BOT TAK!

It’s Friday and time to hit the news stands. Most of the papers are weeklies and you need to stop by and pick up the papers; that’s really important for us since we don’t have a TV. There is the Kazakhstan Monitor (English) with a lot of rehashed articles from the EU and the States as well as current articles on goings-on in the Land of Kaz. For Sophie doing banking consulting the financial pages are very insightful.

One the favorites is Res Publica. This paper is at times confiscated from newsstands and burned with TV film crews rolling the cameras for the benefit of viewers of the evening news. Res Publica is a cross between the National Inquirer and the Mirror in England; scandal, along with enough facts often neatly twisted to either make you laugh or full of outrage. The National Government of Kaz is usually outraged.

Res Publica is eligible for the torch and official ridicule due to its frequent criticism of members of President Neserbyev’s family. The paper regularly picks on the two daughters who control several TV and newspapers in the country along with other “wealth building” assets. There are 16 clans in Kazakhstan that control most of the economic action. Neserbyev, due to his visibility as head of government is often criticized for his family being too closely aligned with the clans and their economic activity. What can I say; it’s an interlocking directorate. Neserbyev was re-elected by a whopping 90+% plurality which Human Rights Watch roundly criticized. Dick Cheney and George Bush, Sr. like the guy and so do I! But you got to realize that although wealth is not evenly distributed in Kazakhstan, everyone is working and you get to see one of the best (worst) examples of wild capitalism to come down the pike in a very long time. Jay Gould and other robber baron-railroad tycoons of the American 1870-80‘s are smiling down from Heaven and seeing some pretty fast action. All of this will sort itself out in a few generations and the Kazaks will be dull regulated nerds just like Americans. But for now the “art of the deal” is the grist for Res Publica.

Next on my must-read list is “Temptations”. A polished yet incredibly shallow publication. It is the Kazak version of 5280 Magazine (actually it IS 5280 written in Russian). Lots of slick sexy ads beckoning you to partake of this perfume, that new BMW you’ve been wanting to buy on your $400.00 a month salary or a local watering hole/casino trying to take your money away from you and give you bad food at the same time. It has the occasional article on why men sleep facing away from their wives. I actually got some tips from this article as Sophie has roundly criticized me of late for not snuggling her enough.

Huge national wealth being laid on a former Soviet Republic can come with complications and side effects. The old system often gives way to the new in very crude ways. Seems local developers wanted a certain tract of land for re-development that was currently covered with run down Soviet era apartment buildings. The government (again in close alliance with the developers) comes in and “deals” with the 16,000 families affected – our oil-rich government writes out checks to each family ranging from $40,000-$60,000 USD and simultaneously issues 30 day notices to move. The elite American do-gooders like out friends at Human Rights Watch (they love Castro, that loon Hugo Chavez and they used to love Saddam Hussein) are of course outraged. No one locally in Almaty really complained. 60 Grand to a Kazak making $400 a month is a king’s ransom. The only downside is dumping the 16,000 families on a housing market already stretched to the limit. But people double up, the ratty old housing is raised and makes way for new construction and we wait patiently for Trickle Down to start working. And it is.

Greed is in and everyone who has a chance at the gold ring will step on the next guy’s neck to get ahead. There are no rules of the road so to speak (literally and figuratively). And where is that golden middle of having rules, obeying them but yet keeping that spontaneity that is so evident here? It’s what we American nostalgists would call that “Old Pioneer Spirit”; “give it hell”, “damn the torpedoes”, “go ahead make my day”, kind of folks.

But I digress on matters socio-economic. Back to my favorite publications…..and my most favorite IS……….

Bot Tak (pronounced Vot Tak) which means “Like This”. Picture if you will a magazine cover with a barely pubescent girl in a training bra smiling broadly at you though the finger-print smudged glass of the newsstand kiosk. I have Sophie inquire of the newsstand proprietress what Bot Tak is about. She informs us it is a book of crossword puzzles for the serious puzzler – and there are young naked girls on alternating pages! I now know that Kazakhstan will thrive and blossom with this kind of niche marketing exploiting the masses.

Bits and Pieces……..blood bank egalitarianism NYET, look out for ME – DA; logical on $400.00 a month. One of the big scandals exploited not only by Res Publica but the more reputable papers was the health department scandal in the southwest part of the country where 55 children were transfused with HIV-tainted blood. For those of you who remember that only happened once in the States back in the 80’s when a little boy in Houston got a unit of blood that had the AIDs virus. He later died. But before he died the FDA and the US Blood Banking system make massive changes in how pre-screening was conducted and made mandatory testing of each unit of blood the norm. To the surprise of many, Neserbyev sacked the Minister of Health.

This medical catastrophe is symptomatic of a healthcare system where, if you are unlucky enough to be a patient in a local hospital, your family and friends will be brining you your food, sheets and blankets – yet another reason why we in the U.S. should NEVER, EVER, EVER have socialized medicine. This tragedy of these 55 innocents has once again brought to light the inadequacies of the old socialist system; it is populated with stressed and underpaid phlebotomists (they make $250.00 a month) and antiquated procedures and equipment; nothing there to propel change. You all know me, I am a regular every 56 days to go and donate blood – but not here. Even as a donor, I don’t feel comfortable with the sanitary protocols in place. Everyone remind Jim Colt, Mary Martling, Deb Durant and Ron Fregosi to go roll up those sleeves in my absence and give a unit every 56 days; tell the Bonfils gang “hi” for me. The rest of you do the same! Roll up those sleeves.

Continued bad manners in cars………….what can I say. Part of this Pioneer Spirit extends to cars. On the way home tonight, I saw a J-Walker laying face down in the street with blood gushing from his head. Cars show very little quarter to pedestrians. To me it is a mark of not quite embracing the concept of a civil society.

Well it’s off to bed. We are heading out to a hike into the Kazak Grand Canyon tomorrow. It’s Charan Canyon.

Men, keep looking for the cross word puzzle books with the silver lining………..

P.S. a BIG P.S………..Sophie and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary, yesterday Thursday. We are laying plans for our next ten and where we might end up……I’m hoping for St. Petersburg, Russia; Sophie wants to be back home in Yekaterinburg. It’s growing enough to support consulting in her field………time will tell.

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