poemless. a slap in the face of public taste.

April 22, 2010

Odds & Ends: Sick and Wrong Edition

Contents: Who’s the snotty nose now, Vlad? Soapy Peter v. the Nazis. The bastard Czech offspring of Houellebecq and Lautreamont. Rahm Emanuel’s eyes are bigger than his b … oh don’t make me be crass. Let’s just say his appetite is disproportionate to his performance.

HEALTH:

I was originally going to entitle this “A comparative study in Russian and Swiss propaganda,” but found out that Euronews is not Swiss, or not just Swiss, but comes out of Lyon (meh, same diff…) and is “European.” Whatever the hell that means. In America it means white. As in, “Where are your grandparents from?” “Europe.” “I can see that. What country in Europe?” “Switzerland.” “Ah. Well, that explains a lot…” Maybe it was this subconscious “whitenews” that made me believe it was Swiss. I don’t know.

Maybe I just needed someone to blame for news of Vovochka’s illness.

So I was watching Putin’s Duma address on RT, thinking, “Gah. He’s boring them to death. He’s even boring himself to death. Look at him. What a crap job. Hasn’t he already done enough for his country? Can’t he get some lackey to give his boring speeches while he’s off riding his pony around his empire, stealing from the rich to give to the State?”

Then I saw it the very same story on Euronews

“The recession in Russia is over according to Vladimir Putin, who has delivered his annual report to the lower house of parliament.
The prime minister likes to project a healthy image. But he was visibly ill, addressing members of the Duma with a trembling voice and regular coughing.

He admitted the economic situation was far from ideal.

“I would like to reiterate how important it is for everyone, not only the government but for everyone in this room today, to maintain a responsible economic policy and avoid holding our hand out to anyone,” he said in the speech.”

… and thought, “Ah. Well, that explains a lot… Like, why he has enough water on the podium to take a bath in. I just thought he was really, really thirsty. And bored delirious. He must have a fever. Why isn’t he in bed? Hasn’t he already done enough for his country? Can’t he get some lackey to give his boring speeches while he’s tucked in bed, sipping honey tea and having fairytales read to him?”

Seriously, I admire his work ethic and all, but how effective can you be when you are trying to convince the world your country is robust and healthy as you’re about to pass out from weakness? Especially if you are the action hero leader of said country? Haven’t you ever shown up at a doctor appointment to find your physician has a cold, and thought, “What a terrible doctor!” Even though you intellectually know they can get colds too? It’s like if your dentist were missing teeth. So I don’t see how a clean economic bill of health benefits by delivery from someone pale and shivering with illness.

Or maybe he’s not sick. Maybe Surkov bit him and turned him into a vampire and that’s why he is pale and lightheaded. And all those water bottles and tea cups are meant to distract from the cask of blood he’s sipping from behind the podium.

In any case, I hope you feel better soon, Vova!!!

SOCIETY:

One of the legacies of the repressive Communist era is the ability of Russians to always find inventive ways to entertain themselves. Another is homophobia. Another is police brutality. You see where this is going…

Moscow Times: Bubble-Blowing Teens Attacked in Gay Mix-Up.

“ST. PETERSBURG — Young people who gathered to celebrate spring by blowing bubbles at an annual flash mob in central St. Petersburg were attacked by a group of suspected neo-Nazis who mistook the gathering for a gay pride event, flash mob organizers said.
Some 500 people stood blowing bubbles on the steps of Gorkovskaya metro station and in the surrounding Alexandrovsky Park at about 4 p.m. Sunday — the agreed time for the start of the flash mob — when about 30 men ran up and started beating them and firing rubber bullets.

Several people fell to the ground before the attackers fled at the sight of approaching OMON riot police officers. A reporter saw officers detain at least one attacker. Police also detained about 30 bubble-blowers for five hours on suspicion of walking on the grass, a charge that they denied, organizers said.[…]

The annual bubble-blowing flash mob, known alternatively as “Dream Flash” and “Soapy Peter,” presents itself as nonpolitical and mostly attracts teenagers.

“It has nothing to do with the gay community or with any political, ideological or any other organization,” Yulia, the flash mob’s organizer, said by phone Monday.

She spoke on condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal for staging the event, which is not sanctioned by city authorities.

“It’s simply a celebration of spring with the idea that a group of people come together and walk around the city center blowing bubbles and enjoy spring,” she said.[…]

Several minutes after the attackers struck, OMON police declared the flash mob an illegal gathering and started to drive the participants, many of whom continued to blow bubbles, away from the metro and then out of the park with the aid of two police vehicles.

“Put away your bubbles,” one police officer barked through a megaphone.”

Enter: a group of neo-Nazis attacking a flashmob. Enter: a group of teens upset that their “Soapy Peter” bubble blowing event was confused for a gay pride spectacle. Enter: scary OMON forces ordering people to put away their bubbles. There is a curious innocence to the whole scene, as if it were a prank skit made by university students as a metaphor for the senseless, random cruelty of society. Except that it it isn’t. Well, I hope we’ve all learned the lesson from this tragic story:

Don’t name your town “Peter.”

(In unrelated news, Evo Morales says eating chicken makes you gay.)

LITERATURE:

I ran out of books to read last night. I’d been to the library looking for Ice by Sorokin on the recommendation of Scowspi, but it’s been checked out. Rummaging through my own stacks, I found a little tome I acquired free on the last day of a booksale and had proceeded to never read. It’s Czech. It’s surrealist. It’s compact. Why haven’t I read it? It’s pornographic. Which is no reason not to read a book, but the thing is I didn’t acquire it to read it. I acquired it to give the prudes at the library booksale something to giggle about. Anyway, I took it off the shelf, convinced myself hell is for silly people and dug into it last night. The title is Edition 69, and it is by Vítězslav Nezval and Jindřich Štyrský. You would not expect a book full of obscene -and I do mean obscene; I’m not being quaint now- pictures to have much quality to offer in the way of prose. Ah, but do the Czechs ever disappoint?! It’s brilliant, in simple way. I was thinking it reminded me of Les chants de Maldoror in its surrealist autobiographical style, with some of the more unredeeming aspects of Houellebecq thrown in for bad taste.

I’d never heard of the authors so today I googled them:

“Vítězslav Nezval was a member of the avant-garde group of artists Devětsil (literally “nine forces”, the Czech name of the Butterbur plant but to a Czech-speaker an obvius reference to the nine founding members of the group). Devětsil members were the most prolific Czech artists of their generation. In 1922, the Devetsil group included, but was not limited to, Vítězslav Nezval, Jindřich Štyrský, Jaroslav Seifert, Karel Teige, and Toyen (Marie Cerminova). Also associated with the group was the later founder of the Prague Linguistic School, Roman Jakobson. Like the proletarian group before it, Devětsil looked to France for inspiration for their avant-garde literature and their Marxist political ideology originating from Russia. Though the Czechoslovakian state was newly formed after World War I, the younger generation felt there was still room for improvement and that a radical solution was necessary to gain true liberation. Most of these intellectuals had a zest for revolution and professed their allegiance to Lenin. Though their philosopher-president, Thomas Masaryk gave them the first real socially-minded democracy, Nezval and others in his group did not accept this regime as representative of their beliefs and goals. In their writings they expressed their preference for the Marxist-internationalist consciousness of class solidarity.[…]

Nezval was also a founding figure of the Poetism movement. His output consists of a number of poetry collections, experimental plays and novels, memoirs, essays, and translations. Along with Karel Teige, Jindřich Štyrský, and Toyen, Nezval frequently traveled to Paris where he rubbed shoulders with the French surrealists. His close friendship with André Breton and Paul Éluard was instrumental in founding The Surrealist Group of Czechoslovakia in 1934. It was the first group of this kind outside France and Nezval served as the editor of its journal Surrealismus.”

The Devětsil:

“The Devětsil (Czech pronunciation: [ˈdɛvjɛtsɪl]) was an association of Czech avant-garde artists, founded in 1920 in Prague. From 1923 on there was also an active group in Brno. The movement discontinued its activities in 1930 (1927 in Brno).

Founded as U. S. Devětsil (Umělecký Svaz Devětsil – Devětsil Artistic Federation), its name was changed several times. From 1925, it was called the Svaz moderní kultury Devětsil (the Devětsil Union of Modern Culture).

The artistic output of its members was varied, but typically focused on magic realism, proletkult, and, beginning in 1923, Poetism, an artistic program formulated by Vítězslav Nezval and Karel Teige.

The group was very active in organizing the Czech art scene of the period. Members published several art magazines – ReD (Revue Devětsilu), Disk and Pásmo, as well as occasional anthologies (most importantly Devětsil and Život) and organized several exhibitions.

For the most part, Devětsil artists produced poetry and illustration, but they also made contributions to many other art forms, including sculpture, film and even calligraphy.

For about two years Devětsil functioned without any particular theoretical grounding, but as the members changed and those that remained developed and modified their style, it was decided, particularly by Karel Teige, that they begin formulating theories behind their activity. Most of these theories were to be spread through manifestos published by the group. Like any good theorist, Teige was always ready to change his ideas and sometimes moved from one aesthetic to an opposite one. The group formulated a movement that they called Poetism. The long echoed cry, “make it new,” was vital to the Poetists way of thinking. The Devětsil members were surrounded by the new in science, architecture and industry. Even their country was new. In order for art to survive, or at least in order to be worthwhile, it had to constantly be ahead of other changes in life. The Poetists advocated the law of antagonism. This law explains historical progress as reliant on discontinuity. New types and styles of art are continuously necessary for development and vital to these changes are conditions of contradiction. The first manifesto of Devětsil urged new artists to look deeper into ordinary objects for poetic quality. Skyscrapers, airplanes, mimes, and poster lettering were the new arts. Inspired by the Berlin Dadaists, Seifert claimed “art is dead.” Following him, Teige remarked, “the most beautiful paintings in existence today are the ones which were not painted by anyone.” [1]”

Incredible! Why have I never heard of these people? A Czech Marxist-Leninist-Poetist-Surrealist-Gothic Avant Garde? It’s like one of those crazy genres Netflix invents to cater to your own personal tastes (those “based on your interest in Critically-acclaimed Cerebral Dark Foreign Erotic Films” recommendations freak me out!) Anyway, I’m quite enjoying Nezval and his ilk. Since beginning this post. I’ve torn through Edition 69 (which contained, among other things, a manifesto about p0rnophilia and the class system) and several slender collections of poetry. Exquisite, sublime poetry. Don’t even get me started on “The Lilac By The Museum On St. Wenceslas Square” which burst into bloom while he slept… It’s all too much.

POLITICS:

Apparently Rahm Emanuel has nothing better to do than sit up at night scheming up new ways to piss me off. And to his credit, it seems to be the one thing he’s quite successful at. There was that time he ran someone against my friend in a primary, won the primary and lost the general. Actually, that’s the most tolerable part of that story… And then there was the time he showed up at Glen’s Diner, sat next to me, was waited on hand and foot while I waited an hour for my salad only to be informed they’d run out of salad dressing. Then there was the week I woke up to helicopters each morning because my neighbor had decided to take the position of Chief of Staff. And then there was the time he could barely even get his own party to support a watered down piece of crap masquerading as a healthcare reform bill.

But I’m less vocal about his D.C. failures. Because I want him to stay there. Democrats all over Chicago cheered when he took the White House gig. Because they love him and were happy for him? Oh hell no. Because it meant he was leaving! The poor citizens of my fair district were finally given the opportunity to have a decent Congressman when he left. Our whole neighborhood could not get an audience with Emanuel during the run up to the invasion of Iraq. My new Rep. came to my holiday party and brought a whole cheesecake. Just sayin’.

So I am thinking it’s ok if he’s wrecking national policy so long as he’s not here and I can eat a fucking salald in peace. And I get cheesecake.

It’s unfortunate I’ve already used the phrase, “Oh hell no.” It would have been a perfect response to this:

Obama aide Emanuel: I’d like to be mayor of Chicago.

Damn it! You are the chief advisor to the leader of the free world, but that’s not enough? Why won’t you just LEAVE ME ALONE! PLEASE… Insatiable freak.

Below are the reasons Emanuel would be a crap mayor of Chicago:

~ Chicago likes two kinds of mayors: dictators who rule with an iron fist, and progressive reformers. Emanuel is neither of these, as the recent healthcare debate illustrated. He could not even get his whole party on board, let alone one member of the opposition. Apparently they are not afraid of him. This would have been excusable were he presenting some radical socialist legislation that was ahead of the curve. But he never even entertained the possibility of a public option, let alone single payer healthcare. Fail. Fail. If you can’t even get a few Democrats to support a rather reasonable request, how are you going to get 3 million people to cream “How high?” when you shout, “Jump!” Not gonna happen.

~ Emanuel likes to wear finely tailored suits. That’s cool, if you are running for mayor of New York. I just can’t see our little rascal in a beige trench and fedora, the Mayor of Chicago uniform.

~ Chicago is not Ravenswood. Chicago is not all the cool little trendy neighborhoods and posh suites in mile high skyscrapers. It’s the inner city. There are poor people there. This man believed it beneath his station to communicate with and represent a rather well-off area while he was Congressman. What is he going to do if he has to communicate with and represent rather uneducated and smelly people? Who have no money to give him!!! But who need the snow removed like ASAP.

~ Uhm, we don’t want him to be Mayor. I’m not one of those trite progressives who won’t be happy until Ralph Nader is running the city. I like Mayor Daley. I admire him. Sure he’s corrupt, but you can tell he loves the city. Sure he’s divisive, but the man gets things done. Emanuel tells people to fuck off by calling them names and giving them the finger. Daley tells people to fuck off by bulldozing the airport he wants to turn into a park in the middle of the night. It’s the difference between a schoolyard bully and a leader.

~ Salad.

~ Cheesecake.

Ok that’s all for now. Thanks for reading and Happy Lenin’s birthday and Earth day!

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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.

April 1, 2010

Let’s Play a Game of “Guess the April Fool’s Story.”

Filed under: Odds & Ends — poemless @ 4:23 PM

Because every day you read the news and pray it’s a joke. Especially you Russia watchers.
(more…)

March 17, 2010

Odds & Ends: Crazy Talk Edition

Filed under: Odds & Ends — poemless @ 12:46 PM

Contents: Demons, bestiality, the Soviet Union, and other threats courageous Republicans are confronting head on. Guns don’t kill corpses, people kill corpses. Just what does epilepsy smell like, anyway…? Prokhorov, proving my theory that Russia will achieve world domination with a checkbook. And VVP, now available in plush form. (Pony sold separately.)

Normally this would be just one more depressing example of Tea Party members advertising their ignorance on cheap posterboard. Except that Irkutsk just elected a Communist Party-backed candidate over the ruling United Russia’s choice. So… Maybe they really do want their socialism back. But they’re not calling us for it. Seriously, dimwits, if you pick up the phone and the caller identifies himself as “Vladimir Putin,” you are on the receiving end of a practical joke. I know. Just one more instance of you being on the receiving end. Screwed by your education system. Screwed by your government. Screwed by the media. Poor, poor you, tea partier. I suggest the next time you have a party you serve something more potent than tea. That way you can make an ass of yourself in the company of friends instead of on cable tv. What’s that, you say? Making an ass of yourself on cable tv is a time-honoured American tradition? You read in a Texas textbook that it’s a Constitutional right? Well then, never mind…

And the prize for “Most Backwards Country Posing as a Developed Superpower” goes to …

Variously, from HuffPo:

~ “Demons” have invaded the U.S. capital, according to Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.):

Speaking shortly after he riled up a crowd at Tuesday’s Tea Party protest, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) declared that “demons” – yes, demons – have invaded the capital (and likely the souls of Democrats), forcing lawmakers to mislead the public about the content of the health care bill.

“Well it would take a demon to be this dishonest about a bill,” the Texas Republican told the Huffington Post. “If they would just read the bill, they would see what they are saying is dishonest.”

Asked to expand a bit more on what he meant, Gohmert stepped back a bit from a literal interpretation, though still floating the possibility that Democrats were possessed. “Well, somebody is making people be dishonest and it is a play on words, too,” he said.

Moments earlier, the congressman energized an audience in the hundreds who had come to hear him and others protest the possibility of health care’s passage. Gohmert insisted that the bill the House was set to consider would appropriate $700 million for abortions — defying the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal money going to such a procedure.

“I brought an abortion to show you today,” he said, hosting a copy of the health care bill in his right hand. The crowd responded with a chant of “Abort the bill!”

And then, out of nowhere, Gohmert began spreading the word that underworld spirits were lurking around the Capitol building behind him.

“There’s a whole lot of demon going on,” he said. “There are a lot of demons around here apparently.”

“A whole lotta demon going on.” He better go copyright that asap before I steal it right out from under his nose. Oh! Too late!

~ Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) compares America’s current government to Prague under communist rule and urges a “Velvet Revolution”:

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) urged a smaller-than-expected crowd of Tea Party protesters on Tuesday to launch a Velvet Revolution-style uprising against the federal government, saying the parallels are striking between America’s current government and Eastern European communist rule.

Speaking to the Huffington Post shortly after his speech, King declared that a peaceful uprising, a la the successful overthrowing of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia on the streets of Prague in 1989 “would be fine with me.”

“Fill this city up, fill this city, jam this place full so that they can’t get in, they can’t get out and they will have to capitulate to the will of the American people,” he said.

“So this is just like Prague under communist rule?” the Huffington Post asked.

“Oh yeah, it is very, very close,” King replied. “It is the nationalization of our liberty and the federal government taking our liberty over. So there are a lot of similarities there.”

If there is one thing I cannot abide, it is the nationalization of liberty. Oof.

~ Former Congressman J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.) claims a six-and-a-half-year-old same-sex marriage ruling in Massachusetts could conceivably pave the way for men marrying horses:

Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) primary challenger, former Arizona congressman J.D. Hayworth, warned this past weekend that the same-sex marriage decision handed down by the Massachusetts Supreme Court is so loose in its logic and wording that it could lead to a man marrying his horse.

Appearing on Orlando, Fla. radio station WORL on Sunday, the Arizona conservative had what could be described as a Rick Santorum “man on dog” moment.

“You see, the Massachusetts Supreme Court, when it started this move toward same-sex marriage, actually defined marriage — now get this — it defined marriage as simply, ‘the establishment of intimacy,'” Hayworth said. “Now how dangerous is that? I mean, I don’t mean to be absurd about it, but I guess I can make the point of absurdity with an absurd point — I guess that would mean if you really had affection for your horse, I guess you could marry your horse.

Yep. Except in Switzerland, where animals are not allowed to have lawyers, and would therefore be prevented from filing for a divorce from your sick ass.

And from the New York Times: Texas has axed T. Jefferson and separation of Church and State from textbooks and added Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract With America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association:

The conservative members maintain that they are trying to correct what they see as a liberal bias among the teachers who proposed the curriculum. To that end, they made dozens of minor changes aimed at calling into question, among other things, concepts like the separation of church and state and the secular nature of the American Revolution.

“I reject the notion by the left of a constitutional separation of church and state,” said David Bradley, a conservative from Beaumont who works in real estate. “I have $1,000 for the charity of your choice if you can find it in the Constitution.”

They also included a plank to ensure that students learn about “the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract With America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association.”

There’s some kind of karmic school shooting just begging to be the end of this story.

If America and Russia have anything in common, it is people who say crazy shit. And the love of fire arms. A match made in Heaven.

~ Telegraph: “Gunman tries to attack Lenin’s corpse in Red Square”:

The man, named as Sergey Karpentsov, is quoted as saying he wanted to let loose a volley of bullets at Lenin’s carefully embalmed corpse, one of the Russian capital’s most popular and ghoulish tourist attractions.

“My main demand is the quick bulldozing of the mausoleum which contains the body of the anti-Christ,” he said. “I wanted to open fire on the tomb with an assault rifle but I was advised not to do that in case the tomb is armour-plated.”

I guess if you’re so passionate about your cause that you must take up arms, it’s better to aim them at people who are already dead than at those who still have their whole lives ahead of them? Though I am curious about the metaphysics of killing the Antichrist with an assault rifle…

~ Janes: “US, Russia account for half of global arms sales”:

Russia and the United States dominated the international arms export market from 2005-09, although there was significant growth for other exporters, most notably France and Germany, according to figures collated by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

The data – which was included in the SIPRI Fact Sheet ‘Trends in International Arms Transfers, 2009’ – showed that the US and Russia accounted for 30 and 23 per cent of exports respectively between 2005 and 2009.

As my brother-in-law says, “Never pass on a gun raffle.”

And speaking of crazy shit people say:

~ Dmitry Rogozin:

“Mishiko’s provocations smell of epilepsy.”

You say shit like this and Western leaders have no choice but to throw up their arms and walk out of the room. Whose brilliant idea was it to put Ivan Nikiforovich in charge of public diplomacy?

~ Mikhail Prokhorov:

“I suggest we buy Greece,” Prokhorov said on the Spotlight Paris Hilton television show on March 13. Acquiring Greece, home of the Olympic Games, would be a marketing opportunity for Russian gas exporter OAO Gazprom, which could use the Olympic flame as its trademark, he said.

“We could sell our gas to every home together with an Olympic torch,” Prokhorov said. “I suggest we start with Ukraine.”

First the New Jersey Nets, now Greece? A pony for the person who can tell me what this guy would not buy.

If this was not a member of the Village People, it should have been:


c. RIA Novosti

The Khakassia village people, that is…

I make fun at his expense, but there have been many a Chicago winter day I totally could have gone for something like this. And the pretty pony too. Especially the pony. And the guy on the pony. Is there some discount if I get both? What, you think Putin’s not for sale? Prokhorov might beg to differ…

Ok, that’s all for today, my lovelies! Thanks for reading and Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

March 5, 2010

News Roundups, the New Black.

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

Which is quite convenient, as I’m going into mourning for winter. The rays of sun (the kind that actually radiate warmth!), the vast pits of mud in every direction, the minutes wasted staring indecisively at the closet of jackets, trying to remember which one is best for this weather… It appears the season of my discontent has arrived. I’ll spend the weekend in existential panic about it. And having dinner with friends, going to a play, watching the Oscars… Any time left for writing will be devoted to Andy’s interview questions. In the meantime, here are some articles of note:

Featured Articles.

~ From openDemocracy: So what do Russia’s people think?

In the first of his regular monthly reports for odRussia, Alexei Levinson of Russia’s prestigious Levada Centre offers a round-up of Russian public opinion at the start of 2010. Even when the economic crisis lead people to judge their government, he notes, approval of Prime Minister Putin remained high. Nor do people seem particularly bothered by Russia’s imaginary elections.

~ From A Fistful of Euros: Russia on the rebound.

Two interesting facts:
1) After sharply negative growth last year, Russia’s growth is predicted to exceed 6% this year. Okay, that’s just clawing back what they lost. But it’s still better than almost anywhere else in Eastern Europe.

2) For the first time in many, many years Russia’s population grew slightly: by a little over 20,000 people in 2009.

This growth is a combination of a slight downturn in the death rate, a noticeable uptick in the birth rate, and a sharp rise in immigration — it hit a ten year high, with about 240,000 people moving into Russia.

So: short-term blip, or sustainable?

Funny Pages.

~ From The Daily Rash: Harlequin Romance Replaces Fabio with Vladimir Putin!

“Don’t get me wrong! I’ve never read one of those books! But that Russian guy is at least believable! I was wary of Fabio when he started doing those butter commercials.” Newt ordered another scotch and lit a cigarette.

“I saw Last Tango in Paris with Brando.”

Newt puffed on his cigarette.

“So, I know what butter is used for.”

~ From Eternal Remont: Comming Soon: Jersey Shore, Russian Edition.

Apparently, it will correct the same kind of false stereotypes about Russian-Americans that Jersey Shore has so excellently dispelled for Italian-Americans.

Classifieds.

~ From the fine State of Illinois: Forget law school, apply for Lieutenant Governor!

Illinois Democrats are trying to find a candidate for Lieutenant Governor, but they haven’t been taking the traditional route. Democrat Scott Lee Cohen originally won the nomination in February but dropped out of the race due to a scandal. That’s why the Illiniois Democratic Party is letting anyone apply for the position online. Seriously, no joke.

~ From the fine Russian Envoy to Nato: Rogozin…

“I’ll give a million dollars to the person who will prove that NATO is not pursuing military planning against Russia.”

Society.

~ From Tim Newman: Goodbye Sakhalin.

On 1st March I demobilised from Sakhalin Island having lived there on a residential basis since 12th September 2006, a period of 3 years, 5 months, and 19 days.[…]

I’ll miss it like hell.

~ Seen around blogistan:

RuNet Echo. “Global Voices’ RuNet Echo editors interpret and report on the Russian-language internet for a global audience.”

GosLiudi. Polit.ru creation for the “promotion and standardization of blogging and participating in online social projects of public people: government officials, governors, mayors, officials, deputies, heads of state-owned companies, experts and analysts in the state and e-government.”

Gov-Gov. Blog about government sites. “I am interested in all types of public web-projects – agitation and propaganda portals, Real Innovations, personal blogs and regular ministerial officials, foreign and domestic developments.”

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely weekend!

March 2, 2010

Odds & Ends: Scatter our heads with ashes and beat ourselves with chains Edition!

Filed under: Odds & Ends — poemless @ 6:09 PM
Tags: , , , ,

Contents: Your pressing questions, answered!
Q. What are the Olympics really about? A. Giant inflatable beavers, Hot tub time machines and free-market democracy!
Q. WWJD? A. Read Marx, of course.
Q. Yulia’s Latynina’s hair: Fashion statement or symptom? A. Symptom (but I suspect her politics are a fashion statement.)

I would like to thank everyone who commented in the previous post for their feedback, suggestions, advice, encouragement and ideas. After careful reflection, I have decided to ignore you and do what I want. Call it “authoritarian democracy.”

This Week in the Olympics!

First, let’s talk about Canada. They won most of the gold medals and beat both the US and Russia in hockey. I’m thrilled for them. Genuinely. Because, from the looks of their closing ceremonies, they don’t have a hell of a lot else going for them, culture-wise. Giant inflatable beavers? I should feel sorry for them for not having more choices, but as someone who respects the spirit of the Olympics, I’m offended they resorted to something just shy of a frat house prank. It took Russia, land where zoo animals have drinking problems, leaders romp around like retired Chippendale dancers doing GI Joe at the seniors center and Dima Bilan is a hairstyle, to add some fucking class and culture to that show. Opera, ballet, classical music, supermodels… Russia may have come home almost empty handed, but at least they have something to come home to. Hell, the Canadians don’t even get to go home – they are home – they have to live there, ya know. If your greatest contribution to humanity is giant fucking inflatable beavers, William Shatner and beer, you better be good at sports… S’all I’m saying.

And speaking of pathetic:

Matt Taibbi: “AP: Russians Still Sucking on ‘Miracle on Ice.’”

Seriously, can we get over ourselves about the Miracle on Ice? It was great and all, but you hear about it every five minutes in this country. I lived in Russia for 10 years and didn’t even once hear about a bunch of Soviets with hideous mustaches whipping the asses of David Robinson, Danny Manning and Mitch Richmond in basketball in Seoul in ‘88. I heard a lot about the 1972 thing, but that was only in the context of Russians being so amused by how much we whined about getting jobbed by the refs.

I mean really, whatever happened to acting like you’ve been there before? I’m trying to imagine what the citizen of someplace like Liechtenstein or Reunion Island thinks when he sees Americans keeping a 30-year boner over the image of themselves as longshot underdogs who beat the odds.

(Something is afoot. US/CCCP hockey rivalry. War Games and Nine to Five were on local tv this weekend. I recently purchased a pair of leg warmers. Between you and me, I think there is something to that Hot Tub Time Machine idea.)

Don’t think that by insulting Canada and the US, I am trying to deflect attention from Russia’s sorry showing. Mimicking Obama, Medvedev vowed to go after the “fat cats” responsible for the Russian sporting crisis. (Why is his English site all Tsar-ed out, while his Russian site has a “some guy with a blog” feel?) Putin, who loves cats, chose some less market-tested rhetoric to express his dismay:

“Of course, we expected more,” … “But all the same it’s not a reason to lose heart, scatter our heads with ashes and beat ourselves to exhaustion with chains.”

In a hint that heads would roll in official Russian sports bodies, Putin called for “serious critical analysis and conclusions, perhaps including organisational conclusions.”

I join VVP in calling for serious critical analysis and conclusions about official Russian sports bodies. Let’s start with his:

After serious analysis, I have come to the conclusion that it rocks. Ya’ll should put him on your Olympic team. As soon as they ok it as a sport (I have faith they will) he’d be the favorite to win the topless polar-bear cavalry biathlon. <–Note: The best way to win medals in make up sports no one else has ever heard of or even considers a sport, like snowboarding and skeleton, get good at it, and get it in the Olympics. In that order. Easy money.

I’m not the only one with this idea:

President Medvedev, in your pal, Mr. Putin, you have a national treasure but more importantly, an athletic and versatile golden goose.

If you don’t want him, surely I can petition the Mexican government to grant him honorary citizenship so at least we can hold our heads high at the next Olympic Games.

I can see it now in Sochi, El Putin and El Beto wiping the floor with the field in the 2-man luge and the cheers ringing out from El Zócalo to Cabo San Lucas: ¡Putin! ¡Putin! ¡Putin!

The WSJ must exist in bizarro land. Rather than regonizing Putin as the clear answer to Russia’s Olympic woes, they blame him for this year’s horrible tragedy:

A fragile national pride is now, as then, tied up in beating other countries in sports, or in the nuclear arms race. That’s why losing stings more than in other places.

This thought runs against centuries of Russian tradition, but why not try to measure Russia’s greatness by its ability to build a free and prosperous country, a good global citizen at peace with its neighbors? This kind of Russia might also fare better at the Olympics. The four leading medals winners in Vancouver are free-market democracies.

It’s the free-market democracies that win medals then? That’s interesting. Because…

All-time Olympic Games medal count:

United States (USA) [4] 25 929 729 637 2295 21 87 95 71 253 46 1016 824 708 2548
Soviet Union (URS) [24] 9 395 319 296 1010 9 78 57 59 194 18 473 376 355 1204

… the Commies have the second highest medal count of all Olympics in modern history.

You know what pisses me off more than Christians who ignorantly and arrogantly attribute all success to God and all failure to godlessness? When the free-market liberals do it.

This Week in Religion!

Some Russian guy once told me “Jesus was a Communist” in an attempt to impress me. All Americans being god-fearin’ psychos or something. I told him I was a Communist, and then he took me to church. For real. True story.

Apparently the Church is so eager to get me back in the pews, they’re ready to throw in Marx for the price of a one-way ticket to heaven.

Damn it. They’ll win me back, yet!

Times Online: Vatican thumbs up for Karl Marx after Galileo, Darwin and Oscar Wilde.

Karl Marx, who famously described religion as “the opium of the people”, has joined Galileo, Charles Darwin and Oscar Wilde on a growing list of historical figures to have undergone an unlikely reappraisal by the Roman Catholic Church.

L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, said yesterday that Marx’s early critiques of capitalism had highlighted the “social alienation” felt by the “large part of humanity” that remained excluded, even now, from economic and political decision-making.

Georg Sans, a German-born professor of the history of contemporary philosophy at the pontifical Gregorian University, wrote in an article that Marx’s work remained especially relevant today as mankind was seeking “a new harmony” between its needs and the natural environment. He also said that Marx’s theories may help to explain the enduring issue of income inequality within capitalist societies.

“We have to ask ourselves, with Marx, whether the forms of alienation of which he spoke have their origin in the capitalist system,” Professor Sans wrote. “If money as such does not multiply on its own, how are we to explain the accumulation of wealth in the hands of the few?”[…]

This overturns a century of Catholic hostility to his creed.

This is not an appropriate place for me to go off on Protestants (Calvinists in particular). I will just say, I adore a great many things about the Catholic Church. The art. The mysticism. The schools. The social justice mission. The drunk Irish priests who kick your ass at poker. Now I can add Marx to the list!

However, my IQ and radically evolved values prevent me from embracing your primitive faith in the existence of God:

Science Daily: Liberals and Atheists Smarter? Intelligent People Have Values Novel in Human Evolutionary History, Study Finds.

More intelligent people are statistically significantly more likely to exhibit social values and religious and political preferences that are novel to the human species in evolutionary history. Specifically, liberalism and atheism, and for men (but not women), preference for sexual exclusivity correlate with higher intelligence, a new study finds.

Intelligent, atheist, liberal, monogamous men are novel? You need a scientific survey to tell me this?!!!! Gah! Just … gah!

This Week in Trying to Figure out WTF Yulia Latynina is saying!

Yes Yulia, I might call you crazy. Because you might be.

Q: How to do you know if you are a neo-con?
A: You don’t like human rights OR Vladimir Putin.

Yulia Latynina: The Olympic Sweatshop.

I don’t like human rights, environmental activists or the Olympic Games. You might call me crazy for this belief. After all, these three things are beneficial to mankind, and most of their participants don’t make a lot of money.

Maybe I have been shaped by the fact that I was born in the Soviet Union, a country that was determined to bring peace and happiness to the whole world, and I’m a bit distrustful of these “do-gooders.” I prefer the guys who work for a profit, provided that the country is built in such a way that they contribute to the common good.

If anyone can tell me what this op-ed is about, please give us a hand. I feel like some quotes or a crucial paragraph has been accidentally omitted. Or she’s speaking in tongue or codes. Or she’s channeling the ghost of some smartass college student who was trying too hard to be irreverent just before, stoned out of his mind, he fell from a 12 storey window.

The global bureaucracy wants to succeed where the Soviet Union has failed. It is anxious to help the poor and save the planet — not by discovering and making a profit, but by regulating and distributing.

Sooo, I think she’s not in favor of regulating and distributing, because she’s traumatic memories from when the Soviet Union tried that. But … can someone explain helping the poor and saving the planet by discovering and making a profit? Are the poor in need of discovering now? Can anyone make a profit by helping them? I mean, really helping them, not conning them into high interest mortgages and credit cards. Hm… I do not know what Miss Freaky Hair (no really, I LOVE her hair – except I think she should pick one: crazy hair or crazy talk and stick with it, because only a chosen few can really pull off looking and sounding like a lunatic without being mistaken for one and admitted to the psych ward) is smoking that makes her able to see the world in ways I never have before, in ways that transcend the thought shackles of reason and common sense.

But I want to try it.

Ok, that’s all for today. Thanks for reading!

February 24, 2010

Guilty Pleasures…

Filed under: Odds & Ends — poemless @ 6:29 PM
Tags: , , ,

Contents: A cartoon, a video, a photo and a magazine article. All you need is a glass of chardonnay and you’ve got yourself a serving of superficial bliss.

The heated discussion ignited by the previous post has me seeking lighter fare. (So if you came here looking for a bunch of overeducated Westerner know-it-alls arguing about the relative merits and horrors of 90’s Russia, that’ll be the next post down.) For now, a few indulgences provided for my own enjoyment. But feel free to help yourselves.

I. Oh, snap!

From xkcd. (H/T: Sublime Oblivion)

Question #1: Can it be called “navel gazing” if stick figures do it? I mean, they don’t have navels.
Question #2: Has xkcd yet published the cartoon of stick figures going online to post xkcd cartoons of of stick figures going online to post xkcd cartoons?

II. Colbert takes on the Swiss, Irish and Russians!

February 23, 2010: Olympic International Houses

I hate WordPress. Why can’t I embed a damn video?! Well, follow the link – it’s worth it for the Swiss-bashing alone, though the praise for Putin is fun to watch as well…

III. Vova’s rockin’ the vampire suit.

How many old guys can rock the all black get-up and pull it off without looking like a washed up rockstar or a washed up theater critic or a washed up vampire? Johny Cash and… …. Just Johny Cash and Vova.

I am a sucker for a world leader who dresses like Johnny Cash and says stuff like this. I turn right into that girl at the party who politely informs you she’s had too much to drink. I know one day I will be on the stand explaining myself and begging for forgiveness before my willing executioners, but for today, I think he is just divine…

IV. Vanity Fair’s magnum opus on the eXile.

What? Looks like I am not the only one suffering withdrawal. But why are they publishing this now?

“Lost Exile.” Excerpts:

Ames on the 90’s:

Everything was about free markets and capitalism and democracy, and it was all leading us to some great new future, but all you had to do was look around in the streets and see there was something fucking wrong with it,” Ames says. “We were in the middle of total devastation, one of the worst, most horrible fucking tragedies of modern times.”

Fred Weir on the 90’s:

Ames had just turned 28. He ran around the city, chasing tank fire, ducking behind soldiers until they kicked him away. “It was this different world where everything was more intense and consequential and full of surprises,” he says. This was home.

By the mid-90s, a different species of expatriate was flocking to the Wild East, as it was known. The decade had all the indulgence of 1920s Paris and Weimar Berlin, without the bothersome art and poetry. There was too much money and sex to be had. Perestroika and glasnost were all very nice, but Russia was broke, and Yeltsin, committing to a raft of hasty privatization measures, ushered in Western bankers, consultants, lawyers, entrepreneurs, and opportunists of every other stripe, who joined the nascent capitalists and native raconteurs of Russia. According to The Christian Science Monitor’s Fred Weir, “It was, of course, the sexiest story in the world, because the great Soviet giant was transforming itself—we thought—into a Western country.” In fact, he says, “the fuckers were just looting Russia.”

The Hungry Duck:

“They would get up and continue dancing, blood everywhere,” Baseav says. Steele recalls a night when the deputy head of a Moscow police unit, drunk beyond all reckoning, emptied his pistol into the ceiling and made everybody lie on the floor for three hours. Lavelle claims he saw a man stabbed to death next to him one night. “No one thought it was unusual.”

Edushka, being disingenuous:

“One thing I couldn’t stand was Westerners who thought they had higher moral values than Russians, these people who came preaching Western civilization and then become connived,” The Economist’s Edward Lucas says. “The Exile exposed them.”

Ames on America:

“It’s kind of terrifying being back here. I find the rules here suffocating,” Ames says when I ask how it feels returning to the States after a decade and a half in Moscow. “I miss the extreme melodrama” of Russia, he says. “Here there are so many horrifying layers of décor and piety. Everything is at stake in this country—in theory it’s Rome, and yet it operates like small-town Nebraska. There’s so little real drama here.”

“Certain people” on how it ended:

Certain people close to The Exile, including some of those investors, claim Rossvyazokhrankultura did not cause it to fold. They say that Ames was tired of publishing it and that he used the government as a scapegoat. Alex Shifrin, The Exile’s lead investor, whom Ames accuses of abandoning him, would say only, “There are a lot of half-truths as to what happened.” Another investor claims the officials were simply looking for a bribe. “There was no government plot. I think everybody had it out for The Exile to some extent,” he says. But the investors didn’t “want to get involved with a media fight [Ames was] having with the feds.”

As always, thanks for reading!

February 15, 2010

Consumed.

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!

February 4, 2010

The Usual Suspects.

Filed under: Odds & Ends — poemless @ 6:11 PM

It’s like a drive-by, but with links instead of bullets, and wonks instead of innocent children.

RT: According to Eternal Remont, Russia Today has now become the most-watched foreign news channel in the United States.

This makes me feel like a 6 year old girl who wakes up to find a real life unicorn right there in her bedroom. It’s like I believed the imaginary into becoming real. Is this what religious people feel like?

Zizek: Love him or hate him (or don’t and save him a lecture on how your love of him is actually an expression of loathing.) The comment thread at Crooked Timber, in response to a mis-informed post reporting that Zizek asserted Gandhi was more violent than Hitler, is one of the most entertaining reads on the interwebs. I know. The bar is low. Anyway, fun one-liners:

“It’s not trolling if you’ve got tenure.”

“As far as I understand SZ’s dialectic, it seems equivalent in logic to the following proposition: This orange is really orange. It is more of a vegetable than this carrot.”

“Zizek should not have right to use thoughts!” [I love it when people say brilliant and obnoxious things in broken English. Eddie, is that you?]

“Zizek is the Houellebecq of the academy.”

“The claim that Gandhi was more violent than Hitler because he was proposing a radical change in the social structure makes sense in terms of Zizek’s philosophy.
Not on Earth though.”

“search google Books for ‘Gandhi killed monkeys’”

“Zizek is what happens when a decent education is mixed with a total disregard for clarity of thought or purpose; and possibly large quantities of dope.”

“Does not Zizek invite us to use the appearance of “Zizek” as the object of Zizek?”

I’m going to google “Ghandi killed monkeys” while you continue reading this post.

FP: Josh at FP Passport is taking submissions for “The Oscars of Foreign Policy.”

It must be a great weight off their backs to finally stop pretending to provide responsible, intelligent coverage of the most grave and influential matters facing our species, like war… peace… poverty… climate crisis… OTOH, I don’t judge FP. Good luck getting the public to care about anything that doesn’t involve an annual celebrity-studded awards show. And it’s hardly FP’s fault that world leaders prefer to stage dog and pony shows instead of figure out how to improve the quality of people’s lives. “Best actor in a leading role” takes on a whole new meaning. I can just see Barbara Walters sitting down with Obama before the big night, asking him if pretending to be a leader day in and day out hasn’t actually tricked him into believing he is one.

Email your nominations to Joshua.Keating@foreignpolicy.com.

Also in FP, Julia Ioffe has written this little ditty: Putin’s Parliamentary Circus. Naming a louche pop singer to the Duma is just the latest in a string of bizarre appointments for Russia’s increasingly brazen ringmaster.

My knee-jerk response to the headline was, wait, there is a BRIC country where being movie star is seriously considered a springboard for a life in politics. And why would pop singers implicitly be worse politicians than watermelon salesmen? Jesus, wasn’t Minnesota even run by a professional wrestler at some point? Then I actually read the article and came to this:

It’s a strategy that, paradoxically, seems to be working. On the one hand, according to a recent poll by the Levada polling center, Russians have not really had the wool pulled over their eyes: Only 9 percent of Russians believe that their current form of government can be called “a democracy.” (Two years ago, it was 15 percent.) “People see that state bureaucrats are getting more and more power and that the people get less and less; they see the highly personalized rule, the rigged elections,” says Levada sociologist Oleg Savelev. Russians, in other words, are not stupid.

United Russia, on the other hand, is smarter. Levada polling — widely seen as the country’s most reliable — shows that Russians have largely bought into five years of rhetoric of “sovereign democracy,” the theory propagated by the Kremlin, and seen as an excuse for creeping authoritarianism, that the Western model of democracy would be inappropriate for Russia. Nearly half of respondents say that Russia needs a form of democracy that is “completely unique, corresponding to the national traditions and specifics of Russia.”

And, strangely, in the few years since Putin started granting election-list slots and Duma seats as favors to his favorite celebrities, Pavlovsky’s cynical tactics seem to be paying off. (And let’s be clear here: In a country where opposition figures are routinely plucked off ballots on absurd technicalities, there can be no question that someone has to be allowed to run.) Russian opinion of the Duma — inefficient and obstreperous in Boris Yeltsin’s days; a rubber stamp now — has always been low. But, since 2007, it has received a significant boost (relatively), with 13 percent approving of the Duma, up from 9 percent.

Which is also nearly the same spread as in the democracy poll.

Damn. Not only is there sober, informative, thought-provoking journalism in this article, it contains the word, “obstreperous.” Big words, practical facts, sexy headlines… Julia can be whoever you need her to be.

Russian Word of the Day: У меня есть or имею?

U menia est! U menia est! Everyone knows imet is for losers! Seriously, though. Stop trying to learn French with one of those tear-off daily calendars. They’re bad for the environment and everyone knows French is for losers. Ditch it (I mean recycle it) and bookmark Russian Word of the Day!

Vodka: Now with vitamins!

This seriously downsizes my grocery shopping list. And makes me able to do it all at the store on the corner. And makes me believe there is a God.

What to Read: The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis, by Jeremy Rifkin.

I’m a sucker for Rifkin AND for 600+ page books. Yay!

Chicago, IL: Making evildoers live in Gitmo, humane. Making evildoers live in Illinois, not so much.

It’s funny because it’s TRUE.

“I’ve been to Guantanamo,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said today at a hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence – as the subject of the federal government’s intentions of purchasing the Thomson Correctional Center in northwest Illinois came up.

“It’s pretty nice compared to Illinois — the place in Illinois where they want to put them,” Hatch said in the committee hearing. “It’d be nice and cold in the winter time and… all I can say is that I imagine there’ll be a hue and a cry that we’re not fair by bringing them here.”

What about the fine law-abidin’, God-fearin’ American-born citizens who live here? How is it fair to us? Maybe someone should drive in with tanks and liberate us from this cold, corrupt hell. Would rock if they brought some of that democracy I’m always hearing about with them too.

(I actually love living in Chicago. In the same sick, masochistic way I loved living in Moscow.)

Rogozin: Russian Ambassador to NATO tweets about RFE/RL blog about his tweets. Not content with wasting time on social networking media when he should be making America GO HOME or fierce narcissism, the Ambassador takes up homophobia as a hobby too:

“Gay isn’t a reliable soldier. Imagine: the foe’s soldiers are all so hadsome! If our gays refuse to shoot them we’ll lose the war.”

And what, your own soldiers are not hot enough to charm the pants off your enemies? Way to boost soldier morale, Rogozin.

Vova!:

“This is a man who has earned a worthy place in the history of Russia. His popularity allows him to take any kind of decision. We count on his common sense.”

~Igor Yurgens on Vladimir Putin.

Is this a change in tune, or was Yurgens never as critical of Putin as the media made him out to be? I don’t know…

Capitalism, New Cold War, No – This is not a story from the Onion: Henry Paulson has blamed Vladimir Putin for forcing the U.S. bail out the banks.

In next week’s news: Keyser Söze forces U.S. to bail out Hank Paulsen’s credibility…

OMG. Gandhi DID kill monkeys!

January 12, 2010

Odds & Ends: Yes, I’m still writing about Russia Edition.

Filed under: Odds & Ends — poemless @ 2:46 PM

“Hey Vova, come look. Odds & Ends is back!”

You should not have to rely on crappy immitations.

Contents: 2009’s Russia hatin’ hack=2010’s Russia lovin’ weatherman; 2009’s enemy of Putin=2010’s enemy of Oligarchs; 2009’s vodka=2010’s street cleaner; 2009’s Tylenol=2010’s vodka; 2009’s cosmetics=2010’s penicillin; 2009’s man’s best friend=2010’s toxic avenger; 2009’s Pradva=2010’s MosNews and much much more!

It is a New Year. It is a Recession. I present to you, New Uses for Old Stuff:

The Month In Journamalism:

~ Ed Lucas: Cold? Try Siberian winters like I did!

Stop the presses! Tovarishch Lucas has written something I not only agree with, but actually enjoyed reading! (Note to RosKosmos: That asteroid might be closer than you think.)

Timidly shivering in their badly insulated houses, or tottering along unswept pavements in unsuitable footwear and inadequate clothes, the British present a pathetic sight in winter.

Not just incompetent in the face of the challenge of a cold snap – but too often joyless to boot.

What a contrast to Russia and other East European countries where I have spent most of my adult life.

Supposedly these countries are the continent’s poor relations. But when it comes to dealing with General Winter – the deadly foe of all invaders from the West – they are streets ahead.[…]

Unlike us, our fellow Europeans in the east know how to dress properly too. My most treasured possession is an Estonian ‘lunt’, a supple lambskin cap.

With the flaps turned down, it keeps me warm even in temperatures of -50c (my record, encountered in the eastern Siberian mining town of Kemerovo).

I once hosted a glamorous English couple in the depths of an Eastern winter. As the wind howled and their ears turned blue, both refused even to fasten their coats, let alone accept the hats, gloves and scarves I tried to lend them, during a brief walk.

‘I would look silly in a hat,’ said my friend. ‘Nobody in my family has ever worn anything like that,’ said his haughty wife.[…]

Best of all was the sauna culture – a world away from the feeble version of British spas and health clubs filled with thin-lipped women desperate to sweat out a few pounds. The real thing is a hut, preferably self-built and fuelled by logs you have chopped yourself.[…]

I cannot recreate those beloved Russian winters in Britain. But I have installed (against the strenuous objections of my wife) what must be one of the very few outdoor saunas in Chelsea.

She looks in dismay at the kit: The wooden bucket and ladle, the strange mushroom-like hats, the linen loin-cloths, the small bottles of birchbark oil, dark brown and pungent (for scenting the steam), the canister of salty sauna honey (for rubbing on the skin) and the birch-branch whisks (imported from Estonia and stored in the freezer).

Today, though, I’ll scarcely hear her objections: I’ll be too busy looking for snow to roll in.

Ok, first of all, Eddie’s going to have me shot for quoting so liberally from his article. And to frame Vova. So this might be a good time to put in writing my request for cremation. No stuffy funerals with little pink chairs. Have a big drunken orgy and scatter my ashes in some dank Moscow alley.

I just can’t agree enough with Eddie, though. Anyone complaining about the cold and the snow, acting like you are some kind of gladiator just because you had the balls to go to the store, anyone who cancels classes or work or public transportation because of … winter, y’all are wimps. Also, I’m sick of snow and cold being referred to as “bad” weather. Not only is it obnoxious to refer to a whole ecosystem as “bad,” like mother nature’s sole responsibility is to make your life easy, penguins and reindeer be damned, but it professes an ignorance of the joys that come with such weather. Playing in the snow, hot chocolate, down comforters, saunas, sledding, the beautiful twinkle of snow beneath a streetlight and the way it makes everything a little quiter, big comfy sweaters, not having to see men’s feet in flip flops… Anyway, it gives me hope that Russophobe or Putinista, moron or genuis, we Russia-watchers can all find common ground when it comes to judging the rest of you pansies freaking out about the white stuff.

~ Hindu: Reliance installations attacked in Andhra Pradesh.

Every blogger dreams of the day when his words will inspire class warfare and widespread rioting. For Mark Ames, that day has come.

Several installations of the Reliance group across Andhra Pradesh were attacked late on Thursday night after a Telugu television channel aired a report alleging a high-level conspiracy behind Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy’s death in a helicopter crash on September 2.
It was based on a report on a Russian website, The Exiled, which alleged that YSR was the victim of a plot centring around offshore gas reserves in the Krishna-Godavari basin. Reliance Industries Limited owned by Mukesh Ambani is operating these gasfields off the Kakinada coast.

No political party, barring some Congress leaders, gave credence to the report of the website, which could not be accessed. But mobs took to the streets and indulged in vandalism in at least ten districts and Hyderabad city.[…]

YSR’s supporters went on the rampage in Guntur, Anantapur and Kurnool districts and Hyderabad city, where they attacked retail outlets and malls, cellphone towers and petrol stations operated by the two Reliance groups.

They burnt effigies of Mukesh and Anil Ambani. Local Congress leaders called for a bandh in Kadapa and Anantapur districts and several towns in other districts.

Guntur witnessed the maximum attack on the Reliance groups’ outlets, with the mobs attacking fuel stations, cellphone towers and other retail outlets. Tension prevailed in the district as senior Congress leaders led the attack on the outlets till late in the night.

In Kurnool district, activists set ablaze two buses at the Nandyal bus stand and attacked over a dozen others.

Mark responds here.

BTW. “… a Russian website?” I thought he was supposed to be “banned” in Russia. Though I see that tagline is no longer up. That’s too bad, if only because of a missed opportunity to sew more confused outrage among our Indian friends.

The Month In Switzerland:

~ RT: Swiss politicians ponder ban on assisted suicide.

Apparently suicide tourism is booming in my favourite country, where, for a price, they’ll euthanize you even if you don’t have a fatal disease. Switzerland: where people go to kill themselves!

The number of people coming to Switzerland to seek help in ending their life has been steadily rising. Plans to revise the law on assisted suicide stem from the government’s fears that Switzerland may become a “suicide Mecca.” In the meantime, campaigners are worried that changes to the law could deprive people of their last chance to die with dignity.

Dignitas – a Swiss group that helps people die assisted by doctors and nurses – maintains that everyone has the right to choose when to die. Although the group rarely speaks to journalists, the doors of the organization have been open the terminally ill for more than 10 years.

However, critics say what Dignitas is carrying out is “a murky business.”

“EXIT (a group similar to Dignitas) and Dignitas are very commercial,” says Ruedi Aeschbacher of the Evangelical People’s Party of Switzerland. “They say they are non-profit, but they make money. And nobody can control them. Nobody can check their books.”

The story goes on to say that while they’ll end your life even if you don’t have a chronic illness, they won’t put down depressed folks. Which, to me, is a bit like offering hospice care to anyone but cancer patients.

The Month In Vova’s Sporty Holidays:

~ Guardian: Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev meet on the slopes for a cup of tea.

In this month’s installation of: “We don’t resent each other. Honestly. What?”

After the shots of him manfully – and shirtlessly – tugging fish from a Siberian river and sitting proudly astride a magnificent chestnut steed, the latest pictures of Vladimir Putin are something of a letdown. Not only is the Russian prime minister riding a snowmobile rather than an awed polar bear, he is also wearing a ski jacket with what looks to be a rather snug red fleece. His image as a solitary outdoorsman at home in the most inhospitable of environments is further undermined by a photo in which he and the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, enjoy an après-ski cup of tea.[…]

Their body language suggests the closeness between the two most powerful figures in Russia. But shirt or no shirt, it’s plain which one is the alpha male. Despite Medvedev’s claims that he lifts weights, Putin’s physique, black belt in judo and record in office make him all but unassailable.

Letdown? I know, right! Listen, Vovka darling, it’s all nice and lovely if you want to go romp in the snow and have tea, but next time you could save some money to put toward the starving orphan problem and keep the press pool (and Dima) at home. Unless you are romping shirtless. Or having tea shirtless. Or riding a polar bear. Shirtless. Wait. Why has he not thought of this before?! Gives a whole new angle to the “bear cavalry” myth… If I were Putin’s PR person, I’d be scheduling a polar bear photo-op ASAP. Or not. Maybe closer to 2012. Mark my words: you’ll see VVP in a polarbear-riding beefcake shot before the next presidential election.

Fortunately my attractive leader actually vacations where it is warm:

Unfortunately my attractive leader isn’t a very good leader…

~ Reuters: Putin on the Ritz.

This is cute.

“Blog Guy, you know those dudes that run Russia? President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin?”
I’ve heard of them, yes.

“Boy, I bet those are great jobs to have. They probably live the high life all the time and do whatever they want, eh, eh?”

Not really. Times are hard. They carpool to work together in Medvedev’s Pobeda, and as you can see here, it’s not even light yet when they head to the office.

“Gosh, I would have expected big limos or something. Well, what about when they have those huge snows? Do they still drive that car, or do they just get a snow day?”

Snow day? Hah! When it snows, they go in together on a snowmobile. Have a look.

“Wow, this is all pretty low rent, isn’t it? Still, probably lavish meals with the best food and drink?”

Ya think? Here they are having the luncheon special at the Kremlin Coffee Shop.

Why are they wearing parkas and hats at lunch? Isn’t the heat turned up high enough?

Why *are* they wearing parkas and hats at lunch? This looks like something from a J.C. Penney’s catalogue. I thought they were all, “Forward, Russia!” If the future looks like a J.C. Penney’s catalogue, I can see why people are ambivalent…

The Month In Vodka:

~ AFP: Russia imposes minimum vodka price.

In an effort to curb alcoholism (or at least people dying instantly from alcohol … baby steps) and black market production (which causes most of the “instant deaths from alcohol”) Dimochka’s being a party-pooper and raising the price of the little water:

MOSCOW — Russia on Friday imposed a new minimum legal price for vodka in a bid to hinder the sale of cut-price black market moonshine blamed for the deaths of thousands of Russians every year.
From the first day of the New Year, a new law came into force stipulating that the minimum price of a half-litre bottle of vodka is 89 rubles (2.9 dollars), official Russian news agencies reported.

The measure is aimed at preventing the sale of black market vodka which is often made from dubious ingredients but sold at rock-bottom low prices.

I know it’s more difficult to part with $3 in Russia than in America, where “$3” means, “Hell, why not just give it away for free, asshole?” in Capitalismese. But I’m thinking $3 for a bottle of vodka is not the solution. You know what discourages me from buying vodka? It’s $20 bottle. If it were $3, I would be dead now, too.

~ UPI: Vodka byproduct used as road de-icer.

And they say drink and driving don’t mix!

Vodka may be considered “antifreeze” for humans but a byproduct is also good for melting snow and ice on roads and sidewalks, makers say.
A byproduct of the vodka distilling process being marketed as “Magic Salt” is proving useful for keeping driveways and walkways clear of ice, WANE-TV, Fort Wayne, Ind., reported Wednesday.

The broadcaster quoted a local distributor who said Indiana hospitals and the city of New Haven is using the stuff as an effective de-icer.

“It’s basically the leftovers as they are doing the distilling … and they used to just basically dispose of it in retention ponds,” said Fort Wayne “Magic Salt” distributor Eric Hitzfield.

Hitzfield told WANE it works at minus 35 degrees, about 50 degrees colder than the average rock salt.

And if it doesn’t work, you can always just get drunk and not care.

Bit of trivia: Chicago uses something made from beets.

~ Luxist: Sam’s Club Launches Vodka Brand, Rue 33.

OMG. Econo-size bargain basement-priced vodka. While Russia, desperate to maintain a live population, is busy pricing proles out of their vodka, America is making affordable access to alcoholism a right of all citizens. Once the riff-raff have all died of liver failure, then the Congress will pass that universal healthcare bill. Democracy in action!

Sam’s Club has long been a place to get liquor at a lower price. Now it has introduce its own vodka, a a private label Member’s Mark ultra premium French distilled vodka under the label Rue 33. It is the first spirit to be launched under the Member’s Mark brand and joins several several control label wines.

Rue 33 is a wheat vodka from the Cognac region of France and is six times distilled and three times filtered. Sam’s Club will sell 1.75 liters of Rue 33 premium vodka for about $28 and club membership is not required to purchase alcohol on location. Of more than 600 Sam’s Clubs only around 240 are licensed to sell beer, wine and spirits.

Ok, I am freaking out, kids. First America invades Afghanistan, then we have an economic collapse, then all the hooligans start wearing furry shapkas and now vodka is the drink of choice for the underclass. I don’t mean to scare you, but I think someone is fucking with the space-time continuum! I hope this means David Tennant is about to magically appear in my life…

p.s. I don’t recognize the right of anything made in France to call itself vodka.

The Month In Self Care:

~ USA Today: Study: High heels better than running shoes.

Yes. I know.

Walking in high heels is easier on your knees and ankles than jogging in running shoes, report researchers Monday in the journal PM&R, and bare feet might be best.
The injury, function and rehabilitation study led by D. Casey Kerrigan of JKM Technologies LLC in Charlottesville, VA, a team handed 68 young adult runners, 37 of them women, running shoes and observed their running motions in treadmill and video studies. All of the runners regularly ran at least 15 miles a week.[…]

“Remarkably, the effect of running shoes on knee joint torques (twisting) during running that the authors observed here is even greater than the effect that was reported earlier of high-heeled shoes during walking,” Kerrigan says in a statement.

All of this talk of shoes has me thinking about a problem I face this time of year: Winter Boots. And the inability to find the perfect pair. Here are some of my current options along with their pros and cons:

Snow Boots. Pros: warm, waterproof, keep me from slipping and falling on my ass. Cons: ugly, too short to protect my calves from grey slush.
Ugg Boots. Pros: warm, tall, fashionably acceptable. Cons: not waterproof, don’t keep me from slipping and falling on my ass.
Rain Boots. Pros: waterproof, tall, keep me from slipping and falling on my ass, super cute. Cons: not warm.
Motorcycle Boots. Pros: warm, somewhat waterproof, keep me from slipping and falling on my ass, fashionable. Cons: not waterproof enough, too short to protect my calves from grey slush.
Pirate Boots. I only wear these inside as they are not waterproof or warm and don’t keep me from slipping and falling on my ass but look spectacular.

Can anyone recommend a pair of winter boots that could conceivably protect me if I were accidentally stranded in Antarctica yet I could also wear with a skirt to a hip restaurant? Thanks!

~ BBC: Cleopatra’s eye make-up ‘had health benefits’.

“You wear too much eye makeup. My sister wears too much. People think she’s a whore.”
“It’s for health reasons, asshole. And you should stop beating your wife.”

The heavy eye make-up favoured by ancient Egyptians such as Cleopatra may have had medical as well as aesthetic benefits, French research suggests.

The study, published in the journal Analytical Chemistry, suggests it helped to protect against eye disease.

The key appears to be lead salts contained in the make-up.

At very low levels, salts produce nitric oxide, which boosts the immune system to fight off bacteria which can cause eye infection.

The make-up used by the ancient Egyptians to darken and enhance the eyes sometimes took up to a month to concoct.

In theory, because it contained lead it might actually have posed a risk to health.

But an analysis by scientists from the Louvre Museum and the CNRS research institute found that in very low doses lead could actually have a positive effect.

And a positive effect on the French beauty industry too… Quelle coïncidence!

~ Chicago Tribune: Is acetaminophen a social-pain reliever? Perhaps, study suggests.

For when drowning your misery in vodka won’t kill your liver quick enough.

Over-the-counter painkillers that alleviate physical aches also can ease mental anguish, according to a study in the journal Psychological Science. Researchers found that acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, may have an off-label benefit.

The experiment involved 62 healthy volunteers who took a daily dose of acetaminophen or a placebo. Hurt feelings decreased over time in those taking acetaminophen, researchers found, but not in those given the placebo.

In another test, researchers gave 25 volunteers a double dosage of acetaminophen or a placebo, but this time they participated in a computer game rigged to create feelings of social rejection. Acetaminophen reduced neural responses to mental anxiety, while the placebo did not.

“People trivialize the pain of rejection,” said University of Kentucky psychologist C. Nathan DeWall, who led the study. “This research has the potential to change how people think about physical and social pain. We hope our findings can pave the way for interventions designed to reduce the pain of social rejection and ostracism.”

Tylenol won’t alleviate a bloody headache! It’s supposed to reduce the pain of finding out your longtime partner has been fucking a girl at the office, that you’re facing another round of layoffs, that no one called you on your birthday? What kind of “hurt feelings” are we talking about here? No one saved a cupcake for you? Christ, this is why exploiting broke college students as guinea pigs for science experiments is a bad idea, world.

The Month In Zoology:

~ RIA Novosti: Green dogs run wild in Russia’s Urals.

I will not pet them on the head,
I will not pet them in a bed.
I will not pet radioactive beasts,
I will not pet them, Sam I Am!

A pack of some 20 stray dogs has turned green after scavenging for food at an illegal dump on the outskirts of Russia’s Urals city of Yekaterinburg, police said on Friday.

“Either local residents or a factory have been dumping some kind of chemical waste there,” a police spokesman told RIA Novosti, adding that police had asked the local council to take steps to clear up the site.

Or… They’re showing their support for the Iranian protesters. Homeless doggies don’t have access to facebook groups, ya know.

~ Pravda: Mutilated Farm Animals Most Likely Victims of UFO Experiments.

This is one of the greatest masterpieces of reportage I have read in ages. I don’t know why people say that journalism in Russia is dead. Jesus, I hope VVP and his goons don’t off the author for exposing this horrifying story!!!

Now diseased UFO investigator German Kolchin wrote that in Russia, mutilated animals missing internal organs were found in Primorsky Krai and the Volgograd Region. In 1987, a mutilated carcass of a cow was found at a collective farm near the Ural Mountains, and at the same time UFOs were observed in the same area.
On May 22, 2002 the Krasnodar city newspaper “Kuban News” published a letter describing strange events. The author’s grandmother heard her dogs barking at night and stepped outside to see what was going on. All her dogs were looking at the rabbit barn in the yard. She found three strangled baby rabbits with their ears cut off. On the way to her house, the woman saw a light ball flying out from under the rabbit cage.

In 1996, Vladimir Chechurin, a hunter residing in Amga village, Yakutia, lost his horse. A few days later the horse was found dead. The horse’s bones were intact, but his internal organs were a mess and his heart and lungs were missing. The hunter remembered that he saw several UFOs in the area a few days before the incident.

The good news is that aliens are not hunting humans after practicing on animals.

Yet!

The Month In Writing:

~ The Eagle & The Bear: A “verbal chain” culminating in God: Mikhail Shishkin on Russian literature.

I don’t know who Shishkin is, but according to Wikipedia, he wrote a book titled, “Russian Switzerland,” so I assume he writes horror.

At the end of October, I heard a lecture at UW-Madison by acclaimed Russian author Mikhail Shishkin that I have only just had time to revisit […]

Russian writers never depended on the interest of readers, writing only for themselves or the Party, but were nonetheless accorded respect (see the old adage, “A poet in Russia is more than just a poet.”) After the fall, “Literature was left for those who cannot live without writing. Then the dollar came.” Shishkin, who wrote his first novel in teh 1980s, said that the new dependence on print run in the ‘90s was no better than previous dependence on the Soviet regime’s approval.

Shishkin accurately describes the current situation in which literature, its decline marked by the ascension of pop authors like Oksana Robski, is so marginal and meaningless as a product for profit, it can paradoxically exist freely in Russia for the first time. But he sounds a tad curmudgeonly and simplistic in his rote condemnation of the downsides of the market economy.

For his third theme, Shishkin totters out onto a metaphysical limb and gets all mystical: The Russian author—Shishkin suddenly adopts the guise of a parenting help guru—loves his hero unconditionally, as Gogol does Akaki Akakievich. In this he touches the sacred, since in the beginning there was only a “clump of love, or, rather, the need for it,” which prompted God to create “his own child in order to love him.”

What follows is a bit of metaphorical logic stretched to the breaking point: “If the author loves Akaki Akakievich, who does not deserve to be loved, then the reader knows that God exists and loves him.” Thus, the author’s task is to combine words into “verbal chain” that culminates in God. The additional duty of the Russian author, it would seem, is to fight the totalitarian consciousness intrinsic to the Russian nation and the humiliation reflex intrinsic to the Russian language.

Shishkin claims it is impossible to offer a universal prescription as to how to achieve this, then proceeds to do exactly that, speaking from his own experience: To create his own “Russian arc,” the Russian writer must become hermit, i.e. leave, physically or metaphorically, bringing only his own experience and “ten centuries of the Cyrillic language.”

Although by the end I was worried Shishkin was trying to surreptitiously convert the audience to Scientology, I will admit the lecture was the most inimitable and far-reaching analysis of Russian literature that I have yet heard.

I personally worry ALL writers are trying to surreptitiously convert me to some new age cult. It’s PTSD incurred from dating an English major/self-help addict. In fairness, he only became a self-help addict after we began dating. That industry should pay me royalties, I swear.

~ FP Passport: Lee Harvey Oswald’s request for Soviet citizenship.

FP highlights the National Security Archives letter, part of a girft from Boris Yeltsin to Bill Clinton. I wonder if he busted these out before or after the naked midnight pizza run…

“I Lee Harvey Oswald, request that I be granted citizenship in the Soviet Union, my visa began on Oct. 15, and will expire on Oct. 21, I must be granted asylum before this date. [Unreadable] I wait for the citizenship decision.
At present I am a citizen of the United States of America.

I want citizenship because; I am a communist and a worker, I have lived in a decadent capitalist society where the workers are slaves.

I am twenty years old, I have completed three years in the United States Marine Corps, I served with the occupation forces in Japan, I have seen American military imperialism in all its forms,

I do not want to return to any country outside of the Soviet Union.

I am writing to give up my American citizenship and assume the responsibilities of a Soviet citizen.

I had saved my money which I earned as a private in the American military for two years, in order to come to Russia for the express purpose of seeking citizenship here. I do not have enough money left to live indefintly [sic] here, or to return to any other country. I have no desire to return to any other country. I ask that my request be given quick consideration.

Sincerly[sic],

Lee H. Oswald”

“Sic” is right, bitches!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

As always, thanks for reading!

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