Monday, February 24, 2014

Thou Must Not Meddle in Ukraine


"Russia Meddles In Ukraine Chaos" is the blaring headline on Huffington post.

I suppose sponsoring and enthusiastically supporting a protest movement that overthrew a president -as the West has done- isn't meddling. That would be called... umm... we would call that... ah, fuck it... FREEDOM! DEMOCRACY! DOWN WITH THE RUSSIAN EMPIRE!!!

Yes, that sounds better.

In December of last year, Gallup poll asked people in former Soviet republics whether the collapse of the Soviet Union has done more harm or good. Ukraine clocked in at 56% "harm" a percentage point BEHIND the crown jewel of the Evil Empire itself - Russia. Though Armenia -the ancestral home of Kim Kardashian- took the prize with 66% of the population reminiscing about the good old communist days.

Yes, it is hard for many people in the West to compute that every one of Russian neighbors doesn't completely hate the bear and many even express nostalgia for the time they dwelt in its furry shadow.

Many of the most ardent and militant of the protesters in the barricades have a uniting hero - Stepan Bandera. Now, when I say that he is a uniting hero, I mean to say that he unites everyone against him. Stepan Bandera was born in the early twentieth century when Western Ukrainians were a tribe divided and scattered between national borders. They were surrounded by Russians, Russian-speaking Ukrainians, Poles and Jews. Bandera had a plan to establish an ethnically pure base for his people -so far so good- the bummer is that he decided to do this by killing everyone else.

Allied with the German invaders he participated in the Holocaust but also slaughtered innocent Russian, Polish and Belorussian civilians. KGB caught up with Bandera after the war. He was assassinated in Munich in 1969.

Statues of him grace the cities of Western Ukraine. When the previous "pro-Western" president of Ukraine , Victor Yushchenko, came up with a bright idea of giving Bandera the title of "Hero of Ukraine" this infuriated not only Russians and Jews but also caused a protest outside of the Ukrainian embassy in Poland.

“Shame on Bandera! Shame on Yushchenko! Shame on Polish politicians who thoughtlessly supported Yushchenko,” wrote Tadeusz Isakowicz-Zaleski, a Catholic priest who helped lead the protests outside the Ukrainian embassy in Warsaw. (Source: Global Post.)

This act sponsored the rise of the currently-deposed "pro-Russian" president who annulled the award when he was elected.

***

Back in the good old Soviet days -for which 56% of Ukrainians brim with nostalgia- Nikita Khrushchev decided to give the Soviet Republic of Ukraine a gift. The gift was a huge one- the Crimean Peninsula.

 Back in 1774 (around the time America was winning its war of independence) the Tsar finally won over the Crimean Khans and Crimea became a part of the Russian Empire. Since then it has been a traditional Russian territory connected with Ukraine only through geographical proximity. With its beautiful beeches, Crimea was called the "playground of the Tsars." The famous post-WWII Yalta conference took place there.

Now Khrushchev transferred Crimea to Ukraine. A largely symbolic act since everyone was still a part of the great, unbreakable socialist family of nations. When that family filed for divorce and the Soviet Union ceased to be, 60% of the Crimean populations -who are ethnic Russians- found themselves in Ukraine. The Russian black-sea fleet is still based in Crimea today and as these Russians watch fans of Bandera proclaiming their victory, they are none too pleased.

Imagine yourself being ruled by the type of angry folks who celebrate the Nazi-affiliated killer of your people.

Thousands of them amassed waiving Russian flags asking for the motherland to claim her forsaken children. If you think that the "forsaken children" is a bit of hyperbole, it was actually a sign I saw one grandma carry when I was reading a BBC story on the protests.

Ethnic Russians in Ukrainians as well as Russian-speaking Ukrainians who reminisce about Soviet days, now find themselves in a bankrupt country in the midst of a revolution partly led by fervent fans of Stepan Bandera.

Maybe Russia shouldn't meddle in Ukraine, but the Russian hand isn't the only one in the cookie jar.

Ukraine is a feeble boat in uncertain waters. Rock that boat hard enough and some of its inhabitants will face no choice but to leap for the neighboring, brotherly vessel.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Ukrainian Eagle


Today, the president of Ukraine appears to have been overthrown by the restless masses.

The tent city has won. Abandoned by his presidential guard, Victor Yanukovich fled to the Russian-speaking east of the country... guarded by... who exactly? Perhaps by the Russians who despise him as much as his people but for different reasons.

Meanwhile, the revolutionaries are giving guided tours of his abandoned residence. No looting to behold. Pictures of Ukrainian hipsters playing golf on his course proliferate throughout the media. Turning a government overthrow into a cute photo op. Perhaps Western intelligence has something to do with the smoothness of this spectacle though maybe the revolutionaries are just that good.

Russians in general and Russian nationalists in particular are always flabbergasted by Ukraine. Half of the people worship in the same church, speak the same language, look exactly the same as Russians. The modern Russian state traces its roots to ancient Kiev where these chaotic Slavs adopted the Orthodox faith of Constantinople. For most of their history they lived as one country, under one Tsar.

In the eyes of Russian nationalists, Ukraine is the perpetual Fredo of Godfather fame. Always breaking Michael Corleone's heart with his disloyalty and overall goofiness. The older brother to a greater man who sees no dignity in submission and holds no potential for real independence.

Ukrainian nationalists see Russians as the poisonous snake tempting their naive countryman out of the garden of Europe and into a dark, Asiatic kingdom defined by alcohol consumption and patriotic chest-beating. Russia is the country that oppressed them under the Tsar and starved them under Stalin. Their native language was the enemy of unity and their national identity, a threat to the empire.

The emblem of tsarist Russia and the presidential seal of the modern Russian Federation is the double-headed eagle. One head is turned toward the East while the other glares at the West. This beast is supposed to highlight the Eurasian uniqueness of Russia. It's the nation's freak flag, loudly proclaiming, "We are white people! But... not quite like you."  

But really this bipolar bird is better suited as the mascot for many -if not most- Ukrainians. Looking eastward they see the sort of people they would like to drink with, looking westward they see the sort of countries they would like to live in.

On their eastern border is the Russian nationalist saying, "I love you, baby. Come here. I promise not to hit you again." Closer to the Polish border the Ukrainian nationalist screams, "don't listen to that Neanderthal! He will rape you in his cave."

Some Ukrainians turn toward the West others run to hold hands with the Russian; but to many, neither sentiment seems quite right.

***

The doors of the prison swung open and Yulia Tymoshenko emerged out of it. Newly released through an act of the Rada, the Ukrainian parliament. With her braided blond hair and her traditional clothes she often looks like some collector's doll representing a Ukrainian village woman, the kind of a woman you are unlikely to ever encounter in an actual village. Ukraine's very own, freedom-loving Pocahontas.

Tymoshenko told the protesters -many of whom are skeptical toward her shtick- that they are heroes and that Ukraine will be part of Europe.

The one thing she neglected to tell them is that -when all cards are on the table- Europe doesn't want Ukraine all that badly.

If you read much of the coverage of Ukraine in the Western press, you may have noticed that Ukraine wasn't at the center of the attention. The center stage was reserved for the ONE, the ONLY, the FURRY, the CORRUPT, the NUCLEAR-ARMED... ah, you know who I'm talking about.

To the West it was all about RUSSIA.

You see, the West doesn't care all that much about Ukraine until that point and time when it looks like Russia will snatch it away. The West is sort of like that girl who doesn't really want to marry you but only over her dead body will she allow you to sleep with anyone else. Yes, Ukraine you are being strung along.

To Europe, Ukraine is a bush behind which hides that old Russian bear. In on of itself, the bush holds little value but if you let the bear claim the bush he would have crawled closer to your house.

Well anyway, these analogies could go on forever. Perhaps Susie, a random British commentator observing the victory of freedom in Ukraine, said it best, "I suppose this is another country that will now benefit from our hard earned money which is grabbed by Brussels."

Money, my friends. Susie nailed it. It's all about that sweet scratch. Ukraine is one of the poorest countries in Eastern Europe. The per capita GDP is less than half that of Russia. After bailing out Spain, Portugal and Greece, the Europeans aren't exactly all the eager to let another orphan join their dysfunctional family.

Ukraine has its own internal divisions. They might not be -thank God- significant enough for a civil war but they are big enough to get in the way of a functioning government. In 2004, in the aftermath of a fixed election, a pro-Western president was elected.

It was a new beginning! A window toward Europe has opened!

Four years later he left with an approval rating of five percent. Then the "pro-Russian" Yanukovich won the presidency fair and square (or something like that). Now this glorious revolution did away with him.

So today is a new beginning! A window toward Europe is open again!

That's the great thing about revolutions, they always promise a clean slate, a new world. But then the dust settles and here you are again with your divided soul. A resentful Russia on one side and a weary Europe on the other.

Lincoln said that a house divided against itself cannot stand. Well, Lincoln was wrong. It can. Its just might not be the sort of house you'd want to live in.

I wish the best for Ukraine. The overthrown president was a corrupt criminal. But I am also suspicious of the sweet promises of revolutions and this country had a few of those with little to show for the turmoil they leave in their wake.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Papa Putin's Amazing Stability Machine


An edited email exchange with an American acquaintance about Putin's reign.

His Email: 

How can you dislike a guy who is making Russia better off than in 1998 and is enlarging the middle class? IF the middle get richer, they will clamor for more and better democracy. Putin will be wise enough to step aside when a better leader is called upon by the people.

Given his foreign policy coups, without any military misadventures, I wouldn't be surprised if the old republic defectors slowly come back to the fold. I know the Baltic states never will though.

Putin changed with the times, just like Gorbachev and Yeltsin did. All they want to do is adopt the better parts of western tradition. I know things are much better there, bc when I was a kid you never saw a Russian smile on TV at the Olympics. Now joy is all you see!!!!

My Reply: 

There is a Warren Buffet quote where he said that the perfect company to invest in is one with the structure and the product so good that any idiot can run it and it would still remain profitable because eventually any idiot will run it.

That's what US constitution sort of does and that's what I would want in Russia.

The current concentration of power in the Kremlin makes any idiot who could eventually end up there the option of doing profound -even irreversible- damage.

Under the current constitution, Putin is not the worst choice by far. Glancing at Belarus or Ukraine, it is easier for me to imagine worse leaders than better ones in his place.

I am much more positive on Putin than most of my Russian friends, many Muscovites and a large chunk of Russian expats in America.

The issue is that this top-down, corruption oiled, stability machine that currently rules Russia -while it has done some good- is coming to the end of its potential.

If you have a resource-based economy, corruption -if kept withing limits- is not totally detrimental. People divide the spoils, pay their bribes, develop understandings and oil gets out of the ground and into European cars.

When it comes to high-tech sectors or small businesses, this regime can be crushing. Bribes, bureaucracy, bad judicial system, little respect for copyright. A lot of smart people who could be starting a Russian Google are effectively incentivized to move to the West where they can get all their money without the headaches.Only a love of Russian bread keeps these Slavic nerds from packing their bags.

The situation is even worse in the provinces where business is controlled by criminal clans that stretch from street thugs to governors' residences.

The higher education system is disintegrating with timid salaries and rich kids who got in because of bribes and bring about an atmosphere of entitlement and intellectual malaise.

There has been a depressing Russian poll that showed that majority of Russian teens dream of becoming a government official or work for a state company, effectively dreaming of getting illicit cash while doing little work. This "Russian Dream" presents a cynical nightmare for the future. Smart kids who could do good with the right incentives, salivating over the prospect of becoming a corrupt bureaucrat.

While it is conceivable to me that Putin could step aside, this has not been the pattern in Russian history. He retains his throne because for most average Russians this leader is the best thing since Brezhnev when Russia also occupied that peculiar second world position.

The one thing that Russia never had was a "dictatorship of law". That's actually a Putin expression from his first term. If that was achieved, he would really be a historical, revolutionary leader, as is, he might be remembered as another competent autocrat. A Bismark of the post-Soviet space who won the battles of his day but lay no systemic groundwork for future stability and peace.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Selfies, Depression Insights and Quality Shrinks



The backdrop to this self portrait is my laptop monitor, the blurry white characters compose my rotating text screensaver reading "Papa Ivan Loves You."

Below are a few edited excerpts from my conversation with Dave which (in a punched up form) I decided to commemorate as a separate post.

Depression:

I do agree with you that depression can add perspective to the afflicted. All successful writers or thinkers whose biographies I am familiar with dealt with this malady in one way or another. The link between a certain type of depression and creative output is an old, trite idea. But repetition doesn't make something untrue.

If you are on the road of life it pays to focus on that road and ignore everything else. Optimism is about that act of censorship of the unpleasant realities of life. You are aware of them but they are in your peripheral vision. If you are depressed the whole picture is exposed to your weary eyes.

You see the people who have fallen off that road. The addicts, the mentally ill, victims of violence, the freaks. They are not peripheral.

I can't claim that the insane brutality of the twentieth century is an ever-present reality to me. Although around a third of my family died in World War II, I never came close to being a victim of war or genocide.

Yet I often think of taking all the victims of man-made conflicts, famines and slaughters that happened in past hundred years and placing them into a huge mountain of the dead, asking if this pile warrants us to use the word "inhuman" when we encounter brutality.

We are the most bloodthirsty animals to ever walk the earth. Killing is more human than technology, art, science and organized religion. These are later artifacts of our progress but killing has always been with us; killing and fucking are our universal traits. Animals kill for rational reasons, humans just kill.

Our bloody digits aren't totally real to me, coagulated blood doesn't spill form history books on my shelf but since I am depressed -and my mind untrained to filter out this vile spectacle to its periphery- this blood is not as fictional and abstract to me as it might be to your regular, well-adjusted pedestrian.

If you are cerebrally depressed, this trail of blood is as familiar to you as the entitled smiles of a fat Caucasian babies.This total awareness of the dead gives the observer a fuller, darker perspective of our shared existence.

As you see mounds of mangled corpses on the side of the highway of life, your concern is that this total vision is a determent to your focus on the road. It makes the whole exercise of going forward less meaningful.

When one is submerged in this vision, you want to pull over, you want to remove yourself from the whole thing. And -in my case at least- you sit there on the sidelines watching your life go by; afflicted with a kind of existential laziness.

Others are severely bipolar and as they swirl recklessly on this road and this manic jerking around gives them energy and the perspective for bouts creative output.

Shrinks: 

If one were to go see a prostitute, the phallus and the attached brain component would react the same as it would to any woman of similar sex appeal. The arousal mechanism remains blissfully unaware that currency has been exchanged for its gratification.

In the same way, when you go to see a shrink there is a part of your brain -slightly advanced than your lizard brain- that responds to empathy and understanding, clueless that the empathy is being paid for.

And if you are lucky enough to find an intelligent therapist they can actually add novel perspectives to your lives. Generally the same thoughts rotate over and over in your head, striking the same shitty notes. A new perspective on old hurts can create a new melody.

I don't have the Freudian understanding that mental pain and neurosis are cause by untied knots in your unconscious. Knots that, once untied, will set you free.

I view the depressed mind as a broken vehicle that needs constant maintenance to function. A good therapist, a decently successful life and solid relations with friends, family and lovers can provide this.

Another bonus is that you can take all of that depressed "existence is meaningless" stuff off your chest and interact in a different way with people in your private life, because constantly unloading your pain on people who are unpaid to hear it can be draining for them and detrimental to your bonds.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Mating Masquerade


Recently I became addicted to various podcasts crafted by David Choe.

David is a graffiti artist. After reaching a level of artistic success, he was asked to decorate offices of an internet startup company. The company offered social networking opportunities to college students.

When it came time for payment the company gave David two options: he could get sixty grand or get some stock in this venture. David hated college, he hated social networks but he was a gambling man. He took the stock.

The company is Facebook and when it became public Choe was worth somewhere between one hundred to three hundred million dollars.

His two podcasts are the ongoing DVDASA and the retired Koreans Gone Bad (KGB).

I prefer KGB because it is more raw and unpolished.

Regardless, during one of the KGB episodes his neurotic childhood friend uttered one of the best lines about relationships between men and women.

"Men are romantics masquerading as pragmatists and women are pragmatists masquerading as romantics."

Like all gross generalizations this one has obvious flaws. I mean this generalizations is so gross it literally covers all of humanity (save for hermaphrodites).

But still...

The Loser And the Hedge Fund Boss: My Conversation with a Millionaire - Part I


Last  year I came up with a crazy scheme that brought to me in contact with a New York based Hedge Fund manager (Hedge Funds are like loosely regulated mutual funds for rich people).

For a long time I loved the idea of investing money. When I was a teen I read "the Intelligent Investor" a book written by Ben Graham who was Warren Buffet's guru and mentor.

When I was in college my mother gave me $500 to invest, I found a small stock that I thought was grossly under-priced, I pulled the trigger, and literally within a few weeks it went from two to nine dollars in a single day.

My mother urged me to sell but I was convinced I was a market genius. I didn't sell and the price went down. It was still two or three times what I originally paid but I lost interest and went on with my college experience (isolation, grandiosity, good metabolism, no sex, no car and an abundance of junk food).

Fast forward to last year when in despair over my dead-end job and my dead-end life (come to think of it... ALL lives are dead-end) I decided to market my untapped market genius to the hated one percent.

Since I don't have any financial education, no Ivy League diploma, no industry contacts, no capital... nothing, I decided to circumvent the process and go directly to the top.

I came up with a plan.

I wrote a letter pretending to be a representative of a secretive Russian oligarch, it was written in a style of a paperback spy thriller,
 After ending his employment at the highest levels of the Soviet government [my client] decided to take a dive into the thriving and chaotic world of Russian entrepreneurship that emerged in the smoldering, gray ruins of the socialist empire. 
This venture resulted in my client becoming one of the wealthiest people in the world. If you ever thumbed through various Forbes lists, you have likely glanced at his name, left your fingerprint on his glossy image. If you visit his office you will see a nicely framed image of my client standing next to an enigmatically smiling Vladimir Putin. The photograph is displayed prominently in the same way religious objects are used to scare away evil spirits.   
But the depravity of the human condition that he has witnessed has left the man I represent with a deep and profound appreciation for privacy.  
Privacy, my client says, guards you from the gaze of humanity. And when people gaze, with their eyes come their desires, their needs, their greed, their capacity for destruction, their jealous lust to be you or to destroy your happiness even if they can't have it for themselves. 
Yeah, stuff like that.

At the conclusion of this titillating one-page intro, I wrote that we conducted extensive research and were ready to commit to your firm, but before transferring the money, "we want to outline our ideas about investing...to make sure that we have a common understanding of the financial markets."

On the next two pages I laid out my ideas about investing with the emphasis on the psychology and philosophy of a successful investor.

I finally came clean on the fourth page, I told them who I was and that I hated my job. I wrote that I knew that I could succeed in this field and that if they gave me a chance it would be an opportunity of a lifetime for me.

The conclusion read, 
This letter is a ridiculous idea, which I hope will work. But it was written without a sense of entitlement. Maybe you had a time in your life when even the most preposterous initiative is worth a try because it brings about a small possibility of change.
Over the next few months I printed about two hundred of those babies, found a list of hedge funds online and gradually -about four to ten letters at a time- I mailed them out.

Out of all these letters I got a trickle of responses, around six or seven. Half of these were generic "thank you for applying with us" bullshit HR letters but a few were more substantive.

One was an email exchange with a guy called Greg who was an analyst at a hedge fund where an unimpressed manager received my letter. Greg never identified his employer and was not in a position to offer me a job (unless he misrepresented who he was to me) but he did offer career advice and we bantered about the efficient market theory over email.

Then I received a personal email from a second in command at a hedge fund -the manager of which is a billionaire- he said that he did read my letter till the end and found it very amusing ("Dance, funny Russian monkey! Dance!"... that's not a direct quote) and that they would keep my information of file should the need arise.

Since this went nowhere, deductive reasoning has led me to the conclusion that in the succeeding months this firm did not find itself in need of Russian oligarch impersonators.

Finally I was nearing the end of my list of hedge funds that I obtained from a website called Insider Monkey.

It seemed that my chances of becoming an insider monkey were slim indeed, but since dropping off these letters became the only thread of hope in my life, I didn't want it to end. So I took a pause. a really long pause that continues to this day.

A wrinkled paper printout of the remaining funds still lingers on my shelf but I dread the day all the addresses will be marked off, so this list of funds with their goofy, pretentious names sits there in peace, unmolested by my grandiose ambitions.

***

A few months after I halted my "give Ivan a chance" campaign, I was enjoying the most treasured time of my workday: lunch. Since I worked the late shift, lunch fell on the evening.

I was sitting in my car listening to some depressing audio-book and puffing on my electronic cigarette. This was as close to nirvana as I could get, but it was about to get even better.

My android phone uttered some noise indicating the arrival of an email. Since I made the mistake of signing up for Democratic party's email chain, I expected the letter to come from my buddy Barack warning me about some war on women that Republicans have declared or some shit like that and hitting me up for five to ten dollars in contributions.    

When I lazily glanced into the new email, I did a double-take. The email came from a secretary of a hedge fund boss announcing to me that he read my letter and would like to speak on the phone when he had an opening in his schedule in two weeks. 

I distinctly remember that moment because I got out of my car and walked around the empty parking lot and looked at the gigantic office building where I worked. I referred to this building as the plantation and now someone was offering me a way out...

END OF PART I 

(Attention spans are short on the internet; and with my wildly optimistic estimate of my regular readership at four to five people, I don't feel that I am in a position to tax it much further).

Monday, February 10, 2014

Power of Enlightened Aspiration


According to the sutras, numerous eons ago, when the Buddha was an ordinary being, he took rebirth in a hell realm. He suffered gravely there as a result of his past negative karma.

He and a companion were forced to pull a wheel of fire on which a wrathful hell-guard was sitting, holding a burning club with which to beat them. His companion was so weak that he couldn’t pull the wheel anymore. The hell-guard stabbed his companion with a burning trident. His companion kept crying loudly and bleeding profusely. At that moment, with strong love and compassion, the Buddha developed enlightened aspiration, a vow to take responsibility for helping his companion and all the suffering beings from the depth of his heart, and he became a bodhisattva for the first time.

The bodhisattva begged the hell-guard, “Please have a little mercy on my suffering companion.” At that, in a rage the hellguard hit him with a burning trident. Because of the power of his strong compassion, the bodhisattva died and was liberated from the hell-realm. His evil deeds of many eons were purified instantly by the power of such enlightened aspiration. Thereafter, he started his journey toward the fully enlightened state of buddhahood.

Source: Shambhala 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

In Ancient Sparta...


Excerpt from an email to a woman that I wrote:

"Christ, I am such an emotional moron. In ancient Sparta the motherfuckers would toss my melancholy ass off of a mountain."

By the way, that opening musical sequence out of the Bettlejuice movie is a perfect expression of what a mild manic state feels like, I love this thing so much I officially designate it as a soundtrack to my life.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Gentleman


I keep looking for some deeper meaning in this video, so far nothing definite comes up.

I guess one way to look at it is as a critique of collectivist culture. All Confucian influenced countries emphasize a form of conformity.

In this video, you have a contrast between a ridiculous dance performed in a large group (silly dance conformity?) and pranks pulled by a non-conforming individualist.

Then there is a theme of light misogyny with Psy pulling chairs from under women, undoing their biking tops, women being ejected into a pool, etc.

I'm also really attracted to his female sidekick; its that combination of a goofy dance with a resigned and melancholy facial expression. A good metaphor to my view of life.

Yeah, I really don't know what this post adds to the world, but... you read it anyway.  

Friday, February 7, 2014

Tender Russian Hope


I am two years away from striking thirty; as I survey my domain, I preside in a panicked mental state of Joseph Stalin in the virgin days of the surprise German invasion of the Soviet Union.

Human waives of blue-eyed, blonde soldiers in neat uniforms decimating his dark socialist empire, blasting away at his Eurasian dream with their fine, Aryan machinery of war.

Yes, my life appears to be a failure.

I'm a college educated man with (what I presume to be) above average intelligence working as a night grocery clerk, stocking cat food -all kitty faces have to face the aisle, the cans should make perfectly matching columns- for a few bucks above minimum wage listening to surprisingly melancholy love songs they play in supermarkets. The kind of songs I usually never stop to really hear as I rush to the frozen pizza section.

My personal life rotates around trying to open lines of communications to a beautiful, enigmatic girl in Seattle to whom I tried to connect for five years now.

"Am I a sometime charming loser you like to keep around? What is your favorite color? Am I its opposite?"

I ask in a text and receive no reply.

My table is filled with empty Pepsi bottles, above the table is my Buddhist shrine; Tibetan saints looking down at my empire of litter, dirty carpets and scattered clothes.

What is this?

I don't know.

Soviet Russia rose from its knees and the invaders were repelled as the bodies piled up. Layers of flesh paving the road to Berlin. Mangled, burnt corpses marking the borders of of the new red kingdom.

In a few years, generalissimo Stalin was studying maps of conquered Europe with a dying Roosevelt and a weary Churchill.

The human toll of victory overshadowed by its spoils.

In one of his last diary entries, Goebbels opined that Russians and Americans were more Aryan than Germans: the former advanced while the latter retreated.

It was a sick worldview but he was faithful to it to the bitter end. History as a jungle where only the victorious creature with blood dripping from its whiskers is the truly glorious animal.

The only animal that matters.

The Fuhrer appeared to be that beast; and though his mustache was soaked in blood, he was now the prey.

So, yes friends, there is hope.

But at what price?

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Slav Talk


Being an immigrant is -by definition- being a freak.

Or "outsider" if that word has a more dignified ring to your ears.

Being an immigrant who is prone to melancholia/creativity/intellectual thought (or "nihilistic and sad idea-man" if that sounds better) ... meaning being the kind of a person who is somewhat of a freak even in his native land... well, being that kind of a person is a double whammy as George W. Bush would say.

From the earliest age the society that births your endows you with a certain cultural rhythm.

This is not an ideology that you are conscious of; nah bro, it is a certain internal way of being in the world and interacting with others.

Its your inner melody, your communications wavelength that you share with others in your country.

When you move to a foreign land, you can learn the language, understand the customs and the humor but you will never be able to purge your inner rhythm (not that you would want to anyway).

You will always be different. The rhythm of your adopted home will merge with that of your native culture and create a unique symphony that may forever banish you to some form of permanent alienation.

For most of the billions who inhabit this moist rock called earth, Russia and America are two completely separate entities. For me, one merges into the other and it is hard to say where one ends and the other begins (kind of like Alaska and Alaska has one of the highest suicide rates).

I have long suspected that one of the reasons I have few close Americans friends, has to do with this inner rhythm.

Sure I can shoot the breeze by the water cooler. I can even manage a few lines of small talk and I have learned the intricate skill of the forced/authentic American smile.

But when it comes to moving to the second base, a Russian monkey wrench  finds its way into the engine and the whole things goes to shit.

I hypothesized that one of the hindrances is that while small-talk suffices as a major form of communications for many Americans, it simply doesn't exist in the same way in Russia.

Nevertheless, I was hesitant to make that proclamation official because -after all- I have moved to the states from Russia when I was twelve and the last time I have set foot in the motherland was on a two week visit back in 2006.

So I was reluctant to turn theory into law in this case.

Now, I have the data to make that leap.

I met this Ukrainian coworker at the store break room (where we have free soda!) and literally in the first 10 minutes of our interactions he told me that his wife left him for a younger man who is unemployed and is on disability. That he would go back to Ukraine if it wasn't for his son. And the rest of the time we talked politics.

So I was right all along.

Slavs talk big.