Friday, April 11, 2008

SP-B: Great Success!

...Latest hurdle overcome. Previous concerns about my passport entering a black hole were unfounded, and I received my approved Russian Visa this afternoon.

Fun Fact: Russia and Kazakhstan were both part of the former Soviet Union!

Remaining steps that must be completed, lest I am ordered to pay steep fines or be classified as "deported" upon entering and/or exiting the Russian Federation:
  1. Purchase return ticket to/from St. Petersburg (travelers must present proof of onward and/or return travel)
  2. Complete "Migration Card" at passport control (submit half to border officials, retain other half for duration of stay)
  3. Register my visa (upon arriving at my destination)
  4. Return "Migration Card" upon exiting the country

And remember:
"...cops stop people on the streets sometimes to check if they have a registration or not (even ordinary Russians are stopped sometimes too, so everybody carries his passport - that's the only legal id we have in Russia, driving licences or id cards don't count).

There's nothing horrible or frightening in being stopped, it's normal. Some cops will care if you don't have a registration, some won't. If a cop stops you to check your documents and you don't have a registration, he has a right (according to the Russian law) to take you to police station and to fine you."

I very excite!


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Nothing Compares 2 U...As Worst Ever

Taking a brief pause from the SP-B travel blog series, here are results from an unscientific survey of presidential historians, from the History News Network:
“No individual president can compare to the second Bush,” wrote one [surveyed historian]. “Glib, contemptuous, ignorant, incurious, a dupe of anyone who humors his deluded belief in his heroic self, he has bankrupted the country with his disastrous war and his tax breaks for the rich, trampled on the Bill of Rights, appointed foxes in every henhouse, compounded the terrorist threat, turned a blind eye to torture and corruption and a looming ecological disaster, and squandered the rest of the world’s goodwill. In short, no other president’s faults have had so deleterious an effect on not only the country but the world at large.”

“With his unprovoked and disastrous war of aggression in Iraq and his monstrous deficits, Bush has set this country on a course that will take decades to correct,” said another historian. “When future historians look back to identify the moment at which the United States began to lose its position of world leadership, they will point—rightly—to the Bush presidency. Thanks to his policies, it is now easy to see America losing out to its competitors in any number of area: China is rapidly becoming the manufacturing powerhouse of the next century, India the high tech and services leader, and Europe the region with the best quality of life.”

One historian indicated that his reason for rating Bush as worst is that the current president combines traits of some of his failed predecessors: “the paranoia of Nixon, the ethics of Harding and the good sense of Herbert Hoover. . . . . God willing, this will go down as the nadir of American politics.” Another classified Bush as “an ideologue who got the nation into a totally unnecessary war, and has broken the Constitution more often than even Nixon. He is not a conservative, nor a Christian, just an immoral man . . . .”

Still another remarked that Bush’s “denial of any personal responsibility can only be described as silly.”

Ouch, ouch, ouch...and ouch!

It may be unscientific, but a 98% response rate that Bush is indeed the worst is still pretty impressive.

Congratulations, Mr. President.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

SP-B: On Soul Searching and Ability Scores

From AP:
Bush...conferred with Putin's hand-picked successor, Dmitry Medvedev, but did not claim gaining any insight into his soul, as he had with Putin upon their first encounter. He pronounced Putin's protege "a straightforward fellow" and said he was eager to work with him.

Peering insightfully into a person's soul clearly takes more Wisdom points than Mr. Bush's currently rolled ability score. I suspect his initial assessment of Mr. Putin's soul was due to an incredibly lucky d20 roll, which he simply couldn't match this round.

Mr. Bush's Armor Class - much like his personal Charisma points - is off the charts, however. He was clearly able to deflect the following reporter's attack with great Dexterity:

Bush bristled at a journalist's question that suggested the two leaders were merely "kicking the can down the road" on the vexing issue [of missile defense].

"You can cynically say that it is kicking the can down the road. I don't appreciate that, because this is an important part of my belief that it is necessary to protect ourselves," Bush said.

A clear example of a high Intelligence roll.

...Or maybe just the result of a once-in-a-lifetime Saving Throw.

To further understand the rules of the foreign policy game, click on the image below:


Saturday, April 05, 2008

SP-B: "Let's be friends, guys"

I couldn't agree more.

At a time of high tensions that continue between Washington, D.C., and Moscow, I'm happy to see that our "two leaders' personal chemistry" is invoked to help repair damaged ties:
Bush had said he was looking forward to a last "heart-to-heart" with the Russian leader before he leaves the Kremlin next month, and the two men hugged as they greeted each other outside Putin's holiday villa in the resort of Sochi.

The U.S. leader will hope to capitalize on a less strident tone struck by Putin at a NATO summit in Bucharest earlier this week, where Putin attacked Western military expansion near Russia's borders but also implored: "Let's be friends, guys."


As a sign of my own good faith, I'll also try to do my part to further Russo-American goodwill during my stay.

...Assuming they let me in.


Friday, April 04, 2008

SP-B*: Receipt? -Nyet

*Note: "SP-B" prefix denotes blog post related to "St. Petersburg Bound" series

End of week 1 of preparation, 3 to go. No major snags.

Flight/hotel/transportation reservations were confirmed, and mental reservations continue to be minimized.

A moment of pause, however, after I handed over my application, documentation, photos, passport and payment to a Russian embassy official, who seemed genuinely confused by my request for a receipt. I explained that this is standard, per instructions posted on the Embassy Web site (step 6), for "tracking purposes":
Russian Official: This is not FedEx. We don't track documents like this.
Me: I was specifically told to get a "pick-up slip" as part of this process.
RO: Not here.
Me: Not here...?


I love it. Step 6 specifically states:
If you apply personally, you should get a pick-up slip from the visa officer. You should present this slip to pick up your visa, when it is ready, or refer to its number to check out the status of the application.

I can feel my only official document allowing passage abroad slipping away...never to be retrieved.

But, why not trust Russian bureaucracy and record keeping? I have no reason to doubt its official processes.


But how could they possibly be any worse than our government's own, with its history of losing millions of official emails and destroying government hard-drives?

Somehow I'm not making myself feel any better. For now, I'll simply hope that the similarities between the Russian and U.S. Presidential Administrations end with mere encroachment of civil liberties and anti-democratic tendencies...

Anyway, he said it would be ready next Friday.


Thursday, April 03, 2008

St. Petersburg Bound

Church of the Saviour on the Spilled Blood...or Bust

After much hemming and hawing, plans half-heartedly pursued and abandoned, I'm casting my next moves into stone: With a full, consecutive 6 weeks off for the first time since 1997, I resolved to do something different, something I hadn't tried before...something I felt would be unique.

When my freighter-to-Korea idea ran aground due to high cost, bad timing, and inflexible meal-offerings, I initially (somewhat begrudgingly) set my sights once again on the Fatherland: I intended to check-in on some long lost friends in Berlin...but I refused to conduct the trip by simply bouncing around Germany on ICE trains as I've always done in the past when lazily planning a vacation. I needed to get somewhere beyond same-old (yet still, admittedly, awesome) Berlin, after the initial friend reunion.

I also needed a challenge. I needed something foreign. Frankly, I needed something I could blog about...I needed a hook: and thanks to a still-functioning memory of presidential-naïveté, I recalled George W Bush's first impression of Russian President Vladimir Putin:
"I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy," Bush said after that first meeting, in Slovenia. "I was able to get a sense of his soul: a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country."

Therefore, I'm going to Russia.

St. Petersburg, to be exact, via Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. But because this blog remains primarily politically focused, this 2-month project will be to document and highlight some travel preparation and, eventually, road-diaries, all with a political bent (pending Internet access in the former Eastern Bloc). I hope to capture and record first-hand some of the results of Putin's "best interests" for his country...perhaps I'll even feel right at home with ever-threatened civil liberties.

Assuming I can get in, that is.

At home as I prepare, I already have encountered the first foreign-policy squabble between two presidential soul-mates:

A requirement for entering Russia is completing a single-entry tourist visa application - a mind-bogglingly dysfunctional, bureaucratic mess of forms and approvals straight out of Brazil. As I contacted hotel sponsors, obtained passport photos, and downloaded forms, I found this amusing tit-for-tat on the Russian Embassy Web site:
As of January 1, 2008 the U.S. State Department raises the fee for American visa from 100 USD to 131 USD.

On the basis of reciprocity the fee for Russian visa (standard processing time 6-10 business days) is also raised to 131 USD, effective from January 14, 2008.

Reciprocity, kindergarten-style. A diplomatic fuck you, too.

Second runner-up would have to be question number 32 of the tourist visa application itself:
Do you have any specialized skills, training or experience related to fire-arms and explosives or to nuclear, biological or chemical activities? If «Yes», please explain

No, I do not.

I'll keep you posted on progress...

UPDATE: Part 1 of a series. All future entries related to this series will be tagged with an "SP-B" label and Title prefix.


Monday, November 05, 2007

"We like the C-SPAN model..."

...As do I, which I why I recommend this new site, loaded with unedited political, cultural, and socially-related videos, transcripts and forums (ahem):

A quick look at their about page clues the reader in to their philosophy of engaged democracy, using the promise of Web 2.0 to deliver information and fully interactive environment to facilitate discussion and sharing of ideas:
Travel to New York and pick up the Village Voice. Or look in TimeOut London. Or check out the San Francisco Chronicle, the Los Angeles Times, the Sydney Morning Herald. Every day, poets, authors, policy experts, activists, madmen, government leaders, visionary thinkers speak in public, hosted by institutions such as nonprofit councils, bookstores, universities, or public spaces. If you're lucky, their remarks will be covered by the press, edited and compressed, and hard to find when you want it.

But you can't be there. You can't express your opinions. You can't chat with other likeminded or different-minded listeners. You can't easily search for similar content, study background material, read the transcript. enables a new, global media opportunity by aggregating a daily range of events, produced and electronically shipped by institutions or freelance producers, from around the world.

Scan further through the Bios of its staff, and you'll see an interesting mix of executives, investors and advisors: a former News Corp(!) Marketing Director for Australia's FOXTEL (Brian Gruber, Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer); Hearst family heir and director of the Hearst Corporation and Hearst-Argyle Television, William Randolph Hearst, III; a former record label exec (Bob Appel, Senior Vice President, Operations); and current CUNY Professor of English and Journalism, and columnist for Media Matters For America and the Nation, Eric Alterman.

They've also got former Discovery Channel exec and chief speechwriter for President Bill Clinton, Don Baer, on the board.

Fairly diverse group, I'd say.

And it's heartening to see such a diverse and monied media group buck the trend and work together to encourage dialog, unfiltered:

Why don't you edit programs?

We like the C-SPAN model. No intermediation, no one deciding what you should or should not see. Have access to the entire event, with search and browsing tools that allow you to watch a chapter, or "snack" on short segments, either to get a sense of what the program offers or to get what you want, easily and enjoyably.

Put that in your snack-hole, FOX.

You've been totally C-SPAN'd!

P.S. - Also check out the Blog!