poemless. a slap in the face of public taste.

July 31, 2009

Odds & Ends: New Blog Edition

Filed under: Culture: U.S.,Odds & Ends — poemless @ 2:44 PM
Tags: , , ,

What do they call a christening when atheists do it?

I have not the time for a proper Odds & Ends. But I would like to get some actual content – content that is not about me – up on this blog. (Ok, that part is about me too, fine.) But while I (fine, it is always about me) will be spending the weekend learning how to win elections and influence voters (I almost don’t want to know, you know?) perhaps you are looking for a book to take the beach, a bit of humourous, light reading, or more reasons to weep for our county? Perhaps you haven’t done something so daft as to pay people to give you homework (they said there would be drinks, not homework) and are looking for a way to fritter away your hard-earned leisure time? Perhaps you would like to come with me … into my little fun house of horrors?

A Book:

I have just completed Stephen Cohen’s newest book, “Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War”. (My spell-checker wants to change Stalinism to Satanism! wtf?) I plan to write up a more in-depth review in the future. Apparently so does Sean Guillory. Who will get to it first? Ach! Too much competition in blog world! Probably Stephen doesn’t care much if two separate bloggers both review his book, since unfortunately that’s probably the only access most people will have to its contents. Seriously, I had to have it special-ordered, and extra-specially at that. In my universe Borders would have this book displayed front-and-center, face-out in the aisles, and by the cafe cash register. Complementary copies with every purchase of a cappuccino. In my universe Borders would not sell singing fish. Besides, even if Sean does review it, his review will differ greatly from mine, because I intend to devote the majority of my review to an angry rant about the use of ENDNOTES which are indeed being used very evilly in this book.

Ceci n’est pas une revue:

It’s excepts from an interview with Cohen. The whole interview is located in the Rorotoko link above.

“On page 116 I pose the question: How is the historic end of the Soviet Union to be explained? This is a question discussed in most American high schools and colleges. And the answer is almost always that the Soviet Union ended for two reasons: because it was evil, and because we defeated it.

But according to the Bible, evil does not end. So that’s not even a good theological argument. And it is a historical misrepresentation to say we “defeated” the Soviet Union. Ronald Reagan would be among the first to tell you that was not what happened. Reagan, and after him the first President Bush, said that the end of the Cold War had been negotiated, by the both sides, without winners or losers.

In the ten or so pages following page 116, I challenge prevailing clichéd explanations that appear in our media, our textbooks, and our discourse, about why the Soviet Union ended.

Many of these “explanations” are simply mythical. Some say that the Soviet Union died because its economy failed. Well, first of all, there are no cases in modern history of large states dying of economic crisis. Ours didn’t die during the Great Depression. And, in the 1990s, after the end of the Soviet Union, the post-Soviet Russian state survived an even greater economic crisis.

Or, it is often said that there was famine in the Soviet Union in 1991, and that’s why it ended. But there was no famine. People do not know that almost all Soviet workers and schoolchildren had their main meal of the day, what we call “lunch,” not at home, but at school or at the place where they worked. And those cafeterias were still functioning fairly well, as I know from my personal experiences.

I’m struck by the fact that soon after the Soviet Union ended in December 1991, Washington, the American media, textbooks, virtually all of our opinion-makers, created a new triumphalist narrative of our recent history. After the Clinton administration took office in January 1993, we came to believe that by defeating the Soviet Union, we had emerged as a historic triumphant nation. There was a sense that if we could defeat the mighty Soviet Union, we could defeat anyone. That mindset helped lead us into Iraq. It’s the triumphalist foreign policy we have pursued since we came to believe we “defeated” the Soviet Union that has led us into catastrophic situations, since 1991.”

Gratuitous quoting, breaking laws of the universe. I’m incorrigible.

“Russia has long been part of our own political history, and is likely to remain so. And our relationship with Russia today is even more dangerous than it was during the Cold War.

During the Cold War, both sides had their weapons of mass destruction under firm control. That is no longer fully the case in Russia. The state remains weak. Some Americans hope that the Russian state will be destabilized and collapse, even though that could bring about the world’s biggest Wal-Mart of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

I don’t expect all my readers to accept all the answers I give. I’d be happy if readers quarrel with me. But I do want them to rethink the questions I raise.

You often hear, for example, that the Soviet Union “collapsed.” But in reality the Soviet Union did not collapse! It was abolished. But once you say it “collapsed,” you have answered the question of what happened at this historic turning point. Wrongly. And you then draw wrong conclusions for today.

If the question is wrong, then the answer is wrong. The questions asked define the answers governments and people live by.”


An Article:

Ok, Sean really did post this first. He’s going to think I’m plagarizing his blog. No! Go read his blog, not this one! Go! Well, the fact is there are people who read ET and might read this who don’t read his blog, so a serious tip of the shapka to him and hopefully all is forgiven.

Smithsonian: Nikita Khrushchev Goes to Hollywood

This is one of the funniest things I read in a while. It was positively made for Odds & Ends!

Excerpts, gratuitous, again.

At first, Marilyn, who never read the papers or listened to the news, had to be told who Khrushchev was,” Lena Pepitone, Monroe’s maid, recalled in her memoirs. “However, the studio kept insisting. They told Marilyn that in Russia, America meant two things, Coca-Cola and Marilyn Monroe. She loved hearing that and agreed to go….She told me that the studio wanted her to wear the tightest, sexiest dress she had for the premier.”

“I guess there’s not much sex in Russia,” Marilyn told Pepitone.

Well, that wasn’t my experience, Marilyn…

Charlton Heston, who’d once played Moses, attempted to make small talk with Mikhail Sholokhov, the Soviet novelist who would win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1965. “I have read excerpts from your works,” Heston said. “Thank you,” Sholokhov replied. “When we get some of your films, I shall not fail to watch some excerpts from them.”

This is hi-larious to me for personal reasons. I myself was at a reception with Heston, at my college dorm, (he went to my college.) The whole event was surreal, with people boycotting it, and Charleton reciting lines from Moses, unsolicited. At one point, a friend of mine went up to him, possibly on a dare – we were like 18 yrs old, and said, “I thought you were brilliant in Planet of the Apes.” That simple gesture has become legend in my circle. No one who was there will ever forget it.

Ok, here’s the part about Disneyland”

Earlier, when Khrushchev and his entourage had expressed interest in going to Disneyland, Parker had assured Lodge that he could provide adequate security. But during the drive from the airport to the studio, somebody threw a big, ripe tomato at Khrushchev’s limo. It missed, splattering the chief’s car instead.
Now, Parker leaned over and whispered into Lodge’s ear. “I want you, as a representative of the president, to know that I will not be responsible for Chairman Khrushchev’s safety if we go to Disneyland.”

That got Lodge’s attention. “Very well, Chief,” he said. “If you will not be responsible for his safety, we do not go, and we will do something else.”


“What is it? Is there an epidemic of cholera there? Have gangsters taken hold of the place? Your policemen are so tough they can lift a bull by the horns. Surely they can restore order if there are any gangsters around. I say, ‘I would very much like to see Disneyland.’ They say, ‘We cannot guarantee your security.’ Then what must I do, commit suicide?”

Khrushchev was starting to look more angry than amused. His fist punched the air above his red face.

“That’s the situation I find myself in,” he said. “For me, such a situation is inconceivable. I cannot find words to explain this to my people.”

The audience was baffled. Were they really watching the 65-year-old dictator of the world’s largest country throw a temper tantrum because he couldn’t go to Disneyland?

Sitting in the audience, Nina Khrushchev told David Niven that she really was disappointed that she couldn’t see Disneyland. Hearing that, Sinatra, who was sitting next to Mrs. Khrushchev, leaned over and whispered in Niven’s ear.

“Screw the cops!” Sinatra said. “Tell the old broad that you and I will take ‘em down there this afternoon.”

Brilliant. That’s just so Sinatra. Or so Italian wise guy, as my Sicilian step-father says that kinda all the time. It’s practically his motto. 😉

And the Can-Can:

Later, Khrushchev would denounce the dance as pornographic exploitation, though at the time he seemed happy enough. “I was watching him,” said Richard Townsend Davies of the State Department, “and he seemed to be enjoying it.”

A News Item:

I saw this on Russia Today. I have relatives who live in Missouri. I’m hardly shocked, meaning I don’t think this is crazy Russkie anti-American propaganda. I drive through Missouri in a state of awe and horror as one “Jesus Saves!” billboard follows one “XXXLiveNudeGirls! Next Exit!” billboard after the other, for hours on end… It makes me think of the singing fish, and how the people who buy them are probably the same people who would say something like, “If God’d wanted fishes ta sing, he’d a made em that way.” Anyway… Get yer Kalashnikovs on, kids.

RT: Gun admirers flock to US car dealership:

I’ve watched this a billion times now and still can’t figure out what the hell that kangaroo is doing in there!

A Music Video:

I have had Lou Reed’s “Satellite of Love” in my head for weeks. In part because I keep listening to Transformer over and over. There is something about Akvarium’s “S Utra Shel Sneg” that is eerily similar to “Satellite of Love”,, and I’m obsessing about it. Anyway, it is a fine song in its own right, and I thought I’d post it for some Friday wind-down music. Then, lo, I went to You Tube and found this!

Musically, I don’t like this version very much at all. And I am not too keen on animation, or Lego people. Lego people are quite creepy, I think. But the message of this video! What serendipity that I should discover this for the first real post on my blog! What a happy note to end on!

Ok, that’s all for now, mes amis. Have a lovely weekend. And thank you for reading.


  1. Christening for an atheist?

    Isn’t that called “tying one on”?

    Comment by redstar — July 31, 2009 @ 3:07 PM | Reply

    • And that is what I am about to go do!

      Comment by poemless — July 31, 2009 @ 3:07 PM | Reply

  2. Still fiddling about with the bells and the whistles. And the basics. I wish I could shade in the blockquotes…

    Comment by poemless — July 31, 2009 @ 3:07 PM | Reply

  3. Re the collapse of the Soviet Union – because Gorbachev let it, by ceasing economic coercion.

    There’s a good article by Mark Harrison, Are command economies unstable? why did the soviet economy collapse?

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — July 31, 2009 @ 9:56 PM | Reply

    • Thanks for this – I will read it when I get chance.

      Cohen’s book argues that, well, obviously there were many factors, but ultimately it ended because Yeltsin signed an agreement dissolving it in a power grab, and Gorbachev had no political capital to do much about it, since he’d alienated his reform allies by not reforming enough and his conservative allies by not being conservative enough. Well, that’s the Cliff’s Note version…

      Comment by poemless — August 3, 2009 @ 11:39 AM | Reply

  4. Humanising?

    Comment by ceebs — August 1, 2009 @ 6:57 AM | Reply

  5. The increasing use of endnotes rather than footnotes drives me crazy too. I’m actually one of those people that constantly flips back to see what’s being cited. At least publishers could do is have “notes pgs x-x” at the top of each notes page. That way I don’t have to constantly keep my thumb marking corresponding reference page.

    Btw, I’m waaay cooler than you. Columbia University Press sent me my copy of Cohen’s book bezplatna. And they approached me about it. I can even present the email as proof. 😛

    Thanks for the Cohen interview . . . didn’t see that.

    Comment by seansrussiablog — August 1, 2009 @ 1:16 PM | Reply

  6. Why did they approach you? For a review, or something?

    Comment by poemless — August 3, 2009 @ 11:58 AM | Reply

    • They want me to review the book. I’ve gotten a few of these, which I have no problem doing if the book is interesting.

      Btw you were right about the Cohen’s book going downhill. The Was the Soviet Union reformable chapter was a difficult one to get through. The information and conjecture is interesting but his constant references to the “Western scholar” gets annoying. For some reason I remember the version of this chapter he published in the Slavic Review as more compelling. Not sure how I feel about his pointing to Gorbachev and Yeltsin as individuals the reason for the USSR’s collapse yet. Ascribing such great historical changes to individuals never sits right with me. Best line, or I should say, quote so far: “Gorbachev was out February and Yeltsin was our October.” Sixty more pages left. Wish me luck.

      Comment by seansrussiablog — August 6, 2009 @ 12:55 AM | Reply

      • Good luck.

        I think it went downhill in terms of prose, mechanics, etc. I’m serious about the endnotes. I would love to sit down and systematically insert every one of them back into the original text. Precisely because of the “Western scholar” and “respected journalist” thing. And then after all the quotes are properly used, go and slash half of them and replace them with more fleshing out of his theories. They should be starting points or filler or illustrations of his arguments. Not the bulk of the content.

        All that said I liked the book most from the “Was the Soviet Union reformable?” question on. I think he pretty clearly and deftly challenges the mythology about end of the Soviet Union, and addresses the role America played in that part of the world afterward. Which I don’t see many people doing. Perhaps it is because I am not in academia. But I think we need more of this in the popular consciousness. Like with the Iraq war, I don’t like that we’re basing our future relations/actions on assumptions that have never been publicly debated or challenged.

        Comment by poemless — August 7, 2009 @ 10:38 AM | Reply

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