Friday, December 31, 2004

Jeb on Wheels

I'm honestly curious: why did President Bush dispatch his brother Jeb to the Indian Ocean for a post-tsunami assessment? The generous explanation is that, after surviving the triple whammy of hurricanes in 2004, Jeb is a natural disaster phenom. But wouldn't, say, the head of FEMA be a more logical choice, especially in the company of the Secretary of State? It's the holiday season, so I'm trying to stop my knee from jerking, which in turn starts a chemical reaction in my brain that fires off my cynicism synapses. Maybe FEMA is on vacation or hungover? But is it entirely unfair to interpret this as an attempt to launch little bro onto the global stage? Not that this would be a diabolical thing to do, I just find the transparent sharing of power among a few elite families to be extremely distasteful.

(And yes, that discomfort does extend to the Clintons. I understand Hillary is doing a fabulous job as a senator, but I really would not be excited about a 2008 presidential run, primarily for nepotistic reasons. )

Survey Says...

I don't know about you, but when I compile mix CDs, I usually have a particular song that I always use as my opener. Back in college, this was a Luna song called California. It was chill, catchy, engaging—a perfect intro. But it also got dated pretty quickly. Sometimes this tendency varies, and it's just that I'll have a song that must be in the mix somewhere. Rudie Can't Fail is a good example; Kriston started quizzing me to make sure I knew that the Clash had even written another song. Then I started opening all my CDs with Le Tigre's Deceptacon, which is so over, I know, but you just can't beat that intro. Anyway, I'm sick to death of it, and I find myself suddenly bereft of mix CD must-haves.

So, my musical ingenues? What are your mix CD essentials de jour?

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Stranger in a Strange Land

Whenever I come home for Christmas, and we gather 'round the tree with my uncles and aunts and step-cousins, there's a little family ritual we go through that is highly amusing to all parties, myself included. I like to call it: Roast the Yankee Traitor.

It started when I went to Chicago for my first year of college. Illinois, as you know, is not traditionally associated with the Union forces of the Civil War, but Texas geography works something like this: everything roughly north and east of the latitude and longitude of Kansas is Yankee Land. Anything touching the Pacific Ocean is a bit queerish, though it defies easy classification.

Now when I come home from DC, just as when I came home from Chicago, the exchange usually goes something like this:
"How're all the yankees up in yankee land?"
"Oh, I'm keepin' an eye on 'em."
"You let us know if they start causin' any trouble."
"Oh, I will. You know, they don't really think of themselves as yankees in DC."
"Yeah, there's people there from New York and New Jersey that think they're practically in the South. And you know, you drive two hours due south of DC and you're definitely in the South."
"Well let 'em come to Texas."
"I don't think they want to."
"That's right. "

And the closing is some variation on, "See you later, yankee traitor!"

It's all in good fun, and I enjoy it as much as they do, which probably explains why we go through the whole song and dance every time. But I do confess, when I moved to DC, I was expecting it to be much more yankee than it is.

Back in Austin, whenever I got off a bus, I'd always say "thank you" to the driver. Most people did, really without thinking about it. So when I moved to DC, I got off my first bus, and out of habit, thanked the driver. I stepped off cursing my silly provincialism. Here in the big city! Saying "thank you" to a bus driver! What a little country hayseed I am! How embarassing. But it wasn't long before I noticed that pretty much everybody does this here too. And the driver tells us to have a nice day, a good weekend, whatever. On one of my routes, there's a driver who knows people's mothers, knows where the kids are getting off for school, and it's almost like a little morning community. It was comforting to find this little touch of what I associate with southern courtesy in what I assumed would be the cold tundra of yankee land. But I don't tell my relatives at Christmas that yankees are people too, just like I don't tell my friends from New York that my relatives aren't all chest-beating rednecks looking to canonize President Bush. I'll leave the missionary work to someone else; I like relishing Texas pecan pie while making fun of the woeful state of yankee barbecue and Tex-Mex just as much as I like swilling chardonnay and mocking the parking lots and strip malls of Dallas.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

SueAndNotU Hall of Fame: Vaclav Havel

For the crust presented by the life of lies is made of strange stuff. As long as it seals off hermetically the entire society, it appears to be made of stone. But the moment someone breaks through in one place, when one person cries out, "The emporer is naked!" - when a single person breaks the rules of the game, thus exposing it as a game - everything suddenly appears in another light and the whole crust seems then to be made of a tissue on the point of tearing and disintegrating uncontrollably.
--From The Power of the Powerless

I've been treating myself to Vaclav Havel over this break. And it's got me contemplative and verbose. So consider yourself warned. I'm feeling slightly ashamed of my complete and consuming idolatry of the man (if I could invite three people from history to a dinner party, I'd probably invite 3 Vaclav Havels) because of his own embarassment over the dissident mantle. But this is not the assumed embarassment of polite humility, the affable "aw shucks, I'm just one man." To consider him with the romantic vision of a courageous, lone dissident is a fundamental violation of his philosophy—he coins it "living in truth." Havel says that the Western notion of a "dissident" as a special class only serves to separate dissenters' concerns from the concerns of society at large, and thereby deprive them of any meaning whatsoever. If they are portrayed as only a few malcontents - a special class stirring up trouble - the system can go on pretending away the deep structural and moral crisis it foists upon its citizenry.
The term "dissident" frequently implies a special profession, as if, along with the more normal vocations, there were another special one - grumbling about the state of things. In fact, a "dissident" is simply a physicist, a sociologist, a worker, a poet, individuals who are merely doing what they feel they must and, consequently, who find themselves in open conflict with the regime.
There are thousands of nameless people who try to live within the truth and millions who want to but cannot, perhaps only because to do so in the circumstances in which they live, they would need ten times the courage of those who have already taken the first step. If several dozen are randomly chosen from among all these people and put into a special category, this can utterly distort the general picture.

Havel wrote these tracts as philosophical guideposts for those attempting to navigate the totalitarian system with dignity intact. But reading them now, they offer up an unintentional autopsy of the Soviet system. Here we find revelations that are now pedestrian with familiarity: how Soviet totalitarianism differs from classic dictatorships; precisely how ideology works as a tool of social control and compromises its victims as implicit partners in the farce; how the very nature of the system transforms every prosaic act into a political one, and how the whole grand, exalted, gargantuan monstrosity of it all is, like a fabled beast, utterly unable to withstand a simple word or act of truth and thus prosecutes these with unrivaled fury.

During his four years in prison, he was only allowed to write one letter a week to his wife - four sides maximum. And even these were subject to the cruel editorial delight of a vengeful commandant:
Havel started writing a 'cycle' of letters about his philosophical views. He mentioned the 'order of being.' "The only order you can write about," declared the commandant, "is the prison order." Then he decided Havel should not write about philosophy at all. "Only about yourself." So Havel designed another cycle of letters on the subject of his moods: sixteen of them, two to each letter, one good, one bad. And he numbered them. After eight, the commandant called him in: "Stop numbering your moods!" "No foreign words!" he ordered one week. "No underlining!" the next. "No exclamation marks!!"
-from Prague - A Poem, Not Disappearing, Timothy Garton Ash

There are so few Havels in the world, and so many tyrannies mutating and adapting like viruses. The task for dissenters has become profoundly complicated, the relationships between power and citizen muddied. How ought one react in Russia? In the Caucasus, outside of Georgia? Is the system so thoroughly corrupt that, as in Havel's Czechoslovakia, any collaboration with power compromises human dignity? Or in these semi-free states, is that now a kind of escapism? Is it possible and necessary to reform from within these systems? What about in our own country; in a stable democracy where political responsibilities are largely the domain of professional party apparatchiks rather than private citizens, how do most effectively confront political actions that assault our sense of justice?

I'm rambling rhetorical now, but one final thing. Just try to imagine being a Czech citizen in January 1990 - mere weeks into your new independence. And imagine, after decades of doublespeak and official untruths - after the violation of pretending that your life's efforts were directed toward the advancement of an ideology you knew to be bankrupt, after nodding and smiling at this assault on your individual dignity and your culture, imagine that you heard your new president take to the podium and tell you this:
My dear fellow citizens: For forty years you heard from my predecessors on this day different variations on the same theme: how our country was flourishing, how many million tons of steel we produced, how happy we all were, how we trusted our government, and what bright perspectives were unfolding in front of us.

I assume you did not propose me for this office so that I, too, would lie to you.

Our country is not flourishing.
It would be very unreasonable to understand the sad legacy of the last forty years as something alien, which some distant relative bequeathed to us. On the contrary, we have to accept this legacy as a sin we committed against ourselves. If we accept it as such, we will understand that it is up to us all, and up to us alone to do something about it. We cannot blame the previous rulers for everything, not only because it would be untrue, but also because it would blunt the duty that each of us faces today: namely, the obligation to act independently, freely, reasonably and quickly. Let us not be mistaken: the best government in the world, the best parliament and the best president, cannot achieve much on their own. And it would be wrong to expect a general remedy from them alone. Freedom and democracy include participation and therefore responsibility from us all. "

I cannot recommend the link to this speech enough. It's earth-shattering, even now.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

When Life Hands You Oranges...

I believe it was a Yushchenko advisor who, at some point in the post-election fracas in November noted that Ukraine may be the only country where a candidate must win an election three times before becoming president. It is equal parts a testament to Yushchenko and his supporters and an indictment of the hamhanded thuggery of Yanukovych and his ilk that Yushchenko was able to win at all, in the end.

But win he has, so it seems. As if in embarassment, the inflated turnout numbers in Donetsk have subsided back to reasonable levels, and though the OSCE'S official observation report won't be out until tomorrow, the advance word seems to be that nobody could quite summon the effort for massive violations three times in a row.

So forgive me a premature congratulations to President-elect Yushchenko and to the Ukrainians. Yanukovych mutters darkly that he will gather his forces to spearhead a powerful opposition. So congrats to him as well. Because my dear Yanukovych, when you've lost an election, forming an opposition is precisely what you're supposed to do. I know it's an unusual position to find yourself in, but if you leave the poisons and the thugs and the Kremlin out of it, you could even be a model democrat.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Hell Froze Over

...or at least Dallas did. I don't know the last time I saw snow in this place. Nice of Dallas to bring me a little taste of Ukraine. And it must be said, thank christ I'm not there right now. I can't even swallow my own saliva at the moment, and when I try to talk I sound like a deaf person. I can see how that might be unpleasant in less comfortable surroundings, compounded with jet lag and all sorts of strange bacteria and microbes.

Now, I can just sit back and enjoy the insights of the Dallas Morning News editorial page: "We Can't Afford to Ignore Opposing Opinions" trumpets one. Or how 'bout this head-scratcher: "Marriage Has Foes More Threatening than Gays." I don't know about you, but I don't believe this liberal propaganda for a second!

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

In the Spirit of the Times

Selected from Etiquette for Ukrainian Dinner Parties:
"Guests should be seated beside their spouses and opposite their assassins."

They're all pretty hilarious.
[via Andrew Sullivan]

Monday, December 20, 2004

Lost Dropped and Canceled

In my infinite wisdom, I somehow mentioned to the OSCE that I had mono. I guess when I woke up this morning feeling so terrible, I thought I needed to give them warning that there could be complications. Then those steroid shots left me feeling so hale and hearty that I was feeling more than up to the challenge. I could talk! I could swallow! I could eat! Things were looking up.

Until the OSCE made the obvious and unavoidable decision that they could not allow me to attend these elections in my condition, and asked me to sit them out.

If only I'd kept my big mouth shut.

So of course, I'm dimly aware that this is the right thing to do. Christmas with mono in the freezing prarie of Eastern Ukraine is not an ideal way to spend the holidays. And although I may feel better now, after jet lag and an arduous schedule and all that travel, there's always the chance that I could have become seriously ill and miserable.

But still. I had a lot of emotions tied up in making this trip, and coming on the tail end of 12-hour days at work and long nights spend cramming in grad school essays just so that I could have everything done on both fronts in order to make it to Ukraine, well. It's a bitter disappointment, and it's almost as hard to swallow as my peach tea was this morning. Next time, I guess. Now I'm just going to make myself fat on steroids and cookies and not watch any news at all.

Who the fuck gets mono? At 25? Seriously, is this the best my traitor body could come up with? I'm not even tired which is the only useful thing about mono as far as I can tell - you get to stay home from school/work. Nope, mine just pops up in time to make me stay home from Ukraine. While I'm sure there are more enlightening things to do with my time, I'm working on a Loser With Mono playlist, and it's going to be blissfuly self-indulgent. And if you don't like it, I'll just drool on you and then you won't get to go to Ukraine either.

...or not

Tonsils: 1
Susan: 0

Day 3 on antibiotics, and I expect to wake up chipper and sound. Instead, I wake up after scant hours of sleep to terrible pain, and discover to my dismay, that I have lost the ability to talk because the tissue under my tongue has joined my tonsils in the fat gross and disgusting competition. Swallowing's pretty much out too. A glance at my throat in the mirror reveals that my tonsils are really trying to have a makeout session, and they're not far off from their goal.

So back to the clinic of love, complete with a blood test which reveals that I have managed to get myself into a big ol' case of MONO. Fuck. How very junior high of me. Keep in mind that I'm supposed to fly to Kiev tomorrow, and at this point, I have my Mommy talking to the doctor because I can't do anything but grunt and point. Swallowing is seriously the most heinously painful maneuver I've ever tried. I got a nice big steroid injection which doc says might take my swelling down by tonight and last for several days. He said that if I feel up to it, I should go ahead and go to Ukraine tomorrow. He recommends bedrest, but given the circumstances, he said he'd probably go himself.

So that's it, then. If by tonight it seems the steroids didn't do anything, I'm stuck watching Ukraine on the news. If I'm feeling peachy, I'm dragging my mono-clogged carcass on to that plane with an extra pack of steroids in tow and I'll keep my saliva to myself, thankyouverymuch.

Wish me luck.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Radio Silence

I highly, highly recommend that you avoid flying when you have a big fat infected tonsil. I tried to see my doctor about it before flying to Dallas Saturday morning, but he wasn't able to fit me in on Friday. So I landed in Dallas with pulverized mush where my eardrum used to be and a raging pair of tonsils that seemed to be having a Miss Gross and Painful competition in my throat. Since it was a Saturday, there wasn't much to do about this sad state of affairs. Or so I thought. Turns out, our little town in Texas has a walk-in clinic open seven days a week, from 8am until 10pm. I was expecting a sort of warehouse facility with the indigent lining the hallways, moaning from bedsores and stewing in their own filth, and at least a 16 hour wait until I could be seen to by someone resembling Dr. Giggles.

But imagine that! As with all of my dramatically overblown setups, my expectations were off-base. It was a very nice, clean facility. I was taken back within 40 minutes (about as long as it takes in my own doctor's office with an appointment), the doctor followed the nurse within five minutes, the results of my quick strep lab were back in another five, and I had a prescription in hand not long after. AND they took my insurance.

How the free market not created more of these places is beyond me. Isn't that all we want? If I've got a basic problem, and it's inconveniently not during working hours or 3 months in advance, I just want someone to very quickly have a look, see to my needs efficiently, and get me what I need and on my way. Maybe there are some places like this in DC, but I'm guessing they might be more of the Dr. Giggles variety.

Meanwhile, I'm desperately willing my tonsils to heal before I have to fly to Kiev day after tomorrow, lest I go entirely deaf when the remaining operational shreds of my eardrum explode at 30,000 feet. How long does it take antibiotics to kick in? Right now, well, let's just say that if you wanted to play tonsil hockey in my throat, it would be very hard to score. Not with these goalies manning the net.

So this is my roundabout way of telling you that between the tonsils and the applications and the packing and the flying and the being overseas, it'll be spottier than usual 'round these parts. Merry Christmas to you wherever you may be. I'll be in Luhansk handing out "Don't Mess With Texas" bottle openers as Christmas gifts. Just like the Baby Jesus intended.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

He Wanted Some Frijoles

You know, I used to harumph when I heard Bush talk about the Global War on Terror. Because it looked to me a lot like the U.S. War on Terror, aided by Great Britain and Certain Other Nations Looking for Economic Benefits or at Least a Wink and a Shrug When it Comes to Horrific Human Rights Records or Authoritarianism. But thanks to a hidden little gem of a story, I now see how much the world really has taken this struggle to heart.
Leonel Arias, 47, told police he was playing a practical joke by donning the bin Laden mask, toting his pellet rifle and jumping out to scare drivers on a narrow street in his hometown, Carrizal de Alajuela, about 35 kilometres north of San Jose.

Arias had startled several drivers that way yesterday afternoon. But when he jumped out in front of taxi driver Juan Pablo Sandoval, the motorist reached for a gun and shot him twice in the stomach. He was taken to hospital, where his condition was described as stable.

"For me and I think for anybody else at a time like that one thinks the worst and so I fired my gun," Sandoval told Channel 7 television.

"One thinks the worst." How much do you love that? Because I love it a lot. One must reasonably assume, if one is in such a situation, that Osama bin Laden has come to Costa Rica and has jumped in front of one's cab, stuck his thumbs in his ears while waggling his fingers shouting "BLALALALLALALA!" And thus, you must shoot him in the gut. Juan Pablo Sandoval, defender of freedom, I think I love you.

Somebody enlist this man!

The Greatest Present President Bush Ever Gave Me

I don't know why it's so knee-slapping hi-larious to me. The novelty should be gone, the repetition should irritate me. But for some reason, I never, NEVER get tired of "the internets." I love that everyone just picked up on this minor moment and like a bunch of schoolyard taunters, won't let it go. I love how perfectly it encapsulates Bush's bizarre detachment from the planet as we know it, as well as his almost endearing earnestness when he's trying really hard to sound like he knows what he's talking about. Most of all, I love it when Bush does something that makes him seem like he's impersonating Will Farrell's impersonation of him. Whenever somebody slips it into casual conversation: "Oh, just check it on the internets." "Do you get internets access?" "I love the internets!" it truly cracks me up.

I imagine it will only take a few more weeks of this before I've had it with the internets, but until then, this is the greatest present President Bush ever gave me, until January 20, when his inauguration is giving me a day off of work. (Thus elevating him into my personal pantheon of Greatest Presidents Ever along with Ronald Reagan, whose death gave me a day off of work in honor of the Ronald Reagan Memorial Traffic Jam.)

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The Continuing Adventures of Irina the Great

Our Boss: Irina. You still haven't included an emergency contact number for the staff phone list. What's your husband's number?

Irina: We-e-ll. I was thinking maybe I will give number for my father.

Our Boss: Not Sasha?

Irina: The poor man has such worries already, I don't want to bother him with such things.

Our Boss: Okay fine. What's your father's number?

Irina: But my father, you know, he doesn't speak such good English.

Our Boss: Irina. I just need a number. Just give me someone. If there's a biological weapons attack and we need to get in touch with someone, who do you want it to be?

Irina: We-e-ll...what time were you planning on for this?

Here's Hoping 5th Graders Read Gossip Columns

We used to see Jenna across the street fairly regularly in Austin, but even though she's allegedly followed us to the district, I probably won't have to deal with too many sightings here. I don't hang out at Georgetown bars.

The Splendor Falls

Forecast for Kyiv:

Snow showers

I've never been to the great cities of the former Soviet Union in the winter, and have always felt a little poser-ish about it. There's just something wrong about traipsing around Moscow in a sundress. I've not been to St. Petersburg, but I imagine it's hard to conjure Dostoevsky in the endless sunshine of the summer. You should see these cities in their natural element, buried in heaps of frost. It's going to be gorgeous, and I'm very excited.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004


I am on, my friends and neighbors, a motherfucking JIHAD against the District of Columbia Department of Motor Vehicles.

I haven't worked up this much righteous rage since, oh, some time in early November.

Listen to this atrocious miscarraige of justice.

Back in September, when this epic battle began, I left my house to find my car parked in its usual location. Only this time, a brazen pink citation flapped lasciviously from under the wiper. "Parking in a Public Place," it said.

How could this be? What on earth does that mean? I'm parked on my street, in front of my house, with my valid DC residential parking permit!

I fumed and stomped and like Scarlett O'Hara with the red dust of ravaged Georgia at her back, staring resolutely into the blood rust sunset, fist clenched in iron Dixie will, I vowed that I would never, never pay that $20. Throw your worst at me, you sovietskiy lavochniki!

Foolishly ascribing motives of logic to the pinheaded traffic cops, I assumed that my citation must be the result of a misunderstanding about the strange curve in the street. It makes a sudden jog inwards, and most people continue to park in a straight line, even though that's away from the curb. I just chose to turn in and park by the curb. Whatever.

Assuming they would sure crumble before my stellar logic and digital technology, I brought the trusty camera out to the scene of the atrocity, and created an easy-to-read visual representation of the misunderstanding. Here - there's the curb. See me parked by the curb? There - away from the curb - that's where people usually park. So, see? No problem?

I didn't hear anything for months. I could only assume they were so cowed and ashamed by their gross violations of human rights, that they could not bring themselves to even respond, and the matter was finished. Yesterday, a letter arrived from the DC DMV Adjudications Division, and I happily tore it open, expecting validation and humility.

Denied! Denied? And for what? I don't know. Now I totally know what "K" in Kafka's Trial, felt like. The form merely reitirates and clarifies: Parking in a Public Space means parking on Federal or DC Property, or parking without a proper permit.

The decision can be appealed for a fee that equals 50% of the already paltry sum of the ticket. If I win, the fee is returned. If I lose, it's a sunk cost. But it is not too much to risk FOR JUSTICE. Appeal I shall! In a blaze of righteous fury I have penned the most eloquent of appeals statements. Now that the nature of the violation has been clarified, I based my appeal on two simple points:
  • I was not parked on a public space. As the ticket clearly states, I was parked on the north side of F--- St., which is a RESIDENTIAL-ZONED STREET, YOU MORONS. I have parked here for the past TWO YEARS without incident.
  • I have, and records will show I have always had, a residential parking permit for Zone X. The north side of F---- St. is part of Zone X, BITCHES.
I sign, cordially, EAT IT.

Russia Great and Small

Sometimes I think a Russophile's relationship with Russia is the type of relationship you'd have with juvenile delinquent offspring. You really love 'em, and then they make you want to break out the whoopin' belt. One of the most irritating themes I encounter is the over-posturing on the part of some acquaintances of mine that Russia is so weak and helpless and poor, that no ill deeds can be ascribed to them. As if they were passive martyrs in all of this. Yes, Russia has been devastated, and its armed forces are in shambles. But having lived in this world longer than five minutes, I know that such limitations rarely have any bearing on a country's willingness to project power. If that were the case, we wouldn't see many wars outside the first world, where we don't actually see so many. I'm sympathetic to a lot when it comes to Russia, but I'm simply not willing to give Russia a pass on stupid policy decisions just because they've been so damaged. That's precisely when wise leadership is called for.

I was recently reading about Kemal Ataturk and the genesis of modern Turkey. The collapse of the Sultanate and the Ottoman Empire has a lot of parallels with the collapse of the Soviet Union; the Young Turks took the helm of the expansive Ottoman Empire in an attempt to reform and save it, only to bring it crashing to its knees. So very Gorby. But when Ataturk came in, rather than trying to grasp on to the threads of the crumbling multi-ethnic empire and scotch tape together some semblance of past Ottoman glory, he cut his losses, and concentrated on creating Turkey. And Turkey is coming up strong. Of course, even if Russia took this lesson to heart it would remain a gargantuan task due to sheer size, but still. Precious resources, effort, and political capital are unnecessarily wasted on some pretty counterproductive moves.

I'm not even talking about Ukraine here. The best example of sheer ridiculousness right now is Georgia. Georgia shares a dangerous border with the North Caucasus. In the past Chechen wars, militants have come over the borders and set up shop in the crags of Georgia's mountains. Monitoring these borders closely is of prime importance to both Georgia and Russia, and should be a point of cooperation. Because Georgia doesn't have the resources to fully control the border and aren't eager to hand it off to Russian military, the OSCE has had a border monitoring mission for a while now. Its mandate expires this month, and guess who, just guess, is blocking its renewal! That's right. Against their own dire security interests, Russia insists that the OSCE border monitoring has achieved its goals and is not necessary. Can you imagine? Like, "airport security has achieved its goals. We can eliminate this now." This is probably a two-pronged deal: a big F.U. to the OSCE and a chance to have Russian troops go head-to-head with Georgians. The border monitors also have a pesky habit of reportin covert Russian flyovers over Georgian territory. Meanwhile, Russia has reitirated its right to launch a pre-emptive attack on Georgian soil to root out the terrorists, which is an odd thing to do seeing as how the border monitoring mission has "accomplished its goals."

So I ask Irina. Why, I ask, why? I'm with the Russians on the Chechen guerilla problem! They should be extremely concerned! They should want nothing but border monitors linking arms from the Black to Caspian Seas! How, after Beslan, after that indelible horror, can they justify opposing a mission that tracks the movement of dangerous militants in the Caucasus? How dare they?

Her answer?

Because of the West's shameful performance and interference in Ukraine. Russians will be punished no matter what they do, so why try to behave correctly? The same West has artificially sowed discontent between the brotherly Georgians and Russians. Russia's claims that they will airstrike Georgian soil and their illegal flyovers? Western provocation. Don't you understand? Russia is so weak.

This little tune is getting old, and getting dangerous.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Ask Not for Whom the Bell Tolls

Just poppin' back in for a quick second to point out this entertaining NYT article for you Wire fans out there. It includes some amusing tidbits on the actor who plays the recently whacked Stringer Bell:
But it is unlikely that anyone in the Sunday-night audience was as stunned as Idris Elba, the 32-year-old actor who has brought Stringer to life since "The Wire" began three years ago. "When I first read the script I was like: 'What? No! This isn't supposed to happen,' " Mr. Elba said over dinner at an Upper West Side restaurant. "I was deeply disappointed. It was a surprise, a complete surprise."

We forget in all the drama of a gangland murder, that after the fake blood is cleaned up, some poor sap is now unemployed. Congrats on your blaze of glory, dude, but time to dust up that resume pending any calls from HBO for a beyond-the-grave flashback scene.

But the big shocker? As if McNulty wasn't enough? Stringer Bell is BRITISH. Luckily, he is suitably ashamed:
Fans of the show may be surprised to learn that Mr. Elba is not African American. The only child of a mother from Ghana and father from Sierre Leone, Mr. Elba was born and brought up in Hackney, a working-class borough of London. It is a fact he reluctantly shares with fans, preferring instead to use his American accent when talking with those who request autographs. "Wherever I go the real hard-core dudes come up to me and confide in me," said Mr. Elba, who over the years has been approached by dozens of drug dealers identifying with Stringer. "I almost feel guilty turning around and saying: 'Hello, mate. My name's Idris and I'm from London.' " Mr. Elba burst into an exaggerated version of his cockney accent. "I don't want to break the illusion."

Keepin' it fake for the young thugs. Too adorable.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

The Eyes of Tommy Lee Jones Are Upon You

This could be potentially be one of the worst movies ever made, but I will probably still see it to re-live the glory and majesty that is Royal Memorial Stadium on Game Day. Hook 'em, bitches.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Donald Ducks the Question

This afternoon, I caught CNN running the spectacle of U.S. troops grilling Donald Rumsfeld on the dearth of adequate equipment and stop-loss policies. Good for them, I thought. I'm sure they'd like to hear a little less about freedom marching on, and a little more about armored vehicles rolling in. And look, I know that Rumsfeld was put on the spot (did he really not see this coming?) and he's not the most eloquent cabinet member, but when a soldier complains that he's dumpster-diving for scrap metal to armor his vehicles, it's just really not cool to reply "If you think about it, you can have all the armor in the world on a tank and a tank can be blown up."

Because, you know, I suspect that the soldiers have probably thought about it—tanks blowing up, that is. They didn't ask for a magic force field or immortality. These poor guys are jumping out of planes and asking for a parachute. Yeah, they can fail, but it would be kind of nice to have one.

On an entirely unrelated note.

I took out my passport tonight in anticipation of upcoming travel, to make sure I had a valid visa and so forth. I opened it up and was mighty glad I'd taken the time to have a peek. Because there was a big yellow Post-It note covering my information page, on which my sister (showing off her new language skills from class) had written my name in Arabic. I can just imagine sauntering up to the ticket counter, handing over my passport, and watching the attendant's face morph into red alert as she sees a post-it note covered in Arabic. "Why no ma'am! I actually don't know why that's there! Um. ...I'm so getting my bags searched, aren't I?"

Surprise, Surprise

As if there was any question, Victor Yushchenko's doctors in Vienna are now ready to talk:
MEDICAL experts have confirmed that Viktor Yushchenko, Ukraine’s opposition leader, was poisoned in an attempt on his life during election campaigning, the doctor who supervised his treatment at an Austrian clinic said yesterday.
Asked if the aim had been to kill him, Dr Korpan said: “Yes, of course.”

Interestingly, the Times believes that "proof that Mr Yushchenko was deliberately poisoned would be a devastating blow for his rival, the Prime Minister, Viktor Yanukovych, as the two candidates prepare for a repeat of a presidential run-off on December 26. " I don't really think so. Yes, it seems like verified assassination attempts would be a deal-breaker in an election year, but your average savvy Ukrainian voter doesn't need some clinic in Vienna to tell them what's what. They all know what's going on, and they've made up their minds as to whether they're crying "poisoning" or "bad sushi." Furthermore, when you're dealing with a nation whose president has been caught on tape ordering the murder of a journalist, you have to work a little harder to shock the populace.

Also, if you've still got the Ukraine bug and you haven't seen this yet, check out the always-interesting Taras Kuzio on tapes that were used as evidence in the Supreme Court case. The CIA is, apparently, not the only outfit with leak problems. These tapes purport to clearly expose the existence of a "shadow campaign" devoted to fraud, fraud, and more fraud. I know, that's about as big a surprise as the poison expose, but what can you do? Sometimes it's nice to have hard proof to back up what you already know.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

'Tis the Season for Religious Strife

Should I be offended that there was an announcement made in my office today that the Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony was starting on the third floor? It was an employee-initiated little event, and though my office mate nearly hit the roof, I couldn't be bothered. Would I be offended if there was an announcement for a Christmas-time prayer vigil? Not really. I don't really see why you'd want to celebrate your religious traditions in the conference room, but we have the luxury of having our day as a federal holiday, and others do not.

"What if I wanted to do an Orthodox celebration?" Irina was yelling. "Or some, I don't know, Indian thing. Do you know that Macy's has to take Christmas word down off their decoration? It is disgrace. I don't go to Israel and tell them they cannot have their holiday."

I told her that she's probably perfectly welcome to organize an Orthodox celebration, and we've got a few Slavs and Greeks that would be down. But that wasn't her point—for all the angst the woman is able to summon, she doesn't actually go to church. The point was, as we've all heard, that Jesus is in Danger. And, well, I guess this is very important to some people and there's probably good reason for that, but I just don't feel I really have a horse in that race. If your Christmas rites are somehow inextricably linked with the precise syntax of Macy's decorations, then that probably says something significant, but in that case it probably isn't political correctness that's undermining the True Spirit of Christmas. Irina thinks that the Hanukkah event meant that Judaism was receiving some special attention that Christianity is denied, despite the fact that Christianity gets a federal holiday. She wants everything to be equal, but if she'd prefer that we all come to work on the 25th and open presents in the 3rd floor conference room, I can't say I'm on board.

But it's dumb to replay my argument with Irina here where she's not able to argue back. Actually, strike that. It's very smart to argue with Irina without her participation. I'm just trying to say that I can't get worked into a fervor over all of this. Christianity ain't going anywhere, folks, although I can see why it seems like cherished traditions are being trampled. I'll let the people who feel more strongly about that duke it out. Me, I'm happy if Macy's says Christmas, Holiday, ChristmaHanaKwanzaakah, whatever, as long as it has a sale on knee-high boots this fall. It's not like they can take away my own cherished Christmas tradition of spending time with my family and loved ones. Yes, those very same loved ones that I'm totally ditching in order to spend Christmas with a bunch of surly miners in Donetsk. Fa la la, la la la, la la la!

Monday, December 06, 2004

Adventures with Irina

Ah, the inimitable Russian Soul.

Me: It's always very hard for me to say goodbye to people in Russian, because I always want to say something like "Have a good day" or "Have a good time." But you don't say that.

Irina [hands spreading in exasperation]: Syuzan. Should I remind you? We do not have good time.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Damn, We Fine

In order to channel my formidable spending power toward the forces of liberalism and thereby shift the plates of political power in this country, I was cruising the pages of Choose the Blue to see which companies donated to which parties.

And I've got some good news for you glum liberals out there. We may not be able to put together a winning coalition, or wield any sort of political influence, but we have got style on our side. And that is something they can never take away.

Here's what I mean. A sampling of clothing retailers that donated more than 90% to the democratic party:
Anne Klein
Donna Karan
Kate Spade
Ralph Lauren

And for the republicans?
Guess (fluke! plus, they were through in the 80s!)
Pendleton Woollen Mills
Fruit of the Loom

How about beauty products? Infer what you will from the following.
For the democrats:
Bobbi Brown
Bumble & Bumble
Estee Lauder
Michael Kors

And our friends in red? Oh my:
Super Cuts
Bikini Zone medicated cream
Hair Off depilatory
IPR3 Foot product
Mega-T and Mega-G diet aids
Scar Zone depilatory

I report, you decide.

Friday, December 03, 2004


Ukraine elections to be held on Dec. 26. One day after Christmas.

Alright, what do I do?

Family, or Ukraine?

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Democracy is the New Imperialism

Although this went up a week ago, I'd really like to respond to this chap in the Guardian who paints Western (though he puts it all on the US) democracy promotion efforts in general and the Ukraine events in particular as some sort of U.S. - masterminded scheme aimed at "engineering democracy through the ballot box and civil disobedience." And we're so good at it that "the methods have matured into a template for winning other people's elections."

There's a lot to say to this kind of silliness (we're vilifying civil disobedience now?), and there's a tiny little buried kernel of a worthy point. (Which is that some of the organizations he's named are known for only supporting the opposition parties. And because of this, they've been barred from working in many countries. Regardless, I think it a bit naive to chalk up the scene before us to George Soros, and amusing in the extreme to paint Soros as a tool of the Bush Administration...)

This is a backhanded way of saying that the U.S. is popping about, toppling regimes, only we've gotten a bit more clever about it since the heavyhanded CIA days. It's interesting too, because we have a lot of help doing this from European donors, European organizations, and many of these projects are implemented by European groups. But never mind that.

You know what we do? Why don't we take a look at this subversive scheme. We send experts in electoral law to put their heads together with local legislators and come up with recommendations for improvements. We send party activists from Australia, Canada, the U.S., and Europe to work with opposition AND government party members on campaign strategies, message development, organization, finance. We send journalists over to work with journalists there on how to raise advertising revenue, how to budget an organization, and how to negotiate that fine line between self-censorship and the ideal of objectivitiy. Grassroots? Sure. We give money to communities to start local NGOs, Student Councils, interest groups. We train domestic election monitors on the roles and responsibilities of that important role, because there are a lot of people who want to be involved in the process but don't know what they're supposed to do. We pay for exit polls and parallel vote tabulation because those are valuable checks in a democracy and can help identify fraud. Alternatively, and in a few instances, they have actually proved that the unpleasant incumbent regime did actually win. Even against the wishes of the United States.

Where I stand, that's called supporting democracy, encouraging democratic development. We are never there against the express wishes of the host government, though sometimes they get nervous. We do this, by the way, practically everywhere. There are not, however, revolutions everywhere. Why are we seeing this in Ukraine, and not in Azerbaijan? Or Kazakhstan? Or Armenia? We have LOADS of manipulative money going there. Could it be that something internal needs to happen? That Western aid is just one component leading a nation to the tipping point?

Are you forgetting that there is no doubt that this election was stolen? That activists in Ukraine are capable of looking over at Georgia and Serbia themselves and deciding that they want some of that action? We did not make Yanukovych rig this election, nor did we make people take to the streets. We may have had some part to play in preparing people on how to respond. We may have had something to do with raising their expectations (though not nearly as much as Georgia and Serbia have). But I certainly won't apologize for having played a part in identifying fraud and supporting those who would demand a fair accounting.

And you, sir? Mr. Ian Traynor? You have a lot of company in your estimation of democracy promotion, but not the sort of company you'd bring to a dinner party. You also have a response from Timothy Garton Ash, and he's got a few questions for you.