Sunday, March 30, 2014

To Hear,

cookie fortunes I carried in my wallet

Orientation lady at my prior job as a night stocking clerk at a supermarket, "Remember guys, we are all a big family here at Giant Eagle. And you are all LEADERS. Don't think of yourself as just an unimportant employee, YOU are a leader! If you see something wrong, take initiative, LEAD!"

Not even four weeks later, this unrealized supermarket leader has been unceremoniously canned (note the bitter pun, reader) from his Giant Eagle family for not stocking cat food fast enough among other transgressions.

The cat cans fade out into black and become another vague chapter in my life. They are history now. Little cat faces glaring unto me from their one dollar cans. Another blurry memory drowning in a warm swamp of life.

***

An assortment of former citizens of the Soviet Union are smoking outside. Moldovans, Uzbeks, Ukrainians, rusty Russians, portly Georgians in track suits; all standing outside at the end of their shifts sucking their American cigarettes, talking shit.

Encircled by Russian speech, I momentarily forget that I am at a dingy parking lot in Ohio and not a taxi depot in some provincial town in the motherland. The only giant eagle here is the two-headed one of the Romanov dynasty, an odd bird that periodically morphs into a hammer and sickle and sometimes stays in a strange limbo with a hammer on one end and a befuddled eagle head on the other, its avian eyes looking for another conquest to give it meaning.

Crimea... oh precious Crimea, can you hear me?

I walk inside the unremarkable office building and enter a small room with three cluttered desks, three Russian-speakers behind the desks and no pictures on the wall. I approach one of the Soviet-born.

My boss glances at his new employee at the conclusion of his first day, "How was it?"

Ivan: "I liked it."

Russian boss -mildly confused-, "What is there to like?"

***

A working man once more. A driver this time.

Driving folks to doctors and such.

My new work has forced me to wake up in the same early morning hours when the unemployed Ivan would only start to contemplate the notion of going to bed and sleeping through another day.

This new routine unhinged me since I was loath to surrender my vampire hours to the utility of adequate sleep.

That whole week I would go to sleep at around one or two am only to hear my crusty phone chirp out a nagging melody of alarm at 5:40 am. Now the day is for driving old people, not hiding from life. The rising sun greets her prodigal son, his tall frame squeezed into a reclined seat of a small car.

***

It's now Friday evening. At the end of my first week as a driver, I sit at at a table at an overcrowded Chinese Buffet with my best friend Boris (not his real name).

I am dizzy and disoriented on account of my sleep deprivation.

"Wow," I say to Boris, "I feel really strange. Everything is blurry, unreal. I feel like I'm floating. I didn't eat today and thought I would really stuff my face now but I don't even want to go for another plate."

Boris glances at me without any emotion, he shrugs his shoulders, "Well, I'm glad you're not driving."

"I wish I could have a stoke and die right now," I say without any sadness.

Boris perks up. A sly grin creeps across his face, "the funny thing is that you're serious."

My friend is right, I am serious. Don't get me wrong, I don't want to give up in a big way. I want to give up in a small way and have it become big. A big nothing is what I want. A real nothing. Emptiness. Nonexistence.

"Well," I say to amend my sentiment, "if this is it then - yes, but if there is reincarnation I don't want to go."

"You believe in reincarnation?" asks Boris with mild disdain.

He knows that I am a nominal Buddhist but he likes to play the social troll.

On account of my reduced brain function I decide to give him a little Dharma talk.
.
"I just want you to realize that reincarnation is not a ridiculous idea. In Buddhism there is no self that reincarnates. There is no Ivan the dog. You are a continuous flow of ever-changing energy. Like the fire that burns down a tree and then a house taking, assuming the shape of different forms that it burns up. The fire is not a tree or a house, it is energy..."

"Oh fuuuck," Boris moans in annoyance.

"It's like in science," I continue, "when you are a fetus. You don't think, 'I am Boris the fetus; I am Boris the embryo' that is all you are, that is all you know. Its part of you physical continuum. In the same way that if you are a mosquito..."

"Please, shut the fuck up," he interjects.

"A mosquito is just a part of the ever-changing continuum of your mind that takes different forms according to its karma." I conclude.

Buddhahood is when a being realizes emptiness and the clinging to self is extinguished. So when one body expires there is nothing to cling your mind to the next one; instead of being confined to another cycle of suffering your mind merges with everything. You are blissful, unattached. You no longer exist. Actually you never existed to begin with yet you thought you did and that thought opened you to a world of pain. Its not something you can put into words adequately.

And I didn't try. I didn't utter any of this to him anyway. It was just there on the shelf, like the cat food cans in Giant Eagle that I didn't stock fast enough. He didn't want to hear it. And that's okay. Let the motherfucker reincarnate a few more thousand times before he starts to pay attention.

All I want now is nothing. A real nothing. Emptiness. Nonexistence.

"Do you think this waitress would sleep with me?" asks Boris.

I look at my plate. I have to finish the food but I don't want to. There is an assortment of meat on my plate. We have reincarnated so many times in this dimension and others, that every living being has been our mother in a previous life. So when I look down I see cooked bits and pieces of my mothers.

My mind is checked out, my hunger is gone. But I need to chew the food. I -the decedent of starving peasants- suffer from an abundance of cooked flesh.

I look at a coconut shrimp on my plate and contemplate throwing it at Boris. No food fights at the Buffet I decide. So I settle on a dirty napkin, crumple it into a light ball and send it at Boris. It hits him and rests on the table.

"Do you think all these Asian waitresses are Chinese?" he wonders.

"I guess so," I say, "though they look Vietnamese to me."

"That's what I was thinking." he replies.

I ask for the check.

It arrived with the fortune cookies. Boris is reaching toward one but a voice inside convinces me that it is really meant for me. I grab it.

"To hear, you must listen with your ears and not your eyes."

Normally I hate my fortune cookies to include bits of wisdom, I want them to make wild optimistic predictions so I can stuff them in my wallet where a compartment holds other fortune cookie predictions that momentarily graced me with a superstitious jolt.

But this one is good. I am happy with it. In my state of mind this tiny piece of paper begins to assume metaphysical meaning. A credo for the rest of my life was just handed to me by a cute waitress.

Eyes want. Eyes lust. Eyes annex Crimea.

I need to hear before wanting. I need to hear before thinking. I need to listen.

I haven't been listening. I listened with my eyes and I didn't like it.

For the rest of my life I will hear with my ears.

When home, I take all the cookie fortunes out of my wallet and put them in a drawer.

I was wrong to want nonexistence.

A burden lifted.

***

Old pond, 
frog jumps in
- splash 
Basho

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

That Special... Twang of Yours


Lady at the background screening place for my new job, "Can you take a look at the screen, see if I got something wrong."

Me: Yeah, you put me down under Asian/Pacific Islander, I'm white.

Lady: Hm (looks up at me) I thought I noticed a twang.

Me: Well, I am 1/8th Mongolian.

Lady: ha ha

The End

...Don't let my Asian/Pacific Islander twang (?) fool you, woman.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Putin, You Sneaky Thug


Putin’s thuggish tactics in seizing Crimea offer some hints regarding his planning. He knew in advance that his thinly camouflaged invasion would meet with popular support from the Russian majority in Crimea. He was not sure how the thin and light Ukrainian military units stationed there would react, so he went in masked like a Mafia gangster. In the event of serious Ukrainian resistance, he could disown the initiative and pull back.

***

An idiotic excerpt from Zbigniew Brzezinski's Op-Ed in Washington Post.

Let's indulge its strange logic- Putin went into an island in Ukraine with "thuggish tactics" "masked like a Mafia gangster" and yet he knew that he would meet with popular support?

This leads to a natural question, "are people in Crimea thugs with an affinity for Mafia gangsters?"

How does this Russian thug island fit in into the the new democratic Ukraine being built with a help of a neo-Nazi party?

Typical is the linguistic double standard when it comes to the gleeful use of the term "thug;" a word that clings so snugly to Vladimir Putin's naked body in the minds of many (most?) foreign policy analysts in America.

Two people died during the course of Russia's annexation of Crimea.

The case of a Tatar opponent of annexation who vanished only to be later found dead is especially troubling. The people likely responsible for his death are Cossacks or members of a pro-Russian militia.

Unfortunately there is a slim chance of any justice served in this murder. The other man was a Ukrainian soldier who died in murky circumstances with conflicting claims.

According to Associated Press, the final body count of all lethal fatalities resulting in the aftermath of the Iraq war stands at 110,600. Some surveys put the toll at over 600,000 people. Granted that these numbers are not direct casualties of American troops and many if not most are the result of sinister Iraqi forces unleashed by the fall of Saddam. And yet a foreign policy decision made in the Bush White House made this carnage possible.

In Pakistan, an estimated 416-951 civilians died during American drone strikes that targeted Taliban and Al Qaeda terrorists. 168-200 of those were children according to the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

President Obama also presided over a national security apparatus that spied on America's closest NATO allies like Germany's Angela Merkel.

The supreme irony of Merkel having been born in communist East Germany and rising to the height of power in democratic, united Germany only to have America's liberal president of Kenyan descent tap her phones.

I'm not bringing this up to show "the ugly real face of American imperialism." I am not a disgruntled leftist or a bitter Russian nationalist. I think America is a great country (flawed like all other giant societies). I don't have an anti-American bone in my body.

I simply brought this up to ask, in light of those lethal (and illegal under international law) exercises of American might, would Zbigniew Brzezinski or any other serious foreign policy expert in the west call either George W. Bush or Barack Obama a "thug"?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

THERMONUCLEAR UKRAINE WILL BE OURS!!!


I got into a long and involved debate with a random Russian nationalist guy (honestly, I don't know what he is but he sounded like one) in the comment section on Forbes.com blog about Russian economy and demographics.

Yes, I am sorry readers... I decided to post it here.

Why?

Why?

WHY?!?

"Why?" you ask. Well, because I wrote so much that I didn't want it to just linger in obscurity.

I mean it will still linger in obscurity on my blog here.

But... THIS IS MY OBSCURITY. DO YOU UNDERSTAND? IT'S MY OBSCURITY NOW!!!

Anyway... I'm sorry loyal reader. Try to enjoy it, it has some good stuff.

***

Ivan:

Russia is the world’s 8th largest economy. Russia lags behind the western world but compared to the world at large, Russians enjoy an above-average standard of living- especially in large cities where aside from traffic and lack of space, many live middle-class lives.

This is not to say that all is great in the land of Rus but things just aren't as dire. It appears that the majority in the West just see Russia as it was in the 1990′s with a clever and sinister autocrat slapped on top.

I read a lot of comments where people found it incomprehensible that any Crimean would actually want to be a part of Russia not realizing that Russian GDP per capita is more than twice that of Ukraine, all other ethnic and historical allegiances aside.

As a liberal Russian-America, I don’t love Putin or wholly buy into his narrative of Russophobia but I am also SO fucking tired of people unable to see shades of grey when it comes to Russia. Many morons -even educated ones- are unable to comprehend that Michael Sakashvilli started the Georgian war in 2008 because they are so trapped in the rummaging Russian bear narrative that they got from Rocky movies.

They don’t understand that the pro-Western people in Ukraine aren’t speaking for the whole country and that in a Gallup poll done at the end of last year 56% of Ukrainians saw more harm than good from USSR breakup.

I am not a Soviet apologist or a Putin supporter but when you are hammered again and again with the same trite sanctimonious garbage about Putin being a Stalinist or the next Hitler, I do want to vomit.

Russia retook a piece of land that belonged to it since the 18th century and that has a Russian majority from a country with a collapsing economy in a midst of a revolution and yet -it appears- that most westerns are befuddled by the fact that most Crimeans are celebrating this fact.

Yeah, lets have a new Cold War over it. Why not? It seems for many that would be easier than actually parting with their stereotypes and using their brain cells to develop a new view of Russia- not as an enemy or a friend but just as country with its struggles and successes, not willing to have its historical territory (that ended up across the border through an accident of history) be ruled by a revolutionary government with members in it who worship a Nazi-collaborator who slaughtered Poles, Russians and Jews who stood in the way of his ethnically pure Ukraine.

The America I know where a third of the country equates their president with Stalin for reforming a healthcare system wouldn’t put up with this crap either.

My opponent, Ed Reins:

Russia is #5 in GDP by the PPP count. The nominal rating you are using is meaningless.

Also, you are naive thinking that Russia is portrayed negatively in US media only because of the Cold War stereotypes. US and EU are there to enforce the new world order, the total domination by US and European financial institutions and corporations, and Russia is not a vassal of these entities.

Russia can inflict a lot more damage on them than the other way around. I hope that Putin elects the way of confrontations, because a brute force is the only thing such primitive people as Americans understand.

Another important point to remember is that Americans are very different from all other people on the face of the Earth. They pledge an allegiance to the flag every day at schools, from K to 12. Eventually, they stop thinking what they are saying and go into a hypnotic altered state of conbsciousness. After a few repetitions, this creates a center in their brain which is responsive to suggestions when similar words as in the pledge are said.

This makes them very vulnerable to a patriotic propaganda and essentially turns them into sheep obedient to their political leaders. This is somewhat true of many totalitarian regimes, but US brainwashing has outperformed them all. Americans are the least thinking people of all, their Bachelor’s degree is way below a Russian High School Diploma.

Ivan:

Then I’m glad I completed six and a half grades of school in the Russian education system so focused on cultivating independent thinking before being moved to America and having my brain washed repeatedly with Yankee collectivism and chauvinism culminating in my acquisition of a useless and inferior bachelor degree in Political Science from an American university that (I now discover) puts me below a high school graduate from Magadan.

No, I’m not naive to believe that no sinister propaganda campaign is required for people to have double standards. Double standards is the dominating way of thinking around the world, touching on everything from international law in Crimea to religion and driving etiquette.

Though I am in favor of Crimea becoming a part of Russia (because most people there want that and the new Ukrainian govt in a midst of a revolution and having 1/4 of it ruled by a neo-Nazi party, Svoboda, has little to offer these people aside from threats to their language and maybe an oligarch for a governor like the ones they installed in east Ukraine) it is apparent to me that Russia also has it’s share of double standards.

I’ve been watching Russian state television online with its gleeful emphasis on the West’s hypocrisy relative to Kosovo and saw Vladimir Putin’s speech (which was not bad overall) where he even went so far as to cite American legal argument over Kosovo to international law court hearing the case for Kosovo's independence for Serbia.

From a logical point of view, every time Russia points an accusing finger at the West over Kosovo, it is also pointing out its own contradiction. Russia insisted on the sacredness of Serbia’s borders and that no part of it can proclaim independence without the consent of Belgrade- regardless of what the local population thought.

Now the voice of the Crimean majority (and some visiting Cossacks) must be heard. A logical approach to international law would now demand that Russia recognize Kosovo as an independent state… though I’m not holding my breath.

Finally, you may view America as a nation of morons, that is your prerogative. Having lived here since I was 13, I disagree. Like Russia, America is a large nationalistic country that sees itself as being exceptional. As in Russia, this belief has it’s pluses and minuses, it leads to both a continuum of innovation and arrogant miscalculations.

People enjoy repetitive activities since early childhood when they bang two blocks with similar effect until mama brings them borscht (or some inferior collectivist Yankee burgers and fries, if they had the misfortune to be born in America).

When those kids grow up and get caught up in politics, this lust for repetition translates to people saying the same banal shit over and over in different ways. “Obama is a week” “Putin is a thug” “Russia must be punished” “America is an arrogant empire.”

I think intelligence and independent thinking rests in seeing the shades of gray.

The very technology you are using to convey your idea that Americans are some of the dumbest people on earth has been either invented (internet) or invented an perfected (computers) in America. But whatever, maybe you’ll make a case that some Russian scientist in Yeltsin’s Russia came up with the internet before the Judeo-Masonic CIA conspiracy snatched it out of his hands.

Like Dostoevsky wrote, “the line between good and evil runs through the human heart.” I also think that the line between intelligence and stupidity runs through the human heart (head?) as well and this intelligence divide doesn't run along the lines of national borders.

It is what it is.

My opponent, Ed Reins:

Concerning Kosovo: the moment Ukraine’s legitimately elected government was ousted, the Ukraine has stopped to exist as a lawful entity. Crimea’s independence or its annexation by Russia was left to the people. In Kosovo, the Yugoslavian government was not overthrown. Therefore, their territorial integrity had to be preserved. The annexation of Crimea is not a violation, because US backed thugs have destroyed Ukraine as a country first. One might argue that it was the rest of Ukraine that went rogue, not Crimea.

On the other subject: I am very familiar with the educational system in the US. According to a recent poll by the Time Magazine, 37% of Americans can’t find US on the map. US Ph.D. program in Math or Engineering starts with courses studied in Russia in the first year of College. In Russia, 2 semester of Calculus are required for a High School graduation. They are not required even for the US Bachelor’s degree. My 12 year old son can solve in his head, while playing video games, the math problems the best American Senior students can’t do after hours of trying. A friend of mine, who is an educated American computer scientist, thought Luxembourg was a republic of the former USSR. The list goes on. Look up “Stupid in America” on yandex. A lot of videos will pop up, which are fun to watch. The dumbing down of the US educational system is a way for the government to control the masses. In US, the work requiring high level of hard science or math expertise is always done by foreigners.


In US you have to ask for a permission to put up security bars in your own house and if you don’t trim your bushes, they will do it for you and send you a bill. The US is a fascist police state at its worst. I travelled the world, but I have never been to a country with less freedom than US.

The Nazi Germany has placed itself outside of the family of nations by its own oppressive, murderous and genocidal policies, not unlike those of the USA today. Therefore, it was not a violation of an international law when Germany was partitioned and occupied by the Allies. Similarly, when Ukraine’s new government came to power, even by more illegitimate means than those of Hitler, who didn’t need a coup d’etat, and when it proclaimed its affinity to the Hitler’s ideology, calling for another Holocaust, making new laws prohibiting the use of Russian language and Russian language TV’s, murdering peaceful demonstrators, calling on Doku Umarov to commit terrorist acts, calling for building nuclear bombs to be used against Russia, etc., it placed itself in the same position as a Nazi Germany. Therefore, it is totally legitimate now to break Ukraine into independent regions and it is OK for Russia, as the only country capable of stopping the Nazis, to invade and put this regime down.

Ivan: 

Hitler got a plurality of votes in that fatal German election but he didn't have the majority. The majority of votes belonged to an unrealized coalition of Social Democrats and German communists. But one tough Kremlin fella who named himself after a metal didn't want German communists working with Social Dems.

Stalin didn't want to share the proletarian German banner with an uncontrolled bourgeois party; he was expecting for the German state under Hitler to implode and for the reds to seize power in Berlin through an old school revolution.

Hitler got his parliamentary alliance from conservative parties who through they could control him- bummer that they couldn't. Hitler sent communists to concentration camps, took over the army and after president Hindenburg croaked the conservative parties had no institutional support and became completely irrelevant.

Then the fuhrer started a racist war for living space and ended up killing over 20 million Russians as well as millions of others in one of the bloodies chapters in human history that is pointless to recount because everyone knows the basic outline from Hollywood movies or other sources.

If you glance at that horrible picture and see parallels with American influence in central Europe than… well, let’s just say we have a difference of opinion.

America is a global power. Russia is a regional power with global influence. Powerful countries routinely violate international law and piss off other centers of power.

That’s what makes them powerful. Power in politics is doing things others don’t like. But a power country doing something you dislike doesn't mean we’re back in the Third Reich.

You can be like the trolls saying “Putler this, Putler that.. The future of free Europe is at stake… blah, blah, blah” except on the other side of the Crimean barricades, but this Americanized Ivan is not interested.

I’m really tired of lazy WW2 analogies. Another Hitler reference will make me start cutting myself and listening to Pussy Riot before I am sent off to the asylum for Russian expats in Ohio.

Putin doesn't even have a mustache but neither does Samantha Powers and even (the GREAT, the POWERFUL) Victoria Nuland doesn't show any signs of facial hair.

US and Russia have their own interests and they clashed in Ukraine. As a Russian in America I can appreciate Russian position and don’t view it as a caricature, a macho joke or a sinister imperialist plot. But I don’t think the Americans who do, do so because of some media/government conspiracy.

Their ideas about Russian power come from the Cold War; and when the bear rises, Cold War is what many see. I don’t agree but that’s the way it is. I provide my alternative vision on my blog where all three of my loyal readers can get a different perspective on things. So far the Masonic rulers of the world have not poisoned my little well of freedom…

Ukraine is an ideologically divided country with different world powers betting on different ideological forces.

There is the liberal, pro-EU contingent allied with the semi-authoritarian, Bandera-loving, ultra-nationalist forces. Then there is the vaguely pro-Russian contingent that wants an independent Ukraine in the Russian sphere and then there are those who warm the hearts in the Kremlin waiving Russian flags in Donetsk- they want the motherland and they want her NOW.

The bummer about revolutions is that they radicalize everyone. The revolutionary comes to power in an illegal way through the use of force. Then rationally the first goal of a successful revolutionary is to prevent others from getting the same idea. So they suppress dissents. The Menshiviks could tell you a lot about this process… alas, they were all shot by Lenin and Stalin.

The new revolutionary government in Ukraine has put together a new National Guard. Although they don’t say it bluntly, the Ukrainian National Guard is an attempt to create a militarized force to protect the new government because they don’t trust the army or the old security forces, especially since so many defected to the Russians in Crimea.

Now the Ukrainian economy is falling apart and the eastern part of the country faces a potential visa regime with neighboring Russia where they have relatives, those Russian-speaking Ukrainians had their language threatened, had the president they elected overthrown and had oligarchs appointed to “pacify them.”

No they're not happy, but when I look at the East of Ukraine I see a human tragedy not an opportunity for geopolitical games. I think a Russian invasion you propose to remove the new government isn't going to make things better. Whether you like it or not, some people in Ukraine do support the new regime and are willing to die for it. Let alone the fact that an escalation could bring the world to a brink of war between nuclear powers.

Then again, I don’t know you so perhaps a WW3 would give new meaning to your life.

In the aftermath of this Slavic adventure, we can all build a real Third Rome in Moscow out of nuclear ash.

The three-eyed Orthodox priests will bless mutated, three-armed Russian patriots with radioactive holy water and the post-war mutant Nato will work on its controversial missile defense system in Poland- only this time they will be guarding against Russia’s advanced flying stick technology and an occasional rock (only if Kremlin’s interest are REALLY disrespected will we resort to throwing rocks at Poland).

But Ukraine… THERMONUCLEAR UKRAINE WILL BE OURS!!!

Will the Freedom-Loving Bull of Moldova Be Heard?


Arizona Sen. John McCain warns that following Crimea, Russian President Vladimir Putin could extend Russian aggression into other areas of Europe, specifically Moldova and Latvia.

“Moldova is a country to watch next,” the Republican senator said Wednesday on Fox News’s “Happening Now.”

McCain, noting that Moldova is not a member of NATO, also said there are already Russian troops in an area of the country.

“There’s already this kind of demands for Russian help,” he added as well as “the kind of provocations that we saw in eastern Ukraine.”

Source: Politico

***

Quickly everyone! You thought Crimea was bad now bust out that map of Eastern Europe and find Moldova on it. THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING! THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING! How many obscure regions that most Americans never heard of can the bear swallow before everyone realizes that the future of the free world is at stake!?!

Of fuck, its too late, the Moldovans already have a yellow bear on their flag, the Ruskies got there first (damn you Obama, why are you such a geopolitical pussy?)... no wait, I'm looking closer at it... IT'S A BULL! IT'S A BULL!

The Moldovans have some sort of a weird, New Age, severed bull's head on their flag.

Did they let an old gypsy fortuneteller from the Jersey shore design their flag?

Whatever, no judging.

Wow, and for a moment there I really thought we lost Moldova.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Video Games Are Real: When Ivan Snitched on his Creepy Neigbhor


Now that I am out of my Columbus residence, I feel free to share my suspicions that my neighbor may have been a dangerous murderer with my loyal audience of 3 ; these were long-harbored suspicions that I only previously confined to my Facebook friends (a horrible name for people whose commitment to your life culminates in adding you to their internet loop of complaints, selfies, inspirational quotes and random cat pictures).

I originally wrote the first part below during the 2013 Holiday Season and have updated it here to reflect my friend "Boris" and I actually going to the police station to talk about this peculiar fellar who I lived next to for around two years.

***

When a serial killer is discovered, one always hears input from neighbors or acquaintances who knew him and now can't believe that this nice guy had heads in his freezer.

This is NOT how I feel about my next door neighbor.

When TV cameras will show up in my driveway I won't be too surprised. Won't be surprised at all, actually.

My only question would be how he got people into his apartment without anyone noticing.

This guy lives alone, I never saw him in the daylight.

As one weird, white male loner to another I can see when a certain line of creepiness has been crossed.

This dude routinely treats me to a series of strange noises and yells. There is wall pounding and chilling wheezing sounds that have etched themselves into my memory.

When I moved in, my landlord advised me that he just gets angry at losing at video games, hence the symphony.

If that's the case then this man needs to turn in his PlayStation and move on to outdoor activities because he is fucking horrible at video games.

The noises I hear seem less along the lines of losing at Mario Brothers and more along the lines of... I don't know... SADOMASOCHISTIC SEX AND DISMEMBERING BODIES.

Well, anyway, just went outside and observed that my two other neighbors have notices on their doors that they are out for the holidays.

So its just me and my noisy friend. I wanted to say Jeffrey Dahmer instead of "noisy friend."

But since I never SAW HIM THE DAYLIGHT to see if there is any RESEMBLANCE, I am not sure if I can make that quip.

Merry Christmas everyone.

***

Fast forward to three months later...

When I originally posted this on facebook one of my friends replied that a long time ago she remembered her and her friends being freaked out by strange noises coming from their neighbor. Later it turned out that he was a serial rapist. It can happened, she told me.

After living there for so long, I got completely acclimated to this strange symphony. I had a knife hiding underneath the edge of my mattress but I hardly ever thought about it. I mean, serial killers tend not to go for 6 ft 3" Russians. I don't have massive insecurities about the way I look but I am not exactly so irresistibly hot as to embark on a potentially dangerous risk of killing a next door neighbor for a sick sexual thrill.

What bothered me when I heard these noises is the slight possibility that he was not alone; that there was someone confined in there who is taken out only for a sake of some brutal sexual fixation and then brought back into a world of dark isolation. Yeah, I have a rich imagination. And when you hear disturbing muffled noises and yells next door while watching a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode, the contrast between your life and that of an imagined victim becomes somewhat of a moral conundrum.

Here is how I saw it. I like mentally ill people. Mentally ill people are interesting. I have no doubt that my neighbor is mentally ill. When I was living next to a hippie girl in Seattle, the noise of her music bouncing through my thin wall was infinitely less threatening but it bothered me infinitely more. It made ME homicidal. I had a job that I hated and it pissed me off to no end that she had to intrude of my quiet space with her loud, fucking dumb tunes. Anyway, this nut job in Columbus was interesting, his screams and fights with... furniture (or human bodies?) was much more entertaining and less bothersome on account of its sheer weirdness.

I knew that serial killers are extremely rare and so are people being held in basements for months and years. Though it would make literary sense for the novel of my life to include a chapter of living next to a serial killer, the statistical odds were against me.

Basically, as a depressed person myself I empathized with the guy. His broken mental mechanism appeared to periodically trap him in some imaginary word filled with anger. My broken mental mechanism periodically trapped me in a world of quiet mental pain. He was loud. I was not loud. He left me alone and I wanted do the same for him.

But in the infinitesimal possibly that the noises coming out of my wall that reminded me so much of a torture chamber were actually evidence of a real torture chamber, this would mean that I sat watching Curb Your Enthusiasm and feeling sorry for myself while kidnapped schoolgirls next door faced unimaginable pain. And instead of bringing my concerns to the authorities I elected to rationalize my way out of doing anything, assuring myself that it is all good and dandy.

The statistics are against it, boss. 

It might not be, "Leave it to Beaver" over there but it ain't no "Nightmare on Elm Street" either. 

Take a chill pill, imagination. The only thing being dismembered next door is... ahh fuck it, don't even think about it. 

Anyway, after my Facebook friend told me that dangerous people can actually live next to good people (or at least "alright people" in my case), I thought that it might not hurt to swing by a police station and tell them of my listening pleasures.

Yes, there is a 99.9% chance that nothing is going on. But if the probability dice fall on that 0.1%, do I really want to live the rest of my life knowing that I lived next to the butcher of Ohio without making a peep about his strangeness and saving lives?

The cost of such a move are so minuscule and the moral potential is theoretically grandiose. It is a little like playing the moral lottery, the chances of striking it morally rich are remote indeed but no special effort is needed to undertake them. But this is different from being just a moral lottery because here you also get a moral insurance policy. If he does end up as a special on CNN, then I could always sigh and say, "well... I tried to tell them but they wouldn't listen. I didn't know what was going on over there but I didn't like it one bit (though of course I sort of liked for its entertainment value)."

My mind was made up. The nearest police station was a mere five minute ride from my house and I made the decision to go over there and chat a little. Then my car broke down and I remained stranded for months. My resoluteness was again challenged by my rationality (nothing is going on) and my identification with the mentally ill. I didn't want to be one of the villagers chasing the Frankenstein with torches, especially since this Frankenstein appeared to threaten no one and just passed his time being violently noisy in his apartment with closed curtains and broken Venetian blinds on the second floor of his place.

Last week I finally had my car repaired and because I had to vacate my apartment and as I am horrible at cleaning and moving things, I invited my Ukrainian friend Boris (not his real name) to help me out.

Boris came on the Friday before the move and would spend the night at my place so we could dedicate the whole of Friday to cleaning and moving my belongings. Around 10 pm, we heard the screams and shoving next door. Both of us smiled and stayed quiet, a bit like boy scouts around a fire listening to ghost stories except that we were listening to homicidal-level, furniture-flying rage next door.

Boris seemed genuinely disturbed. He told me that he heard the guy yell, "I'm going to fuck you in the ass" (I could rarely make out exact words but that sounded about right) made sure the door was locked and told me that he would get a gun if he lived there.

This reaction from an unaccustomed civilian to the war drums that I now took for granted reignited my dormant police station quest.

I was moving out of the area, my ancient Acura was operational and tomorrow we had time to kill before picking up the rental truck at 1 pm. We knew the police aren't going to do anything but I wanted to buy my moral insurance plan and have a pedestrian adventure before I was plunged back into the monotony of cleaning my bathroom and moving my stuff (Boris mocked me by noting that I had more clothes than the hot American girl he helped to move in the past).

The next morning we made out journey to the neat police station and city hall building of the wealthy Columbus suburb where I resided with my serial killer suspicions.

We parked the car, walked inside, made our way down the empty hall and found the eureka of our snitch adventure - the small police office.

Both of us like to drive at least 10 miles above the prescribed speed limit and on account of this and other minor philosophical disagreements with the laws of the land, tend to avoid police officers to the best of our abilities in the day to day life. This combined with the overall ridiculousness of reporting your neighbor as a potential homicidal maniac, enriched this encounter with a thick layer of awkwardness, I also made it a point in my mind to convey to the officers of the law that Boris and I were not in fact a gay couple and that he was staying overnight just because I needed help moving and he lived in Cincinnati.

"Yes," I began, "hi, this is probably nothing but I just wanted to let you know that I lived in this place next to a loner and the noises coming out of his apartment are disturbing and would sound like domestic abuse if he lived with a girl."

I mumbles like this for a few minutes noting that the landlord said the guy was just upset over video games but the pitch of rage ("I'm going to fuck you in the ass!") seemed disproportional to that description.

A second cop joined the conversation from behind the counter. The video game thing seemed to click with them.

"Yeah, this sounds like Kenny (not the name they used)"

They told us that a while ago they had multiple complaints from neigbhors about a guy making bizzare and thretaning noises. They visited the house and found him living with his eldarly mother who contnued smoking while attached to an oxygen tank.

"He really thinks these video games are real and when a new Medal of Honor came out... Ha, ha... forget about it. He is crazy but not really dangerous to anyone"

I don't know if this was the same guy, because I never knew my neighbors name. I only saw him at night, mostly during creepy encounters at our unlit carport in the back of the building. I guess he moved from his mother's house... is he now keeping her in the basement?

Well, the cops didn't seem to phased so I didn't bring that theory up. They noted the address of his new residence and said they might send some cruisers in that area to keep an eye on things. Whatever, I got my moral insurance and came through my first act of snitching without being too embarrassed.

After a twenty minute conversation we said out goodbyes, Boris and I proceeded to go to Wendy's where I got two fish sandwiches.

***

When we were done packing my things, I wrote, "Free Crimea" on the dusty hood of my car.

"It could mean different things to different people," I explained to my Ukrainian friend.

"Yeah," he said, "but I know what it means to you."

Later on when I got to Cincinnati, I noticed that he added, "...from Russia." to my dusty proclamation.

All is good.

If this blog is still operational when I see "Kenny" arrested on CNN, I'll be sure to let you guys know.

The Russian Bear (Somewhat) Demystified


I would like to begin this post with a deep apology about continuing to ramble on about Ukraine even after I made a few posts explicitly denouncing the violent and immoral divisiveness the very idea of politics inherently contains.

But -in a contradiction typical of my people- I found this article by a Russian ultra-nationalist that I though I should share.

The one thing that the average Western observer of the crisis in Ukraine doesn't want to deal with is history. History is messy and boring and tedious. But to people in the old world, especially in Eastern Europe in the aftermath of the Soviet collapse, history is EVERYTHING.

History defines each country, defines the views of its people, it brings them closer to "democracy" or yanks them away from its cherished ideals. History is not dead in Ukraine, it bleeds, it convulses and -if history is neglected- it can even plead for innocent blood to scribble down new tumultuous chapters.

One actor in the history of Ukraine and in the current events there is my ancestral home, the country of my birth- Russia. I carry a Russian's stereotypical name, I believe I still have Russian soul after now living most of my life in America. I have an ambivalent (if tender) relationship to the motherland that I won't get into now.

What I want to do for you is to demystify the importance of Ukraine to Russians and especially Russian nationalists whose voices are rising in Moscow as Vladimir Putin continues his reign.

The letter below was written by Alexander Dugin a radical Russian nationalist.

As liberal who voted for Barack Obama and even waited to hear him speak inside a huge barn in Ohio, I don't agree with everything in this letter and I don't and CANNOT agree with Dugin's mystical and bitter view of the world, but his letter's first part (after he explains his unique anti-Americanism) is one of the best explanations of the crisis in Ukraine from the Russian historical perspective that I have ever seen in my internet wanderings.

I don't sing off on this letter, I don't endorse it, I don't worship or even agree with Dugin.

But I do believe that it is much more useful in understanding Russia and her current actions than some body-language analysis of Putin you might see on CNN or another pundit who couldn't find Ukraine on a map talking about what the "loss of Crimea" means to America and EU.

Letter to the American People on Ukraine


Monday, March 17, 2014

A Manual for Living With Defeat: the End of my Seattle Experience


The picture above shows me puffing on my electronic cigarette, "enjoying" my last moments at my ridiculously cheap apartment in Columbus, Ohio. I have left that dwelling to begin a new chapter in my life.

I remember the last time I left an apartment behind. Each move is an unpleasant, mentally unhinging experience for me because it involves doing things that I am terribly deficient at doing: cleaning, organizing the piles of useless thing one has acquired over the time, driving to Goodwill with bags of clothes, renting trucks, calling utility companies to halt their services, negotiating with the landlord about the exist strategy and the accompanying financial dealings. All essential little things just as I am knee deep in debating the Russian annexation of Crimea.

The last time I did this Crimea was still under the shaky rule of the Ukrainian state - the year was 2010. That move was especially daunting for it marked the end of my early twenties and my first attempt at real independent living. The move was an admission that I failed as an adult and I failed in love.

I was reluctant to post this piece on here before but my blog got a little more popular... and by that I mean that it became apparent that real people are actually reading this just as I was deviating from my original plan of making this blog a place for social commentary and political polemics.

So fuck it, Ill share it now. Since a prospect of me becoming an elected officials does not appear likely in the next few months, I feel a certain reckless sense of personal liberty and exhibitionism. And there is a good chance I will eventually delete this from here, so snatch it up while you still can...

I wrote this in then end of 2012 and punched it up a little now. The title is taken from a Leonard Cohen song. I am good with words but not that good and didn't want to take undeserved credit.

Without further ado:

A Manual for Living With Defeat: the End of my Seattle Experience

Over the weekend, I flew over to the West coast to empty my storage unit, save the $110 I was paying to store my dumb shit, and cut my ties to Seattle.

The last time I left Seattle I was in the midst of a strange, personal calamity. At the beginning of 2011 my psychiatrist prescribed an anti-depressant to me that had the effect of making me manic. While in retrospect it is interesting to look back and remember yourself on full-on mania; at the time I was without the luxury of retrospective detachment. Mania fucked Ivan over pretty good.

I ended up leaving my job, putting thousands on my credit cards, made awkward Buddhist videos for a website that never came to be and -at the peak of my manic glory- pulled out a knife at some idiot outside of a bar in Ballard. The guy was a total asshole who deserved it (in fact, that same night I saw him call black guy a nigger. I mean, who does that?) but still...

By the time I left Seattle at the end of August, the mania was long gone, and what was left instead was an all consuming sense of failure. Much like human conquests of the outside world which frequently end in serious disasters, man's endeavors to conquer the electro-chemical soup between our ears can also lead to huge fuck ups.

Some anti-depressants make some people manic. Mania is a relatively common side-effect when you're messing with the wiring.

This anti-depressant found me and magic happened. Then the magic was gone, exhausted by mania, my Slavic neurons now sang a song of the deepest, darkest depression I ever had. After living on my own since I was 18, I had to move in with my mother in Ohio.

If an anthropologist would open my storage unit, its contents would reveal material remnants of an incoherent life. Dirty converse sneakers, Buddhist literature and ritual items, Dostoevsky novels printed in the mother tongue, a collection of tarot cards, pictures of Tibetan Lamas, expensive headphones, Woody Allen DVDs, my grandfather's Soviet stamp collection, a nasty IKEA mattress that was losing a battle with mold, political science books, old copies of the New Yorker, ICE Cube CDs, giant binoculars that I bought when I was manic and never used. For over a year, these abandoned artifacts of a solitary civilization waited for their master in a dark storage in Shoreline, Washington. And now I came back in a rented white Nissan minivan to claim them once more.

Most of these things would suggest a life quite compatible with Seattle.As a socially awkward, neurotic Russian immigrant in Ohio, I looked at Seattle as a cerebral, liberal refuge city where I could finally feel like I belong. And while the city is cerebral and liberal, its many other things too. The trite lesson that Seattle taught me is that my sense of alienation runs deeper than the geographical location I happen to inhabit. It doesn't make a difference where I am. (I mean it does but it doesn't.)

"Wherever you go, there you are," is the tired Zen saying that you might see on bumper stickers if you move to Seattle, but -like a lot of tired sayings- this one also happens to be true.

Ultimately, Seattle was a trap for me. Before I moved to that city, my life always had a sense of momentum. While I was in college in Ohio, Seattle was the dream. I was moving there. My life was going somewhere. The precious sense of continuous motion that my melancholy mind requires was animated by my Seattle dream. When I finally got there, the 2008 recession was in full swing, and the only job I could find was as a customer service serf, answering phoned-inn questions from people on unemployment benefits. No more momentum.

This was it. In the winter, it rains all the time, and it starts to get dark at 4 pm. By 5, it might as well be night. The city rests on a number of hills, hills surrounded by water and mountains. The whole city to me seemed like a mysterious mountain, detached from America.

A magic mountain where white people were fit, well-dressed and voted the right way. A mountain covered by a wet blanket of fog where -during winter months- people move through the landscape like lonely ghosts.

If you have a predisposition toward cerebral depression, it pays to have surroundings that are not a perfect physical representation of you're bleak inner life. This was not the case for me in Seattle. At the time, I would contest the idea that Seattle weather would contribute to my depression when my mother brought it up over the phone, reminding her that annual rainfall in Seattle roughly equals that of New York.

In retrospect, I see that every drop of water, whether it was falling from the sky as rain, or drifting in the dark air as fog was like a drop of acid, slowly eating away at my subdued will to live.

At the center of my murky mind-stream in Seattle was a cute native of the pacific-Northwest. During the time she liked me, she would call me Rask in her text messages. Rask was her shorthand for Raskolnikov, the depressed protagonist of a Dostoevsky novel, who ended up killing an old lady for her money... I was in love.

She would drift in and out of my life. I would write her sentimental emails and give her ultimatums to either stop talking with me or make the decision to unite as a couple. Ultimately, I would come back for more. It was a halting relationship, in perpetual trance, there were a few times when we moved close to each other and more times when I would snap at her for stringing me along. For turning me on and off like a virtual pet on her phone.

There was a vulnerability to her that is hard for me define but that draws me to her. Her childlike, gentle psyche resonates with me. She was my kryptonite, she would strip away my defenses of cynical detachment and get through and make me soft and vulnerable and sentimental. I would write her self-involved romantic emails- professing my feelings, sounding like an emotional bitch who couldn't stop typing as if the quantity of my needy words would create a gravitational field that would make her mine.  It would be too intense for her. It would turn her off and make her distant.

And I wouldn't hear from her until I saw a new text message envelope pop up on my cheap Nokia phone. And then I was happy and nervous. I would type another message and wait for a reply.

***

I met her again a few days ago. She said many things. One thing she said was that the love of her young life is a charismatic, drug addicted guy who lives off of social security disability benefits.

Maybe I can't compete. Can't make her love me. Can't make her switch from his charismatic exuberant mental mind fuck to mine, which is quiet and subdued. I don't know. I can't write "no" because it would be painful to do so. I have to have hope. I don't want to see the girl I love be disintegrated by the fog.

On my last night in Seattle, the storage was empty. Some of my belonging were lining up the shelves of a Goodwill store, others were making their way to Ohio in USPS packages. A ten dollar, shiny statue of a Buddha I brought at a discount store traveling in a paper box, wrapped in a plaid shirt waiting to offer his blessing to my Ohio existence.

On my last night, my Peruvian friend and I went to a Capital Hill neighborhood. We ended up at a gay bar with his female friend, listening to drag queens sing Spanish songs. As a new drag queen in a red dress entered the stage, he asked, "Who is this girl, she is pretty hot." I exploded in laughter. I couldn't believe how drunk we were. This was a guy who was supposed to give me ride home in a few minutes.  

I went to the restroom. A guy in there said he had a big dick. I'll show you mine if you show me yours, he said. I politely declined.

There has to be some mystery to life, I thought.

The next morning I was on a flight back to Cincinnati, Ohio.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Lonely Mayor of Cincinnati


Normally I don't remember any of my dreams.

The only dream I do recall is the one where I imagine that there is some sort of a large spider or a bug in my bed. In this recurring scenario, I jump out of my bed, scattering my blankets and throwing pillows out of the way as I make my ridiculous escape. One time I even ran down a few steps of stairs, gripped by some animalistic fear of the non-existing insect lingering in my bedroom.

I am a grown man, weigh over 260 pounds and stand around 6 ft 3. The sight of this huge monstrosity leaping out of his rest definitely looks farcical. Before I am even fully awake, I realize that my bed is only in the habit of holding one organism at a time and I return back to its warm embrace. The fear I experience in these moments is so instinctual and dreamlike that I don't really feel it on the conscious level, because when my higher mental faculties kick in, they immediately alert me to the idiocy of the whole thing. Thus I have no problems returning to sleep.

Recently I tried to reset my dysfunctional sleeping rhythm, I've been going to sleep at 8 in the morning and waking up around 6 pm. If you are depressed, there is something soothing in existing outside of society -not only in spirit but in sleep cycles as well- you wake up at 6 pm, the darkness is setting over everything. You feel free to procrastinate more, your only duty is to procure food and then you can fall back into bed and watch documentaries on your laptop, check the visitor stats on your blog and catch up on the recent developments in Ukraine. The disappearing sun light takes with it the burden of responsibility.

Finally as you see the first rays of sun peaking through your closed curtains (reinforced with garbage bags and t-shirts to minimize the light's presence) you head back to bed.

"Tomorrow," you say to yourself, "tomorrow, I will take concrete steps to improve my life. But not yet, not yet..."

I am one member of the melancholy tribe that worships the idea of sleep. Sleep absolves you as you vanish into its forgetful mist. Sleep gives you everything and takes nothing.

Nevertheless, I am beckoned back to the world of the living. The need to move out of my apartment later this week has propelled me to try to return to normal human hours or at least to wake up at around 1 pm which -at this point- would be a major achievement. In order to make this dream a reality, I have resorted to the bottle of generic sleep aid I got at Walmart a while back. I found the bottle under some papers on the floor of my apartment. I found a few pills and used them to go to sleep earlier than I would normally.

The plan worked but the chemicals exacted a price, for the past two days I remembered my dreams and none of them were pleasant.

Last night's dream was particularly absurd, I dreamt that I became the mayor of Cincinnati, Ohio - "Queen City of the West."

I have spent my first years on American soil in Cincinnati and my mother still dwells in its suburban periphery. Cincinnati is forever linked in my mind with my adolescent awkwardness and alienation. I left it as soon as I turned 18 and have done my best to live outside of its borders ever since.

The suburbs of Cincinnati are the stronghold of the Republican party in Ohio. The current Speaker of the House, John Boehner, has his distinct there. I'm pretty sure that Cincinnati is one of the most conservative metropolitan areas in the Midwest. For these reasons and many others, the idea that I would start my political career here seems particularly unlikely.

In my dream, I managed to become the mayor of Cincinnati without running a campaign. No friendly volunteers, no annoying television ads, no press interviews, no platform, no "Ivan for Mayor" bumper stickers.

It seems like the whole city just forgot about the election and I simply submitted my candidacy and -with no other names on the ballot- claimed my prize.

I discovered that I became the mayor of Cincinnati when I received a packet in the mail. I got this packet at my Columbus apartment thus proving that even in my dreams I tried to delay actually moving back to Cincinnati until the last possible moment. The packet contained my salary information, pension booklet and (yay!) health insurance paperwork. I felt very pleased at this point, finally I got a good job with solid benefits and felt like a fully-formed and productive member of society. This was the highlight of my dream and it all went down hill from there.

Basically the city I inherited seemed almost completely devoid of people. I couldn't see any of the citizens I had to govern. Yet their absence didn't mean that there wasn't friction between us. I knew the people were hiding from me somewhere; I felt their dislike for me. I was the usurper who got to rule them through a trick.

The Cincinnatians weren't there but their resentment for the new city executive hung heavy in the air and made me uncomfortable. I knew that a Buddhist Russian liberal was not the mayor they wanted... but was he the mayor they deserved?

In order to win their love I decided to fight corruption and waste in city government.

In my dream, I saw a portly, ancient black man. He looked to be around eighty-years-old but was in good shape and dressed sharply in a three piece suit. The man has a big stack of wrinkled Tibetan flags, he would iron the flags and then laminate them. Each flag looked neat and straight when he was done with it.

Somehow this Tibetan flag business was interconnected with the Cincinnati government. I deemed his business wasteful, picked up the phone dialed some number and ordered his arrest.

I felt uneasy about this act. After all, Ivan loves black people and loves Tibet, so why would I make war on a man who united the two in his peculiar business? Nevertheless, some mysterious clerk calculated that this arrest saved the Cincinnati government two million dollars.

I immediately called a press conference to announce this triumph in government efficiency. When I stood at the podium with my graphs and a prepared statement, I realized that no one was there to hear it. A camera stood at the center on the room, I knew someone was watching me but the camera's glare was cold and distant. I read my statement, stood by for a few minutes waiting for questions that never came and left.

Now I sat alone in my empty office plotting to leverage my feeble victory in Cincinnati into somehow becoming the mayor of Los Angeles. At this point I felt a heavy restlessness flood my mind. I had to make something happen to prevent an uprising from my hidden, silent citizenry. I walked around the empty administration building until I saw a door with a light under it.

I opened the door to see the familiar face of Bob Fitrakis. Bob was my Political Science professor at the Columbus State Community College. He filed a lawsuit against president George W. Bush in 2004, claiming that the Ohio election was stolen through a conspiracy between the Bush campaign, Republican state officials and the conservative businessman who manufactured the electronic voting machines. Bob also ran as the Green Party candidates for governor of Ohio in 2006 and got one percent of the vote.

I felt that Bob was the wrong ally to have in this simmering and invisible conflict. His politics were too radical to win over the good people of Cincinnati. But he was the only human I could find in my strange kingdom and I wanted him to put me in touch with pragmatic, practical Democrats so I could plot my next move.

Bob quickly realized that I was the type of a week-kneed moderate, too eager to compromise with the forces of evil. He didn't state this openly but his reluctance to help was evident.

"Listen, Ivan, I'm not that interested in politics anymore, I don't know any Democrats that could help you. You have to look for them yourself. What I do have is stories. Do you want to hear a story about the march I went on with Jesse Jackson?"

"No... no thanks," I replied. Whatever good will he had toward me was now gone; Ivan just lost another voter. Now Bob was also a part of the silent army of resentful humanity, quietly scheming against me.

But when will this army strike against the mayor? When will it strike? When!?!

I woke up sweaty but it wasn't a cold sweat. Just a little sweatier than usual. Normally, I toss around a lot in my sleep but it seemed that the Walmart pills have steadied me into stillness, submerged me into an incoherent, sweaty and poorly-written story concocted by some college freshman eager to imitate Kafka.

Here I was- an illegitimately elected mayor of a city I don't particularly fancy: my reign defined by a struggle with a mystical resentment of invisible people.

Ivan the lonely mayor of Cincinnati: arresting old minority business owners, reading prepared statements to no one in particular, roaming the empty halls looking for moderate Democrats he could work with.

Ha!

Its almost 6 am in Ohio right now... time for bed.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

My Favoritest Song


Passing Through (written by R. Blakeslee - ar. L. Cohen) Source: LeonardCohenFiles.com


I saw Jesus on the cross on a hill called Calvary
"Do you hate mankind for what they done to you?"
He said, "Talk of love not hate, things to do - it's getting late.
I've so little time and I'm only passing through."

Passing through, passing through.
Sometimes happy, sometimes blue,
glad that I ran into you.
Tell the people that you saw me passing through.

I saw Adam leave the Garden with an apple in his hand,
I said "Now you're out, what are you going to do?"
"Plant some crops and pray for rain, maybe raise a little cane.
I'm an orphan now, and I'm only passing through - So are you."

Passing through, passing through ...

I was with Washington at Valley Ford, shivering in the snow.
I said, "How come the men here suffer like they do?"
"Men will suffer, men will fight, even die for what is right
even though they know they're only passing through"

Passing through, passing through ...

I was with Franklin Roosevelt's side on the night before he died.
He said, "One world must come out of World War Two" (ah, the fool)
"Yankee, Russian, white or tan," he said, "A man is still a man.
We're all on one road, and we're only passing through."

Passing through, passing through ...

(let's do it one more time)

Passing through, passing through ...

Sigh... One More Ukraine Rant


The Daily Beast has an interesting article about the "Circle of Trust" an un-elected body of protesters that has considerable power over the new Ukraine. This is a quote from the article: "The 48-year-old father of two young children sees the uprising as a back-to-the-future event. He views it as a picking up where the 2004 Orange Revolution left off, an uprising that failed to break the power of Yanukovych’s henchmen and to shake up for good the power structures enriching the country’s oligarchs. "

"The power structures enriching the country’s oligarchs"!? Its interesting that nowhere did the author of this article noted that the new government in Kiev appointed oligarchs to govern the Russia-friendly regions of the country. With the oligarch's direct ascent to power (without the inconvenience of an election to get them there) I can't think of any "power structure" that could enrich the oligarchs more than literally handing over regional governments to them. Much of the coverage of this revolution is such a fucking joke. There are a lot of platitudes in the West about Ukraine turning from the corrupt Putin and "his oligarchs" and toward the bright light of Europe. Meanwhile, Ukraine's economy is falling apart and whole "power structures" are turned over to oligarch to "pacify the population."

One of the deputies to an oligarch now serving as the governor of an eastern region wrote this on his Facebook page about the pro-Russian activists in Crimea, "This scum should be given promises, guarantees, and any concessions…And hung…They should be hung later.”

Something like this is literally impossible to find in Western media. I had to reference it from the Kremlin propaganda channel Russia Today. Thankfully they provided a link to his original post on Facebook so I could read it for myself (since LIKE MOST OF WRITING IN UKRAINE it was expressed in Russian). Now there's something that can give you an idea about why so many pro-Russian Ukrainians hate the current government.

So yeah, there are oligarchs in Russia, back in the 1990's they were so powerful that they openly talked about governing Russia like a board of directors would govern a company. Then Putin exiled half of them and sent one packing to Siberia to the chorus of yelps from the West about the collapse of the rule of law in Russia. The difference is that Russian oligarchs are no longer oligarchs in the full meaning of the word, they have little political power and at the best can do is some industry-specific lobbying or bribing. In the new Ukraine they get to run whole regions and post dumb, murderous shit on social media.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

H.H Dalai Lama Leads Senate in Prayer


I need to get out of my Ukraine fix. As usual I spend my time dwelling and fixating on abstract issues I have no way to influence (at the moment).

People often ask why politics gets so nasty. Politics -the struggle for power- has for most of human history been settled through violence.

Democracy doesn't always get at the best decisions, many of the decisions arrived at are horrible, but its greatest virtue is removing violence as the legitimizer of power.

We get a steady diet of propaganda and platitudes; but a 30 second ad is better than a punch to the face, better than an orphaned child.

Democracy takes violence out of the physical world but it can't take it out of our hearts. The primordial spirit of war dwells within our political yelps.

So the anger lives inside -poisoning us- as we furiously type out a new diatribe against our distant foes in the comment section of some news website.

In the end, I can understand both sides of the struggle in Ukraine. The country is being pulled in two directions -from within and from the outside. But the poor Ukranian grandma doesn't get to taste the greatness of mother Russia nor the promised freedom of the West. She looks at her Orthodox Icons and prays for a good price for bread, prays for the happiness of her children.

Anger empowers almost all who submit to it; but when the smoke clears, its path is often marked by broken lives. Theirs or your own.

I don't think one needs to be a Christian or a Buddhist to see that fundamental truth.

Breath, try to be happy, and wish contentment to your imagined foes.

I don't know of a better way.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Longchenpa



Since everything is but an apparition, having nothing to do with good or bad, acceptance or rejection, one may well burst out in laughter.

~ Tibetan Buddhist Sage Longchenpa (wiki info, if you are interested in a little Buddhist proselytizing)

***

With all my political excitement over Ukraine it is important to try to detach yourself and connect with the ever-fleeting spiritual perspective.

In the end, all of us: Russians, Ukrainians, Americans, Ugandans (and Russian-American Tibetan-Buddhist fans of gansta rap with a blog with a regular readership of three people) are eternally united in our clumsy attempts to find happiness. Lets not forget that.

So good luck to all the awkward seekers of bliss (unless you want to cross mother Russia in the process).

Just kidding!

Ivan trying to keep in mind our common humanity.

***

On a lighter note, I recently spoke to a (pro-Russian) Ukrainian friend of mine to whom I've owed two hundred dollars for the past two years and informed him that my repayment of the loan will be suspended until further notice pending the normalization of relations between our two homelands.

He told me that he understood.

Also, March 2 marked the beginning of the Tibetan New Year. So happy Losar to all!

And if the Western year doesn't work out for you, the Tibetan year just might.

What Happened to the Mustache, Mein Führer!?!


During this current crisis in Ukraine a lot of noise has been made about how poorly the weak-kneed Obama compares to -say- Reagan if he was suddenly resurrected and stood at the helm of state, staring down Putin like a real man should.

Not to channel Reagan's ghost or anything but his former ambassador to the Soviet Union , Jack Matlock, appears like a big softy in his response to Russia's incursion into Crimea when contrasted with the hyperbolic response from the White House - consumed as it is in its ritual, global alpha-male dance (lest anyone deem Obama "weak" in response to a crisis in a country many in the West didn't realize even existed until a few weeks ago).

His essay on this issue is recommended reading for people interested in different perspectives on this situation. Then again, judging from the media coverage, many are content to view Putin as the new Hitler (the lack of menacing facial hair aside).

Also noteworthy in this moment of momentous struggle for freedom, is that the current Ukrainian state owes its entire existence (and the never-ending instability within) to maps drawn by the totalitarian hand of one Joseph Stalin.

Some excerpts:

" If I were Ukrainian I would echo the immortal words of the late Walt Kelly’s Pogo: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” "
...
1. The current territory of the Ukrainian state was assembled, not by Ukrainians themselves but by outsiders, and took its present form following the end of World War II. To think of it as a traditional or primordial whole is absurd. This applies a fortiori to the two most recent additions to Ukraine—that of some eastern portions of interwar Poland and Czechoslovakia, annexed by Stalin at the end of the war, and the largely Russian-speaking Crimea, which was transferred from the RSFSR well after the war, when Nikita Khrushchev controlled the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Since all constituent parts of the USSR were ruled from Moscow, it seemed at the time a paper transfer of no practical significance. (Even then, the city of Sevastopol, the headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet, was subordinated directly to Moscow, not Kiev.) Up to then, the Crimea had been considered an integral part of Russia since Catherine “the Great” conquered it in the 18th century.
...
a. It has been a mistake for all the parties, those in Ukraine and those outside, to treat this crisis as a contest for control of Ukraine.
b. Obama’s “warning” to Putin was ill-advised. Whatever slim hope that Moscow might avoid overt military intervention in Ukraine disappeared when Obama in effect threw down a gauntlet and challenged him. This was not just a mistake of political judgment—it was a failure to understand human psychology—unless, of course, he actually wanted a Russian intervention, which is hard for me to believe.
c. At this moment it is not clear, at least to me, what the ultimate Russian intent is. I do not believe it is in Russia’s interest to split Ukraine, though they may want to detach the Crimea from it—and if they did, they would probably have the support of the majority of Crimean residents. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

"Russia's Most Powerful Weapon"


Under a headline, “Russia's Most Powerful Weapon Isn't What You'd Expect” Huffington post informs us that Russia’s most powerful weapon is natural gas.

Here’s an excerpt:

Given the agreement on Russian gas supplies to Ukraine, the two companies are bound to sign a new contract each quarter. When diplomatic relations between Ukraine and Russia are good, so are prices.
The last agreement, signed in December, set the rate at $268.5 for 1,000 meters cubed. This was a competitive price, given the market rate at the time of negotiations was $400.



As of today, Ukraine owes about $4 billion to Russia. The country also needs to find $35 billion to pay its debts over the next two years. These are reasons to fear a third “gas war”.

***

So basically Russia’s “most powerful weapon” in Ukraine is the fact that Russia has been subsidizing Ukraine’s economy to the tune of billions of dollars. Not only in below market gas prices but also in allowing Ukraine to delay payment for that gas (a de facto interest-free loan) AND the 15 billion Russia agreed to give Ukraine in exchange for scrapping the trade pact with Europe, the cancellation of which sparked this revolution. With the new government, Ukraine is unlikely to see all 15 billion but –from what I understand- around two billion has already been paid.

Neither the European Union nor Washington have come close to offering anything close to that as of yet. The latest offer of help from America amounted to one billion. Of course, if Russia decides to sell gas to the new, freedom-loving Ukraine at market prices it would be accused of waging a “gas war.”

The first act of the new, revolutionary government in Ukraine was for the parliament to cancel the law that made Russian Ukraine’s second official language, basically sending a big “Fuck You” to all Russian speaking parts of the country and the evil motherland (aka natural gas Santa Claus) as well. The new president then said that he will veto the law but the cat was already out of the bag.

The current protesters still occupying the streets of Kiev have set conditions the government must meet before they disband. These include changing the constitution to include the right to bare arms, tax reform, arrest of the former president, and lustration.

Lustration refers to purging all state offices of all people who were closely associated with the previous regime. Since the last president has been democratically elected with his base of support in the Russian-friendly east and south, lustration –if enacted- would basically end up transferring all the state power into the hands of Western Ukrainians and their supporters in the central parts of the country.

The Kremlin has been eager to portray the whole of the protest movement as Russia-hating brown shirts. This is hyperbolic propaganda. But it is true that far-right groups have played a central role in this conflict, especially after it turned violent. Today Kiev is patrolled by members of the “right sector” many of whom openly wear Nazi era insignia and a member of which told a BBC reporter that he admires National Socialism and says that the society he wants to built is a clean one “not like Hitler but a little bit like that.” One of the popular marching slogans for the right wing parties in Western Ukraine is a ditty that goes, “Death to the Ruskies, Death to the Kikes.”

The far-right party that gained a few seats in the current government is called Svoboda though back in 2004 it went by Social-National Party. They openly celebrate the Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera. But it’s all good, they’re not National Socialists they are… Socialist Nationalists? Whatever. Maybe they should be banned from the new government on account of their lack of originality. And so what if their spiritual leader dabbled in the Holocaust and fought alongside German troops for a while and they continue to make anti-Semitic statements to this day- since they are against Russia- it is all good.

The Soviet Union lost over 20 million people in the Second World War and that victor holds a religious significance to people in Russia, Eastern Ukraine and other former parts of the Soviet Union. I’m sure most American WW2 veterans and their families would be fine with being ruled by an unelected government with parties in it that celebrate a man who fought against them in a genocidal war… as long as it was in the name of democracy.

One of the party platforms of the Social-National Party… I mean Svoboda… was to strip Crimea of its autonomous status in the country and to work on getting the Russian fleet stationed there to leave. Basically to divorce a Russian-majority region from Russia completely; hence the Russian military intervention.

There is a lot of talk about the ambiguity of Crimean ownership, how it was a contested territory between various empires. Fact is that the Russian Empire absorbed it in 1783, a territory held continuously by Russians longer than then the period much of territory that today composes the Unites States was held by the American government.

If Nikita Khrushchev didn’t impulsively decided to transfer Crimea to Ukraine 50 years ago would any Western power clamor for that peninsula to be transferred to Ukraine? How much is the West willing to sacrifice to maintain borders drawn by the impulsive hand of a Soviet leader who was famous for banging his shoe on the table during a United Nation’s assembly, screaming “We will bury you!” to the pro-Western speaker?

***

The near-bankrupt Ukrainian government has said that it will impose harsh austerity measures to qualify for Western assistance, they openly said that they are ready for unpopular “kamikaze” measures.

So here is how this whole revolt may end up looking to many –if not most- Ukrainians. The pro-western forces have overthrown a corrupt democratically-elected president. Economic misery follows, along with horrible relations with Russia, collapse of law and order with right-wing militias patrolling the capital, devaluation of the currency and a crowd in the center of Kiev as the supreme governing authority.

Unless the West is willing to subsidize Ukraine to the tune of tens of billions of dollars (with uncertain outcomes) it is likely that this revolution could result in vast Russian gains in Ukraine.

I am not a Putin supporter or fan but there has been a clear pattern in the West to completely disregard the pro-Russian populations in former Soviet republics. The reason Putin can capitalize on the current unrest -his source of leverage- stems from the fact that around a half of the population has strong Russian sympathies.

It is acceptable for the Western powers to talk about placing Ukraine into the western sphere of influence yet Russians saying the very same thing is forcefully condemned as sinister imperialism. But when the two forces meet in Ukraine, Russia has much more at stake and is willing to shell out billions in subsidies and even initiate military action.

I don’t know what the real opinions of Ukrainians are but I know that they have been stuck in loop where being in the middle of East and West has led to economic stagnation followed by repeated cycles of revolution.

If people in the East genuinely want to join Russia they should have that option; they have a total right not to be governed by people with an alien value system and a radically different view of history. It will allow the western and central parts of Ukraine to proceed with European integration and end this tragic spectacle that the country has become.