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Sochi, Putin, Elves and Denis Rodman: Expanding their CVs

From Russia with Love:

The 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia are just around the corner. (Looking forward to the events which involve tight-fitting, aerodynamic clothing.) But before workers put the finishing touches on facilities that should have been completed months ago (an Olympic tradition) Russia’s president Vladimir Putin has had to do some house-cleaning to spruce up his Olympic image. First, release a whole bunch of people who are in Russian gulags mostly on trumped charges of hooliganism, the offence-du-jour in that country.

Out of jail are members of the all-women punk protest group Pussy Riot (easily the best punk band name of all time that probably does not make the translation into Russian with the same zip.) They got two years for hooliganism. Another notable, newly freed just in time for the Olympics, is former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky. He’s been behind bars for the last 10 years for opposing Putin. He split for Germany saying he didn’t think he would go back into politics. Wise move.

Then those Greenpeace thugs who tried to scale a Russian oil platform were busted and faced 15 years for piracy, later downgraded to hooliganism. As part of his pre-Olympic enlightened largesse, Putin set them free. The two Canadians amongst the 28 released returned to Canada, one more humbled by his prison experience than the other. Activist Alexandre Paul of Montreal said, “Give me two weeks vacation and I’d go back out there,” His Canadian Greenpeace compatriot, Paul Ruzycki, of Port Colborne, Ontario, who probably was not a big fan of watered down borscht and sharing a can with 15 other guys who hadn’t bathed in months, was more contrite. “I’ll be taking some private time now to be with my family and friends … and have that Christmas turkey dinner I missed.” Another wise move.

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Russian president, Vladimir Putin with former NHL star Valeri Bure. Keep your stick on the ice Vlad

Meanwhile, again in the spirit of the Olympics – alongside cost overruns – tickets are priced beyond the means of most Russians who earn about $875 monthly. Flying to Sochi is apparently not cheap either. This is Russia, size-wise, the Canada of Europe. Expect some empty seats at events like curling, which under the best of circumstances attracts a modest crowd of family and friends. Putin has, however, added some elements of The Hunger Games to one competition. Rumours are that for the biathalon (which combines cross-country skiing and shooting) athletes will be issued rubber bullets for their rifles, with targets pinned to hooligans who didn’t make the pre-Olympic amnesty. Ratings should go through the roof.

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Putin’s good buddy Mikhail “AK-47” Kalashnikov dies

Don’t know who keeps track of this but there are, apparently, as many as 100 million AK-47s still in circulation in the world. The AK, with the dubious honour as the world’s most popular firearm and the choice of any self-respecting guerilla, terrorist and soldier,  is the legacy of one proud and unrepentant Russian, Mikhail Kalashinkov. “I sleep well. It’s the politicians who are to blame for failing to come to an agreement and resorting to violence,” he told The Associated Press in 2007. “Blame the Nazi Germans for making me become a gun designer,” said Kalashnikov. “I always wanted to construct agricultural machinery.” I suspect there’s more money in firearms.

 

It should come as no surprise that Kalashnikov is one of Vladamir Putin’s heroes. “The Kalashnikov rifle is a symbol of the creative genius of our people,” he said. High praise indeed but not out of character for a president who has the Russian Swat Squad on speed dial. Kalashnikov was 94. Putin’s age is a state secret.

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Mikhail “AK-47” Kalashinkov holds legacy in his hands.

Icelanders High on Elves

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Try to build a highway in Iceland and you have to contend with the mythology of the Huldufolk (Icelandic for hidden folk.) And with a survey saying that 62% of that country believe in at least the possibility of the existence of elves, proposed construction on a new highway is being held up while the gov’t deals with the pro-elf lobbyists. “Some feel the elf thing is annoying,” said one government official. “I got married in a church with a god just as invisible as the elves.” Iceland is one tolerant country. What brings a nation of 320,000 people together? Volcanoes, ice, earthquakes, elves, mist and a recently broken economy.  And there’s an environmental angle to all this proposed construction: ruining elf habitat. Unconfirmed reports of a gang of enraged elves “disappearing” a bulldozer driver in the Alftanes penninsula area of Iceland (where a portion of the proposed highway was supposed to go) are rampant but mysteriously unconfirmed.

Athletes Say the Damndest Things (sometimes):

Most athletes are reduced to sports clichés when interviewed. A lot of “giving 110%” talk. Every once in a while they get funny, even if they are sometimes unaware of it. In between  all the ass-slapping and high-five antics, some verbal gems shine through. Like these:

“I don’t know about the percentage, but I’m halfway there.” — Chicago Blackhawks (NHL) center Dave Bolland, on recovering from a groin pull.

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“I feel better right now than last year. I worked more than last year. Even though I’m still fat. But that don’t mean nothing.” — Oakland Athletics pitcher Bartolo Colon

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“This is no lie; I checked my zipper at least 50 times in the bullpen tonight.” — Minnesota Twins closer Glen Perkins, one game after an appearance where he recorded two outs with his fly down.

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Headline you’ll never see in the sports section

“First Legless Man To Sprint In An Olympic Event Somehow Not Going To Be Remembered For That.” — The Onion, on Oscar Pistorius’s murder trial

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“It’s the ‘White Guy’ award!” — Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love, on being named the player who makes the most of ‘limited natural ability’ in the NBA general manager survey

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But then there is former National Basketball Association player Denis Rodman in North Korea on a mission of alleged basketball diplomacy:

Supreme Guy of North Korea Kim Jong-un has a new BFF and in a friendship that is stranger than fiction, it is the quirky, pierced and tatooed former NBA player Denis Rodman. Rodman is in North Korea this week (his fourth visit in the past year) with other former NBA players with too much spare time on their hands. This can charitably be called a goodwill trip, not to be mistaken for the Nixon-era ping-pong diplomacy which (allegedly) opened up relations between China and the US in the 70s. Any ambassadorial goodwill Rodman may have collected blew up in a drunken interview he did with CNN. This video should have subtitles as Rodman is speaking some form of Slurrenglish. It gets a little confusing as Rodman mentions the name of the Korean-American missionary Kenneth Bae, who was arrested in North Korea in 2012 and sentenced to 15 years of hard labour. A very touchy subject in the US and Rodman must have been travelling without his international relations assistant.
Next day, Rodman apologized for his inebriated rant in a prepared statement (perhaps too hung over to muster it personally.) But he did show up at a basketball game (but didn’t play) to help celebrate Kim’s birthday singing and appearing to bow to him. Next time, I suggest Rodman take Rob Ford along as his personal advisor. And to Kim: dude, get a new barber. You can’t pay for theatre this absurd.

Last Word goes to TV host Jimmy Kimmel:

“This Rodman friendship is beyond the imagination. Not since Hitler and Sea Biscuit has there been a more unconventional athlete-dictator relationship.” — Jimmy Kimmel, on Dennis Rodman’s friendship with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un..

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