poemless. a slap in the face of public taste.

August 6, 2010

Odds & Ends: Civilization and its Discontents Edition

“To me, culture is, first and foremost, a matter of literature.” That’s what Dmitry “Collapse Gap” Orlov says. But what of those who are unable to read? Not because they are pathetic saps with the misfortune to be born in a country where the skill of literacy is only appreciated in as much as it gets Oprah to make you buy things, even if they are books. But because you are blind? Or something? For clear (or blurry, as it were) reasons, I have been contemplating the phenomenon of audio books. No. I couldn’t live like that. Celebrity culture has infiltrated every other aspect of entertainment. I don’t want to hear the voice of an Oscar winning actor when I am escaping into literature. But I do need to read. Otherwise I will be reduced to a person who only gets information from my circle of friends and family and neighbors and coworkers, the tv, or the radio. Like the rest of America. Next thing you know, I will be joining the Tea Party and having opinions about “American Idol.” I’d try to download podcasts (a word that already smacks of obsolescence) but would not know how to do that blind. I have no ear for music. What would I do to nourish my soul, inform my opinions, fill the space & time between crawling into bed and falling into slumber? I know what you are thinking. Uhm, get a mate?

It’s on my list of to-do’s. But right now I want to share with you some things I have been able to read, or read about, recently. Unfortunately, the gift of sight does not come without a price. Sometimes your eyes will fall upon words that make you truly wish you were blind. Then again, sometimes Dmitry Orlov is a genius.

I. (Oh, and I am preparing the ground for an imminent Russian invasion of America, btw.)

Moscow Diaries: “Hello, goodbye.”

True/Slant.com has finally died a proper death, but let it be known it held on to its quaint values of paying bloggers and discouraging comments until its last day, and did not give up the good fight before It Girl Julia Ioffe was able to present this bizarre and perplexing defense to her critics:

Because who really believes in the virgin peachiness of the Yeltsin era? Who really thinks Kasparov or his cohort are a realistic choice to lead Russia? And really — and this is a question for all the commenters who accuse me of subterfuge and of preparing the ground for an imminent American invasion of Russia — really who is rooting for Russia’s demise? Who? To be brutally honest: no one in the world give that much of a shit about Russia to actively want America to take over. Maybe you’ve heard about how insular and navel-gazing Americans are? And maybe apathy is a more apt definition of a “Russophobe,” but then it isn’t much of the toothy ogre you’re looking to beat your chest about and make you feel once again to be the fulcrum of world history, is it?

It’s no concern of mine whether she is raving mad foaming at the mouth with hatred for her native land (I go there sometimes too) or she is so cool and disinterested she can’t be bothered to form an opinion one way or another. But it is a concern of mine when people open the door and allow logic to escape while pontificating about US-Russia relations. In quick order, actual responses to her rhetorical questions:

1) A lot of those navel-gazing Americans, actually. 2) Kasparov or his cohort and anyone giving them money or a soapbox, one expects. 3) What’s stranger, that anyone could believe this young woman is preparing the ground for an American invasion of Russia, or that she could believe it necessary to use her last T/S post to defend against such an accusation? 4) “no one in the world give that much of a shit about Russia to actively want America to take over.” What does this sentence even mean? Giving a shit about a country => wanting America to take it over? I understand it to imply the opposite among people who are not Ahmed Chalabi. People want to take over places because they care about them? If you are accused of not liking Russia, you are probably being accused of not caring about Russia, not caring too much. No one in the world cares very much about Russia? As much as anyone in the world cares very much about any country, it seems to me that the risks involved in not caring about Russia make the alternative far more appealing. So at least a few of us do. Re: this “takeover,” are you talking military takeover or ideological or financial takeover? Are you referring to official takeover, or the use of money, power and public relations to achieve significant enough influence to ensure Russia acts in the interests of America before its own? … Clearly Julia Ioffe is no toothy ogre – she’s quite the beauty in fact, and probably harmless, given her naivety: apathy is not dangerous or cause for chest beating? Oh? Beneath Ioffe’s flippant remarks, it seems real concerns remain unaddressed.

What have we learned today, readers? You can fight fire with fire, and strawmen with strawmen, but I’d advise against fighting fire with straw…

… or fighting ideas with fire.

II. How hot is it in Moscow? What is 451°F in Celsius?

Some opposition activist took a lighter to Surkov’s book.

Coincidentally, the activist was arrested that very night for his involvement in a protest against the destruction of a local forest. Don’t tell him books come from trees.

Все произошло в пятницу вечером, когда Виталий Шушкевич отмечал свой день рождения в компании друзей и не только в районе станции метро «Китай-город». На праздник пришли также Мария Дрокова из кремлевского проекта «Наши» и Мария Сергеева — бывшая активистка «Молодой Гвардии», которая всем запомнилась призывом не ругать русские машины. Среди подарков имениннику была и зажигалка с книгой речей и статей господина Суркова. Несмотря на присутствие среди молодых людей комиссара «Наших», Виталий Шушкевич книгу сжег.


Image source: Live Journal user plucer.

So nice to see the young champions of democracy and civil rights holding a good old-fashioned book burning. That’s the spirit! Though I’m not sure we can really justify setting unnecessary fires in Russia’s current incendiary condition… Still, I’m sure that’s one less beach babe who will be turned into a Nashist zombie, carrying out Surkov’s wicked, wicked plan to modernize the country and replace conscription with an army of giant felt vegetables. Good work, Shushkevich.


Image source: Live Journal user brainw45h.


Image source: Idiot.fm.

Looks like Slava has taken his own advice, “Innovate, gentlemen!,” and is branching out into new methods for achieving creepiness.

Speaking of the Ministry of Ideology:

III. Art as Ammunition!

ARTicle: “Mightier than the Bayonet?”

One of my favorite topics is propaganda. It is often taken to mean the dissemination of misleading or biased or plainly untrue information, rather than the promotion of any agenda, be it noble or malicious. I think it is because we believe ourselves capable of real objectivity. Like the swing voters. Or Julia. As if taking no personal position on anything were more responsible than taking a firm but well-informed one. But of course no one is omniscient, and some things are worth fighting for. Some agendas are worth promoting. The AIC looks at the role of Soviet propaganda posters in the fight against the Nazis:

The word propaganda might initially sound pejorative. Propaganda has been historically perceived as a malevolent method of spreading false rumors. But might we also interpret propaganda as a means of providing a nation courage and willingness to fight in the face of immeasurable odds? Such was the task of the Soviet news agency (TASS) window-posters created in the Soviet Union during the Second World War—and such is the content of Windows on the War, a massive exhibition of these “propaganda” posters that will be mounted at the Art Institute next summer.

Propagandistic posters are usually focused on bolstering support on the home front and distanced from the reality of the battlefield. However, the makers of the TASS Windows had a different idea: to use their creative skills as ammunition in the fight against the Germans. Art became a weapon.

The poster above, number 1000, acts as a visual manifesto for the TASS studio. Above the picture is a quote by Vladimir Mayakovsky, the acclaimed Russian Futurist poet and founder of the ROSTA Windows—predecessors of TASS in the 1920s and the inspiration for the TASS Window project as a whole. The quote reads, in translation, “I want the pen to be equal to the bayonet”—a wish visually manifested in this image. We see Hitler being attacked by three bayonets, alongside a pencil and ink pen. In fact, if we follow Hitler’s gaze, he seems to be staring directly at the hands holding these two tools. The artists, writers, and poets of TASS, it would seem, have succeeded—they have “killed” the enemy’s spirit, while boosting the morale of Soviet citizens with this symbolic defeat. Finally, as Mayakovsky wished, the pen and pencil are on equal footing with the traditional weapons of war.

There was a bona fide sense that producing these TASS Windows was as important as being at the front. In the Soviet Union, the artists who created the posters became beloved cultural icons, as important as military generals. They received state medals and great renown for their work. To this day, surviving former Soviet citizens alive at the time of the TASS Windows can name the artists by heart—artists such as Sokolov-Skalya, Solov’ev, Shukhmin, and the Kukryniksy.

Surrounding the production of the TASS Windows are stories of passion, fervor, and intense labor. The artists would gather, regardless of abominable weather or the advancing enemy attack on Moscow, to create a new poster virtually every day of World War II. Not unlike the Red Army soldiers, the artists and writers labored in inhospitable conditions for the sake of the war effort. Because of the cultural importance of these posters and the iconic status of these artists and writers, heroic or wistful cultural myths came to surround the studio as time went on. According to some anecdotes, TASS posters were carried to the Front by the soldiers and were used to intimidate the enemy. Some TASS artists and writers were even driven to the Front itself so that they might absorb the details of war to imbue later drawings with veracity. The artists and writers of the TASS Windows truly felt their art to be one of the most powerful weapons against the Nazi invaders.

–Julia A., intern in the Department of Prints and Drawings

This post is from the “Countdown to TASS” series leading up to the exhibition of Soviet propaganda posters at the Art Institute of Chicago next year. I mention this because the exhibition will be part of the Soviet Experience arts festival, a “14-month-long showcase of works by artists who created under (and in response to) the Politburo of the Soviet Union” which will be held at numerous arts institutions throughout Chicago from 2010-2011. Hopefully if you are in town, you will have the opportunity to check it out.

IV. Russian Lit. 101.

A Good Treaty: “The Tale of How Aleksandr Pochkov Quarreled with Vladimir Vladimirovich”

I don’t know what it is about constituent services and Russia, but no combination of subjects makes a more ideal setting in which to employ the literary devices of the absurd and grotesque. Behold!

In which AGT translates an incredible display of pathos and mockery that is the following exchange between an angry blogger and the nation’s leader:

Do you know why we’re burning?

Because it’s all fucked. I’ll explain. I have a dacha in a village 153 km [95 miles] from Moscow, in the Tverskaia oblast’. This village is the sort of place where everyone lives nose-to-nose and shares common fences, or — like my neighbor and me — no fences at all. I’ve got nothing to hide from him and don’t need the fucking thing. And since he’s a local, he also looks after my house when I’m away, even mowing my lawn. After all, what’s good for his cows does no harm to my grass. The lawn grows back fast. But let’s get back to the fires.

In this village under those asshole communists, whom everyone shits on, there were three reservoirs for fighting fires [pozharnye prudy], an alarm bell hung (which was sounded in case of a fire), and miraculously there was even a fire truck. Now sure there was just one for three villages — but there was still a truck. And then came Mr. Democrat and his friends to fuck everything up. First they filled in the reservoirs and sold the land to developers. Next they divvied off the fire truck to God knows where (aliens probably snatched it), and they changed the alarm bell into a phone (fucking “modernization”). Only the piece of shit doesn’t work because they forgot to connect the line. There’s still a fireman, yes, but he’s got nothing left but a helmet and a coat (left over from those terrible communists). Here’s how he works: about fifteen years ago, a fire started in the neighboring village. They promptly sent us a messenger, and we ran back to help put it out. Our fireman got dressed in his uniform, grabbed two buckets, filled them with water and (this part is still a mystery to me) hopped on a bicycle, and came with us to put out the fire. It was laughter and sin together. Someone called [another] fire department, but they only arrived at the end of everything (five hours later) because they had to come from Tver’. Using everything within reach — sand, water, even spitting — we somehow managed to save all but one house.

Do I have any questions? [In response to the government soliciting citizens to write in.] Where are our tax dollars going? Why every year do we slip further and further toward a more primitive social order? Fuck the innovation center in Skolkovo if we don’t even have something as elementary as fire trucks! Why did there used to be people like the forest rangers, who warned people about fires and quickly conveyed the information to firefighters, so it wasn’t allowed to reach residences? I don’t want a telephone in the village — I want reservoirs for fighting fires and I want my alarm bell back. Give me back the fucking bell and dig me another reservoir, and I’ll fill it in and take care of it myself. If the regional authorities are game, just give me the space.

Understand me, Mr. Bureaucrat, Russia doesn’t need all your shitty genius ideas. Well before you, smart Russians — real men [muzhiki] — already figured this stuff out. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. It was invented a long time ago and it works just fine, as long as you keep your nose out of our business.* Stop charging me taxes, or just cut off my pension deductions. I’m not going to live to retirement age in this kind of life, anyway. With the [saved] money, I’ll buy a fire truck for three villages and sleep soundly, knowing nobody will take it away from my people, from my neighbors, because that bitch will be ours and we’d kill anyone who tried. If you deputies and distinguished officials piss on us because we actually give a shit about ourselves and our neighbors, then let us live the way we want, happily and in peace [schastlivo i khorosho].

[But] we don’t expect much from you. We all understand that your life principle is that everyone around you should need you. But you’re mistaken. It’s you who needs us — and in a big way. Believe me.

So give me back my alarm bell, you bitches, and shove your fucking phone up your asses.

I ask you to convey my letter to the Kalyazinskii Region authorities, in the Tverskaia oblast’.

Thank you in advance. ~top_lap

Dear honorable Internet user,

At the end of the workday today, inhaling (as did all of Moscow) the smoke of the forests burning outside the city, with great interest and pleasure did I learn of your assessment of the summer fires situation that’s befallen central Russia.

Fair’s fair, one ought to point out that Russia hasn’t had such high temperatures for over 140 years — not even under the communists, that is.

This at least partly vindicates the authorities, who — while certainly responsible for fighting natural disasters — are only for the first time encountering something of this size on such a scale.

However, in general, I agree with your comments.

You are, of course, a remarkably plainspoken and direct person. All the more power to you! [Prosto molodets]

And you are undoubtedly a man of letters. If you had made your living as a writer, you could be living — like Lenin’s favorite writer Gorky — in Capri.**

However, even there you wouldn’t feel yourself entirely safe, insomuch as both Europe and the U.S. face the same mass-scale natural disasters. Suffice it to recall how many forests burned in Europe last year or the year before.

Despite all our problems and troubles, I hope you and I both make it to retirement age.

All necessary funds for disaster management and other pressing issues have already been dispatched from the federal budget to reimburse victims.

If you provide your address, your governor will receive an alarm bell right away.

Sincerely,
Vladimir Putin

But what A Good Treaty, and shockingly, everyone who has written on the topic of this fantastic exchange, fails to mention, or even possibly be aware of, is that the entire correspondence was conducted not between the blogger and the Premier at all, but between their dogs!

A dreary world indeed, gentlemen…

V. Smackdown: Orlov and Jesus v. Hitler, Lenin, Calvin and yer teevees.

ClubOrlov: “Miserable Pursuits.”

This is one of the best little Orlov pieces I have read in a while. I strongly encourage you to read the whole thing. Here are some excerpts:

The Russian author Eduard Limonov wrote of his experiences with poverty in America. To his joy, he discovered that he could supplement his cash earnings with public assistance. But he also quickly discovered that he had to keep this joy well hidden when showing up to collect his free money. It is a curious fact that in America public assistance is only made available to the miserable and the downtrodden, not to those who are in need of some free money but are otherwise perfectly content. Although it is just as possible to be poor and happy in America as anywhere else, here one must make a choice: to avoid any number of unpleasant situations, one must be careful to hide either the fact that one is poor, or the fact that one is happy. If free public money is to be obtained, then only the latter choice remains.

It is another curious fact that vast numbers of Americans, both rich and poor, would regard Limonov’s behavior as nothing short of despicable: a foreign author living in America on public assistance while also earning cash! It seems reasonable that the rich should feel that way; if the poor can’t be made miserable, then what exactly is the point of being rich? But why should the poor particularly care? Another cultural peculiarity: what dismays them is not the misappropriation of public funds. Tell them about the billions wasted on useless military projects, and they will reply with a yawn that this is just business as usual. But tell them that somewhere some poor person is eating a free lunch, and they will instantly wax indignant. Amazingly, Americans are great believers in Lenin’s revolutionary dictum: “He who does not work, does not eat!” One of the rudest questions you might hear from an American is “What do you do for a living?” The only proper response is “Excuse me?” followed by a self-satisfied smirk and a stony silence. Then they assume that you are independently wealthy and grovel shamefully.

Most shockingly, there are many poor Americans who are too proud to accept public assistance in spite of their obvious need for it. Most Russians would regard such a stance as absurd: which part of “free money” don’t these poor idiots like—the fact that it’s money, or the fact that it’s free? Some Russians who are living in the US and, in trying to fit in to American society, have internalized a large dose of the local hypocrisy, might claim otherwise, but even they, in their less hypocritical moments, will concede that it is downright foolish to turn down free money. And rest assured, they will mop up every last penny of it. Mother Russia didn’t raise any dummies.

But let us not blame the victim. What causes these poor souls to leave money on the table is just this: they have been brainwashed. The mass media, most notably television and advertising, are managed by the well-to-do, and incessantly hammer home the message that hard work and self-sufficiency are virtuous while demonizing the idle and the poor. The same people who have been shipping American jobs to China and to India in order to enhance their profits want it to be generally understood that the resulting misery is entirely the fault of the miserable. And while the role of the pecuniary motive may be significant, let us not neglect to mention the important fact that producing mass misery is a high-priority objective in and of itself. […]

And so, a poor but happy and carefree future may yet await a great many of us, both idle rich and idle poor—one happy though rather impoverished family. But in order to achieve that we would have to change the culture. Let it be known that free lunch is a very good thing indeed, no mater who’s eating it or why, and never mind that Lenin said that “He who does not work, does not eat.” And while we are at it, let’s also dispense with the hackneyed adage that “Work will set you free” (Arbeit Macht Frei) which the Nazis liked to set in wrought iron atop the gates of their concentration camps. Let us consign the communists and the fascists and the capitalists to the proverbial scrapheap of history! Let us instead gratuitously quote Jesus: “Behold the lilies of the field, how they grow. They labor not, neither spin. And yet for all that I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his royalty, was not arrayed like unto one of these… Therefore take no thought saying: What shall we eat? or What shall we drink? or Wherewith shall we be clothed? … Care not therefore for the day following. For the day following shall care for itself. Each day’s trouble is sufficient for the same self day.” Amen.

The Limonov book in question is, It’s me, Eddie, and I think it is the most memorable work I have read by him, probably because it hit a lot of my American nerves. It is also this novel that features his astonishment at the “It’s not my problem” refrain commonly heard in America, which I mentioned in my piece on the hoarders. It’s Limonov, so it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I imagine that if you are reading this blog, you can handle this book, and so I think all of you should read it if you haven’t yet.

Note to Dmitry: It appears some miserable pursuits pay off:

VI. The Power of Negative Thinking.

USA Today: “Russians are less depressed than Americans.”

No word on if it’s anything to do with Americans reading USA Today

Despite what many social observers have described as a generally dark and brooding take on life, a new report suggests that Russians are actually less likely than Americans to be depressed.
In fact, researchers have uncovered indications that the Russian cultural tendency to dwell on the negative may ultimately insulate them from feelings of distress when engaged in self-reflection.

“Among Westerners, focusing on one’s negative feelings tends to impair well-being, but among Russians, that is not the case,” study co-author Igor Grossmann, a doctoral candidate in psychology at the University of Michigan, said in a university news release.

“Russians focus more on their negative feelings than Americans do,” Grossmann explained, “but they spontaneously distance themselves from their emotions to a greater extent than Americans, who tend to immerse themselves in their recalled experiences.”[…]

The Russians appeared to experience less distress than the Americans after retelling the experience, and placed blame less often on the person involved in the incident. The Russians were also able to immediately distance themselves from their recollections, even while discussing them — a skill linked to less distress and feelings of blame, the study authors noted.

Culture, concluded the authors, has an impact on the emotional and cognitive consequences of bad experiences.

What? You mean our culture which practically criminalizes and literally pathologizes normal human emotions like unhappiness actually makes us more distressed and ashamed?

Get. Out.

Alright, dear readers. I am now going to go ruminate on my unhappiness and misfortune in the hopes it staves off depression. Thanks for stopping by.

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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.

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.

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