Thursday, January 30, 2014

Truth


"The absence of compassion is the greatest danger facing human beings today."

Ogyen Trinley Dorje, his Holiness the 17th Karmapa*

*wiki: The Karmapa is head of the Karma Kagyu school, one of the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism.
***

I hope that one day I will be in a position in my life to make a small difference in that equation; as banal and presumptuous as that may sound. Life cries out for meaning. My life does.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Help Needed

From the stats on my blog I see that it appears to have some readership, if any of you like my writing and have any job ideas and/or possibilities please get in touch in the comment section and we can exchange information.

My father is a theoretical physicist who graduated near the top of his class at Russia’s best university. And while I didn’t inherit his aptitude for physics I did inherit a profound desire to use my mind at work. A desire that thus far remains unfulfilled.

The trite philosophical dictum of “I think therefore I am” doesn’t apply to my work life because the work I do doesn’t require deep cognitive engagement. For forty hours each week, I don’t think therefore I am not. And my desperate need is to flip that existential equation back to its quintessence.

My life is not in a good place right now and I will consider all options.

I will be immensely grateful for any offer; if you ever considered helping someone to change their life please act now.  

Big Soul


Irishman talking about Russian national traits in front of a Russian audience, surprisingly insightful for a comedy act.

(Most of the video is in English with Russian subtitles)

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Women's Studies


An excerpt from a long message sent to a girl on a dating site:

I don’t hate women but (you are correct) I do have some issues on that front.

Basically they all rotate around my general alienation from humanity. Since I am a heterosexual male my most intimate point of connection with my species lies through women.

Therefore they become a point of my friction with existence; women are the quintessence of my alienation since I don’t have a profound need to be emotionally or romantically intimate with men.

Although I am a liberal, there are aspects of leftist thought I hate. One of these could be called “group absolution.” Here a group –it could be an ethnic minority or a gender- are practically absolved from ever being perceived as immoral on account of their historical oppression by white male dominated society. An example would be, “it is okay for people to riot and destroy local businesses because they have faced institutional racism their whole lives.”

This unexamined moral perspective really annoys me when feminists apply it to women since here this blanket of absolution covers half of humanity.

For example, there is this idea of men objectifying women. It is true to an extent: I imagine men and women view the bodies of the opposite sex in a different way and part of it is just a function of differences in sex drive mechanisms between the sexes.

Men do objectify images of women more than the opposite is true.

However, when it comes to real life interactions between the sexes, the fact is that most men aren't that physically attractive or charismatic to really play the field or have that many chances to reject or objectify women.

I think that an average attractive girl has way more opportunities to reject the opposite sex on account of superficial judgments. Because really, that is what the issue is: superficial judgments. A woman who rejects a man because he is wearing the wrong clothes or opens up with some awkward line or has a messy apartment should not be placed of pedestal next to a guy who rejects a girl because she has small breasts. It is all one problem of objectification except played out by different criteria and it is wrong to single men out because it is always wrong and we all do it.

I think sometimes women operate with some vague, imprinted sense of moral absolution. Something like, “yeah I can treat this guy like shit because he is just a pig who just wants to fuck anyway.”

But maybe I am wrong, I don’t know.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Slavic Dread


Ukraine is really troubling me. I sympathize with the protesters but I don't see how their demands for the president to leave office before an election could be achieved without bloodshed. Its a problem for which I don't have a solution or even concrete opinions. All I have is a dreary premonition of Slavic blood running through the streets.

Papal Dove Blues


"Two white doves that were released by children standing alongside Pope Francis as a peace gesture have been attacked by other birds.

As tens of thousands of people watched in St Peter's Square, a seagull and a large black crow swept down on the doves right after they were set free from an open window of the Apostolic Palace.

One dove lost some feathers as it broke free from the gull. But the crow pecked repeatedly at the other dove. It was not clear what happened to the doves as they flew off."

Source: The Telegraph
***

Honestly... what the fuck?

A seagull and a crow!?

I never seen a seagull and a crow attack two doves. What is this? Avian UFC?

Alright, I am done, I am throwing in the towel; there is no hope anymore.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

American Trust


Alexander Gordon is a Jewish-Russian journalist.

He came to American after the collapse of the Soviet Union, he became a star presenter on Russian immigrant television here. Later on he tired of being a big fish in a small pond of Russian-American television and moved back to the motherland and became a well know television personality.

Back in Russia he is known for his anti-American views. I don't know if they are a product of real disillusionment with the land of the free or if they are a way to compensate for his time abroad and the original decision to leave.

Anyway, recently I was watching an interview with him on Ukrainian television. In it he mentioned that all forests in America are filled with trash, that people here don't respect nature the way Russians do and that the African-American population has exploded to around 30% from 22% when he was around; a fictional growth that -for his prejudiced mind- indicates the disintegration of American society (as far as I know, the real number of black Americans remains steady at around 12%).

To close of his argument he mentioned that when he first immigrated here his family was working with a social worker who told him the American lesson her father imparted to her, "don't trust anyone."

"Then and there I understood that it is a poisonous credo and I refuse to live by it," Gordon concluded.

"I heard that you made a documentary that stated that Americans never landed on the moon," the host said to move the conversation along.

At that point, I thought Gordon's presentation of "don't trust anyone" as the quintessentially American credo was a little ridiculous. After all, in the cynical post-Soviet morass, there wasn't exactly a surplus of trust in Russia. It seemed to me that Gordon was projecting a painful Russian problem onto the American society.

Yesterday I was reading an unauthorized biography of Fox News CEO Roger Ailes The Loudest Voice in the Room; in the book Roger as a child is playing a game with his dad, his father tells Roger to jump and that his father would catch him once he did. Roger jumps, his father makes no attempt to catch him and the kid is hurt physically and emotionally.

Here papa Ailes imparts the key lesson of Roger's life, you guessed it, "don't trust anyone."

This was in Warren, Ohio. Can't get more American than that. I still don't buy the Gordon's idea that this is some sort of an American thesis but it is gave me something to think about.   

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Ask Nature


Conversation on an online dating site:

Ivan: Be careful embracing that cat. (reference to a photo) I took a class at the Humane Society and learned that 70% of cats have feline herpes.

Girl: hahaha.

Ivan: Hey babe,

I like the "Here's the honest truth: I mostly like men who are scholarly and at least somewhat hip. Why? I don't know. Ask nature." part [of your profile].

Very nice, "ask nature."

Your hahaha answer is also indicative of an attractive girl. A plainer one would maybe write more. Literally, your commitment to this conversation consists of pressing two keyboard keys three times each. I am a puff of smoke. I can be here or be gone and it wouldn't make much difference to you or your cat.

To be honest, this is not too promising.

Most of my conversations on here go like this: some trite, witty flirting (which I am relatively good at) and then eventually I slip and write a long introspective message and inevitably get ignored.

I am a sensitive artist without a portfolio. People are evil but not really. Ask nature.

*** end of exchange

Ahh yes, Ivan [insert last name] building my fortress of solitude since 1986, one icy brick at a time.

Then again, "hahaha" really isn't that promising of a reply.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Answers to all of Life's Eternal Questions Are in this Film!


My strangely long and involved Amazon review of "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter." I gave it 4 stars. 

Normally I dislike action/fantasy movies because, usually, the action is repetitive and the fantasy is worn out and follows a trite Hollywood formula.

I checked out this film because it is connected to Tim Burton and the director is Russian (as am I).

Nevertheless, as I inserted the DVD into my laptop, I fully expected to take it out the disk before finishing the show.

I did end up watching till the end and was pleasantly surprised by this movie. The premise is unique and the action sequences are some of the best I ever encountered.

Was I emotionally invested in the fate of the characters?

No, not particularly...Then again, this is "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" not War and Peace.

But the script does provide some solid plot twists and I was interested to see how this vampire fantasy parallels the Civil War history we know.

What really sets this effort apart is the action. Usually in this type of an effort the action has heavy editing. The camera rarely holds still. Instead you get a patchwork of edits, showing the hand with gun, then a punch, then an explosion, then some stale dialogue, then another punch and explosion. All of this becomes overwhelming in a bad way.

The great thing about the Matrix was the consistency of the image. The camera followed the character without cutting away too much. This movie has a similar style and also uses slow motion to highlight choice moments. Of course the frame jumps around sometimes but there is more of a natural feel to the editing and I didn't get the disorienting, light nausea I usually feel.

Its good, the action is, I don't see how people can quibble with it.

***

Finally, I'd like to address the criticism of this movie that I have encountered in Amazon reviews and elsewhere.

Some people are put off by the premise, stating that it was the dumbest thing they have ever seen.

Lets think about this, you bought or rented a movie called "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" and then you start watching the said movie and you are shocked, SHOCKED to see that in it Abraham Lincoln is... a vampire hunter!?

Are you a moron?

This is like watching a Superman movie and being disgusted when Clark Kent takes off his glasses, puts on tights and no one recognized him anymore; or renting a Woody Allen movie and being flabbergasted when the protagonist turns out to be a neurotic New Yorker.

Did you think that the reference to vampire hunting was a convoluted metaphor for Abe's battle with his depression and other personal demons? Did you think you were in for a cerebral, interpersonal drama?

Reading these negative reviews, I have to ask myself a question, "what exactly did people expect from a movie called 'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter'?"

Did they expect answers to their deepest existential questions? Did they want it to provide solutions to their strained relationships with their parents? Did they want a sophisticated critique of the political dysfunction and partisan gridlock in modern American government?

Let me tell you what you have a right to expect: some vampire hunting, some good action scenes, Abraham Lincoln as the hero and a half-way decent plot.

This movie more than delivers on those counts.

The one point that I will concede to the haters is that it is true that this movie almost totally lacks humor. Its lack of irony is sort of funny in its own right because by the middle of the film you are half-way seriously following the adventures of Honest Abe in his battle with vampires.

You accepting this ridiculous premise for the duration of the film is the biggest joke and it is pretty funny if you think about it.

But, eh, not enough. One star gone.

Aside from that, its all good. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.. a solid flick.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Agony of a Scratch


I know I have brought this up before, but I can't let this topic rest.

One of the benefits of my horrible memory is that although I have watched all seasons of Curb Your Enthusiasm before, I have almost completely forgotten everything!

And can now watch them again with a minty fresh excitement almost as if I am a Larry David virgin.

But my karma is not good enough to revel in my Curb virginity.

Today I was enjoying the episode where Larry David finds out that he might be a gentile from the people he thinks are his biological parents. Its the final episode in that season. It is comedy gold! In the middle of their conversation, my laptop screen freezes.

Enter the scratched DVD I rented at the library and the accompanying question...

HOW CAN YOU SCRATCH A GODDAMNED RENTED DVD!?!

You take it out of the case, you insert it into your device... you watch the series and have some laughs...

YOU TAKE IT OUT OF THE DEVICE AND PUT IT BACK IN THE FUCKING DVD CASE!!!

Where does the scratching come in!?

What sort of an inbred moron do you have to be to mess up this process?

These library patrons in this upscale Ohio suburb are supposed to be the cream of the crop. The American intelligentsia. The first people to be sent to the concentration camps in Alaska if Sarah Palin wins the presidency.

I was picking up my reserved DVDs and noticed that the reserved shelf was mostly filled with books! These people reserve books!  

Why!?! Why!?! Why scratch the DVD! We are not hamsters! We are humans! Smart humans! This library is the only vestige of socialism we have in America and you are messing it up.

Do they let their dogs use the DVD as a chew toy? Do they throw it around their houses in a game of Frisbee? Do they use it as a weapon to stab prostitutes?

WHAT IS GOING ON!?!

***

Well, it is all good. All good.

Compassion for all sentient beings. I have no beef.

Buddhists hold that attachment is the heart of all suffering and dissatisfaction defines the unenlightened life.

There are worse things in the world that this.

Go on scratching the library DVDs if that's what makes you happy.

Who am I to judge?

Tsar of the Amazon


I just published my first Amazon review as Shady Ivan from "Sugar-Plum Kingdom", I am happy about the result but do feel somewhat guilty about a polemic aimed at an author whose fiction I thoroughly enjoy. Especially, since Shteyngart seems like the kind of a fella who would actually read negative reviews of his books on Amazon.

Also, the beginning of this review is taken from a previous blog post. Be warned, my non-existent readers!

---

I want to preface this by saying that I am a fan of Gary. I have read every book he has put out and was eagerly awaiting this memoir.

I too am a Russian immigrant (though a goy in my case). Born in Moscow where as Shteyngart hails from Saint Petersburg.

One of the most uncomfortable college experiences I had was when once a grad student teaching my Slavic Studies course asked the class of your run of the mill Ohio State students what came to mind when they heard "Eastern Europe."

What sprang from the tips of the Midwestern tongues didn't exactly scar me for life but reaffirmed the fact that the place that housed my ancestors for hundreds of years is -in one way or another- viewed as a cold hell by many (if not most) in my adopted country.

Nothing about soulfulness or good literature or mystical spirituality came up.

The stereotypical litany I heard included, "prostitution, mafia, dictatorship" and -to add insult to injury- "bad food."

On the upside, nobody actually brought up an STD.

Da!

I have the perspective to appreciate this book.

***

The problem with "Little Failure" is that it is not a story of a Russian immigrant it is a story of an evolving neurosis.

The neurosis of a sick Soviet child, the neurosis of a thick-accented adolescent at a Hebrew school, the neurosis of a lonely teenager in an elite public school, etc...

Everything is told in this nervous, pained voice in search of the next punchline. All the other people in the memoir are vague, blurry ghosts. A source material for another bout of angst or a new litany of jokes.

Most good writing is crafted in a way where the reader can develop his own independent opinion about the events in the book. With "Little Failure" this feat is impossible. The reader dwells in a totalitarian, literary state where humor is the pedestal that upholds the ideology of dread. There is no freedom here. The nervous voice dictates your vision. And I found the experience of reading this book suffocating and repetitive.

This memoir is free of people, real people, real characters. The only real person is Gary and even he plays second fiddle to his nervous mind which is the only living entity that had depth in the book. Sort of like Chairman Mao was the only man who could afford to be fat in his realm.

All the people who make an appearance are more or less one-dimensional societal caricatures. Rich New York hippies, goofy left-wing Oberlin students and -of course- Soviet Jews.

For those who read this book and appreciate it, let me pose a simple question.

On one hand, place the stereotype of a Russian Jewish person and in another hand take Gary's parents as they are described in the book. Can you detect any difference? Could this lack of differences be considered a literary success?

Yes, Gary describes his folks with brilliant style but are they really perfect ethnic archetypes or has their humanity been stripped from them by their son?

There were ethnic stereotyping in Shteyngart's fictional works too, but with rich narratives they reclaimed their humanity. Not so in Little Failure.

There is a rich tradition of self-deprecating humor in America. But if you look closely, the people doing the self-deprivation are minorities. Brilliant Jewish, black and others putting out their ethnic laundry and having a laugh.

Woody Allen and Dave Chappell looking at mainstream American with a plea, "yes, I am ridiculous but can you still love me? let me do a funny dance for you."

Its an old performance that generated millions of dollars for the entertainment industry. But it strips the dancing monkey of his dignity.

As a Russian, I want my country of origin and its offspring to be described with more depth. Yes to absurdity, yes to tragedy, no to to a narrating voice of a cerebral Yakov Smirnoff. Sometimes you have to lay down the humor and show something real.

Yes, there is value in describing the immigrant neurosis, yes it is often funny. But I want to see a human face behind the laughs and the nervous twitches. I wanted to see the faces of Gary's parents. I wanted to see Gary's face.

I looked into the borscht and saw a dull, suffocating abyss.

Do svedanya, Gary.

I hope your next book won't be a little failure.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Chaanda Devi Caves


His Holiness the DaLai Lama reciting a Buddhist text at the Chaanda Devi Caves where the Indian philosopher Nagarjuna meditated in Sirpur, Chattisgarh on January 14, 2014.

Source: www.DalaiLama.com

Monday, January 13, 2014

Bat Mint

Watching Tim Burton's 1989 Batman. Decent movie. I know a lot of Batman nerds don't like the film because its not faithful to the comic.

But really, do you want every Batman movie to retread the same story over and over again? Like groundhog day with tights?

It not the retelling of the Torah, just a superhero flick. For all its flaws Burton's effort definitely has more heart than the most recent series.

Anyway, I did notice the mouthwash in the Batcave.

I guess all heroism begins with a minty breath.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

144


I have a long preoccupation with this number. It started in my early twenties when this was my employee number at the Department of Employment Security of the State of Washington.

An excerpt from Shakespeare Sonnet 144.

"I guess one angel in another's hell."

Beginning of Psalm 144 "Of David"

Praise be to the Lord my Rock,
    who trains my hands for war,
    my fingers for battle.
He is my loving God and my fortress,
    my stronghold and my deliverer,
my shield, in whom I take refuge,
    who subdues peoples[a] under me.

HHDL Image


Rare picture of his Holiness the Dalai Lama dressed as Heruka* for a ceremony in Tibet.

*a category of wrathful deities, enlightened beings in Vajrayana Buddhism that adopt a fierce countenance to benefit sentient beings. (Source: Wiki)

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Day O


My definition of a great movie is a film that creates its own unique aesthetic and tells a story that could not be told effectively in any other medium. That criteria would grant Beetlejuice great movie status.

Watched it the other day and it made me feel so much better than I was before it started. Something about exploring death in this light way makes life worth living.

This scene is great. I love the juxtaposition of facial expression and rhythmic dancing that the hostess does. Very impressive dancing for a white woman. Is there any remote possibility that she is bad in bed?

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Kim Dot Com


Kim Dot Com became a privacy/internet hero/martyr after his file sharing website Mega Upload was shut down by the federal government. Today Kim is hiding from American justice in a mansion in New Zealand.

I don't have anything profound to say about his legal troubles.

Two observations I have are concerning his person.

One is his childish, innocent glee about living life. Something I admire in other people and probably lost myself around age eleven (if not before). It is an endearing quality. Everything in human society and history appears to work against it and yet it perseveres in this gigantic German geek.

The other is his aforementioned size. According to online sources he is 6 ft 7" tall. Which would give him 3 to 4 inches on my height.

People this tall who are also obese always amaze me.

Currently I weigh around 265 pounds. I eat a lot and exercise little. I don't look like a skeleton but neither do I look that overweight.

Don't get me wrong, I could definitely lose a few but being this tall I can still rock the weight of two Amish teenagers without looking fat.

In this height range, just covering the necessities of maintaining the organism requires a lot of food.  

How much must this man eat to maintain his bulk?

I say this without a hint of judgment, just a scientific observation or something.

Look at this guy? How can you hate him?

Keep on keeping on, Kim.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Curb Your Leninism


I was enjoying watching Curb Your Enthusiasm DVDs I rented at the library.

The DVD keeps skipping and getting stuck. My escapism into Larry David's empire of awkwardness rudely interrupted with reminders that life can be disappointing in humorless ways.

This is why socialism doesn't work.

Lenin, you bald bastard, are you going to fix my scratched Curb DVD?

Yeah, I thought so.

For my next trick I'm going to the library to take out a book on Existentialism, who knows, maybe I'll catch herpes from it.

Immigrant Angst


One of the most uncomfortable college experiences I had was when once a grad student teaching my Slavic Studies class asked the class of your run of the mill Ohio State students what came to mind when they heard "Eastern Europe."

What sprang from the tips of the Midwestern tongues didn't exactly scar me for life but reaffirmed the fact that the place that housed my ancestors for hundreds of years is -in one way or another- viewed as a shithole by many (if not most) in my adopted country.

Nothing about soulfulness or good literature or mystical spirituality came up.

The stereotypical litany I heard included, "prostitution, mafia, dictatorship" and -to add insult to injury- "bad food."

On the upside, nobody actually brought up an STD.

The grad student nodded and we went on to something else.

He is probably teaching and African-American studies now where I hope he doesn't attempt a similar exercise.

I was going to write a long post about this Russian expat angst but I don't feel like it... let me boil it down for you: being an immigrant can be alienating and shitty.

If could get a dollar for every bad impersonation of the Russian accent that I heard from acquaintances I would probably have 120$ by now. A HUNDRED AND TWENTY FUCKING DOLLARS!

That's like a week and a half of groceries.

Anyway, just this year I sent off a long email to a girl I am in love with and one of the many things that get in the way of that potential romance is my Russian proclivity to bare my soul constantly which doesn't go well with her way of communicating.

Fuck it, I don't know. It is what it is.

It's life.

One writer to whom I have turned for years for an echo of my Russian-immigrant alienation is Gary Shteyngart. A Jewish-Russian-American writer. The New York Times loves him. I love him. Life is alright when I read his books.

He has a million dollar condo in Manhattan and I have a cheap apartment in an Ohio suburb next to a Walgreen's.

Today his memoir comes out, "Little Failure."

It is minus 22 degrees Celsius outside, I have downloaded Shteyngart's work as an audiobook and will play Tetris on my computer as I listen and try to suppress my melancholy hope for a text from a girl in Seattle.

What can be more Russian-American than that?