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Fair and Balanced Reporting from the Driver’s Seat

By September 26, 2014January 7th, 2023Jennifer's Russia Blog

I feel sure my detractors will point out that what follows is yet another of those niggling problems, which plague the – well; let’s say the 5%, shall we?

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I have only myself to blame. Had I not initiated the conversation, I could have spent a perfectly pleasant ride from the airport to my house catching up on McFaulty’s latest Twitter scorchers.

But no. Tolya-the-Driver picked me at the airport and I asked him what was new. As soon as he was done paying the parking ticket, he launched in to a response that lasted all the way to my apartment building. I staggered out of the car feeling like Sam Seaborn after he first encountered Ainsley Hayes on “Capital Beat.” 

Before the whole Crimea thing, I used to enjoy talking politics and world affairs with Tolya. He was my “Ivan in the street,” helping me to understand what ordinary Russians were thinking and why. He liked Navalny, though he thought the Pussy Riot gals took things a bit too far. I shared his slow and somewhat grudging admission that Sergei Sobyanin, Moscow’s sour-faced mayor, was doing good things for the city. We once had a very interesting conversation about organized religion, during which Tolya expressed the view that all major religions would be obsolete in 75 years.

“I wouldn’t put money on that one,” I cautioned him. “The Catholics have a lot of skin the game, and as for the Jews…”

Post Crimea, however, Tolya’s views have morphed, as has his way of expressing them. We don’t so much discuss these days, as he recites things he knows to be true because Dmitry Kiselyov tells him so. He seems unwilling to entertain any other viewpoint.

So here’s what I learned last night: while there may be Russian weapons in the Donbas region, there are certainly no Russian soldiers there.

“That is simply not possible,” stated Tolya in that definitively squelching Russian phrase: Это просто быть невозможно.

And, clearly, no Russian soldiers have died. Why? Because the Soldiers’ Mothers’ Committee hasn’t applied for any information about the whereabouts of missing Russian soldiers.

“That’s not what we’re hearing,” I said when he paused for breath. “As far as I know, they’ve been fairly vocal – “

“Any Russian soldiers who are there are volunteers,” Tolya cut me off.

“So there are Russian soldiers in the Donbas?” I pressed.

“No. Those are volunteers. If there were regular Russian soldiers there, we’d be in Kiev by now.”

“And the peace march this weekend” I asked.

“What peace march?” asked Tolya.

Several large tractor trailer trucks edged their way onto Leningradsky Shosse, and Tolya commented that, despite sanctions on foodstuffs including all meat, poultry, dairy, produce, chocolate (chocolate!) and nuts, there seemed to be as many trucks on the road as before the sanctions were imposed.

“Obama really fumbled the ball on that one,” he observed. “These sanctions are great for Russia. They are really giving Russian companies a leg up.”

“Do you feel you are paying more for food these days?” I asked. “Because I certainly do.” I didn’t add that I thought I was paying about thirty-percent more for exponentially lower quality.

“Maybe,” mused Tolya. “But that’s not the point.

I silently wondered what the point was. I remain baffled how taking away crème fraiche and Australian beef from ordinary citizens makes Russia a great nation.

Tolya then moved on to the UN Security Council meeting and what he called “Ee-sis.”

“ISIL” I corrected.

“I don’t think so,” said Tolya.

“No,” I said firmly, “we’re calling it ISIL because it isn’t Islamic and it isn’t a state.

Tolya ignored this in typical Russian fashion: if you pretend not to hear it, it never happened. Like the Gulag. He then plunged right in to a cogent one-point analysis of the ISIL problem in a tone of voice normally used by Noho mothers discussing minor transgressions with their 7-year-olds. The problem is that we (meaning the Americans) should never have funded them in the first place. I found it hard to split hairs, so I just nodded non-committedly. I gave Tolya full marks for getting in not one, but two Putin-esque vocal tics: a long drawn out sigh following the first three words of a sentence, implying that everything that was to come after the sigh was a.) not his fault, b.) certainly mine, and c.) so avoidable.   He then proceeded to the second tic: swallowing a word into a sort of a drawn out word that sounds sort of like a fog horn tuning up or someone trying to pronounce my last name: “errrrrrehmmmmmm.”

“Of course,” finished Tolya as we mercifully swung into our courtyard, “The United States and Russia should partner in ridding the world of terrorism. We are two great nuclear nations and we should be working together. There are real live fascists in Kiev.”

What I yearned to say was, “Tell Vlad the Impaler that.” But instead I asked: “what news outlets do you watch these days, Tolya?” knowing full well that he is one of the 10% of Russians who uses the Internet. Before all this mishegas with Ukraine began, Tolya was addicted to Modern Family. Now? I’m not so sure.

“You Tube,” he informed me.

Next trip? I’m joining the 95% on the Aeroexpress.  Because if you don’t hear it, it never happened.


Have you experienced conversations such as these lately?  Are you baffled by the parallel news universes? Hit the comment button below and tell us about them, won’t you?

Please also take a moment to explore this wonderful new website of mine!  I’m really delighted to have all my writing under one unified and deeply elegant roof!  Thanks so much to the wonderful team at Studio2 in Lenox Mass for all their hard work, creativity and drive!

Lenin Lives Next Door: The Audiobook

Audiobook ImageI’m delighted to announce the release of the audio version of Lenin Lives Next Door: Marriage, Martinis, and Mayhem in Moscow!

This was so much fun to narrate and record and I’m so pleased that it comes just in time for school runs, marathon training, soup-making sessions and Moscow’s year-round traffic jams!

You can purchase and download this 9-hour, unabridged version of Lenin Lives Next Door with me narrating (and doing Jesus’s voice, no mean feat!) on and its affiliates, and its UK affiliate and iTunes.

Click here to download a brief sample!



  • Melissa says:

    Beautiful website changes!! I cracked up at the Putinisms, especially the “eerrrhhhmmmm” (and how it akin to those trying to pronounce your last name). Politics-wise, I watched a piece by Jon Stewart recently about the hearing on global warming/reduction of emissions that was held between the US House of Rep. Committee on Science, Space, and Technology and Presidential Science Advisor John Holdren. It was like banging one’s head against one’s desk, due to the utter futility in understanding how this conversation could actually be happening, and how the Committee was such a bunch of idiots. A different sort of, “If I didn’t hear it, it doesn’t exist,” and just as baffling. But … in better news, your writing is so fabulous!!

  • Liz Lemon says:

    perfectly captured. I had similar conversations during the fires of summer 2010.

  • Andrey says:

    Funny that you don’t notice you yourself are merely a somewhat more polite version of Tolya.

    You use exactly the same one-sided arguments (i. e. “statements of facts” when – in fact – they are arguable at best and completely wrong at worst.

    Shall I give a few examples then?

    “And, clearly, no Russian soldiers have died. Why? Because the Soldiers’ Mothers’ Committee hasn’t applied for any information about the whereabouts of missing Russian soldiers.” Let’s say, for the sake of the argument, it’s true. It’s a logical fallacy to extrapolate that Russian soldiers “would have died had the mothers applied for information. Your source of information (The New York Times? The Washington Post? The Financial Times?) tells you they have and you trust them implicitly. Unfortunately, their “proof” is hardly less shaky than the Russian site of the story.

    “‘Any Russian soldiers who are there are volunteers,’ Tolya cut me off.
    ‘So there are Russian soldiers in the Donbas?’ I pressed.” Another logical fallacy. If you and a couple of your friends volunteer to fight for the Kiev side, can we extrapolate that “Obama the Impaler sends American housewives to fight his war for Kiev”? No. It doesn’t prove or disprove there are Russian soldiers there, it just pubs out that your argument is as false as Tolya’s.

    “I remain baffled how taking away crème fraiche and Australian beef from ordinary citizens makes Russia a great nation.” This reminds me of a study that came out a few years ago that concluded that taking multivitamins did not reduce your risk of developing heart disease, so multivitamins were useless. But nobody has ever actually claimed that multivitamins have any effect on heart disease! Just as nobody has every claimed that taking away foreign produce from ordinary citizens makes Russia a great nation. That measure has as much to do with providing proof of greatness as oranges have with studying nuclear physics. How does piling on more debt from QE3 make the US a great nation? It doesn’t. It was a forced measure. They are unrelated issues artificially placed together, just like your statement.

    But I particularly enjoyed how you stressed that only 10% of Russians use the Internet, openly implying that the rest of them poor ignoramuses have no other sources of information but Kremlin-sponsored Channel 1. (Please, do tell how difficult it is to buy The Herald Tribune in Moscow.) And of course it’s a blatant lie, which most of your blog readers will never fact-check:

    “In September 2011, Russia overtook Germany on the European market with the highest number of unique visitors online.In March 2013 it was announced that Russian is now the second most used language on the web.” That would make 14 million Russians the second largest group on the Internet. Yeah, 10% my assuredly large posterior.

    • Dear Andrey,

      Thank you so much for your lengthy and measured commentary! I’m not sure I agree with everything you say, but I certainly thank you for flagging one erroneous statement and that is that what I should have said was that “only 10% of Russians get their news from the Internet.” And Tolya is one of them. Thank you for pointing that out! And thank you for your thoughts — it is always good to have two sides to a story.


  • You don’t have to cross the world to live in parallel news (or science universe). Oak Bluffs, the tiny town (pop. 3713) I live in on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, recently held a public hearing on whether to continue fluoridating its water. Reading the online paper, I read that:
    CDC says fluoridation is one of the 10 most important public health measures of the century
    Local dentists say fluoride has dramatically reduced cavities among island children
    The Boston University School of Dental Medicine has cut cavities and dental disease in half in that city.
    But I also read that:
    Fluoride is more toxic than lead and only slightly less toxic than arsenic
    Fluoridation reduces the learning capacity of kids, adults, dogs, what have you
    Decay rates are no different in fluoridated and non-fluoridated areas
    Fluoride results in cancer, thyroid & pineal gland damage, lowered IQ, kidney disease, arthritis and other serious health problems.

    NOTE: Except for the dentists, everyone who cited sources cited things they found on the Internet.

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