Orlov is one of our favorite essayists on Russia and all sorts of other things. He moved to the US as a child, and lives in the Boston area.
He is one of the better-known thinkers The New Yorker has dubbed ‘The Dystopians’ in an excellent 2009 profile, along with James Howard Kunstler, another regular contributor to RI (archive). These theorists believe that modern society is headed for a jarring and painful crack-up.
He is best known for his 2011 book comparing Soviet and American collapse (he thinks America’s will be worse). He is a prolific author on a wide array of subjects, and you can see his work by searching him on Amazon.
He has a large following on the web, and on Patreon, and we urge you to support him there, as Russia Insider does.
His current project is organizing the production of affordable house boats for living on. He lives on a boat himself.
If you haven’t discovered his work yet, please take a look at his archive of articles on RI. They are a real treasure, full of invaluable insight into both the US and Russia and how they are related.
If you have visited Russia in recent years, Moscow and St. Petersburg especially, but also a lot of the up-and-coming provincial cities, you will have noticed that Russia these days is a pretty normal place.
It’s a mundane bit of reality that the easier the travel, the more similar will be the place you arrive from to the one you left: trains or taxis to take you to and from airports, ATM machines that spit out local currency, hotels with shiny baubles in the lobby and hot and cold running water in the bathrooms, plenty of places to eat out, including McDonalds and Pizza Hut if you don’t like the local cuisine, and free Wi-Fi all over the place.
There are lots of signs in English, the bus stops are announced in both Russian and English, and if you get lost Google Maps will tell you where you are and how to get back to your hotel. And if you fancy shopping or entertainment, there are scores of shopping and entertainment centers to choose from featuring all of the global brands.
There are still some Russia-specific oddities you might spot: border guards with machine guns on the tarmac as your plane taxis up to the terminal (the Russians take border security very seriously); people wearing lots of fur, the better dressed women especially (you can blame the mostly freezing weather). Some provincial facilities may still look a bit old-fashioned, but many of the big cities are now newer-looking and shinier than a lot of the ones in Europe or the US.
If you talk to the locals, you will find them quite willing to speak their minds and express a wide range of political opinions. Nobody will be looking over their shoulder and, no, you won’t be assigned a minder to follow you around.
And if you have been visiting Russia periodically, every few years, as I have for many decades, you will have found that it has been changing at breakneck speed. It was a complete wreck of a place in the early to mid-nineties: dirty, seedy, disorganized, depressed, crime-ridden and generally dangerous. Service was rude or nonexistent and nothing moved without a bribe or two.
That Russia is now almost completely gone. Most of the cars on the streets are of foreign brands, although mostly built in Russian factories. A continuous building boom has transformed the built-up environment. But the people have also changed: they are, on the whole, much better behaved and polite, and many are very professional and enthusiastic about their jobs. In particular, the young people in Russia are distinctly proud of their country and are hopeful about its future. This raw dynamism is quite striking.
Thus, if you were to go and see for yourself, and took the time to keep track of developments over time and to judge the general trends, you would reach the inevitable conclusion that Russia is a normal country. Your experiences there would allow you to judge that it is quite rich, rather prosperous, and socially and politically stable.
And yet when you travel back to Europe, the US, Canada, or any of the other countries dominated by Western media companies and consortia, you will be told that Russia is strange, evil, ruled by a ruthless dictator and hell-bent on expanding its territory and threatening its neighbors. Why is there this disconnect, and what is the major impetus to demonize Russia? And why isn’t there a parallel effort by Russia to demonize the West?
If you dig a bit deeper, you will find that this demonization relies on a set of lies:
You may have heard that Russia invaded Georgia in 2008—a blatant act of aggression. Well, no, on that occasion Georgian troops shelled Russian peacekeepers in neighboring South Ossetia, and Russian troops restored the peace, briefly rolling into Georgia in pursuit of retreating Georgian troops, and quickly withdrawing once the threat to Ossetia had been neutralized.
You may have heard that Russia had invaded the Ukraine in 2014. Well, again, no, what happened in the Ukraine was that the constitutional government was overthrown in a violent coup, and the newly installed nationalists threatened the rights of the Russian population living in the east of the country. It had been part of Russia for many centuries, up to less than a hundred years ago, when it was reassigned from Russia to the Ukraine by Vladimir Lenin. Russia did offer it help, both political and humanitarian, but well short of invading, and has withheld political recognition.
You may have heard that Russia had invaded and annexed Crimea. But Crimea had been part of Russia from 1783 and ended up as part of the Ukraine when the USSR fell apart (a transfer of questionable legality). After the unfortunate events of 2014 in Kiev, 97% of Crimea’s residents voted in a referendum to rejoin Russia. Russian troops, already stationed in Crimea under an international agreement, successfully kept the peace during this transfer.
• You may have heard that Russian troops are in Syria to prop up a ruthless dictator, Bashar al Assad, who uses chemical weapons against his own people. But the reason Russian troops went into Syria was to fight ISIS (a.k.a. the Islamic State or the Caliphate). You see, there were hundreds of thousands of ISIS fighters in Syria. Something like half of them were from Russia or from former Soviet republics, and the Russian language was as common within ISIS as Arabic. The Russians wisely decided that it was safer and cheaper to stamp out this scourge in Syria, rather than wait for it to spread to countries further north and closer to Russia. Saving Syria from destruction was a welcome side-effect, but the self-interested goal was to be proactive in saving Russian lives.
As far as chemical weapons, I would again encourage you to do your own research, but my conclusion is that they were once fashionable for “exterminating the brutes.” For instance, Winston Churchill was once determined to use them against the Russian Bolsheviks. But now such terminology is out of favor, and chemical weapons are only useful in provocations, to accuse one’s enemies of committing atrocities, to serve as a fake casus belli. The Syrians in particular voluntarily gave up all of their chemical weapons, and the Americans removed them and destroyed them under an international inspections regime. The recent fake chemical attack in Syria’s Ghouta looks like complete nonsense…
…as do all of the preceding propagandistic claims, but this does not deter Western governments and media sources from endlessly repeating them.
That is the essence of propaganda: pick some big lies, repeat them endlessly, and accuse anybody who is willing to contradict them with consorting with the enemy. Anybody who dares to challenge the propaganda narrative is automatically either a “Kremlin bot” or “Putin’s stooge.” This is, of course, a convenient dodge. When all sorts of things are going wrong, from lost wars to stolen elections to stolen retirements to stolen futures of one’s children to weapons systems that don’t work, it is easiest to find a single scapegoat. For such a huge set of problems, the scapegoat has to be a very large one, and Russia just happens to be the right size.
But what about counterpropaganda? Aren’t the Russian government and media just as guilty of taking liberties with the truth? Once again, I would very much encourage you to do your own research (for which knowledge of Russian is, unfortunately, a requirement).
I have been a faithful student of Russian media for many years, and I have come to the conclusion that they are almost entirely reactive. That is, they do respond to the lies thrown in their faces, but they do so with facts and with evidence rather than with even more powerful lies of their own. You might imagine that perhaps the Russians just love the truth too much, or care too much about the salvation of their souls, but I am far too cynical for that. I am more comfortable with a rational explanation for this behavior, rather than an emotional or a spiritual one.
Luckily, there is an obvious one. As the United States is steadily losing its grip on its affairs, both foreign and domestic, other countries are starting to go their separate ways. This is both a positive and a potentially very dangerous development. The positive aspect is that as the US empire fades out, the dramatic financial and trade imbalances that have been allowed to build up over decades, protected by the threat of US sanctions and military aggression against anyone who dares to defy the primacy of the US dollar, will be allowed to correct themselves. The negative aspect is that the imperial discipline that has kept multiple international conflicts frozen will no longer be in effect, and things run the risk of becoming dangerously unstuck.
Russia has been in the forefront of the movement to shift the world order from US-dominated unipolarity to multipolarity, and it is interested in having this process proceed smoothly. What allows countries to resolve their differences peacefully is international law. In turn, international law does not have some sort of supranational enforcement mechanism—no country has a monopoly on violence, and countries that transgress do not get sent to jail. Instead, the entire mechanism relies on everyone’s consent to abide by international agreements. And to reach consent all of the participants have to be able to participate in a single consensual reality—a single set of verifiable facts. This is why Russian counterpropaganda would be a nonstarter: it would endanger that consensual reality.
As long as you have a single madman, and his various remaining henchmen, bouncing around in their padded cell, spewing forth a torrent of lies (and a few delusional presidential tweets) the rest of the world can point and say that that is specifically not what they agree to talk about. Then they can turn their backs on the madman and hold their own discussions, agree to procedures for verifying facts, negotiate agreements and so on. But if the entire planet is overrun with lots of little madmen, each concocting their own distorted, delusional version of reality, then no such constructive dialogue becomes possible, and the world edges closer to war.
Thus, the safest course of action is to be careful with facts, refuse to repeat propagandistic falsehoods, and wait patiently until the madman in his padded cell runs out of steam, because time is definitely not on his side.
The Rise and Fall of Victoria’s Secret: A dictatorship of perfection and misogyny: a look into Victoria’s Secret’s angels and demons | Society
For the lingerie brand Victoria’s Secret, once the head of an empire, the past decade has been turbulent. Gone are the golden days when the world stood still to watch the brand’s annual show. Its carefully chosen models, the so-called angels, represented a beauty standard unattainable to most women, and they paraded the runway in glittering wings and minuscule diamond-cut lingerie.
The shows, which lasted for 23 years, were considered the Super Bowl of fashion. They featured performances by pop singers including Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars, The Weeknd, Taylor Swift and Beyoncé. Until its last edition, held in Paris in 2018, the event represented the fantasy that Victoria’s Secret marketed. It launched the careers of models Gisele Bündchen, Adriana Lima, Heidi Klum and Alessandra Ambrossio, among others.
The women showed off almost superhuman physiques, sculpted through rigorous training and starved in the days leading up to the parade. But the brand’s image no longer has a place in a #MeToo-era society, now more willing to champion body positive, diversity and inclusivity and to denounce sexual harassment and the hypersexualization of women’s bodies.
The new three-part documentary series The Rise and Fall of Victoria’s Secret explores the brand’s shadows. The production, which premiered on June 18 at the Tribeca Film Festival, combines first-hand accounts with deep investigation to reveal the brand’s inner workings. “Truth is not what it seems, as the underworld of fashion, the billionaire class, and Jeffrey Epstein are revealed to all be inextricably intertwined with the fall of this legendary brand,” reads the summary of the miniseries, directed by Peter Berg and Matt Tyrnauer. It will be available to stream on Hulu starting July 14.
A culture of misogyny and the descent to hell
The film promises to uncover the lingerie empire’s links with sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein. A 2019 New York Times investigation revealed that in the 1990s, a financial adviser close to Leslie H. Wexner, executive director of the company L Brands—Victoria’s Secret parent company—worked as a model recruiter for the brand in exchange for sexual favors. This adviser would later be found to be Epstein, a millionaire accused of sex trafficking who later commited suicide in jail while awaiting trial. Subsequently, Wexner has repeatedly claimed to feel “ashamed” by his friendly relationship with the pedophile.
But Victoria’s Secret’s fall in popularity came before this scandal. In 2018, the company lost almost 50% of its value. That same year, which marked the last parade, the show reached the lowest audience in its history since its start in 1995: 3.3 million viewers compared to the usual 10 million.
That year, the company’s marketing director, Ed Razek, made clear his opposition to gender diversity in an interview with Vogue. “Shouldn’t you have transsexuals in the show? No, I don’t think we should. Well, why not? Because the show is a fantasy. It’s a 42-minute entertainment special. That’s what it is. It is the only one of its kind in the world,” said the 71-year-old manager, who resigned from his position in 2019.
The rampant misogyny and harassment from company higher-ups was the final straw for the brand. In 2021, the New York Times published an extensive investigation entitled “‘Angels’ in Hell: The Culture of Misogyny Inside Victoria’s Secret,” in which more than 30 executives, employees, contractors and models denounced the company’s practices.
Rebel Angels and a change of direction
The Victoria’s Secret bubble ended up bursting with the resignation of several of its most iconic figures: Adriana Lima hung up her wings in 2018, claiming to be fed up with the dictatorship of perfection and the pressures on her physique. “I will not take of [sic] my clothes again for an empty cause,” she wrote in an Instagram post.
Gisele Bündchen, who signed her contract with the brand at the age of 19, confessed in her autobiography that after years parading in her underwear, she began to feel uncomfortable. She wrote that she felt “less and less relaxed” when photographed on the catwalk in just a bikini or a thong. In the same book, she wrote of suffering from panic attacks and suicidal thoughts during one of the most successful periods of her career.
Victoria’s Secret changed directions in 2020, when L Brands sold the company to the Sycamore Partners fund for just over $1 billion (€953 million), in a last-ditch effort to save the brand.
After Raezk resigned, in a last attempt to save its reputation, the company hired the transgender model Valentina Sampaio. It also included Winnie Harlow, a Canadian model with vitiligo, as an angel, and Lorena Durán became the brand’s first plus-size model.
Seeking to adapt to changing social norms, in 2021, the company announced partnerships with influential figures in culture and sports: American soccer player Megan Rapinoe, Indian actress Priyanka Chopra, Chinese skier Eileen Gu and plus-size model Paloma Elsesser. It also announced that it would no longer refer to its models as “angels.” With that once-unthinkable gesture, Victoria’s Secret finally returned to earth.
Sex education: The creator of CLIMAX: ‘Good sex is like cooking, but there aren’t recipes for female pleasure on the internet’ | Society
Our ways of watching television have changed. No longer do we sit down to see what’s on TV, instead subscribing to platforms where we can watch our favorite content. But can that formula translate to content beside series, documentaries and movies? Can it be used to change the way we experience sex education? CLIMAX, a platform of sex education videos, is trying it out.
The platform started as an explicit educational series dedicated to female pleasure. Far from pornography, it was particularly directed towards women and sought to give advice and ideas for greater self-knowledge and sexual enjoyment. But that was just the beginning. As Camille Mariau, CLIMAX’s director of projects, explains, they are currently working on “a monthly membership platform dedicated to sexual wellbeing. The users will ahve access to periodic new content, ordered by topic (pleasrue for people with vulvas, for those with penises, tantric sex, oral sex, post-partum sex, etc.). We really want to create the perfect guide to help our users deconstruct their ideas about sexuality.” Currently, the platform has partnerships with educational and healthcare institutions, in order to bring education about female sexuality to all parts of society.
Laurène Dorléac is an expert in the technology market and co-creator of CLIMAX. “Not only is female pleasure little understood, but I also realized that taboos around the subject are still very present.” That’s why, despite her lack of experience in the area, she decided to venture into the topic. “Good sex is like cooking: it’s a creative process that requires practice, experimentation and care to have a good flavor. There are plenty of recipes and cooking classes, but we can’t find anything satisfactory about female pleasure on the Internet! That’s what led me to create the platform, so that we can all have access to better sexual education.”
The project brought together international studies, advice from psychologists and sexologists and over 100,000 testimonies. “Pleasure is a very serious thing, and it deserves a very rigorous approach,” she says.
CLIMAX comes to Spain
While the project was founded in France, currently, 40 percent of its subscribers are outside of the country, largely in the United States and United Kingdom. The team is optimistic about the Spanish market. “The market seems to be ready for a project like this. More than talking about pleasure, we really want people to have easy access to safe information about sexual education,” says Camille Mariau. Since the project launched in Spain just a few months ago, most of its users are between 28 and 45 years old, and, surprisingly, they are divided 50/50 between men and women.
To spread the news about the project, they have the help of Teresa Riott, known for her role as Nerea in the Netflix series Valeria, who narrates the videos. “It seems to me like a new idea in education, and it’s very necessary in order to better understand all the possibilities of our pleasure. CLIMAX has also had success in other countries. I’ve learned a lot about female sexuality in the process,” the actress explains.
She emphasizes that “they are videos that you can watch alone, in private, and you can experiment,” which “gives people confidence to explore their bodies without concerns.”
The platform’s content is explicit, but tasteful; obvious, but well-presented. It repeats explanations we have read in plenty of books, but which acquire a new dimension when we can see them on a screen: without drawings, diagrams or taboos, simply showing how to stimulate a vulva. The videos are meant to educate, not to excite, and they have no resemblance to porn. The images are accompanied by Riott’s voice, which explains each step in a clear and simple way, adding touches of scientific information. It explains not only how to stimulate the vulva, but also how and why the stimulation works.
We’ve learned that it’s much easier to exercise at home, or even to do home improvement projects, with the help of a Youtube tutorial video that shows us each step. So it makes all the sense in the world that we can use tutorials to learn how to excite our bodies, moving step-by-step over each part of our anatomy.
The platform is also notable for its diversity, not only in the appearances of the vulvas on screen, but also in the techniques proposed. It includes videos of 19 different masturbation techniques. In Spain, female masturbation has experienced a revolution in recent years. The brand Lelo, specialized in clitoral suction toys, increased its sales by 440% in 2019. The Satisfyer toy was even more popular: it registered an increase in sales of 1,300% in 2020, to the point that it had to resort to European countries to restock the toys during one of the busiest months of the year. Those toys finally normalized female masturbation. Vibrators themselves have also experienced their own revolution. Their technology and shapes have become more sophisticated, and they have become more effective and discreet. And Gwyneth Paltrow’s website Goop now features Viva la Vulva, an “extra-silent” vibrator model that can be used at any time without making any noise. Such devices are proof that manufacturers have taken pains to innovate their products for female pleasure, until recently a forgotten sector. Gone are the old dildos and penis replicas.
Beyond masturbation, with or without the help of toys, the content of CLIMAX “is like an encyclopedia of ideas that you can choose and use to enrich your sexual life. It can help you be more creative, learn moves that women with vulvas might like, etc. It can also be used as a basis to start a conversation with your partner about what you like, what you want to try or not. We want to give people the opportunity to get to know their own body or the body of their partner better,” explains Mariau.
To that end, the first two seasons are entirely scientifically based. To develop the content, 74 international scientific studies, widely referenced and accepted by the scientific community, were consulted. “There is one study that I find special: Shere Hite’s ‘The New Hite Report,’ a bestseller that has sold tens of millions of copies, which describes how women feel during different sexual activities and when they orgasm with greater frequency,” Mariau says.
In addition to a surge in vibrator sales, women have been consuming more porn than ever in recent years. According to a study by Pornhub on porn consumption in the pandemic, women increased the amount of porn they consumed by 17.5%. Audio porn, one of the latest developments in the industry, is particularly popular among women. And websites for pornographic content aimed at women, taking into account the tastes and aesthetics that female arousal requires, have proliferated in recent years.
Mission: equality in pleasure
The work of Shere Hite is one of the great sources of inspiration for CLIMAX. The late writer and sexologist was especially interested in the female orgasm. She interviewed some 3,500 American women, from prostitutes to former nuns, to create ‘The Hite Report: A Nationwide Study of Female Sexuality’ in 1976. Among her conclusions stood out two ideas: first, that few women reached orgasm through intercourse (only 30%), although they did through masturbation. Secondly, the clitoris was the key to climax.
CLIMAX is organized into several themes, which are available in different subscription packs: external pleasure (10 episodes), internal pleasure (11 episodes) and tantra exercises (7 episodes).
“Our mission is to equalize pleasure in a world where women report being less satisfied than men in their sexual activities, feeling less pleasure and having fewer orgasms. Education will make it possible,” the expert concludes.
Sonny Barger, founder of Hells Angels, dies at 83 | USA
Sonny Barger, the founding member of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, died on Thursday in California at the age of 83. Barger was the face of the biker gang that became one of the main counterculture movements in the United States in the 1960s. Barger’s family confirmed his death in a message on Facebook. “Please know that I passed peacefully after a brief battle with cancer,” the message stated.
Sonny Barger – whose real name was Ralph Hubert Barger – was born in northern California, and taught himself to ride a motorcycle when he was 11 years old. It was an American-made Cushman scooter. From that moment on, he tried to only assemble motorbikes with parts made in the US, a task that became increasingly difficult as the world became more open to international trade.
In 1957, he founded the Hells Angels chapter in Oakland, California. This chapter was founded nine years after the first one opened in Fontana, in the same state. Barger was the national president of the Hells Angels, a group that became notorious for its links to violent and organized crime. Barger was arrested more than 20 times and spent 13 years of his life in prison for different crimes. In November 1992, for example, he was released from federal prison after spending four years behind bars for organizing to kill members of the rival Outlaws Motorcycle Club. When his parole came to an end in 1994, 700 bikers came out to celebrate the news.
But the darkest chapter of the Hells Angels took place on December 6, 1969. That night, the biker members were hired as security guards at the Altamont Free Concert in California, where the Rolling Stones performed. Representatives of the band reportedly offered the Hells Angels $500 worth of beer in exchange for providing security. Members of the biker gang had worked without incident as security at concerts for bands such as The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane. But at the Altamont Free Concert, which brought together 300,000 people, the situation became violent. During the Rolling Stones’ performance, fights broke out in the audience. Meredith Hunter, an 18-year-old concertgoer, was stabbed to death by a member of the Hells Angels after approaching the stage. The incident was caught on camera and became a central scene in the Maysles Brothers documentary Gimme Shelter, in which Barger admitted the bikers did not have the training to do security work. A few days after the concert, in a call to a local radio station, he said: “I ain’t no cop. I ain’t never gonna police nothin.’”
The incident stained the image of the Hells Angels and Barger – who had the name Hell’s Angels Oakland tattooed on his right shoulder – struggled for several years to change the gang’s violent reputation. “Catholics probably commit more crimes than we ever thought of,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1994 after being released from prison on parole. “Probably politicians commit more crimes.”
Writer Hunter S. Thompson compared the biker gang to the student protesters of the 1960s, who paved the way for civil rights in America. “The difference between the student radicals and the Hells Angels is that the students are rebelling against the past, while the Angels are fighting the future. Their only common ground is their disdain for the present, or the status quo,” he wrote in his book Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs.
The Hells Angels were one of America’s most striking subcultures, and their influence can be seen in many areas of society. In one of his books, Barger claims that Harley-Davidson – the motorcycle brand favored by the group – adopted the gang’s ideas into its models. Barger played himself in the 1967 film Hells Angels on Wheels, where he appeared alongside Jack Nicholson. He also had a small role in the TV show Sons of Anarchy.
Barger was a difficult character to define. He got up at 4.30am to feed his dogs and horses, then worked out for three hours, doing weights and going jogging. By 8am, he was on his motorcycle and driving down an off-beaten track. Unlike the stereotypical biker, he wore a helmet that covered his entire face. This was due to the fact that he had his vocal cords removed in 1982 after suffering from throat cancer.
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