All You Need Is Putin, Nukes And A Sharpie

Putin, NATO, Ukraine, War, Rita, Iron Man

FADE IN:

INT. RADIO STUDIO, WASHINGTON DC – MORNING- SUNLIT WINDOWS

SOUND: Theme music, UP TEMPO with PERKY GUITAR as we see –

RADIO HOST is maybe 45. Slightly pale. Looks BUSINESS LIKE in shirt and tie. Sits at TABLE across from ASHBURY. Both have HEADPHONES. Radio host points to PRODUCER behind STUDIO GLASS as music ends.

RADIO HOST (V.O.)
Welcome to CNMBS’ FRESH AIR.
ZYX Resident Scholar Ambrose Marius Ashbury the First is here.
Deerfield grad, Williams then an Athenian poetry PhD from Yale.

Doctor, good morning.

ASHBURY, coiffed in dark suit, black glasses. A green room WARRIOR of plastic age, demeanor is one who just UPGRADED TO FIOS.

ASHBURY
Call me Ash. All my interns do.

RADIO HOST
Sooo. Your NRO review on Christopher Nolan’s
new movie Interstellar
is burning up Buzzfeed.
But first, you call in the Washington Post for general European war

Ashbury UNFOLDS SMILE.

ASHBURY
We’re already at war. I’m just saying it out loud.

Radio host reaches for a DUNKIN DONUTS coffee but pauses, picks up handwritten question LIST.

[Read more…]

Putin’s Sochi Spring Break

Putin’s $51 billion gamble to re-make Russians’ self-image achieves its initial, limited goals. Putin wanted Sochi to sell Russians they’re active participants in the 21st century’s pop culture meme bubble, not just observers. Sochi’s distraction and legitimization will buy crucial time for his regime.


Giving The Russian People A Chance To Escape Today

It’s beyond just Putin individually. His restive elites need him to peddle illusions of Russian global emergence. All have a stake in prolonging the faltering system’s inertia. Russia’s economic growth, once over 8% in the mid 2000s, may not break 1% in 2014. Infighting among self-dealing elites over extractive and infrastructure resources grows more public. Putin’s no longer the axiomatic arbiter. Russia fails to embrace economic innovation to replace dead dinosaurs/gas/oil in the ground. Russia’s future is bleak.

Worse, Putin’s bag of tricks is almost empty. He’s tapped Russia’s Reserve Fund and also guaranteed Sochi expenses. His extravagant but ineffectual re-armament plan forced his earlier Finance Minister, Kudrin, to resign. Putin adds promises for grandiose Soviet-mega projects to develop the desolate and decrepit Far East. His $15 billion bribe to Ukraine in December 2013 drains reserves still more.

It’s understandable the regime naturally turns up the AgitProp. Putin’s State-controlled media is doing everything it can to manufacture artificial “us” versus “them”.

What is the regime promoting? A toxic blend of revanchism added to ethnic and religious chauvinism that trumpets a “Russianness” brutalizing the needy and marginal. Even the Kremlin is concerned about how how to keep this environment sustainable, fearing a slide toward nihilism or spontaneous ‘chaos’ (organization) without something more.

Enter Sochi. Its essential mission — sell Russians that Putin’s noxious mixture is internationally mainstream. Revanchism with a patina of glossy, Daft Punk-loving globalism. The squalor and bigotry of Russian daily life hidden by Euro disco hip sheen.


Why Sochi Is Not Berlin

Comparisons to 1936 and Berlin miss this critical point: Putin needed Sochi because he and Russia are weak. His elites increasingly tempted to think past or through him. 1936 by contrast? The Corporal, 2 years after the famous Nuremberg rally memorialized on film, totally controlled his elites and populace. Germany’s economy boomed.

1936 declared the regime to the world. 2014 asks the world for help to make Putin’s regime look cool.

Of course, global perceptions matter. World leaders boycotting Sochi hurts. But the regime is adept turning real and imagined hurts into daily AgitProp fodder. Watching and reading the regime’s lieutenants and sycophants’ reactions to the games instructive. Not just their unhinged anger over a U.S.-Russia hockey game. Day in and day out while the games unfold the regime can’t mask its true psychology of petty resentment or rages that few Americans will ever see or care to see.

Two questions today: How long will Putin enjoy a post-Sochi halo? And was it worth the cost?

On the latter, our answer is clear. The regime faces a looming, possibly severe crisis at home with a faltering economy. Sochi may help distract by buttressing Russian self-identity and vague global legitimacy. Sochi’s reprieve – if it’s real – for Putin is worth its weight in gold. For a little while.

Keeping Up With ‘The Americans’

Pop culture fascination with the covert continues to crest. Under Bush besides the torture porn of ’24’, NCIS began its long run exalting ‘warfighters’ and hierarchical obediance. We endured the Bournes’ editing and celebrated a more brutal Bond.

And it continues. “Homeland” has become a ‘Starbuckian’ touchstone. “Argo” and “Zero Dark Thirty” pull crowds. Even lighter, sillier cable fare like the CW’s “Nikita” and USA’s “Burn Notice” name check espionage argot.

And Comrades, Remember The Paco Rabanne
And Comrades, Remember The Paco Rabanne

So what to make of FX’s new series, “The Americans”? Larval CIA employee Joseph Weisberg (1990-94, no overseas) launched it all. He runs with the 2010 ‘Anna Chapman Spy Ring’ sensationalism but places his ostensibly married Soviet ‘illegal’ couple in Reagan’s 1981 America. The producers add some “Californication”-esque gestures; within the pilot’s first hour the female Soviet spy fellates a hapless presidential confidante, ostentatiously wiping her mouth afterwards and is later shown raped brutally. She also asks said confidante, supra, if he liked her finger up his ass. Quelle shock!

If It’s Phil Collins, It Must Be The 80’s

But is it any good?

When credits rolled, we asked “What did we just see?” It’s all preposterous, of course, as it must be. A show survives if it entertains. Here, the team generously drops gratuitous and titillating details to provide a modicum of verisimilitude – beyond say, “Burn Notice”. Yet for all that “The Americans” likely will be a soap opera.

The Soviet husband likes American malls and wants to defect. The wife is fiercely opposed, clinging to a memory of Moscow in 1962. And their kids! Already their young boy seems to have the hots for the next door neighbor’s daughter. Her dad’s an FBI counter-intelligence agent (yes, really). Oh, and there’s a KGB general. He pops up somehow at the end in D.C. to tell the female spy he’s fighting off extremists in Moscow while defending the motherland.

The atmosphere is the show’s real star and asset. Like Miami Vice, the show wants us to notice the music, style and set decorating. The clothes accurately are post 70s muted browns and not the much later, stereotypical big hair, neon and mullets. (Watch for Members Only jackets in future eps). They’ve gone the extra mile recreating 1981 on a basic cable budget. The music from Phil Collins to Pat Benatar is true to that year’s charts. (The only bum note was using The Who’s ‘Eminence Front’ as the FX TV ad campaign, which was from 1982).

Still, atmosphere can carry only so far. A soap opera requires caricatures acting broadly. The show’s premise and conceit point the other way. And nothing suggests ambition to deconstruct the American self-image through the eyes of its Soviet protagonists. Leaving us with what, precisely?

We doubt we’ll stick around after initial novelty dissipates. Aside from name-check fan service, it feels like Oakland, no there, there. (For that matter, we’ve never been able to sit through a re-watching of the recent “Tinker, Tailor” remake; the original BBC show remains sublime). Many pulp series have overcome inauspicious pilots. Will be interesting to see if we’re given a reason to care in time.

Knock Knock Knockin On Boomers’ Doors

Last night’s feeble, geriatric, reverse mortgage ‘Concert for 12-12-12′ should galvanize all to overthrow the Boomers’ tyrannical claim to pop culture relevance.

Springsteen, Rolling Stones, The Who, Concert, Sandy

$25,000 Per Ticket For A Concert Says It All

Consider the bloated, self-satisfied pricing of tickets themselves: an actual event in Madison Square Garden selling tickets for $25,000 at the box office, no scalpers. One can only imagine the Boomers’ orgasms (without their pills, mostly psychic) induced by their Amex Black invoices. Telling that media focused on scalpers’ Craigslist prices, not the underlying rapacity itself.

Consider the hollow rationalizations to justify onanistic consumerism: only Boomers can afford $25,000 ticket, ergo a 1960s nostalgia concert bill. This ‘concert’ was a pretext for a celebration by the 1% for the 1%. Only cloaked. And the 99% rubes have some vague trickle down role to play – call now.

Too cynical? Some major American cities no longer support a broad-based rock radio station. Even abhorrent ‘classic rock’ is a dying niche. The non-Boomer vote with their radio dial dispatches rock and especially ‘classic rock’ to crawl off and die.

The cold calculation of forward brand positioning also stands out. It’s no accident, as the Sovs used to say, that we see Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder paired with a 69 year-old Brit, or shoe gazing darling Nirvana’s shards together with a wizened McCartney. Gen-X, stand at attention. You soon will be cogs in the nostalgia-celebration-exploitation machine. You’re just not liquid enough yet.

But What About Those Power House Rock Bands?

Springsteen and his now amorphous E-Street Band wobbled out first. Now largely immobile, Bruce tried projecting ‘sincerity’ and ‘presence’ to evoke when they truly, briefly led rock and pop culture. Seeing the comparatively limber 50-year old Bon Jovi on stage in juxtapose sent a powerful, but unintended statement.

If you remember the 1970s, local FM stations bleated about Pink Floyd laser shows in some planetarium. Roger Waters’ few Pink Floyd stoner classics doubtlessly launched thousands of reminiscences about Boomers’ favorite college bongs. Musically tight but a Pink Floyd concert never was really about music at all. As the kidz say, meh.

Bon Jovi’s set already fades from memory. Mercifully. He is not really for the $25,000 ticket class. But someone has to play to the $150 nose (noise) bleed seats. Chris Christie’s real home. You know?

Clapton, looking surprisingly spry, wisely avoided “Let It Rain”. His blues turgid yet too energetic to rekindle memories of quaaludes, heroin chic and stoned immobility.

It’s Only Entertainment, Yes It Is

Then the Stones. We’ve always said – back when it happened, not now when it’s ‘so obvious’ – that the Stones ceased to be a *good* rock band circa 1973 and the last Mick Taylor shows in Europe. For a while in the 1970s they were blatantly mediocre – something Jagger cops to now and then.

As we all know, Jagger and then the other Stones switched gears with the 1981 “Tattoo You” tour. Jagger decided if they couldn’t play reliably, they’d overwhelm with spectacle. And they got very rich.

No surprise their two lackluster songs offered good visuals. “You Got Me Rockin” remains an embarrassment as when foisted on us in 1994. “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” even more shambolic and anemic than usual. Still, Jagger’s supranatural gyrations ensured an arcane, creaky spectacle. Appalling.

Alicia Keys gets the Billy Ocean award. You remember him? In 1985 when it was pointed out that Live Aid had no black artists at all, promoters glommed Billy Ocean to the setlist. He pathetically lip sync’d his then pop hit alone in front of the JFK multitudes.

Alicia as token woman underscored promoters’ original sin. Minor kudos for not choosing Betty White. Boomers might be puzzled at her brief and musically out of context set. How many watching thought “Oh, so that’s what I heard in Starbucks”? Or worse, remembered an Amex commercial.

Then The Who. Their incendiary, eruptive prime with Keith Moon continues to haunt them. Musically, this ensemble remains tight – perhaps the evening’s best. Daltrey’s voice is gone and Townshend’s low-volume Strat noodling glaringly far removed from halcyon days. The NYT loved it all.

Fellas, retire. You’ve nothing left to prove.

And so on through Kanye and Billy Joel. Kanye seemed defiantly gleeful as The Other Token Act, happy to contend with Alicia Keys for the Billy Ocean award. Billy Joel’s interminable set lulled Boomers to that special Hell when ‘Piano Man’ was as ubiquitous as ‘Stairway to Heaven’. For everyone else, it must have seemed inexplicable.

Next, Gwyneth Paltrow’s husband’s uniquely ball-less stylings added to the bizarre. Ordinarily, Chris Martin’s Cold Play John Tesh-isms should be banned from joining these bands, debilitated or not. Martin was perfect. Somehow, like Fellini-via-Simon Cowell, after everything before, the absurdity of it all invoked a certain manic, indiscriminate aesthetic abandon. Aural vandalism if you will.

Finally, McCartney. What better closing to the lunacy than a creepy, crinkled vampire trying to feast off of Nirvana’s remnants and rejuvenate his relevancy. And seduce them and their followers. Couldn’t they see his fangs?

His vampirism a warning and vision for the Gen X, Seattle shoe gazing alt rock fans. Macca’s siren call is to embrace affluence and self-absorbed nostalgia that keeps him alive. Become the new Boomers.

It won’t be easy for Sir Paul’s victims. The old mono culture is gone. Plus, Boomers’ bubble economies are toast. But kids, you can still focus on 401-ks and equity portfolios. Because, in the words of Monty Python, “One day lad, all this could be yours.” For now, it’s sufficient to follow wrinkled Uncle Paul and join in “Helter Skelter” — unironically, please.

Will any of the Gen-Xers on stage last night aspire to mince in their 70s? Inspiring their equally aged cohorts to shell out staggering sums for tickets? A huge industry is betting on it.

As grooming exercises go, surely last night’s concert marks a fine start.

Infographic – Pussy Riot Around The World

Because we do not always get the infographics we need, but what we deserve. Or something like that.

We tried to put Pussy Riot, Putin and the West in the juxtapose most familiar to a meme addled society. We think it captures the moment in Russia and the West. Clicking on the image below will produce the full size graphic. Feel free to make suggestions or comments for improvements. We can, as they say, ‘iterate this’ to reflect our consensus.

Putin, Pussy Riot, Trial, Twitter

Pussy Riot Shows Putin Misreads Politics

Putin must be wondering how did it all go so wrong? So fast?

First, demonstrators marred his moment returning to overt power. Putin even cried a bit. Former Finance Minister Kudrin and others broke ranks and seek his overthrow.

Lately, he’s blamed for inept responses to massive flooding and failed rocket launches. Putin’s presidency is now so volatile there’s open speculation how soon he’s trying to oust Medvedev as Prime Minister. Or whether he can control elite factions anymore. Three young women punk rockers as international superstars just rubs it in.

Putin, Pussy Riot, Madonna

Putin Is An Analog Guy

Putin and his collective instrumental base show a political deaf ear and marked clumsiness since his return as president. It’s a common mistake to attribute everything to Putin himself. As we wrote before in the link above, Putinism operationally (as opposed to substantively) is about preserving his role as arbiter.

Within the wider personal and institutional factions, much occurs without him. Either by ‘working towards’ him by anticipating what Putin might want, or operating more broadly, with the ‘better to seek forgiveness than permission’. Corruption is a vital currency. Putin’s long delay announcing his new government underscores the fractious nature of this political ecosystem – and his essential role as arbiter.

So when Putin does act, it is often in broad measures, trying to set systemic guidance by dramatic example. In the past, these actions were carefully choreographed in exquisite detail by Vladislav Surkov, Putin’s former young eminence grise who famously turned Putin into an action figure. Surkov is gone. Asute Russia observers suggest Putin misses Surkov’s shrewd ear to the ground.

[Read more…]

This Isn’t Over Yet, Batman

71 people shot at the Aurora, Colorado midnight show of “The Dark Knight Rises.” Almost instantly, right wing defensive posturing over gun control hijacked a tragedy for squalid politics.

A single reporter on Good Morning America said the shooter belonged to the Tea Party (and quickly corrected). That lone report by a not very credible reporter was all the victim bandwagon needed. The Fox crew energetically speculated without reporting that it all might be related to OWS. Most of the cable teams we glimpsed, especially CNN, appeared almost but not quite celebratory. It is because they have a new cash cow narrative for ratings? Or it’s a temporary reprieve from the bleak and small presidential race? Unknown.
Batman, Aurora massacre, Rush Limbaugh

It’ll be a long time coming before we get reliable information about the shooter and his avowed motives. Pundits laugh at waiting and scramble to tell us what it all means. Most of those writers are clueless about pop culture, movies and genres but are oddly obsessed by them. Much like El Rushbo:

This evil villain in the new Batman movie is named Bane. And there’s now a discussion out there as to whether or not this is purposeful and whether or not it will influence voters. It’s gonna have a lot of people. This movie, the audience is gonna be huge. A lot of people are gonna see the movie, and it’s a lot of brain-dead people, entertainment, the pop culture crowd, and they’re gonna hear Bane in the movie and they’re gonna associate Bain. The thought is that when they start paying attention to the campaign later in the year, and Obama and the Democrats keep talking about Bain, Romney and Bain, that these people will think back to the Batman movie, ‘Oh, yeah, I know who that is.’ There are some people who think it’ll work. Others think you’re really underestimating the American people to think that will work.

“You may think it’s ridiculous, I’m just telling you this is the kind of stuff the Obama team is lining up. The kind of people who would draw this comparison are the kind of people that they are campaigning to. These are the kind of people that they are attempting to appeal to.

This tragedy reminds one of other incidents and losses. We’d like to close by remembering the sacrifice of Officer Johns. You may recall he gave his life to defend Holocaust Museum visitors. And there are others. Does this incident prompt memories for you?

The Amazing Willard Romney Issue No. 1

Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Lunar Colonies, Florida GOP Debates

If today’s GOP primary was a Japanese horror supernatural anime (all rights with respective owners). In both the Movement and Japanese imagination, conveniently blonde hair plays an outsized role. We think Ms. Base Babe definitely should pack, and it’s nice the pointy-headed-liberal here is wearing glasses. Probably went to a better school than Newt.

Issue No.1s are always tricky – introducing the main characters and the hero’s initial journey. While keeping a menace on the horizon. So did we miss anyone? Possibly in the Campbell tradition, the older mentor who must die for the hero to move on. That came to mind.

  • Mitt Romney (in his idealized Fox News blonde state
  • Tea Party and Republican base
  • Liberal Media and Democratic elites
  • Gratuitous T&A for Fox
  • Newt Gingrich (who threatens to stalk the hero to the Convention)

Leave suggestions for Issue No. 2 below.

2011’s Top 10 Most Memorable?

We all know the merely ‘great’ moments of 2011. Everyone has their own list.

To wit, the usual suspects: the Kardashian wedding, Weiner’s Tweets, the movie ‘Cowboys and Aliens’, Glenn Beck ‘parting ways’ with Fox, the Beatles’ song ‘In My Life’ used to sell mattresses by Sleepy’s, and so on. Toss in various pedantic finger jabs at the camera by Laurence (‘I was Chief of Staff to the Senate Finance Committee!’) O’Donnell or Rachel (‘Check this out, it is sooo cool. In the 1970s, they actually had LED wristwatches!’) Maddow.

Life defining moments all, surely.

Still, we can sift through the cacophony and seek greater refinement. To kickstart conversation, here’s one stab at a Top Ten:

10. Michele Bachmann
9. ‘Teh Gays’ Invading C-PAC, causing a Counter-Revolution and Coup
8. Khadaffi’s PG-Rated Cher Condi Photo Book
7. Season 2 of ‘Walking Dead’
6. Hewlett-Packard
5. Herman Caine’s Smoking Commercial
4. The Republican Debates (pick your moment)
3. Boehner/Cantor Road Show
2. US/ISI Divorce (and drone war migrating to Africa)
1. The U.S. Default/Debt Debacle/People Realizing Goldilocks Doesn’t Work

Submit your suggestions. Anything missing? What should be here?

_