned with more trivial things, like unemployment and food prices. As per the historical pattern with the French and Russian revolutions, the Arab Spring happened during a period of record high grain prices. And now as then, a revolution won’t magically create jobs or fill bellies.

In today’s Egypt, it is not foreign-residing technocrats like El Baradei, with his 2% approval ratings, who become President; nor is the cultural discourse set by young Cairo women who strip nude against patriarchy. Remove a secular, modernizing dictator from a country where 75% of the populations supports stoning for adultery, and sooner rather than later you get restrictive dress codes for women (de facto if not de jure), attacks against Christian minorities, and bearded Islamists worming their way into power.

As for Syria, the biggest practical difference is that the liberal minority in the opposition was sidelined even before the fall of the dictator, as it is the Islamists who are now taking the lead in the fighting against Assad.

Will the new regimes that emerge out of the Arab Spring be anywhere near as accommodating with the West as were the likes of Mubarak, or even Assad – who, as Putin reminded us, visited Paris more times that he did Moscow? Will religious fundamentalists be able, or even willing, to build up the (educational) human capital that is the most important component of sustained economic growth?wahh Will they even be able to regain control of their borders, or will they end up like Libya, an anarchic zone disgorging Wahhabi mujahedeen into neighboring countries that don’t really want them?

Western policy-makers do not seem all that eager to consider these questions. Maybe they think they can manipulate the Arab Spring to serve their own interests – after all, Assad’s Syria is an ally of Iran, supplies Hezbollah, and has security relations with Russia and China. They may be calculating that the geopolitical boon from removing the Alawites from power outweighs the costs of Islamists taking over in Damascus. Certainly there are grounds to doubt that genuine concern for democracy explains French, British, and American actions: After all, the two dictatorships friendliest to the West, Bahrain and Yemen, were actively supported in their crackdowns.

If the above interpretation is anywhere near true, there can be little hope for Russia and China finding common ground with the West. It would imply that the Middle East is a chessboard for Great Power games – and chess isn’t a game that you typically play to draw. The one thing everyone should bear in mind, though, is that no matter a man’s ideological leaning, he resents being a pawn. This is a life truism that was demonstrated in the attacks on the US consulate in Benghazi, that is being played out today in Mali, and that will continue to reverberate so long as the crusaders – for they are widely seen as such – remain in Dar Al-Islam.

Vote On The Name For The “English Inosmi”

As long-term readers will be aware, I am working on two big projects: A book on myths about Russia, and a website specializing in translating articles from the Russian press into English.

(The idea being that even if it does nothing else, Western institutions will no longer be able to credibly say Russia’s level of media freedoms are on par with Zimbabwe’s).

While the preliminary name I’m going with before the site is unveiled is “Russia Voices”, this is far from set in stone. First, it would sound better as “Russian Voices.” Second, a Voice of Russia already exists. Maybe there is a better alternative? I would appreciate it if you could vote on and provide feedback on other possible names for this site.

Update: Guess there’s no longer a need to keep the poll running. It’s already clear that Russia Voices is the only one of the original suggestions with any support. The majority of you think that it needs to be something else.

Russia Voices (russiavoices.com) 4
Russian Points of View (russpovs.com) 2
Press of Russian Federation (pressrf.com) 1
Other 12

Please feel free to make your own suggestions. Note that the .com hyperlink has to be available for a name to be seriously considered. Thanks.

Da Russophile Is Now Five Years Old

I have recently been cleaning up my old posts.

When I moved from Sublime Oblivion to here, the pictures remained hosted at the old site (there were too many of them to auto-import). So I’ve been going through ancient posts, manually reattaching pictures (so that they are now hosted at wordpress.com) and making the categories and tags system more comprehensive.

This allowed me the opportunity to reread (or rather, skim) many of my older posts. I summarize the experience here.

In short, the original Da Russophile at blogger was… too Russophile. Unreasonably so.

The Sublime Oblivion of 2009-2010 in its Russia coverage was characterized by a “bizarre fusion” of eco-leftism, Stratforian realism, and Spenglerian mysticism. As in 2008 there were many good articles, but overall it was patchy and frequently ideologized… and falling far short of the punchy, trope-breaking spirit that characterizes it today, and which it should have always aspired to.

In 2011 I moderated, the Russian coverage at S/O reached its peak, and I got into journalism. The pharma hack of early 2012 that crippled S/O was, in retrospect, a blessing in disguise: It allowed me to finally partition the Russia stuff and the everything else stuff into different domains.

As of today, I objectively believe my blog has never been better – and there are ambitious plans for a new translation website and ongoing work on the book Dark Lord of the Kremlin.

Since I started in January 9, 2008, Da Russophile (first in blogger; then as part of Sublime Oblivion; and finally, as now, as its own WordPress.com site) has been visited a total of nearly one million times. Thank you all for reading.

Russia’s Budget Is Getting More Transparent

Not often that you see Russia in some color other than bloody red on a world map of corruption or institutional quality. But according to the Open Budget Index (2012 results), the Russian budget is actually pretty transparent as far as these things go.

Of the major countries, only the UK (88), France (83), and the US (79) are ahead. The other major developed countries in the survey like Germany (71), Spain (63), and Italy (60) are all behind Russia (74), as are its fellow – and supposedly far cleaner – BRICs fellows Brazil (73), India (68), and China (11). Of perhaps greater import, only the Czech Republic (75) edges above Russia in the CEE group, whereas all the others – Slovakia (67), Bulgaria (65), Poland (59), Georgia (55), Ukraine (54), Romania (47), etc. – lag behind it. Also noteworthy is that Russia’s typical neighbors on Transparency International’s CPI, such as Zimbabwe (20), Nigeria (16), and Equatorial Guinea (0), reveal almost nothing in their national budgets.

Now of course the Open Budget Index is not the same thing as corruption. You can have an open budget but still steal from it (and this does happen in Russia frequently), and you can also have a closed budget from which few people steal, at least directly (as was the case in the USSR… or to take a more modern example, while Russia’s OBI is now higher than Germany’s, it is inconceivable that state corruption is even in the same league in these two countries).

Nonetheless, there is surely a very significant degree of correlation between the two. Having an open budget means that it is can be subjected to scrutiny; were Russia’s budget closed like China’s or Saudi Arabia’s, Navalny’s work to expose corrupt state tenders would be simply impossible (as it is, the latest ploy corrupt bureaucrats have been forced to resort to is to sprinkle Latin characters into the Cyrillic texts of state tenders so as to confound search engines).

Second, a high OBI score demonstrates the state’s commitment to fighting corruption. If Putin and Co. really didn’t care and were truly the kleptocrats they are repeatedly labeled as by the Western media, they would instead do everything in their power to hide the budget so as to remove the possibility of scrutinizing it. But they don’t. To the contrary, Russia’s OBI has increased from year to year.

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Five Years Of Blogging

It all began on January 9, 2008.

It began, as it is now, as Da Russophile over at blogger. And I was a Russophile then, perhaps unreasonably so. That said I did do some useful work back then. I am most proud of the demographic models by which I predicted:

  1. Russia will see positive population growth starting from 2010 at the latest.
  2. Natural population increase will occur starting from 2013 at the latest.

Bullseye!

I was not nearly so accurate on the economy. The severe recession in 2009 forced me to readjust my expectations.

At the end of the year, I moved my blog to WordPress and renamed it to Sublime Oblivion. From now on I would no longer write exclusively about Russia.

Around 2009, I also started having a major ideological shift that in retrospect was regrettable and wrong. It was a weird fusion of eco-leftism, Stratforian realism, and even mysticism (remember the “belief matrices“?). Back then my ideological/political arguments were not firewalled from my Russia stuff – as they are today with the Da Russophile / AKarlin division – and as such there appeared many downright bizarre articles like thisthis, and this. Despite a few gems, foremost of which was perhaps the translation of the infamous “Stalinist” textbook, this was a year best forgotten.

This pattern continued into 2010. Recall Green Communism and the Collapse Party? By the way, it’s not like I abandoned my views on Limits to Growth/unsustainability and the necessity of radical solutions. I just stopped caring about them.

I also initiated a series of interviews with leading Russia watchers back then, taking over from Andy Young of Siberian Light. But I didn’t keep it up.

2011 was a very productive year. I dropped a lot of the ideological nonsense in favor of practicalities, wrote a great series comparing the US/UK/Russia, and tilted my Russia coverage away from the unalloyed Russophilia of 2008 and the weird splashes of Spenglerian mysticism and obsession with geopolitics that marred it in 2009-10. It also marked my outbreak into mainstream journalism with me appearing on RT and starting to write op-eds for Al Jazeera.

The most interesting and critical year so far was 2012. It began ingloriously with a pharma hack of my blog. This destroyed my SEO ratings, but also presented an excellent opportunity to start over. I split the blog into Da Russophile (Russia stuff) and AKarlin aka this one (everything else).

Up to that time, my blog had enjoyed almost 800,000 visits. Since then, AKarlin.com has hosted a further 178,347 visits, and Da Russophile a further 164,745.

The Russia stuff continued on its upwards ascent. I continued with op-eds for Al Jazeera, wrote the classic 5 Types of Russian American, and started writing short pieces for the US-Russia.com Experts Panel (now regularly translated and republished at Voice of Russia).

The everything else part tilted into a sharply controversial direction. This was defined by my definitive embrace of Human Biodiversity theory with all the inevitable attendant consequences stemming from that decision (before I had avoided explicitly engaging with it by talking in terms of “human capital”). And if I’m going to openly write about HBD then I might as well openly write about game. I lost some regular readers, including a few who have since developed a visceral hatred for me, but I see that as no big loss. On the plus side I got many new ones thanks to associations with the HBDsphere. More importantly, I would not have to tiptoe around topics that I felt were important and highly relevant (by way of their explanatory power) to the world around us.

But then I had a few problems. The blog went into limbo for a few months.

This is not a permanent death and never will be if I can possibly help it. The aforementioned “problems” have now been solved, so regular blogging will return here in the near future – hopefully by the beginning of February.

As 2013 dawns on us, and I am finally free of the RL time constraints that held me back in previous years, there are five main directions to my work:

  • Continuing what I’m doing at Da Russophile.
  • Writing the book Dark Lord of the Kremlin.
  • The “Russian Inosmi” project called Russia Voices.
  • More journalism at Al Jazeera and Voice of Russia.
  • Resuming regular posting at AKarlin.com.

So please continue checking back here on this blog too. There will soon be a fun piece on my trip to Las Vegas.

Liberal Butthurt Over The Depardieu Defection

I had great fun observing the fallout over Depardieu’s “defection” to Russia. The reason for the apostrophes is of course because it had nothing to do with it. It was Depardieu trolling Hollande and the French “Socialists”, and Putin trolling Westerners and his own homegrown “democratic journalists.” (Or maybe not? In any case, I for one have a difficult time comprehending why anyone would care so much.) This trolling was both entertaining and successful, because it elicited so, so much beautiful rage and loathing from all our favorite quarters.

The Western press

Predictable enough, coverage of this on the right-wing sites like the Wall Street Journal was schizophrenic. After all the writers and readers have to decide on who they hate more: Socialist France or Putin’s Russia? Of course the faux-left/neoliberal press like Le Monde and The Guardian had no such problems. They went stark raving apoplectic:

Gérard Depardieu isn’t enough to change Russia’s image by our good friend Andrew Ryvkin: “The actor may be taking Russian citizenship, but convincing citizens life is better than in the west is a difficult PR exercise” – I hardly think that was ever the point.

Gérard Depardieu joins very small club of adoptive Russian citizens, by Howard Amos: “Few foreigners seek Russian citizenship and even fewer are granted it, with the tide generally going in the opposite direction.” Ah, the (completely discredited) Sixth Wave of Emigration trope. What makes this especially funny is that 300k-400k Brits leave Britain every year, whereas the equivalent figure for Russia (with more than 2x the population) is slightly above 100,000 this year.

But best of all was the Guardian’s caption competition to the above photo. Here are some of the Guardian picks:

Après moi le beluga…?

Gerard announces the closure of several Parisian Boulangeries.

The hilarity of this is that the Guardian is a major mouthpiece for “fat acceptance”; indeed, it is not atypical for its contributors to write inanities like this: “While obese is a medical term, fat is the language of the bully. It’s not a word doctors should use.”

While I certainly have no problem with making fun of fat apologists and their enablers, but what’s hilarious is that the Guardian CiF is notoriously censorious and would have surely deleted those comments had they been directed at anyone the Guardian likes for violating its “community standards.”

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Open Thread #2

Comments have to be connected to Russia; all others go here. Please, continue.

Translation: Oligarchs, A Comparative Analysis

In her weekly column for Novaya Gazeta, Russian journalist and writer Yulia Latynina compares the civic-mindedness of American and Russian oligarchs – and not to Russia’s favor.

The US

John Hopkins (1795-1873) – one of the richest men of the 19th century, trader and joint owner of railways – founded John Hopkins University (16th in the university ratings) and John Hopkins Hospital.

John Rockefeller (1839-1937) – head of Standard Oil, the richest person in history – founded the University of Chicago (10th in the world university ratings) in 1889. He also founded Rockefeller University and the Rockefeller Foundation.

Andrew Carnegie – founder of Carnegie Steel Company, the second richest person in the US after John Rockefeller – donated money for the creation of more than 2,500 libraries across the whole world. He founded the Carnegie Foundation and Carnegie Mellon University.

Anthony Drexel (1826 –1893) – American banker, partner of J.P. Morgan – founded Drexel University.

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