Sunday, February 14, 2010

The New Cold War

. Sunday, February 14, 2010

Russia is laughing at us:

Even in Russia, the recent blizzards that have hit Washington have been noticed. Though not always sympathetically. Were Congress and other powerful institutions really closed, not to mention the schools? Did panicked residents actually strip stores of food, making the bare shelves resemble something from the Soviet era?

All because of the snow?

Russia, mindful that it trails the United States in many measures, tends to leap at any chance to promote its supremacy, and when it comes to wintry hardiness, there is, of course, no contest.

This is one cold war that Russia wins.

In their reports sent home, Russian journalists in Washington seemed to have a hard time suppressing their grins. Mikhail Solodovnikov of Russian state television did his segment wandering outside the Capitol without a hat, as if to demonstrate how positively temperate the place was. (It is practically against the law in Moscow to venture outside hatless in February.)

Of course, a big part of the freak-out in the States is the fact that these are rare events so our infrastructure isn't made for it. In the NC Triangle, even a couple of inches of snow is debilitating because we have few snow plows and don't salt the roads. Similarly, D.C. can handle a couple of inches but not a couple of feet. The fact that Moscow deals with this sort of thing all the time makes it much easier for them to deal with. Or does it?

In truth, while Russians have more experience with winter, they are not necessarily much better at cleaning up after it. First-time visitors to Moscow can be surprised at how the snow and ice are often allowed to linger.

The reasons vary. One is that local officials here are less responsive to public complaints than their American counterparts. So Russians complain less, publicly. That makes it hard to imagine a scandal like the one that engulfed Mayor John Lindsay of New York in 1969 over complaints of a failure to plow streets in Queens.

Russians, accustomed from Soviet times to having the government take care of things, do not always feel responsible for shoveling sidewalks. The country, for better or worse, does not have a very litigious culture, so people do not fear slip-and-fall lawsuits.

In general, Russians approach winter as they do many hardships, with an it-is-what-it-is fortitude.

Ah, I see: Russians are laughing at us because we'd rather stay home and warm rather than wreck our cars and break our necks trying to navigate treacherous roadways and city streets. We also expect our government to provide public goods, hold them accountable when they don't, and aren't masochistic.

I guess I can live with that.


The New Cold War
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