Tuesday, November 30, 2004


I can hear the woman in the office next to mine trying to talk a consultant into going to Baghdad for a few weeks. It's not going well:

"We really need a strong elections expert."
"Frankly, I'm a little concerned about security."
"We have our own security service. Plus, you can bill six out of seven days a week!"
"Um. Yes. I don't know if this is very realistic, timewise."

Office Space

If you happened to be strolling past my office anytime my officemate Irina was speaking, you'd probably hear one of two phrases, in a strident Russian tone. The themes of our office are: "Is such a disgrace," and "I don't know, Syuzan."

Irina is the original Russian contrarian, and a warning to all desperate middle-aged men who think that they can secure in a Russian bride a compliant and submissive wife: you are in for a deliciously brutal slice of karma pie. She is one ornery cuss. The woman will not agree with anything. It is impossible to have the most elementary conversation, say, about where to go for lunch, because she will probably disagree with lunch, with the notion that we have to go anywhere, and the deli choices that have been criminally obscured by anti-Russian bias in western media.

Irina is a strident opponent of Bush. He is, as you can imagine, huge disgrace. Any mention of his name puts a lemon-sucking grimace on her face. But she refused, refused to vote in our last election. I cajoled, I coaxed, I wheedled, I ranted. But the Iron Lady could not be swayed. "Why, Irina? Why?"
"Because," she sniffed. "Boosh is most terrible president you ever had, and still this guy Kerry can only get 50% support. He is huge disappointment, he should have 80%. This is terrible campaign. I cannot vote for him."
"But Irina, did you vote for Al Gore?"
"Yes of course."
"Did you think he ran a great campaign?"
"No. But this Boosh is so terrible. I don't know Syuzan. I am afraid I cannot vote."

I won't even get into our debates over Ukraine and Yushchenko, which she mantains is all a manufactured Western plot, of course. The only One, True, Spontaneous revolution took place in Moscow in 1991 ("I know, Syuzan, I remember") and it has failed as all others will fail.

Her contrarian ways struck yet again today, when we were discussing the huge disgrace of Alabama shedding its image as a racist backwater by voting to keep language endorsing school segregation in the state constitution. (I also wondered why: apparently, removing the language would have involved guaranteeing their students an education, which we know is dangerous territory for Alabama. Also: taxes. And probably homosexuals somehow.)

Okay, here we go:

Irina: I cannot believe you have unconstitutional law on the books in this state.

Me: I'm surprised too. I guess they just left the law intact and unenforced. But the Supreme Court did make them desegregate, no matter what their constitution said.

Irina: mmmm. I don't know, Syuzan.

Me: You don't know what? If they desegregated?

Irina: Yes. I don't know.

Me [fed up] : Irina. Alabama was desegregated. It was kind of a big deal. George Wallace. National Guard. Okay? They did. This is not up for debate.

Irina: Yes, but I don't know, Syuzan. Is very segregated now I hear.

Me: Yes of course, but not by law and anyway AAARRRGGGGHHHH

The only way to make her stop is to start singing the Soviet National Anthem. Girl goes ballistic. Between Irichka and blogging, probably I will be fired.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Comic Relief

As one of the millions of women coupled with a partner whose movie tastes generally range from zombies all the way to superheros (and he's so cultured in other genres, where did I go wrong, and why do we think we can change them?), I've been pleased to see that the comic book movie genre has become much more date-friendly of late. I can step outside of my preferred film genre (subtitled mood pieces on despair) to some degree, but not all the way to, say, Van Helsing. ugh.

So I was surprised to find how much I enjoyed Spiderman 2. The filmmakers actually took the trouble to create a character, that has some depth and likability, and from those of us who aren't just waiting for the next genesis of Doctor Octo-goblin, we thank you!

And last night, I went to see The Incredibles. While this may not fall into the comic-book movie genre for purists, I saw superheroes, and so it counts in my book. Plus, I've been assured that the whole thing from top to bottom was a take off the Fantastic Four, and if that means anything to you, then, okay. (If it doesn't, just nod. You deter a monologue that way.)

Regardless, Pixar can do no wrong. The Incredibles is some primo entertainment. Witty banter and suburbia-related hilarity kept me entertained, while supervillain hideouts underneath volcanos and insider homages to comic book wonkery seemed to keep him pretty happy. So go check it out - I hear Alexander is a bust.


In the last 24 hours, there's been a significant momentum shift in Yushchenko's direction. Ukraine's Supreme Court blocked the inauguration of Yanukovych, we're finally starting to see a trickle of high-level defections (Deputy Economic Minister and former Defense Minister), the media is beginning to rebel, and high-level negotiations are underway between the government and the opposition.

This may snowball towards some sort of conclusion before too long, unless negotiations fail. One thing to keep in mind though, is that unlike similar uprisings elsewhere, the democratic opposition does not enjoy anything like 85-90% of popular support. There is indeed a solid base of genuine support for Yanukovych, and most of this is based on the sense that a Yushchenko presidency would marginalize the Russian-speaking east that has very strong economic and social ties to Russia. If Yushchenko comes out of this with a win, he will have to be a President for the whole country and not the anti-Russian nationalist that Yanukovych has tried to paint him as. I think he could do it; I think Yushchenko could be a president for all of Ukraine. I do not think that Yanukovych could.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Pax Ukraina

For now, it looks like we may be able to avoid a confrontation. Despite the CEC certifying Yanukovych as the winner, he and Yushchenko have agreed to begin negotiations tomorrow. Oddly, to me at least, Yanukovych finally piped up and said:
"I need no fictitious victory, a result which could lead to violence and victims. No position of authority, no matter how important, is worth a single human life."

So those tea leaves I was reading? All scattered again. I have no idea. I hope this is a genuine sentiment, but it does seem a bit rich from a twice-convicted felon who may or may not be responsible for the walking nightmare that is Viktor Yushchenko's face.

So I think this Ukraine thing is in good hands, I'm getting out of my very productive day of work early, and I've got pies and stuffing and a terrifying turkey to tackle. Happy Thanksgiving, and Viva la Revolution!

It's Official (but don't expect a concession speech)

The Ukrainian Central Election Commission has officially certified Yanukovych as the winner. I really did think they would put this off, given all the pressure to delay certification. Yushchenko said he would be amenable to re-running the elections, but I am skeptical that this will be settled that way. (Although I'd totally dig the chance to back and observe.) We'll see how any negotiations go.

Reading the tea leaves in all this is a bit daunting, as I'm not intimately familiar with all the players involved. What can we read into the fact that Pres. Kuchma has been surprisingly absent from public view? Why isn't he out there backing his man? Why this vague wording from the Minister of Defense instructing troops to "remain clam, carefully weigh all moves and conscientiously perform your constitutional duties." Not a very clear order, is it?

Yuschenko Appeals to Armed Forces

[To any of you who are wishing I would just cut the Ukraine updates and just get back to the usual inanities: don't worry! I'll send up a flare when all this is settling down, and you'll know it's safe to return. I'll be obsessing over this until then. Just so you know.]

I guess the opposition has taken notice of all those buses of militiamen pouring into the capital. Yuschenko makes the right move, and sends out an impassioned appeal to the armed forces on behalf of demos and fraternite and svoboda:
Presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko called on the leaders of the armed forces and security forces to defy all orders to take action against the Ukrainian people, appealing to them to take care of the country’s citizens, Interfax-Ukraine reports.

He underlined that the choice of the people had been defiled, and that what was happening in Ukraine at the moment was a crime on the part of the authorities, “who want to maintain a regime of lawlessness, corruption, and abuse of human rights,” backed up by the military and the security organs.

“Thousands of people in epaulets, dozens of army units and organs of the Interior Ministry have already given their word. They’re all with the Ukrainian people. On the side of the people – the place of every honest person,” Yushchenko announced.

“The criminals want to send you to the barricades. There won’t be found there the sons of those who are pushing you into bloodshed. They’re running away. But we’re staying with you, we’re building a new Ukraine. The country needs your honesty, your experience, and your professionalism,” he said in his appeal.

We'll see if it works.

To Arms (yes, I'm still at it)

It looks like we may have to answer the question about the security services loyalties sooner rather than later.

The Kyiv Post is reporting that this afternoon, at least 22 buses full of militia and "unknown persons" (ie, civilians) from outlying regions have arrived in Kyiv. Is the government arming civilians to take action against their countrymen? Or are they meant to rely on fists?

We know that a key turning point in any successful standoff of this sort comes when military forces have to decide whether or not to follow official orders. If they determine that Yuschenko is the rightful president, or if they receive an order to act against the demonstrators that they do not wish to follow, that will be a major blow to the Yanukovych authorities. But the presence of civilian thugs may complicate matters—they could be around to provoke a scene that would oblige the security forces to disperse the crowd.

I don't have a very strong sense of the internal dynamics in Ukraine—in much smaller Georgia, people were more or less united in their common misery, and it may have been easier for the military to side with what they felt was the common, shared sentiment of the population. I feel in Ukraine, though, there might be more of a (dare I say) red state/blue state divide; the denizens of flashy cosmopolitan Kyiv may not be seen as representative of the demos writ large. On the other hand, we're talking about an enormous gathering, and sympathetic demonstrations in major cities across the country. The military's a wild card, they're armed to the teeth, and with an outgoing president, a president who supposedly won the election, and a president with rallying hordes that has taken the oath of office, they don't know who to take orders from. Chaos is not unimaginable.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

The Strokes

Thanks to Catherine, for pointing me towards this guy, who's been posting from Kyiv but is now, unfortunately, en route to the US. Missing the action, man!

Anyway, I'm glad because he had a side-by-side comparison of Yuschenko before and after his curious run-in with a Ricin Slurpee. Or whatever. You remember me talking about the alleged poisoning. And some tried to claim it was a tummy bug, and some said it was a stroke. Alright, have a look. I've seen what a stroke does. And it does a lot. But it doesn't do precisely this:

Look at that mug. Ravaged.

Kriston totally one-ups me, picture-wise. Shudder.

Czech Mate

I knew that the runaway democrats in Texas were on to something good when Willie Nelson sent them whiskey and bandannas and told them to stand their ground. I imagine the Central European analogue of this holds true, and that the Ukrainians feel like rock stars because they just got a "Go get 'em, Tiger" from major dissident hearthrob (okay, that's just my thing) Vaclev Havel:
Dear Citizens,

Allow me to greet you in these dramatic days when the destiny of your country is being decided for decades ahead. You have its future in your hands. All trustworthy organizations, both local and international, agree that your demands are just. That is why I wish you strength, perseverance, courage and good fortune with your decisions.

Yours truly,
Vaclav Havel

Though they might have preferred whiskey.

On Exit Polls and Fraud

In comments below, J. Scott brings up a good question: knowing that exit polls can be unreliable, what else do the opposition rely on to make their case that the elections were fraudulent?

There are several factors working hand-in-hand that discredit the elections process. The exit poll is not the only piece of evidence, it merely reinforces the rest. It's too bad that they could not do a parallel vote tabulation (PVT) as they did in Georgia - it's far more accurate, but requires access to the counting process by independent observers - something barred by the Ukrainian authorities. In Georgia, when the PVT and the exit poll numbers jived, the official results became the suspicious outlier.

But there's plenty here already.

  • In Donetsk, Yanukovych's home turf, the voter turnout suddenly shot up twenty points from the first round, to an improbable 98%. This is in a region where a sizable number of the voting population are resident across the border in Russia - and so it becomes possible for others to vote in their name. This alone could be enough to compensate for the 3% lead Yanukovych enjoys by the official results.

  • About 5% of voters were added to the voter list on election day - very high number for a normal election. Combined with the evidence that residents of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions were bused to other areas to vote multiple times with absentee ballots, we can assume that a fair number of these added voters represent multiple voting.

  • Observers were barred from polling stations and from the counting process in far greater numbers than in round one.

  • We know that extreme duress was on the residents in eastern Ukraine to vote for Yanukovych. There are reports of pre-filled absentee ballots distributed in the workplace, and general pressure to vote correctly or be out of a job.

  • There are reports of precinct-level results being entered incorrectly into the final protocols, shifting votes from Yuschenko to Yanukovych.

  • Last week, senior police officials from Kharkiv reported that they have been directed to fix the elections in Yanukovych's favor, and during the first round, they guarded a room of 500,000 pre-marked ballots and distributed them to various stations on election day.

But all that sort of glosses over the unspoken fact of the matter. Which goes something like this: of course the elections are falsified. Of course the whole process is rigged. Thus it has always been. The burden of proof, in these situations, is very nearly on the shoulders of the authorities to prove that the elections are not a complete sham. There's a facade of democracy, a veneer of competition, and then the chips fall just where the authorities planned. Most times, everywhere else in the former Soviet Union, people shrug it off. What can you do?

But as we've seen in Slovakia, Serbia, Georgia, and counting, some countries reach a point, gain enough momentum in the opposition, that they are organized and ready to oppose the status quo. That's why, after Georgia, so many countries banned independent domestic monitoring groups and tried to learn really quickly about parallel vote counting so that they could ban that too. When the emporer is shown to have no clothes, and someone's there to demand he account for it, that's when we have what we have today. There was absolute inevitability to the present situation—it is not remotely surprising. It was clear that the opposition was gearing up to demand a fair accounting for once, and they had a candidate who could actually garner enough support, and it was equally clear that the government could not let that happen, and would rig to high heaven. (Go back a few months and check out the debate in Ukraine's parliament - there very nearly wasn't a presidential election at all, when it became clear how popular Yuschenko was becoming.) So that's the basic scenario, and that's why we're cheering for Yuschenko. He's not all that great in and of himself, but it represents a fundamental break in the process and a demand for accountability that did not previously exist.


In a symbolic act, Yuschenko has taken the Presidential Oath in Parliament as opposition deputies applaud and sing the national anthem. Maybe Gore should have considered that.


One year ago today, on November 23, Georgian President Edward Shevardnadze resigned from office in the face of massive public demonstrations, international pressure, and high-level defections following his wholesale rigging of the parliamentary elections two weeks prior.

After Georgia's Rose Revolution, Putin sagely noted that leaders all around the CIS were "shitting in their pants." And just as they feared, the memory of Georgia's success looms large in the minds of the Ukrainians out on Independence Square. Just as Serbia's success in ousting Milosevic inspired the movements in Georgia, and just as Serbia's movements were animated by Slovakia, and on and on. Yuschenko raises a rose in the air, and Georgian flags have been popping up in the gathered crowd, and I can only imagine that it buttresses resolve and steels nerves. There are 200,000+ rallying in Kiev now. The Georgians did it a year ago today.

But it's still just too early to tell where this will go. A key factor in Georgia's success was Russia's relative neutrality. No fans of Saakashvili were they, but it wasn't worth making a fuss over, once the writing was on the wall. Ukraine is a different matter altogether, and far more central to Russia's regional economic and security interests. Don't look for them to score any international diplomacy points by helping the government reconcile with the opposition. We've also yet to see where the security services loyalties lie, if it comes to that. And there's just the size problem. Ukraine is so big, it's much more divided, and it may just be harder to reach that critical mass necessary to tip the scale.

Today, there was meant to be a extraordinary session of the parliament to rule on a no-confidence vote in the Central Election Commission, but quorum was not met. The elections have been roundly condemned by various international voices: the EU, the OSCE, the U.S. State Department...and Pres. Bush sent a pre-election letter to Kuchma warning that a poor election would have serious ramifications for Ukraine's future relationship with the U.S.

Momentum will be key to whether or not the opposition can stick it out, and so we'll need to watch closely and see who folds and who doesn't. Lviv, Kyiv, Ivanovo-Frankivsk are among the cities whose councils have declared that they only recognize Yuschenko as President. Both sides are digging in, not backing down.

Monday, November 22, 2004


Surprising nobody, things are looking ugly in Ukraine. The elections were held yesterday, and independent exit polls showed a decisive opposition victory of about 11 points. Yay for democracy, right?

Not so fast.

As the official tally started to add up, it became clear that it was not going to match the exit polls. And in fact, with 99% of the vote counted, it's Yanukovych - the government candidate - by 3 points.

In Luhansk (where I observed last time) and Donetsk, both considered Yanukovych's power base, there was a 98% turnout! Such civic-minded folks. Truly. I guess the thousands upon thousands of Donetsk and Luhansk residents who are across the border in Russia for work, just hopped back home for the election. Good on them.

Meanwhile, thousands are rallying behind the opposition candidate in Kiev, who for his part, is announcing that the government is attempting a coup d'etat.

Will this be another Georgia? They'll need some high-level defections, some Election Commission resignations, perhaps. Some more senior Ministry or police officials with tales of fraud. Yuschenko is no Saakashvili - he's not a populist firebrand and an organizer. But on the other hand, I saw those kids in Kiev, and they're itching for a fight. Unfortunately, so are the surly miners for Donetsk who were bused in to the capital by the hundreds "for a picnic."

Don't worry. I'll keep my eye on this so you don't have to.
The scene in Kiev:

Friday, November 19, 2004


Just arrived in my inbox:
Thank you for your interest in XXXXXXX University's Graduate School. At this time, your on-line application is incomplete, and our deadline of December 1, 2004 is rapidly approaching. If you are applying, please complete your on-line application as quickly as possible.

Is this a cruel fucking joke? Is there a large contingent of people that just forgot they were applying to grad school? And if so, are these the people you want coming to your university anyway? No? Then LEAVE THE REST OF US ALONE WE ARE TRYING THANK YOU VERY MUCH AND WE DO NOT NEED THE EXTRA PRESSURE.

And that, my friends, is the sound of someone who just guilted herself out of a weekend.

I Decline to Accept the End of Man

Because my dears, I wouldn't leave you with that muck down below to ponder over the weekend. We'll shoot a little more high-brow than that, with an excerpt from one of my favorite speeches. In honor of the better angels of our natures, a little Faulkner:

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed - love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

Until he relearns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.

Gratuitous and Indefensible

I do apologize for this. I truly do.
But it's worth pointing out that even in time of rancor, sometimes, somebody comes along and says something that you just know we can all agree on:
The thought of Karl Marx performing cunnilingus is somehow particularly nauseating.

Two Days

Sunday is the final round of the Ukraine Presidential elections. I'm endlessly frustrated that I didn't go back. And for those of us who wondered how far the powerholders were willing to go? Some testimony from a few brave souls:
Senior police officers say they have been ordered to help rig the result of the Ukrainian presidential election and to use violence, including bombings, to undermine the opposition.

Officers from the eastern city of Kharkiv, disgusted that their service was being used to undermine the election, wrote to the speaker of the parliament, Volodymyr Lytvyn, detailing massive election fraud by the government and warning that similar methods were going to be used next Sunday.

They agreed to speak with The Independent on condition of anonymity. The meeting happened at night in a park after they took elaborate precautions worthy of a John Le Carré novel to ensure privacy.

The five men, aged between their late twenties and early fifties, held Ministry of Internal Affairs identity cards. Some covered over their names but revealed their photos, while two showed the entire card, complete with names. Their ranks ranged between full colonel and under-colonel. When asked what the consequences would be for them if their identities were revealed, the officers made gestures showing they would be shot.

The colonel said that police had guarded a room in a local authority building where about 500,000 ballots, pre-marked for Mr Yanukovych, were kept hidden before the first round and organised their dispersal on voting day among local polling stations.

The Ukrainian Central Election Commission was forced to admit that tens of thousands more votes had been cast in the first round than there were genuine ballot papers.

The men also said a special police undercover unit had been formed to intimidate opposition workers and destroy campaign materials. They said the group planted a bomb in a Yushchenko campaign office and another in the car of an opposition activist, Yuriy Potykun, who was then stopped and arrested by uniformed police.

The colonel said a group of about 100 common criminals have been paid to masquerade at Yushchenko rallies as supporters of the opposition candidate, to cause trouble and give the opposition a bad name.


A spokeswoman for the interior ministry of the Kharkiv region, Larysa Volkova, said the allegations were lies. She said the officers would be "guaranteed safety if they have the courage to give their names".

The sources said they would identify themselves if Mr Yushchenko won.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

What, is there some kind of problem?

Christ, Andrew.
I guess I should say that Condi Rice's race and gender are not the most important things about her career and abilities. But I'm still amazed at how little credit this president gets for promoting a black woman to such a position, and, more importantly, by his obvious respect and admiration for her. His management style is clearly post-racial, and his comfort with female peers is impressive. You know, Bill Clinton was celebrated for his progressiveness, and ease with African-Americans. But it's inconceivable that he would have given so much power and authority to a black female peer. Why does Bush get no respect on this score? I guess it reveals that much of the left's diversity mania is about the upholding of a certain political ideology, rather than ethnic or gender variety itself. Depressing.

Yeah I guess, too. What kind of expectations do we have of our leaders, that we are supposed to be impressed when they're "comfortable with female peers" and have respect for a black woman? Is Andrew being purposely obtuse, or does he actually have no idea why promoting two African Americans to key cabinet positions hasn't cleared the Republicans' record on racial minorities. Like, what? Yay, you're not a complete bigot? Would we have to declare Bush champion of gay rights if he appointed an openly gay Secretary of Whatever, even if his policies and his party's policies didn't change? And where the hell is he getting this opinion on Bill Clinton? Yes, you discovered it, Andrew. Clinton secretly despises black people. If the Republicans' inability to become the party of diversity and racial harmony was due to insufficient cabinet positions, then Bush would be all set. But maybe people are withholding their praise for something a little more comprehensive than that.

Truth in Advertising

Well, whaddaya know? The word "Phish" is being used to describe a distasteful practice in which a bunch of suckers give all their money to a couple of frauds.

I couldn't have thought of a better word.

State of the Union

Everybody's rhetoric alert starts flashing red whenever the words Soviet or Hitler or Fuck come up with relation to the Bush administration. And well they should. The rhetoric alert is a useful tool against overblown and melodramatic fear mongering. After all, like a sloppy drunk on a Saturday night, our country can totter a bit this way and that, and sometimes pukes all over everything, but there are loyal check-and-balance friends on either side to prop it up and keep it from hitting the hard sidewalk of totalitarianism. Phew! Metaphor fatigue!

That aside, I can now revel in the new manifestations of post-Mandate Bush. No, I don't fear for our private property and I don't think that John McCain will wind up in Mexico with an ice pick in the base of his skull. However, I always find it a useful thought experiment to look at events in my country as though I were evaluating reforms and policies somewhere else. In other words, what would i say if Ukraine were doing this? Now, obviously, this is a false experiment to some degree. In the same way that a little poor management at a polling station is less dire in Minneapolis than it is in Tashkent, small shifts in the power structure of the U.S. don't portend the same dramatic results that they may in less institutionalized democracies.

Still, it's always thought-provoking to kick back, grab a mug of coffee with your Russian office mate, and appreciate the macabre irony of the Right dabbling in some of the governance techniques of the hated Red Left of olde.

1. Consolidation of executive power over other branches of government? Check. Legislators get into line behind the president, and naysayers are made an Arlen spectacle of. The Presidents inner circle of advisors is farmed out to cabinet posts, and the nation's intelligence director quells suspicion that he is a partisan advocate by issuing a memo telling employees to "support the administration and its policies."

2. Reduction of diversity of opinion in policy advisors and ministerial posts? Check. From everything we've been able to read, Bush heads a notoriously tight circle of advisors, and trusts the advice of a few. This makes for a strikingly small range of policy options to consider. Now members of that inner circle are heading out to cabinet positions, and a certain cabinet member that offered a contrary vision, is heading home.

3. Dissent sabotages the revolution? Check. Except substitute sabotage with "threatens" and revolution with "safety." Or perhaps "denigrates" and "troops." Maybe "weakens" and "resolve"? This old yarn is a tired and well-traveled one, but it's always nice to see it pop up again. Hi! We don't learn, do we?

4. Loyalty rewarded over principle? Check. And its more common corollary, principle flagrantly abandoned for partisan gain? Tom DeLay. Tom friggin' Delay. In the redistricting, in the changing-of-rules to protect his leadership position from indictment. Oh my oh my. (Yes, of course you can point out examples a, b, and c in which the democrats are guilty of questionable decisions on partisan grounds. But this is breathtakingly brazen, because somebody has a mandate, or so I've been told.) There are plenty of examples for this category, but I'm sure you can recite them all yourselves. Remember, Bush's only mistake was to hire a turncoat.

5. Infallibility of the leadership? Check. See last sentence above. Also, try this: in one hand hold the phrase "party of accountability." Then in the other hand, hold the WMD scandal, hold Niger yellowcake, hold Valerie Plame, hold the post-invasion planning in Iraq, hold Abu Ghraib. Then go to the DOD website and when you still see Don Rumsfeld smiling down at you, drop to the floor.

5. Cult of personality? This is where Comrade Irina drew the line. Rhetoric alerts wailing full-tilt. Susan, you don't know from cult of personality. Fair enough. But can I still call him Dear Leader?

Psssssssssst. Matty.

I think Josh Marshall just gave you a homework assignment:
Do you work for a local newspaper or TV Station? Want an easy story? Call up the local Republican member of congress to see if they supported the DeLay Rule. Believe me, this one writes itself.

Someday We'll Find it, that Rainbow Connection

A fine suggestion, from a random commenter out there in the ether of the blogs:

Just for the sake of personal sanity, from now on when I am presented with the red/blue map (which is simply there to antagonize and divide), I am gonna think "Elmo states/Cookie Monster States". It keeps my blood pressure down and allows me to actually do the progressive work that I was put here to do (or at least that's what the voices keep telling me).

Alternatively, I suggest just picturing all the states naked.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Feed Your Head

I've always been a very good girl.

I made good grades, I was in the band, I never got grounded, and I almost always made curfew. I cannot cross the street until the little man tells me to, and I always follow the washing instructions on my laundry.

I tried to become a smoker during my disgruntled freshman year in college, but after enough hack-filled nights trying to look surly as I lit the wrong end of a clove on the el platform, I knew it just wouldn't take.

So here, here in the early days of GWBII, I'm having a little trouble finding a good outlet for my new commitment to revolutionary upheaval and destabilizing subversion.

I'm putting training wheels on my little Huffy of dissent.

Here's the program. What you do is, you ask your self: "WWGWBD?" What Wouldn't George W. Bush Do? I know! He wouldn't read a book! In particular, he wouldn't read a banned book!

So if you're feeling a little sinister, but like, Judy Blume sinister rather than Che sinister, hie ye hence to the ALA's list of the 100 most frequently banned books inthe U.S. and take a gander.

And yes, I said "Judy Blume" for a reason. That sweet mentor who taught us about our periods. Banned. Along with Anastasia Krupnik? Also taught me about periods. Banned. You want some more? Okay, how 'bout What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Girls: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Daughters. Banned. Are we noticing a trend yet? Okay, good because here's the punchline to that series: The Handmaid's Tale. Banned.

And just if you thought it was all a conspiracy to pretend we don't menstruate, our cultural stewards also managed to get Lord of the Flies, Native Son, Slaughterhouse Five, The House of Spirits, To Kill a Mockingbird, Beloved, The Catcher in the Rye, Where's Waldo (Where's Fucking Waldo, you paranoid motherfuckers???).

Oddly, I didn't see on the list what I understand is our most endangered book of all. But then, I guess that's just because John Kerry isn't president.

Isn't that right, West Virginia? ISN'T IT.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Wha' Happened?

Does my blog look all weird and big and nasty gnarly to anyone else? Like the font just ate a whole bunch of Krispy Kremes? What'd I do?

I think it's just my screen, because Catherine and Tommy (or at least their blog)are looking fat and weird as well.

Yes, But

Forgive the foray into political seriousness for a moment, if you will. I'm feeling chronically unentertaining, and now will force you all to wallow in it.

I took myself over to Oxblog where I saw that smarty-pants Josh Chafetz just won an Oxford debate in which he argued against the proposition that we are losing the peace in Iraq. Good for him. I couldn't win a debate at Oxford on the proposition that we ought to eat pie more often, so that's something to be proud of.

But even so, reading his rosy summary of the postwar reconstruction efforts in Iraq, something nagged me. He breaks the reconstruction effort into its four key components: "rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure, creating a viable civil society and laying the groundwork for democracy, getting the economy moving, and providing security" and proceeds to discuss how we are making solid progress in each.

Then I realized why this all sounded so odd. His conclusions, informed at least in party by USAID's progress reports, were like a bizarro-world version of the CSIS Iraq report which also breaks the reconstruction effort into the almost identical categories of: security, governance and participation, economic opportunity, services, and social well-being.

Except where Chafetz saw progress in nearly every indicator, CSIS saw either stasis, mild progress that still does not reach the "tipping point" of sustainability, or regress. Could this be because USAID has a strong interest in showing how wildly successful their investment is proving? Is it because CSIS has it in for the administration? I don't know what gives, but just to give you an idea, here's some point counterpoint just on the Infrastructure section.

First, infrastructure: electricity generation is now at or above pre-war levels. The grid was in a poor state long before the war, and Saddam's regime intentionally caused blackouts in other cities in order to keep the lights on in Baghdad. Now, even with a more equitable distribution of electricity, blackouts in the capital are relatively rare.
The provision of power has not noticeably changed. Despite a recent report by the Iraqi Central Bureau of Statistics which states that 97 percent of Iraqi households are connected to the general electricity network, power continues to be in short supply. Wattage across the country hovers around 5,300 MW per day, which, while above prewar levels of 4,400 MW, remains short of the 6,000 MW that the coalition had pledged to provide by June. Across the country, power plants are performing well below capacity.
Okay, not too far off. But we continue.

Similarly, water supplies are cleaner and more plentiful in many places than they were before the war, and phone use is becoming more widespread than ever before, as mobile phones come to Iraq for the first time.
Water has regressed in recent months, due to continued poor treatment and provision. Lack of clean water is leading to increased disease, and almost one in five urban households and three in five rural households still do not have access to safe drinking water. Water treatment plants have not been performing at capacity and are being run inefficiently by Iraqi government ministries. Furthermore, U.S. funding for water generation has decreased significantly.
Schools have all re-opened, many of them refurbished by coalition forces. New textbooks are being printed, and lessons no longer begin with the chanting of praise for Saddam.
Basic education is regressing as a result of the security situation. The beginning of the 2004 school year was delayed twice due to violence and instability. Since the school year began, enrollment rates have been down; classes in certain parts of the country have shrunk dramatically in size. For example, at Family Elementary School in Baghdad, there are only about 10 children in each class (the lowest in years), and at Mansoor Al-Tacicya Primary School less than 50 percent of students were present for the first day of the new term, compared with what is typically 95 percent attendance rate.
And you can go on with the other categories, but I'll spare you. So what to make of this? I don't know who's right, though based on my own experience with USAID, I'm inclined to lean toward CSIS. Of course, my liberal blame-America-first, freedom hating tendencies bring me to the same conclusion, so who's to say what my motivation might be? The real answer of course, is likely somewhere between and more likely than not related to a question of emphasis. Chafetz is surely right to say that textbooks are being printed and schools have reopened, whereas CSIS overlooks this good news to note that nobody seems to be going to these lovely schools.

But the important question, I guess, is however you characterize conditions on the ground, are they such that stability can be achieved? Chafetz is probably right that it's premature to claim that we've entirely lost the peace in Iraq, but on the way to this conclusion he finds much more to be encouraged about than conditions seem to warrant.

Quick Poll

We have 4.5 hours to settle on a pub quiz team name. For those not in the know, DC pub quiz team names are always topical, preferably witty phrases that capture the latest news cycle. For example, the Monday after Christopher Reeves passed away, one team named themselves "I hope the stairway to heaven has a ramp." And after Beslan, in a horifically offensive coup, someone was "Russian Education Policy: No Child Left Alive." brrrr. Anyway, now I'm looking for some input. Which do we prefer for this week's nom de quiz? (And no stealing!)
  1. State Department diagnosed with Colin cancer.
  2. The next Secretary of State will only be a semi-Colin to me.
  3. State Department gets Colin-oscopy.

One was suggested by me, one by Kriston, and one by Yglesias. Your answer will tell me who you love the most, so choose wisely!

Friday, November 12, 2004

From Sea to Shining Black Sea

So. I feel that I owe it to my readers to continue providing the valuable public service of reminding everybody that no matter how bad you feel about our elections, things could be much worse.

A few weeks ago, for example, I pointed to the alleged poisoning of the opposition candidate in Ukraine. Yuschenko's face is bloated and pock-marked and he looks completely gross. Adding insult to injury, Putin came to Kyiv on the eve of the election and told the Ukrainian voters to vote for the "samiy simpatichniy" candidate which can mean the most appealing and likable, but has a colloquial meaning of good-looking or cute. Ha, ha, very funny Volodya! I'm sure his bloated face of death is cracking a pained smile!

Now, from the sunny Republic of Georgia, I see that the internationally un-recognized territory-ette of Abkhazia has utterly failed to successfully execute their illegal elections to the pointless post of President of a Non-Country, resulting in a civic uprising in which the opposition forces have stormed the illegitimate government's headquarters in an attempt to prevent the unelected non-leaders of this unstate from taking control away from the illegitimately elected non-leaders.

The problem here is clearly their complete ineptitude at effectively rigging the entire process so that, at the very least, the outcome of your farcical exercise in futility is clear.

Freedom is on the march!

Monday, November 08, 2004

Au Contraire

Hendrik Hertzberg, in this week's New Yorker:

Here in the bluest borough of the bluest city of the bluest state in all our red-white-and-blue American Union, it has not been a happy week.

I know that now is not the time to quibble, but I feel it is my loyal duty to point out the following:

Kerry - 82%
Bush - 17%

Not bad, not bad. But shall we take a gander at our nation's capital?
Washington, DC
Kerry - 90%
Bush - 9%

Now, he may have us on a technicality; DC by definition cannot be the bluest state. And by sheer numbers, well, who can compete? But if we're going to parade the solidarity of our misery, then man, DC has really got the blues.

Ukraine Girls Really Knock Me Out

It's true what they say about the Ukrainian girls. They're just gorgeous.

Long-legged, willowy thin, finely cut features set in flawless complexions—if you leave aside the Eurotrash fashion that really isn't their fault, I can understand all the hype.

But me oh my, they might as well be oil reserves the way they're bought and traded as a national resource. Many of us agreed that we considered the whole buying-a-bride gimmick something of an overblown joke. Something like the mafia in Italy or berets in France. But I'm here to tell you, boys and girls, when it comes to the Ukrainian Bride Bazaar, the getting's still good.

I met two Americans (not election observers) who had clearly come to Ukraine to find women; on the street, I would hear a twangy American accent and turn to find a bambi-faced young girl traipsing arm-in-arm with some discarded old yokel from Detroit. In Luhansk, we actually overheard a man interviewing his potential bride through an interpreter ("And what does she like to cook?"). The interpreter for another American observer spent her weekends working for one of these lady-peddling services, and she herself was listed on the website. She told him that the number of girls were dwindling a little, now that things were starting to pick up economically in Ukraine. But even so, after the elections, she still offered him her "card" with a trembling hand.

So the way it works, as I understand it, is that after a few letters are exchange, the bride service arranges a personal meeting of the happy couple. They'll see each other a few times, iron out the details, and if all goes well, he'll apply for a fiancee visa in order to bring her to the United States. After being engaged in the U.S. for 6 months, they may get married. So why don't these girls just sign on, get a green card, and bolt? Well, it appears that they have to make the marriage work for 2 years before applying for citizenship. During this time, I don't believe they can return to Ukraine to see any friends or family. If they don't last two years, or if the groom changes his mind 1 year and 11 months into the process, the bride is whisked back to Ukraine, and [Patrick, correct me if I'm wrong], cannot return to the U.S.

I do not pretend to know the complexities, and I don't know the range of eagerness with which these girls approach these marriage services. But it's as foul and sad as it is familiar, that when corrupt politicians mangle the economy and stagnate productivity, a family may turn to a daughter as the only commodity left to trade.

But for some, this is all just bureaucracy and needless formality. As long as one is not concerned with the thinnest veneer of respectability, all such concerns can be overcome without even the need to leave your hotel room. In our small group alone, two men were awoken in the middle of the night by a phone call. On the other end was a thin voice saying, "Good night. Do you need devushky?" For all you non-Russian speakers out there, just a hint, devushky does not mean "wake up call."

I didn't ask if there were any takers; as they say, what happens in Luhansk stays in Luhansk.

Sunday, November 07, 2004


Overheard in New York
Guy on cell: Yeah, our lives suck but at least John Kerry was elected President. Oh, wait! I have to hang up now and go kill myself.

--Washington Square Park

Friday, November 05, 2004

Ukraine Photos Part IV: The Voting!

In which I violate the secrecy of the vote by a)taking photos and b)publishing them on the internet.

But you guys have to see this. We were sitting in the polling station in a small village called Dyakove, when two truly ancient looking women came shuffling in. They were all of 2 feet tall, I swear, and they were holding hands. My job dropped at the sight of these gals, and the precinct chairwoman came over and sat down next to me. She pointed to the woman on the left and said, "She's 98 years old. We tried to put her on the list for the mobile ballot box [for homebound voters], but she insisted that she would come to the polling station in person."

It was astonishing. The pensioners in the former Soviet states take their voting very seriously; they're the first to line up in the morning and absolutely all of them vote. A holdover from the mandatory elections of communist days, it's seen as a serious and important duty, and also not a bad chance to see your friends and neighbors and share the local gossip.

But Valentina was born in 1907. She would be old enough to remember Tsar Nicholas II. The murder of the Tsar's family, the tales of his daughter Anastasia that tantalize us as distant legends—Valentina was a pre-teen then. She saw the Tsars pass, the Bolsheviks wander in and then out of history, and through it all, she just keeps stomping through the dirt of Dyakove on her own feet. I asked her if I could take a picture while she and her next door neighbor voted, and they both agreed. Afterwards, Valentina got my attention when I was leaving. "I want to see the picture," she said. I turned around my digital camera and showed her. "No," she scolded, "I know what I look like. You need to send me a picture." This one was a feisty one. I assumed it would be pointless to ask for her e-mail address, so I took down her street address. "And you must send me two," Valentina instructed sternly, nodding towards her next door neighbor. So I must get these off to Valentina, quickly, before she dies [Valentina on the left, in the white scarf]:

Finally, a quick shot of the tortuous process that was the vote counting. Due to some screwy election legislation and strange circumstances, there were 32 election commission members (in other countries, there are normally 7-10). This made for chaos, and recounting, and yelling, and despair, then perserverence, and finally, hours and hours later, including one entire hour listening to the name Yanukovych intoned as they read the votes, success. After the third recount of absolutely everything, and after getting a different number for the third time, I turned to my partner and shrugged, "Democracy? eh."

Ukraine Photos Part III: Coal Miner's Daughter

As mentioned, I was posted in the charming coal-mining resort villa of Antratsit. You'll know when you've hit wondrous Antratsit, because there's a giant sign that looks like this:

Outside of bustling downtown Antratsit, there are a long string of villages. This was my favorite, as it had the most chickens. Bringing up the question, how do people know whose chickens belong to whom? Or are they all, like, communist about it?

I also have a thing for taking photos of the babushkas:

This photo is just an excuse to tell you that we were in a village called Krasniy Oktyabr, or Red October. There were 140 registered voters, no roads to speak of, and no indoor plumbing. I'm trying to get a photo of the water well, but my Slovak partner seemed to think that he was the star of this particular shot, and wouldn't get out of my way.

We decided to keep on driving to the Russian border, just to see if we could get ourselves detained by any authorities. However, our efforts were for naught, as we discovered that the security at the Ukraine-Russia border was not what we call high-tech:

That's right. If you intend to defect one way or the other, you have in your way: a tire, a stick, and a drunk, sleeping border guard who simply can't be bothered.

Mea Culpa

[Via Jon in Zunta's comments, via Sorry Everybody]

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Ukraine Photos, Part II: The Plane!

This is the plane that I thought would be my coffin:

After I took this photo, a gun-wielding guard came charging my way screaming, "Nel'zya! Nel'zya photographiruyut!" Which I'm sure you can figure out means that it is forbidden to take photographs. But he failed, because I managed to get this shot, which I will now sell to the American government, and the technology it reveals should launch us clear into the 1950s. Christ.

And here are two shots of us unloading our own luggage on the tarmac in Luhansk. It's so hard to find good help these days.

All for now. More to come tomorrow!

Ukraine Photos, Part I: Lenin Lives!

I had an idea to a series of Lenin shots, but halfway through the trip, I got bored of the gimmick and let 3 or 4 perfectly good Lenins go by. So here are the few I captured before my attention span directed me elsewhere, like to chickens:




Not exactly Lenin, but a kid climbing on top of the Glorious Workers who crowded about the bottom of a Lenin statue. He was yelling about being a hero, and after I took his picture, I showed him the result on my digital camera. He took a look, considered it, screamed with glee and started climbing all over Glorious Workers again.

In Other Election News

Cross your fingers for Ukraine. The reformist challenger Yuschenko won the first round, though you won't hear the authorities say so. He's closed the gap and is officially behind the pro-government candidate by less than 1%, but the vote counting from the final precincts is suddenly slowed to a halt. Not coincidentally, those final precincts are in Yuschenko-strong districts.

How could they have let him come so close? I like to think that the massive presence of observers prevented the type of widespread electoral fraud that Yanukovych needed to make a dominant showing. But perhaps, he's just saving all that for round 2.

But deep in Yanukovych territory, where I was deployed, in every polling station I visited, there were observers from opposition parties that stayed put all day. They would come up to us when we came in, and let us know if everything had been okay, and let us know if somebody had been telling voters what to do, and even let us know that the nearby beer hut had a campaign poster still up. These are brave people, they're wearing their affiliation in bright orange badges on their chests, and when I say that the massive presence of observers made the difference, I mean them—not us.

All I Have to Say About That

The last two days were essentially one long day - punctuated by a cat nap between 5-7 am Kiev time on election night, and elongated by a flight westward back to DC. The American delegation was a gloomy, exhausted heap of humanity. We heard the announcement of Kerry's concession on the plane: somewhere over Germany, the pilot came on to say that he had a press release that he would just read verbatim. At the news, I could hear the lonely sound of scant cheers, then the pilot paused for about ten seconds and finished reading in a strained deadpan: "God Bless the United States of America." The man in the seat next to me grumbled to himself, "God help the United States of America."

I think someone in our observation group put it best when he said, "This election is a referendum on my sanity. If the country really wants all this, maybe something is wrong with me."

That's just how I felt yesterday. Numbly homeless. I thought I knew my country. I believed that despite everything, deep down, we all were tolerant people who held our leaders to a high standard and would not cast our vote from fear. I thought, now this administration can feel free to mold this country after their vision, and turn it into a place that I neither recognize nor feel at home in. And it will be accomplished according to the wishes of the majority of voting Americans. It was all very dramatic, and I was utterly despondent. Why bother. Unprecedented mobilization, drive, funding, heart, and the result is worse than four years ago. Lost cause. Checking out.

But today, I got angry. That sadness hardened into a little black ball that can cut glass, and I thought, what am I talking about? Not recognizing my country? I've got 49% on my side, and people have overcome far worse odds than that. I've got 49%, I've got righteous anger, and by God, I've got e-mails from Central Europeans offering their services as experienced revolutionaries.


Tuesday, November 02, 2004


So the plane?

Well, I'm sure this will come as a shock to all parties, but it may be that I was a touch melodramatic. I nearly fainted when I saw the propellers, but the truth is, it was a cinch. I mean, this was no luxury liner—I have great photos of us unloading our own luggage on the tarmac in Luhansk—but, it was pretty unexciting.

Out of the 600 international observers deployed to Ukraine, our Luhansk region had a measly 18 souls. We were divided into pairs and given our beat - mine was an area centered around the town of Antratsit—named for Anthracite, or coal. Which is what the air was filled with. Delightful! It's in the far eastern part of Ukraine, which is solid Russian-speaking territory. That was a relief—while my Russian is fairly shoddy, my Ukrainian is, well, I use shoddy Russian for Ukrainian.

At about 6pm on election day, we'd been going for about 12 hours, and had another 7 to go. My Slovak partner, our translator and driver and I all decided to stop for a coffee in a restaurant. We were happily refueling when my OSCE armband caught the attention of some carousing Ukrainians nearby. They stumbled our way and invited themselves, and their bottle of vodka, to join us. "It is Russky traditsii," they insisted, pushing the bottle toward us, "You must drink before you vote!" Cuts the pain, I guess.

We declined, citing our official status as observers. The pair eventually ended a soliliquy on the brotherhood of nations and set off to traverse the 200 meters to the polling station. After we finished our coffee, we too left for the polling station to resuming our by now expert observing. As usual, we introduced ourselves to the precinct chairperson, asked a few questions, and settled in to take stock of the proceedings.

A local journalist and her cameraman came into the polling station and made a beeline for us. She asked if we would offer our opinion on the conduct of the elections thus far, and if we had any suggestions for improvement. Although I am something of a fame whore, I figured that Antratsit local news was not my ticket to Hollywood glory, and anyway, the OSCE had trained us well for this eventuality. Sorry, we told her, the OSCE hive mind would issue its collective opinion on Monday, and we weren't at liberty to offer our individual opinions. She kept trying, but we were firm. She settled for instructing her cameraman to train his lens on us, sitting there, trying not to look at the camera, staring dumbly at ballot boxes.

As if on cue, there's a crashing sort of disaster sound to our right and we see our friends from the restaurant once again. They're heading straight for us with a delightedly sloppy gait. "It is Russky traditsii and this time you cannot say no!" announces our friend, pulling something from behind his back. Out of the corner of my eye, I see the journalist tap her cameraman on the shoulder, and he wheels the camera around just in time to catch a heartwarming scene for their viewers at home: two OSCE observers in a polling station, receiving beer and condoms from a resident voter.

This—this wasn't covered in our briefing.