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.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Sobornost' Man

The following is taken from a conversation I had via text with a friend writing a paper about secularism in Russia. I have left out all of his responses; mine are unedited.

"Haha yeeeah. Blame the Germans."

"It's always the Germans. Or the Austrians, for non-Russian Slavs. Everything and always. I bet the IP is a Habsburg front group."

"EXACTLY. Werner Herzog would be a great Slavophile."

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Just promise me we won't nominate Adlai Stevenson

By the time I finish writing this, Huckabee will probably have announced his decision already, but I couldn't let the most recent FiveThirtyEight pass by without comment.

Mr Silver is apparently attempting to divine who benefits the most in the event that Mr Huckabee keeps his hat firmly on his head. He breaks down Mr Huckabee's appeal pretty well (SoCon, evangelical, Southerner, "outsider", runs well in Iowa, works for Fox News-- though he forgot "guitar BAMF" [I'm very partial to bassists] and "jowly as all hell"), but when he starts evaluating everyone else I started to get confused.
This may be adorable
but he ain't got nothin' on Thad.
As if I needed more reasons to hate Rachel Maddow.

1. He seems to be reducing social conservatism to a vaguely traditionalist stance on marriage. If this is the metric, everyone but Ron and Gary is a strong social conservative! What about abortion and the drug war (which doesn't have to be a social issue, but would likely be spun as one if anyone came out firmly against it, Johnson's best efforts to sell it as a budget problem aside)? Gun rights? Prostitution? Sin taxes? The death tax (which Gingrich seems to be spinning as a social issue, which I think is kinda cool)?

2. I just want to register my immense frustration with the level of attention Herman Cain and Donald Trump have been getting by serious pundits while Gary Johnson and Ron Paul continue to be almost completely ignored. Really? Really? I can't even deal with you people.

3. Silver counts Daniels as an "evangelical Protestant". He's a Presbyterian-- you know, a descendant of Calvinism? Maybe I don't know enough Presbyterians, but Huckabee/Bachmann/Palin types they ain't.

4. He also counts Gingrich as an "outsider". In fact, the only people he doesn't list as "outsiders" are Romney and Huntsman. I'm sorry, but if Newt is an outsider, the inside must be somewhere literally up Reince Priebus's ass.

5. I get why people keep talking about Daniels-- they want him to run. Why are we still talking about Bachmann? Can we stop now? Please?

So, it's 8:07pm and Huck still hasn't announced. I've got my fingers crossed it's a big fat no-- here's hoping!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

But silk ties are the best medicine of all!

Prepare yourselves, I'm about to defend doctors.
"A small but committed pack of New York lawmakers has proposed a bill that would bar doctors and other hospital staffers from wearing neckties at the office. Are the lawmakers jealous of the uniform? Perhaps. But, according to State Senator Diane Savino, the law will help save lives. 'Adopting a hygienic dress code for medical professionals means less infections, less lawsuits, and lower medical malpractice premiums,' Savino explained."
The fact that needless fear-mongering is more dangerous than whatever infintesimal number of infections ties nurture aside, this is just one more (admittedly minor) consequence of the modern's rejection of authority, rank, honor, and other such antiquated notions. Hyperbolic, yes, but bear with me: reducing all doctors to one-size-fits-all elastic band-hemmed scrubs in varying pastel hues reduces them also the level of their patients, clad similarly in formless gowns. They are functionaries, simply being paid to do a job, deserving neither respect nor deference. In a way it's an extension of the technocratic mindset-- there is nothing in any one doctor that ought distinguish him from any other person-- bodies are scientific, you see, and can therefore be diagnosed and treated according to rigorous objective criteria, requiring no degree of judgment or trust on behalf of either the doctor or the patient. Eventually we will have algorithms to take care of this for us.

Where once it would be reassuring to see a professionally clad doctor, as presumably our lives are to some degree in his hands, and his self-presentation helps me to trust him, we now bypass the personal altogether and trust in objective science-- except that medicine, medicine, of all things, objective is not. There are nearly infinite personal considerations that must be addressed before a doctor can make a proper diagnosis or treatment recommendation: lifestyle constraints, patient neuroses, wary and hysterical family members, etc, not even counting the decidedly messy and often unrigorous way diagnoses are made in the first place (not that I blame modern medicine for having failed to catch up to the technological absurdities routinely on display in any American hospital drama you'd care to name), and the myriad competing medications available for prescription. If professional, dignified attire does anything at all to increase the perception of the doctor as not just a technician but an authority (especially if it helps doctors realize that about themselves), I say we're losing something important when we nix the ties.

It's relationships all the way down

From August Strindberg's play The Outlaw, which takes place sometime in early Iceland:
GUNNAR. But tell me, how did you become a Christian?

GUNLOED. First I believed in my father--he was so strong; then I believed in my mother--she was so good; last I believed in you--you were so strong and good--and so beautiful; and when you went away-- I stood alone--myself I could never believe in--I was so weak; then I thought of your God, whom you so often begged me to love--and I prayed to Him.
Speaking of dear August, I highly encourage you to check out the entire Strindberg and Helium series, which I enjoyed long before I read any of his works.

Friday, May 6, 2011

I'm more of a Sviatoslav girl

I was me, which isn't always the case in my dreams. I was also the age that I am now, but I had children-- two, I think both boys. One was I think supposed to be around six or so, and looked a lot like my youngest brother, and he may in fact not have been mine, but the infant was mine, a very young infant. Somehow, and I think his name was Nicholas (which is a name I would probably never give any of my sons), he got lost. I remember running screaming downstairs as soon as we realized he was lost and getting into an argument with an incredibly stereotypical 1940s American Irish drunkard, bloated red face and newsy cap and all, who was either the father, or the father's father (either way I think he was mad that I had a child at all)-- he was chasing me and wanted to beat me and I beat him away with a large tree branch while screaming, bellowing, "our children come first." I ran everywhere looking and eventually exhausted myself and passed out. In the dream I woke up sick to my stomach, but the first thing my mother did when she saw me was yell at me for not being dressed, as she wanted to go out to lunch. I was shocked that she could possibly expect that of me when my son was missing, but it turned out they'd found him while I passed out and not found it necessary to tell me. I remember wandering into my father's bedroom, where my son was asleep on the bed next to my father, and the relief and joy was so overpowering that I woke up, and in the strange moment between the end of the dream and opening my eyes I was actually determined to grab my cellphone and call one of my closest friends and tell her my son had been found, already picking which Russian diminutive of Nicholas I wanted to use, everything was okay, it felt so real.