poemless. a slap in the face of public taste.

April 9, 2010

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

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

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