Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween, Post-Colonial Catholicism


There is a guy I sort of know. Lets just say we are friends of Facebook and occasionally he likes a status of mine. I could tell you more but a picture is worth a thousand words as the trite saying goes.

"Usually in violence oriented situations, my MO is to offer my body and let people vent their pathos onto it..."

This was an excerpt from his post and this combination of English words made me happy, though his whole post has an interesting mix of tragedy, adrenaline-fueled absurdity and a smiley face in the end. This provides the kind of tragic levity you might feel when your car spins out of control in the snow but you don't get hurt.

I don't know.

***

So, last night I got beat up by a bro. I'm still sort of trying to unravel my feelings about it: I was in bedford and N 7th at 4am, totally abandoned, and this white girl and guy, basically college looking, were across the street sort of heckling me, and she sort of came over and he went on, and she said something like hope you don't get hit by that truck (that was coming down the street real slow) and i went up to it playing with it like i was gonna get hit by it and suddenly she's behind me grabbing my neck and dragging me to the side and suddenly he's rushing towards me with an expression like don't you touch her, and starts punching me in the face and head again and again while i'm saying She grabbed Me fuck you, and he keeps hitting me and they both start yelling faggot, trust fund, your parents are paying for you and i say your so boring and then a cab rolls up and they get into is and drive away. 
Usually in violence oriented situations, my MO is to offer my body and let people vent their pathos onto it... and in general I think it's nice to have physical confrontations like that from time to time, but the way this one went down really rattled me... or pissed me off... i think the class/wealth/assumed dependency stuff, but especially when they started saying faggot made me retrospectively wish i had fought and won, and makes me really want to hurt them. i think "legally" this is described as a hate crime... so i don't know what i really want to come of this still but it seems like kind of an interesting opportunity anyways. my head has a lot of bruises on it and my temples are very tender. i have lots of gigs all over the place tonight. happy halloween, post-colonial catholicism! :)

***

His website: http://www.enormousface.com/

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Progress


Oh look... a young, misanthropic Asian girl providing the perfect combination of world-weariness and cuteness, and I am intrigued but not completely in love.

I guess progress has been made since my days in Seattle.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Baby Rasputin


Found myself looking at an American website with Russian baby names suggestions.

I don't know who at babynames.net put this gem together.

One suggestion is Kodiak, which I never heard as a Russian name.

Only familiar with it as a giant landmass in Alaska. But it seems like an interesting name, like maybe for a cat, a hamster or Angelina Jolie's adopted kid.

Then you have Nadezhda and an explanation "filled with hope."

Ok, not bad.

Finally, Rasputin described as "badly behaved child."

Naming a kid "Rasputin" (which is a last name anyway) in the old country would be one sure way to get Russian social services involved in your life.

But in America, hey, why not?

Maybe you want to imbued your baby with a bit of that old sex-crazed-Russian-monk-shot-to-death-by-a-gay-aristocrat flare.

***
Link:
http://babynames.net/all/russian

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Meditations on the Mafia



Currently I am undergoing a personal surge of interest in the American mob.

The midpoint of the bell curve of interest for this particular topic in me has probably been reached but there is still an enjoyable ride down the curiosity curve.

I'll watch a few more documentaries, read a book or two and then sufficiently equipped to make respectable mafia small-talk that -unfortunately- will take place only in my imagination, I will move on to something else. 

The Italian mafia is an interesting structure because the sophisticated nature of its organization both made it one of the most profitable and powerful criminal enterprises in the world and one of the easiest to dismantle when the tables have turned on it in America.

Destroying the mafia from a law-enforcement point of view wasn't rocket science. You institute surveillance of a few high-ranking members. Confront the mafiosi with the evidence you gathered and threaten them with a life behind bars in a supermax prison somewhere in Kansas. Low and behold, someone is going to rat and take down the whole hierarchy with their bought words.

This very process creates a sense of paranoia in the outfit as it begins to hunt rats real or imagined. The choice for a potential government informant is basically to bribe your way to freedom with your testimony or to die as a pseudo-rat at the hands of your paranoid comrades.

In effect, the mafia's ruthless response to potential informants made their embrace with the Feds all the more inevitable.

The process wasn't quite as simple as shooting fish in a barrel but neither was it all that more complicated. Once Hoover croaked and the FBI got a breather from the era where their number one goal was to spy on leftists, the mafia folded rather quickly, disintegrating into a dystrophic shadow of its former self.

All of this made it all the more annoying to watch the self-satisfied cops and officials go on about their "war on the mob" in the documentaries I watched.

There was no "war" because in this conflict the opponent didn't shoot back. It was more of a hunt. The criminal prey not much more dangerous than a deer in an expensive suit.

In Italy, the mafia did strike back, killing the persecuting investigators and politicians.

In America, the only government officials in danger were the undercover agents. For them it was a real war. For everyone else, it was more of a titillating, profitable sport.

Hell, Rudy Giuliani sprinkled his rise to power with the ashes of the mob.

Self-satisfaction comes easy to these in positions of power and all the macho declarations reminded me of the nausea I felt when reading about Charlie Wilson (D-Texas) -the congressman who initiated the heavy American funding for the mujaheddin in their battle against the godless Soviets in Afghanistan- hanging trophies of war like captured Russian weapons on the walls of his congressional office.

To me it seemed like pathetic bravado of a man who celebrated the spoils of war that not only didn't pose any risk to his well-being but gave his life a meaning and greatly enhanced his personal power and influence. The Islamist fighters leaped into the meat-grinder of the Soviet war machine while the smiling Texan alcoholic emerged with a captured AK-47.

Then again, these could be a bitter reflection of my subjective experience. After all, for a Russian, it is a bit awkward to read a book (Charlie Wilson's War) detailing the gleeful efforts of your adopted country to kill as many soldiers as possible from your country of origin in the dying days of the Cold War. Although the Soviets did the same in Vietnam.

***

In the "war on the mob" I was also surprised at the cozy relationship between the Feds and their psychopathic informants.

They didn't just get into the bed with ruthless killers, they also provided a happy ending and left a tip on the dresser.

One of the top FBI informants was Greg "the Grim Reaper" Scarpo.

A guy doesn't get a nickname like "the Grim Reaper" by running a chain of Chuck E. Cheese restaurants.

In fact, Scarpo -when asked by an associate how many people he killed- answered that he lost count after fifty. The bulk of these murders happened after he was a paid informant for the FBI and there are substantiated claims that the information flowed both ways all the while his allies in the government did their darnedest to keep him a free man.

Sammy "The Bull" Gravano whose deal with the Feds dismantled the Gambino family, killed a few dozen people including his brother-in-law. All the while Sammy slept in the bed with his wife who was ignorant of sharing a house with her brother's killer. Thanks to his cooperation, Gravano got off with a few years and is now a free man and a best-selling author of his autobiography, Underboss. The marriage couldn't be saved, alas.

The American idea is that all are equal before the law but if your killer turns out to be useful to the government he might end up as a comfortable retiree in Arizona sipping alcoholic beverages with federal agents who (after years of mutual back-scratching) became personal friends. That is the final chapter in Gravano's book of life.

***

The fall of the mafia also represents a kind of a demise of old, ethnic America. The Irish, Italian, Jewish neighborhoods of old fading away in the onslaught of generic yuppie gentrification. Ethnic identities that once meant something are being absorbed into the Family-Guy-watching, tritely ironic American melting pot of today.

There is a recorded conversation from a federal prison where John Gotti Jr was explaining to pops (serving a life-sentence) his decision to leave the life.

Speaking indirectly, Jr stated that he wanted closure.

"I want whats best for you, son" Papa Gotti proclaimed, "but don't use that word 'closure,' its a bullshit nineties word."

No fan of the mafia I nevertheless wanted to give John Gotti Sr a high-five.

Though he would probably think of that as a bullshit gesture as well. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Books Worth Burning



Conversation with a coworker

6:00 PM Ivan:
Corey Feldman is coming up with an important autobiography called Coreyography
6:02 John: 
that would be better as a biopic honoring his fallen corey
6:03 Ivan:
this is the most important literary effort since Tori Spelling's book "Stori Telling" do you see how the title rhymes with her name?
6:09 John:
i do not
6:17 Ivan:
YOU DON'T SEE THE RHYME! GO TO HELL, JOHN. What do you understand about literature anyway?
Tori Spelling = Stori Telling ! ! !

***

Honestly though how can any self-respecting person with above room-temperature IQ buy a book called "Stori Telling"?

Friday, October 18, 2013

When I met River Kim



I was purchasing breakfast sandwiches in Walmart on Bethel road when I was approached by a young Asian guy dressed in a black leather coat and black jeans. He complimented my headphones, said he was a musician traveling around the country and that he forgot his id at home. His name was River Kim.

He wanted me to purchase alcohol for him. I was reluctant to do it, but he offered to pay me up front. He wanted to purchase two bottles of the cheap, sweet wine Arbor Mist. This convinced me to go through with this illegal act because I was relatively certain that I will not get robbed by a dude buying this cheap fruity wine.

He gave me ten dollars smiled and said, "don't steal my money."

When I brought the stuff for him, we made some we're-outside-Wallmart-small-talk. He thanked me saying that "I meeting a girl tonight and now the date is going to be sweeter."

I pictured him and a girl getting a buzz from Arbor Mist I purchased, each holding a bottle, giggling shyly, and looking into each others' eyes. He asked me what music I listen to. Mostly rap, I said. "You like Eminem?" he asked. "Yes," I answered.

But not wanting to have my music tastes conventionally confined to a well-known white rapper, I continued, "but I like all kinds of rap. Have you heard of Immortal Technique?" Offering the name of a politically conscious, indie rapper. He has. Then River Kim performed a little free-style rap. I wasn't blown away by it but neither was it embarrassingly horrible.

Soon after he departed. The funny thing is that my distrust of human nature is such that I checked River Kim's ten dollar bill against the light twice. Once at the Wallmart and another time at home. If there is a guy who would have the luck to be defrauded by a Korean pop musician at a Wallmart, its me.

You can check out River Kim's art bellow. Its a song titled "2012 BIGBANG COVER - BAD BOY by River Kim." It has over 100,000 views. All of it is in Korean but once in a while he breaks into English to say that he knows he's a bad boy and you are a good girl.

Its 1:23 am, and if know River Kim I'm sue he's closing the deal with the girl right now. Good karma for me? I'm not sure.


written in March of 2013

Russian Time



After watching the inept political maneuverings in Washington it was interesting to see Putin's skilled hand at work in the old country.

A Russian court has suspended a five-year prison term for Putin's most powerful political adversary, Alexei Navalny.

The threat to Putin's power comes from two places. On one side are the Western-oriented liberals who rail against corruption and want to see their motherland enter the mainstream of Europe, their base of power are Moscow and St. Petersburg, the two behemoth cities of Russian history with their growing and increasingly dissatisfied middle-class citizenry.

From the right, Putin faces opposition from the increasingly vocal Russian nationalists who are angered by the influx of foreign migrants into Russia; the nationalist see the migrants as a threat to Russian culture associating them with crime, Islamic extremism and reduced wages for the Russian working class.

Navalny is the only leader who could bridge the gaps between these two groups who often despise each other. He is not an eloquent speaker but his blunt criticism of the governing regime does resonate. He speaks in absolute, unconditional and uncomplicated ways of a non-politician, like an average young Russian railing against the system at the kitchen table. He has labeled Putin's United Russia party as the Party of Crooks and Thieves and this simplistic designation has done considerable damage to the party's brand.

In choosing corruption as his single point of criticism he tapped into a universal vein of discontent. Whether one is a Russian liberal or a foaming nationalist, watching government officials in expensive suits giving dull proclamations on state television makes both groups feel like powerless outsiders in their own country.

Corruption is the one issue that unites the whole of Russian opposition and by being corruption's most vocal opponent Navalny has made himself into the closest thing the chaotic Russian opposition can have to a leader.

Putin has aptly dealt with the challenge posed by Navalny.

Navalny has been accused of theft in his past work in regional government, a court convicted him but then -surprisingly- as Navalny filed for appeal, the court has set him free and allowed him to run as a candidate for the mayor of Moscow.

Navalny has lost his race to a relatively popular establishment candidate while gathering an impressive 30% of the vote.

In the opinion pages of American newspapers, Putin is routinely dismissed as a thug or a dictator. But this episode with Navalny shows that when Vladimir desires to apply the use of force against his opponents he prefers the surgeons scalpel to the butcher's knife. Rather then eliminating its opponents, the Kremlin prefers to sideline them into irrelevance.

First the government went for Navalny's moral high ground.

By convicting him of theft they sought to make a moral equivalent between him and the corrupt bureaucrats he rails against. Russians are cynical when it comes to the judicial system and are unlikely to take this conviction at face value and yet many people do believe that where there is smoke there must be fire.

By allowing Navalny to run for mayor of Moscow, the Kremlin created an illusion of democracy, allowed the opposition to vent their anger in a sanctioned way and discredited their critics by showing them to be in the minority when the ballots were counted.

In effect, Navalny was used to prop up the facade of Russian democracy without Putin having to sacrifice any real power.

After the elections, the appeals court upheld Navalny's conviction for theft, suspended his prison sentence, barred him from politics and traveling outside of Moscow.

Thus Navalny was not shipped off to prison and made a martyr, instead his reputation amended by a corruption conviction and a lost election, he was sidelined and unable to grow his base of support outside of the Russian capital.

Meanwhile Russian state television is filled with news reports of federal officials courageously fighting corruption. Every few months the viewers are treated to Vladimir Putin himself berating some regional officials from behind his desk, warning that heads will roll unless they clean up their act.

Contrary to the impression in the West, Vladimir Putin did not destroy Russian democracy (not that there was much to destroy anyway). Instead he froze the democratic consensus in a place of his choosing.

After the chaotic post-Soviet period, Russians wanted stability. If democracy is a system of supply and demand, then Putin provided amply to the demands of the majority. In his first years in office Putin has been a insanely popular leader. He has used his power to take control of the television channels and regional elections, morphing his popularity into total institutional control. The clock stopped while Putin was on top and the hands of time haven't moved since.

Putin's power raises an interesting philosophical question. If a leader is continuously supported by the majority of the population but that support is achieved by unfair means, can that leader be considered an illegitimate dictator?

For me, the answer is no. Dictatorship achieves power solely through the use of force against its population. Putin exists in a state of power for which the English language doesn't provide a credible word.

And yet Buddha taught his disciples that impermanence is the quintessence of our lives.

Inevitably,  Russia's support for the leader will erode. In fact, this erosion has already begun starting with the fed-up Moscow middle class. Putin's clever political maneuvers will undoubtedly delay this erosion but they can't halt it entirely.

There will be a point where the majority will be against him and then he will be forced to either dismantle the remaining facade of democracy or leave his power behind.

The hands of time will move once more but whether they will move forward or not remains to be seen.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Creepy Masonic Eye for President


The government shutdown ended on a surreal and chilling note. Minutes before the House finished voting for the Senate compromise, a stenographer was pulled out of the chamber while yelling about conspiracies. A few people physically removed her from the chamber and took her to an adjacent elevator. She continued to yell. They were followed by a crowd of reporters and members of Congress, including Representatives Al Green (D., Texas) and Louie Gohmert (R., Texas). It took a few moments for the elevator doors to open, so the people who removed her from the chamber held her against the elevator as she yelled.

This is what I recorded of what she said: “This is not one nation under God. It never was. Had it been, it would not have been – no – it would not have been – the Constitution would not have been written by Freemasons! They go against God. You cannot serve two masters. You cannot serve two masters. Praise Jesus [recording unclear]. Lord Jesus Christ!”

Representative Joaquin Castro (D., Texas) told reporters shortly afterward that the woman had been working in the House as a stenographer for at least a few months. He said she was at the podium right below the Speaker’s chair when she started to yell. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican, was presiding.

“It was very disturbing for the members of Congress,” Castro said.

Source: National Review

***
Freemasons always get the short end of the stick.

If Freemasons secretly ruled us from behind the scenes would we really be in this mess, a few nutty legislative gimmicks away from a national default?

I have a lingering suspicion that with congressional approval hoovering around ten percent, many Americans would prefer to be ruled by the creepy Masonic eye on top of the pyramid that they can find on a dollar bill.

Also, does John Boehner strike anyone like a guy with a repertoire of secret handshakes?

As the lady said, "a man cannot have two masters" and with one look at the orange glow of the Speaker of the House one must conclude that this man chose his tanning bed over any secret society. He simply can't make the time for both.

All jokes aside, I hope this stenographer gets well. This world is bad enough without a menacing sense of some insane conspiracy hanging over you.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Portrait


During the end of the day, a bored coworker asked me what he should draw on a dry eraser board. I suggested that he illustrate the ascend of Prophet Muhammad to the heavens on top of a white mule, and then left for the day. Today, I came to work to see a portrait of myself on the board. Other coworkers have noted a resemblance.

Often people wonder what their peers really think of them, now with this sketch of a bearded hobo staring blankly into space, I sort of have an idea. Thank you, Matt.

(originally written in July)

I have to live within my budget, so should the USA.


 "Obama refuses to cut any spending. Why should the debt ceiling be raised when we can cut expenditures? Why should everyone on welfare get a free cell phone? Cut that 1st and we would have billions to spend on more necessary things. I have to live within my budget, so should the USA."

Comment on the Daily Mail tabloid website which I frequent to read the popular comments to get a grip on center-right Anglo-American opinion on everything from politics to Kim Kardashian.

Aside from the obvious stupidity of constantly comparing the largest economy on earth with a family budget, even if you take that comparison at face value it is total bullshit.

The successful middle-class American family doesn't live "within its means" today nor has it ever. Home mortgage is a type of debt, car loan is a type of debt. If everyone always lived "within their means" and never opened a line of credit the economy would grind to a halt.

America only left the Great Depression behind during the massive manufacturing boom that accompanied World War Two, all of it put on a massive credit card, a spending spree so manic and reckless that it would be unimaginable during peacetime. A spending spree that led to the total American economic dominion during the latter part of the twentieth century.

Spending money you don't have is at the core of any capitalist economy. Debt is a financial instrument. A form of technology. Like any other technology its has its risks and rewards.

The high-level of current debt needs to be addressed, but its not going to be solved with a combination of refusing to pay accumulated bills and homey, worn-out platitudes about the family budget.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Pretty Thug Souls



Random internet rambling has put it me in touch with a gallery of Russian mafia tombstones.

Judging by their reception in the comment section, most regard them as classless, gaudy memorials to thuggery.

"I'm dead set against cemetery vandalism, but I'm willing to make an exception in these cases."

Said one, Richard Kent, and received four Facebook likes for his proclamation (which he would doubtlessly hesitate to express if he was in the company of the mourning party for one of the tombstone's heroes).

I, on the other hand, always committed to aesthetics over moral standards, have no objections to them.

Yes they are ridiculous. But they succeeded where much of the funeral industry fails miserably.

These gravestones give a real sense of the person whose decomposed bodies rests beneath the edifice. They keep them alive and give a complete stranger an insight into the character who would otherwise be ravaged by nonexistence.

These gravestones defy death. Their souls live in the image, suspended in perpetual purgatory between a Russian church and a shiny Mercedes.

You could come to that gravestone in the middle of a cold Russian winter night and feel the boozy breath of its protagonist.

Eureka!

***
Link:
http://www.deathandtaxesmag.com/200835/russian-mafia-gravestones-are-completely-insane/

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Whiny Demon and the Literature of Melancholy



Currently in the processed of reading Andrew Solomon's book The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression.

I recently finished his more recent volume (Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity) about how adults experience their children who are radically different from them, either thru disability, behavior or an identity foreign to their parents.

Far From the Tree is a masterpiece, if you read nonfiction to get a new perspective on the world and educate yourself about people different than you whose lives are hidden from your experience, than there isn't a better book that I could think of.

Solomon covers people on the autistic spectrum, schizophrenics, the deaf, transgender people, children who resulted from rape, parents who gave birth to musical prodigies and families whose offspring succumb to criminal behavior.

He examines these multiple stories from perspectives of the children, parents, the family's struggles with the larger society and its expectations; he interlaces those stories with his own perspective and scientific, sociological and historical insights.

Although Solomon narrates the lives of people with a multitude of radically different identities, I never felt like I was taken on a patronizing trip to the disability petting zoo where one can observe all kinds of lives one could consider unlivable and emerge with a corny inspirational perspective that unconditionally affirms existence.

This book is life-affirming, true, but not in a trite way one would expect, the book doesn't censor out the pain, loss and fruitless struggle people can experience when their child has a medical condition or deviates from the societal norm. Solomon's seemingly effortless flexibility of expression and command of the English language are awe-inspiring.

His book on depression brings up a more ambiguous reaction in me. I haven't finished reading it yet so I can't pass a final judgment on it, though that judgment almost certainly wouldn't be negative.

In the Noonday Demon, he uses his own bouts of depressive illness as a narrative ark around which he weaves experiences of other people with depression as well as the science and history of this mood disorder.

Its no surprise that Noonday Demon won a National Book award and became a finalist for a Pulitzer. For a an intelligent person who experienced depression Solomon's book is a one-stop shop that has everything a general reader would want in a book about depression; memoir, journalism, science, analysis, great writing. Since many readers are not strangers to this mood disorder, his book found a natural constituency.

My ambivalence stems from some of narratives of depression encountered in the book.

To put it bluntly, people describing depression inevitably sound like they are whining. The feeling that accompanies depression are as painful as they are irrational and I am not sure that they always merit being turned into a flowing personal narrative. Reading the Noonday Demon, I realized that much of depression shouldn't be turned into prose because that prose adds little to the world and, in my case at least, fails to inspire deep empathy.

At the outset of the book, Solomon dismisses those who refer to their depression in the abstract. Those who
perceive their depression as an impersonal chemical process in their head fail to acknowledge that its takes place in the context of their life, that is expressed in their particular cultural environment and that their depression is inseparable from their self. Although the self doesn't create depression and depression definitely doesn't create the self, they are inseparable because each defines the other.

Solomon points out that both happiness and love are chemical processes in our brain and we would never refer to them with the same impersonal, scientific terms some people use to describe their depression.

All of these are valid points that are presented more richly in the book by the author than my rendition on this blog post.

And yet if there's a philosophical spectrum with one end populated by those who want to treat their depression as a deep personal experience and the other side who see their malady primarily as an in-personal chemical reaction (viewed by the afflicted person with a scientific detachment), I would plant my flag firmly in the latter camp.

Its true that a precious few would regard their experience of happiness or love as chemical process bubbling in their brains. But its also true that few people suffer from irrational happiness. And love brings about a lot of misery.

People commit suicide because of rejection, homicides are inspired around fanatical love, stalking behavior is inspired by love, misery haunts people whose loved ones died. Maybe for some of the citizens of the dark side of love, it wouldn't hurt to view their mental anguish as a result of a chemical process instead of being one with their pain and always rationalizing it and completely identifying with it.

The depressions described in the Noonday Demon are on a whole other level from what I tend to experience. While I had moments in my life where I would stay indoor for days, venturing out only to the neighborhood store in the evening to get a few groceries. These episodes were atypical and were attached to objective reasons to be sad.

Mostly I deal in dysthymia, life appears bleak and pointless, I am more tired than would be rational considering my work and sleep levels. I want to be alone and have a world-weariness that would be more appropriate to a concentration camp survivor of post-war Eastern Europe rather than a twenty-something college graduate in twenty first century America.

This mood is strong when I wake up and recedes toward the evening. Its not always intense and doesn't prevent me from functioning therefore my depression is not really ambitious. More of slacker that doesn't remotely approach its more dynamic relative, clinical depression, which can leave people bed-ridden for days and for some sufferers only recedes when a low-voltage electric shock is applied to the brain resulting in partial memory loss.

I am not miserable but I am not as productive as I should be. I live in perpetual mental fog, life is random and incoherent. This is not misery or profound pain that cries out for therapy or medication but neither is it really what I would call a healthy mood.

The problem I see are a few times a year when my continuum of low-level melancholy coagulates into something more intense. Sometimes my wavering abstract wish for non-existence acquires boldness, and appears to want to move closer to the magical place where bad thoughts turn into bad actions.

In reading the Noonday Demon, the destructive force of clinical depression became most apparent to me when the impact was described in third person, showing how it wrecked adult lives from the outside as oppose to first-person descriptions of the day-to-day fluctuations in psychological misery. A story of a high-powered executive who after becoming depressed lost her career and many friendships and ended up feeding people's cats for money (with the attention she received from different cats being one of the highlights of her day) shows how a depression is not a variation on sadness but is something totally more sinister.

The stories of people who were afflicted with chronic depression, and as adults had no idea how to form friendships because their self-esteem was wrecked and their mood isolating, were equally powerful.

The book also included prolonged descriptions of depression provided by two relatively young and affluent women. One narrative provided by a woman who doesn't work on account of her clinical depression and is supported by her boyfriend. One moment of her story that struck in my mind was when she wrote how she prefers to take baths because the ordeal of taking a shower is too stressful. I don't have the exact words in front of me, but I am pretty sure that the idea of water hitting her body was described as unbearable.

Here was the moment when I had to call timeout on the value of this narrative or -to be more specific- on the way it was presented by her. To drop my pretentious language, I was annoyed by it, it was too whiny.

Whether depression is caused primarily by genes, environment, life choices, hormonal fluctuations, a hex placed by an old gypsy, a combination of these factors or something else entirely, the end result is brain chemistry that creates irrational mental pain. IRRATIONAL pain. Pain that has the same relationship to reality that the voices schizophrenics hear have to reality. Neither mental phenomena is based on reality. Both exist in their own self-enforcing loops.

We live in a world that in the past century turned multitudes into camp dust. Millions were slaughtered by wars and regimes of all stripes. Beaten to death, worked to death, frozen to death in the Russian snow.

Each day people die from preventable deceases, they die because they don't have access to fresh water.

Taking a daily shower is a distant luxury to millions, probably billions, in the world we inhabit.

It is undeniably progress that more and more people are moving to recognize illness and suffering that are invisible to the eye as just as worthy of treatments as ailments that bleed and cripple the body.

But also I don't think it is valuable to indulge the pain of depression, to rationalize it, to always identify with it.

We shouldn't lose sight of the fact that experiencing taking a shower as a form of unbearable suffering is ridiculous. I wish the author of that shower narrative would recognize the absurdity of it instead of continuing this plea for empathy without any trace of irony.

I experience perceiving the depression as an impersonal chemical process as liberating. Merging the self with that chemical deficiency is exhausting.

To me my mood is like music and my thoughts are like a song you compose on top of it. You can't alter the music easily, you can never shut it off entirely. The only freedom you have is not to sing along.

If the hymn of depression is coming from a malfunctioning neurological soup, then it becomes easier to not indulge the melody as you would if you saw it as some spiritual cry of the self.

I need my clinical detachment, the sterility it affords is a platform for freedom and hope.



Monday, October 7, 2013

Mr. Vig


As a rule, I am not a very emotional observer of motion pictures and documentaries.

Whatever strings within me are pulled by sounds and pixels I view on the surface of my monitor do not make a habit of manifesting in the outside world.

There are a few exceptions.

In most of these cases tears don't actually leave my eyelid but much of the other symptomatology is present. I rest my head in my arms and take a few moments.

In all the cases the movies that caused these reactions are good ones. I don't feel like crying at shitty shows.

Here is a list of exceptions.

1) the final scene in Pan's Labyrinth
2) My Architect, a 2003 documentary about Louis Khan made by his son
3) The Monastery: Mr. Vig and the Nun, a 2006 Danish documentary

The first two occasions happened a few years back when I was living in Seattle, Ivan's emotional landscape was not too good at the time and in the proceeding future saw a cataclysm which unraveled my life on my beloved west coast and forced me to move back to Ohio.

Much like a failure to produce an erection by an older male can be a signal of underlying heart issues, my uncharacteristically weepy moods while watching films seems to foreshadow bad happenings.

Recently when I finished a biography of FDR that ended abruptly after his death, I felt very sentimental and sad and had to take a breather. Something about the passing of this cheerful, liberal president with dictatorial longevity in power caused my heart pain.

But a more intense episode happened about a week ago during the conclusion of the documentary The Monastery: Mr. Vig and the Nun. 

The film was about Mr. Vig, an eccentric, old Danish misanthrope, who in his old age decided to turn his ancestral estate into a small Russian Orthodox monastery. The Moscow Patriarchate indulged him and the documentary chronicled his uneasy relationship with a willful Russian nun who journeyed from the motherland to oversee the project for the church.

Unlike the other two entries on my list of Ivan's trail of almost-tears, this film did not receive near-universal critical acclaim.

This has to do with the protagonist Mr. Vig. A Seattle film critics has described him as a psychopath. This is unnerving because I saw more than a little of myself in him.

Mr. Vig appears to have spent his lengthy life totally out of sync with humanity. The only person he liked and admired was his forceful father who spent his time criticizing Vig's mother to the point of tears. Mr. Vig never married or even admitted ever having carnal relations with a woman; his preoccupation with human noses and their imperfections was one of the reasons he cited.

The touching part of the story was Mr. Vig's attachment to the Russian nun and his subtle need for her company. In one of the last scenes of the movie the nun makes a religious procession around the new church. In Orthodox countries, these processions include crowds of people who led by the priest circle the church.

In the movie, the nun carrying an icon of the Virgin Mary was followed by a lonely figure of Mr. Vig following her like a small boy does his mother.

Any loner embraces and fears total solitude. You roll the dice hoping to make a human connection. My attachment to most people is incoherent like a bad radio reception defined by static. Much of the time I want that dial in the off position.

I have Leonard Cohen songs, clouds of nicotine vapor coming out of my electronic cigarettes and a flickering Buddhist faith.

I don't know. Something needs to change but that something may never alter the fundamental alienated condition of my life and that's a sad thought.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Gentle Breeze of Extortion



“If Harry Reid and the president want to keep the parks closed — I mean did you read the story today? Some idiot in government sent goons out there to set up barricades so they couldn’t see the monument. People had to spend hours setting up barricades where there are never barricades to prevent people from seeing the World War II monument because they’re trying to play a charade,” Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Tuesday on Fox News’s “Hannity.”

(Source: Politico)

***

Jeff Miller, co-founder of the Honor Flight Network, had praise for the Park Service.

“They have been so compassionate and so nice,” he said. “They have done everything they could, bent over backwards, to not inconvenience or disappoint these veterans.”

In the future, “we don’t need representatives, senators, anybody here,” he said. “We will be allowed to move the gate if there’s no one here and our veterans [can] go in.”

(Source: WaPo)

***

So a Senator making over 170k a year dismisses middle-class Park Service employees who are currently not getting a paycheck (and may not even receive back-pay when the shutdown is over if some members of the Republican Senate get their way) as goons for following orders to protect de-funded memorials?

How about focusing his attention on the goons who decided a government shutdown is a good legislative tactic to upend the law they dislike and don't have the votes to repeal without a threat? Do they bare any responsibility or does the blame lay with a bunch of government workers classified as criminals on Fox News for doing their job?

Although many journalists are liberals and probably sympathize with the Democratic position, most still feel the need to pander to the good old truism about the bipartisan dysfunction where both parties are responsible for a stalemate. The trite sigh about these childish politicians in DC.

Lets imagine an alternative world where Democrats would attach an Assault Weapons Ban opposed by Republicans to a routine spending resolution in order to have Republicans vote for a law they oppose in order to avert a shutdown.

Now once the Republicans would refuse to vote for the assault weapons ban and fund the government, the Democrats would accuse them of not willing to compromise and refuse to put a resolution to fund the government on the floor of the Senate without the assault weapons ban attached.

Who would be responsible for a government shutdown in that scenario?

Assault weapons are no more popular in America than Obamacare
and many in the liberal base view gun control as a life and death issue of the same urgency that repealing Obamacare is for the Tea Party.

Bottom line: whoever introduced a government shutdown into the legislative discussion in order to get members of the opposite party to vote in a way they would not vote without a threat, is practicing legislative extortion and is the sole party responsible for the shut down when it occurs.