Politics — Humbug!

I gave up on politics a couple of presidents ago when it became maddeningly obvious that everybody was talking and no one was listening.  What was once an honourable profession — where real people had a genuine desire to serve the public — has deteriorated into an IRL video game.  Choose your character and maneuver through the various levels until you’re not skilled enough to go any further; then quit and go play UN, EU, IMF, FIFA or some other useless sport of the rich and nobody-remembers-your-name.  I’m sure there are still decent politicians around, but the 99% asshole rate gives the other 1% a bad name.  However, as much as I like to ignore the boys and girls who run our world, they won’t go away and — like Instagram teenagers — are constantly polishing their egos.  So just a few thoughts.

The French are having an election.  Nobody outside France understands French politics.  If you think you do, google Francois Hollande and Segolene Royal – and good luck with that labyrinth.  Anyway, the socialists aren’t socialist, the extreme right is left of the other guys, the left isn’t right enough, De Gaulle is dead, Sarkozy’s under house arrest and, in 2017, Emmanuel Macron decided to have his own party and beat the pants off everyone in sight.  But here’s how things actually work between the Rhine and the Pyrenees.  Every five years, the French vote to elect somebody to beat Marine Le Pen.  Two weeks later, they vote again to beat her.  She goes back to her apartment to pout and throw darts at a picture of her dad — the Republic is saved — and everybody sings “La Marseillaise!”

The Australians are also going to the polls.  The Australians have this curious notion that, in a democracy, citizens should vote — and so they’ve made it illegal not to.  Thus, if you’re an adult living Down Under, you have no choice about making a choice: you have to do it — or else!  Apparently, you can get around the law by providing “a valid and sufficient reason” not to cast a ballot, but for the life of me, I can’t figure out what that would be.  Somehow, I don’t think “they’re all a bunch of wankers” would cut it.  Mandatory democracy might be a cure-all for optional apathy, but I’m on the other side of the fence.  I know more than a few people who have made the world a better place by not voting.

And finally:

There are still quite a few Putin supporters in the kleptocracy formerly known as Russia.  Here’s a guy who’s been winning elections by wide margins ever since he snuck under the wire with 53% in 2000.  Two decades later, he’s claiming a 75% approval rate, and anybody who disagrees better hire a food taster.  Poison and prison are the go-to political strategies of Putin and his pals, and so far, they seem to be working – Alexei Navalny notwithstanding.  But Putinmania is not a monolith, and ever since his tanks rolled into Ukraine, there have been some serious cracks showing.

Here’s a joke that’s been circulating east of the Vistula recently.

Every morning in Moscow, a man goes to a newsstand.  He buys a newspaper, looks at the front page and throws it away.  After a couple of weeks of this, the newsagent asks “What are you doing?  Every morning you come here, buy a newspaper, look at the front page and throw it away.  What’s the deal?”  The man replies, “I’m looking for an obituary.”  The newsagent doesn’t understand and says, “Obituaries aren’t on the front page.”  The man smiles and says, “This one will be.”


9 Fun Facts About The Russian Revolution

russian-flag-1168929_1920It’s impossible for me to go through November, 2017 without saying a few words about the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution.  The problem is it’s so damn complicated and, quite frankly (aside from Che) dead communists are not all that fashionable anymore.  Plus, in a time when “history” means “last week,” it’s difficult to explain to people that our world wouldn’t be suckin’ up to Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping in the 21st century if a 19th century university student named Aleksandr Ulyanov had stuck to zoology.  (So be it!)  However, rather than kick myself forever for missing the opportunity, here are some fun facts about the Russian Revolution that most history books, historians and political pundits ignore.

1 – The Russians call it the “October Revolution” even though it happened in November because, in 1917, Russia was still using the calendar Julius Caesar created in 45 B.C. — which shows you just how backward Russia was at the time!
2 – The word “Tsar” is the Russian equivalent of the Latin term “Caesar” — which came to Russia from the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire in the 15th century.
3 – From the time of Ivan III of Muscovy (who kicked out the Mongols) the Russian double-headed eagle hasn’t been able to decide whether it wants liberal enlightenment or reactionary despotism.  For example, Peter and Catherine — both ruthless, brutal rulers — are designated “the Great” in Russian history; whereas the most progressive of all the tsars, Alexander II, has been largely forgotten.  Ironically, despite his many reforms, Tsar Alexander was actually assassinated by socialist revolutionaries.
4 – The definition of “revolution” is “one complete rotation.”  That means that if you’re on a wheel and have a revolution, you end up in exactly the same place you started from.  In fact, you can have dozens of revolutions and you’ll always end up in the same place!
5 – What Marx wrote and what Lenin did are two different things.  Marx was a German philosopher in the mold of Schopenhauer, Kant and Nietzsche.  Lenin was a slick, silver-tongued lawyer, lookin’ for the main chance.
6 – Items #2 and #3 explain why, in 100 years, Russia has “progressed” from an empire ruled by an absolute autocrat, Tsar Nicholas II, to whatever-the-hell it is now — where President Vladimir Putin’s word is absolute law.
7 – Aside from Lenin, most of the Soviet leaders who came after the Russian Revolution weren’t actually Russian.  Stalin was a Georgian, Brezhnev was Ukrainian and all the others — up until Gorbachev — had mixed ancestry including Don Cossack and Finnish.
8 – Unlike capitalism and socialism, communism is such a dumbass, discredited political system that the only people who still even pretend to believe in it are college sophomores and their bearded professors.

And finally

9 – Aleksandr Ulyanov was a natural science student who, in 1887, was part of  conspiracy to assassinate Tsar Alexander III.  He was arrested, tried, convicted and executed.  He was also Lenin’s older brother!  This goes a long way in explaining why Lenin had such a hate on for the Romanov dynasty that he spend his entire life trying to destroy it.  In 1917 he succeeded and set up a regime whose ideology dominated political thought (for and against) for most of the 20th century.

Easter Egg Hunt 2017

It’s time to talk about eggs.  No, not the ones the bunny’s going to leave or the ones that show up in your McMuffins, but real, honest-to-God Easter eggs that retail for 8 to 10 million dollars.  These are the Romanov Eggs, incredible treasures left over from the days of Imperial Russia.


Just a quick review.  The Romanovs were the boys (no girls allowed — except Catherine the Great) who ran the show in Imperial Russia a hundred years ago.  At the peak of their power, in the 19th century, their writ ran from the North Pole to the Himalayas and from the Vistula River to the Pacific Ocean.  It’s hard to understand these days, but as absolute autocrats, they literally owned everything within those borders — down to the last babushka, and, more importantly, the grandma who was wearing it.  When a Romanov said jump, you didn’t waste his time asking how high; you got your ass into the air.  It’s no accident that the Russian word czar is derived from the Latin Caesar and that’s how the Romanovs thought of themselves.  Unfortunately, that’s what eventually got them into trouble, but that story’s for a different time.

It was Czar Alexander III who came up with the idea of an Imperial Easter Egg.  Somewhere in the mid 1880s, he decided to give his wife, the Czarina Maria, a present for Easter.  (BTW, Easter is the highest holiday on the Russian Orthodox religious calendar.)  However, if you’re Czar of all the Russias, you can’t very well cruise down to Walmart and check out the sales; you have to come up with something special.  The Czar settled on an understated single egg, but one so elaborate it would thrill a woman who literally had everything.  He called on Pierre Faberge to make it so, and the result was beyond everybody’s wildest expectations.  The Hen, made of gold and enamel, looked like a real egg.  However, it opened up to reveal a yolk ,which, in turn, opened to reveal a chicken which also opened to reveal a diamond miniature of the Imperial crown and a ruby pendant that the Czarina could wear.  Everyone was so delighted with Faberge’s efforts that an Easter tradition was born.  From that Easter in 1885 — until Lenin and his pals put a stop to it in 1917 — Faberge made a number of Easter Eggs for the Imperial House of Romanov.

The Imperial Easter Eggs were exquisite examples of Romanov opulence; intricate toys encrusted with jewels.  For example, the Trans Siberian Egg had a small train inside that could be wound with a key so that it ran on a tiny track.  The Peter the Great Egg held a replica of his St. Petersburg statue which rose out of the egg when you turned a dial.  The Tercentenary Egg had hand-painted miniature portraits of all the Romanov czars and a globe made of coloured gold that showed Russian expansion.  Each of these “eggs” was flawless (the Trans Siberian train had windows made of crystal!) and cost millions of rubles.  Remember that the Faberge name was not always attached to the glitz we see today.  In the beginning, Faberge dealt exclusively in jewelry, objets d’art and unequaled elegant craftsmanship.  They were the greatest jewellers of the 19th century — no contest — by appointment to the Imperial House of the Romanovs and some of their wealthier friends.  Translation: Faberge made trinkets for the wealthy which were so expensive, even normal rich people couldn’t afford them. Only high-end nobility and their uber-wealthy compadres could meet the tariff.  The objets d’art Faberge made for the Russian aristocrats were practically obscene, especially when the average Russian of the time lived his entire life on black bread and cabbage — and not very much of that.  One Romanov egg could have set a Russian village up for life.  And by the time the Soviets confiscated them during the revolution in 1917, there were 50 or so of these baubles kicking around the Imperial palaces.

This is where it gets interesting because, like so many things that went through the Russian Revolution, there are strange circumstances surrounding the Romanov “Easter eggs.”

First, nobody is 100% certain how many were actually made.  Most sources have settled on 50, but some say 52, and some as high as 54.  Oddly enough, even though there are records, nobody seems to have kept track.  Granted, the Romanovs had been collecting art for three centuries; they had a bunch.  (Even today, The Hermitage in St. Petersburg has the largest single collection of art in the world, and most of it used to belong to the Romanovs.)  One piece here or there could go unnoticed.  However, when the ornaments are worth millions, somebody somewhere is supposed to know how many there are.  It’s pretty darn strange that even today, after 100 years of research, scholars can’t agree on what was there in the first place.

Secondly, some of the “Eggs” have been lost.  Again, nobody seems to know how many.  The general figure is eight, but that’s open to discussion.  Regardless, how does one lose even one table-sized Easter egg that’s gold, heavy and sparkling with jewels?  It’s not like you could forget it with your umbrella on the bus. Somebody would notice.  Certainly, in all the confusion of 1917, the Imperial household may have misplaced a few things.  Also, it’s entirely possible that, during the Revolution, some of the People’s Commissars may have helped themselves to an item or two — just in case the whole communist gig didn’t work out.  These are possible scenarios, but the real problem is that when the Soviets confiscated everything Romanov, they treated in all with cavalier disdain.  This was capitalist decadence at the high end, and no self respecting Bolshevik was going to sully his ideology with it.  For example, when the “eggs” were finally inventoried (over several years in the 20s) because Stalin had bankrupted the country, the records were woefully incomplete — plus no photographs were taken.  To make matters worse, when Stalin gave businessman Armand Hammer (nobody knows how many) “eggs” to sell in America for the hard currency he needed, he didn’t bother to get a receipt.  So there are no records of what Hammer had, sold, or gave to Value Village.  The Soviets didn’t care, as long as they got the cash, and Hammer conveniently burnt his books just in case the American Federales looked too closely at his communist connections.  Thus, somewhere between 1917 and now, at least eight — or maybe more — pieces of priceless Russian art have been lost.

As we all know, aside from socks in the dryer, “lost” is a relative term.  These “Easter Eggs” have to be somewhere.  Yet, one would think that after all these years, their enormous value would bring them back into the public eye.  It hasn’t.  Obviously, some connoisseurs are content to enjoy their collection in secret — and keep their mouths shut.  However, most experts believe that, in some cases, whoever has one of the “lost” eggs may not be aware of what they own.  For example, we now know that, back in the 60s, a genuine Faberge egg, not identified as such, sold at a New York auction, for less than $10,000. (Sotheby’s is still trying to track down both the buyer and the seller.)  To put things into perspective, in 2007, the Rothschild Egg (which is not a Romanov egg) sold for 13.5 million dollars.  (Big difference, huh?)

The bottom line is that somewhere out there, there’s a czar’s ransom in “lost” Romanov treasure.  So, if you’re going to Great Aunt Olga’s house for Easter dinner you might want to take a browse through her china cabinet.  Who knows?