What Is Their Point?

6f987ab74c72f0c50b19b05ea775bc4033c57706A Tribe Called Quest. Photo courtesy of Spotify

First, a musical prelude, by the world’s best hip hop group of all time, A Tribe Called Quest.

Check The Rhime
Back in the days on the boulevard of Linden,
We used to kick routines and presence was fittin’
It was I the Abstract
And me the five footer
I kicks the mad style so step off the frankfurter
Yo, Phife, you remember that routine
That we used to make spiffy like Mister Clean?
Um um, a tidbit, um, a smidgen
I don’t get the message so you gots to run the pigeon
You on point, Phife?
All the time, Tip
You on point, Phife?
All the time, Tip
You on point Phife?
All the time, Tip
Well, then grab the microphone and let your words rip
Now here’s a funky introduction of how nice I am
Tell your mother, tell your father, send a telegram
I’m like an Energizer ’cause, you see, I last long
My crew is never ever wack because we stand strong
Now if you say my style is wack that’s where you’re dead wrong
I slayed that body in El Segundo then push it along
You’d be a fool to reply that Phife is not the man
Cause you know and I know that you know who I am
A special shot of peace goes out to all my pals, you see
And a middle finger goes for all you punk MC’s
Cause I love it when you wack MC’s despise me
They get vexed, I roll next, can’t none contest me
I’m just a fly MC who’s five foot three and very brave
On job remaining, no I’m chaining cause I misbehave
I come correct in full effect have all my hoes in check
And before I get the butt the jim must be erect
You see, my aura’s positive I don’t promote no junk
See, I’m far from a bully and I ain’t a punk
Extremity in rhythm, yeah that’s what you heard
So just clean out your ears and just check the word
Check the rhyme y’all
Check it out
Check it out
Check the rhyme y’all
Play tapes y’all
Check the rhyme y’all
Check the rhyme y’all
Check it out
Check it out
Back in days on the boulevard of Linden
We used to kick routines and the presence was fittin’
It was I the Phifer
And me, the abstract
The rhymes were so rumpin’ that the brothers rode the ‘zack
Yo, Tip, you recall when we used to rock
Those fly routines on your cousin’s block
Um, let me see, damn I can’t remember
I receive the message and you will play the sender
You on point, Tip?
All the time, Phife
You on point, Tip?
Yeah, all the time, Phife
You on point, Tip?
Yo, all the time, Phife
So play the resurrector and give the dead some life
Okay, if knowledge is the key then just show me the lock
Got the scrawny legs but I move just like Lou Brock
With speed I’m agile plus I’m worth your while
One hundred percent intelligent black child
My optic presentation sizzles the retina
How far must I go to gain respect? Um
Well, it’s kind of simple, just remain your own
Or you’ll be crazy sad and alone
Industry rule number four thousand and eighty
Record company people are shady
So kids watch your back ’cause I think they smoke crack
I don’t doubt it, look at how they act
Off to better things like a hip-hop forum
Pass me the rock and I’ll storm with the crew and
proper. What you say Hammer? Proper.
Rap is not pop, if you call it that then stop
NC, y’all check the rhyme y’all
SC, y’all check it out y’all
Virginia, check the rhyme y’all
Check it out, out
In London, check the rhyme, y’all
______________________________________________

The Tribe were always on point, although Phife, sadly, died in March 2016.

I am happy to say I saw the group perform at a club in Seattle in 1991 or 1992, and it was the most positive, funkiest show I have ever seen anywhere.

______________________________________________

Meanwhile, the unhappy, far-flung, unfunky human shards of the collapsing new building once known as the Soviet Union are almost never on point, because the ones among them who clearly think they are the smartest, cleverest, and most cosmopolitan have been in semi-permanent national self-defense mode after it transpired the Kremlin tried its flat-out best to intervene in the 2016 US presidential election.

Two cases in point are ace reporters Julia Ioffe and Masha Gessen,* who seem to go back and forth all over the place on the “Russia question,” depending on the venue and the day. Here, they are, today, in full “Russophile” mode.

on point

Here is the interview itself, broadcast earlier today on NPR.

“The bottom line is that Americans elected Trump,” claims Gessen in the interview.*

No, the bottom line is that reporters like Masha Gessen and Julia Ioffe, for whatever reason, want to control the public discourse on Russia in the US, so they have to reach over and over again for the bag of tricks, perfected in their worst incarnations by pseudo-intellectual mags like the New Republic and Atlantic Monthly in the nineties, that counter-intuitive reporting gets you, the reporter, the most attention, even if your counter-intuitive argument is utterly worthless when examined on the merits.

I could see no point whatsoever to NPR’s interview with Ms. Gessen and Mr. Chen, just as I can see no point flapping one’s lips about Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election until Robert Mueller’s investigation has been completed.

It is not at all a straighforward question of dual loyalties or having been “flipped,” of course, but the genuine discomfort many Russians and Russian émigrés feel about the dire direction Russia has taken under Vladimir Putin. At the same time, parts of the Russian national and Russian émigré chattering class feel so utterly flummoxed by the way events have been unfolding in the last four or five years that they have gone, almost reflexively, into heavy spin mode while also trying to install themselves, in the west, as the go-to people when it comes to all matters Russian.

It would probably surprise NPR’s listeners to learn that Ms. Gessen, for example, did not exactly “flee” Russia, but chose to leave because she felt her non-traditional family would be safer in the US, where she emigrated with her own birth family when she was fourteen. She had every right and reason to do this, and if I were in her position I might have done the same thing.

It is nonsense, however, to say she “fled” because she was “persecuted” personally. The nonsensicality of this claim would be apparent only to people like me and my Russian reporter friend Sergey, who watched as Ms. Gessen “fled” Russia over the course of two or three years, generating an endless series of interviews and op-ed pieces about her “escape” as she was slowly packing her bags or whatever she was doing during her seemingly endless, slow-motion “flight to freedom.”

When you witness a journalist working so hard to make themselves the story, you start wondering what matters most to them—the truth out there in the world that needs to be investigated and reported or keeping the limelight fixed firmly on themselves.

I also happen to know that Ms. Gessen makes frequent trips to Russia on business. What sort of persecution-and-flight story is this, when you can fly back and forth between your “safe haven” and the “country you fled” at will, whenever you like, with no untoward consequences to your health and safety?

In fact, under Putin’s reign, there have been plenty of Russians who really have been persecuted in the most unambiguous sense of the word and have had to flee the country or face certain imprisonment, for example, Dmitry Buchenkov, the final defendant in the horrendous (and horrendously underreported) Bolotnaya Square case and its accompanying show trials.

Because both Ms. Ioffe and Ms. Gessen are terrific reporters and writers when they want to be, I wish they would spend more time telling us about the real Russia of unsung heroes like Dmitry Buchenkov, Yuri Dmitriev, Valery Brinikh, and the Penza and Petersburg antifascists tortured by the FSB on the fabricated pretense they belonged to a “terrorist” organization, and much less time making what really amounts to a half-assed quasi-defense of a very bad game (the Kremlin’s meddling in the internal affairs of countries the world over), seemingly only just to keep their charming mugs in front of the TV cameras and radio station microphones as much as possible.

Especially in the last instance, Ms. Gessen and Ms. Ioffe could use the mighty media soapboxes they have at their disposal to help eight innocent young men put through hell on earth so the FSB can tighten its grip on Russian grassroots society. But they don’t, probably because they have never even heard of the case, despite being the foremost go-to reporters on Russia in the US. TRR

* I have posted in the recent past about instances when Ms. Ioffe’s and Ms. Gessen’s alleged total omniscience regarding the Motherland has been seriously lacking. See “Does Vladimir Putin Have a Niece?” (11 November 2017), and “Ace Reporter Julia Ioffe Joins the Russian World” (5 October 2017).

** After I posted this last night, I thought about what Ms. Gessen’s reaction would be if, during a similar non-obligatory discussion on NPR (whose presenters, almost without exception, have no clue how to interview anyone, because their idea of interviewing involves lobbing slow softballs for their guests to slam out of the park) someone had said, “The bottom line is that Russians voted for Putin.”

It is easy to imagine how she would react, because she writes at length in her latest book, The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia, about the 2011–2012 fair elections movement in Russia, sparked by a widespread (and accurate) perception amongst Russians that the December 2011 parliamentary and regional elections and the March 2012 presidential election had been anything but free and fair, to wit:

Even though the protesters belonged to different age groups, Putin had now been in power long enough that a majority of them had spent all or most of their adult lives in the era of supposed “stability.” Some of them had expected the Putin era to be like the Soviet past they remembered or imagined, the object of national nostalgia. According to these memories, that time was slow, predictable, and essentially unchanging. But in Putin’s era of “stability,” things refused to stay the same. The markets crashed because Putin said or did something. Innocent, randomly chosen people went to prison just because the government had declared a witch hunt against pedophiles. The spectacle of the Putin-Medvedev handoff and the experience of the farcical election served as reminders of how powerless Russian citizens were to affect any aspect of life. The protests were an attempt to renegotiate, to reclaim a little bit of space from the ever-expanding party-state— and it so happened that the party was the one of crooks and thieves. (Gessen, Masha. The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia. Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition, p. 349)

Yet, in the US, the “bottom line” is that “Americans” “elected Trump.” In point of fact, Mr. Trump was elected by the Electoral College. The popular vote was won handily by Hillary Clinton, who garned 48.2% of all votes counted, as opposed to 46.1% for Mr. Trump.

In the world’s third-largest country by population, that translates into 2,868,691 voters whose clearly voiced preference for Mrs. Clinton was utterly negated, as it were. Since Mr. Trump’s Electoral College victory came down to razor-tight wins in a few key districts in a few key states, any extraneous or criminal factor that could have pushed voters in his direction has to be thoroughly investigated. This would have to be the case even had Mr. Trump won the popular vote. Given that the election campaign, the election, and its aftermath have been unprecedented in US history in such a myriad of ways, it stands to reason that Americans would be more than a little curious about what happened and why.

In Russia, where, as some “Russia experts” would say (although I would not say it myself), Mr. Putin is so popular he could win an election without cheating, Ms. Gessen thinks people have every right to protest the machinations of “crooks and thieves.” In her adopted country, the US, however, she thinks people should calm down, shut up, and accept the “bottom line” that they did this to themselves.

I doubt very much that Ms. Gessen, judging by her numerous books and articles on the subjects, would argue that Russians did Putin to themselves, although to someone like me who has been on the ground in Russia during most of his eighteen-year-reign, that does indeed seem partly to be the case.

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