Joe’s Journal

Dateline Moscow

Ramblings from an old scribbler
Wed, 02/21/2024 - 7:00am

    Last week, I saw a pair of stories from Moscow that made me want to hit my knees and offer thanks that I was blessed to live in the good old USA.

    Example number one was the death of Alexei Navalny, the leading figure opposing the current political leader of Russia, Vladimir Putin. On Friday, reports allege that Navalny somehow died after taking a walk. He died in a Siberian prison, where it is winter and, I suppose, it was a little chilly for an afternoon constitutional stroll.

    I recall that Navalny used social media to call attention to the corrupt practices of Czar Putin (the despicable) and his allies to joke about their lavish villas and yachts the size of (and some larger) than warships crafted in Bath.

    For his opposition to V.P. & Co., he was spray-painted green, was secretly poisoned, and roughed up by thugs wearing uniforms. They jailed him so often that he likely knew the names of his captor's children.

    About 20 of Czar Putins' rivals have expired. Some died in a manner that gave birth to one of my new favorite words, defenestration.

    Those of us lucky enough to live on the Maine coast are usually isolated from modern urban problems. But we do not live in a pristine bubble. We read newspapers (thank the Lord), watch TV, and are plugged into social media accounts keeping us up to date on the most contentious presidential political campaign since the 1860s.

    In public and private, critics heap insults and scorn upon the sitting president and leading politicians, on all sides.  The last time I checked, no one was sent to Siberia and encouraged to take a refreshing fatal walk in sub-zero weather. And, the last time I checked, no one has died after falling out a window.

    In America, our Constitution permits and in some ways encourages political criticism.

    Moscow example number two was a Russian news story, as reported by the Daily Beast. It said a couple of boys, aged 16 and 14, crafted a free-standing snow sculpture in the shape of a male body part usually classified as NSFW. They placed their creation near a military memorial. I guess they opposed Putin's “special military operation” that has seen thousands of young Russian conscripts killed on Ukrainian battlefields.

    The two boys were arrested and face a possible five-year prison sentence. Their parents were busted for not “fulfilling parents' duties.” The Daily Beast quoted Russian state-run media as noting Putin’s top investigator is involved in this case.

    Those of us who collect benefits from the social security system, to which we contributed for 50-plus years, can remember protests over the Vietnam War. No protester was exiled to Siberia for opposing that conflict, and no one flew out a window.

    Last summer, I was lucky enough to visit New Orleans where I spent a couple of happy weeks with my fun-loving brother, James Abijah, and his charming and super-talented bride, Lady Claudia.

    Brother James is a proud member of the Krewe du Vieux, one of the famed marching societies that make the city's unique Mardi Gras celebration a national treasure.

    James and his fellow Krewe du Vieux conspirators craft floats with pointed political messages, lampooning city, state, and national figures by pointing out their transgressions and foibles with graphic images.

    When I mentioned the Krewe, he hustled me down to the warehouse district, where we entered a dark corridor and slipped into darkness through a locked steel door.

    He flipped on the light switch revealing a colorful panoply of paper mache sculptures resting on pick-up truck-sized carts.  Some of the floats feature images that are, well, NSFW. More than a few were, decidedly, obscene, and very, very political. Several of them featured the same snow image that got the two Russian teenagers in trouble.

    The point of this decidedly NSFW image reference in a family newspaper column is to remind us all that in America, we have freedom of speech and can criticize our dear leaders with impunity and don’t have to worry about falling out a window.

    On the other side of the world, an NSFW snow sculpture prank landed a couple of teenaged smart guys in the clink and drew the attention of Putin’s favorite investigator.

    Meanwhile, in New Orleans, some smart-aleck grownups were permitted free to craft similar images and parade them through the streets to the cheers of mostly (sometimes) sober citizens.

    The only cops on the scene were there to direct traffic and clear the way so the grown up Krewe du Vieux smart alecks could parade their NSFW images down the street on their way to a not-so-sober party.

    God Bless America.