One of the things I like about my Russian teacher is that she’s a bit older, retired after 30 years in the public schools, and unlike my UM grad-student TA, we share a common initial reference point for Russia — the old Soviet Union. She shares her library of Soviet-era books with me, and understands what I’m asking when I wonder whether young Russians ever call one another tovaritch (comrade), you know, ironically. Some things seem to have made the transition from Communist Russia to oligarchical Russia intact, however. Take the national airline, Aeroflot:
It is normally a moment of cheery reassurance when an airline pilot greets passengers during preparations for take-off. But Alexander Cheplevsky sparked panic on flight Aeroflot 315 when he began to speak.
His slurred and garbled comments ahead of a flight from Moscow to New York convinced passengers that he was drunk. When he apparently switched from Russian into unintelligible English, fear turned to revolt.
It gets better. After the airline sent reps to calm the passengers, they offered this comforting rationalization:
One sought to reassure them by announcing that it was “not such a big deal” if the pilot was drunk because the aircraft practically flew itself.
And then the pilot finally came out of the cockpit to face his accusers:
Mr Cheplevsky did little to ease passengers’ fears by refusing to leave the cockpit to show that he was sober. When he was finally persuaded to face them, witnesses said that he appeared unsteady on his feet and had bloodshot eyes.
“I don’t think there’s anyone in Russia who doesn’t know what a drunk person looks like,” Katya Kushner, one of the passengers, told the Moscow Times, which had a reporter travelling on the flight.
Well, they can’t all be Chesley Sullenberger, I guess. That last quote made me giggle — vodka is to Russia what gin was to Victorian England, i.e., what crack cocaine was to late 20th-century urban America. Remember crack? Remember crack babies? America was birthing a generation of monsters, we were told, a zombie-youth corps that would doom our already impoverished cities to true nightmare status. I believed it. You probably believed it. And guess what? It’s not true. While smoking crack during pregnancy isn’t harmless to infants, and while it’s true that babies can be born addicted to drugs, the lifelong effects are about roughly equivalent to…well, let the NYT nut graf tell the tale:
Cocaine is undoubtedly bad for the fetus. But experts say its effects are less severe than those of alcohol and are comparable to those of tobacco — two legal substances that are used much more often by pregnant women, despite health warnings.
All of this is leading to something you probably already read — it’s gotten a lot of circulation in the last few days. I normally hate “the speech he should have given” pieces, but Radley Balko’s thoughts on what Michael Phelps should have said about that bong picture breaks the bounds of the genre by being actually readable and, um, true:
I take it back. I don’t apologize.
Because you know what? It’s none of your goddamned business. I work my ass off 10 months per year. It’s that hard work that gave you all those gooey feelings of patriotism last summer. If during my brief window of down time I want to relax, enjoy myself, and partake of a substance that’s a hell of a lot less bad for me than alcohol, tobacco, or, frankly, most of the prescription drugs most of you are taking, well, you can spare me the lecture.
It goes on, and it’s worth reading. I generally object to drugs on more practical grounds, i.e., does the world need more stupid people pinned to their couches, laughing at “Jackass”? But it’s a free country, and you don’t have to join them, and Balko’s argument is sound. When it comes to drugs that really take a toll on society, it’s hard to top alcohol. This isn’t an argument for prohibition. We already had it, and we lost, or rather we scrambled to some sort of Gaza/partition deal, where alcohol is OK but other drugs aren’t. So the swimmer who earned 14 Olympic medals has to grovel and pretend what he was photographed doing is precisely the same as injecting a speedball into his arm. While somewhere halfway around the world, the dark comedy of Aeroflot and its drunken pilot unfolds as farce.
I don’t get it, either. But I appreciate it.
And so we come to the news I’ve been avoiding so far: Amy Welborn, my ex-neighbor in Fort Wayne, lost her husband suddenly yesterday. Michael Dubruiel went for a run at the Y, collapsed and died of sudden cardiac arrest. They had recently relocated to Alabama and were loving their new home (even while their old one sits like a rock on the moribund Fort Wayne real-estate market). Besides Amy, he leaves behind two little boys and all the usual holes in many other lives. This is the third time in a year that someone I’ve known has died and left little children without a parent. Worst year ever.