poemless. a slap in the face of public taste.

June 1, 2010

Odds & Ends: Spring Cleaning Edition

While I’ve not been writing about Russia (but instead cleaning, from top to bottom, in a fit of hoardophobia, every square inch of my apartment) a lot of stories have piled up in my bookmarks. Now I’m cleaning out those as well, before you show up one day to find me rotting under a heap of old news items.

THE POLITICAL DISH

~ David Hoffman, author of “The Dead Hand,” asserts that the Prime Minister does not have a nuclear suitcase.

I, author of, “poemless. the blog,” assert that David Hoffman is rather gullible if he believes that. But why on earth didn’t Vova change the law before he switched positions with Medvedev?

~ Russian Democracy: The Game Show!

Seriously. This looks like a scene from a Japanese game show. Whoever fails to cast enough votes for a quorum before the buzzer goes off will be doused with Ready Whip from a fire hose. Go team UR!

I wonder what is to stop the AWOL deputies from having their votes cast, say, against the Kremlin? The lackeys should do that, change the votes. How would the deputies defend themselves? “Prostite, esteemed Vladimir Vladimirovich, but the tool I paid to cast my vote while I was getting drunk pushed the wrong button.”

~ NFTEB on the topic of the vote:

“The law in question is President Medvedev’s pet project to lower the drink-drive limit; effectively reducing the amount of drinking you can do before legally driving to nil. This has created quite a furore. It turns out that Members of Parliament like to have a lunchtime tipple as much as the rest of us. Unlike in Britain, budget cuts won’t be soon forcing them to take platzkart from Krasnoyarsk when parliament is in session (or will they? That would be great). Furthermore, claims that drinking refreshing yet mildly alcoholic kvas or even eating black bread can be enough to push you over the limit have bolstered opposition to the law.

Some of my Russian friends claim that it has been scientifically proven that some people naturally have a certain amount of alcohol in their blood, even if they don’t drink. Naturally, I have had great fun winding them up about this. What was the alcohol level in the blood of the control group? “Are you sure you haven’t been drinking this morning Boris?” “Nyeeeet! Znachit, (hic) – it must be naturally occurring!” Russian scientists have proven a lot of things that my British brain has difficulty accepting.”

Russian scientists would probably find this proves a defect with British brains…

~ The now legendary VVP smackdown of DDT rocker Shevchuk.

Or, a master lesson in how to school your opponent. Looks like this is the new past-time over at Kremlin Inc. Below, Vladik responds to threats that businessmen are ready to flee Russia (“sitting on their suitcases”) by suggesting they should be a little more humble, telling them to unpack and make themselves at home.

~ Garbo, I mean, Surkov, Talks!

It’s not terribly humble of me, but Surkov can unpack and make himself at home here any time. What? It’s no more out of the realm of possibility than Ilya Yashin’s fantasy…

~ …in which Surkov would be thrown in prison for producing sextapes.

You know you want to believe him. Just as one day we will find Putin was indeed behind every journalist’s death in Russia between 1999 and 2029, we will find dear Slava was behind every filmed dissident orgy. It’s not terribly humble of me, but Surkov can … oh, never mind.

THE WORLD IN BRIEF

~ The U.S. ranks 42nd in child mortality, behind the United Arab Emirates, Cuba and Chile.

But we live in a democracy and that’s all that counts.

~ Amnesty International goes after Switzerland for their racism.

Oh, snap!

~ Jane Goodall goes after Switzerland for their materialism.

Double snap!

~ [T]here really is an urgent and perilous threat to Israel. It’s called “the Israeli government.”

No seriously, you guys are making Iran look like the sane ones.

BE AFRAID – VERY AFRAID.

~ Freedom of expression is not dead in Russia. … It is undead!

Apparently Vova isn’t worried about a zombie invasion tying up traffic to hospitals.

~ Chupacabra washes ashore in Canadia.

Even the Chupacabras hate American health care.

~ This is not an Onion story. Gulp.

“Not to be outdone, the owner of a religious museum near Lubbock claims that he has a stuffed chupacabra.
The Independent Creationist Association in Crosbyton is advertising: “See the real chupacabra. … Finally one has been caught.”

Curator Joe Taylor says he has always believed that man walked the earth with dinosaurs.

Now, he believes that both walked with the chupacabra.

“Sure, I believe that,” he said by phone from Crosbyton.

At his Mount Blanco Fossil Museum, he said, he spends a lot of time looking at animal bones.

“This isn’t the mythical chupacabra,” he acknowledged, adding seriously: “There’s two kinds.”

One was more intelligently designed than the other?

~ ” Frogs!”

What is more disturbing, a movie genre called “1970’s B-movie eco-horror” or the fact that it is so very timely in our age of global climate change? This film is like “An Inconvenient Truth” and “Wallstreet” rolled into one, but with scary close ups of frogs! Freaking Brilliant!

THE SOCIETY PAGES

~ Matt Taibbi is leaving True/Slant to devote more time to his Rolling Stone.

Good for him. True/Slant is perhaps the most user-annoying news outlet on the Internet.

~ Lyndon is seriously blogging again.

Just a word of advice: if you have been remiss in your blogging duties for an extended period of time, and then get at it again, please tell everyone! After a while we just stop checking your site, ya know…

~ Get Slavoj Žižek to Host SNL!

Though the collision of the meta and dialectical natures of such a stunt might result in something approximating a nuclear reaction, it would totally be worth it.

~ This Week In Facebook.

Vova writes a poem for his status update. Russia uploads Yanukovich wreath attack video.

WHAT TO READ

~ Orlov: “The Great Unreasoning.”

A reader sent me this. It’s a wonderful piece, pondering upon the whispers of cats, argument v. observation, the perverse role of opinion in political science, the diminishing returns of reason and … Merleau-Ponty.

~ Cohen: “An End to Silence: Uncensored Opinion in the Soviet Union, from Roy Medvedev’s Underground Magazine Political Diary.”

Found it lying on a shelf in the lib. You can’t go wrong with Stephen Cohen and Roy Medvedev, can you?

~ Shkolvsky: “Zoo, or Letters not about love.”

Josephina remarked that, “Russian literature is better than sex.” Russian literature is certainly like sex: When it’s bad, it’s mediocre but still better than most anything else you might have done instead, but when it is good, it blows your freaking mind. It’s a religious experience. Such was the case with “Zoo, or Letters not about love.” From Khlebnikov’s Menagerie, “Where the bats hang suspended, like the heart of a modern Russian,” to Remizov’s secret monkey society and everything in between: sermons disguised as heartache, literary theory disguised as poetry … well, if you are reading my blog you must read this slim tome of genius. It’s a new rule. Like, an initiation rite.

I promise she’ll be one of the best lovers you’ll ever take.

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March 31, 2010

START up the Hot Tub Cold War Time Machine!

Contents: Russia Today‘s “Crosstalk” discusses Gorby and perestroika, WBEZ‘s “Worldview” discusses nuclear disarmament, and David Hoffman (the homely guy who wrote The Oligarchs, not the hot guy I want to run against Daley) writes about the Cold War arms race. Bust out your vhs of War Games and tight-roll your jeans, we’re goin’ on a trip…

No, I was just kidding about the jeans! Please! Stop!

I. CrossTalk: “How should Gorbachev’s perestroika be remembered?”

Starring: Stephen Cohen (with whom I am in love, and with his wife too, actually, I think we’d make a fabulous threesome…), Mary Dejevsky (whom I aso really like, but not in that way) and some other people. One of whom is the host, Peter Lavelle. I don’t know how Peter got that job, but I’m pretty sure I should have it.

Nuggets of wisdom:

~Mary: “The Russia of today and the Russia of perestroika are totally, totally different countries.” It irritates her that this perspective is seemingly lost in Western reporting about Russia today. Like, Russia currently, not the tv station…

~Peter (eternally frustrated): The frequent references to Stalinism when talking about modern Russia in Western journalism doesn’t help us understand either modern Russia or perestroika.

~Stephen (eternally forlorn): Reporting on Russia during the Cold War was even better than it is today… grumble grumble gumble…

~VCIOM (not a guest, a poll): A growing number of Russians actually see perestroika as a positive thing, though that number is still under 40%.

~Stephen : De-democratization (me: can we just call it “mocratization?”) began with Yeltsin, not Putin. Me: Kasparov agrees, you know…

~Mary (eternally sane): The ailing state of reporting on Russia is due to the cost-cutting measures in journalism that has shut or pared down bureaus in Moscow and the loss of Russian language and cultural expertise in the West. And young people’s and intellectuals’ sense of history, which dates back only to the 1990’s. They remember the 1990’s as an era of ideological freedom, and find today comparatively worse. Most Russians who can remember the 80’s and 70’s find today comparatively better.

~Stephen: Only two other people share his view that American policy toward post-Soviet Russia since 1992 has been a dangerous disaster because the U.S. has not changed its policy re: Nato expansion and because there exists no organized opposition calling for better relations with Russia. Stephen, get out more! You are not alone. I bet I can find at least 2 people right now who agree with you! Me, and, oh, probably everyone who reads this blog. Which is at least 2 other people. Stop awfulizing, Stephen. You are not as alone as you feel.

Except for in the way that, existentially, we are all alone…

II. Worldview: “President Obama’s Nuclear Nonproliferation Vision.”

Starring: Joseph Gerson, peacenik. And host, Jerome McDonnell. I don’t know how Jerome got that job, but he’s freaking brilliant at it, thank god. He should take over Charlie Rose’s show when he dies. (A terrifying potential power vacuum my friends and I fret about when Charlie’s not looking so well.)

Dr. Joseph Gerson is Director of Programs and Director of the Peace and Economic Security Program for the American Friends Service Committee. His most recent book is titled Empire and the Bomb: How the United States Uses Nuclear Weapons to Dominate the World.
Listen here.

Nuggets of wisdom:

~Re: “realists”: The idea of nuclear weapons ensuring the peace is like ensuring the peace by handing out hand guns to school kids. Even people like George Shultz (me: George Shultz, fer chrisssake!) have come to the conclusion that it is necessary to pursue real nuclear disarmament.

~Obama is investing in nuclear labs (and I’d add missile defense) as a compromise so Republicans will vote to ratify the New START. (me: Good luck with that, Barack. Remember all those compromises we made in the health care bill? Remember how many Republicans voted for it? If you held a vote banning the feeding of infants to sharks for entertainment, the fuckers would vote “no.”)

~The U.S. maintains a 1st Strike mandate defense policy. Official policy is that nukes can be used not just as deterrents. Madness.

~”8 years from now the U.S. and Russia will still have over 90% of world’s nuclear weapons.” Madness! Gorby, come back!

~Young people don’t remember or are not aware of nuclear freeze movement of the 1980’s. Without the Soviet threat, people are not afraid, but we still have the weapons. After the Cold War people just stopped thinking about it, were exhausted. (<– I think the theme of exhaustion is one of the least explored and most important aspects of the Cold War, actually. I've been thinking about it a lot lately. It's exhausting.)

~Gerson says the nuclear freeze movement forced Reagan to negotiate with Soviets which in turn ended the Cold War. (me: Well, if it makes him feel better.)

~Nuclear weapons: outta sight out of mind. No one even knows where they are. It's an abstract idea, which makes it difficult to organize around, make people care about.

If you want to join Gerson's peace movement, Click here!

… Before I continue, I think it is important to note that however much of a dreamy hippie you think Gerson is, Cohen has repeatedly asserted that the current American posture toward Russia persists because there is no opposition lobby to it, like there was during the nuclear freeze movement. Personally, I think we should start a lobby. But we don’t have one. At least Gerson is trying. Ya know? … I’m serious about the lobbying thing. Anyone got some money? If a hippie can get a lobby, surely we can too.

III. David Hoffman’s The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy.

Description:

During the Cold War, world superpowers amassed nuclear arsenals containing the explosive power of one million Hiroshimas. The Soviet Union secretly plotted to create the “Dead Hand,” a system designed to launch an automatic retaliatory nuclear strike on the United States, and developed a fearsome biological warfare machine. President Ronald Reagan, hoping to awe the Soviets into submission, pushed hard for the creation of space-based missile defenses.

In the first full account of how the arms race finally ended, The Dead Hand provides an unprecedented look at the inner motives and secret decisions of each side. Drawing on top-secret documents from deep inside the Kremlin, memoirs, and interviews in both Russia and the United States, David Hoffman introduces the scientists, soldiers, diplomats, and spies who saw the world sliding toward disaster and tells the gripping story of how Reagan, Gorbachev, and many others struggled to bring the madness to an end. When the Soviet Union dissolved, the danger continued, and the United States began a race against time to keep nuclear and biological weapons out of the hands of terrorists and and rogue states.

So I read this book. Or, I’ve been reading it – not yet finished. Because it is so freaking tedious to read. But I’ll come back to that. I picked up this book because I hd just finished reading Hoffman’s previous opus, The Oligarchs, which was astonishingly informative and exquisitely written. I guess I was expecting the same from The Dead Hand. It is true, data about nuclear warheads is not something that normally holds my attention. But honestly, neither do business schemes. Plus, with the New START, the anniversaries of the ends of the Cold War, the appearances of a New Cold War, it’s not like I just didn’t have my heart in it. Plus, biological warfare! How can that be boring? Hoffman’s gritty, detailed, fly-on-the-wall narration, filled with anecdotes and atmosphere, that made The Oligarchs such a page turner is replaced in The Dead Hand with rote historian banalities. Blech. Lots of on such and such a date so and so called so and so to set up a meeting with so and so and nothing ever came out of the meeting. Kill me now. Worse, it is not as well organized as his previous book. Which was, I must say, painstakingly well organized, so he’s set the bar high on all accounts. The Dead Hand follows a vaguely chronological order, but within the chapters things get messy and you have to flip back a few pages to find out what year it is. It lacks flow. More disappointing is that it lacks the narrative arc of The Oligarchs, which was a classic Shakespearean plot. It’s not like there weren’t historical events in the nuclear arms race to re-create that same kind of narrative crescendo. It just drags. Maybe Hoffman’s only fault is choosing to write about … negotiations. Week after week, month after month, year after year of … negotiations. The people who were in the room the first time were probably bored too, and thinking, “Haven’t we already been over this part before?” There is also the difficulty of conveying the tension and crisis of events that happen in minutes or seconds when writing a larger, epic, even, story.

That said … I have incredibly high standards for prose. I generally won’t touch 99% of the stuff that’s written. The Dead Hand is probably on par with most quality history writing. Most importantly, I think everyone under 35 should read this book! Ignore everything I just criticized the book for. That criticism was for those of us who have the luxury to read, or not read, this book. The rest of you don’t pass class until you’ve read The Dead Hand. Because I’m sick and tired of listening to smug young realists downplay the importance and difficulty and necessity of nuclear disarmament treaties. Damn it. Kids these days. I don’t care how they dress (but tight-rolling your jeans? for real?), what music they like, what sexual mores they have, what drugs they do. Don’t care. But I do care that everyone forgot to teach them about human civilization pre-2001. Yes, I am being curmudgeonly and rude. But while you were busy not being born yet, or watching Sesame Street, the rest of us managed to scare ourselves shitless over the prospect of nuclear war. Since you missed the initiation into the scared shitless club, we need to do something so we don’t have to go through it all again.

Why do we read history? That’s right, children.

Yes, I am a bitch. If that’s what I have to be to save the world, so be it. 🙂

Ok, thanks for reading!

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