poemless. a slap in the face of public taste.

April 9, 2010

Odds & Ends: I’ve not thought of a catchy title for this Edition.

Filed under: Odds & Ends — poemless @ 5:34 PM
Tags: , , , , ,

Contents: A story, a photo, a meal, a complaint and a rant.

My aunt, uncle and cousins all have names that start with “S”. They did this on purpose. The following stories all start with “S” but it is by sheer coincidence.

I. Slava the Plumber.

Regardless of the fact that he’s listed as comrade-in-arms over to the right, it’s been a while since I’ve strolled over to Dmitry Orlov’s site. As karma would have it, he’s been giving away free books while I’ve been gone. But not now. However, he is giving away free prose:

“Last night, just as I was falling asleep, my wife walked into the bedroom and told me that there is a big leak in the kitchen. I was quick to realize that were are not on the boat, and so this incident will not involve me plunging into icy bilge-water armed with a hammer, a screwdriver and an oily rag. And so I calmly strode into the kitchen and gently horsed the garbage disposal unit back onto its bracket (it had vibrated off). And then I asked her: “Aren’t you glad you married a plumber?” (Perhaps I was wrong to use the words “glad” and “married” in the same sentence.) My memory jogged, I thought of one of my favorite plumber-bloggers, Slava S. Here’s an excerpt. I can only hope that my clumsy English translation can do justice to his elegant Russian prose.”

“Talk to her.” (Excerpt)

“Поговори с ней.”

Little gems indeed! (I wonder if Vova taught his little girls judo…)

I don’t know if Slava S. is really a plumber, but I would barely be surprised. Up until a year or so ago, I had the task of processing decades worth of books acquired through an exchange program between my institution and RAN. You don’t even know how many Ivan Ivanovich Ivanovs have written books. To differentiate between them all, people began identifying their profession. As a result, one commonly finds books of poetry by Ivan Ivanov – mathemetician, novels by Ivan Ivanov -engineer and the collected short stories of Ivan Ivanov – physicist. It is one of the many reasons I love Russia. The plumbers write poetry. If I were God and could invent humanity, the plumbers would write poetry. I guess this is why I can’t grasp the concept of Russia as some kind of aberrant, wrongheaded country constantly throwing civilization out of alignment. Civilization is where the plumbers are poets. Right?

II. Sartorialist in Moscow.

Another reason I love Russia is that you can dress up without the mobs of slobs around you demanding to know what the special occasion is. From the Sartorialist:

“Growing up during the end of the Cold War, I had always heard that Russia was super grey and depressing. Isn’t there an old, famous Burger King commercial about a Russian fashion show? All the “models” were wearing head-to-toe grey and dressed exactly alike. Not that I base my world view on a burger commercials, but I continue to be surprised at just how much bright, vivid color is in Moscow. I love that this young lady, who is so dramatic in her tailored, red coat, is not a fashionista but a typical working girl… actually, an “Account Manager for a built-in appliances manufacturer.”

I mean, I don’t know any “Account Manager for a built-in appliance manufacturer” in Queens, New York that dresses like her. If so, I’d visit Queens more often.”

I bet there is one. I bet there is a whole cult of underground wage slave fashionistas. It’s just that the Sartorialist only looks for them in Manhattan, the Tuileries garden and Milan fashion shows. I can’t be the only girl in America who wakes up every day and deplores that just by making an effort she’s doomed to being over-dressed for the rest of her life. Well, perhaps I am overstating it a bit. I’m currently sporting a hot pink slouchy t-shirt, jeans, leather boots, an old pin-striped blazer and a look on my face that says, “I just dare you to tell me to my face I’m too old to pull this off.” In my defense, I was running late for the train this morning because I’d been watching George Snuffalupagus on GMA reporting “Live from the new Russia!” What the hell is the new Russia? He was reporting from some barren old tsarist estate (Peterhof, I presume.) If Peterhof is the new Russia, what’s the old Russia? I’m so confused. Anyway, I digress…

The point is, just because you are paid to be an account manager for a built-in appliance manufacturer, it doesn’t follow that you have to look like an account manager for a built-in appliance manufacturer. Unless an account manager for a built-in appliance manufacturer looks like a Hollywood starlet. Which apparently is the case in Russia.

III. Serbian food.

“It’s big, it’s meaty, it’s wrapped in bacon. Behold Klopa’s half-kilo Big Cevap.”

Photo possibly NSFW.

This is why people are afraid of the Serbs. It gets even scarier. The reviewer goes on to say, “I’d provide a link to their website but when I tried to look at the menu I got a malware warning.” Serbs, terrifying plates of grilled meats, malware. This is ripe for Gary Shteyngart story.

Oooh, looking at the menu, I see they serve chicken liver wrapped in bacon. OMG, this place is a few blocks from my apartment? I’ll never be anemic again! “Само слога Србина спасава!” Woo hoo!

IV. Simon Shuster.

I can’t put my finger on just why, but everything this person writes gets under my skin. I keep seeing articles in Time like, “Kyrgyzstan: Did Moscow Subvert a U.S. Ally?” or “Anti-Putin Movement Gains Confidence in Russia” … He’s young. I’m hesitant to label the poor fellow. OTOH, he has a blog called, “Shitocracy.” I’d like to thank Mr.’s Ames and Taibbi for giving every young jerk who writes about Russia the idea that being obnoxious will give you street creds. I mean, you are writing for fucking Time magazine, Shuster. This goes for you too, Adomanis: being an angry young man is an asset, not a substitute for anything. Do yourself (and all of us, because you have great promise) a favor and break the rules in a way that lets the world know you’ve made the effort to learn them. It’s more disarming that way. If we all think back, it wasn’t the eXile’s infantilism that impressed us, but that moment of realization in the midst of their infantilism that made us sit up and think, “Oh fuck. They’re serious, aren’t they? Whoa.” Back to Shuster and his shit blog. I can’t prove it at the moment, but I suspect he’s doing the “I’m just a dumb idiot trying to find out what’s goin’ on in Russia” shtick but actually has an agenda that isn’t interested in learning anything new at all actually.

This what happens when you write about Russia for too long. You begin suspecting everyone of a hidden agenda. The whole Russia expert-o-sphere is like the paranoiac wing of the insane asylum. I pray for a lobotomy. Until that day, I’ll maintain that just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean they are not after you. Or that Simon Shuster doesn’t have an agenda.

V. Son of START

I am so not going to analyze it and tell you what’s good and bad. The only thing I know is that they’ve agreed they should have fewer nukes and there is a link between offense and defense. Maybe next year we can all get together and agree to language recognizing the world is not flat and then pat ourselves on the back for being such awesome team players.

Who cares?

As Mark Adomanis writes,

“Despite the media chorus, I actually think that the new START treaty really isn’t going to be that important in the grand scheme of things: the Russians don’t want to spend the large amounts of money necessary to maintain a gigantic nuclear arsenal (despite some talk to the contrary they are perfectly capable of doing this, but would prefer not to), the Obama administration has fixated on disarmament as a political priority and, therefore, some sort of deal was all but assured.[…]

START will do very little, and perhaps nothing at all, to address Russia’s worries about the planned ABM system in Romania, nor will it magically resolve continued NATO-Russian tensions over Georgia. I have no problem with what came out of START, surely reducing the number of nuclear weapons is a no-brainer, but I’d advise everyone to dial down their enthusiasm just a bit: this is a much more limited and specific deal than most people believe and the likelihood that it will spill over into the broader relationship seems rather slim.”

I read this shortly after a having a few other private conversations with people, people younger than I, who took either a similarly cynical or, more worrisome, outright militaristic view of things. And, as a result, had one of those, “OMG!!! I am old!!!” freak out moments in which I became disgusted with the youth, youth who have no historical perspective, no appreciation for the accomplishments of their elders, no criteria for valuing anything beyond its immediate, practical application, and worst of all the sins of youth: that pathetic sense of invincibility. Ha!

I’m generally pro-youth. I had a professor who once noted that only the youth are capable of real revolution. Not because one always becomes more cynical and conservative as one ages, but simply because more mature folks just don’t have the energy any more.

I am positive there loads of old curmudgeons who are bored with discussion of nuclear deproliferation or who have learned to stop worrying and love the bomb. I am positive there are Samantha Smiths in our midst. Besides, I do welcome the unnerving views of those who don’t give a hoot about START. Because it forces me to ask myself, “Why do I care?” … [thinking] … “Because I grew up during the damn Cold War is why! Sheesh…”

You can see why I’m baffled when people won’t accept my claim that I am in fact a hopeless idealist. Which brings me back to the START. To the start of START. The only reason realists have the luxury of dismissing the importance of a nuclear arms reduction treaty between the United States and Russia is because of the huge undertaking of two idealists. Sure, in many ways Reagan and Gorbachev were realists. In many ways they were also failures. But within a few short years our two nations went from an unprecedented nuclear arms build-up and bona fide war scare to actually putting the complete elimination of nuclear weapons on the negotiating table for a brief, freaky moment. Now, is that a very realistic thing to do? Not really. Did they pursue arms reduction for realistic reasons? Of course the military build up was a drain on our economies. Yet let’s not ignore the very real fact that the two leaders were also beholden to their respective military industrial complexes. I don’t think you can say that there was anything obvious or inevitable about the discussions which took place between Reagan and Gorbachev or the agreements which were the products of those meetings. It only appears so with hindsight. At the time, it was a radical departure from the status quo, one few thought could work, and none thought very realistic.

It’s incredibly difficult to try to convey the existential feeling of what it was like during those last years of the Cold War, in the early 80’s, to those who were not there. Especially as experienced by an adolescent. There is no real comparison to it in these days of the GWOT. There was no sense, as a kid, that our relationship with Russia could change. The choice was between constant distrust and vigilance, or annihilating humanity. Now we long for the bad old days when we had an identifiable enemy, when the Olympics were more fun, when our maps were so neatly illustrative of our politics. But in truth, it was a constant stressor. There was no desirable opportunity for confrontation and catharsis, no expectation of mission accomplished. It was just something we lived with, like AIDS.

And worse was the sheer absurdity of it. The arms build up fed on itself when long, long ago we’d passed the point when we could have won that game. The time, energy, money, and emotion we invested into winning a race to see who could blow up the whole world several times over. But was it the realists who stepped in and said, whoa, why are we spending money on the ability to blow up the whole world 15 times over? No, it was the senile Christian and the man who wanted to make the Soviet Union a free country, while still being the Soviet Union. Crazy people. Crazy people who, unlike every single pundit, policy wonk, realist, historian or journalist out there, would bear the ultimate responsibility for the pain and suffering and let’s face it, ultimate failure of humanity if they ever had to press the button. Maybe that’s the only way I can convey the weight of that situation and the immense sea change that was required to reach the original START. Only dreamers would attempt it. Surely you smug young realists can attest to the fact that such creatures are extremely rare in politics.

So that’s one reason people think the New START is important and you don’t. It’s important to honor the attempts and vision of Reagan and Gorbachev, however loathed and despised they may be in their own countries, despite all their failures. And it is important to continue that legacy. Not out of sentimentality (well, out of that too) but because no one who was ever alive in those years wants to return to them. They might talk like they do, but they don’t. You can say, Well, we’re never going to go to war with Russia anyway. Many people said this during the Cold War too. It’s probably true. So why is it necessary to posses the capacity to wipe each other off the face of the planet? Many many times over? Why not chuck all the nukes. Dear smug young realists, the fact that the New measly START was all we were willing to eek out on the arms reduction front makes me think perhaps you too have committed the crime of idealism. Only whereas Gorbachev and Reagan were idealist about what they could accomplish, you are idealists about what won’t happen to us.

Here’s another thing that bothers me about the “Meh. Nukes. What.E.Vah.” crowd. It’s so last century, right? The new war is on Terrorism. Get with the program. Tis not the Russkies we must fear but the Islamofascists. You know. The people we trained to beat the Russkies. Hello! They won’t nuke us. They’ll hijack planes and mail us anthrax and kidnap mercenaries and throw rocks and bomb subways, yo. … To me this is like chasing a mosquito around the room with a fly swatter while someone has a bazooka pointed at you.

I’m not up late at night wringing my hands, worried that people have forgotten about the nuclear threat. But I am ever soo slightly concerned that we have lost a bit of perspective. That we are content to rest on our laurels. What have we learned from the 80’s? That it is actually an incredibly horrible and irresponsible idea to have so many nukes because life is not a Hollywood movie and in live real people really die and suffer? Or that if you give a Russian a Pepsi he’ll kick out the Commies and opt for diet of high fructose cornsyrupy democracy? Or that Russians are evil whatever their system and all the carbonated beverages in the world won’t save us from the Putin, who wants to kill us, so let’s keep those nukes on hand. Plus, it will make the MIC happy. Give us some bargaining power. So we keep playing the same game. “A strange game…”

If my pro-idealism argument doesn’t convince, perhaps a comment left in response to Mark’s post will:

“Don’t underestimate the importance of the new START agreement. US-Russian strategic nuclear relations happen on a plane that’s pretty firmly detached from just about any other dimension of the relationship.[…]

In fact, it’s precisely because of the lack of good will in other parts of the relationship that START is important – it keeps us engaged with one another on nuclear issues so that when there is a crisis in the relationship, it doesn’t rapidly ratchet us up to Def-Con 3. There’s plenty to get enthusiastic about when you evaluate it on this level.”

Or, in the words of Steven Patrick Morrissey, “If it’s not love, then it’s the bomb that will bring us together…”
la la la la la la ….

Thanks for reading and have a lovely weekend.



  1. I dunno. I can use some idealism these days — but then I tend to work to keep whatever idealism I have. Frankly, the most disturbing thing about this post isn’t the jadedness of the youg’uns like Mr. Shuster and the generation below, but how any culture can possibly ruin bacon. How is that possible?!

    I need a spirit-lifting … Smiths, take it!

    Comment by EdgewaterJoe — April 9, 2010 @ 8:18 PM | Reply

    • Thanks for the video. You think the Serbs ruined the bacon? How can you ruin bacon?

      Comment by poemless — April 12, 2010 @ 11:38 AM | Reply

      • Would YOU eat that thing in the middle of the plate — even WITH the bacon?!

        Comment by EdgewaterJoe — April 12, 2010 @ 11:41 AM | Reply

        • You’re just trying to get me to make some kinda double-entendre about that “thing” in the middle of the plate. And I am mustering all the willpower I have not to answer that question!

          Comment by poemless — April 12, 2010 @ 12:10 PM | Reply

          • Ah, well, ya can’t blame a guy for tryin’!

            Comment by EdgewaterJoe — April 12, 2010 @ 3:50 PM | Reply

  2. Hi Poemless, I agree about START…You’re not old, just maybe an old-soul. (Do you hate when people say sappy stuff like that.) Did you know there were S’s inside you S’s: Schuster: salop who writes shitocracy: shitocracy is a schtick It was just like the dolls.

    Young or old…people have a hard time keeping all the history in their heads. I think these journalists are not even trying. Do you consider Barbara Tuchman (Guns of August) too light to be real history? I’m listening to her audiobook “Practicing History.” I’m really loving it. She’s been dead for about 30 years; but, you would think she was reading the political blogs everyday – as spot on as she is about people in power and geopolitics – a word she hates. She says until 50 years after the fact – you cannot have history. Just isn’t ready to take out of the cask. I think that is why there is such a fascination with the 60s right now. We will be ready for the 80s in a few years.

    About the Burger King commercial, I’ve never seen it–but, certainly ‘grey and lifeless’ was the image I had before that fateful day in Paris when I met my husband, and began the process of having all preconceptions progressively smashed–and he’s still smashing. I was thinking about my 70s/80s ideas about Russia this Easter week-end for 2 reasons 1) I watched a video my mother-in-law made of my husband in Peter’s in about 1967. Filmed in black&white in winter you do get the grey of a snowy & slushy place. But, he’s toddling along the banks of the Neva in the winter version of a sailor suit, fur schapishka ; She has on this lovely tailored suit-coat and a fabulous up-do. Then there is her funny toes-point out/ back erect duck walk as she WAS a ballerina. They’re laughing, and in the background the music the video-grapher selected is “Hazy, Lazy Days of Summer.” I just want to jump into a time capsule travel back to President Nixon right now and say “Watch this; and tell me we need 20 more years of Cold War. The Russians love their children too.” 2) Next my husband, who is out-of-country, calls on Sunday morning as I’m picking up the foil wrappers from our ‘too-old-for-this’ children’s chocolate eggs. He asks ‘Did you take the kids to Easter Vigil Mass last night?’ I’m thinking ‘No non nyett!!! Weren’t Russians supposed to be the “Godless Russians” and this Irish American never-been-so-happy-to-be-fallen-away-catholic mom wants nothing to do with old men in robes muttering unintelligible stuff. (I might be back some day for the ritual/ceremony of it all, but right now I’m feeling disgusted and bitter.) If I can just find that time capsule Tricky Dick is going to hear about this too.

    Comment by Tess of the Uber Vie — April 9, 2010 @ 11:53 PM | Reply

    • I’ve never read Barbara Tuchman. In general, I don’t like reading history. But would you recommend her? I think that’s true about needing 50 years for history. Though there are always a visionary few who are able to put things in context before that benchmark, and others who still can’t see history centuries after the fact.

      I so seriously sympathize w/ your “Weren’t Russians supposed to be the “Godless Russians” and this Irish American never-been-so-happy-to-be-fallen-away-catholic mom wants nothing to do with old men in robes muttering unintelligible stuff.” In fact, the Russian man who begged me to run away with him forever (whom I met in Paris – hey, you didn’t marry my man did you?! His name isn’t Serguei B., is it?) took me to a church for our first date. I approached it as a cultural experience.

      Comment by poemless — April 12, 2010 @ 11:45 AM | Reply

      • Guns of August = 4/5
        A decent intro to (the outbreak of) WW1, though I think The Pity of War (Ferguson) is the most interesting account.

        Comment by Tolya — April 12, 2010 @ 4:45 PM | Reply

      • Not a Serguei. And, he brought me to no church services in Paris – except for a funeral mass (though his mother did ask me to accompany her in Chicago). NB: he wasn’t organizing and/or participating in this suggested 2010 religious observance. This was something he thought might benefit the next generation (half-joking, but still half-sincere.)

        I’m glad Tolya seconded my Barbara Tuchman recommendation. Maybe it is because I’ve read her Medieval “Distant Mirror” and Guns of August that I have found “Practicing History” such a good read/listen. It’s a collection of essays — commencement addresses, editorials, etc. that she wrote in the 50s/60s and early 70s. I think you would enjoy it too. She is not ‘history lite’ at all; I shouldn’t have said that. If there is a fault (pointed out on Amazon reviews) it is that she is overly pro-Israel. But her optimistic portrait is at least well drawn, and even that is tempered by her admission that her great grandfather who was ambassador to Turkey under Pres. Wilson was against it. She does touch on why he was lobbying to stop the I-founding back in the pre WWII 30s. Listening to her anguish over Nixon; I’m happy that she didn’t have to spend her old age in the Bush era. But, back to START, this books helps you put your head back in the era of full-throttle arms build-up, Henry Kissinger et al. One needs a grip on that period to write about what’s going on now.

        Comment by Tess of the Uber Vie — April 13, 2010 @ 3:44 PM | Reply

  3. If Shuster wants to be edgy, the least he could do is write something interesting. I don’t think we need another parrot quoting Nemtsov. It’s even harder to forgive since apparently he reads Russian.

    Comment by Sean — April 10, 2010 @ 12:50 AM | Reply

    • I think there’s hope for Shuster, he’s just fallen in with the wrong lot, the first people who would talk him up, ya know? I’ve decided that’s one of the reasons the West is so obsessed with the Russian liberals – they’re begging for our attention. Just easier to get an audience with them, I suspect. Bang – you’ve got a story. Falls right into your lap… Now you have a mutual appreciation society. Not unlike why the press corps of various administrations are hesitant to be too critical of their subject. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

      Comment by poemless — April 12, 2010 @ 11:51 AM | Reply

  4. Here’s the other wrench: I think most feel that Russia is relatively sane these days. The countries we worry about having nukes are Pakistan and India — because they get so angry at each other you never know when one will decide to lob a nuke at the other. And with Pakistan, who is really in control? And that’s not even touching the odd and disturbing relationship we have with the Chinese.

    I tend to think the new START treaty is a good thing, if only because it means countries are talking to each other again. Its a good example. Esp. since its the US and Russia, who started the whole cold war meme and still have a touchy relationship.

    Besides, I’ve become so reflexive that I think that anything the stupid-cons (“Gov. Palin has credibility on nuclear issues because she was commander-in-chief of the Alaskan National Guard for a few months …” whaa? huh? sez who?) mouth off about must be a good thing. If they’re dismayed, I’m gladdened.

    Comment by Melissa — April 10, 2010 @ 8:54 PM | Reply

    • Hey now, Sarah Palin can see Russia from her house. And she had to deal with Putin getting all up in her airspace and stuff. If that’s not credentials, I don’t know what are.

      On a serious note – I have no credentials either but it doesn’t stop me from spouting off…

      Comment by poemless — April 12, 2010 @ 11:53 AM | Reply

  5. […] returning to the issue of START I’ve caught heat from some people for not being enthusiastic enough about the treaty. Perhaps they’re right, perhaps I ought to […]

    Pingback by START is facing problems? No one could have predicted that - Mark Adomanis - On Russia - True/Slant — April 11, 2010 @ 2:10 PM | Reply

  6. A couple of the comments in here seem to conflate my unease with Shuster and my unease with young people not being psyched about START. The edgy young Russia journalist and smug young realist are not one in the same, even though Mark does like to cover his bases. 😉

    As for Shuster and START, he seems thrilled about it. Why? Because America won and Putin caved:


    On the face of it, it may not have looked all that revolutionary. The treaty promises to shrink the world’s two biggest nuclear arsenals by a third, rendering harmless about a thousand warheads. But both countries will still have enough nukes to destroy the entire planet at least seven times over, and much like in the days of the Cold War, the main failsafe against a nuclear holocaust is still the idea of mutually assured destruction. So from a military perspective, little has changed. Yet from the point of view of diplomacy, Obama has managed in the course of these negotiations to make the Kremlin back down. Not just on some cosmetic issue, but on an issue of enormous strategic consequence, his team starred down the most powerful Kremlin clan, the ex-KGB and military hardliners who usually have the ear of Vladimir Putin. That is a remarkable achievement.

    Now maintaining the status quo is a remarkable achievement? America doing something Putin doesn’t like is a miracle? And by the way, last time I checked, no one in the administration was pro- US missile shields on their borders. I mean correct me if I am wrong, but I have not heard of this being a civiliki v. siloviki bone of contention.

    Anyone following this for the past year knew that 1) Russia was insistent that missile defense be included and 2) America was insistent that it not be. The treaty, like all good compromises, gave both parties a talking point bone to go home with without forcing anyone to change their position. So on the one hand we have the Simon Shusters bragging about how America won this round, on the other, the GOP asserting Russia won it, and I suspect the truth is somewhere in between. The Russian government continues to insist they can pull out of the treaty if the US makes any unilateral missile defense moves that are seen as upsetting the balance reached in New START. Moreover, no one -no one- seriously believes this is the end of negotiations. I would say it is a beginning, but it was actually a belated continuation of a previous disarmament agreement. And lastly, the Senate has not ratified anything yet. If you are the kind who views these matters not as attempts to create balance or benefit the whole of mankind, but as horse races, zero sum games where there is one winner and the rest are losers, you’d think you’d wait until you actually got the damned thing passed before declaring victory.

    Comment by poemless — April 12, 2010 @ 2:33 PM | Reply

  7. By the way, any comment on David Hoffman’s important-but-badly-written book (per your critique) winning the Pulitzer for non-fiction?


    Comment by EdgewaterJoe — April 12, 2010 @ 3:52 PM | Reply

    • NOOOOOOOOoooooo!!!!!

      Seriously painfully bad book to read.


      But HORRIBLE.

      Comment by poemless — April 12, 2010 @ 3:54 PM | Reply

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