Specter

Specter

A weeklong electronic journal.
Jan. 10 1997 3:30 AM

Specter

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       Today I find myself praying for the good health of the president of Russia. This is not because I care for him so deeply. In fact, I don't care for him at all. It's just that, since he was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia last night, I have developed a serious headache. Even people who don't pay attention to what goes on in Russia--and I assume that includes most people, even the demographically attractive S

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reader--probably know that Boris Yeltsin has some health problems. Actually he is a walking basket case, a man who has admitted to drinking a bit too much from time to time (like from moment to moment), and who has been treated for depression, suffered from serious accidents and, only two months ago, had the most talked-about heart operation since Christian Barnard retired to a cattle farm.
       It is incredibly stupid to write the guy off. I know, having done it more than once. He always bounces back. At least he always has so far. Please God, don't fail me this time.
       Because if Boris Yeltsin dies, my year is shot.
       I like to travel around Russia and write stories about the people I meet and the places I go. I love it, in fact. I used to write about medicine for a living, and it was the best job I ever had until this one. But I didn't move here to become obsessed with Boris Yeltsin's ejection fraction. (No, it's not a sex term. It's a measure of the health of the heart.) When he gets sick, my editors get sicker. They want stories about the lining of his heart and the color of his blood. They want stories about Kremlin officials knifing each other in the back (those are kinda fun, I must admit, if a little on the dog-bites-man side).
       And if he dies, we in Russia will be subjected to a new presidential election, having just completed one. That means a new round of polling stories, stories about the farm vote and stories about young vs. old, poor vs. rich, village vs. city. It means yet again listening to Communist leaders give two-hour speeches about the glory of the past, and it means hearing image makers (we call them "eeemidge maykyers" in Russian) talk about the inevitability of their candidate's policies. I know the future of the world is at stake and all, but if I wanted to spend my life worrying about the gender gap, I would have moved to Washington. As my friend and former colleague Malcolm Gladwell pointed out in this ether not long ago, you don't want to start looking too closely at the deep meaning of newspaper stories or it gets kind of depressing--since there almost never is any deep meaning to be found. I am not complaining about the shallow nature of my job. I wallow in it. I just want to be able to rotate my clichés once in a while.
       So, long live Boris Yeltsin.

Michael Specter is Moscow bureau chief for the New York Times.