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Remembering Katrina

It all began mid-week in the early 20s of August. Radio stations reported about Katrina leaving some destruction in its path in Florida. It was supposed to weaken and be just a distant scare. But then the hurricane decided to return to the Gulf and suddenly it all was not such a distant scare. Words like voluntary evacuation and contraflow penetrated into the news breaks amid soft rock and country music in my portable radio-phones. The picture I vividly recall as a backdrop for this is below.

French Quarter, New Orleans, August 2005

This film photo scan cannot quite show you the sunny richness of the yellow on these walls, the warmth of someday mid-week that was humid but pleasantly so. I was bathing in the sunshine and the radio news was just some distantly menacing predictions.

27 August. Katrina

Dear friends,
Today I have gone out to buy the last bits and to see the downtown before leaving. It is one of the best days today: so sunny and cheerful. It is hot but not very humid (to my mind). I was just walking through the Quarter from Decatur to Basin and soft rock radio station Magic 101.9 played great music into my ears through the headphone radio. It was such a bright moment of the day, walking along the sunlit streets, listening to music, and almost singing along with the radio (if only I knew the words). It felt so good. <…>

Making the right turn from the feelings I come up to the major news here in New Orleans. Katrina, the hurricane that has stormed through Florida and is now in the Gulf of Mexico, is fast approaching and is expected to make its landfall in south-eastern Louisiana sometime on Monday. It is already a Category 3 hurricane with chances to become Category 4 or even 5. A voluntary evacuation is announced for the area because New Orleans appears to be in the center of the projected hurricane path. The weather is expected to worsen on Sunday night with strong winds and thunderstorms (while now it is sunny, dry, and hot). Already the contraflow plans are implemented on all the roads leading from the city, which means that the traffic can go only out of the city using all the lanes, and you cannot go back or get to New Orleans. The only road that still seems to be open for traffic going down here is Causeway (that longest bridge in the world crossing Lake Pontchartrain). By the way, tolls are lifted on both the Crescent City Connection bridge (leading to the West Bank) and the Causeway.

When I was out this morning I saw that some stores are already getting ready for the hurricane. Windows are covered with plywood sheets. People buy water and other supplies to let them last while the stores will be closed during the hurricane. And, what directly affects me, flights are most certainly will be canceled tomorrow and at the beginning of the next week. That means I won’t be able to leave New Orleans as planned on Monday and will have to stay for another day or two. Well, I cannot say that I am frustrated or disappointed. Two more days in the country I love is not a bad idea. My silly students will surely be all right if they have to wait for me a little longer.

With love and best wishes from the city that is embracing itself with a major natural disaster coming,
Andrey

The night before the evacuation was good. Eating out, driving through the almost empty city startled by the closed gas stations and a bizarre krew parade rehearsal. I was going to stay. I was really curious having only a couple of tropical storms experience from 2002. I thought I’d be OK and at most slightly delayed.

On Sunday (28th) morning, I got up early. Some packing was done on the night before, and I was only packing whatever was left. Louis and Mike were both patiently expecting any news and packing too. They were going to Louis’s brother to Baton Rouge. Louis told me I was a big boy and could stay if I chose so. I was hesitating. Then all hell broke loose with an order of mandatory evacuation.

I had to go. There were millions of things still left unpacked. Louis needed my help downstairs and upstairs. I hectically brought plants from the balcony to my bathroom saying bye to the pre-departure shower. Then Louis rushed in, told me to hurry, and just use all the towels I could find to secure the balcony doors. I felt a bit lost and a nuisance, but I had to think less and help more. I don’t remember how much time passed. I only remember that Mike let me borrow his bag to pack more stuff.

We took only one car. I don’t know why they left the convertible. Each could have driven in a car and taken more things with us. I feel sorry that my bags took so much space. I rode with Gandalf in my feet and Lucy in a cage next to me. I think it was Tracy Chapman that Louis put into the CD player and Mike obviously didn’t like much. But everybody was deep in their own thoughts. And we were lucky to relatively easily and quickly get on the Interstate.

28 August. Evacuation

Dear friends,
When I wrote my previous chapter yesterday I thought that we would stay in New Orleans and live through a lot of rain and winds well into the next week. In the evening we went to Nirvana Indian Cuisine Restaurant on Magazine Street. I took Louis and Mike there for dinner to thank them for the many great things they have done to me, the greatest of which is bringing me here and allowing me to stay at their house. We had a few Indian dishes, mostly based on rice, and Taj Mahal beer. Later we stopped at an ice-cream place where they had a hurricane sale: two scoops for the price of one. So ice-cream was a frozen sweet finish to the evening. While driving along the streets of New Orleans we noticed many houses with their windows covered with plywood. Quite a few gas stations were out of gas and it was unusually empty for a Saturday night.

Well, things turned out not as I predicted or planned on. When I got up this morning Mike entered the room and said they were leaving because Katrina had gained strength and was then a Category 5 hurricane on a sure path to hit right over New Orleans. A couple of hours later the Mayor of New Orleans declared a mandatory evacuation for the city of New Orleans. People were ordered to leave the city. Those who couldn’t for some reason or didn’t have means of transportation were directed to shelters, the major of which is the Louisiana Superdome.

I had to pack everything and I also helped Louis and Mike take plants into the house, put some sandbags against the doors in the basement, secure plywood over the front porch windows. It was so hectic and there was no time to think over things, just for doing things. I soon realized that my two bags were not enough to pack everything into them, so I had to borrow a bag. It will take additional re-packing to better accommodate all the stuff.

We left at 11 in the morning – Louis, Mike, Gandalf (the dog), Lucy (the poppy) and me. The contraflow plan had been imposed since Saturday which meant that traffic moved only out of the city and on some roads it moved in this one outbound direction using both lanes. At some point, we were stuck on the road leading to the Interstate and also at certain points on the Interstate 10 leading west to Baton Rouge. Cars were moving extremely slowly, bumper to bumper. It was the first mandatory evacuation of New Orleans because Katrina is only the fourth category 5 hurricane to make landfall in the US and it will directly hit New Orleans. Category 5 means that the winds are more than 155 miles per hour (260 kilometers per hour), and they have been in the 160-175 range all day today in the Gulf of Mexico.

This is predicted to be the major disaster for the city, with some areas flooded up to 10 meters and 50-80% of houses destroyed, which may leave more than a million people homeless. There said to still be about 100,000 people left in New Orleans and the Superdome will probably accommodate 20,000-30,000 people including those with special needs and homeless. Molly’s, a bar in the French Quarter that had never closed during previous storms and hurricanes, closed at 6 pm today. And a curfew was declared from 6 pm Sunday till 6 am Monday. Although it is hard to say what can happen at 6 am tomorrow, since Katrina will make its landfall sometime around sunrise tomorrow and will reach New Orleans by midday. If the worst-case scenarios come true we may never see most of the city as it is now. It is sad to say, but some predict nearly total destruction and/or flooding of the French Quarter, which by the way is not so low-lying as many other areas.

It took us four hours to cover 70-something miles to Baton Rouge. The sky ahead was so innocently blue and sunny. But when I looked back I saw a more dramatic picture with gray clouds quickly moved by the wind. A shower rushed down on us when we were approaching Baton Rouge, but it was short.

So here we are at Mike’s house (Mike is Louis’s brother). It is so far a good evening but the barometer shows stormy weather. There will be tropical storm winds sometime during the night and tomorrow here, while in New Orleans they will be hurricane strength.

I called Delta and rescheduled my flight to Wednesday with departure from Baton Rouge. Surprisingly to me, there will be no fees or penalties, even though I changed the departure airport. I just don’t think New Orleans airport will be open much on Wednesday; and if it is then there is no way I could get back there anyway. No one knows for sure what is going to happen tomorrow morning and how the city is to emerge from this natural disaster. Hurricane Katrina is the only news on TV here with recurring reports from New Orleans, Mississippi, Alabama, weather reports and updates. The general feeling is that the return to New Orleans is not going to happen earlier than mid-week at the best; and of course, no one knows what they will find there. It is terrible, and we are part of this horrifying history.

I am going to bed now with hopes that things work out somehow, that houses withstand the hurricane and that the French Quarter is still there when the water goes down and away. I am sending you my best and love from Baton Rouge,
Andrey

Several breaches in various canals left New Orleans no chance after people thought that the worst is behind and even aside.

17th Street canal floodwall, New Orleans

29 August. A Real Deal

Dear friends,
As I am writing this on Monday evening (with the power being restored in this house just an hour ago), Katrina is downgraded to a tropical storm and is somewhere up in Mississippi and Alabama. It made its landfall at 6 am today in south-eastern Louisiana, but just before that Katrina weakened to a category 4 hurricane (the second strongest) and shifted a bit to the east, sparing the city of New Orleans at least somewhat from what was predicted last night.

We lost power here at about 11-12 am this morning, but as soon as we got it back at about 7 pm we switched on the TV and saw what happened to New Orleans (the footage made from a helicopter). As the Mayor said yesterday, “This is a real deal”. This is a really horrible scenario happening. The city of New Orleans is cut off from the outer world with all the suburbs flooded for up to several feet, or up to the roofs of the one-story houses, and in some areas up to the second and even third floors. The CBD and the French Quarter are not flooded, at least not much, as far as we could see. But the northern edge of the Quarter and Tulane Avenue which goes off the CBD are flooded up to the car-floor level, or knee-deep at least. Neighboring Kenner and Metairie are flooded as well as East New Orleans, which was closer to the hurricane’s center. The picture is unbelievable, even though it has long been predicted that New Orleans would one day be totally flooded. It was inborn in its geography since the city was laid out in the marshy area below sea level. The levees surround the city on all sides, including the lakefront, but they can be toppled by huge waves from either the lake or the river if the winds are strong enough to breed high surges.

Windows of some high-rises in the CBD overlooking the southern riverside are blown out with curtains being torn and blown away by the wind. Roofs of some buildings are torn away. The Superdome which was the major shelter was also damaged. When we still had power in the morning there was news about some leaking through its roof and possibly some cracks in the roof. Now when we can see the picture, it is clear that most of the roof exterior cover is blown away (not the concrete roof itself though). It looks as if the city had been partially blown away by the major explosion. And in some areas, there are fires in residential districts and in the yacht club. Fumes of smoke and blazes of fire are rising high among the flooded areas.

This is history in the making, a grim and sad history. But at least we can be thankful that on the one hand, we are safe, and on the other Mike’s and Louis’s house is not destroyed. Mike called Tara (who stayed there with her husband and their friend) and she said that there is some water in the basement (which is at the ground level actually) and some windows in the attic are shattered. Still, it may take days and even weeks before it will be possible to return there. They say that it would take up to a month to restore power to the whole of New Orleans. I imagine the energy company workers will first have to make sure that all the torn power lines are taken out of the water before energizing the lines again. And it will be extremely hard to do when the whole neighborhoods are flooded so heavily. Bear in mind that it will take maybe weeks for the water to be drained. New Orleans is mostly a big soup bowl, and once the water is in there is very little to take it out.

Here in Baton Rouge we spent a more or less peaceful night. The heavy rain and stormy winds (mostly in gusts) began in the morning. A few tree branches and lots of leaves were torn down. A couple of blocks away a huge tree branch fell on a house and broke the roof. Although the walls were there I would imagine the house will have to be completely rebuilt. But otherwise, it was a cool day, with breeze cooling the air inside the house when there was no power. It was a day of reading, listening to radio (since there was no TV) and pondering about the future.

With love and best from Baton Rouge,
Andrey

The Charity Hospital never reopened. Its Art Nouveau tower still stands closed and a monument to people who exercised too much liberty with time and resources.

Charity Hospital, New Orleans, August 2009

My other good friend Jullette Saussy was the head of New Orleans EMS at the time. She stayed in the city through all of this and it seemed she didn’t sleep, eat or take a break in all of that chaos. Her recollections are here among those of other people:

My new friends from the LSU Hospital also stayed and cared for the patients. They sent me a short video of the storm ravaging behind the hospital’s doors but I cannot find this video now.

And I remember I read some diary in the online version of a local newspaper. A man stayed in his office in the CBD and described everything in such detail you could feel like you were there. Later his diary was taken down from the website or hidden somewhere.

Charity Hospital, New Orleans, August 2011

Katrina marks were clearly visible on many houses especially in the poor areas beyond the touristy or wealthy parts of the city even several years after 2005.

30 August. Refugees in Exile

Dear friends,
I am doing fine here. It is a hot dry sunny day in Baton Rouge. Apart from the leaves and some small branches lying on the streets in the neighborhood not much indicates that it was stormy weather here just a day ago. Unfortunately the same cannot be said about New Orleans.

A levee was damaged under the water pressure yesterday when the remaining people (including those who stayed in New Orleans to ride out the hurricane, as the expression goes) thought the worst is over. Water from Lake Pontchartrain (which is to the north of the city) began quickly rushing to Mid-City, Lakefront, Carrollton, and other areas, with the water level said to be rising a brick height every 20 minutes. People had nothing to do but go up to the roofs and wait for either the rescue boats or helicopters to come and save them. There were reports this morning that the CBD is being flooded waist-deep, including areas around the Superdome. They started evacuating the hospitals located nearby in the Medical District. There is no power, running water, or other utilities in New Orleans and its suburbs. And to restore the utility infrastructure will be a hard and long task. Jefferson Parish residents (to the west of the city) will be allowed back to their homes not earlier than next Monday to pick up essentials and clothing (if they find anything) but then will be asked to leave for a month before they could come back.

On the brighter side, Mike and Louis’s house is standing and there is just some water in the basement (ground level), maybe a few inches. The streets around are passable with water only ankle-deep. And everybody is safe here in Baton Rouge. We went shopping this morning since Louis and Mike realized more and more that it will be a few weeks’ exile. So, a new birdcage was bought and some stuff for the dog, more food, and some clothes. With the news of the house doing all right the smile came back to Louis’s face and Mike’s voice sounded more cheerful.<…>

With love and best,
Andrey

USA Today front page, August 31, 2005

There are only two things that I regret.

I once said to Louis and Mike that it would be interesting to see a real hurricane. When my friends drove me to the airport Louis said that I had actually seen a real hurricane and my plans must have been fulfilled. At that moment I felt like I was taken as the cause of all that had happened.

And I also regret… One day in Baton Rouge Louis was sitting at the table with an expression of devastation. He heard that there was water in the basement and that return to the city is indefinitely delayed. I quietly sat on the sofa. So many times after that I blamed myself for not coming up to him, not saying some soothing words, not patting him on the shoulder, and showing my sympathy. I was deeply sympathetic but I just sat quietly on the sofa. That has followed me ever since.

2 September. Back Home

Dear friends,
I have come back home safely after almost two months in the US and nearly escaping the horror of today’s New Orleans. I flew on the 31st of August from Baton Rouge Airport where I was taken by Louis and Mike. While waiting for the flight I saw several helicopters with red crosses. They took off later heading to the devastated areas. The flight to Atlanta, lunch in Popeyes in Atlanta Airport, and a 10-hour flight to Moscow went smoothly. <…>

News from New Orleans meanwhile is worse than they were two days ago. 20,000 body bags are ordered for Orleans and St. Tammany Parishes. Large chunks of Louisiana wetlands are gone forever and maps will have to be redrawn. 90% of the Gulf coast infrastructure is destroyed. The oil and gas industry will leave some parts. In many areas, there’s nothing left after the hurricane. There are reports of looting and crime on a huge scale in New Orleans. Thousands are still waiting for the rescue and evacuation. Some reporters already called this 9/11 of the weather situation. Epithets used are devastation and destruction on a “biblical” and “epical” scale. But epithets cannot fully describe what has happened and what is going on there.

New Orleans is being evacuated for at least a month. But it will take several months to rebuild the breached levees and water walls, to pump water from the city, to clean the debris and reconstruct water lines, as well as to rebuild the power lines. This not even includes time allowance for rebuilding the houses. Unfortunately, there are some people in DC, who doubt the need to spend billions of dollars on rebuilding the city that lies beneath the sea level. I, in my turn, doubt that they will be taken seriously. I am sure that New Orleans will be rebuilt and will be the same big partying place. It will only take a huge amount of time and effort.

With best wishes to all of my friends who followed my American adventures and with strong hope in New Orleans rebirth I remain yours,
Andrey

The city healed. It has taken 15 years and it will take more. In some areas, it became a better place. In some, there are still huge holes and gaps. The bad came back just like more of the good. I believe in New Orleans. This is my city – I spent enough time there to call it mine and I went through enough. Not all the wounds can heal, not all people can rise and go. But others keep on living and being proud. We lived through this. The city lived despite whatever they feared back then, fifteen years ago.

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What Would the Jenningses Think

The FX spy drama The Americans’ final season has a Reagan-Gorbachev summit as a backdrop. The one where the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty was signed in 1987. According to the series plot, there were two factions within the Soviet high powers: Gorbachev and his aides were ready to free the world from nuclear weapons even at a cost of some concessions, while the old KGB core was preparing a coup against Gorbachev so that the nukes would continue to protect the communist values. The main characters, a couple of Russian illegals living and acting in the D.C. area, are split – Elizabeth although without knowing is on a killing spree on the KGB side, while Philip is forced to go back to his past vocation, from which he has retired, in order to stop his wife and the conspiracy.

They manage everything — apparently stop the plot from its fruition, leave almost unscathed, and stay together. After all, they have been fighting for the supposedly better cause of stopping the real Americans from destroying their Motherland (as we know, in reality, Motherlands are usually happy to destroy themselves). They believed in it almost to the end, though with a varying degree of conviction, even though they had to kill people, some innocent, along the way. Elizabeth is hardcore and cold-blooded, but even she realizes that it is not always worth it, that no Motherland is worthy of killing everyone in their way. Sometimes, as they learn, you might have to kill your own people. Philip is sort of disillusioned almost from the beginning but stays loyal both to his country and his family, keeping it together and ultimately saving it from the unhappy ending.

The American television series about the Soviet undercover spies is surprisingly good at picturing both sides almost equally human. The Americans are not always innocent and righteous, the Russians are not simply the bad ones. Despite the fact that the vast majority of deaths are on the Soviet hands, you do feel how the creators are sympathizing with them, explaining the rational reasons. There are greater causes behind both sides and that nearly justifies the cruelty, or at least that is how it is all shown. After all, it was the FBI agent who let the Jenningses go in the end.

Back to the INF Treaty. It is rather dreadful that just a few months after the series ended and a few days before I finished watching it, our two countries mutually withdrew from the treaty. What those spies were fighting for on some level, what our country sacrificed back in the 1980s, what all those lives were lost for even if just in an action-driven television series — all those things were for nothing, or so it seems from 2019. Thirty-one years have passed, and we are practically back to square one or even worse.

So, I wonder what would the Jenningses think of us hypothetically? They put everything, their lives and happiness, their marriage, and trust at stake on the great cause of peace. They left their kids behind and barely escaped. Now it turns out that all that risk was for nothing. Yes, they stayed alive. No, the great cause of peace is cast away. Then the two leaders came to the understanding that mutual disagreements should be set aside for the peaceful future that modern leaders see no more. Would Elizabeth be happy to see the quasi-return of the Soviet Union and the old guard? Would Philip be disgusted with it?

We will never know what the Jenningses would think of us. But although they are fictional characters we should still be asking ourselves these questions. If we don’t, we might just pave the way to the times from which even the real-life Jenningses would not be able to pull us out.

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Minority Bitches Drive the Social Divides Further

The New York Times ran an opinion piece by Ekow N. Yankah titled “Can My Children Be Friends With White People?”. The author deliberates why the real friendship between White and Black kids (and adults) is highly unlikely, commits himself to teaching his sons to never trust a white person, and generally disseminates the idea of racial mistrust thanks to, you are right, Donald Trump.

Unlike that Black man, I prefer to refer to people with a capital letter signifying that “black” and “white” is not about the colour of their skin but a general term for a group of people when it is for some reason necessary to bring forward their racial ancestry. Unlike that man I do not use the term African-Americans because Black Americans are not Africans, not all of them are descendants of people from Africa, and Black Americans are the same as Black British or Black Cubans. Stressing the skin colour is not the best way to refer to people. However, this is both scientifically fine (human beings are anthropologically classified into races, though people may choose to feel and be united despite the race factor) and acceptable by the very group in question (Blacks refer to themselves as Blacks). Today, race and phenotype can be treated with slight differences in various countries. But if Black people refer to themselves as Black people or African-Americans instead of Americans, who am I to contradict them.

The whole point though is not in the way that would be appropriate for calling whole groups of the population. The point is that minorities do everything in their power to divide the countries further. And they start by teaching their kids, inbreeding social divides in the little ones, making sure that when grown their “boys” treat people with another skin colour, ethnicity, language or sexual preferences with distrust, fear, contempt, and hostility.

Mr. Yankah speaks about racial wounds, about the hurt of all sorts. And it sounds quite earnest. We all know about recent history, about today’s politics. He knows it from within. The Black Americans live through it every day. But the reason they do is not only in White politics (and surely not only in the White House politics). It lies somewhere mid-way, where the Blacks deny their children the right to decide for themselves if the Whites can be their friends. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were as many Whites denying their children the same right in relation to Black friends. But the liberal political correctness and moral lynching of anyone with another opinion shush the potential authors of “Can My Children Be Friends With Black People?”. It would look bizarre, borderline, crazy. Why doesn’t “Can My Children Be Friends With White People?” sound crazy to the polished American public?

At the end of his piece, Mr. Yankah states apologetically that “there is hope” and “we can declare that we stand beside one another against cheap attack and devaluation; that we live together and not simply beside one another”. Nice offer to the White people to stand together and fight together after rejecting the idea of friendship. Way to unite for the common good — tell your opponents that you need them to help you but you don’t actually want them as your friends.

This does not stop with only the Blacks vs Whites. In the same manner adopted kids of gay parents could be taught to not try to be friends with straight kids; children of American Indians should be told to hate the White kids due to even more substantiated historical reasons; or even boys may be instructed to hate the girls to the point of totally avoiding them just in case. This is bad education — it leads to social division instead of social unity. Not that this unity is undoubtedly achievable or even wholesome. But at least this is some ideal the human race should strive to achieve.

Mr. Yankah has every right to care for his children’s well-being and to freely express his opinion. His children have every right to think differently and learn to find friends by shared interests, common passions, even coincidental oddities — not by the colour of their skin, the eye shape or the gender (should I say gender identification?).

And when those children make friends with other kids with a different skin tone it shouldn’t be just for pretense, it should be for real. When you pretend to be someone you are not, you subdue your own personality to the point of either hating it or hating the others. When you are made to subdue it you definitely hate even more. That is why real friendship must be based on real foundation instead of superficial political correctness. And this is why real unity is achieved when all sides of the human spectrum are treated as colours of the same rainbow, not separate rainbows.

Minority talk is good to a certain point only — when it helps defend the rights of minority representatives in a better way than when this minority is not recognized or even oppressed. At other times, minority talk is dividing the nation, underlining the differences instead of similarities. It is somewhat okay when all the participants of such talk are adults, but counterproductive when kids are instructed in terms of minority divisions and taught to act according to such divisions. This would never stop the social tension and rifts between various groups. This would hurt those kids just like some political grievance has hurt Mr. Yankah. He was bruised and decided to immunize his children in the worst possible way — by planting mistrust in their minds still open to the world. No denying that the world can be quick to bruise those kids in its turn, but isn’t it too much bruising?

There is only one way I can understand Mr. Yankah’s mistrust. It stems from the very medium where his piece was published. The New York Times cunningly manipulated the title. What came out online as “Can My Children Be Friends With White People?” is published in print as “Can I Befriend White People?”. The liberal press is dividing the people and the nation at the same time as it declares how divisive the new administration is. But what is the difference then between the author, the newspaper, and Trump with his supporters? Each is serving the interests of its own minority group — the hurt Blacks, the hurt liberals, the hurt conservatives. They are hurt for many reasons, one of which is that their parents taught them all to mistrust the others, to keep together with their own minority, and to carry this pain into the future.

If the past is any indication of the future, these people might temporarily succeed on an institutional level, but they fail on so many personal levels. People who are able to put their pain and mistrust aside rise above the wrong lessons their parents might have taught them, and make the future look more promising. Minorities certainly enrich the nation but if left in their cocoons they do not shape a nation. Does Mr. Yankah want a divided country for his children or does he want a united nation?

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Non-Consensual Hollywood from a Gay Bar Perspective

I remember going to a gay bar in New Orleans a lot. It was a lot of fun because of the music, the scene, and socializing. The downstairs was always packed on Sunday nights — not until late though, as most men retired early to have a decent sleep before Monday. But if you caught the early evening there would be plenty of handsomeness and even raunchiness to please your eyes. Sometimes a guy would take a free seat next to you at a wall table, start a conversation, see where it went. Sometimes you would cruise the bar and look at everyone hoping that somebody might look back. Sometimes they did, but it ended with just looking. These guys were either with someone or clearly not interested. But other times when you were standing in the middle of the crowd some hand would touch you lightly on the ass or pat you on the shoulder, and an inviting look told you that somebody else was interested in your company.

Most touching occurred only virtually by looking at guys, groping them with your eyes, making all sorts of things to them, and with them. You would hope that some of the patrons were making all sorts of things with you in their brief imagination as well. But there was always a chance for physical contact, lots of it actually — dancing with a guy who fancied you, touching guys gently to let you pass through the crowd, letting some drag queen squeeze your tits in her playful mode between the shows, and certainly that occasional climax of your longing when you felt someone’s hand was not asking you to let them pass but inviting you to a conversation.

It would be too quick to assume that conversation was only a pretext. It often was, but all of us being adults we knew what we wanted if we wanted anything with that hand’s owner. Nobody asked any permission to touch you if only this request was glittering in the corner of their eyes when they met yours. Permission granted. After all, it was just a gentle touch, a light pat, a soft squeeze. Wasn’t it why you came there? Not just that, but ultimately yes. It was a way to meet people, make friends, find lovers.

Not that everybody was busy touching other guys. Not that everybody would be reciprocating. Not that everybody would dare freely grope someone by their ass. But that was okay to try and receive either permission to proceed or a look of rather not. Everything was strictly consensual. There was no sex but it was — touching, kissing, groping, lightly jerking, and anticipating. Or looking for ways to escape the arms of your new friend if you suddenly stopped fancying him. You could just say no, and you could pretend you needed to go. Nobody would force you to anything — but some people wanted to be playfully forced, they longed for it.

White men, view from Bourbon Pub, New Orleans

I wrote a middle part of this piece about the current wave of sexual harassment scandals ripping through Hollywood. But I decided to omit some of it and rearrange it for several reasons:

I haven’t been a victim of sexual abuse and I don’t think I have ever been a victim of sexual harassment. Therefore, I don’t know what a victim feels, why they choose to keep silent, how they cope with the situation and people, and what makes them break their silence much later.

I don’t quite want to accuse the majority of accusers of being second-class mostly unknown celebs returning to the spotlight at the expense of more talented or more successful colleagues, and those men and women who speak out with substantial reasons behind their accusations.

I don’t want to defend the notorious Hollywood tradition and culture of sexual harassment, abuse, threats, intimidation, sleeping your way to the titles of best pictures, and flashing your dicks outside the shooting stage.

However, I also find it strange, suspicious, and bizarre that:

Most accused are men. Most accused are White men.

Presumption of innocence doesn’t work when it comes to celebrities.

Everybody suddenly claims that they have always known.

People are quick in their judgments and casting down their idols with ease.

I believe in several things.

I believe that the American judicial system is capable of clearing out the innocent ones and smashing the real villains. Mistakes happen, the mechanism is slow, and the fact that victims were silent certainly doesn’t help. But if justice is governed by the system, this system must be used instead of only the court of public opinion and allegations on social media.

I believe that men and women need to feel safe at work and at home, in bars and elevators, in dark streets, and in bright ballrooms. People need to know the boundaries and how to communicate with each other so that their “no” is not interpreted as “maybe yes”, and their “yes” does not turn into “no” years later. This is a painful process and it would be rather idealistic to expect people to achieve a foolproof level of personal relations.

I believe that the way to this better world should not go through witch-hunting of particular demographic groups, unsubstantiated accusations, and reverse actions on our admiration of someone’s talent.

I believe, however, that if one person wants to have sex with another person and another person agrees it is their private decision and their conscience as long as nobody forces anything and nobody pretends to be an innocent lamb later. So, casting couch is a thing that might co-exist with the fair casting process. Aspiring artists must have fair and equal access to their potential jobs which would not include any sexual favors to those in power. But the talentless artists have every right to get the job by consensually sleeping with producers or directors — after all, the public would easily see who has the talent and who is just a one-time oddity.

I believe that when parents of a 14-year old boy or a 13-year girl let them go to late-night adult parties unchaperoned knowing pretty well that adult parties come with alcohol and all sorts of adult things, the said boy or girl cannot put all the blame on someone else.

I believe that when everybody says they knew, they are in fact accusing themselves of perpetrating the crime. They — all this bunch of people pretending to be morally good — are nothing less than hypocrites, and accomplices. They kept up appearances when it suited them, they did not care about justice or victims’ rights. When it was useful to be friends with powerful figures they were. When it now became dangerous to support their former colleagues or friends they don’t. If you know for sure — say it right then and there. Sometimes actual abusers don’t make me as sick as all this nice crowd of people who knew but pretended things were fine, made jokes, and continued business as usual.

I believe that this business is dirty and brutal. One day you bring millions to the studios, another day your contract is torn, the projects are canceled, and your face is hastily substituted in the almost ready films with somebody else who has been luckier. The good thing is the studios do not retrospectively wipe you from the already released movies. Yet. But your career is effectively killed. All because the studios care about the money, and they cannot easily discard the public opinion about those who may either bring millions or can make them lose millions.

Finally, though not hopeful that Spacey’s or Piven’s careers can be reborn I am sure nothing would stop me from admiring whatever outstanding work they have managed to perform so far. They (and others) might be terrible people in life but they are undoubtedly great talents still capable of giving us aesthetical pleasure from their on-screen acts.

If one day I go back to that gay bar in New Orleans I am not sure if things are still the same after all these years. Do men still go cruising, do they still touch each other, do they kiss? Or are they scared this behavior is no longer safe even in their free time, even with the like-minded people, even with the mutual consent? Or maybe the world of gay bars is still intact, and people are still honest and open there?

It never hurt to touch other men there. It never hurt to find a polite reason to avoid talking to someone. It never hurt feeling that you were among your comrades in arms so to speak. And I now declare that every single man who has ever touched me, looked at me, spoke to me, danced with me, or made out with me (in or beyond the bar limits) did so with my heartfelt consent. Hopefully, other men will feel the same if I happen to revisit.

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Russia Did Not Invent California and Texas Secession

The BBC reported last week that the Twitter campaigns for the so-called #Calexit and #Texit were orchestrated from Russia. Mashable joined in the coverage.

The claim is that a Russian troll-factory either initiated or supported and boosted Twitter campaigns for California and Texas secession from the United States in the wake of the 2016 presidential elections. The case is based on analysis of who drove the corresponding hashtags to the top, and on the story behind some pro-independence leaders. It is revealed that most Twitter accounts that used the hashtags, liked certain tweets, or republished them no longer exist, and, therefore, must be automated bots and fake accounts. At the same time, it is known that Louis Marinelli, who was the leader of the California independence movement, attended a conference in Russia and currently resides there.

The use of bots, fake accounts, and whole organizations that support someone’s agenda on social networks is no news. The Russian troll-factory just happens to be the most well-known one, while others may still remain undiscovered. There is absolutely no guarantee that some other governments do not use such tactics either domestically or internationally. Popular opinion is a very powerful weapon, and controlling the people’s mindset becomes unavoidable in the era of information wars.

But the reports that are published now cannot be taken independently of two key factors. One, Russia was not the founder of the secession movements around the world. Two, Russia does not care about secession as long as it does not happen on its own soil, and foreign secessions are used merely as a propaganda tool for domestic policing. Consequently, it is a bit far-fetched to assume that Russia is the real perpetrator of breaking other countries apart, as long as these countries are not former Soviet republics.

Besides, when media like The Atlantic write that “following the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, the organization [Yes California] has gone from an unknown fringe group to one discussed seriously in mainstream media”, they forget to add that this mainstream American media help transform fringe movements into anything bigger by pushing them towards the front pages and using those fringe groups in the same pile of the alleged Russian involvement in any shit that happens in the USA. Honestly, it looks the same as when the Russians joked about Obama peeing in their apartment buildings, mocking the popular Russian TV picture of America held responsible for all sorts of troubles. But when the Russians are joking, the Americans are serious — and that is somewhat awkward.

Yet, even those who are most loud in voicing their concerns about the Russian support for the US separatists have to admit that “these scattered American movements are not necessarily proactive agents working on behalf of Moscow’s direct interests”. After all, Moscow may have created secession-backing accounts on social networks, but secession movements were created in the USA and by American citizens.

Secession movements are homegrown

Louis Marinelli did spend a lot of time teaching English and studying in Russia, he does currently reside in Russia, he did attend the Dialogue of Nations conference in Russia. But Louis Marinelli is neither a Russian, nor did he start the whole Yes California campaign alone and from Russia — he did it while being in the United States, and he did it with many other supporters. Moreover, they were not the first in history to suggest California should either be confederated or independent, just like there had been several proposals for alternatively splitting the state into several states.

The California National Party was established in 2015, a year before the 2016 presidential elections. It is not alone, with the Alaskan Independence Party (founded in 1984), and the Hawaii Independence Party (founded in 2015) to name just a few. Even Puerto Rico has its own independence movement, which you would easily understand with Trump’s inability to take Puerto Rico and its post-hurricane state seriously.

The Russian troll-factory might have been the force behind driving the #Texit into the hearts of at least some people and the Twitter tops. But #Texit was born in Texas by a Texan and entered the hearts of some Texans, not just anonymous Russian bots. Moreover, it was the Western media that first covered this whole idea — first, The Guardian, and then The New York Times. Plus, Texas was always known for its favorable stance on independence, long before Russia and Twitter — modern secession organizations in Texas appeared in the 1990s.

Therefore, when the secession story in the USA is pictured in the Russian terms, it falls well within the whole Russian hacking narrative but falls short of in-depth objective journalism.

Foreign secession as propaganda pill against domestic protest

When it comes to secession and the right of nations for independence, one must clearly understand that any or most government’s position would be that of “kind of OK as long as it is not on our soil”. One thing is to voice any sentiments about the breaking of a far-away country, another — to see your own country break up. Russia is still licking the wounds left from the collapse of the USSR and is desperately trying to forget the Yeltsin’s policy of giving autonomous republics as much independence as they asked for to keep them within some control and national borders. So, the Russian government position is that of criminalizing even the open discussion of any sort of territorial independence — people can go to prison for just speaking about Siberian or Far Eastern republics.

At the same time, there’s the Ukraine where Russia has been the catalyst of separatism as a way to undermine any potential success of people’s overthrowing the pro-Russian regime in 2014. Putin not only stole the Crimea but did nothing to stop Russian oligarchs and militant groups from keeping Donbas and Lugansk regions in their quasi-independent state. This could be explained by the Russian elite’s and general public’s sentiments towards the loss of the Soviet land. Ukraine was unfortunate enough to pay a dear price for its push away from Russia, but regimes in Kazakhstan or some other former Soviet republics do not feel immune from the rise of imperial aspirations no matter how hard they try to pretend they are pro-Putin (they don’t try hard enough, though).

As for secession movements elsewhere — Spain, the UK, the USA — Russia does not really care. Well, maybe just a little — hoping that break-ups might undermine the stability and prosperity of those countries allowing Russia to act more freely in the international arena. After all, one of the key principles of politics is to divide and conquer. Surely, Russia does not have any plans to physically conquer the United States (Russian politicians and oligarchs are not mad enough to even think of losing their safe haven). But dividing the American public alongside any political rifts might serve some purpose. It would be hard not to agree with POLITICO Magazine here: “people who know the Russian political playbook say winking at these fringe movements — and even giving them a boost — is a part of a very real strategy. Not only is this a way of puffing Russia’s domestic claims at the turmoil in the U.S., but it fits firmly within the Kremlin’s modus operandi of cultivating fringe groups in the West”.

However, all these secessionists in other countries serve as a good instrument in domestic Russian propaganda. Russian TV can always point to foreign examples saying things that range from “the USA have their own troubles to meddle with our affairs” to “look, California and Texas are fed up with the USA” to “Calexit and Texit prove that the USA is a failed state, not Russia”.

This brings us back to showcasing the downsides of territorial independence to the domestic population. Some might be jailed but this may lead to tensions with international civil rights organizations and bad publicity. Making people believe that secession is a nasty business not worthy of even remotely considering is a good way to avoid that.

Plus, you should never underestimate the Russian (media) policy of screaming about other countries’ woes to silence a public discussion of domestic issues. And that might be the ultimate current goal of supporting all those #exits on Twitter.

Let me be absolutely clear here. Russia is proven to have government-supported organizations that are engaged in spreading the Kremlin agenda both internally and internationally via popular social networks and blogging platforms. Russia has backed up conferences and provided financing to numerous alt-right, conservative, and secessionist movements in Europe and the Americas, while simultaneously criminalizing any secessionist discussion on its own territory.

Secessionist movements, parties, and sentiments are homegrown no matter how small or big their fanbase is. They originate as either some fringe groups (as in California) or rather universally supported at least on the level of public sentiments and discourse (as in Texas, or, say, Catalonia). They can grow thanks to foreign investment but only to a certain point, as they would still have to secure voters’ backup in any elections or even proper registration as political players.

Russia may have played a big role in the secessionist resurrection or mainstreaming their agenda, but it did so via the Western media too, and largely to use it for domestic Russian propaganda. Wreaking havoc on American soil, and dividing people along some internal political rifts is just the added bonus that would also be used to advantage in (mostly) domestic Russian propaganda.

Overestimating the Russian role in internal American politics means looking for an easy scapegoat in the US’s own political turmoil, and shifting the focus of attention from local players to outside ones.

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Remember, Remember the 7th of November

I was born in the Soviet Union with the Seventh of November in my blood as one of the brightest dates in the calendar. Not even Victory Day was so widely observed back then. We had New Year’s for the kids in us, Women’s Day for the ceremonial bow towards women, First of May for the spring holiday, and Victory Day for the battle memories. But Seventh of November reigned above them all with its military parade (same as Victory Day), demonstrations (same as First of May) and something extra that other holidays lacked.

I am not feeling nostalgic now, or am I? In some sense I am, I guess. We were young and naïve, we believed that our forefathers overturned tsarism and exploitation by the landlords, we knew that the Soviet rule gave us all equal access to education, healthcare, and social welfare. We were kids after all and kids are fascinated with flags, tanks, crowds, and parades. I even once took part in a demonstration, but in a small town where participant passes were not required.

Soviet flags on the 7th of November

Then, we saw The Cold Summer of 1953 and learnt more about millions killed in the 1930s-1940s. Not that it wasn’t known before, just not highlighted. Then, everything tumbled down and the Soviet Union was no more. I was still a child to notice acutely and sympathize or celebrate. What followed were the years when we somewhat struggled with poverty (comparatively and relatively speaking), lived through tumultuous times and found ourselves in the 2000s. Years of relative stability and prosperity. Now, we are back to the brink of struggling with poverty, just on a somewhat different level.

It is the Cold Autumn of 2017 and the Soviet Union is back in some sense. We are made to believe that our forefathers overturned tsarism and exploitation by the landlords with a new (maybe not so righteous) twist, we recall that the Soviet rule gave us all equal access to education, health care and social welfare (with the new realisation — this was not always equal access to the best we could have had). We are no longer kids but we all get fascinated with flags, tanks, crowds, and parades (or, shall I say, their reenactments). There is even a slightly wider access to those reenactments provided you have a participant pass.

We are living through the times of reenactment of something from our past but on a slightly different level and with many new twists. The market economy is what makes those with participant passes become rich and feel part of the world. Nostalgic reminiscing about the planned economy is what makes the majority feel deceived but on the way to improvement (by way of going back). No need to be part of the world for this majority, as the world is hostile again.

The feeling is that by alienating ourselves from the rest of the planet (since they alienate themselves from us) and going back to our righteous Soviet rules we might just survive and prosper, albeit through some initial hardships. These sentiments are freely planted through the media into the television-led collective consciousness and find fertile ground there.

The problem is that these sentiments are good for the masses but not intended for the few who have participant passes. Hence, all those propaganda warriors who preach death and hardships here but for themselves choose life abroad. Hence, this ambiguity and doublethinking about the events that exploded and spread with the gunpowder, treason, and plot of the seventh of November. Hence, the fact that we are given back parades, tanks, and flags but not the holiday. That is unless you count those reenactments that serve as the Victory Day repeat to fill the Seventh of November void.

Sailor, soldier and red flags

I come from the generation of kids who were fortunate enough to be born too late for the Soviet sentiments to cement inside our brains. We find bits and pieces but have other experiences from later periods. Not all of us — some are lost to the preaching. We are also from the generation of kids who were too fascinated with flags, tanks, and parades, and those who are disillusioned with the present might gladly embrace the past. I can treat the whole thing as a children’s rhyme now and look into the future (or at least hope for it), while many others only think that they are looking into the future and in fact are facing the past all over again.

Yet there is something obviously different about the attitude towards this date now that we mark its 100th anniversary. The propaganda is such a tricky thing that it makes the people nostalgic about the Soviet past but at the same time denounces the roots of the Soviet rule. Revolution is bad they say. You should not think of repeating the experience as it will bring all sorts of damage to yourself and the country. The Great October Socialist Revolution (as it was called in the past) was more like a coup d’état in the modern interpretation — one political party overthrew another with the help of foreign money. The revolution then provoked years of civil war and destitution.

At the same time, you should be proud of all those things that came into our lives thanks to that revolution back in 1917 — declaratively classless system, universal education, nuclear weapons, space exploration, Soviet ballet, superpower status, and declaratively free healthcare and housing. To somehow reconcile the two the propaganda tells us that industrial growth, space exploration, and nuclear weapons would have come into our lives even without the revolution, just like the Russian Empire already had its internationally acclaimed ballet, as well as kind of a superpower status, or at least that on par with other great empires of that time.

The current internal Russian policy is that of the cautious negation of those history pages that are strongly rebellious, like autumn of 1917. When the modern population may feel the same sentiments of tiredness, betrayal, stagnation, and injustice as crowds of Russians 100 years ago even the slightest verbal nod towards unsanctioned criticism is treated like the call to unconstitutional overthrowing of the government. Any remotely rebellious actions are destined to be nipped in the bud unlike those in 1917. The authorities have learned the history lesson. Putin can claim the supremacy of the Soviet Union but will curse its beginnings because otherwise, he would have to admit that 1) his beloved former country appeared as a result of an illegal act, and 2) his own position can be overthrown with substantial justification and historical parallels. After all, it is rather inconsistent to consider a revolution a good thing for others but bad for you.

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Trump vs Clinton vs Johnson

November 8 will be just another busy Tuesday in the USA. Except that this will be the day Americans are going to vote for their future president. At least those Americans who have decided to take part in the elections and haven’t voted in advance. Though they are not casting their votes directly for one of the candidates for the sake of simplicity we can assume they do. And they do, as they are choosing between those faces that have become ubiquitous thanks to TV and the Internet. One of those faces is sure to be the face of the whole country for the next four or eight years.

Russia pays close attention to the US presidential elections for many reasons. To begin with, it’s a great way to distract people here from the domestic agenda and our own flaws. I should probably stop it here as this is the major reason, but there are others. The USA is the superpower sans any doubt. No matter how large their national debt is or how much people in some corners of the world hate it, America is leading the world on so many levels that even haters inadvertently admit.

For Russia, it is vitally important to keep a balance with the USA in such an unstable world. Both countries have the potential to destroy the planet if their leaders choose so or if someone’s hand slips onto the wrong button. But all Russian propaganda frenzy aside, we are two large countries with huge ambitions and we are bound to have to find some common ground or some sort of status quo. Even if this status quo is prone to interpretations on both sides. The scale of interpretations might well depend on who sits in the White House, among other factors. Therefore, our interest in the election’s outcome is rather practical, albeit one of an observer.

According to Russian mainstream media, Donald Trump is probably the better choice for US-Russian relations. Republican administrations being usually more friendly with Russian ones is the historical reason. Trump voicing his friendliness towards Putin is the rhetorical reason. Clinton having a strong position on Crimea annexation is the political reason. Trump being a dark and, obviously, a temperamental horse that could potentially be led in the right direction is the practical reason. When I speak about reasons and potential leading I am not in the least implying that foreign leaders should be led by their colleagues, or that Russia has indeed tried to interfere in the election process. After all, both countries are sure to have interfered with each other’s policies and will continue to do so.

Despite the fact that some changes in Putin’s presidential administration are suspected to be the backfire of too much involvement with Trump and the necessity to get ready for a feminine touch in negotiations, Russian media continue to paint Hillary black and to kind of still bet on Trump. The general public always likes bright figures and prefers them to gray ones no matter how sophisticated, well-versed, or experienced the latter are. It is the same reason why hundreds of thousands continue voting for Vladimir Zhirinovsky who is nothing but a political clown here. They’d actually be a sweet couple with Trump if fate brought both into power.

But whatever politicians do it is common folks that have to deal with consequences. And, all facts and allegations to the contrary aside, it is the common folks that are entitled to choose their presidents on both sides of the Atlantic.

I have a lot of friends and acquaintances in the USA. So I asked them about their views and expectations regarding these elections. Not all agreed to participate in this little survey, so I really appreciate the fact that some did send me their answers. Not surprisingly most of the respondents (though not all) are going to vote for Hillary Clinton – I mostly made friends with people with college degrees from cities. None supports Trump as president, though some people expressed either their agreement with some of his proposals and disagreement with some of Clinton’s.

I asked people to say if they would take part in the elections and had decided whom to support; why they support their candidate and whether they disagree with anything on their program; whether they agree with anything in the program of opposing candidate; if they think the outcome of the elections is crucial for America, and, finally, I asked them about the future of US-Russian relations. Here are the answers I’ve received.

The Double Play bar, 439 Dauphine St, New Orleans

David, 42, North Carolina

I almost always vote Democratic and will continue to do so. I have already voted for Hillary Clinton and all the Democrats running for state and local elections with one exception – I voted to re-elect the NC Commissioner of Agriculture, who is a Republican and has done a good job, according to my Dad.

Donald Trump is a sleazy, slimy, Egomaniac mafioso with no experience in a public office. I cannot believe he has made it this far in the nomination process, but I despised all the other republican candidates even more. I’m just thankful the nomination did not go to a Jesus-freak like Ted Cruz or Jeb Bush – they were even scarier.

If Donald Trump were to win the election, it would be a frightening thing for the US and the entire world. We are all still safe with Hillary (and Bill), but she still annoys the shit out of me every time she opens her mouth with her Chicago accent.

The NC state election is equally contentious, and arguably more important to the people of Asheville than the national election. Currently, the NC government is controlled by a right-wing fuck head and the Republican religious bigots running the state legislature. They have been a national embarrassment the past year.

My opinion of the Russian people has always been strong. All the Russians I have known over the years make me want to come visit your huge country some day! In fact, I feel Americans are closer culturally to Russians than we are to either Canadians, Brits, or Aussies, due to our shared love of revolution, guns, war, and gangster-style violence. No matter who wins the elections, my opinion of the Russian people will not change.

Ezell, 45, Louisiana

Yes, I am going to take part in the US presidential elections in 2016. I am going to vote for the usual party I support because she, Hillary Clinton, is the most qualified candidate in my assessment. I do not support any single party. In fact, I believe we need several legitimate and viable parties.

As I watched the three national debates I saw Hillary Clinton wanting to discuss issues related to our country’s interests. Then I saw Donald Trump making generalizations and blanket statements without supporting them. I also saw him constantly interrupting Clinton and the moderators and appearing as a bully, a tyrant, a shyster, and an agitator. He appeared uninformed and out of touch. His characteristics are not indicative of what I expect to see in a leader. Hillary Clinton’s credentials are solid, despite her continual need to shroud her work in secrecy.

I agree with Trump’s position to reform the tax codes that allow him and other billionaire business owners to avoid paying their fair share of taxes like us common, everyday folk.

What I disagree with in Clinton’s program is the idea of disclosing too much national security information to the public and the world regarding ISIS and the attempt to destroy their terrorist efforts.

The outcome of the elections is going to be very crucial. I need a president seasoned in diplomatic efforts who is ready to be commander-in-chief on day one, not Mr. Trump. He appears to be an entertainer looking for his next 15 minutes of fame. I am shocked that a person who body-slammed a wrestling entertainment mogul for ratings is even considered a viable candidate for president. His demeaning remarks about several minority groups is disturbing. Also, allegations of inappropriate advances and comments toward women are offensive and repulsive.

This election reminds me of a gubernatorial election we had in Louisiana in 1992. The two candidates were a crooked politician and a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. I voted for the crook. There are allegations that Hillary Clinton is a crook. Based on all of the information I have examined, I have decided I’d vote for a “crook” before I’d vote for a hate monger like Trump. Over 30 years of investigations into Hillary Clinton and nothing has ever been proven illegal. Either she’s the smartest crook to have ever entered American politics or they are trying to taint her reputation.

I believe we will continue on the same path under a Clinton presidency. Under a Trump presidency, we might end up in World War III. I do not trust him with our country’s nuclear codes. His Twitter rants might be an indication of his temperance in dealing with foreign powers.

Michael, 63, California

I am going to take part in the US presidential elections in 2016 and have already decided on whom to vote for. I will support the usual party because they have a better candidate.

I support Clinton’s healthcare policy, her position on entitlements, her tax policy, etc. In addition, I cannot support a racist, a bigot, an islamophobe, nor a man who brags about sexual assault. There is nothing good in Trump’s program.

At the same time, there are many things I disagree with in Clinton’s program. I don’t think she is progressive enough on many issues that are important to me, but she is much closer to my views than Trump.

The outcome of the elections is crucial. Trump would take this country in many wrong directions. Additionally, he is proud of his lack of intellectual rigor and his gut reactions. I fear he could push us into some terrible foreign policy directions.

Russia seems to be increasingly willing to support dangerous regimes and to have an increasingly interventionist foreign policy. This seems very dangerous to me and puts Russia and the US into many adversarial positions.

Trent, 52, Kentucky

Yes, I will vote in the 2016 Elections and I have decided who I will vote for – the candidate is from the party that I normally vote for. I generally agree with the positions from the party platform and that this candidate advocates. I think my candidate is a capable person that will do their best to lead this country.

With regard to the positions my candidate is taking. I support the raising of a minimum wage, it is very low and has not been raised since 2009. Even the 2009 rate was very low and I think it is difficult for many to afford the necessities of life. One other economic item of interest to me is that she would like to raise taxes on the wealthy in order to pay for some additional programs for investment, such as debt-free university, road improvements/repairs.

Immigration Reform. There are a lot of children and adults who have been here since their childhood, brought here by their parents who have no legal status in this country. They called people in this situation “the Dreamers”. Many people want them deported to their home country but I would rather they stay and be given a path to citizenship. I think there needs to be a guest worker system implemented. Also, I would like the US to take in more properly vetted Syrian Refuges as the rest of Europe and the middle east is doing to help in the humanitarian crisis. My candidate agrees with this position as well.

My candidate agrees with marriage equality and the expansion of the civil rights act to include sexual orientation. Also, my candidate wants to heal the racial divide by criminal justice reform. Often people of different races are charged and sentenced differently depending on their race. More police training is needed in dealing with people with different races.

Health Care. My candidate will keep and improve the “Obama Care” healthcare system to bring health care to more people and hopefully making it more affordable rather than dismantling it.

The Supreme Court has fallen victim to our gridlock. With the vacancy left by one of the justices dying in February, Obama nominated a judge to be considered by the congress. Congress has not given this person a hearing in hopes that their party will win the presidency and they can nominate someone that agreed with their politics. This is a failure of their duties in my opinion.

The candidate of the opposing party is threatening not to uphold treaties and is advocating some countries to acquire nuclear weapons. I believe this to be dangerous and destabilizing. The candidate that I support is the former secretary of state and I have more confidence in her to use diplomacy.

I agree that the use of a private email server to conduct some state department business was unwise. I do not agree that it is criminal. With regard to anything that I disagree with my candidate, I am nervous about her advocating a “No Fly Zone” in Syria. It could lead to further conflict with Russia.

I think this is a really important election because the next president will be selecting one to perhaps 3 supreme court justices. I want the future supreme court to take a moderate direction rather than a hard right turn. I also believe that the candidate of the opposition party is volatile. I feel that if the candidate of the opposite party wins, with a presidency, congress, and court system in control by a very conservative party, that there could be a lot of social progress and institutions that could be undone. If my candidate wins, without a change in the party of the congress, not much will change. If the parties in congress switch to the same party as my candidate, much progress can be made.

I am not that well versed in Russian/US relationship to offer an opinion about how the future will be. I am hopeful that someday it will be more friendly.

Lance, 41, Georgia

I am going to take part in the US presidential elections in 2016. I have decided whom to support – the usual party I vote for.

Basically, social policies matter the most to me, and I am supporting the more socially progressive candidate. Racial issues remain a big topic in the US, and my candidate will do a better job moving is past the divide.

There is not a god damn thing in Trump’s agenda, actually. On the other hand, I do not quite agree with Clinton’s tax policy. I want to see the tax code completely rewritten and simplified.

The outcome is important. Let’s be honest. Trump is basically a fascist. He would inflame existing tensions, isolate the United States, and slow free trade. And he’s just a dick.

No optimist on US-Russian relations, really. I don’t see either side changing. I actually see it getting worse. Trump and Putin like each other. But that’s not worth having Trump as president.

Anton, 36, Virginia-Samara

Unfortunately, I am not going to take part in this election. Due to a complicated system of getting an absentee ballot, I have missed the deadline. But I can speak about my choice. I have always voted for the democratic candidate and this election wouldn’t have been different.

I would’ve cast my vote for H.R. Clinton. Compared to Trump she does have experience in the international arena, she was an active first lady under her husband’s presidency which is unusual for most, and has implemented some great educational initiatives. On the other hand, her international policies could backfire. While she has shown some finesse as the Secretary of State, I am concerned that her impulsiveness could be misinterpreted by others.

I can’t think of a single issue I would agree with Trump about.

In the unlikely case that Trump wins the local economy of some states that do heavily rely on immigrants (especially illegal) will suffer. It could result in agricultural production shortage in California and Florida. Forceful deportation of illegals is an extremely costly project and legalization is time-consuming and costly for immigrants. Unless some immigration program that is both easy and cheap is implemented the status quo will remain.

It’s difficult to say considering that both countries are intent on showing dominancy in the world. Likely outcome is two camp split and continuous straining in relations.

Jullette, 51, Virginia

I am going to take part in the US presidential elections in 2016. I am a registered independent and frankly, I still don’t know who I will vote for. They both are undesirable for various reasons. As I have not decided it is hard to explain the reasoning. I can tell you things cannot continue like they are in the “greater nation on earth”.

One candidate is a narcissistic, egomaniacal businessman and the other is a narcissistic career politician who thinks the rules don’t apply to her or her family.

They both have appealing stances on issues and equally unappealing stances. There is no drop-dead issue for me, more the one of social and fiscal balance. Regardless of who is commander-in-chief we still have a House and a Senate that act like 5 year-olds playing in a sandbox, so not sure it matters as much as we like to think.

So much I disagree with but mostly the character of the individuals. You can’t fix character and morality.

Yes, the outcome is important as it has the potential to shape the future of our country. First woman president but more bloated government spending and favoritism with rewards for those who donate or a businessman with absolutely no experience in government. If he could put his ego aside and surround himself with subject matter experts (SMEs) he could potentially be successful but that is a very big IF

The future of US-Russian relations in general definitely depends on who is elected.

Paul, 43, Minnesota

It is a privilege to live in a country with democratic elections, and while it’s easy to think that my one vote doesn’t matter, it is important for all of us to do it. While there is certainly some level of corruption in any country, we truly believe that our process works and that our elections are legitimate. By participating we are helping to ensure this is always the case.

It has been very difficult to decide this year. I am disgusted with the two primary options we’ve been given by the two parties who control our political process. It’s like watching a ridiculous television show. Almost everyone I know is frustrated and embarrassed about what is going on. For the first time in my life, I am planning to vote for a third-party presidential candidate, the Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson. I don’t expect him to win or even come close, and to be honest, I don’t agree with some of his political positions. I am voting for him out of protest.

I typically vote for candidates in one of our two main parties. I am not exclusively loyal to either party. However, this year I am voting for a candidate in a third party, which is unusual for me. I tend to be more liberal on political issues, but I also agree with some conservative positions as well. Mostly I am looking for good people who are trustworthy and who can get things done. I am tired of the establishment candidates who play political games. Hillary Clinton is an establishment candidate. I don’t trust her at all, and I don’t think she can get anything done. She’s too beholden to the political system. This is why Donald Trump has done so well. He is anti-establishment. Unfortunately, he is also an arrogant jackass and an embarrassment to the country.

There are many positions I support in both candidates. I support Hillary’s position on immigration, social issues like gay rights, education policies, etc. On the other side, Trump is absolutely right that America should have smarter trade deals, lower taxes on businesses, and stop spending trillions of dollars trying to police the entire world. He would run the country like a smart business, but he would also be an offensive and embarrassing leader. She would be a much more sensitive and diplomatic president, but she would also be weak and unable to make transformational changes. There is good and bad in each of them.

I disagree with Trump on foreign policy. I think America needs to lead the way in opening up and viewing ourselves as part of a global community. Trump will make the same mistakes that Britain recently made, in closing itself off to the rest of the world. I don’t think building a giant wall on our southern border is the right thing to do, for example. I disagree with Trump’s arrogant style. He doesn’t seem to have thoughtful plans for many key issues. He only has bombastic rhetoric on certain issues. I agree more with Hillary’s positions, but I don’t trust her and am tired of the Clintons in general. She and her husband have been involved in many unethical and illegal activities. She is all talk and no action. She is managing her political career.

The result of the election will certainly be important, although the lives of average Americans will not change much. Thankfully we have a strong system of democracy, with checks and balances in place. No single leader can control the country without the support of many, many others. The greater concern is the people who will surround the elected president. For example, the next president will appoint two or three Supreme Court judges, and this could significantly change the court, and public policy on many issues, for decades.

We are very concerned about the US-Russia relationship. Russians and Americans do not really understand each other, and both sides vilify the other. We are concerned that our travel to Russia and our possibility of living there someday will be removed. We see that Russia is continuing to isolate itself and show needless aggression toward Western countries. We also see that America continues to misunderstand Russian interests and matches the aggression with needless rhetoric. The naiveté of average citizens enables the governments to continue escalating these disagreements. We very much hope that there are stronger relationships in the future. Americans see Putin’s government as corrupt, and we cannot understand how any country would allow its leaders to rule in this way. Americans also don’t understand why Russia is so slow to adopt progressive views and participate more in the global community. In general, the two sides seem far apart, and we are a long way from truly understanding each other. I hope in my own lifetime to see this change, and perhaps to play a small part in it.

I am sure some of my friends might be leaning towards Trump, but they chose not to participate in the survey for any number of reasons. Some stressed that the current elections are a mess and are better be over soon.

However, we have seen so many times how messier it can become when people prefer not to take part in shaping their own future. So I hope that my US friends go to the polls and choose the right man or the right woman. The choice is theirs and I cannot influence it in any way. But no matter whom they grant with their vote and no matter where this man or this woman leads their country I do hope that we will stay friends with my friends and remain positive about the better future.

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Happy 240th birthday, America!

This is no ordinary Fourth of July today. America, by which conversational name most people mean exactly the United States, is celebrating its 240th birthday. It might be a time of political crisis and economic turmoil but I believe that the USA is a strong country and even a stronger society than ever before no matter what.

Tearing away from royal Britain and becoming a more or less democratic republic was a bold step. With slaves and women beyond the threshold of democracy, Native Americans on the eve of the final solution, and the great expanses still wild Frontier and wilder, America had a long way to come to what it is now. It had been ninety years until abolition came around, another half-century until women were given the right to vote, and yet another few decades before the blacks were allowed to sit wherever they chose on public buses. But no country has grown to be a perfect place in the blink of an eye. No country is perfect. America is no exception.

The great deception is to think that the USA is an ideal country. Probably the same deception would be to believe that this is the cradle of all evil. It is neither. America is on a mission to become a better place and to show the world it could be a better place as Americans see it. The rest of the world may be of another opinion about what’s good for them, but here’s where every big country that believes it is a missionary is going wrong.

Just like the USA we in Russia are led to believe that our way is better and an example. Surely, by this, we mean some spiritual and hopeful expectations of a better life, not the one we actually have. Just like the USA we can point to our neighbors and call for them to follow us. It is just the USA has a tradition of making such calls with more boldness and military preparedness. But these are non-essential details.

What is essential is that both should preferably concentrate on themselves. Russia should concentrate on making life for its citizens a real example in flesh and blood rather than in some philosophical musings. America should concentrate on fostering that better life that it has. The rest of the world will follow, with no military preparedness or any calls necessary.

Actually, the world follows. The religious leaders and political clowns may say whatever they deem fit. But the world wears jeans, drinks colas, watches Hollywood blockbusters, sings along with Lady Gaga and Adam Levine, speaks English, and looks at the world through the internet and American operating systems installed on computers, tablets, and smartphones. The world is looking up to America even when it says it is looking down on it. We are all hopeful that we could either be there or be like you, America.

Hundreds of thousands keep trying to get to the land between the shining oceans and grow their new roots there. The dollar might be strong or weak, the national debt can reach new heights, guns may fire at new schools, and political scandals could send some ripples down the pond in Washington Mall – it doesn’t change the fact that with all social issues abundant in American society, with traces of racial discrimination, with frivolous foreign policy, with high poverty rates, etc., America is still the shining beacon that Lady Liberty is holding in her hands welcoming sons and daughters from around the world in her haven.

Happy birthday, America! Many happy and better returns of the day! Send those fireworks in the July twilight and enjoy your moment of celebration. Tomorrow will be time to get down to work on making you a step further on whatever road you are going. If the road tends to wind a bit along the way there’s always some reward at the end of the day, even if it is just your flag proudly waving o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave where you hailed it at the twilight’s last gleaming. Its broad stripes and bright stars will always infuriate some but show the way to many more.

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Why I Boycott Twitter

Today I said farewell to Twitter. This network is great in some ways but when it comes to making them make users follow their rules it’s not.

I’ve had a love affair with Twitter – it provided me with an opportunity to quickly post about what happened around me and even get things done. Despite the 140-character limit, or maybe thanks to it, Twitter had a better reach than blogs and a wider audience than Facebook. The relationship was built on the public premise of writing for anybody just like in a blog. No friends and privacy settings. I just wrote on the go when I stumbled across stuff.

At the time when I joined Twitter, it was popular among local authorities. The mayor made his subordinates join and react so that people received a tool to report and ask. It worked. I was skeptical and still is about the Twitterocracy, when the only way you can get the road paved, public transport come, and garbage taken away is by writing to bureaucrats on Twitter. But if it helps then why not use whatever we are given. The mayor left, though, and with him, Twitterocracy died – bureaucrats no longer had a stick over their heads that made them read and respond. But the love affair continued.

Social networks have some power of widening your reach. You can get new readers, fans, and support in all corners of the world like you cannot do with the best of your blog writing. At least, you can do it quicker and better. But you can also find enemies and haters like never before. Lack of privacy and lack of control over who can respond to you comes at a cost. Some may never realize that in their blissful ignorance of writing about cats and flower arrangements. But guys like me – political, opinionated, non-conformists – are in a soup.

Of course, you can block users and never hear from them again. Trouble is times in my country are troublesome when it is best to know what is going on when and where it is going on rather than be left unaware of what is cooking. Besides, you never know who’s real and who’s fake. Chances are people are just hateful and jealous. But in today’s Russia, I wouldn’t take my chances on every freak.

There is support and the system of reporting accounts that violate the official rules. The thing is, this system doesn’t work. No matter how many times and how hard you try to tell them, it is all useless. Twitter prefers to ban parody accounts rather than accounts of haters, assaulters, gay bashers, spammers, and offensive characters.

All right, I take it back on the latter – being offensive is subjective. But you cannot mistake abusive behavior in forms of harassment, hateful conduct, inciting others to harass another account, or creating accounts whose primary purpose is inciting harm towards others. These are all definitions from Twitter Rules, by the way. And all these rules were violated.

But Twitter was unable to “determine a clear violation” of their own rules. Well, I take it that guys in San Francisco do not read foreign languages. But I sure hoped that such big companies employ foreign speakers in their international offices. After all, I am not speaking of some remote dying language. And the language I meant was full of hate in all forms. It was screaming of abuse aimed solely at me. Well, four years ago the account in question hated more people than me (including hate in terms that could be treated in court as dubious), then it fell dormant and now has awakened with the one and only target.

I don’t want to be a target of somebody’s hate and jealousy, somebody’s paid or volunteer abusive behavior. At least, not on my time/newsline. Life is short, and I am old enough to cherish some quiet rather than unnecessary screams.

So, being unable to make Twitter see a clear violation of their own rules I decided to leave. Three of four accounts are gone – I temporarily left only one where I gather links from news outlets on a narrow professional topic. Others are gone for good. I would rather part with almost 800 subscribers and several years of Twitter history than face constant abuse. By the way, gone are Twitter sharing buttons on my blogs – you can share manually only. I do not wish to promote the service that abused me by letting someone abuse the rules.

Farewell, blue bird. Let you chirp amongst your haters, your gay-bashers, your freaks, and your abusers. I guess you are in good company when they say your financial prospects are bleak. No, I do not wish you the fate of MySpace or other ghosts from the past. I only wish you had followed your own rules. I know it is hard, but in this case, it was pretty straightforward. Anyway, now I do not care if you fly or get eaten by some fat cat – deal with your own shit yourself.

Oh yes, and fuck you! Right, I said it, and my blog official rules do not prevent me from doing so.

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Nyetflix

Netflix came to Russia. To me, nothing has changed really. I tried to check and immediately said “nyet” (“no” in Russian).

It is no secret that American television has won the world with its numerous series. Hey, American television is beating American cinema, it might sometimes seem. There are many reasons for that. Quality scripts, gripping action, good acting, ability to watch it from the comfort of your couch and pajamas, no need to say goodbye to your favorite characters after an hour and a half.

I am no exception still spending costly dollars on the next seasons of a number of shows. Well, I haven’t even watched all of those I already bought. Good old DVDs, Amazon, region-free DVD-player, 5.1 system to enjoy all the benefits of surround sound and sound effects.

Most of my friends have long abandoned any physical discs in favor of torrents. Some people might even pay for some kind of free or paid streaming services. Internet speed nowadays allows for both options. American television comes free of charge and fresh off the camera to Russian homes to the majority of viewers. Sometimes they wait for the Russian dubbing and subtitles, but the advanced public is quite able to consume the original soundtrack whenever a new episode comes out.

Not me. Not that I am scared much of being caught downloading anything illegally. Not that original soundtrack is unavailable (I do not watch anything in Russian on principle). Not that the quality is bad. It is just a matter of habit and principle. Consider me the last standing fortress of legality and old media types. I have my reasons. For one, DVDs do not eat traffic, burn electricity on having a computer work 24/7, do not hook me to possibly unreliable Internet services or connection. They allow me to watch and re-watch any episode with a few clicks from a remote. I can actually go back to any shows any number of times without having to re-download or re-connect. It certainly comes at a cost of space eaten by physical discs and at a cost of slight inconvenience of having to deal with physical media. I would probably go with all my film and TV library compacted to a single external hard drive. But on the other hand, physical media gives some sort of connection to the content, albeit subjective.

I order DVDs from both US and British Amazon depending on the origin of shows and prices. Plus I sometimes buy films in Russia. This means that I have DVDs with various regional codes. I don’t even understand how anti-trust authorities worldwide let corporations instill those regional coding in the first place. Corruption, I guess, with huge bribes and not-giving-a-shit-attitude. If you think of it, geoblocking is worse than piracy. Anyway, I can survive only with a region-free player.

But here comes Netflix. As I’ve said the connection is getting better, TV-sets allow for all types of connections. Maybe this is the solution for the space and price issues? Why not try to make a shift towards streaming, especially a legal one if I still want to hold the fortress?

The reason the switch is impossible is akin to the issue of DVD geoblocking. Netflix doesn’t let you watch their entire library, it all depends on the country you are in. You can use VPN and whatever else is there to circumvent the limitations, you’d say. Yes, but why should I bother and fool the system just because it fools me?

If Netflix doesn’t want to show me everything they’ve got, I don’t want to sign up and pay for the limited service. If Netflix doesn’t even want me to see what’s in their catalog before signing, I don’t even want to sign up for a free month. I’ll continue to be quite happy with a region-free DVD player that doesn’t limit the DVDs I can watch on it. A vivid example is House of Cards that you cannot legally watch on Netflix in Russia. Fortunately, I have the first three seasons on DVDs. Besides, I am sure that the range of shows I buy is much wider than the range offered in even the entire Netflix library.

Hence, come the limitations of such services to the public in general, not just me. For one, Netflix limits you to the shows it has (which is not all shows). Further on, Netflix limits you to even a smaller amount of content just because you happen to be from the wrong country. Is it customer-friendly? Certainly not, double times not. If Netflix says “nyet” to me, I say “nyet” to Nyetflix.