A Few Thoughts About Boris Nemtsov

I was mid-meltdown thanks to ongoing, recurrent, emotionally draining computer problems. The TV, languishing in “Mute”, was tuned to a news channel, which we set it to almost as a default. Somewhere in the midst of me freaking out and sobbing (real tears!), more than my fair share of “Why me?”s and a serious case of PLOMS (or, Poor Little Old Me Syndrome), I glanced at the TV, and noticed the news breaking across the right hand scroll bar on my screen.

Boris Nemtsov had been shot dead on a bridge in Moscow. I gasped out loud. Suddenly my stupid computer issues didn’t seem quite so important.

I met Boris Nemtsov, back in 1998 or 1999. This was back in the stone age before cell phones and selfies, so sadly, I don’t have any photos. It’s is too bad. I’d love to be able to post a photo. I’d love to have a photo at all, but I digress. I was a Russian Studies major in college and he came to speak on our campus. I was asked to attend a dinner the Russian Department was hosting in his honor, before going en masse to his talk. Sure, I said. I’ll have dinner with a visiting dignitary, no problem. Surprise surprise, I found myself seated directly across the table from him. Because that’s not too much pressure. Hi, Guest of Honor. You get to feast your eyes on me during your entire meal. At least I had good lipstick that day.

When you’re that near someone for a prolonged, talky-type dinner, you can’t help but get some insight into what makes him tick. I have some distinct memories.

Boris Nemtsov worked to make us feel comfortable. He engaged with the students at the table, seemed interested in carrying on conversations, and (to my recollection) was neither dismissive nor self-aggrandizing nor arrogant. He was witty and smart. That’s not to say he didn’t have an ego, but he still made the people he was interacting with feel like their opinions mattered.

Which is really quite charming. And a powerful skill to have, if you’re…oh, I don’t know. A politician, trying to get people on your side.

boris 2

Image from theguardian.com

 

He ate with his arm around the top of his plate, and I had the distinct impression that if I were to try and take his plate before he was ready he would have stabbed me in the hand. If I were judging body language, I would say he was used to fending off older brothers or schoolmates or something. Or maybe it meant nothing and he just ate that way.

He liked watermelon Jolly Ranchers. I know, because I gave him a handful, to quell a tickle in his throat before giving his talk. Watermelon Jolly Ranchers should be a staple in diplomatic meetings, as they clearly create a bridge between cultures. World peace through watermelon Jolly Ranchers? It’s as good a plan as any I’ve seen. 

The attention Boris Nemtsov paid to people didn’t slip away from memory as soon as he walked out the door. Two weeks later, after touring several colleges in the US, he was back on my campus and indeed, in one of my classes. He walked right up to me and said, “You. I remember your face.” I joked that I wasn’t sure if that was good or bad. We laughed, he waggled a finger at me.

In Russia’s current political climate, it would paralyze me with fear. Not-noticed is better.

So here’s the thing: it’s not like Boris Nemtsov and I were buddies. He never wrote, he never called. And I’m not starry-eyed and delusional. Of course he had skeletons. Of course he made enemies. And I’d be surprised to find out that he was untouched by the corruption that generally accompanies global politics and enterprise, even though he promoted transparency in politics. But he was shot in the back, killed in the street, most likely for political reasons. It was well-orchestrated, and a block away from The Kremlin. It would be like someone who didn’t like the president getting mysteriously murdered on the White House lawn. There’s a message in that.  

Nemtsov’s death isn’t an intellectual exercise, an academic imagining of what it would be like to live someplace where you could be killed for a difference of opinion. It isn’t part of a movie, and Jason Bourne isn’t going to break through a skylight and topple the corrupt regime who thinks it’s become untouchable. It was real. It happened. Right now his kids, his mother, his wife, his girlfriend (who was holding his hand as he was shot, poor traumatized thing), his friends, and mourners all across Russia are coping with the ache of his sudden and irreversible loss.

While Vladimir Putin enjoys an 86% approval rating.

Screen capture from cnn.com

Screen capture from cnn.com, slight alteration by me

Which doesn’t happen when your economy is in the dumpster and you rank 78th out of the 91 countries evaluated in a Gallop poll that examines the well-being of a country and its citizens.

The best I can say about Vladimir Putin is that he exudes awkward, kissing-a-child-on-the-belly-creepy-Grandpa-ness. The worst and most likely thing I can say about him is he’s a sociopathic former KGB officer, and now the madman is running the asylum. He’s already got a string of jailed or dead journalists and dissidents and human rights advocates and political opponents behind him, and his  list of dead and/or nullified enemies has just grown by one.

Image from theguardian.com

Image from theguardian.com

Putin, chillingly, called Nemtsov’s murder a “provocation” (then sent police into Nemtsov’s apartment and confiscated relevant personal belongings, like his computer) saying that it was done by an enemy of the state who wants to provoke a negative reaction in order to make Russia look bad. Oh, right. Because the state is the real victim here. Joseph Stalin, former dictator of the USSR and a murderous psychopath in his own right, called the murder of Sergei Kirov a “provocation”, then used that as an excuse to implement the show trials and the Great Purge of the 1930s. I’m not saying that’s what’s going to happen next. I’m just saying that history indicates this isn’t going to get any prettier.

Will we ever know, for sure, what happened to Boris Nemtsov? I doubt it. They may find “a shooter”, there may be someone who faces a trial, but I doubt anyone will expose a brain behind the operation. It will take a Herculean effort to convince me that Putin wasn’t directly behind this. Others have pointed out that even if he didn’t order Nemtsov’s killing, he’s certainly fostered an atmosphere of rabid nationalism, intolerance, and fervent lawlessness, which gives implicit permission for loose cannons to run off fully-cocked. But I think that’s letting Putin off the hook. I think he did it, I think he ordered it, I think he was watching out the window of the Kremlin when it happened. I think it’s time to seriously worry about what’s happening in Russia, if we haven’t started doing so already. I’m afraid it’s too late for Jolly Rancher diplomacy. Was Boris Nemtsov a threat to Putin’s regime? He was, as much as any charismatic man with a strong opinion is to a sociopath drunk on his own power. 

I am shocked and saddened and horrified that Boris Nemtsov is gone. I liked him, and he was nice to me. But what’s worse is, I worry that this death is just the tip of a giant, bloody iceberg.

Advertisements

The Walking Dead, S 5, Ep. 8: Coda

SPOILERS.

I MEAN IT.

If you haven’t watched this episode of The Walking Dead yet and don’t want to know what happens, then avert your eyes, because I will be all up and down this episode.

CONSIDER YOURSELF ALERTED.

That is all.

First, let me just say…I didn’t see that coming. I mean, at one point early in the episode I thought I got a hint of what was going to happen, but still. I didn’t see it coming.

The it, to which I am referring, is the death of old what’s her face. I mean Beth. Beth! Oh my God, they killed Beth! You bastards!

Before I go into the story of Beth…can someone please do something (anything) about Father Gabriel? I mean, he’s…a human, so I suppose that’s something in his favor. But ohhh myyyy gawwwwwd I am so over his zombie squeamishness. I know he locked himself in a church and “La la la I can’t hear you screaming”-ed himself through the first 18 months or so of the new world order, but…dude. Get it together.  I kind of lost all patience for him in the previous episode when he couldn’t kill a zombie because she was wearing a crucifix. Father, she is undead, and would eat you for lunch, crucifix or no. It’s time to adjust.

And can someone explain to me…OK, so, Michonne is a killing machine, no? She sliced her way through a good handful of zombies invading Father Gabriel’s church, and barely worked up a sweat.

Michonne, Master of Badass

Michonne, Master of Badass

Then she, Carl (with baby Judith, of course), and Father Gabriel retreated to the rectory to scoot out the hole in the floor. When they were trying to close the rectory door and put something solid between them and the relentless undead, zombie fingers prevented them from fully shutting the door. Michonne is the woman who cut the jaws and arms off two zombies and wore them as postapocalyptic personal protective gear. Why didn’t she think to slice off those grabby, undead fingers so she could properly shut and lock the door?

Seriously. Just. Cut. The fingers.

Seriously. Just. Cut. The fingers.

Then Abe Ford conveniently showed up in his fire engine, collected everyone, and drove off to Atlanta to rendezvous with the rest of Rick Nation. Hail, hail! The gang will soon be gathered again.

 All right, so, back to Beth. I know, I was extremely hard on her in previous posts, largely because the writers gave her nothing to do besides sing and take care of baby Judith (other than that brief, “I think I want to kill myself” story arc in season 2), but you know, she’s been doing her thing since the prison went down and they all separated. She’d become tough, and honest, and remarkably clear-sighted about their lives and the state of the world around them. During her time in Grady Memorial Hospital with the Dawnians, Beth had become increasingly vocal about the injustices she saw enacted upon the other hospital residents. She’d also managed to put an end to two of commanding officer Dawn‘s incredibly corrupt and abusive officers, so her capacity for ridding the world of dangerous jerks was pretty high. That’s too bad, because there sure seem to be a lot of dangerous jerks out there.

So long, dangerous jerk!

Take that, dangerous jerk!

Through somewhat drawn out negotiations, the Dawnians and Rick Nation agree to a hostage exchange; Beth and Carol for the two officers (still living) that Rick and the rescue team had captured. Herein lie my problems with the misunderstandings regarding Dawn’s nature. She? Is clearly a dictator. She may be making it up as she goes along, and she may have herself convinced she’s doing something “for the greater good”, but she is absolutely the embodiment of a totalitarian dictator. She has people beaten for mistakes. She sees people as bargaining tools. She lets her officers rape the wards, ostensibly to “keep them happy”. The wards are forbidden to leave her stronghold, and must work to pay off a debt to the Dawnians which said wards did not necessarily have any autonomy in incurring (i.e., Beth was brought in unconscious after [probably] being hit by one of the officer’s cars, and was told she was indebted to them for saving her life, which they jeopardized in the first place). She doesn’t want love, just respect. Dawn created a shrine to fallen officers (at least one of which she killed, and another one of which she knew was raping the wards) to propagandize her hierarchical structure. And Dawn manipulated people into doing her dirty work for her, like getting Beth to kill the officer she was fighting with. Because turning one person against an enemy creates a common, dirty, secret bond.

PROPAGANDA!

PROPAGANDA!

To those of us who haven’t lived (or studied) the mechanics of a dictatorial regime, Dawn’s actions may seem inconceivable. I’ve read commentary that has said she was barely in any kind of control, citing things like her looking the other way regarding the sexual abuse of the wards. Their commentary evolves from the assumption that she can’t stop them. What the commenters don’t assume is that she won’t, or simply doesn’t care. It doesn’t take into the account that permissiveness among the chosen elite and brutal strongarm tactics are the trademark of many, many dictators. Stalin killed his perceived enemies and surrounded himself with yes men, who he let…kidnap and rape and beat and enslave, and it was because the yes men knew he would kill them if they tried to overthrow him and failed, that he remained in power. And life wasn’t so bad for people in the inner circle, so why rock the boat. Hey…does this sound familiar?

At the end of the hostage exchange, Carol and Beth are both back with Rick Nation and the two officers Rick Nation had captured were back safely to their own. Dawn–afraid to appear weak in front of her officers–changes the rules and says she wants Noah back or the deal is off. The conversation goes like this:

Dawn: He’s one of mine. You have no claim on him.

Rick: The boy wants to go home. So you have no claim on him.

Dawn: Well then we don’t have a deal.

But what if they think I'm wimpy?

But what if they think I’m wimpy?

The social commentary behind them bargaining about the claiming and servitude of a black man is an entire blog in and of itself. I’ll just spin this out into the webisphere for now. However, if you’re in the middle of philosophizing over media images of social issues, please don’t fail to recognize this, readers.

Foreshadowing alert: this claiming of people hearkens back to the episode “Claimed”, where the group Daryl fell in with post-Beth-capture could call dibs on rabbit halves and beds and such. Initially, it seemed kind of weirdly playground-ish (but with more serious implications). It ended poorly for the original claimers, and there’s no reason to think things will go differently for Dawn. It would have been way more satisfying–and perhaps more appropriate–if one of Dawn’s own officers shot her when she changed the rules of the game, especially because they understand that the ire of Rick Nation was focused on Dawn, not them. When Dawn’s officers didn’t take this opportunity to wrest power from her, Beth knew that Dawn’s demands for power would only grow. She knew Noah would be horribly mistreated, and she knew Dawn had to be stopped somehow. That’s what she “got”, at the end. I can only hope she was trying to stab Dawn in the neck with her mini-scissors, and had the worst aim in the history of being stabby.

Rut-ro.

Rut-ro.

I’m pretty sure Beth knew that a shoulder wound wouldn’t be fatal.

Unless she was still trying–albeit in an incredibly roundabout way–to kill herself.

Alas, poor Beth, we hardly knew ye.

So Beth stabbed Dawn, and Dawn shot Beth, and Daryl shot Dawn (who looked like she had the ridiculous, ludicrous nerve to try and plead for her life), and a bloodbath was averted when Dawn’s officers called to hold fire. “It was always just about her,” the officer says. Rightly so. And I’m pretty sure Khrushchev danced on Stalin’s grave, too.

Ummm...funny story. So I didn't mean to shoot your friend in the head...

Ummm…funny story. So I didn’t mean to shoot your friend in the head…

Interestingly enough, none of the residents of the hospital left with Rick Nation, when Rick offered to take them in. The devil you know, it seems, is better than the devil you don’t.

And then all of Rick Nation got in Abe’s big red truck and drove away.

We did get one last teaser. Morgan showed up again, and he found his way into Father Gabriel’s abandoned church. He gently, mercifully–almost lovingly, really–did away with a zombie trapped under a piece of debris, hissing and biting at him. And then he found a map Abe had left for Rick, and realized he was on the trail of good buddy Rick Grimes and the Rick Nation.

Shhhhhh...

Shhhhhh…

GIVE US MORE MORGAN! WE WANT MORGAN!

The end, until February 8.

Since I’ve been thinking Russian history during this blog, here’s an Epic Rap Battle: Rasputin vs. Stalin, to play you out.

The Walking Dead, S 5, Ep. 4: Slabtown

SPOILERS GALORE! BE FOREWARNED! ABANDON HOPE OF NON-SPOILAGE, ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE!

Have I made my point? Turn away, if you don’t want to know stuff.

And I’ve just completed two large projects and am currently away from my TV, so I can’t do my totally ratchet yet fun TV still photos. All images are stills culled from the vast resources of the interwebs.

Finally! Beth. Is alive. And in a hospital in Atlanta, far, farrrr away from the friends and family and life she’d gotten to know. And, boy, is she ever not having a good time.

The hospital is run by this woman, Dawn, a former police officer who assumed control after Hansen, her commanding officer, kind of lost it (so she claims) and had to be taken care of. Riiiiiiiiight. Convenient, that he “lost it” and created a power vacuum, one that Dawn (I am sure begrudgingly, with downcast eyes and somber appearance) was able to fill. Because…

…OK, look. Imma cut to the chase here. Dawn? Is the postapocalyptic, small-scale, ruling-only-one-building-instead-of-an-entire-country-sized version of a military dictator, like Josef Stalin, only without the resources of an entire country behind her.

Part Terminator, part small town cop. All Dawn.

Part Terminator, part yokel cop. All Dawn. Image from mysanantonio.com

(Hey, I was a Russian major. Stalin was the first dictator that came to mind.)

Here’s the deal:

Dawn is not afraid to use violence to manipulate others. Example: When she slaps Beth across the face the first time, they’re in a hospital room examining a patient on a gurney. Dawn tells the doctor to save said patient at all costs. Doctor says that he’s not sure if he can, the man’s injuries are severe. Dawn slaps Beth across the face, then turns to the doctor and says, “Try to grasp the stakes here.” She’s on a smaller scale so she’s not quite “I will shoot Beth and charge Maggie for the cost of the bullet”, but she’s totally willing to make Beth the doctor’s whipping girl. Emotionally, sending a bullet bill isn’t that much more of a leap.

Beth got a hurt on from Officer Dawn.

Beth got a hurt on from Officer Dawn. Image from TrashTalkTV.com

Dawn gives her officers carte blanche to do practically whatever they want, particularly with young women, in order to keep them “happy”. No, I’m not reading too much into anything. Dawn says to Beth, “The wards are nothing, they’re here to keep my officers happy.” Which begs the question: when Beth was “saved” on the side of the road (her take: I was fighting a walker, and then everything went black), was she “saved” with the intention of saving her, or was she “saved” with the intention of turning her into a sex slave? Ew.

Creepy Officer Gorman. We're glad he's dead. Image from anthonyvecch.wordpress.com

Creepy Officer Gorman. We’re glad he’s dead. Image from anthonyvecch.wordpress.com

And, Dawn has some glossy-eyed ideal of what makes up the concept of “the greater good”. Even worse, she is a self-appointed protector of said good, which creates zealotry and all sorts of justifications, as that thinking lends itself to the ends justifying the means. And the means can be anything from sex abuse to murder. So be it, right? Ick.

At the end of the show, Carol got wheeled in, seemingly unconscious, on a gurney. Her surprise appearance prevented Beth from stabbing the doctor (who, really, has it coming…some day…soooommmme…daaaaaay….) and surely getting herself killed in turn, which is a good thing. BUT. It also makes her vulnerable, because suddenly there’s someone on the inside that Beth cares about. Noah, the orderly she’d befriended, was on the successful end of their escape attempt, and Beth smiles as he runs through the fence despite her own position on the ground, handcuffed, about to be returned to the hateful Dawn and douchey doctor.

Forget your troubles, come on, get happy. Image from wtbuzz.com

Forget your troubles, come on, get happy. Image from wtbuzz.com

Why does Beth smile? Sure, Noah gets out and that’s nice and all. But mainly, she smiles because she is free. Noah can’t be used against her, Joan (another ward, who dies in the course of the show) can’t be used against her. Any actions Beth chooses to engage in (like getting stabby on a doctor) can’t be taken out on anyone else, and in a dictatorial system that’s strangely liberating. 

When Carol gets rolled in? That upsets Beth’s emotional freedom. It would be nice to think they’re going to take on Dawn & Co a la “Sisters are doing it for themselves” and bust a move all Thelma and Louise style. Instead. They are now each other’s emotional hostages.

Thanks for nothing, Carol! Image from www.craveonline.com

Thanks for nothing, Carol! Image from http://www.craveonline.com

So, who does Daryl have with him, that he tells to come out of the woods? My bet is, it’s Beth’s friend Noah. And what’s going to happen? Rick Nation is going to invade Atlanta and take back their ladies, and it’s going to be an unholy bloodbath. And that’s all the time I have this week because I have to get to a hockey game. Yay!

See you all next week, when I have more time…! 🙂 

Here’s a little Eurythmics featuring Aretha Franklin to play you out.

No more posts.