poemless. a slap in the face of public taste.

November 24, 2010

Pilgrim Weather

Filed under: Culture: U.S. — poemless @ 6:38 PM

I have this memory.

I don’t know if I dreamt it, or if it is an event that actually happened.

It was a Pilgrim weather day, but I don’t know, it could have been in March, it could have been in December. My Kindergarten class took an excursion to see a cow. But it seems to me we were not told the purpose of the field trip until we arrived, and perhaps not even then. Outside, it was dark, but who would take little children to see a cow at night? It must have been in the afternoon, when my Kindergarten class usually met. So it was a dark afternoon, bleak, wet, cold. I remember my teacher, Mrs. Blair, being frustrated or confused or something, something wasn’t going right, though I couldn’t divine what exactly, just the air of mismanagement and possible danger. This exacerbated the already eerie feeling provoked by being on a farm in the dark in the rain and of having been ripped from civilization and parents for perhaps the first time in my life. The wind was whistling, the sky was overcast, and we marched through black mud and into some kind of manger, where a cow was lying down, lit only by a lantern. The cow seemed sad, or scared. I suspect that it was having a baby, or had or was expected to presently. Because it was a huge to do, and why would you drag a group of 5 years olds through the mud just to see a regular cow not doing anything but lying in a barn?

The whole event spooked me.

It sounds like a dream, but I am certain this happened. The memories of small children are basically the same as dreams. Something is going on and, lacking vital information, you cannot make sense of it, so you create a narrative in which it is comprehensible. And add a mysterious animal.

When I was little, I was afraid of Pilgrims. For my Russian readers, I am referring to these Pilgrims. Even before I was old enough to appreciate their religio-capitalist occupation of native lands, their past time of witch-hanging and generally creepy Protestantism, I feared them. Pilgrims were never depicted as being creatures of whimsy, romance or creative temperament. No, they were a decidedly stern, self-loathing prudes who saw the world in the same black and white as their weird Pilgrim clothing. Who would want to spend Thanksgiving with this lot? (Also, how obnoxious is it to thank God for the abundance you reaped from colonizing a foreign land? God didn’t give you that stuff, you took it!) Anyway, I think part of what terrified me about Pilgrims was the weather associated with them. In my little 5 year old mind, every day of a Pilgrim’s life was as grey and bleak and spooky. They were like vampires, unable to coexist with the warmth of sunlight or the scent of blooming flowers. And mid-November was like their midnight. And also in my 5 year old mind, they continued to live among us. Oh sure, maybe the bulk of their society had disappeared, but there had to be some stragglers. Just as today there are still Amish, in 1980 there were still Pilgrims. Right? Lurking in the woods, in their olden days dress, muskets slung over their arms, lying in wait for an Indian, a witch, or an unwitting 5 year old girl on a field trip? I could see the Pilgrims before my eyes. No, they were not exactly malicious. But, like the inhabitants of my small town, their simplicity, fake kindness and prudishness put me on alert. I didn’t know what they were up to, but it was surely straight outta Stephen King.

I really loathed, and continue to loathe, the small town in which I grew up. Not the quaint river town where I was born and schooled and where my family resides to this day, but the town of two thousand, further inland, on the threashold of civilization, surrounded on all sides by cornfield and dirt. One road impaled the beast. The journey heading out of town and toward the greater Metro East area seemed torturous as a kid. Why couldn’t we live in a normal town, the kind that is next to other normal towns, and not separated from normal things like movie theaters and schools and shops and grandparents by a 20 minute drive down a long, straight, narrow highway lined on one side with a railroad track and the other with fields of … nothing? I resented the road more than the town, even. The town had nothing to offer human civilization, but the road seemed to exist to prove a point. The souls who live here have been ostracized. This road was the restraining order those bitches Culture and Society had filed against us. Utterly depressing. There was nothing to do during that drive but reflect upon the desolation and ugliness crawling at the windshield. At night I would rest my head back, look up at the stars (yes) and listen to the radio. But for some strange reason, on days like today, days like the cow pilgrimage, Pilgrim weather days, I kind of loved this road. The blond and rust colored fields slashed with black trenches of mud. The leafless trees -not entirely, a few leaves remained, sitting shiva for their fallen comrades- clawing at the sky. A lone crow on a telephone pole. The way it doesn’t rain but everything is wet, phantom rain. The forgotten train tracks. The absolute silence. The emptiness and no ambition to be otherwise. It was the money shot of every indie filmmaker’s dreams. On these days, Pilgrim weather days, I almost miss that rural hell. Not enough to make me return, not even for a minute, but enough to supply me with the appreciation required of maturity.

For all the gluttony and sloth, for all the religious freaks killing girls and Indians, for all our lurid history and unbecoming behavior, Thanksgiving makes me love America. November in the heartland. There is certain unique beauty about it, something noble, austere, mystical and silent. No one associates these traits with America. Not even Americans. But I so so love this time of year, it makes it impossible for me to hate this place. It even makes me thankful I live here.

Happy Thanksgiving.

November 17, 2010

Return of VovaMania!

Filed under: Culture: Russia,Politics: Russia — poemless @ 7:01 PM

It’s been a while since I’ve done a gratuitous Putin love fest post. Isn’t that strange? Nowadays people refer to my “nuanced and insightful” writing, but mostly I just started blogging so to post pictures of hot Russian men, Putin being King God Supreme Leader of that camp. What happened? Has our fair leader ceased to be the apple of poemless’s eye, fallen to the earth to slowly decay and be nibbled on by ravenous squirrels? Has our fickle blogger’s infatuation dimmed like a cold November afternoon? Er… no. No of course not. That would be madness. Maybe I’ve just matured – ever think about that? No, you’re right, that can’t be it. Maybe, what with the Reset and Obama and blah blah blah, wooing so-called dictators just doesn’t have the same subversive appeal. I always fantasized about totally scaring the hell out of John Ashcroft on the other end of whatever NSA feed was trolling my posts. I am both a neo-stalinist and a female with a libido … I am the AntiChrist, John! Eat it! Hahahaha. But now I am just one more person with a blog making cute comments about Vova’s latest wackadoodle photo-op. Sean says he’s jumped the shark. Now, I am not willing to rule out that VVP could, even will one day jump the shark. But when that day comes, it will involve an actual shark and the leader of Russia on water skis. A stunt that, had the Fonz not done so already, Putin probably would have invented. “Jumped the shark” my ass. He’s as popular as ever. Everyone and their mother has posted a picture of that puppy hug. Oh, except me! Here:

You know you just squealed with delight. I say, if Vova ever meets the man who could look at that and not get a little woozy with oxytocin, he will have met his match.

You wanna help name the dog? Knock yourself out. I think it was on NPR that I saw this referred to a “rare gesture toward democracy” or some nonsense… After last nights’ Dancing With The Stars, I am off democracy. What should we name this giant furball? How about “Maksim,” in honor of that hottie Palin’s Tea Party sabotaged. Or not. I’m inclined to follow the reasoning that if Putin’s pet were named after me, I could vicariously curl up in his lap for a kiss and tickle. Alas, he already has a dog named after me! He doesn’t seem too thrilled about it either, does he?

Ok, since we’re on the topic of Dr. Doolittle, someone’s gone and stolen the photos I have hanging my living room and posted them online:

The 24 Cutest Pictures Of Vladimir Putin With Animal.

Freaky. In more ways than one… I have always been partial to the horse kissy and the tiger present photos. But here’s one I had not seen before, a treat! (I know I said these were hanging in my apartment – it was for dramatic effect. I mean, you couldn’t possibly think… Oh.)

A small goat!

In some ways, he reminds me of my grandmother. She was nuts over animals. He had this gorgeous house, with a nice living and dining room, but she always sat in the kitchen, to watch the animals in the yard (whole entire extra tree-lined lot) outside. She bought us Ranger Rick subscriptions and would even cut out and mail us those little gratuitous animal pictures from the local paper (you know, that space reserved for no copy but a photo of a rabbit with the caption, “Spring arrives on Lincoln Avenue.”) Crazy. Especially since our family got the same newspaper. From whence this animalphilia? She was part Cherokee. She was also getting Alzheimer’s. Anyway, somehow I inherited this trait. God, I hope it is not a symptom of dementia. I have more faith and trust in people who are so comfortable with and able to navigate the animal kingdom. Those who have great “people skills” but are like idiots around anything not human scare the hell out of me. People who prefer the company of those species that have evolved differently from us, I really get. You can’t lie to animals. It doesn’t actually work. Oh, and can we address this notion of “people skills,” please? VVP gets a lot of heat for not having them so much, but if skills are what you use to get things done, then I think he has mad skillz. What’s up with this preference for fake nice that gives more points for not hurting anyone’s feelings than for reality checks? I’m not a fan.

Which brings me to the last point in today’s Putin love fest. Oh, sure, anyone can love a dog. I am pretty sure that is he baseline criteria for determining one’s classification as Homo sapiens. But, uhm, no one can love Vladimir Putin, right? What the hell is wrong with you, Poemless?! Moe Tkacik nails it in a divine piece:

Why The Media Hearts Oligarchs—So Much The Post Won’t Even Call Them “Oligarchs.”

Washington Post deputy editorial page editor Jackson Diehl wonders in an op-ed today why Barack Obama isn’t rallying more enthusiastically behind Mikhail Khodorkovsky, otherwise known as Russia’s “latest moral champion.” Is it “because he is an entrepreneur and not a poet” and everyone knows how Obama loathes commerce? Or is it, he wonders, simply because Obama is scared of Vladimir Putin and his big scary black lab?[…]

But guys like Khodorkovsky were not dubbed “oligarchs” because of their “entrepreneurship”; they earned that designation because they reaped the preponderance of their billions in a three-year window of in ways that were flagrantly and epically criminal but since all the billionaires were doing it (and billionaires tend to make their own laws anyway) most of them got off with a sort of uneasy amnesty. Khodorkovsky was an exception for a variety of reasons, this is a pretty good summary, but at the end of the day Putin seems to draw his authority directly from his ability to make them pay taxes and, as last week’s wide-eyed Times magazine piece on New Jersey Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov observed, keep them on their toes:

The oligarchs of Russia aren’t exactly paper tigers, but those who aren’t in jail or exile understand the precariousness of their position, the importance of keeping the favor of the Kremlin. Last February, Prokhorov was publicly criticized by Putin for neglecting to fulfill promised investments in an electricity-generating project in southern Russia. Prokhorov initially had the temerity to say the prime minister was misinformed, but then, on further review, conceded that yes, the prime minister, whom he first met in 1994 at a bank opening in St. Petersburg, where Putin was the deputy mayor, was correct. When Prokhorov was angling for the Nets, he got the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev to mention his plans to President Barack Obama, as if U.S. politicians perforce had some say in how billionaires deployed their capital.

LOL folks, imagine that: a leader with some modicum of authority over the way billionaires spend their money…when for going on thirteen years now no elected official in America has managed to figure out a way to control the way they spend ours?!

But what if Obama did something about that last part, against all the sloppy conventional wisdom its serially-discredited promulgators keep chucking into the Post op-ed section? It’s hard to think it would make it any harder to advance the cause of democracy before the likes of foes from Vladimir Putin to John Boehner all the way to all the tireless David Broder disciples across town at the Washington Post.
[Emph. mine.]

Oh, I know, Russia’s cup runneth over with Serious Problems, and I should not be so smug about Real People Suffering. I am not. I am just saying, assuming you are living in a giant megalomaniacal country with lots of nukes and a history of social experimentation, would you rather your leader adore animals and kick skeezy millionaire ass … or not? That’s all. If America really is all that much better, I invite all Russia’s journalists to move here to the land of the free, where we will let them live and they can enjoy whatever the hell is left of a society that has had its anima and animus systematically removed. The invitation remains open.

And thus ends the most recent installment of poemless’s VovaMania. For those of you who stubbornly refuse to come to your senses and join my cult, I present what has to be the finest piece of literature produced in the 21st century: Revelation 13: Is the Antichrist Russian President Putin? BRILLIANT! Seriously, I promise you will never have more fun reading anything. Ever.

Except for this blog, of course.

November 10, 2010

On the beating of Oleg Kashin

Filed under: Culture: Russia,Politics: Russia — poemless @ 6:26 PM
Tags: ,

So I suppose I should weigh in? I’d undoubtedly be the best Russia watcher on the planet if I ever bothered to watch, and the most brilliant blogger too, if I actually wrote anything. Which is discouraging in a way. I mean, maybe I should just not write, because what if I do, and it turns out to be so so? Better to let everyone just assume I am a genius, don’t you think?

I recently has something published at this Russian site, InoForum, and everyone thought I was nuts and no one understood a thing. They were going on about my Polish doctor… Also discouraging.

Ok, so I read on facebook or twitter about the attack that night. My first reaction was, “That Kashin? Why would anyone wanna kill Kashin?! Vladimir Putin, you are a horrible person! Sick!” Then, “maybe he owed someone money…” Then, “god, I feel terrible about hating him for spamming -I mean, really spamming- my twitter feed. After all, he has great taste in music; he must be a decent fellow, with just a whole lot of time on his hands, but how is that even possible? He’s prolific, everywhere. Maybe he had a twitter bot. I’m going to check his feed… OMG! Silence! … omg. he’s really been attacked. a real live human being. fuck. fuckfuckfuckfuck…”

There was a time I’d have something absolutely cynical to say about journalists being killed. I would write, maybe, that there is no way Putin’s people did this, because all it does is make him look bad, so probably it was someone else Anna had pissed off, someone maybe looking for revenge and even to frame the administration, who knows? Who knows? We didn’t witness our fallen reporter taking her final breath! And what really pisses me off is that the very people who complain about the lack of rule of law and the total joke parading around under the guise of a Russian justice system are the first to point the finger, make an accusation and demand a head on a platter when a journalist is harmed. Pah-Thetic. Apparently vigilantism is only bad when the official good guys are on the receiving end. “Well, c’mon, everything points to this horrible atrocity being the work of (insert party, politician, youth group here). They probably did it!” Last time I checked, my own judicial system, which is fouled but ostensibly one goo-goos in Russia desire to emulate, places the burden of proof on the prosecution, and requires a jury to find a person guilty beyond any reasonable doubt before the head and platter show gets underway. There is no “unless a perfectly good journalist has been offed, in which case you’re free to bust out the pitchforks” clause.

But now people actually read what I write, so I should be more responsible with my words. Which I’ve absolutely never been good at. Diplomacy is not my strong suit. Er, so, well, here are things that other people said. If they’re reasonable, great; if not, you can’t blame me.

From Sean:

On a final note, there will be those out there who will offer apologetics for Kashin’s beating. They’ll decry the obsession with emphasizing journalists as victims. They’ll hem and haw about how western reporters churn out the same narrative about media freedom in Russia. They’ll scream, ‘What about . . . !” They will certainly offer banal explanations for why Kashin’s skull was fractured and his fingers broken. Such acts of violence happen all the time to normal people, they’ll say, and no one pays attention to their plight? Blah, blah, blah . . .

“Blah, blah, blah . . .” I yelled at him for this. I mean, he was like 60 miles away, so he couldn’t hear me. But I yelled. Concern for the plight of normal people is HARDLY apologetics for Kashin’s beating. There’s nothing to prevent empathy for both, and no reason why one tragedy should prevent us from reflecting on others. Hell, this paragraph sounds like apologetics for violence against normal people! Also, I think it was directed at me since I’d just posted a comment on fb about no one protesting when non-journalists or non-businessmen are beaten or killed. I don’t even know if that is true. So, at this point everyone, including Sean, seemed to be writing out of emotion. Well, someone had just had their brains bashed in – a normal response, I imagine.

From Natalia:

In trying to come up with a proper response to this outrageous event, I looked to the blog of another Russian journalist – Alyona Solntseva. Solntseva wrote about how such violence is pretty much a “normal” part of our lives:

“Everyone one of us has several acquaintances who were beaten on the street. Sometimes – with the intent of a robbery. Sometimes just because – because someone else didn’t like them… Beatings are routine, a norm that exists within our lives. How do you fight THAT?”

I have no doubt that Oleg’s attackers targeted him because of his work. Right now, all over LiveJournal, users are posting and reposting links to his latest articles. The idea is as follows: Oh, they wanted to silence Oleg? We won’t let them. We’ll make his writing even more popular. And they won’t be able to get all of us.

Whoever the bastards who are “they” turn out to be, what’s clear to me is that Alyona Solntseva is right; this type of behaviour is the norm. When journalists are attacked, it serves to underscore the fact that *nobody* is safe.

Intimidation and violence are seen as an acceptable way to solve problems ranging from “I don’t like your face, dude” to “I don’t like that article you wrote, dude.” In saying this, of course, it is not my intention to write off what happened to Oleg as a nebulous “societal” problem and throw up my hands. This type of barbarism is present almost everywhere you look – but journalists in particular remain the canary in the coal mine. You know it’s bad when a prominent member of the press is savagely attacked, and none of us are certain that those responsible will necessarily be brought to justice.

This is what I’d liked to have said to Sean had I been able to stop abusing the keyboard long enough to collect my thoughts. Perhaps it is even better, not simply equating all beatings and violence, not engaging in the dreaded “whataboutism,” but acknowledging Sean’s concept of the social order precisely to shed light on Oleg’s beating as a reflection of it. Switching the focus from discrimination: “attacks against prominent journalists” to total lack thereof: “attacks against even prominent journalists.”

I know it will upset some, but I remain reticent to agree that “journalists ARE special. At least those who practice their craft with all the seriousness the profession demands. Journalists aren’t normal people.” Or rather that this makes their beatings and deaths any more intolerable. Yes, they are a crucial, the crucial ingredient in any recipe for democracy, and without them, civil society suffers. Unfortunately, mass murder isn’t required to get journalists to stop doing their jobs. Rupert Murdoch could just hire them. But I will not argue that civil society does not suffer when journalists are oppressed. Or killed. But civil society also suffers when women are oppressed. Or killed. And it seems the offense of being a sensible woman sometimes trumps that of being a journalist. Where are the demands that anyone who beats up a woman to scare her shitless so she’ll think twice next time, before saying/doing/looking into that, be hunted down and punished to the full extent of the law? Civil society suffers anytime the brutes in charge decide to teach the weak but willful a lesson. It is not simply politicians or businessmen who pose a threat to innocent people. Journalists should not have to fear for their lives simply because they are doing their job, simply because of what they say or simply because of what they know.


Here are a few more…

From Julia:

When I first met him, in the winter of 2006, to interview him about the politics of young Russians — his specialty — he struck me as a Kremlin apologist. Kommersant is Russia’s most prominent daily, a mainstream paper owned by Medvedev buddy and mining mogul Alisher Usmanov.

I was, of course, wrong about Kashin. He is not an apologist but is, in the best traditions of his generation, simply hard to categorize.

Hopefully Ms. Ioffe has used this tragedy as a learning experience and will not be so swift to judge and label people in the future. And if not, well, now we all know how to get on her good side. Gulp.

Wait, there’s more Julia!

Journalist Oleg Kashin lay in an artificial coma after a savage beating left everything that could possible be broken, broken.

What was Supreme Leader Vladimir Vladimirovich doing? Drag racing.

Makes Luzhkov’s summer getaway seem downright appropriate.

I am not sure how racecar driving fits in to the PM’s job description. (Russia’s just signed a contract with Formula 1, so I guess it is some kind of marketing silliness.) The only thing I am less sure of is how solving an attempted murder case fits in to the PM’s job description. In normal countries, according to Law and Order, in the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police who investigate crime and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders. I don’t know how Vova is able to squeeze these joyrides into his tight schedule, but not even Action Man himself has enough hours in the day to personally address every attempted murder in fair Russia. (I think I just found a way to lower the murder rate there.)

Moreover, if Putin took the reigns of this, no one in the universe would trust the result. Nor should they. If it is true that Kashin was investigating the Khimki deal, implicating Putin’s judo buddy (whatever that is code for), I dare say there would be a conflict of interest if he began muddling about in the case. What is Julia asking of Supreme Leader Vladimir Vladimirovich? Maybe she wants him to declare that from now on, anyone who harms a journalist will be personally fed to his tigers. Except she seems not to be a huge fan of his unilateral authoritarian crazy ass dictator ways. And that would be a crazy ass dictator thing to do. I must say, I have never understood the logic of those who criticize both Putin’s unilateral authoritarian crazy ass dictator ways and his absence whenever Medvedev, otherwise known as the democratically elected President of the Russian Federation, steps up to take on various issues. What is that about? I want to sit in on their psychoanalysis sessions!

And it doesn’t even merit reply, but equating Putin’s afternoon of racing after the beating of one citizen with Luzhkov’s fleeing the country while the city he was supposed to be running was choking to death, surrounded by fire, for weeks on end and something like 700 people were dying a day… is inane. It doesn’t even work rhetorically, since it immediately brings to mind the image of VVP’s stunt of putting out the damn wildfires himself.

So it is all good and well to trawl the internets and compose snarky replies, but do I have anything … constructive to add about the attack on Oleg Kashin? I suppose that, regardless who is responsible for the attack, United Russia, and really any government entity should completely, officially and unequivocally sever any ties to groups advocating violence against any Russian citizen. That can’t prevent anyone from employing the little hoodlums on the down low, but if we’re talking about kids, it’ll at least humiliate them. I’ve no idea what to do about monied interests offing their enemies. Back in the day it was all done with expensive guns and car bombs. Everyone told me it had gotten better. Everyone told me Moscow was no longer a war zone or a scene from a 1930’s Warner bros. gangster film. So that’s good. Yet somehow businessmen shooting holes in each other seems more civilized than random citizens having their skulls bashed in. Moscow, Russia, has a very high brutality threshold. I can’t help them with that. Probably making sure crime is properly investigated and criminals properly punished would be a step in the right direction, though. Giving every journalist a body guard seems a bandaid solution, and if the body guard is provided by the State, and maybe the State doesn’t like your work, well, that could be potentially very ineffective.

There are places in Chicago where everyone’s getting shot. It used to be bad guys shooting bad guys, but now it is just any random person. No one knows what to do. Because not even the rule of law can prevent people who feel they have nothing to lose from committing crimes. I realize the situation in Russia is not exactly comparable, but my point is that for all the chest beating about the rule of law, it only goes so far when you have a fundamental social failure on this scale. That fundamental social failure being when significant numbers of people have more incentive to destroy each other than not.

What about journalists? How can we prevent them from being beaten or killed? Seriously, I am going with the rising tide lifts all boats theory here: address the social norms. Until there is a better solution, I suppose journalists will have to comfort themselves with the knowledge that they must be doing something right if people find them credible enough to kill. Keep up the good work?

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