sitting on the edge of the sandbox, biting my tongue

September 27, 2013

Who’s Afraid of Johnny Rotten?

Filed under: politics — edge of the sandbox @ 1:52 pm

There are days when I wish my significant other would guest post, but since he’s unwilling, I’ll try to do my best.

Senior Senator from Nevada once went to a university where he learned about anarchy:

Hey, Harry, did you know that anarchists are your friends?  Your friends from the EU put them on the government payroll a long, long time ago, and President ‘Bamster is attempting to do the same in this country.

Before he embarked on the parenting adventure, my husband was in bands.  He played shows all over the US, and toured Europe a few times.  In the US, they played at bars and warehouses.  Playing music was easy.  Step one: get a job.  Step two: buy instruments and rent a practice space.  Step three: hook up with two other bands and play.  This is how Punk rock started, by the way, American kids hanging out together, strumming their guitars in a garage or trying to make a living on the Lower East Side.

In Europe, they toured clubs and squats, and if more than two bands performed on the same night, the event was called a “festival”.  Squats (invariably adorned with “A” for Anarchy and/or “N” for Nihilism graffiti) boasted sophisticated sound equipment and lighting systems that the inhabitants weren’t trained to use and bizarre items like disco balls that weren’t procured in lieu of ironic statements.  When my husband and his friends asked about these toys, Euro punks replied: “The government buys it for us.  Doesn’t your government buy you stuff?”

In the US, the band bought and drove their own van.  In Europe, their promoter gave them a driver.  The driver was a very nice young man, neither a punk nor an anarchist, but jobless and on an internship paid for by the German government placed with the promoter by a government agency.  They stayed in squats of murky legal status.  When several years later the government tried to evict the squat where they stayed in Berlin, ensuring riots made international headlines.

Euro anarchists have no lofty goals, and are easily bought off by their rulers.  The chronically unemployed American youth is ripe for picking, too.  Punk is one of the many styles from which high school students across Europe, Asia and the Americas (Australia, too) pick and chose for self-expression.  The circled A is a prominent detail of the aesthetic.

Check out The Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain going for street cred with “Anarchy in The UK”:

The Tea Party, on the other hand, self-rule and all that stuff — that’s something to leave your average senatorial grampa petrified.

See also: Government Dogs.

September 24, 2013

Russian Claims to “Exceptionalism” in Brief

Filed under: politics, Russia, Soviet Union — Tags: , , — edge of the sandbox @ 9:44 pm

Having recently caught the largest pike in the world, Russia’s “President” Vladimir Putin felt emboldened to write an New York Times op-ed.  Either that or he ate Barack Obama for breakfast.
In that op-ed of his, Vlad the Shirtless insisted that American exceptionalism as “dangerous”.  I’m sure the main reason Putin focused on American exceptionalism is because he was addressing America’s own wishy-washy elites.  Still, lets not forget taht Russia has it’s own wanna-be exceptionalism issues. Check out this from The Primary Chronicles, the manuscript, compiled in 1113 in Kiev, widely recognized as the first attempt at Russian history:

Invitation to the Rus’

860-862 (6368-6370) [The four tribes who had been forced to pay tribute to the Varangians–Chuds, Slavs, Merians, and Krivichians] drove the Varangians back beyond the sea, refused to pay them further tribute, and set out to govern themselves. But there was no law among them, and tribe rose against tribe. Discord thus ensued among them, and they began to war one against the other. They said to themselves, “Let us seek a prince who may rule over us, and judge us according to custom [po nravu]”. Thus they went overseas to the Varangians, to the Rus. These particular Varangians were known as Rus’, just as some are called Swedes, and others Normans and Angles, and still others Gotlanders, for they were thus named. The Chuds, the Slavs, the Krivichians and the Ves then said to the Rus, “Our land is great and rich, but there is no order in it. Come reign as princes, rule over us”. Three brothers, with their kinfolk, were selected. They brought with them all the Rus’ and migrated. The oldest, Rurik, located himself in Novgorod; the second, Sineus, in Beloozero; and the third, Truvor, in Izborsk. From these Varangians, the Russian land received its name [prozvalas’ Russkaia zemlia]. Thus those who live in Novgorod are descended from the Varangian tribe, but earlier they were Slavs. Within two years, Sineus and his brother Truvor died. Rurik gathered sole authority into his own hands, parceling out cities to his own men, Polotsk to one, Rostov to another, and to another Beloozero. The Varangians in these cities are colonists, but the first settlers in Novgorod were Slavs; in Polotsk, Krivichians; in Beloozero, Ves; in Rostov, Merians; and in Murom, Muromians. Rurik had dominion over all these folk. Two of Rurik’s men [Askold and Dir] who were not of his tribe but were warriors [boyare] sought permission to go to Tsar’grad [Constantinople] with their tribe. They thus sailed down the Dnepr, and in the course of their journey they saw a small city on a hill. They asked, “Whose town is this? ” The inhabitants answered, “There were three brothers, Kii, Shchek and Khoriv, who built this burg, but they have since died. We who are their descendants dwell here and pay tribute to the Khazars [ID]“. Askold and Dir remained in this city, and after gathering together many Varangians, they established their dominion over the country of the Polianians. Rurik ruled in Novgorod. [Bold is mine, –ed.]

“Don’t thread on me” this isn’t.

I don’t think there is anything exceptional about this kind of history, and, to be fair, a republican government existed in Novgorod in the middle ages.  Novgorod was eventually swallowed by Moscow, whose then Prince Ivan the Terrible went on to call himself a tzar, the name derived from Latin Cesar.  After the fall of Constantinople into the hands of the Ottomans, Russians took to thinking of themselves as the third Rome.  C. 1520 Russian monk Philotheus wrote: “Two Romes have fallen, but the third stands, and a fourth there will not be.” Not exactly a match for American exceptionalism, but, clearly, Russian rulers thought of themselves as very special people.

Having conquered the Republic of Novgorod in 1478, Moscovy went on to expend its empire which become the world’s largest a few centuries later, occupying half of Europe and stretching all the way to the Pacific.  Russiana wasn’t exactly bringing civilization to Lithuanians or freedom to the cossacks of Zaporozhian Sich.  The 19th century Russian populist socialist Alexander Herzen called his native land “prison of the peoples”.

The Bolsheviks toppled Romanovs and undermined Orthodox Christianity, but the dream of empire remained.  Moscow became the sight of the Third International, a communist organization dedicated to fight:

by all available means, including armed force, for the overthrow of the international bourgeoisie and for the creation of an international Soviet republic as a transition stage to the complete abolition of the State.

The 1943 Soviet national anthem proclaimed that “Great Russia had assembled the unshakable union of the free republics” (a reference to the 15 “republics” of the Soviet Union), while the Soviet coat of arms superimposed hammer and cycle over the globe.  In a 1941 musical comedy “The Swineheard and the Shepard”, a young woman from Ukraine meets a young man from Georgia at an agricultural expo in Moscow.  They fall in love and coyly serenade each other: “I will never forget a friend if I met him in Moscow”.

“Proletariat of all countries, unite!” is written in languages of every republic, with the Russian version, naturally, at the center

In 1939 Stalin and Hitler divided Central Europe, and after the end of World War II, Stalin created a “buffer zone” well into Germany.  In 1979 The Politburo marched its troupes into Afghanistan, and a few years later Ronald Reagan referred to Russia as an “evil empire”. I remember my 90’s travel guide warning against attempting to communicate with Czechs in German.  Well, just try Russian.

Anyhow, I can see how annoying it is, from Russia’s perspective, to watch the US, a reluctant Third Rome.  I can see how frustrating, too, to observe Barack Obama, a bumbling fool fed on the ideology crafted somewhere in Lubyanka, and to think “We lost the Cold War — to THEM?”  Putin wants to restore Russia to its former glory, which is quite a task.  The US might be in decline, but so is Russia, and so is every other geo-political entity on this planet.  In any event, we are in his way.

September 21, 2013

Endangered Primordials

Filed under: education, environmentalism, politics — Tags: , — edge of the sandbox @ 6:05 pm

From time to time I have an urge to go all Soviet on my kids.  Though my mom might disagree, I think I was far more disciplined when I was their age.  For instance, they waste loads of computer paper.  They take a whole bunch for drawing, don’t use most of it, and don’t bother to return what’s left.  They are too proud to draw on the back of an already used paper, and while I think I already lost that battle, I hate picking up slightly bent and somewhat soiled unused sheets that also don’t pass muster for them.  It all seems like a huge waste to me.  I don’t recall myself wasting so much paper, which, I think, was because it was related to me early on that we are not going to spend extra on it.  But everything is plentiful in this country.

It rained today in the Bay Area, a September rain is pretty much unheard of.  I am going to assume that it must be the new pattern of global cooling, because if my liberal neighbors get to attribute everything to global warming, now it’s my turn.  Like liberals I’m going to guilt trip the little ones into proper environmentalist behavior.  I’m going to tell my kids that if they waste any more paper, the dinosaurs will die off.

September 14, 2013

In Honor of Conception Day in Russia: 70 Years of Combatting Demographic Decline

Filed under: Russia, Soviet Union — Tags: , , — edge of the sandbox @ 9:42 am

Glory to the Mother Heroine! by the seminal Russian poster artist Nina Vatolina.  It was created at some point in late 1940’s or 1950’s.  Lest a giddy feminist be deceived by the heroine’s androgynous glory (the face, the shoulders, the arms), this is not a work of art designed to subvert patriarchy: This mythic mother’s eldest sons are already a soldier and a sailor

This iconic Mother Heroine is an artifact of the decade following WWII.  Over 25 million Soviets died in that war, and after the Allied victory, the birth rate was stagnant.  Those worker bees had to come from somewhere.  In 1944 the honorary title of Mother Heroine was established by the Supreme Soviets.  Mothers with 10 or more children were awarded a medal and state pensions.

In the 70’s and 80’s, when I was growing up, documentaries about such mothers were on TV from time to time.  My thought was that, of course, in a country as large as ours somebody is going to have 10 kids.  But in my grandma’s opinion if such mother heroines existed at all, they were alcoholics who had kids to qualify for pensions and then turned around and neglected them.  No reasonable woman, she said, would have more than two in this day and age.  And to many families two kids were a luxury.  Mother Heroine was a target of sarcasm.

The worker bee situation

The chart above indicates that the current uptake in birth coincides with peak fertility years of those born during the modest uptake of the 1980’s.  A more careful study will show that babies are most plentiful in Muslim regions, and that the European part of the country is practically barren.

Much had been said about the post-Soviet demographic collapse, but it was a comparable plunge in the 1960’s that took the country to low fertility levels.  At some point in the late 1950’s Russia’s subjects decided to stop bringing new life into this world (I’m sure it can be somehow attributed to homosexual propaganda corrupting minors), and that attitude has proven to have remarkable staying power.  It’s not all doom and gloom, though.  This post-Soviet hot mama is infinitely more pleasant than the handsome Slavic Fraulein of the 1950’s.

Your country needs your heroic achievements. Every minute 3 new people are born in Russia

As you can see, a Russian women look particularly fetching after birthing triplets.  Unlike the post-war mother heroine, this girl next door does not appear to have a particularly broad neck and shoulders.  I suspect the advertizes couldn’t determine what kind of arms she’s supposed to have, so they obscured them with babies.  She didn’t gain too much fat in her middle, but her breasts are nothing if not appealing.  The viewer can see the seam on her bra pointing right to the nipple area.  Although she looks ostensibly European, an Asian chick could project themselves into this unassuming babe.

She’s less ambitious than the Stalinist prototype (three, not ten children), but less of a comrade, too.  Unlike her Stalinist predecessor, she radiates no knowledge of moral certitudes.  After the whole Soviet fiasco, Russians grew weary of moral certitudes — unless they get to lecture somebody in a New York Times op-ed.  One can see this new incarnation of Mother Russia put her children to bed, and then brush her luscious hair and join a group of close friends for vodka and pickles.  Unlike Vatolina, the ad agency that produced this poster didn’t set out to create a seminal work of art; their ambition is to be relatable to women and attractive to men.  But outside of Russia their natility propaganda is laughable.

September 10, 2013

Girlfriend…

Filed under: feminism, relationships, society — Tags: , — edge of the sandbox @ 9:42 pm

…what were you thinking?  Consider the following scenario:

THE end of a marriage is always sad, but divorce can be particularly devastating for a woman who still wants children but whose fertility is on the decline. Her ex may have many years left to start a new family of his own, but by the time she meets a new partner, it may be too late.

[…]

Could egg freezing help her save the last of her fertility?

That’s the hope of a 38-year-old woman who is a client of Ronald G. Lieberman, a family law attorney in Haddonfield, N.J. Mr. Lieberman is asking his client’s soon-to-be-former husband of eight years to pay $20,000 to cover her egg-freezing procedure, medication costs and several years of egg storage. “When they got married, the expectation was they would start a family,” he told me. “Now she might not have the chance much longer.” [Via Instapundit].

No word on whether her ex hooked up with a younger woman and started a family of his own.

But seriously, this woman tied the knot at 30, the age when she should be keenly aware of her fertility, and didn’t get to start a family until her marriage fell apart nearly decade later.  She can ask for all egg alimony she wants, but what good does it do if she can’t conceive a child?

She might had been a die-hard DINK — until she wasn’t — but more likely her husband got her to postpone motherhood indefinitely, and with an assist from feminists: “Yes, honey, there is so much to do, your career, travel!  Not this year.”  A-ha.  What she didn’t take into account is that 38 might be the end of the line for her, but he still feels* virile at 40, and that even though he said his vows, he had problems committing, e.g. making babies.  In a late marriage like that after a year or two it’s decision time.

Being very clear from the get-go doesn’t hurt, of course.  The “deciding together is we want children” attitude is confusing because acillating sends a signal that he doesn’t need to worry about fatherhood in the near future and possibly not ever.

An important thing to realize is that the women who don’t warn us that most will not eventually regret not having children don’t have our backs.  Most women who are childless by choice might enjoy being carefree when we are chasing tots, but they will feel very different about their choices at the end.  So be skeptical of women telling us that children are optional; they have political agendas and like to exert power over our bodies.  The fact that they can’t stop talking of bodies and power should be a hint.

____

* And possibly not aware of neurological problems of children conceived to older dads.

September 7, 2013

Shame and Loathing in Kharkov

Filed under: education, Soviet Union — Tags: , , , — edge of the sandbox @ 3:30 pm

This Monday was Labor Day in the US, but our number one geo-political enemy celebrated the Day of Knowledge.  Before the Soviet Union croaked and it became necessary to spruce up the old Soviet holidays, the occasion wasn’t known as the Day of Knowledge.  It was simply September 1, the first day of the new school year, celebrated on the first weekday of September.  It was, and it still is, a huge deal for the entire country.  The high point of the day is the quaintly sexist assembly during which the tallest and the strongest Senior boy carries the cutest littlest first grade girl on his shoulder in front of fellow schoolmates, parents and teachers lined up around the perimeter of the school yard, and the girl, outfitted in holiday uniform and giant white bows, rings a bell.

Somewhere in Russia in 2011. Imagine perfect childhood

There is much to say about this holiday, which, on balance, was not bad, and I’ll post about it one day.  What got me reminiscing is an Instapundit link to an essay on culture shock by a student from India.  This is how he chose to start:

  • Nobody talks about grades here.
  • Everyone is highly private about their accomplishments and failures. Someone’s performance in any field is their performance alone. This is different compared to India where people flaunt their riches and share their accomplishments with everybody else.
Of all things American he singled out that, and oh, how I understand him.  When I was growing up in Kharkov, Soviet Union, we had no notion of grade privacy.  It’s not just that inquiring about a classmate’s grades wasn’t bad form, we didn’t’ need to.  Our grades were announced in front of the whole class or posted next to our names in a hallway.  Students who did well were often praised in front of the collective, while those at the bottom were shamed.
All teachers, including the nice ones, discussed our grades — such was the custom; most shamed students, and some did so with gusto.  I recall my 8th grade Russian lit teacher taking entire class hour to belittle a student for using words and expressions she didn’t understand.  The girl survived the humiliation, and, being a happily average girl, kept pulling average grades through high school.  The teacher, I’m pretty sure, was KGB because a) somebody in our school had to be KGB and b) her husband was a general, and they spent several years in Cuba.
(Not all abuse in my school was strictly emotional.  Most of the spanking went to troubled kids, about which I didn’t feel particularly bad then, and don’t feel particularly bad now, even though I realize in a long term this kind of discipline was probably useless.  But once my elementary school teacher hit a quiet, lonely girl for not following directions.  That episode remained ingrained in my mind because I didn’t understand why the teacher hurt her.  In retrospect I realize that the girl was autistic, and the teacher, who had 37 of us in her classroom, lost her temper.)
Before the onset of puberty, shaming discouraged failure in certain cases and prompted many middle of the road students to improve their grades.  What kid wants to be called a “fool” and a “cretin” in front of his friends?  Even those of us who were pretty sure we wouldn’t be singled out, set trembling as our elementary school teacher, a stunningly attractive woman with hourglass body, announced test marks.  Now she’s going through the bundle of 5’s (out of 5, that is), and now 4’s, and then 3’s.  We’d rather hear a 4 than a 3.
An unintended effect of shaming was discouragement of achievement.  Once we grew up a bit and got more introspective, we started talking of rather having a 2, the failing grade, than a 3.  A 2 looks like we didn’t care, but 3 made it seem like we tried, but didn’t get very far.
And think of it from the perspective of the student who regularly flunks a tests: he, a 7-year-old son of an alcoholic mother and no known dad, already resigned himself to be the whipping post of the teacher whom he hates, fears and admires at the same time.  But as soon as she’s done with him, some smarty pants kid, the one who gets a yummy sandwich out of his briefcase every afternoon at lunchtime, gets praise.  What, he thinks he’s better than everyone else?  Guess what, the delinquent also needs an outlet.
I, for one, allied myself with not too bright girls who were on good terms with the hooligans, and allowed them to copy my tests just so that they could put in a good word for me.  I also made sure to get a few 4’s each quarter.
In grade school, we were already well on our way of embracing mediocrity, disliking being both on top and on the bottom.  It’s not just that the Soviet economic system disincentivized achievement, and political system punished it, the entire culture was driven by envy and at odds with anything or anybody who dares to be extraordinary.
Add to it the ethnic dimension.  Not all Jews were nerds and there was no shortage of uber-brainy Russians or Ukrainians, but often, and stereotypically, the kid with exemplary grades had dark curls and sad eyes and his tormenters were Slavs.  And even if an otlichnik (a straight A student) was not himself a yid, at least not to his knowledge, it was no guarantee that racial epithets won’t fly when the hooligans give him what was coming.  Any questions about  the Soviet brain drain?
There is much not to like about American schools, particularly the insidious self-respect movement that treats students as fragile little things who need to be showered with praise.  Well, at least I can reasonably expect that teachers will respect my children’s humanity.

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