Monday, June 30, 2008

"Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth -- more than ruin, more even than death....Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid. Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of man."  Bertrand Russel

NaN will not be silenced!

Norm at Nite Tonite at 11

Norm at Nite airs this evening at 11:00 PM. An explanation of the the deleted show and a schedule for the rest of the summer. The show will air from Bowie, from Nanny's, from an Irish Pub in Warrenington, from the 4Ps, from Deep Creek Lake, and from Hogwarths I hope in the future. A schedule will be forth coming.

The address is NormatNite

Listen at 11.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Spain Wins Euros, Norm Shut Down Again......

Spain won the European Championship08 today, defeating Germany 1-0. I watched the game today in my living room with my son and daughters and it was a very pleasant experience. We also watched DC United defeat the LA Galaxy and David Beckham 4-1. It was a great soccer afternoon.

The other interesting happening was the rebirth of Norm at Nite at Hogwarths, and just like the last time the show had to be stopped and the transcript destroyed. Norm and Nite will be back...........

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Logic and the USA

The two things I want to comment on this week are words. and most importantly they aren't concepts. In the states, they seem very much to be concepts, rich with respect and years of experience (sounds like a good presidential candidate right?) Anyways, here, they are words, and barely anything more. The one seems just as foreign as the other here, and to that extent its a major change in thought for me.
Logic. Examples:The most volumnious metro in the world has three escalators from the platform to the street. Regardless of the unimaginable volume, one of the elevators will not be working. Ask an attendent why: They're broken. Right. example: almost every public building has a double door entrance, regardles of the volume coming in, say a metro station building, school building, theater, etc, one of the two doors will be locked. Example: the city centrally heats water (hm, wonder where they got that idea from?) As a result they shut down the different plants for different districts for 3 weeks every summer, resulting in frigid cold water for about 3 million people at any given time. Ask them why they don't decentralize the water heating (which would actually make more money for the city) no one can give an answer. Instead public money is spent on tearing down perfectly functional, historically rich, buildings (see every major hotel in moscow) and building one of almost similar nature on top. Enough. With out negatively (in a historical sense) defining the city's relationship to logic, I want to point out that the concept, the word, etc., never comes into play. No one even manipulates the word to their advantage, it simply isn't of interest here. the noun itself, logika, is completely imported, and seemingly out of place here. I'll go no further in commenting on this, because I feel there is just as much good here as anywhere else, simply logic seems to be foreign in this city.
The USA. Everyone here seems to understand that the USA is the most dominant in many aspects of daily life: science, art, etc. but no one thinks of the national entity when they think of these things. Hollywood is in america, but it has nothing to do with the USA, as a nation. This is a confusing subject, and it plays itself out in strange ways, but people have ideas, opinions, comments on americans, american culture, etc. but when our government comes into play, or the name of the nation comes into use, it means nothing but "another country." Im speaking on a very personal level. Of course official channels pay politically correct words to the USA, but the people here seem to value as much the government of the US as the government of sri lanka (no offense to sri lanka). Its a really interesting disconnect, and much to our favor i feel, but nonetheless the words United states of america, mean nothing in comparison to our treatment of it. Why this is, goes without saying. I simply comment because its an interesting experience.

Other than that, I'm going to the second largest library in the world tomorrow for a back stage tour, and then on sunday Im going to a museum on revolutions in moscow which have all begun in relatively the same area. We'll learn why this area seems to volitile, etc. Pretty cool stuff.

I guess I should comment on the soccer game, since everyone else here is. Russia is in the semi's tonight with spain and after the riots after last game, the city has decided to call in the army to protect the city from the fans. If this will help, or hurt the city, is only to be seen, but honestly if the team wins I hope for the good of this place that they win again. A loss to germany would mean chaos and rampage here, given the utter hatred many people have here for things german. We'll see how it plays out, but I'll definitely be staying in, hiding my foreign origins.

Hope things in the states are well,

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Thursday, June 19, 2008

RIP, Mr. Russert

Much has already been said about the death of one of the toughest and most authentic political journalists of our time, most of it far more eloquent than anything I'll be able to manage. I'll confine myself, therefore, to one short anecdote about the father of my classmate Luke.

A public persona is an easy thing to manage, and while Mr. Russert's public face never failed to dazzle -- his speech at my high school graduation was one of the most inspiring I've ever heard -- the true measure of a man lies in his behavior when the spotlights are turned off. It is here that the chasm of character between Mr. Russert and the other assorted poo-bahs I've met revealed itself; for unlike so many men of power and prestige, Tim Russert was unfailingly kind, respectful, and generous towards those who wouldn't even merit a nod from others.

About two years ago, I found myself in Buffalo -- attending a funeral no less -- with a close friend by the name of Mr. C. As it happened, Mr. C. had attended high school with Russert, and regaled me with stories about the "nice Irish boy who made it big but didn't forget his roots." After a time, the group of us wound up at a local Beef on Weck place called 'Charlie the Butcher'. At this point, Mr. C. turned to me, smiled, and said "Now I'll never forget what he did here."

"About a year ago," he continued, "Tim and I were in here buying lunch for a whole bunch of people. The total came out to 45 bucks, and Tim paid with a fifty. After taking one look at Tim, the cashier shut the register drawer and said 'No Sir. After all you've done for this town, you eat here for free.'"

I can remember Mr. C. smiling at this point, taking an exaggerated pause, and finally proceeding with relish: "So Tim said 'Thank You', collected our lunch, and then just before reaching the door he dropped the fifty in the tip jar. The two of us then broke into a run, and had driven away before they could catch us and give us back the money."

At this point, the cashier interrupted Mr. C's story, turning to me and saying: "It happened just like he described, and next time you see Tim, tell him that the guys at Charlie's watch his program."

Rest in peace, Mr. Russert. You will be missed.

A posting from the Duc

(Cross-posted at The Reactionary Epicurean and the Postmodern Conservative)

More from Moscow

I hate to juxtapose my posts with those on Mr. Russert. Its a tragedy that not only americans acknowledge, but many a russian also commented on the loss of our great american journalist. As a testament to Mr. Russerts accomplishments a teacher that I have asked us at the beginning of class, What is new in america? I answered by saying that Tim Russert had died. As a linguistic question he asked me who tim russert was, and trying to craft a linguistically complex answer I gave the russian translation of talking head (govaryashaya golova). My teacher literally spit at this answer and said that this was no way to treat mr. russert (and in retrospect I agree). He told me that that phrase is also used in russia but denotes a telejournalist without tact, prowess, etc. He said to use this term in reference to Mr. Russert was insult. personally it was lesson learned, and simultaneously it speaks to how revered Mr. Russert is around the world.

Aside from that, school is extremely challenging. Different from the russian program at chicago, which is no walk in the park mind you, but also tries to retain students by grade inflation, the program at International U in Moscow has no qualms with letting students know with grades just how poorly they comprehend the russian language. When we are asked a question we aren't meant to respond as an american learning russian would, but as a russian would respond to the same question. As a result we are all reelling after our first round of examinations and Im willing to bet that much of the weekend will be spent studying for all.

In my contemporary politics class, the one in which I meritted a spit, our teacher asked us about Bush. We all were up in arms and one girl especially mentioned Bush's failure in Iraq. Our teacher says in response: what did you expect from him? He said that he wanted to fight terror, and Saddam created terror. The big claim against bush was that he never found the WMD's. Our teacher laughed at this claim and said, of course he wouldn't find them, he wasn't looking for weapons, he was looking for terrorists, and to this regard he eliminated a big one. The weapons on the other hand, he argued, if bush had wanted to find those exact ones, used in Iraq against the kurds, would not be hard to find. He said: where would they be? We all yell: Syria! and he starts laughing again. He said, you americans, at one moment you criticize your media, at the next moment you take its word for the truth. He begins to rhetorically show us how rooted our belief were in an american perspective and then says: for russians the answer is very easy. We all already know. It took the dumbest one of us to find out, in probably a week. The class then spent 20 minutes trying to figure out where they could be and he says: you idiots, they're in Belorussia. We all look dumbfounded and he says, who gave him (Saddam) the weapons, who taught him how to use them? --the USSR. and who among former USSR states would have agreed to take them back? The Belorussian. they needed oil, which saddam had, and they already knew what the weapons were about and what to do with them.
Despite the lack of evidence this argument was an eye opener to me on how rooted my thought was in american-constructed thought. The russians are very smart people, and their sense of history is MUCH more absolute than ours. Our teacher spent a long time in convincing us that the world is a much bigger place than America and that those two eyes (you'll appreciate this doc) chronology and geography aren't autonomous of one another. I could go on, but I'm sure you see how this played out, as I'm sure you struggle to teach the same thing.

Everyday this place opens my eyes a little wider.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Thursday, June 12, 2008

First Reflections

Sorry for the lack of pictures guys, but internet here is really crazy and today is the first day that I've had time to write anyhow. Moscow is awesome, I've been here a week just about and already my russian has improved, especially my listening ability. Its wild how quickly the progress is coming, so I'm excited about that.

I take 6 different courses in school. Phonetics, Grammar, conversation practice, a cultural history course, covering music, economic geography, classical history, a video course (basically working on nuance), and then a contemporary culture course.
I take 2 or 3 of those courses a day for either 2 or 1 hours, however the russians have decided to do things. The concept of a syllabus is not only unheard of but hated by the russian teachers, so its sort of a surprise what we'll be learning everyday. anyhow, my favorite course has been the contemporary culture course. the professor's familia is Smi. He's a wise-cracking professor who seems to know more about american culture than the we ourselves know (Hegel would find this obvious i guess.) Anyhow, yesterday he says to us (in russian of course):" all american students are obssessed with these french philosophers now a days. The best living philosopher in the world though, is Noam Chomsky. His theory is wrong, but its stimulating, and thats why I like him the most." Note the lack of "in my opinion" or "according to this or that paper." The russian education system has no need for these qualifications, if the teacher thinks it, then it is. Anyhow, school has been great.

My host family has also been incredible. I live with Dmitri (Dima) Aleksandrovich and Alleona (Alla) Nikolaevna Pestova. They are both retired and live in an apartment near the Kolomenskoe Metro (for those of you with google maps). Its an incredible little apartment because Dima was a geologist for the state back in the day. He discovered an enormous gold deposit in ethopia and as a result spent a lot of time traveling all over the world for the CCCP. His apartment is now filled with african spears, huge taxodermied heads of african animals, massive collections of butterflies, rare rocks, etc. Its incredible.

He told me the other day that his father was a professional pianist, travelling the world to play russian classical music. As a result, when stalin came to power he suspected Dima's father of being a spy for the Japanese and had him killed. Dima was very young when this happened and in my opinion his unbelievable ability to play the piano stems directly from this loss. The first day of my stay with the Pestova's he brought me over to his piano and played jazz like I've never heard before. Alla told me, after he left for the dacha the other day, that what he really wanted to do with his life was create jazz music, but of course the state wouldn't let him. My guess is that he's about 82 and he plays jazz better than anyone i've seen live. He's watched the Ken Burns History of Jazz maybe ten times (with translation to russian of course), and he sat me down to watch a Glenn Miller movie just because it was his favorite. He knew all the words to the Chattanooga Choo Choo, probably without knowing their meaning.

obviously that has been an incredible experience so far, and its only been a few days living with them.

One quick story for the other side of the coin in russia. This morning Alla and I were talking about politics in russia and she asked me what americans think of russia and I was telling her that most americans had no idea about russians, and really only thought about Putin and the CCCP. We then got onto Medvedev and she said that a lot of people refer to Medvedev (in private of course) as LilliPutin. If that doesn't show you how intelligent these people are, i dont know what will.

Anyways, I'm going to have a lot of time this weekend to take some pictures, so there should be more to share soon enough.

доброе день и пока.


Monday, June 09, 2008

I thought I'd write a bit on my recent trip back into the wilds of southern Virginia. Throwing caution to the wind, I decided to test myself for Alaska by tackling "the most difficult trail in Virginia," i.e. the Three Ridges Wilderness trail, a 16 mile loop partially along the Appalachian Trail which we picked up on the Tye River just west of Lovingston, VA. I had hiked this trail almost exactly four years ago so, given physical atrophy, I was somewhat anxious to determine if I could still handle it (this time with knee braces). Having decided to lighten the load just a little bit with the purchase of a nice new pack stove from Hudson Traders, we realized while gearing up trailside that we had bought the stove box only and left the actual stove on the store self: the best laid plans... Luckily I had brought along my older stove and a half canister of fuel. Fortunately, we were able to rely upon natural fire for most of our cooking anyway, but the coffee production tended to suffer, major disappointment for Paddy needless to say. Since we got a relatively late start, we didn't hit the trail until sunset, but had a 2.5 mile trek up a steep trail to our first camp, most of which was done in the dark. I have to say, after that first section I was questioning whether or not I'd survive the next day's hike, which included a 3000 ft elevation gain to the top of mountain. 
This is a pic of our first camp on the morning of Day 2 as we prepared to tackle the hike up.

Monday, June 02, 2008

The Journey Begins

Well Ladies and Gents,
My journey to the motherland begins tomorrow. I'll be at a pre-departure orientation in DC of all places, and then Thursday morning lufthansa and I will get real snuggly for about half a day. I just found out my living situation in Russia. I'll be living with Alla Nikolaevna Pestova and her husband Dmitri (Dima). They are a retired couple living about 10 km south of the Kremlin, right next to the above picture. The place is called Kolomenskoe estate, among other things it is the former playground of Peter the Great's war games. Anyhow, I'll have much more to say (in english and russian) once I've left Chicago. More soon.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Rites of Spring : The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age Rites of Spring : The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age by Modris Eksteins

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
Simply stunning - beautifully structured and written arguments and an immensely informative text on not just World War One but a wide variety of cultural issues from the 1850s to 1945. Ekstein has attempted the most difficult of tasks facing the historian, i.e. to describe the cultural and social nuances of an age and explain how and why they change; and he succeeded brilliantly here. A single poignant event, such as a performance of the Ballet Russe in 1913 or the Unofficial Christmas Truce of 1914, becomes the point of departure for Ekstein's far-reaching discussions, as he attempts to explain how such an event was possible within the context of the time.

Just what kept men in the horrible conditions of the trench system of the Western Front for years? What sustained them on the edge of no-mans-land? What propelled them over the top? And what sustained them after it was all over? These are only a few of the central questions that occupy Ekstein. His answers, executed in brilliantly descriptive and readable prose, embrace a contextual totality rarely achieved in a manageable monograph.

It helps to have at least a basic understanding of World War One before reading Ekstein's text, but it is not absolutely necessary in order to appreciate the arguments he makes.

View all my reviews.