Saturday, November 26, 2011

TS: Big Sur

'Alone with Billie's even worse - "I cant see anything to do now," she says by the fire like an ancient Salem housewife ("Or Salem witch?" I'm leering) - "I could have Elliott taken care of in a private home or an orphanage and just go to a nunnery myself, there's a lot of them around - or I could kill myself and Elliott both" - 
"Dont talk like that" - 
"There's no other way to talk when there's no more directions to take" - 
"You've got me all wrong I wouldnt be any good for you" - 
"I know that now, you want to be a hermit you say but you dont do it much I noticed, you're just tired of life and wanta sleep, in a way that's how I feel too only I've got Elliott to worry about... I could take both our lives and solve that" - 
"You, creepy talk" - 
"You told me the first night you loved me, that I was most interesting, that you hadn't met anyone you liked so much then you just went on drinking, I really can see now what they say about you is true: and all the others like you: O I realize you're a writer and suffer through too much but you're really ratty sometimes... but even that I know you cant help and I know you're not really ratty but awfully broken up like you explained to me, the reasons... but you're always groaning about how sick you are, you really dont think about others enough and I KNOW you cant help it, it's a curious disease a lot of us have anyway only better hidden sometimes... but what you said the first night and even just now about me being St Carolyn in the Sea, why dont you follow through with what your heart knows is Good and best and true, you give up so easy to discouragement... then I guess too you dont really want me and just wanta go home and resume your own life maybe with Louise your girlfriend" -
"No I couldn't with her either. I'm just bound up inside like constipation, I cant move emotionally like you'd say emotionally as tho that was some big grand magic mystery everybody saying "O how wonderful life is, how miraculous, God made this and God made that", how do you know he doesnt hate what He did: He might even be drunk and not noticing what he went and done tho of course that's not true" - 
"Maybe God is dead" -
"No, God cant be dead because He's the unborn"-
"But you have all those philosophies and sutras you were talking about" - 
"But dont you see they've all become empty words, I realize I've been playing like a happy child with words words words in a big serious tragedy, look around" - 
"You could make some effort, damn it!" 
But what's even ineffably worse is that the more she advises me and discusses the trouble the worse and worse it gets, it's as tho she didn't know what she was doing, like an unconscious witch, the more she tries to help the more I tremble almost too realizing she's doing it on purpose and knows she's witching me but it's all gotta be formally understood as "help" dingblast it - She must be some kind of chemical counterpart to me, I just cant stand her for a minute, I'm racked with guilt because all the evidence there seems to say she's a wonderful person sympathizing in her quiet sad musical voice with an obvious rogue nevertheless none of these rational guilts stick - All I feel is the invisible stab from her - She's hurting me! - At some points in our conversation I'm a veritable ham actor jumping up to twitch my head, that's the effect she has - 
"What's the matter?" she asks softly - Which makes me almost scream and I've never screamed in my life - It's the first time in my life I'm not confident I can hold myself together no matter what happens and be inly calm enough to even smile with condescension at the screaming hysterias of women in madwards - I'm in the same madward all of a sudden - And what's happened? what's caused it - 
"Are you driving me mad on purpose?" I finally blurt... But naturally she protests I'm talking out of my head, there's no such evident intention anywhere, we're just on a happy weekend in the country with friends. 
"Then there's something wrong with ME!" I yell - 
"That's obvious but why dont you try to calm down and for instance like make love to me, I've been begging you all day and all you do is groan and turn away as tho I was an ugly old bat" - She comes and offers herself to me softly and gently but I just stare at my quivering wrists - It's really very awful - It's hard to explain - Besides then the little boy is constantly coming at Billie when she kneels at my lap or sits on it or tries to soothe my hair and comfort me, he keeps saying in the same pitiful voice "Dont do it Billie dont do it Billie dont do it Billie" till finally she has to give up that sweet patience of hers where she answers his every little pathetic question and yell "Shut up! Elliott will you shut up! DO I have to beat you again!" and I groan "No!" but Elliott yells louder "Dont do it Billie dont do it Billie dont do it Billie!" so she sweeps him off and starts whacking him screamingly on the porch and I am about to throw in the towel and gasp up my last, it's horrible. 
Besides when she beats Elliott she herself cries and then will be yelling madwoman things like "I'll kill both of us if you dont stop, you leave me no alternative! O my child!" suddenly picking him up and embracing him rocking tears, and gnashing of hair and all under those old peaceful blue-jay trees where in fact the jays are still waiting for their food and watching all this - Even so Alf the Sacred Burro is in the yard waiting for somebody to give him an apple - I look up at the sun going down golden throughout the insane shivering canyon, that blasted rogue wind comes topping down trees a mile away with an advancing roar that when it hits the broken cries of mother and son in grief are blown away with all those crazy scattering leaves - The creek screeches - A door bangs horribly, a shutter follows suit, the house shakes - I'm beating my knees in the din and cant even hear that. 
"What's I got to do with you committing suicide anyway?" I'm yelling - 
"Alright, it has nothing to do with you" - 
"So okay you have no husband but at least you've got little Elliott, he'll grow up and be okay, you can always meanwhile go on with your job, get married, move away, do something, maybe it's Cody but more than that I'd say it's all those mad characters making you insane and wanta kill yourself like that - Perry..." - 
"Dont talk about Perry, he's wonderful and sweet and I love him and he's much kinder to me than you'll ever be: at least he gives of himself"- 
"But what's all this giving of ourselves, what's there to give that'll help anybody" - 
"You'll never know you're so wrapped up in yourself" - 
We're now starting to insult each other which would be a healthy sign except she keeps breaking down and crying on my shoulder more or less again insisting I'm her last chance (which isnt true) - 
"Let's go to a monastery together," she adds madly -  
"Evelyn, I mean Billie you might go to a nunnery at that, by God get thee to a nunnery, you look like you'd make a nun, maybe that's what you need all that talk about Cody about religion maybe all this worldly horror is just holding you back from what you call your true realizing, you could become a big reverend mother someday with not a worry on your mind tho I met a reverend mother once who cried... ah it's all so sad" - 
"What did she cry about?" - 
"I dont know, after talking to me, I remember I said some silly things like 'the universe is a woman because it's round' but I think she cried because she was remembering her early days when she had a romance with some soldier who died, at least that's what they say, she was the greatest woman I ever saw, big blue eyes, big smart woman... you could do that, get out of this awful mess and leave it all behind" - 
"But I love love too much for that" - 
"And not because you're sensual either you poor kid" - 
In fact we quiet down a little and do actually make love in spite of Elliott pulling at her "Billie don't do it don't do it Billie don't do it" till right in the middle I'm yelling "Don't do what? what's he mean? - can it be he's right and Billie you shouldnt do it? can it be we're sinning after all's said and done? O this is insane! - but he's the most insane of them all," in fact the child is up on bed with us tugging at her shoulder just like a grownup jealous lover trying to pull a woman off another man (she being on top indication of exactly how helpless and busted down I've become and here it is only four in the afternoon) - A little drama going on in the cabin maybe a little different than what cabins are intended for or the local neighbors are imagining.'
- Jack Kerouac, Big Sur

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

TS: Notes of a Red Guard

'We worked happily, singing as we went along, and whenever we went up or down a hill we would sing the "Dubinushka". Until then I had only read about the "Dubinushka," so now I was hearing the real thing for the first time. I'm no romantic: in fact, I'm decidedly dull and prosaic. Verses don't normally send me into raptures, but even now, in old age, I remember with warmth our "Dubinushka" and those who led the singing. 

These leaders were such masters of improvisation that never once, not even in one chastushka, did they repeat themselves. The chastushka would be about something topical--a foreman or gang leader, a woman or young girl, a priest or deacon. Each leader had his own specialty. I recall a fat, heavy-faced youth, a complete illiterate who on payday would drink away his wages, who was a master of the sharp-witted chastushka--admittedly, of a rather obscene variety. For every passerby he would invent some clever and totally unexpected jingle. He would break into an improvisation as the figure drew near, and then subside as they drew away. The appearance of the next person--whether young or old, handsome or ugly, fat or thin--would spark some new association, which would spontaneously form itself into words and rhyme. The words were rough and crude, but the rhyme would become tenderly caressing if a woman happened to please him. It would then seem as though a completely different person was singing the chastushka...

As the machines were assembled, the experienced workers were transferred to them--transferred to well-paid jobs in clean, warm workshops. The ribald young poet and I were put to work on a press, but the poet never managed to come to grips with the job. He would complain how boring it was, saying that such tedious work would never interest him even if it paid two or three rubles instead of one... 

Soon he left his fifty-ruble-a-month job for one that paid twenty or thirty rubles--a shoveling job of some kind. There he found a job where he could sing his songs and have an audience. None of the poets managed to hold down a machine job: they all slipped off elsewhere. They found machine work quite intolerable--as tedious as learning to read or write. While we literate workers crawled along the ground, the poets floated among the clouds, unable to get along on the boring old earth, eating too little, drinking too much, dying in some obscure corner. I met similar people in the prisons and concentration camps: there, too, accomplished storytellers and singers would stand out from the crowd, enjoying their popularity and success like artists on the stage.'
-Eduard Dune, Notes of a Red Guard

Thursday, October 13, 2011

TS: A Sentimental Journey

"When the Rogatin Regiment, about four hundred strong, saw the Germans bayonet their commander right before their eyes, they went wild with rage and slaughtered the entire German regiment to the last man. The potential for this kind of fighting did exist, but two things killed it. The first was the criminal, triple-damned, foul, ruthless policies of the Allies. They wouldn't go along with our peace conditions. They, no one but they, blew up Russia. Their refusal allowed the so-called Internationalists to the fore. For an explanation of their role, I'll cite a parallel. I'm not a Socialist--I'm a Freudian.

A man is sleeping and he hears the doorbell ring. He knows that he has to get up, but he doesn't want to. And so he invents a dream and puts into it that sound, motivating it in another way--for example, he may dream of church bells.

Russia invented the Bolsheviks as a motivation for desertion and plunder; the Bolsheviks are not guilty of having been dreamed.

But who was ringing?

Perhaps World Revolution."
- Viktor Shklovsky, A Sentimental Journey

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

My kingdom for a Ѣ

"The typsetters at Sytin's print-works in Moscow struck on September 19. They demanded a shorter working day and a higher piecework rate per 1000 letters set, not excluding punctuation marks. This small event set off nothing more nor less than the all-Russian political strike--the strike which started over punctuation marks and ended by felling absolutism." - Leon Trotsky, 1905
From Robert Greenberg's Language and Identity in the Balkans:
"The Literary Agreement was signed by Vuk Karadžić and Djura Daničić for the Serbs, and Ivan Kuljević, Ivan Mažuranić, Dimitrije Demeter, Vinko Pacel, and Stjepan Pejković for the Croats. The Agreement contained only the following five main points:  
(1) it is better to elevate a popular dialect to literary status, rather than create an artificial super-dialectal standard;
(2) the Southern dialect is designated as literary;
(3) the velar-fricative h will always be written in the literary language;
(4) the velar-fricative h will not be written in the genitive plural of nouns;
(5) the syllabic r will be written simply as –r-, as in prst ‘finger’ (rather than *perst). 
Points (1), (2), (4), and (5) were agreed upon unanimously. However, on the issue of the writing of the grapheme x (Cyrillic) /h (Latin), Vuk compromised with the Illyrians. Vuk had omitted this grapheme from his 1818 Dictionary, since the phoneme h had been widely lost among the Orthodox population, and for this reason Vuk felt it had no place in his phonological writing system. On this point, the text of the Literary Agreement made no references to the unanimity of this decision, and stated instead that 
'We found it to be good and necessary that the writers of the Eastern faith should write x, wherever it is etymologically appropriate, just as those [writers] of the Western faith write h, and as our people of both faiths in many places in our southern region speak.'"
Wow, South Slav peoples taking it upon themselves to unify and compromise? Don't worry, Austria found a way to ruin it:
"...compromise had eluded the signatories of the Literary Agreement on one important issue: what should the new language be called? The name of the new joint literary language was nowhere to be found in the text of the 1850 Agreement. In 1861 the Croatian Sabor (Assembly), tried to remedy the situation by voting to name the unified language the “Yugoslav”—i.e., “South Slav”—language. However, the authorities in Vienna overturned the Sabor’s decision, and promulgated the terms “Serbian-Illyrian (Cyrillic)” and “Serbian-Illyrian (Latin)” for this new South Slavic literary language."
Fast forward to today, where Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian, all mutually intelligible (even listing them separately like that is a very contentious act, mind you), are taking great pains to differentiate themselves from one another and make themselves distinct, unintelligible, proper languages.

Speech and pronunciation are political statements here, too, but we're much less cognizant of it. Stillborn efforts to make "ebonics" into a recognized dialect are little more than a punchline about the 70s, and we all more or less accept that prominent political figures do well to affect a slight, largely non-regional drawl in major speeches. But imagine if someone wanted to elevate the (now dying) Brooklyn accent to a national standard, or if there was a prominent movement to classify "American" as a language apart from "English"? Over the past few hundred years we've come to a general consensus about what "non-regional, educated 'American'" sounds like, but without any of the councils, scholars, or literary manuals that clutter the same period in the Balkans. Why are we less protective of our dialects? Growing up, my parents were adamant that I not speak like my peers, knowing the class baggage that comes with those infamous Long Island vowels, and to this day I only sound like a New Yorker when I'm very drunk or very angry (and even then, not always). It's amazing to me that we, as a nation, bowed so unquestioningly and unthinkingly to the news anchors and radio hosts.

I imagine that even if efforts to make English the national language gain greater traction, we'll see none of the fractious debates over standard pronunciation seen in other countries. It's assumed that we all just know what English is; it doesn't need to be defined. This is curiously unmodern. The very idea of "fluency" in a language is an increasingly odd one to me:
"In the Middle Ages, according to Douglas Johnson, 'it was undoubtedly difficult for the ordinary person in one part of France to be understood in another part of France'. Indeed, the situation persisted well into the nineteenth century in France. ... In travelling between villages and along the continuum of communication, there would be no point at which the peasant would imagine that they had passed through a linguistic boundary, separating one distinct tongue from another. Moments of intelligibility might get fewer, dribbling away entirely in distant horizons. The travelling peasant, however, would not stop to ask ‘do these people speak the same language as myself?’, as if there was an actual point at which the ratio between the familiar and the unfamiliar became critical and the speech pattern changed from one grammatical essence to another. This essentialism, by contrast, is insinuated into the core of modern common sense about language. We would want to know whether the speech of Montaillou should be categorized as a dialect of Occitan and whether the inhabitants of San Mateo really spoke a variant of Catalan. We assume the reality of underlying different deep grammars. If the modern political map, unlike its mediaeval equivalent, contains precise boundaries, so too does the modernly imagined map of speech. The assumptions of this imagined mapping are easily projected on to other cultures and other times. 
The modern imagining of different languages is not a fantasy, but it reflects that the world of nations is also a world of formally constituted languages. The disciplinary society of the nation-state needs the discipline of a common grammar. The mediaeval peasant had no official forms to complete, inquiring whether the respondent speaks Spanish or English. No acts of parliament decreed which language was to be used in compulsory public education or in state broadcasting; nor would the mediaeval subject have dreamt of ever going to war over such matters. The questions about language, which today seem so ’natural’ and so vital, did not arise. To put the matter crudely: the mediaeval peasant spoke, but the modern person cannot merely speak; we have to speak something - a language." - Michael Billig, Banal Nationalism
Reject the national language! The Middle Ages really weren't that bad. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Markets in everything?

"The American Dairy Goats Association (ADGA), one of the United States' two major dairy goat registries (organizations that keep official lists of goats within a specific breed, provide registration certificates, and compile pedigrees), recognizes eight different dairy goat breeds... The other registry, the American Goat Society (AGS) registers only purebreeds and also recognizes the Pygmy as a dairy breed...  
Neither of these registries recognizes the mini crossbreeds that have captured the hearts of urban goat owners, so two new registries have sprung up: The Miniature Goat Registry (TMGR) and the Miniature Dairy Goat Association (MDGA)."

I recently turned 22 (heaven preserve us), and one of the gifts I received was Ms Smith's delightful book on goat husbandry, which I have been rapidly devouring. Prepare for drunken musings on the capra aegagrus hircus in the near future. I have long been convinced that goats are among the best creatures, but this book is going quite a long way toward confirming said biases. I worry that I may yet turn into a crunchy con-- if ever I rhapsodize about the virtues of 'locavorism', please beat me down in the comments. I beg you.

Also, I have finally finished all of Ms West's truly phenomenal (if longBlack Lamb, Grey Falcon, and plan to write something of a 'and thus I have learned' post sometime this week, so stay tuned!

Friday, August 12, 2011


"'Regardez la pluche!' he said before the pictures, making no secret of it that his mouth was watering. 'Le satin! La fourrure! Les bel-les fem-mes!' And before the faded photographs he mouthed the titles, 'Son altessse le Prince, sa majesté la Reine Impératrice,' and made each of them a sultan or a sultana, reclining on silken cushions under golden domes. 

Being Western and therefore obsessed with the secondary meaning, we wondered, 'What dreams have these substances and ranks evoked in this Turk that he is so enraptured?' But we were wrong. He was enraptured simply because plush has a deep pile, because satin gives back the light, because fur is soft and warm, because jewels flash coloured fires, because beautiful women are beautiful and women, and it is better to be a prince or an empress than to be a slave; and it was proof of his amiability that he was putting forth a special effort to feel such raptures in this room, because it had once been dedicated to pomp and elegance..."

Friday, July 29, 2011


"It was as touching as the glow of contentment in the eyes of the foreign immigrants in the United States during the good old days before 1929, who were entranced to find themselves where there was an abundance of food, no matter what the weather might be, warm and cheap clothing, comfortable footwear, water-tight housing, and, not easily to be acquired but within the possibility of acquirement as never in Polish Galicia or Portugal, radios, refrigerators, and automobiles. They had not realized that in this new industrialized world there are seasons other than those determined by the course of the sun, which are both crueller and longer; and that the urban versions of blizzard and drought are more terrible because they must be suffered in an absolute destitution, unknown to communities where each owns or has the right of access to at least a strip of land, and where all are joined by ties of blood or friendship cultivated through generations...

The English manufacturers of the nineteenth century had appeared as redeemers to the downtrodden agricultural labourers who were dying rather than living under a land system which would have shocked the Balkans, and who found food and warmth such as they had never known in the towns of Lancashire and Yorkshire and the Midlands; but they have no such reputations among the vast unhappy army of the unemployed. My instinct therefore was to warn the miners who were coming in at the door, grinning with happy appetite, 'Do not be deceived. Whom you suppose to be your benefactor is in fact your enemy, and will enslave you and take from your children what you never lost even under the Turk, the right to work.'"

Thursday, July 28, 2011


I found this gratuitous at first, as the beauty of smoking lay in understatement, but we all like to be preached to once in a while, don't we? 

Really gets going ~2:40. Highly recommended viewing.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Abortive debt ceiling plans don't burn

“Obama is not the new FDR, but the new Gorbachev.” - Richard Miniter

As to the political sagacity of such a comparison, I couldn't possibly comment, but it it rather curious that Begemot has apparently taken up residence in the Capitol: 
“According to legend, the cat is seen before presidential elections and tragedies in Washington DC, allegedly being spotted by White House security guards the nights before the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln. The cat is described as fully black and the size of an average house cat; but witnesses report that the cat swells to “the size of a giant tiger”, 10 feet by 10 feet,when alerted. The cat would then either explode or pounce at the witness, disappearing before it managed to catch its ‘victim’."

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Today we are all two-headed monstrosities

The heads think and eat separately.
"The Skazka Zoo in Yalta said Wednesday that the albino California Kingsnake has two heads that think, react and eat separately, though one is more passive than the other.

Dmytro Tkachov, a zoo worker taking care of the snake, said he puts a barrier between the heads when feeding the snake lest one eats the other. The snake will be on display until mid-September. The zoo would not provide further details." - The Moscow Times
- - - - -
"He was glad that most of his charges were where they were, out of mischief, neatly stuffed, preserved for eternity by camphor balls in highly polished glass cases; but over one he mourned. This was a two-headed calf which was strangely lovely in form, it was like a design made for a bracket by the Adam brothers; its body had the modest sacrificial grace of all calves, and it was a shock to find that of the two heads which branched like candelabra one was lovely, but one was hideous, as that other seen in a distorting glass.

'It was perfectly made,' lamented the old man, 'it was perfectly made.'
'Did it live after its birth?' asked my husband.
'Did it live!' he exclaimed. 'It lived for two days, and it should be alive today had it not been for its nature.'
'For its nature?' repeated my husband.
'Yes, its nature. For the peasant who owned it brought it here to our great doctors as soon as it was born, and here it did well. I tell you, it was perfectly made. But for two days did the beautiful head open its mouth and drink the milk we gave it, and when it came to the throat, then did the ugly head hawk and spit it out. Not one drop got down to its poor stomach, and so it died.'" - BLGF


"Often I wonder whether I would be able to suffer for my principles if the need came, and it strikes me as a matter of the highest importance. That should not be so. I should ask myself with far greater urgency whether I have done everything possible to carry those principles into effect, and how I can attain power to make them absolutely victorious. But those questions I put only with my mind. They do not excite my guts, which wait anxiously while I ponder my gift for martyrdom."

Happy hump day!

Saturday, July 9, 2011


One more thing about the Christian/Atheist Turing Test I mentioned here-- y'all free to speculate as to which entry is mine, though please do so in comments here and not at Leah's blog, as she doesn't want "too much homogenization of beliefs". For what it's worth there was a significant period of my life when I was an atheist, and an agnostic, and back and forth between the two, and my answers were written based on how I remember thinking about things then, and actual conversations I've had with atheists.

All told, however, it was a very eye-opening experience. More once the experiment is done. Will be writing my sincere answers today-- that entry will be pretty easily identifiable, I imagine!

Remember, voting ends Sunday!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Unequally Yoked's Turing Test

I'm one of the 15 participants in Leah's ideological Turing Test, in which each of us answers two sets of questions-- one as an atheist, and the other as a Christian. All of the answers are posted anonymously, and now you, dear readers, can vote for which entries you think were written by actual atheists. 

Vote here.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


(Explanation here.)

So, my ten day beer fast now over (yes, I refrained from beer even on Independence Day, though I did have some whiskey), things I noticed:

1. I've lost weight
2. I've spent less money on alcohol
3. I've spent almost no time in bars
4. The few times I was in a bar, I ordered diet cola as a mixer, and it was less mortifying than I'd assumed it would be

These results have prompted me to continue my fast indefinitely. Why on earth did I ever develop a taste for the stuff in the first place? Heavens. This, my friends, is why I will never care to make myself enjoy wine, or expensive food; there's simply no sense in such things.

Now I'm faced with the challenge of picking my next trial, and I must say this will be more daunting than the first two. I love Google reader and beer dearly, but in fact my quality of life increased upon giving them up. What remains on my original list (make-up, non-liturgical music, swearing, all alcohol [haha, that's a joke!...], significantly cutting back on smoking) would all actually be rather difficult. Giving up jewelry for a bit, while a tragic pain, would be more on par with the two previous challenges. What do you lot think? Anything more creative I can tackle? Considering sleeping on my floor for ten days, but, in all seriousness, that would be a false ascesis; I can sleep anywhere with no discomfort when I choose to, and am not overfond of sleep to begin with. Giving up film and television strikes me as a potential option (by which I mean giving up Hulu and Youtube, as I don't own a television and Netflix doesn't work with my OS).

On a much more sincere and somber note, my grandmother greatly appreciates all those of you who've prayed for her have done. Thank you, truly.

Friday, July 1, 2011

A request

We all of us are terrible people, we all of us make trade offs, and we all of us ask for mercy in the end. My grandmother (above, in 1948, and her late husband, my grandfather, who died before I was born) has severe lung cancer. Please pray for her.

If you have any prayer recommendations, or suggestions as to how to help the bedridden, please pass them along. You can email me here. Thank you.

Monday, June 27, 2011

700 pgs in, a realization

And now I have an excuse to share a beautiful passage with you:

"In September the invasion began. By October the Serbian Army, which now numbered a quarter of a million men, was faced with three hundred thousand Austro-German troops, under the great strategist Mackensen, and as many Bulgarians. It was now necessary for the country to die. The soldiers retreated slowly, fighting a rearguard action, leaving the civil population, that is to say their parents, wives, and children, in the night of an oppression that they knew to be frightful.

Monks came out of the monasteries and followed the soldiers, carrying on bullock-carts, and on their shoulders where the roads were too bad, the coffined bodies of the medieval Serbian kings, the sacred Nemanyas, which must not be defiled. So was carried King Peter, whose rheumatic limbs were wholly paralysed by the cold of autumn; and so, too, before the retreat was long on its way, was Prince Alexander. The internal pain that had vexed him all year grew so fierce that he could no longer ride his horse. Doctors took him into a cottage and he was operated on for appendicitis. Then he was packed in bandages wound close as a shroud, and put on a stretcher and carried in the procession of the troops.

It is like some fantastic detail in a Byzantine fresco, improbable, nearly impossible, yet a valid symbol of a truth, that a country which was about to die should bear with it on its journey to death, its kings, living and dead, all prostrate, immobile."

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Does it count as a double blind study if I'm drunk the whole time?

Hi, my name is Tristyn, and I'm addicted to Google Reader.

I have 233 subscriptions (there are 11 different blogs under my "Tobacco" tag alone), scroll through on average 600 - 800 posts a day, and, I realized, retain precious little of what I read. So! A few weeks ago, I decided to give it up for 10 days-- not a very long period of time, but long enough for me to notice some changes in my habits.

For one, I read a lot more, proper books! That was wonderful. I also noticed that I basically didn't use computers at all once I banned myself from Reader, especially since I have a smart phone, and thus can check email, gchat, and look up any necessary information on its browser. This has interesting implications for future hardware purchases, to say the least.

The blogs and whatnot I subscribe to aren't all feckless drivel, mind you, but I found what I missed most was feeling "informed". I'm definitely a news junkie, but couldn't be bothered to read any newspapers or what-have-you to keep up; that habit was too alien. I chafed most whenever friends would discuss the primary (and really, what else is there to discuss in this great wide world), but having come back now it's very clear that I missed very little. This piece by Ben Dolnick quite accurately sums up my feelings about the entire matter (it's hilarious and scarily on the nose, highly recommend it), and I recognize that really, while I do think it's important to be politically aware yada yada, the kind of newswatching I do is of no more consequence than obsessively following sports statistics.

I found that I was much more likely to actually read posts/articles that were emailed to me or posted on my Facebook wall, relatively "starved" for contemporary content as I was. Yep, I'm admitting it: if you email something to me or a panlist I'm on, the chances aren't super high that I'm going to read it-- trying to be better about that now, though.

I also realized that I have no idea what most of the blogs I read are called. Reader just mashes them all up into a convenient little feed, and while in the moment I'll note the author or the source, if I wanted to recall later where I'd read such-and-such about Hieromonk so-and-so, I'd have to either wade through the archives or try to remember a few key phrases and conduct a search. Whether I read something on The Vigilant Citizen or Hit & Run is not an irrelevant fact (or hell, Pactum Serva contra Leitourgeia kai Qurbana, though admittedly the times when there'd be room for that kind of confusion are probably rare).

Finally, the social aspect: I follow 30 something people on Reader, and my favorite feature is definitely sharing and commenting, particularly as most of them live in DC (or elsewhere, I think there are other places in this country, right?) and I don't get to see them very often (and especially now, as New Haven is rather depopulated in the summer). I don't understand Reader users who don't join a hive.

So all in all it's been fruitful, and I am trying to cut back a bit, read my subscriptions more actively instead of just skimming everything and retaining nothing, and consciously make more time when I close the laptop and just read a damn book.

So now I'm going to give something else up for ten days: beer.

This might sound silly to you, as I'm sure there are plenty of people who go ten days without drinking beer and don't even notice it. I, however, have taken to drinking beer pretty much daily for the past few months, and that is good neither for my wallet, nor my waistline, nor my soul-- and of course, I don't want to be the sort of person who drinks more beer than hard liquor, which is rapidly what I'm becoming.

After that, I'm considering in some order giving up the following things: Pandora/iTunes (ie all non-liturgical music), makeup (which will be incredibly difficult for me), jewelry, perhaps alcohol altogether, and perhaps something like cutting back to only 5 cigarettes/day (right now I try to keep to half a pack a day). Any other suggestions? Anything food related wouldn't be terribly interesting, as I'm rather used to that sort of thing and don't find it difficult or strange.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

I don't speak German, but I can if you like

While having dinner with my (paternal, non-Slovak) grandmother the other day, she wondered aloud to whom she ought leave her engagement ring- me, or my other female cousin, who lives in Florida. Unsurprisingly the entire table immediately drowned in awkward, I forced out a laugh, told her not to speak of such things, and tried to move the conversation along. My mother, however, simply said this: "Well you know Tristyn's a gypsy, she loves her jewelry. She'd take good care of it."

Jackie O I ain't, let's say-- I've been known to wear ten rings at once, and usually try to pack as much cheap costume jewelry on my arms and face as possible without further piercings (I've even become incredibly adept at pulling everything off very rapidly at TSA checkpoints, to the silent amusement of everyone standing around me). I get this from my maternal grandmother, who, while slightly more subtle than I, similarly finds understatement overrated.

I've been staying with her for the past few days and, after Red Eye ended last night (she hasn't been able to sleep much lately), she took me to her bedroom and pulled out bags and bags of costume jewelry she's collected over the years that she no longer has cause to wear, and asked me what I'd like. I thought I'd highlight a few particularly cool pieces here.

First, the above set, which I've dubbed 'the steampunk earrings'. You place the end of the screw and the metal backing around your ear, and screw it in until it's tight-- it actually doesn't need a piercing. They take a while to put on, but the cool factor compensates.

Is it just me or is this incredibly Gaga? My grandmother is 85, by the way.

Speaking of Gaga, I still haven't listened to Born This Way all the way through, but based on what I have heard she's releasing all the worst ones as singles. "Edge of Glory", really? I also don't really understand how "Born This Way" is on the same album as "Government Hooker" and "Scheisse"-- both of which I've been obsessed with since that Mugler show, which so, so sadly has been taken off Youtube. All that's left are shorter versions with varying mixes laid on top, not the show as it happened-- this one's pretty good, though, and I love this remix, even if "Born This Way" does make an appearance (and yes, I've mentioned this show before, but in case you missed it the first time around, I'm giving you a second chance):

Friday, June 24, 2011

And to think I whined about quinsy

My great-grandparents' wedding
Rudolf and Jozefina
Still haven't found those pictures of him in uniform, though my grandmother swears they're around somewhere. She did, however, tell me an amazing story about him today. As I mentioned, he was a veteran of the Great War. Apparently during one battle he was bayonetted in the gut and shot in the arm-- the bullet went through his hand and up his arm. The Austro-Hungarian army, at this point, couldn't be bothered with its wounded, and so threw them all into a ditch to die-- my grandmother says the surviving officers even tried to poison the ones they threw down so that they would die more quickly. My great grandfather somehow escaped, and a passing farmer hid him in his hay cart and took him to a hospital.

When the war ended, he apprenticed for four years and eventually became a master brick layer. He was already married by this point-- I'm not sure whether he was married before or after the war, but was still living in Slovakia. His wife died, however, and he eventually moved to the States, where he met my great grandmother (also Slovak-- they had actually both came over the same year, though they hadn't known each other in Slovakia) in Astoria, NY.
Yes, it's a German sounding last name, no, that doesn't mean he was German
He died in 1943, when he was only 55, which I guess is why there aren't too many photos of him (not a whole lot of shutterbugs running around in early 20th century Slovakia, where he spent most of his life).

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

In which I get along splendidly with an Anglican

I was in some fancy restaurant, looking for a table where I could sit down and drink undisturbed. I found a largely empty room and made to sit down, only to find a handsome young man next to me, who was much confused by my attempting to sit next to him. He, I realized later in the dream, was Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, &c &c, but I for some reason didn't realize it at the time, and so he and I entered into a pleasant enough conversation about why it wasn't entirely suitable for me to sit at that particular table at that particular time. I consented, still not realizing who he was, and moved on to some other room.

Here my memory gets hazy, but eventually I find myself drinking socially with the Prince, apparently not terribly long before his wedding-- he had taken a liking to me because I was so thoroughly unpretentious during our first meeting, of course (my brain, unfortunately, does not always avoid stupid tropes in its dream fabrication). We got on very well and he was even flirtatious-- by this time I knew who he was, but was nevertheless more impressed with myself for capturing charming male attention than for capturing royal male attention. There was a point where he had to dismiss me, but asked me what I'd like to drink, as he was willing to order and pay for me before I left, and I remember wanting vodka but thinking it better to order champagne, and so I did.

The dream breaks up here a bit-- at some point, for some reason I was trying to pay for a haircut, I believe? At least the place where I was trying to pay looked an awful lot like a hair salon, but the man at the register kept telling me my card was rejected. I remember little after that.

This was a particularly bizarre dream because while I am something of a crypto-monarchist, the English monarchy has never much preoccupied me, much less Prince William-- if I had to pick favorites, it would certainly be Harry. And yet in the haze after waking I noted with the smallest tinge of regret that William was married.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Slovak som a Slovak budem

When I was home this past weekend, my brother and I went to visit my grandmother, who is unfortunately very ill, with shingles, of all things. My grandmother, you should know, is a tremendous bad ass. Although she was born in Astoria (daughter of a WWI vet and an indentured servant), her first language was Slovak-- and she speaks old Slovak, too, before it got all Russianized/Germanized (depending on the region), like most of the central/eastern European languages did-- whenever I try to teach my youngest brother Russian, she corrects what I'm saying to be Slovak, even though she knows full well I don't speak it. She's been a heavy smoker since she was 17 and quit only twice-- cold turkey both times-- when she was pregnant. She never much cared that Yale admitted me, but still gives me crap for not having made the Slavic Women's Chorus once I got here. Once when we were smoking together outside Red Lobster she went on a lengthy rant about how she, personally, would lead the revolt against Michael Bloomberg and his damnable sin tax policy.
My great-grandparents, Rudolf and Jozefina
(He was so handsome! I need to upload a photo of him in uniform one of these days.)
Now in the past few months, my grandmother has lost use of her right arm and fine motor control in both hands, which bothers her chiefly because she can't work her lighter anymore. My mother, despite being an ardent anti-smoker, bought her a giant button activated BBQ lighter in an attempt to be helpful-- please imagine a woman in her early 80s trying to angle a foot-long red and silver contraption with a large flame at the end toward a very small area near her face using her weak hand. 

So luckily old Rutinka can still work matches, and thus bought a big box of the long ones and managed to wear out the strike pad within a few days. Undaunted (and unwilling to buy a new box of matches just for the strike pad), now whenever she wants a smoke she walks over to the kitchen, turns on the stove, and lights the match on the burner-- even when I was there for a visit, and offered to light her cigarette for her, she steadfastly refused.

While she was doing this, she went on for a while about how lucky she is, given that some people get shingles all over their bodies, and she only has to deal with an useless right arm, and apologized profusely for not being able to prepare a duck dinner for my brother before he ships out to Quantico.

Please remember her in your prayers.

Father's Day, witbier, and mules

Apologies for the radio silence; my laptop's been out of commission for two weeks (still is) and I can rarely be arsed to schlep over to the library when something blog-worthy pops into my head. That said, came across an amusing passage in BLGF today that I realized I could turn into a belated Father's Day post.

Here (Serb, Orthodox) Constantine is recounting the difficulty of establishing friendly relations with his (German, Lutheran) mother-in-law:
"And from her side the efforts to be friends with me are often not very good, though in time she came to like me. It is so with the white beer. Do you know white beer? It is the last of all that is fade in the world, and it is adored by the petite bourgeoisie in Germany. They go to the beer-gardens in the woods and by the lakes and with their little eyes they look at the beauties of their Germany, and they drink white beer, which is the most silly thing you can drink, for it does not taste of anything and cannot make you drunk. It is just like the life of the petit bourgeois in liquid form, but it is gross in its nothingness, so that some of them who have shame do not like it, and order raspberry syrup to add to it. But there are those who are not ashamed of being fade and they would not spoil it with a flavour, and they order 'ein Weisses mit ohne...' Mit ohne, mit ohne, could you have anything that is better for the soul of the petite bourgeoisie that is asked what it wants and says, 'I want it with without.' That is to be lost, to be damned beyond all recovery, and yet there they are very happy, they sit in their beer-gardens and ask for mit ohne. It is altogether delicious, it is one of those discords in the universe that remind us how beautifully God works when He works to be nasty. 
Once I said this in front of the mother-in-law, and do you know ever after she gives me to drink this horrible white beer. And my wife has tried to tell her she should not do so, and my mother-in-law says, 'You are foolish, I have heard him say he likes very much mit ohne,' and my wife she says, 'No, you have it wrong, it is the expression mit ohne he likes,' and my mother-in-law says, 'How can you say such nonsense, why should he be pleased when people say they will have white beer without raspberry syrup?' And to that there is nothing to be said, so I must drink white beer, though I am a Serb and therefore not a petit bourgeois, but a lord and a peasant."
(In case you couldn't figure it out, "white beer" is wheat beer, so if you're one of those ridiculous hefewiezen/ Belgian white types, Constantine's bitching about you.)

This called to mind the day I came back from Russia. Driving back to the Island from JFK, my father asked me how it came to be that I found a mule to ride in the middle of St Petersburg. Now I drank quite a bit in the motherland, but not so much that I'd ride a mule, tell my father about it, and forget the entire episode. Suddenly I remembered that sometime during my final week, when I was having a very rough go of things for a variety of reasons, I'd made my Facebook status, "Got to get behind the mule in the morning and plow." This is, of course, a lyric from one of my favorite Tom Waits songs, aptly titled "Get behind the mule", which is basically about sucking it up and putting your emotional shit on the back burner because there's work to be done. My father, of course, had simply assumed that I'd gone mule riding.

Big Jack Earl was 8'1
He stood in the road and he cried
He couldn't make her love him
Couldn't make her stay
But tell the good Lord that he tried

Got to get behind the Mule
In the morning and plow

(It's also a song about trying to cover up a murder and associated business, but that does not concern the present narrative.)

Point is, my father thought I was literally plowing a field instead of being vaguely emo. He is the best. May we all strive to think so well of our loved ones!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Why not be utterly changed into fire?

Finally finished and submitted my application for readmission to Yale College today, after navigating all manner of bureaucracy and overcoming many other hurdles. Had mewithoutYou's "The King Beetle on a Coconut Estate" running in my head all day. It might seem schmaltzy at first, and maybe it is, but it's always had some power to me.

And now, we wait.

Sunday, May 29, 2011


Gill Landry.

My baby loves a talisman and a holy ghost
My baby loves the moon shine and the urchin smoke
She loves lotus swamp banjos under cyprus groves
But my baby she don't love me no more

My baby loves her addiction and her stolen pearls
Loves her conviction to a frozen world
She loves drunk galleys, telephones
But my baby she don't love me no more

My baby loves a monkey and the burglar's wine
My baby loves the dungeon and matters of time
She loves blood red roses, December snow
But my baby she don't love me no more

My baby loves the city and the social crutch
My baby loves a cop and his brutal touch
My baby loves my money and Mexico
But my baby she don't love me no more

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

So, am I sick, or just stupid?

The anti-smoking movement can't decide.

Via Michael Siegel:
"In a press release issued yesterday, Professor Banzhaf argues that: 'although there is evidence that for many people smoking involves addiction, that addiction is to the drug nicotine, not to the act of smoking itself, which is a behavior. Because those who desire to quit smoking (e.g., for a medical procedure) can ingest nicotine from nicotine gum, nicotine patches, nicotine spray, nicotine inhalers, and e-cigarettes, their decision to ingest it by smoking rather than by using nicotine replacement products is a choice. Since it is a choice rather than an addiction, disease, or health status, it seems more legally justified to restrict access to medical care to smokers than to the obese.'"
Compare that to this New York State Dept of Health sponsored website,, aimed at getting doctors to pressure their patients into quitting. It leans heavily on faux scientific language: quitting smoking becomes "tobacco cessation", occasional smoking is a "relapse"-- it even has a very impressive "pharmacotherapy chart" listing all the wonderful toxins you could be ingesting instead of nicotine, including your favorite psychotic-break-inducing pill and mine: Chantix (here's a fun story about that little wonder drug-- if anyone's curious, there are plenty more where that came from)! Hell, the ad I saw that brought me to the page in the first place was a banner on the New York Times website alternating between "SMOKING IS A DISEASE" and "TREAT IT".

Here the anti-tabagists find themselves torn between two currents in contemporary thought: the cult of healthism on the one hand, and the medicalization of vice on the other. 

The former holds that health, as the only ultimately real value, must be protected and venerated. This means that those who would reject physical health in favor of other pursuits are heretics--reckless, unconscionable sinners that must be reigned in, shamed, and, eventually, completely stopped. Thus are smokers cast out onto cold street corners in winter and denied well-ventilated bars in the summer, thus are we assumed to be terrible parents, thus are we banned from parks, thus are we discriminated against when we apply for jobs. Only such pseudo-religious fanaticism could lead people-- licensed medical professionals, no less-- to actually buy into preposterous bombast about the dangers of "third-hand smoke": 
"The doctor spent a sizable chunk of time trying to convince us that if my honey smoked at all, even outside, the smoke would magically migrate into the house and give our baby respiratory problems. When we expressed incredulity, she gave us this look of condescension and continued to try and extract some kind of guilty admission that he was trying to quit or at least he felt really bad. ... She tried to tell us that the smoke on his skin would give our son a debilitating disease, even though my husband washes his hands every time he comes back inside."
Such is the John Banzhaf school of puritanical nonsense. Such types have no interest in meaningful tobacco harm reduction or learning about the efficacy of smoking bans; theirs is a zero-tolerance perspective motivated not by science, but by dogma. These are the ones who'd like to ban smoking in privately owned homes.

The latter, seeking ever to escape the burdens of their own autonomy, chalk up every failing to some chemical imbalance or hereditary predisposition-- 'fault', also known as 'responsibility', is a dangerous and self-defeating notion that must be undermined and cooed away, often with the help of medication. Now these types aren't going to leave us to our own devices any more than the others, but you'd think they'd be more open to less dangerous tobacco products, or more curious about the relationship between, say, smoking bans and heart attacks. Sadly, the health cultists have dominated the conversation for so long that the autonomy-deniers have inherited much of the anti-scientific, absolutist approach.

I hope I don't have to point out how, despite being flatly contradictory, these two attitudes feed into and strengthen one another. I clearly have no respect for either, but, quite frankly, I'd rather be attacked than pitied.

How exciting.

Starved for excitement I'm not.

I thought we on the right opposed idol worship of our politicians?

Today in severed heads

"The Third Discovery of the Head of John the Baptist is commemorated on May 25." (Mystagogy)

"Elsewhere, a severed head was spotted Monday floating in Borisovsky Pond in southern Moscow, Interfax said, citing a local police spokeswoman, who added that a criminal case was opened." (The Moscow Times)
Since we have obtained thy head as a most sacred rose from out of the earth, O Forerunner of grace divine, we receive sure healing in every hour, O Prophet of God the Lord; for again, now as formerly, thou preachest repentance unto all the world.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

For future reference

An index of tags, nicknames, and phrases inspired by and/or referring to potential 2012 GOP nominees. Apologies to Daily Intel, the folks behind Mitt for Brains/Looney Thune, #tcot, and the countless other places I've culled these from.

Rock you like a Herman Cain
Raisin' Cain
No he Cain't
Eye of Newt
Oh Pawlease
Pawlenty to like
Tiny Tim
Mitt happens
Mitt for Brains
Stuck in the Mittle

Any really good ones I'm missing?

And now, for your edification:

I'm really not helping, am I?

Last night

I dreamed that I was reading an editorial written by Joel Osteen about the Rapture wherein he criticized Harold Camping and the Orthodox Church (except that he didn't refer to it that way, he just called them Macedonians and Serbians) by heavily referencing some obscure writings of Saint Gregory Nazianzen, saying that the Eastern Europeans routinely misread this one passage. I woke up planning to share the editorial with some friends because I was surprised that Mr Osteen had such a strong theological background, and then I was sad, because that editorial clearly does not exist.

I don't remember the point of theological controversy in the dream, but I'm taking this as an opportunity to read up on apokatastasis (even though upon reflection a pnematological dispute might make more sense, insofar as anything could in that dream universe-- especially since we remember the Second Ecumenical Council today). Truly fascinating stuff, I'll try to elaborate more later.

Saturday, May 21, 2011


"Not far away among the tombs there was a new grave, a raw wound in the grass. A wooden cross was at its head, and burning candles were stuck in the broken clay. At the foot of it stood a young officer, his face the colour of tallow. He rocked backwards in his grief, though very slightly, and his mouth worked with prayer. His uniform was extremely neat. Yet once, while we stared at him in shocked distress, he tore open his skirted coat as if he were about to strip; but instantly his hand did up the buttons as if he were a nurse coolly tending his own delirium. 
This was a Slav, this is what it is to be a Slav. He was offering himself wholly to his sorrow, he was learning the meaning of death and was not refusing any part of the knowledge; for he knew that experience is the cross man must take up and carry. Not for anything would he have chosen to feel one shade less pain; and if it had been joy he was feeling, he would have permitted himself to feel all possible delight. He knew only that in suffering or rejoicing he must not lose that control of the body which enabled him to be a good soldier and to defend himself and his people, so that they would endure experience along their own path and acquire their own revelation of the universe. 
There is no other way of living which promises that man shall ever understand his destiny better than he does, and live less familiarly with evil. Yet to numberless people all over Europe, to numberless people in Great Britain, this man would be loathsome as a leper. It is not pleasant to feel pain, it is the act of a madman to bare the breast to agony. It is not pleasant to admit that we know almost nothing, so little that, for lack of knowledge, our actions are wild and foolish. It is not pleasant to be bound to the task of learning all our days, to be under the obligation to go on learning even though it involves making acquaintance with pain, although we know that we must die still in ignorance. To do these things it is necessary to have faith in what is entirely hidden and unknown, to cast away all the acquisitions and certainties which would ensure a comfortable existence lest they should impede us on a journey which may never be accomplished, which never even offers comfort. 
Therefore the multitudes in Europe who are not hungry for truth would say: 'Let us kill these Slavs with their dedication to insanity, let us enslave them lest they make all wealth worthless and introduce us at the end to God, who may not be pleasant to meet.'" (BLGF; emphases mine-TKB)
Miss West's obvious fondness for Slavic peoples aside, only an Englishwoman (were I to adopt her style, I might say 'small of soul') could write that a Slav would never desire "one shade less pain".

That strikes me as the writing of a young teenager naively idealizing middle-aged self-destruction, or, worse yet, suicide.

There's a paper waiting to be written citing all of these (and it will be called "From Sazeracs to Nazi Quacks: Green Things and Insanity in Post-WWI Anglophone Cinema")

To give y'all a break from my insufferable partisan hackery, I thought I'd muse for a bit on five great movies I saw this week, ranging in subject matter from American sincerism to Nazi mysticism (not that that's a spectrum, although, come to think of it...)
- - - - -

Only caught the second half of this one, but starved as I am for good political drama I couldn't turn away. Directed by Frank Capra with Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, and a particularly impressive young Angela Lansbury-- what's not to like, right? Except the incredibly preachy (and predictable) ending about the hypocrisy of politicians and their respective machines (it's actually based on a Pulitzer Prize winning 1945 play by Russel Crouse and Howard Lindsay, a writing duo famous for reworking the libretto to Anything Goes) Still, Lansbury really shines as the driving force behind Tracy's dark horse candidacy; if you're interested in models of female political strength, it's worth your two hours. It's a fun script, with lines like "I haven't enjoyed myself so much since Huey Long died!" (delivered by aging Sazerac swiller Lulubelle Alexander).

In this scene, a drunk Mary Matthews (Hepburn) realizes she's had enough of politics after overhearing a comment implicating her husband and wannabe GOP nominee Grant Matthews (Tracy) in an affair with influential newspaper publisher and de facto campaign manager Kay Thorndyke (Lansbury). Meanwhile, in the midst of an important national broadcast boosting Grant's candidacy, Kay beats uppity labor leader Bill Hardy back in line just minutes before his speech. All martini glass and opera gloves in a sea of red faced, grasping hacks, she not only holds her own but shuts them down, not giving any of them an inch and getting Hardy out in front of the mic just in time.


What could a Dostoevsky-obsessed Russianist born and raised in New York possibly say about Love and Death? I've seen it at least a dozen times, but woke up to it on channel five thousand thirty six the other night and realized I haven't pimped it on this blog yet. If you're not a Slavophile (or at least an ardent Slav-symp), you might not think this is Woody Allen's best film-- but you'd be wrong.

This is far and away the most obvious clip to share with you, but it's also the most necessary. If you've read even one pre-revolutionary work of Russian literature, put this on your Netflix queue, and if you haven't, what on earth are you doing here?


There are apparently several films by this name, but only one was directed by Werner Herzog. I have to admit, I was pretty skeptical of the plot at first (Jewish strongman performs in a Nazi circus to pay off a debt), thinking it too mawkish and unreal, until I read online that it was based on the true story of Zishe Breitbart, Polish blacksmith-cum-folk hero.

The movie itself was very well done and I highly recommend it, but the "trivia" listed on its IMDB page are too good  not to pass along:

"An elderly woman who lived in one of the houses near where the marketplace scenes were shot once stepped out into it with a shopping bag and, even though director Werner Herzog told her it was just a movie set, insisted on shopping and interrupted the shoot for 15 minutes."

"Jouko Ahola, who plays the strongman [Zishe], is an actual strongman and actually lifted the weights as seen in the film."

Yes, he lifts that (he even acts, too!).
"After two minutes of the hypnosis scene, the cinematographer started to weave and his head sunk back. Herzog grabbed him and put him softly back to the camera where he continued. Not only that, but Roth was actually able to hypnotize the young woman as well, again Herzog stating that one 'cannot act waking up from hypnosis' like we see in the film."

This is because Tim Roth (who plays the mystic Nazi hypnotist cabaret manager) is so seductively good he probably is in league with the devil. I am very sorry for you, dear reader, that I was unable to find any good clips of him in this film online. All I could find was this, which in no way does justice to his performance, or his ability to, er, hypnotize suggestable young women.


It's no news to anyone that I'm not exactly Tolstoy's biggest fan, and this biopic chronicling his last months did nothing to raise him in my esteem. This is another one I only saw the last half of, and while what I saw was good, what I did want to draw your attention to was this:

That's Paul Giamatti as Vladimir Chertkov, a devotee of Lev Nikolaevich's so ardent it was said that he was more Tolstoy than Tolstoy himself. 

That's a painting of Chertkov by Ilya Repin completed about seventy years before Paul Giamatti was even born.

I guess we know how an American slipped into this film now.


(Herzog's really not very good with the naming thing, is he?) I put off watching this movie for weeks, figuring from the title it was just some cheap cop thriller Nicolas Cage did to pay off Dog the Bounty Hunter, but it's actually a hell of a lot of fun (in a wild hedonistic desperation kind of way-- sort of like Leaving Las Vegas meets Vampire's Kiss meets 8MM meets Lord of War... it's a Nic Cage movie, okay?). He plays a drug addicted, iguana hallucinating sergeant (later lieutenant) in post-Katrina New Orleans. The plot doesn't really matter, it's all just an excuse for him to run around saying things like, "Shoot him again, his soul is still dancing."

If you don't like Nicolas Cage doing his Nicolas Cage thing, you probably won't like this movie-- though again, I have to wonder what you're doing reading this blog (Cage, Waits, and Dostoevsky sum me up about as well as anything can).

Here is one of the many scenes in which he is on crack:

Almost enough to make a gal pro-drug war (how art survives in Portugal I just haven't the foggiest).

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How I feel during primary season

"A very handsome young man had come up to our table in a state of extreme anger; he was even angrier than any of the angry young men in Dalmatia. He evidently knew Constantine and the judge and the banker, but he did not give them any formal greeting. Though his hair was bronze and his eyes crackled with blueness, and he might have been brother to the two Moslems we had seen talking politics in the park that afternoon, he cried out, 'What about the accursed Turks?' 
The judge and banker made no reply, but Constantine said, 'Well, it was not I who made them.' 
The young man insisted, 'But you serve our precious Government, don't you?' 
'Yes,' said Constantine, 'for the sake of my country, and perhaps a little for the sake of my soul, I have given up the deep peace of being in opposition.'" (BLGF)
This one goes out to all my radical libertarian friends who are too good for the GOP, too pure for anyone but Ron Paul, and too utopian to be meaningfully invested in this country, this government, this year. I love you, but grow up, and stop using ideological rigor to justify your ignorance and detachment. You can bellow from within or snark from without. You tell me which one got Rand Paul elected Senator. The party ain't gonna come to you.

The GOP's come a long way in the past few years-- libertarianism has too. We're not just the War Party anymore, whether we're talking American culture or the Middle East. Hell, there are more elected Republicans openly questioning and opposing the drug war and advocating marijuana decriminalization/legalization than there are Democrats-- one of our guys got Willie freaking Nelson's endorsement; even Glenn Beck and Andrew Napolitano are pro-legalization! Prominent Republicans like Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor have said time and again that they're willing to cut defense spending, and even that worthless pile of hair spray and Vaseline Mitt Romney is leaning on federalism (or, to use a more taboo phrase, "state's rights") to explain his horrendous legislative record. We have Scott Walker making himself one of the most hated men in the country (well, certain parts of it) fighting for a responsible budget in Wisconsin and Chris Christie telling policemen their union contracts are "obscene" in New Jersey. Tim Pawlenty signed an executive order forbidding state agencies from applying for federal funding for programs tied to Obamacare, and then went on television and likened the federal government to a drug dealer. There are worse times to be a libertarian Republican.

This is Former Governor of Minnesota Tim Pawlenty being adorable with children. He gets higher ratings from Cato's fiscal policy report card than Mitch Daniels. Wake up.
Even if you think a lot of this is just talk, what does it tell you that putting a small gov't spin on things sells? You don't have to look farther than Newt "I love the 90s" Gingrich to see that nowadays we're dealing with a different breed of elephant. How'd we get here? Well, let me tell you, the best thing Ron Paul ever did for this country was keep an R next to his name.

Do we have a long way to go? Hell yes, of course we do, and I'm still in favor of all manner of ballot access and electoral reforms. But if you want to take what little momentum we have and keep it going, if you're tired of having nothing to differentiate Rs from Ds but the size of their American flag pins, if you understand that the State is harder to pare back than the Lernaean hydra and we don't have time to waste waiting for Barry Goldwater 2.0, then make sure you're a registered Republican.

And for the love of God, don't vote for Mitt Romney.

PS: In case any of you have lingering hopes for "liberaltarianism" (though I do so hope that my readers are more intelligent than that), check out Mother Jones, noted "progressive" publication, attacking our boy Ron.