Category Archives: foreign affairs/human rights

Counterpoint

This is my response to the email I received from “La Russophobe,” whose blog I commented on recently. I have to say that this is the most I ever want to become involved with “blog politics.” I’m not particularly interested in explaining and defending my viewpoints at great depth; I really just express them for my own benefit (putting things in writing can clarify your thinking quite a bit) and to show what page I’m on, rather than to engage in any intensive dialectic.

That said, this letter does serve largely as a defense of my previous position.

I have taken minor liberties in editing this version for publication.


La Russophobe,
I want to thank you for your thoughtful response to my blog post. You raise a large number of interesting points—in fact, so many that I’m sure that I’ll fail to address some of them, for which I apologize. First of all, I apologize for any offense taken at my post. Inasmuch as I ever descend into ad hominem criticism, you are right to point out my hypocrisy.

Now, as to why I criticize your style. By no means am I coming down against there being variety of rhetorical styles. I am, however, stating why I believe that your particular style, as it has been used throughout the centuries, is less effective than others. My belief is that the use of what you might call “fiery rhetoric” is not conducive to a substantive discussion of the facts. This is not to say that in your posts you do not discuss facts, but rather that it is difficult for me, at least, and I suppose other readers to focus on the core of your arguments because the language is so impassioned. This is part of why I believe that the United States presidential debates are so frustratingly shallow—because the “winner” is whichever candidate can score a rhetorical knockout, rather than the one who presents the most compelling ideas. This is why I seemingly come down in support of Yuri’s blog and his style. When I read his writing, I feel like I’m able to glean valuable insight by learning about a Russian’s perspective on his own country. When I read your writing, I simply feel angry! In my mind you do a disservice to your own work by using attack-style language because it provokes an emotional response that overwhelms the value of your logical argument.

This brings up something else. What is the goal of your blog? Your stated purpose is “recording the rise (and hopefully fall) of the Neo-Soviet Union.” I am sorry that you have already concluded that Russia is indeed a “Neo-Soviet Union”—an evil state akin to that built by Lenin and Stalin and their successors. While I agree that it is possible that such a situation will come about, I also believe that by deciding that it has already, you actually make it more likely that it will; a self-fulfilling prophecy. Your rhetorical style, as I discussed above, seems aimed at provoking anger, fear, and even hate, which is certainly counter-productive. By provoking fear and hate towards Russia, you make it more likely that Western citizens will call upon their leaders to take an unnecessarily hard line with Russia, which will cause a Russian response and (perhaps) a chain reaction of policies leading to “Cold War 2.” Is that really what you want? Or would you prefer to discuss Russia in a way that causes readers to understand — without engendering fear or hate? In my view, that is what the goal of all Westerners should be concerning Russia. Provoking a negative reaction to Russia may score ratings, but please consider that there are far more important things in this world than the popularity of any blog.

Finally, I’m just in this for fun, really. It’s an interest of mine. I’m going to be taking a Russian class in the fall, my brother was a missionary in Samara, many of my friends have studied Russian and will be studying in Russia soon. I’m not looking to be a professional lobbyist or anything, but simply to expand my understanding of that country and throw my thoughts out here and there. Also, I’m studying linguistics, which could explain my fascination with your style of writing, or even with your pseudonym (which seems to be an interesting combination of both Greek and Romantic language elements.) I feel like Yuri’s coverage of the child sex exploitation issue was insightful (see his article, Boys For Sale: Russia’s Forgotten Children—a nice tip of the hat to that great musical of the 1960’s, Oliver,) providing a window on Russia that should give Westerners pause. I don’t feel like Yuri posted that information to distract people from what was discussed in the Wall Street Journal article, but to show that the true tragedy of Russia is, and has always been, human rather than political. It’s similar to dissident videos coming out of North Korea that instead of focusing on the glitz of Pyongyang or the intrigue of the nuclear weapons program that attract so much Western media attention, focus on images of little orphan boys, homeless, scrounging scraps of food out of the mud, or of refugees telling of cannibalism in the face of crippling famine and governmental apathy.

I hope that this gives you a better idea of my views on things. I intend to post both your letter and my response to my blog (though it may take me a day or two to get around to it—it’s the end of a term here at school and I’ve got to go out of town soon) although I’d prefer we keep any further discussion private at least initially. Thanks again for your thoughtfulness and for the time you’ve taken to read my response. I hope that we leave as friends, agreeing to disagree but glad for the open exchange of ideas.

Take care, and best wishes,
Josh

Point

I reproduce here an email I received in response to my previous post, “How to Tell Constructive Writing from Diatribe.”

Dear Josh,
After coming across your comments about our blog on yours, we thought you’d be interested in an update on the situation, namely that the author of Russia Blog has admitted that his post about the Wall Street Journal was inaccurate and misleading. We hope (actually, we expect) that you’ll post this e-mail as a comment to the post about us on your blog as it will undoubtedly be of interest to your group and provide us with a fair opportunity to respond to your statements about us and flesh out the factual record (be sure to let us know if you do).

The author of Russia Blog attacked the Wall Street Journal article about the Extremism Law in two different posts, the original and then a second piece about an alleged child sex ring in Siberia. He argued that Western press was failing to cover the sex story, wrongly focusing instead on issues of press freedom under the Extremism Law. However, he gave absolutely no source material about the Siberia allegations. Several readers called him on this, and he provided links to local news stories from the Siberia region. A reader then challenged him on his claim that the Western press should be reporting those stories, pointing out that since Russian newspapers are notoriously unreliable and the papers are issue were also quite obscure, expecting the Western press to take their accounts at face value and rush to print with them would have been irresponsible. At the very least, only national reports could be given credence, he argued.

The author responds by admitting he was wrong about the Journal and about several other points, and should have focused his ire elsewhere. Here is what he states in response to a commenter:

“I agree with the fact that the sources I listed are local. Also, I apologize for assumption that you ‘have’ to trust RussiaBlog website. The readers who personally know me and other fellows of Discovery Institute do trust information on this website. I guess, what I am trying to say is, it’s not foreign media being guilty. There are think tanks and policy groups, which feed information to journalists and newspapers. The WSJ article was based upon information and report provided by Carnegie Endowment, which has a budget of over $7,000,000 a year for the work on Russia. 3 million goes to the Moscow office, the rest stays with the DC office. Khodorkovsky and Fund Open Russia [I don’t know for sure that the Open Russia link is right — ed.] have been generously supporting this organization.”

Unfortunately, however, the author of Russia Blog hasn’t yet posted a correction in the post about the Wall Street Journal, so a reader who focuses only on that item wouldn’t know about it.

As well, you might be interested to know that the author of Russia Blog works for a think tank which could be viewed as in competition with the Carnegie Foundation, so mixed motives might be present in formulating its analysis.

As you know from reading our post about the author (Yuri Mamchur), which was occasioned when this same commenter complained about Mamchur’s post to us (one of our self-appointed tasks is serving as ad hoc public editor for the Russia blogging community, so readers often bring this kind of concern to us), we exposed the fact that Mamchur grossly misrepresented the Journal’s position on the Extremism Law by failing to acknowledge a huge amount of reporting from other sources that had come to the same conclusion and citing/quoting NONE siding with Mamchur’s view. Our post provides a long list of quotes and citations to this material (this was the main reason we published it). We were very disappointed to see that your blog makes no reference to the citations and quotations set forth in our post, and no reference to the fact that Mamchur’s post is competely devoid of any citations to or quotations from published material agreeing with his view of the extremism law. This is a very gross defect in your comments about the issues, and we hope to see you correct it. (As an aside, you also seem to imply that Russia Blog is the work of only one person, which is not true, so you might want to correct that as well.)

Instead of fairly characterizing the source material offered by the two articles, your blog chooses to focus solely on the confrontational style of our rhetoric. We believe you’re entirely wrong to do so—but not, of course, because our rhetoric is free of “vitriol and attack.” We believe that the only reason Mamchur issued this half-baked correction was his knowledge that, if he didn’t, he’d face another assault on La Russophobe. We believe that radical political leaders from Malcolm X to Lenin to Rush Limbaugh to Don Imus have used the “vitriol and attack” style to great effect, and our blog has show exponential growth in the first few months of its short existence. Maybe you aren’t aware, as a white male, of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” in which he said that people who asked him to change his tone and be less agressive and confrontational were more dangerous to the cause of racial justice in America than the members of the KKK. If you aren’t, you should read the letter before you suggest that there be only one style of writing allowed, or that only one style of writing can be effective. Even if our style of writing wasn’t effective, and had no role at all in prompting Mamchur’s admission (for the record, we believe the evidence is overwhelming that it is effective), we believe it’s a form of self-expression that should be nurtured the way all diversity is nurtured. Criticize us by all means but if, as is the case, you don’t recognize any of the positive aspects of our writing while pointing out what you believe are negatives, then we fail to see how your comments are, ironically, any different from what you accuse ours of being.

And there’s one other thing you ought to know about this situation, which you would have known if you had asked us (by the way, we’ll be happy to answer questions from your group about our post if you have any). It’s this: Some time ago, we published two articles on Russia Blog. Yes, that’s right, on Russia Blog. Both were written in the same vitriolic, attacking style that characterizes our blog, yet Russia Blog published them. The posts drew our customary high level of interest, for which Russia Blog publicly thanked us. Then we discovered some material published on Russia Blog by another contributor which seemed to contain questionable sourcing and factual assertions. We challenged the authors of Russia Blog to resolve the situation, and when they wouldn’t (at that time they were extremely reluctant to acknowledge any error) we broke off relations with them in protest (and outed the situation on our Blog in posts you can find in our sidebar section). To cover themselves, in a highly dishonest move (and a silly one, since our post outing the situation had already appeared), the authors of Russia Blog then buried a comment in one of their posts claiming that they had ejected us from their blog and totally ignoring our accuracy concerns. This claim was utterly false and was proved so, but we didn’t find out about it until someone notified us of the comment’s existence some time later (this too is documented on our blog and since you could have linked to the material, we’re disappointed that you didn’t).

So, in light of that, perhaps you can see why our post about Russia Blog was particularly acidic, most justifiably so. In the future, we’d advise you to check out a situation a bit more carefully before you rush to publish something that is, quite obviously, a half-truth.

However, we’re delighted to know that your group is discussing our post with interest and would be happy to receive more feedback from you. In particular, we’d be interested in knowing which post of the two your readers found to contain more source material and which they found more compelling to read. We acknowledge that if you truly gave a fair and careful reading to our post (which we doubt) then our style may have prevented you from appreciating the point it was making and from noticing the vast amount of citations and quotiations it contained, so that’s a valuable thing for us to think about. If we had it to do over again we’d do it the same way, since we don’t feel any correction from Russia Blog would have issued following your approach (we know Yuri a good deal better than you do, after all). But like all good writers we are always on the lookout for ways to improve our writing, so we always welcome constructive criticism. On the other hand, we think that if you were more familiar with the body of our work, both on La Russophobe and on other blogs, you’d see that in fact we can do your pet style too, and admire our range.

Very truly yours,
La Russophobe

How to Tell Constructive Writing from Diatribe

Alright friends, I’m going to ask you to compare two blog posts. After that we’€™ll discuss the differences, just like you used to do in school! The first one is at Russia Blog: “Slander” — The Wall Street Journal Misinforms on Extremism Legislation.

The second is at La Russophobe (a name which, by the way, means The Russia-fearer (probably feminine, too, because of the “la”€™ definite article)): Yuri Mamchur: Neo-Soviet Con Man

What’s your impression? The Russia Blog article was written to persuade (mostly Western) readers that the Wall Street Journal’€™s interpretation of Russia’€™s new anti-extremism legislation is incorrect. Russia Blog gives its opposing interpretation that the law Putin signed was not a crackdown on political dissidents or journalists, but rather on Neo-Nazi and Neo-Fascist and threats to that nation’€™s stability. This is achieved through quotes both from the WSJ article and also from the text of the new law, as well as historical comparisons.

Russophobe, on the other hand, writes to provoke through ad-hominem attacks, attempting to prove the rising specter of the “Neo-Soviet Union.” In fairness, La Russophobe is not the work of a single blogger, but is rather a meta-blog of sorts. (Another note: one of this particular author’s targets, Konstantin at Russian Blog has an interesting response addressing that attack. I only link that scuffle because it helps clarify the situation.)

I noticed that the Russophobe post uses a very provocative vocabulary, and decided to do a little informal analysis comparing it to Russia Blog’€™s post:

Russophobe
word count: 2575 (561 were the big block quote in the middle, leaving 2014)
count of adjectives:
insane: 4
crazed: 3
outrageous[ly]: 3
wacko: 2
extreme (not “extremism”€™): 1

Russia Blog
word count: 1855
count of adjectives:
insane/insanity: 0
crazed/crazy: 0
outrageous[ly]: 0
wacko: 0
extreme (not “extremism”€™): 0

My real point here is that if you want to persuade and be the one who leads a debate to the conclusion that you support, you can be much more influential by being reasonable than be labeling yourself as a reactionary through attack and vitriol. I’m certainly not perfect and have my moments of more extreme thought (see an example here). But please, if your argument has any merit, that merit will be intrinsic to the argument itself and not dependent on the words you use or who else believes the same thing. Truth stands independent of—but not inaccessible to—perception.

Also interesting reading:
U.S. Suffers Winner’s Complex — Gorbachev
UN lowers risk level for Chechnya — This is added support to Russia Blog’€™s assertion that Chechnya has stabilized significantly in the last 6 months. I don’€™t know what’€™s really going on there, but here’€™s a piece of evidence to consider.