Weekend Lynx: Russia


Every weekend, we share timely nonfiction from publications large and (mostly) small. This Sunday, the focus is on Russia, with three excellent stories covering the strange, tragic, and overlooked.

Peter Pomerantsev on the creative eccentricities of Vladislav Surkov, the rotten Kremlin puppetmaster; a 2003 story from The eXile about an overflowing orphanage; a diplomatic cable, published in The Guardian, detailing the showmanship and political subtexts of a Dagestani wedding.

Putin's Rasputin

Peter Pomerantsev | London Review of Books

"In his spare time Surkov writes essays on conceptual art and lyrics for rock groups. He’s an aficionado of gangsta rap: there’s a picture of Tupac on his desk, next to the picture of Putin. And he is the alleged author of a bestselling novel, Almost Zero. ‘Alleged’ because the novel was published (in 2009) under the pseudonym Natan Dubovitsky – Surkov’s wife is called Natalya Dubovitskaya. Officially Surkov is the author of the preface, where he denies being the author of the novel, then makes a point of contradicting himself: ‘The author of this novel is an unoriginal Hamlet-obsessed hack’; later, ‘this is the best book I have ever read.’ In interviews he has come close to admitting to being the author while always pulling back from a complete confession. Whether or not he actually wrote every word of it he has gone out of his way to associate himself with it."


The Bleak House: Meet the Children of the Solnyshko Orphanage

Jake Rudnitsky | The eXile

"The Solnyshko is actually a priyut, which means that it functions as a stopgap to inject kids into the ridiculously overcrowded and dilapidated Russian orphanage system. Priyuts are a relatively new measure, born in the 90s. But even after their advent, the system is so strained by the influx of abandoned children in recent years that kids often have to spend several months living in the children’s ward of a hospital before space in a priyut frees up. The system remains a complete mess, stranded somewhere between dated Soviet and more progressive methods. It has no cohesive ideology and barely enough funding to survive, let alone consider undertaking serious reform. What awaits a kid caught in the system depends on the management of the individual home."


US embassy cables: A wedding feast, the Caucasus way

The Guardian

"1. (C) Weddings are elaborate in Dagestan, the largest autonomy in the North Caucasus. On August 22 we attended a wedding in Makhachkala, Dagestan's capital: Duma member and Dagestan Oil Company chief Gadzhi Makhachev's son married a classmate. The lavish display and heavy drinking concealed the deadly serious North Caucasus politics of land, ethnicity, clan, and alliance. The guest list spanned the Caucasus power structure -- guest starring Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov -- and underlined just how personal the region's politics can be."

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Weekend Lynx: Egyptsplaining


This Sunday, we bring you a special edition of the Weekend Lynx, focused on this week's bumper crop of colorful writing on Egypt.

Egypt's "post-revolutionary" creep over the last two years has spawned a lively cottage industry of speculative commentary offset by occasional moments of meaning, and this week was a fruitful one for those who follow this analytical soap opera. The usually dependable Marc Lynch delivered a #longread that goes sideways on the West's Mubarak-era assessment of the Muslim Brotherhood, ending with a defense of "the hard-earned analytical progress of the last decade" - whatever that is!

Another piece, translated into English for Egypt Independent, slams "imperialist liberals" (unnamed) for having "unsophisticated" and "colonialist/racist" views of Islamists and democracy (again vague, though we learn that the "Brotherhood is not even democratic"). OK! A conversation with Zahi Hawass, the Kanye West of Egyptian antiquities/self-styled Indiana Jones/Mubarak-era megalomaniac mentions Hawass's infamous "windy balcony speech" before delivering a pretty underwhelming interview - though the repartee does take a few turns into the amusingly absurd. Enjoy.

Did We Get the Muslim Brotherhood Wrong?

Marc Lynch | Foreign Policy

 "I don't think Western academics need to apologize for getting the Brotherhood wrong. Nor do I think the United States has been wrong to work with an elected Brotherhood government or to insist on adherence to democratic procedures. It would be tragic if we now succumbed to anti-Islamist propaganda or paranoia or threw away the hard-earned analytical progress of the last decade because of the current political maelstrom. But both academics and policymakers need to recognize that the lessons of the past no longer apply so cleanly, and that many of the analytical conclusions developed during the Mubarak years are obsolete. The Brotherhood has changed as much as Egypt has changed, and so must we."


 Imperialist liberalism and the Egyptian revolution

Atef Said | Egypt Independent

"Let us not forget that Egyptians were initially enthusiastic about the ballot box democracy. Careful examination of the participation rates in the polls conducted after the revolution shows that they were high at the beginning and then progressively declined as many Egyptians discovered how the political process is disconnected from the demands of the revolution and society.

This means that the “model” was tested and found wanting. But this is exactly what the imperialist liberals do not want to understand."


Interview: Zahi Hawass with Ursula Lindsey

Ursula Lindsey | Bidoun

"I think if people say that there is a legend of Zahi Hawass — my legend — it is educating young people. The pyramids were my life. I always wanted to change the pyramids from a zoo into an open-air museum. I proposed that all of the cars in the desert go from Fayoum Road into the desert area to park. The souvenir vendors that attack tourists would have to remain in the desert. All of the camels and horses would stay in the desert. After you park, you can take a camel or a horse and walk in the desert, away from the pyramids — the pyramids would still be in the background. Then you’d enter the visitor center. And after the visitor center will be a parking lot for electric cars. You take the electric car to the second pyramid, and you walk down to the Sphinx, to the Great Pyramid. No one bothers you."

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Saturday Lynx: Basketball Suicides, Cardboard History, and Behind Blue Jerseys

Special Saturday edition of the Lynx this weekend, live from the Final Four in Atlanta. We witnessed a couple of classics last night, as Michigan and Louisville punched their tickets to the Big Slice of Shablamablam, and in honor of the occasion we bring you a few sports-related selections:

The tragic end of a college basketball great; the hope of opening day, and impossible burden of history, reflected in baseball cards; the enduring pain of being the enemy in NC State's miracle run.

The Life and Death of Earl Badu

Michael Graff | SB Nation

 "You know the wish can’t come true, but people say it all the time to hide their own fears, so you’ll open with it, too: You wish he could just be happy. It would be easier that way. You could just hang curtains around everything else—the past, the future, the end—and you could look down through a tunnel at him and say, Freeze. Stay right there. And he’d remain locked in this memory, the little guy with the big heart playing in the final minute of the final game of a storied arena."


 Tragic Nonsense of History, or Ted Lilly Meets Old Hoss Radbourn on a Baseball Card

Luke Epplin | The Classical

"In 1955, with television sweeping the nation, Topps released a line of baseball cards framed, as the bottom of each overtly states, by a wooden “color TV.” Since then, the company has released 3-D cards, talking cards (you’ll need a computer or a record player), holographic cards, 22-karat-gold cards, and, of course, digital baseball cards. None of these, to be fair, are as strange as whatever Donruss Studio was supposed to be, but the trend-chasing is irrefutable; if the format and idea are eternal, the aesthetics and specifics are constantly in flux. The point is to lure people into buying the cards, and Topps, to its credit, will put on its cards whatever it thinks a notional card-buyer might want. In years past that might have been wood-paneling or puffy ’70s fonts. This year, it’s quasi-historical information that’s mostly nonsense. To each era what it wants."


The Other Side of the N.C. State Story

Chuck Culpepper | Sports on Earth

"The 1983 North Carolina State basketball team revisited in Jonathan Hock's marvelous "Survive and Advance" for ESPN Films did not just craft a narrative by withstanding seven crazy last-minute deficits among nine post-season wins, all with elimination howling. It also quashed a living, breathing, four-year narrative at Virginia, centered around a center."

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The Weekend Lynx

After getting "crowded" out of her Friday slot, our Lynx took off on a brief sabbatical. We've enticed her back, with the promise of the weekend's quietude for sharing timely nonfiction from publications large and (mostly) small. 

No particular theme this Sunday, but it's an outstanding crop of reads. An old essay in The Independent on Withnail & I's maddening appeal; an intriguing story from Ian MacDougall in the just-launched Blunderbuss Magazine; seeing Batman in Beirut.

Withnail & I: Britain's best film?

Kevin Jackson | The Independent

"Try pitching that one to Dreamworks and see how far you get. (In fact, as Bruce Robinson pointed out, the structure is that of the classic three-acter as outlined by Ring Lardner. Act One: Send a man up a tree. Act Two: Throw rocks at him. Act Three: Bring him down.) It is evidently not pulse-pounding excitment which has earned Withnail its place in the cinematic pantheon, so what are the sources of its appeal?"


The Ballad of Puerto Rican Rick

Ian MacDougall | Blunderbuss Magazine

"On this particular evening, Brett had run out of money and been forced to sober up. With no reason to stay in town and nursing swollen knuckles from a fight he’d been in earlier, he asked for a ride home to Pine Ridge. We drove along Highway 407, the two-mile stretch of well-traveled highway that connects Whiteclay and the town of Pine Ridge, and I told him about Carlo.

'That’s the Puerto Rican,' he said.  I told him how skittish the man had become when I brought up Mike Waters. Brett nodded knowingly. 'The Puerto Rican killed him,' he said, matter-of-factly.  'That’s why everyone’s after him.' "


All the Batmen in Beirut

Matt Pearce | The Warm Sound of Night

"'Batman would fight for the side with the most money, so he would become Shi'a and fight for Hezbollah,' she says. 'Superman wears blue, so I guess he would fight for the Future movement. And Catwoman would start a bar in Beirut where all the Western journalists would come in their Jesus sandals to cover the fighting in Tripoli from Hamra.' We drink more lattes and I remember Cairo. I worry I don't remember enough. S. worries that we have been cursed. I worry about my upcoming flight. On my final night in Lebanon, S. lights an urn, some kind of Moroccan voodoo that we stand over so the smoke floats up our pants."

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Prelude to a Confession: I Am a Prada Ponce

We received this teaser for a confessional essay, which the author promises will make GQ's "My Gucci Addiction" piece look like a Kim Kardashian tweet.

Click to read more ...