November 02, 2012

Omens, Blacklists and Vampires, Oh My!


Omens, Blacklists and Vampires, Oh My!

While the U.S. was being battered by Superstorm Sandy and the Election of Nattering Negativity this week, a steady stream of odd stories out of Russia caught my eye. Worried they might otherwise get overlooked, I decided to corral them here.

First, a survey published on Halloween reported that 40 percent of Russians believe in supernatural forces. 22 percent believe in omens, 8 percent in fortune telling and love spells, 6 percent in aliens and 2 percent in aliens.

On the subject of omens (though not sure what it is an omen of): President Putin injured his back when making his infamously ridiculous flight with the cranes in September.

Perhaps it wasn't an omen and he was just faking the injury in order not to meet with a Romney. Apparently Matt (not Mitt) Romney was in Russia this week. (Matt is Mitt's son and a VP at a hi-tech company looking for opportunities in Russia.) According to the MT article, Matt (not Mitt) was not in Russia as part of his father's campaign, yet he "told a person supposedly able to pass messages to Putin that Romney [Mitt, not Matt] wants "good relations" if he succeeds Obama in the White House."

We can all sleep better now.

Meanwhile, hi-tech Romney (Matt, not Mitt) may want to note that Russia's long discussed internet blacklisting law has just passed, as has a new law on U.S.-Russian adoptions. The latter law's intent was reputedly to ensure the safe return of adopted children in the event of a conflict. One of its aspects stipulates that adopted children will retain Russian citizenship until the age of 18. 

While we are on the subject of safe returns, there was the widely-reported story about how nearly a dozen Russian cities have set up "baby boxes," so that mothers who cannot care for their children can anonymously leave them at hospitals. "In July," the report said, "a five-day-old girl was left in a baby box in Perm with a note giving her name, Margarita, and her date of birth. Two more babies were left in baby boxes organized by Russia's Krasnodar region."

It's the sort of story you really want to say something about, but words fail.

Then there was the very interesting Reuters article asserting that Russia is more fragile than it looks. Quoting "a banker," the journalist, Michael Stott, said that "Russia is exporting three things in great quantity... natural resources, capital and people." And, true enough, according to a poll in September, nearly a third of Russian urbanites said they want to emigrate. One-third. Stott explained why: "A growing sense among educated Russians that their country is heading in the wrong direction, and that no change is likely."

But what a minute. Hold on. Emigration from Russia since the late 1990s has actually gone down. So the data do not seem to support the Reuters/Economist assertion. Now, during my recent visit to Russia, young professionals repeatedly told me that all sorts of people they knew were leaving. But that is anecdotal evidence, and that plus anonymous banker quotes do not add up to a trend.

Yet clearly many people are disatisfied. Including a bunch of hackers who decided to out a few million documents to protest Russian government spending on spying while the country suffers. Russia, the hackers said, is "a state of tyranny and regret." Calling their release of documents "Project BlackStar," one of the hackers said "We'll start off with a nice greeting of 2.5 million accounts/records, from governmental, educational, academical, political, law enforcement, telecom, research institutes, medical facilities, large corporations (both national and international branches) in such fields as energy, petroleum, banks, dealerships and many more." The group said it "currently has access to more Russian files than the FSB and we are very much eager to prove it."

Nice country you got here. Be a shame if something happened to it.

Finally, there is this. A Russian singer won a $3200 libel suit against Sobesednik newspaper which, in an article, queried if she might in fact be a vampire. Apparently the singer has a song with the lyrics: "Blood is not water. I’m am 300 years old, but I’m still young."

Apparently no one ever told the newspaper that sometimes a song is just a song.

The singer had previously won another libel suit against a magazine that claimed she was pregnant, when she was not. So here's the question: It's easy enough to prove that one is not pregnant. But how does a court prove that someone is not a vampire. Did someone offer her garlic or show her a mirror? 

I'm just asking.

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