??!! My Shoe Award
posted by March 21 at 12:36 PMon
Yesterday, I got a package in the mail from the Discovery Institute, the deep-pocketed downtown think tank best known for pushing intelligent design and other intellectually dishonest propaganda.
It contained this certificate:
And an actual gently used black shoe, which unfortunately does not look much like the crusty specimen pictured on the award. What did I do to deserve being compared to Nikita Krushchev, the Soviet premier who famously banged his shoe on a UN table to interrupt a speech by the British PM?
Well, in addition to their more notorious dealings, the Discovery Institute apparently houses a Real Russia Project, whose purpose is not elucidated on the DI’s homepage. Turning to the Real Russia Project’s blog, it seems they like to promote privatization and foreign investment in the Russian economy, toss homophobic insults at liberal political groups for using pop music in their campaigns (“Perhaps the liberal parties in Russia and their highly-paid Western advisors need someone to explain to them why babushkas are not easily rallied to their banner by underage lesbians cavorting across their television screens”), and spread weird conspiracy theories about Alexander Litvenenko’s fatal brush with polonium 210. I’m not well versed in Russian politics, but I gather that they’re basically pro-free-market Putin apologists.
But this still doesn’t explain what I’d done to offend them. A few weeks ago, I received an email from a non-Discovery Institute email address asking about the “parameters” for film reviews. After blinking a couple of times, I realized the writer, Nick Slepko, was offering to provide a pre-written review for a film his own “Russia-focused organization” was sponsoring. Well, obviously, that arrangement would be unethical. But I gave him the benefit of the doubt and wrote back to tell him that if he could get us a screener, we would watch the film ourselves and review it. Then things got even weirder. First of all, Slepko had claimed the film was “Oscar-nominated,” but I realized there was no Russian film among the 2006 Oscar nominees (The 9th Company was, however, Russia’s submission to the Academy—it was never a serious contender). Secondly, the details of the screening clued me into the fact that this “Russia-focused organization” was actually a branch of the Discovery Institute. Then Slepko told me there were no English subtitles on the screener, but that his organization would provide a translator. Um, what? By this time, the deadline for assigning reviews had passed, and I let it go.
In place of a review (I made it clear I had not been able to see the film), I explained the slightly shady dealings that had transpired in the “Film Shorts” section of the paper:
The 9th Company
OK, I have no idea what’s going on here. A guy with a Yahoo email address wrote me to say he worked with “a Russia-focused organization” and asked whether I could list a screening of an Oscar-nominated film. Uh, no problem. But then he wanted me to run his review of the film. What?! Oh, and then he told me the film was nominated for a 2007 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film; even operating under the charitable assumption that he meant the 79th Academy Awards (the 2007 nominations won’t come out until next year), 9th Company was not in fact nominated, in that or any other category. (It was, however, Russia’s submission to the Academy.) The “Russia-focused organization” that this liar works for is an arm of the Discovery Institute (best known for pushing intelligent design and bus rapid transit). The movie, which Variety called “finely made propaganda,” is about the Soviet Union’s “victorious” war with Afghanistan. I don’t have a clue what the Discovery Institute dude means to accomplish by dissembling so blatantly, but I will say that this screening (of an apparently entertaining movie) is a sweet opportunity to get a peek inside the DI’s downtown HQ.
You’d think the guy would be grateful for the publicity—I even provided the email address for reservations. Here’s what he wrote me immediately following publication:
From: “Nick Slepko” To: “Annie Wagner” Subject: Re: film review parameters? Date: Thu, 22 Feb 2007 10:45:20 -0800
Thank you for the column inches. It was a good use of the interrobang.
But publicly, Slepko claims I have behaved badly. You can read his bizarre version of events here.
Pursuant to that blog post, anti-Putin blogger Kim Zigfeld emailed me her take on the DI’s interest in Russia: “My theory is that, perhaps, DI is attempting to ingratiate itself with the Putin regime so that, in exchange, it will allow DI to promulgate intelligent design in Russian schools. It certainly seems possible that they could have had a hand in financing this suit, though they’ve denied it.” I don’t know about all that (the DI’s Cascadia Institute doesn’t have anything to do with intelligent design), but it’s an interesting question.
Why the hell is the Discovery Institute meddling with ex-pat Russian politics?