poemless. a slap in the face of public taste.

February 15, 2010


Filed under: Odds & Ends — poemless @ 6:05 PM

Seen, heard, read …

(I know. The titles are getting shorter and shorter. Soon I will be writing nothing and calling it art.)

Blog: A Good Treaty.

No, not the Son of Start. A new blog on the blok. About:

I work in Washington, DC, in a think tank as a research assistant for U.S.-Russian relations experts. I created this blog as an outlet for my own personal thoughts and opinions on Russian politics, Russia’s relationship with the United States and the West, and to generally rant on subjects that have been nagging at me.

I studied Soviet History in graduate school and have lived in Moscow three times, most recently for about 8 months in 2008.

I would describe my politics as ‘realist,’ which is to say I don’t subscribe to what is called neoconservative (or neoliberal) philosophy. Namely, I believe that geopolitics should be the overriding concern for American (and Russian) decision-makers — not ‘liberal’ or ‘democratic’ values. While a fan of free societies (i.e., rich societies with a diffuse spread of wealth and power), I generally don’t think calculations about a nation’s ‘freeness’ should enter into the business of foreign policy.

Interestingly, mystery think tank blogger uses “realism” to arrive at many of the same conclusions I arrive at via “idealism.” This means we must be right, any way you look at it, no? Even more interestingly, mystery think tank blogger claims to be a fan and reader of poemless, and no one reads my blog, no one but you. Yes you.

Book: “The Oligarchs,” by David Hoffman.

It took me a very long time to get around to reading this book. I have positively no idea why. I think it was on my list a while back, along with a Peter Baker book and a Lilia Shevtsova book. I think I read those and ran screaming from the world of very recent Russian history books. It remained on my mental syllabus, but I just didn’t get to it. Well, Sean told me I should read it, and I’ll do just about anything Sean says. And it is a good thing, that.

I’m only about 1/2 through it, but Damn! It reads like butter, a real page turner. And while I generally know the stories, (it follows those of Luzhkov, Chubais, Berezovsky, Gusinsky, Smolensky and Misha K) I’m still learning something new on almost every page. It’s dense in that way, but superbly organized and very entertaining. I have to admit that I was hooked on one of the first pages, at the mention of the brown bar soap. The brown soap! WTF? And how did I ever forget that? I mean, what the hell was that all about? Anyway, I caught myself wondering why any of this business about famous greedy capitalists should hold me so captive. Of the infinite choice of genres to read, “how so and so made his fortune,” is at the bottom of my list. After golf jokes. Maybe it’s this endless quest to find out what really happened, how the Soviet Union really “collapsed,” and why. Or this endless desire to have my personal experiences of post-communist Russia validated. For someone to say, “Oh, yes, it was that insane!” Maybe I could just lie around reading descriptions of cute Menatep boys all day… Who knows…

Magazine: Johnny Weir.

In an interview with Vanity Fair, the flamboyant ice-skater channels … me:

Q: Do you think the criticism you received for wearing a C.C.C.P. jacket was fair?

A: I am a firm believer that being a good American and being a good ambassador means being a citizen of the world and appreciating all cultures. I happen to love Russia and I happen to love America. I see no issue in that.

Q: What do you say to your critics?

A: Suck it.

TV: The 2010 Olympics.

No one can be expected to meet the standard set by the Chinese. And we are in the middle of a global recession. But the only thing that opening ceremony left me thinking about Canadia pride is that, well, there might be a legitimate cause for their inferiority complex. Oh, and that I’m a little relieved Chicago did not get the games. I’d be incurably embarrassed if I were in their position. Somewhere between the Twin Peaks hoe-down paired with interpretive dance and the torch fail, I was ready to crawl under the couch. Oh, Canada! indeed.

Even though I have no idea what that song had to do with the Olympics, K.D. Lang can still belt it out! Jesus. I defy you to find a better voice.

Luge. Tragic. (And disgusting that the media keep showing that poor man’s accident, over and over.) But. How is it a sport? Exactly?

The U.S. moguls skiing uniforms. Look like pajamas. Why are they skiing in ugly pajamas? Why??

Johnny Weir is criticising the idiot American judge who decided to make public an e-mail about Plushenko in order to raise doubts about his skills. Because the idiot American judge is making the Americans look bad. Ok, the obsession with all things Russian was nice, but I’m pretty sure this – an American athlete complaining about an American judge’s attempt to discredit the Russian athlete – makes him an official “Russophile” in the not-so-quaint sense.

Video: Apes eating blinis.

RT has a clip from the Krasnoyarsk zoo’s celebration of Maslenitsa. Because what is the Internet for, if not videos of monkeys eating pancakes?

Thanks for reading and Happy Maslenitsa, Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Pączki Day, Shrovetide, Fastnacht or whatever excuse you are using to consume those sugary, buttery carbs!



  1. On Vancouver … I’m still disappointed there was no Neil Young in the opening ceremony. You’re telling me they could unearth Anne Murray AND Bryan Adams but couldn’t get one of the coolest Canadians ever to do some shredding? No wonder they feel inferior!

    And, let’s face it: it’s not the fear of thermonuclear annihilation or race to the moon that makes us miss the USSR and its Iron Curtain minions — it’s the Olympics. At least until China or India decide they think they can either win a war in Afghanistan or win Olympics sports that were clearly invented for the sole purpose of inflating medal totals of Germany and the U.S. Seriously … moguls? Short-track speed skating? Skeleton? Snow farting? Am I missing any?!

    Comment by EdgewaterJoe — February 15, 2010 @ 7:43 PM | Reply

    • I am not a fan of Neil Young, so I can’t share your disappointment. Though Canada’s problems keep mounting: bad weather, and last night they messed up the ice on short track.

      I don’t know if we miss the USSR in the Olympics, but Russia must be. They’ve not been doing terribly well…

      Comment by poemless — February 16, 2010 @ 1:28 PM | Reply

  2. I’d have to kill you (or myself) if I revealed which think tank I work at. (My main reason for starting ‘A Good Treaty’ was to have a place to say what would probably get me fired.)

    You may be an idealist at heart, but, in my humble opinion, your analysis is far too healthily skeptical to be ‘idealism.’ (That’s a compliment.) Thanks for the mention, too. I feel like a genuine member of the blogosphere now!

    Comment by No Plans for the Moon — February 15, 2010 @ 8:53 PM | Reply

    • Maybe I just have healthily skeptical ideals? 😉

      BTW, apologies for the delay in rescuing your comment from moderation. You should be free to post now. Unless you are Doss and the KGB scrubs your cookies (or whatever magic is involved that makes my blog remember you.)

      Comment by poemless — February 16, 2010 @ 1:32 PM | Reply

  3. Told ya so. Oligarchs really is an amazing book for many of the reasons you’ve stated. I think that and Klebnikov’s Godfather in the Kremlin are may favorite oligarch exposes.

    Btw the brown soap Hoffman describes is still sold in stores. Or at least a brown soap carved in big bulky blocks without wrapping, label, or snazzy marketing quip that I imagine is similar to what Hoffman is talking about.

    There was another bit where I think Hoffman uncovers the origin of ubiquity of colored toilet paper. I think it was Smolensky (I’m too lazy to check it) who owned a bunch of private toilets in the late 1980s and introduced colored paper to make them appear more elitny. Now if I could only track down the origin of the scented variety . . .

    Comment by Sean — February 16, 2010 @ 1:11 AM | Reply

    • Yeah, I think it was Smolensky with the elitny toilets. He’s really the least interesting of the characters in Hoffman’s book, IMO.

      The brown soap sounds like the same stuff. Who buys it? Maybe the elderly? After your tirade about the scented Dove bodywash, I assumed they’d have chucked the brown stuff for good. I remember I could buy Fa and Nivea at the western stores, but the brown soap was still used at home for dishes, laundry, anything, really. Nothing like having your laundry (even the whites!) washed with brown soap that left a greasy brown film no matter how many times you rinsed it, and hanging them out to dry in the polluted Moscow air … in the dead of winter. Where they … froze. At some point it became preferable to just not try to do laundry and douse yourself in perfume instead…

      Comment by poemless — February 16, 2010 @ 1:41 PM | Reply

  4. That brown soap is the best thing for getting whites really white, seriously. It’s a shame they don’t sell it in flakes.

    Comment by theteslacoil — February 17, 2010 @ 11:33 AM | Reply

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