Reading on Russia Roundup #53

Trump and Putin at Hamburg: Towards Reset 2.0? (Gordon Hahn)

By all accounts the first Trump-Putin summit went better than the US-Russian relationship gave us reason to expect. On the other hand, if the relationship bottoms out any further, the results could be catastrophic. Therein lie the incentive for both parties to stop or at least slow the bleeding that we saw play out in Hamburg.

Dueling critics find U.S., Russia too cozy – or too far apart (Al Monitor)

It wouldn’t be exaggerating to contend that the first meeting between Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin was the most anticipated political encounter this year. Given the US political focus on Russia during the past eight months, and the tense character of the relationship between Moscow and Washington, some observers hoped the meeting could signal a fresh start, while others felt it would be a litmus test of whether the two states will continue on the path of confrontation.

Russian-to-English Translations for 2017 (Lizok’s Bookshelf)

I may be wrong but I think this year’s translation list hits an all-time high [edit: since I began making these lists] in terms of sheer numbers: 42 44 45 books of many genres. Of course I’m posting a little later this year than last (more time for books to hit sites and catalogues!) but I think a few factors account for the increase. I’ve mentioned two of those factors—ongoing grant programs from the Institute of Translation and the Prokhorov Fund’s Transcript Program—in previous years and know that continued funding plays a big role in helping translations reach readers. A third factor—the Russian Library at Columbia University Press—was new last year, with three books, but has five highly varied books scheduled for publication this year. That may only be a difference of two books this time around but the Russian Library has an ambitious schedule for the coming years.

Trump’s Low-Level Russian Connection (Bloomberg/Leonid Bershidsky)

In stories about her meeting with Donald Trump Jr., Natalia Veselnitskaya, the unlikely celebrity in the latest installment of the Trump-Russia story, is often described as someone with “connections to the Kremlin.” That’s misleading, although her involvement still says much about how power works in Russia.

Russian Federation Sitrep 12 July 2017 (Patrick Armstrong)

The Overton Bubble (Future Primaeval)

The Overton Window is a concept in political sociology referring to the range of acceptable opinions that can be held by respectable people.

“Respectable” of course means that the subject can be integrated with polite society. Respectability is a strong precondition on ability to have open influence in the mainstream.

Thus the Overton window becomes a mechanism of political control. If you can define the coordinating ideologies of all enemy political coalitions as outside the Overton window, then respectable society, which is your own power base, will be free of their influence, and they will be fatally marginalized. It is difficult to get your people to play along just by fiat, but it can be done.

You May Not Be Interested in Politics, But Politics is Interested in You (Future Primaeval)

When virtuous thinkers first see people rolling around in mud of the political playing field, their first instinct is to run as far away as possible. We could call this the “ostrich heuristic.”

But sticking your head in the sand doesn’t work anymore. Many independent thinkers are discovering that even if you aren’t interested in politics, politics is interested in you.


Ya got trouble

Right here in River City!

With a capital “T”

And that rhymes with “P”

And that stands for Putin.

Oh, come on! Allow me this one joke. You definitely should if you got the reference.

Now that that’s out of my system…

A week without television

I’ve been critical of the 24-hour TV news cycle ever since I “woke up” in 2014, but even so, I occasionally – maybe once a day – switch to ABC or CNN or something just to get a sense of what’s going on. (Judging by the coverage, I’ve come to believe nothing’s going on in this country – save for the Russia scandal, of course.) It’s more an old habit dying hard than an expression of any kind of tribal loyalty to, or dependence on these news outlets. This week I did something a little different and completely avoided turning on the TV – even for nonpolitical shows – to see how much extra time I’d have without it. Here’s some of what I accomplished:

  • translated 2 chapters of Russian novel instead of the regular 1/week
  • went to sewing class; learned the basics of machine sewing
  • trained Mocha the katydid to wave hello (who knew insects could learn?)
  • finished worldbuilding for comic idea A (FINALLY) and made progress on its last character development sheet
  • visited the keyed virus unit and P.— Library; saw an exhibit there on insect biology
  • went cycling with my sister in the hills
  • drew some pretty darn good gesture drawings, with help from Figure Drawing: Design and Invention
  • took photos of the extensive spider community living in potted plants on my deck
  • bonded with my dog Byron (he likes wild blackberries a little too much for a border collie)

Over the course of the week, I never felt like I was “missing something”, despite the latest totally-not-politically-motivated anonymous leak (which I did hear about eventually thru print newsletters). I didn’t feel anxious when cut off from the flow of news, as some of my compatriots might. For as it turns out – shock horror – there’s more to life than the ongoing Russia scandal.

As a Russia blogger, it’s sometimes easy to forget that.

P.— Library, pre-semester

As mentioned above, I visited P.— Library this week and got to see how my favorite shelves have changed.

  • They still haven’t gotten the latest Pelevin novel 😦
  • The “Medvedev” area of the RAS stacks has shrunk, while the “Zhirinovsky” section has grown. The “Putin” section remains unchanged.
  • A lot more Marcel H. van Herpen here than I remember. For those who don’t know, van Herpen is one of the leading proponents of “Putin=fascist”.
  • New sections in the RAS stacks: Litvinenko and Navalny.
  • The section on Russian intelligence is unusually empty.
  • Lighting in the basement has improved. I mean, someone can still get murdered in between the winding stacks down there, but at least the perpetrator can see their victim better now. (*note: I’m not condoning murder!)

Side book #14

This week, I began Россия. Общий вагон by Natalya Klyucharyova.




  1. “- trained Mocha the katydid to wave hello (who knew insects could learn?)


    – visited the keyed virus unit and P.— Library; saw an exhibit there on insect biology”

    That’s actually interesting. Yes, it’s more inserting to me than done to the death topic of Trump and Putin’s meeting in Hamburg (thousands of meme-pics!).

    While I’m not a biologist, I’m from the biologists family and have a lot of friends among them. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the members of the arthropod species have rather limited to non-existent “learning potential”, because in the course of evolution they went the different road than we, the animals. Their behavior is based – mostly – on a series of instincts, aka perfectly executed programs of behavioral patterns which require zero mental activity. E.g. – no one “teaches” ants or wasps how to build their hives, it’s kinda preprogrammed in them.

    Another example – spider wasps are so badass that they are going against giant (compared to them) spiders, including tarantulas. They also have “preprogrammed” instinct, which allows them without any training to sting their victim right into the nerve center (up to millimeter!), paralyze it, plant their eggs within and bury them in the beforehand dug burrows. Pretty straightforward program sequence. The trouble is – if some “curious” entomologist decides to take away the spider with already planted wasp eggs, right in front of the busy wasp, it won’t change its “program”. It will keep closing the entrance to the burrow in the ground, and then it will fly away, doing nothing about the body of its victim lying right here before it.

    Soooo… No smart bees, making special, flavored honey in the foreseeable future ;(


    • Perhaps it’s more conditioning than teaching?

      A shieldback katydid’s typical response to something overhead and in front of them is to rapidly sweep the thing with their antennae. After all, you wouldn’t want to immediately grab something with your forelegs – only to have it bite your forelegs off.

      And that’s how Mocha responded – sweeping her antennae – until I started holding pieces of watermelon above her head. She waved her forelegs in the air to grab it. I gave her a bite of melon. Then took it away and repeated the move. I did this about five times, and after the fifth time I let her have the whole piece of watermelon.

      After abt. 4 days of conditioning, Mocha would sit up and wave regardless of what I held in front of her – watermelon, my finger, a thin stick, a piece of paper. “Waving hello” was meant to be a joke (it’s a bit much for an insect), but the waving itself is not.


      • “After abt. 4 days of conditioning, Mocha would sit up and wave regardless of what I held in front of her – watermelon, my finger, a thin stick, a piece of paper. “Waving hello” was meant to be a joke (it’s a bit much for an insect), but the waving itself is not.”

        Aaaaah! I see now. Even this kind of “Pavlovian” training is impressive for insects. Not something unique. I’ve read some time ago, that “domesticated” female mantisses are less likely to bite off their mating partner’s head after the “act”, due to different envirnment and relative abundance of food as opposed to the “wild” ones.


        • Domestication may play a big role too. I caught Mocha as a nymph in the wild, but she has essentially spent all of her life in my care. She seldom leaves the terrarium except when I give her water – she needs to be on a flat surface for that. Watermelon experiment aside, I drop her food (berries and moths) into the terrarium so she can find it herself.


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