If you’ve been here before, you’ll notice that I changed the look of the blog. If this is your first visit, this won’t matter to you much. I got tired of all the green and the open space on the left and right sides of the template. So thanks to Blogger Templates, I found something with more space and, what I think is a much better look. There are still some small changes I look to make. I want to get a good banner image to put at the top, and perhaps eliminate some of the stuff on the right column so things won’t look so crowded.
Strangely, the layout doesn’t come out correctly with Firefox. Usually viewing problems come with Internet Explorer. If you want to see some of the slight differences, try looking at the site with both browsers.
At any rate, if anyone has any suggestions on how I can improve the site, please let me know. I’m always willing to consider reader suggestions. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming . . .
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By Sean — 14 years ago
So I promised to tell about my trip to Ryazan. Ryazan is a Russian provincial town located about a three hour train ride south from Moscow. I left on a Monday morning on the [7:15] train. The ticket cost about $10. The train ride was quite pleasant. I spent most of my time staring out the window because I’ve never seen what Russia looks like outside of Moscow. Peppered between Moscow and Ryazan are small towns and villages. By villages I literally mean villages. Some seemed to only consist of several houses. There were no paved roads, and thanks to the recent rains full of mud. Some of these villages looked like they haven’t changed in over 100 years.
I was greeted in Ryazan by Pavel Tribunskii, a scholar Stephen Frank knows from Ryazan (Stephen is one my dissertation advisors at UCLA). Pavel is a really great guy. He is a young historian who teaches at a Ryazan art school for high students. He set everything up for me—a place to stay, access to the archives, and even gave me a quick tour around town to show me where all the libraries were. The only thing he asked for in exchange is to speak to his students, and even better do so in English! Pavel felt that this would be good for them since many of them are learning English and get few chances to listen to native speakers, much less Americans from Hollywood.
The family I stayed with, the Uskovs, were the nicest people ever! Sasha, the father, is a foreman at a local factory that makes building materials. Nadia, the mother, teaches chemistry at the local secondary school and institute, and Irina, their daughter, studies English at the local pedagogical institute. They were all very welcoming. In fact, Nadia wouldn’t stop feeding me. Not being hungry didn’t seem to register in her mind (but neither did me not being in a relationship for over 13 years and not married as well as Heather and I not wanting children. This last one seemed completely unacceptable, even though I explained that we have a dog and that was enough.). With the three dinners I had there, Sasha broke out a bottle of vodka which we both drank dry. The funniest part was that Nadia would scold him for “forcing” me to drink, but then would suggest that we have another drink! They were all interested in America and what it is like to live there and in LA in particular. I think we hit all the topics from economics, politics, war, history culture, relationships, employment, education . . . Irina spoke English really well and I tried to only speak to her in English to give her some practice.
Work in the local archive also went really, really well. When I arrived at the State archive for the Ryazan Oblast (GARO), which is also the former archive of the Communist Party, I was greeted by a very small old woman named Elena Mikhailovna. When I showed her my letter from UCLA asking to work in the archive, she promptly read it to a friend. She was also excited about my interest in the Komsomol, as long as I told a ‘positive’ history of the organization. She was very friendly to the point that at one o’clock she would escort me to the cafeteria (it seems that every archive has a cafeteria where you can purchase a hot luck for about a buck and a half.), made sure I got my food, showed me to a place to sit, got me silverware, and then told me to return at 2 o’clock.
Elena was also very interested in the United States and asked similar questions as the Uskovs. However, she had a few, how should I say, interesting questions. My second day there she asked if I had any ‘black’ in me, that is was I full white person or were some of my relatives ‘mixed’. Now this was about the strangest question I’ve ever been asked. Especially since by American racial standards, there is no question: I am white. But I guess Russians have a different measure of whiteness. I assured her that I was indeed a ‘full’ white, if anything to put her racialism at ease.
Another interesting moment was when Elena told me that she didn’t like people from Ryazan, though she’d been living there for like 40 years. When I asked why, she said that Ryazantsy were ‘stupid’. She was from Tver where the people are ‘intelligent’. Whatever. As I discovered the week before, people have some identity issues with this intelligent thing.
But I should say a bit about Ryazan itself. The apartment I stayed was really comfortable even though the street it was on was pretty muddy from the rain. Ryazan is a pretty dirty city in the winter, though Sasha assured me in the spring and summer it was quite beautiful. I assumed that the winter, with the bare trees, mud, and stagnant water (I should say that Moscow doesn’t drain very well either), is not a good representation of Ryazan. In addition to the mud, there are about three military schools in the city, so young guys in military getups are everywhere.
To get to the archive I had to take these minivans (marshruty) which cost about 7 rubles (or $.25). According to Pavel, these were the only efficient transportation because the bus system really sucked. Let me tell you, the marshruty are not the pinnacle of auto safety. All the regular minivan seats are torn out and instead welded in their place other seats. About 15 people can fit in a marshruty. Three in the front, including the driver, and 12 in the back. But I should point out that there are only 10 seats in the back. The driver will pick to two extra people, who have to crouch/stand until someone gets off. My initial fears about riding in them (seatbelts do not exist) was dispelled about a few rides. I can’t imagine what these are like after a snow and the road is slippery.
Ryazan is also a good example of uneven capitalist development. That is, parts of it are quickly modernizing and have all the things you would find here in Moscow. At the same time, you have some building that look 100 years old. Sometimes the new buildings are right next to the old ones, as with this new hotel they were building around the corner from the archive. Ryazan is a very old city, perhaps over 600 years old. The Kremlin looks very beautiful from the outside.
All in all, I look forward to spending two months there. . .
Oh, one last thing, it the first snow in Moscow was yesterday. Yeah!
By Sean — 13 years ago
W. Shedd at Accidental Russophile has “tagged” me. So let me indulge him and whoever else is interested.
Four jobs I’ve had:
- University Instructor
- Forklift Driver
- Record Store clerk
Four movies I can watch over and over:
- The Matrix
- Pulp Fiction
- Empire Strikes Back
Four places I’ve lived:
- Foster City, California
- La Verne, California
- Los Angeles, California
- Moscow, Russia
Four TV shows I like (ugh, I hate most TV):
- The Sopranos
- Six Feet Under
- Twin Peaks
Four places I’ve vacationed:
- Nurnberg, Germany
- San Juan, Puerto Rico
- New Orleans, Louisiana
- Vegas Baby!
Four of my favorite dishes:
- In n’ Out Burger
Four sites I visit daily:
Four Books I’ve Read This Year:
- Igal Halfin, Terror in My Soul.
- Peter Holquist, Making War, Forging Revolution.
- David Hoffmann, Stalinist Values.
- Shelia Fitzpatrick, Tear Off the Masks.
What can I say? I’m writing a fucking dissertation.
Four bloggers I’m tagging:
By Sean — 13 years ago
My flight back to
was without incident. I slept most of the four hours to Atlanta and some of the ten to Moscow . Believe it or not Delta has direct flights from Moscow Atlanta, of all places, to . I guess its one of the perks of being a main Delta hub. Moscow
Ilya, my driver from Sheremetevo to my apartment, was a friendly guy. A bit obsessed with cars, though. I spent the whole one and a half hour ride listening to his various takes on cars. He’s a big Nissan fan (he claimed that he was buying a new one next week), and thought BMW and Mecedes were good in band only, while the cars themselves were shit. When I asked him if Russian cars had any merit, he went on a rant on how they were total shit. When I jokingly suggested that perhaps Russian car companies might disappear in ten years, he added that this would be a good thing.
Yes, cars are the shit in
. They clog the streets, freeways, alleyways, and sometimes, even the sidewalks. Compared to four years ago, the last time I was in Moscow , the auto problem is out of control. Before, it made some sense to save time by taking a car rather than the subway. Now, that logic doesn’t make any fucking sense. My friend Greg astutely noticed a few months ago, that Moscow had fewer tramways than before. Many of them seemed to have been removed probably due to the increase in car traffic. Moscow
To really experience the congestion and to know makes traffic in
Moscowmore unbearable than from, say, a car addicted place like , is the fact that there are no emission laws here. At least it doesn’t seem like it. More than once have I had a walk spoiled by an inhale of car or truck exhaust. Or worse, riding in a car with your window down is just asking to have car exhaust from a neighboring car to blow into your window. Many Russian big trucks have their exhaust pipes on the side of the truck which blow poison gas out sideways rather than up. Los Angeles
Pimp My Ride just came on Russian MTV. “Pimp my ride” in Russian is pronounced “Tachka na prokachu.” There is nothing special about the Russian version, except that it is apparently really popular.. It is just the regular Pimp My Ride dubbed in Russian. The Russians just aren’t as inventive as say the Germans, who have their own version of the show, but it’s called Pimp My Bike. Makes sense since few German youths have cars.
Tonight I’m having dinner with a friend from
. She’s leaving Illinois in a week to go back home. I’ve been honored with meeting her girlfriend, .. An honor I probably shouldn’t take lightly. . (and I use . . because she is pretty closeted) needed a lot of convincing to allow me to meet her girl. When she came out to me, I wasn’t too surprised. My gaydar was on a medium buzz around her already. What I was a bit surprised by was her hesitance to be “out” to many of her friends and colleagues. I understand being in the closet to family, but to friends and colleagues? After she explained it to me, I understood. After all, who am I to tell a gay person how they should publicly handle their gayness. I don’t have to worry about any possible “repercussions.” E explained that the reason why she isn’t out at school isn’t because she’s afraid of any discrimination. Academia is filled with enough gays for it not to be a problem. What she feared is that if she was out, people would only view her as a lesbian. Her homosexuality would become the center of her life, whether she wanted it to be or not. Her identity would be reduced to a singularity determined by what gender she likes to fuck. Her sexuality would become the alpha and omega of her being not because she expresses herself that way. No. Because people, even good tolerant liberals, have a tendency first reify and then ascribe identity, whether it be race, gender, or sexuality, onto that person. Such is the dialectic of identity politics: our identity is reduced to this or that, black or white, straight or gay, etc. There is rarely any room for hybridity, let alone play of subjectivity. And people say Michel Foucault was wrong when he spoke to sexuality and the productive discourses around it. Moscow
Speaking of Foucault, the conservative online newsletter Human Events just published its “10 Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries.” Foucault’s Madness and Civilization only got an honorable dangerous mention. The 10 Most Harmful Books according to Human Events are:
10. John Maynard Keynes, General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, 1936.
9. Freidrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, 1886.
8. Auguste Comte, The Course of Positive Philosophy, 1830-1842.
7. Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique, 1963
6. Karl Marx, Das Kapital, 1867-1894.
5. John Dewey, Democracy and Education, 1916.
4. Alfred Kinsey, The Kinsey Report, 1948.
3. Mao Zedong, Quotations from Chairman Mao, 1966.
2. Aldoph Hitler, Mein Kampf, 1925.
And the number one most harmful book of the 19th and 20th century is:
1. Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto, 1848.
Not bad for a newsletter that features the rhetorical Manichaeism of Anne Coulter and the conservative crust of Robert Novak. Not surprising either. Notice how if you remove Hitler’s Mein Kampf, all the books deal with liberalism, sex, feminism, or anti-capitalism. It is clear that Nietzsche only makes the list because of the Nazi “affinity” for his philosophy. To think that such reductions of great thinkers of the modern era would be old hat by now.
The list makes me wonder about a few things. First, why include Hitler at all. Given the general trend of the list, it makes me wonder why give das Fuehrer a shout out at all? Clearly the conservative scholars and right wing think tank fellows think that Hitler is just a token evil compared to the real evil words of Karl Marx, Alfred Kinsey, Betty Friedan, and John Dewey. I think Hitler is listed more because to not do so would make the whole list a complete joke. The truth is when tabulating texts that harm, Adolph bring credibility. The fact remains however, that Marx only wrote books and Hitler wrote a book and started a world war, invaded and occupied several countries, and, and was directly responsible for the extermination of 8 million Jews, Slavs, Romi, mentally ill, homosexuals, and others. By placing the Communist Manifesto over Mein Kampf is to suggest that Marx’s text is more horrible that Hitler.
As I wrote that last line I can already hear the conservative response. Yeah Hitler was responsible for a lot of people’s deaths, but compared to killings inspired by Marx’s writings, Hitler pales in comparison. Hence Hitler’s second most harmful and Marx is first. Okay even if I buy this argument, my point isn’t about rehabilitating Marx and further demonizing Hitler anyway. Let’s remove Hitler and Marx from the equation. How the hell can you explain the presence of figures such as Alfred Kinsey, Betty Freidan, Auguste Comte, Jonh Dewey, and John Maynard Keynes? (I leave Mao and Nietzsche out purposely because they can be collapsed into one point for Marx’s team and one point for Hitler’s)? Clearly their sins are liberalism in economics, education, thought, sex, gender. I think that their real ire is not so much directed against the radical left or right, but at the five liberal texts that standout as a bit strange and, frankly, paranoid of the perceived specter that is haunting our present existence: the specter of liberalism.