Russian dolls, doping and dirty secrets

I watched a documentary about sports doping last night and am still scared.

icarus_282017_film29Like a Russian nesting doll, Icarus is stuffed with more than it first appears. This year’s Oscar documentary winner starts as a simple story of an amateur bicyclist, Bryan Fogel, documenting his experiment with doping. It seems like a sporty version of Supersize Me, but instead of eating McDonalds every day, Fogel  injects himself with performance enhancing drugs. He gets advice on how to cheat from a master, the head of Russia’s anti-doping lab, Grigory Rodchenkov.

As the action moves to Russia, Icarus turns dark. It’s not one cyclist’s tale of scamming urine tests. Instead, the documentary delves into how Russia masterfully subverted Olympic sports, stealing victories and medals.

Watching the layers of intrigue about Russia’s sports doping, I tensed up, my mind spinning from sports to politics. The nesting doll of sports doping revealed Russia’s intricate maneuvers to get what it wants. Putin wanted a weak man, not a strong woman, in the White House.

Consider a few layers of our electoral Russian nesting doll:

  • Trump’s dependence on Russian money
  • Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chair, earned millions of dollars lobbying for a Russian-friendly political party in the Ukraine, and supposedly got more than $12 million dollars in secret cash payments from Ukrainian politician
  • New reports reveal that the one of Manafort’s key business associates, whom the New York Times calls, “his right hand man in Kiev,” had ongoing ties to Russian intelligence, including during the 2016 election when that former spy was in close communication with Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates
  • Cambridge Analytica, the data mining firm that sucked up 50 million Facebook users’ profiles while working for the Trump campaign, also had ties to Russia, and by the way, was launched in part by Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief political strategist.

It’s no wonder that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is still digging into the nested layers between Russia, Trump’s campaign, and this administration. Mueller already charged Manafort and Gates with conspiracy, money laundering and other crimes for hiding money they got for their Ukraine lobbying.

Delving into Russia’s secrets is dangerous. Icarus shows Rodchenko fleeing his country and spilling doping secrets to the New York Times, in a calculated bid to save his own life. Meanwhile, one of Rodchenko’s colleagues back in Russia dies mysteriously. The documentary notes that Russians are supposedly still searching for Rodchenkov. His future seems grim. I think of the former Russian spy and his daughter in England, poisoned with a toxic nerve agent that only Russia controls.

Putin injected poisons into our body politic, funneling money to the NRA, spreading lies, distortion and dissent with help from Facebook and  Cambridge Analytica, aided also by our own country’s toxic stew of sexism, racism and cynical political campaigning.

Russia doesn’t want its secrets revealed, be they sports doping or election tampering. Still, we  have enough evidence to know: Russia doped its athletes. Russia interfered with our election. Russia also likely meddled in the Brexit vote.  It’s as if Russia has doped the world, just as it doped its athletes.

U.S. intelligence leaders warn that Russia will again try to hack upcoming elections. Our weak president, seemingly in awe or fear of Putin, refuses to acknowledge Russia’s interference. 

Icarus chillingly showed how far Russia will go to win gold medals. We’re still learning what Russia might have done to grab the most coveted gold medal, our White House. Will our democracy be strong enough to recover from Russia’s political poisoning?

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Mystery, music, micro-cinemas

This Thursday, ditch your routine and treat yourself to a free, fresh evening of spirited local music, short videos and light snacks at East Side Freedom Library, 7:30 pm – 9 pm.

The night starts with new music from All That, a recent addition to the Twin Cities music scene, then the mood turns to mystery, the theme of the night’s screenings.  

The movies are short– twelve minutes max. In just 40 minutes, you’ll get to see eleven videos, all but one from Minnesota artists, including last year’s Creative Vision Award winner at the Altered Esthetics Film Festival.

Check out this sample of Thursday’s screening, and see you at the library for a lively night of indie art. THURSDAY, March 8, 7:30 PM MicroCinema #2: Mystery Vessel at East Side Freedom Library, 1105 Greenbrier Street, Saint Paul, 55106. Free and open to all. info@eastsidefreedomlibrary.org 651-230-3294

There’s still a few days to submit short experimental films and video art for this year’s Altered Esthetics Film Fest, May 31-June 2 at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis. Altered Esthetics received a Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.