MOSCOW, July 10, 2007 -- Wednesday was the 4th of July. Often American holidays slip past me, but I actually was aware of it because I noted the date as I took my blood pressure. Dissident compadre Andrei Sh. verified it when he sent me an e-mail greeting card.
The e-card is actually very touching, and I couldn’t keep the tears from coming to my eyes: Not for what America is today, but for what it used to be, BB: Before Bush – and Bill and Bush’s father and Ronnie Rayguns and Tricky Dick and LBJ, LBJ, how many kids have you killed today?
Why do we have Bushes and Nixons and LBJs and Stalins and Hitlers and Napoleons and Torquemadas? What makes people get their kicks out of watching other people, other nations, suffer and be destroyed?
I first became preoccupied with this question at the end of an 18-year gay relationship, when my ex-partner seemed to take maniacal delight in making my life as miserable as possible. And in comparing notes with my straight friend BB in Seattle, he had gone through the same thing with his ex-wife.
Why do some people – Stalin, Hitler, and now Bush and Putin – seem to get great satisfaction out of manipulation, exploitation, cruelty, violence, torture, and killing?
Surprisingly, as prevalent as it is in our lives, not much has been written about destructive aggression. The “instinctivists” and the behaviorists would have us believe it’s simply human nature. But there are a lot of humans who enjoy making people happy and improving the lives of those around us instead of exploiting, manipulating, and destroying them. Cruelty and destruction do not bring joy to all of us. So it’s not instinct. What is it then?
In my attempts to understand it, I stumbled across the mother lode in a used book store in the Seattle University District. It was entitled The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, by the psychoanalyst Erich Fromm. It appeared in 1973 at the height of our most recent prior excursion into Imperial marauding and blanket murder of non-white, non-Christian, non-Americans.
Even if I were a trained psychoanalyst, I couldn’t explain Fromm’s thesis in a couple of paragraphs. But essentially, he says we all fall somewhere on a continuum between the totally malevolent, or “necrophilous” – (not someone who gets his jollies with cadavers, but someone who finds satisfaction in death and destruction) -- like Hitler and Stalin; and the totally selfless biophilous – someone who thrills to life and growth and the happiness of others -- like Mother Theresa and Albert Schweizer (remember his “reverence for life”?).
Where we land on that continuum of personal commitment to either destruction or flowering depends on how successfully we make it through Freud’s three levels of sexual development – oral, anal, and genital – which in turn is contingent on the influence of parents, friends, role models, and the circumstances of our surroundings.
So the character trait of destruction is not easy to quantify or to program. About all we can do is try to recognize it by looking at the behavior of people around us and assessing whether it’s exploitive, manipulative, sadistic, masochistic, destructive; or if it’s behavior that nurtures life, love, joy, growth, and happiness.
So did Barbara Bush simply do a bad job of toilet training little Georgie? Who knows? Anyway, that’s a bit simplistic. But however they get that way, the “severely necrophilous” are “very dangerous,” warns Fromm. They are the “haters, the racists, those in favor of war, bloodshed, and destruction.” They are particularly dangerous as political leaders or as those who contribute to the necrophilous political leader’s goals – the executioners, terrorists, torturers who are “just doing their jobs.”
I rest my case. The America of spacious skies and amber waves of grain is in the grip of a hate monger who has crept to the upper end of the scale of evil. Even worse, like Torqemada of the Spanish Inquisition, he is waging his global vendetta of destruction and annihilation for God (well, really for oil, but God does want his chosen nation to have plenty of oil for its SUVs and outdoor barbecues, right?), so of course he can’t be faulted. After all, God isn’t evil, so how can a Godian be evil?
That’s why the tears that came to my eyes as I looked at the scenes and listened to the stirring anthem, were not for the America of today, which glories in killing tens and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Muslims for their oil, but for the country I used to know, the country that used to beckon “your tired, your poor, your wretched refuse yearning to be free,” that used to offer “liberty and justice for all” of which I was so proud.
Today, with its domestic repression under the guise of “Homeland Security” and its international empiricism under the pretense of spreading democracy, my native land is looking more like Russia every day. Unless you manage to elect a successor with a commitment to vibrant rebirth, growth, development, kindness, and what we used to call Christian charity to counter the eight years of Bushian manipulation, violence, destruction, and little-mindedness, the future of America isn’t very bright.
I’m living in your future.
The problem is that it may simply be too late. The Bushwhacker may have done so much economic and political damage to the ship of state that it will sink no matter who we put at the helm. He may prove to be the iceberg that ripped the Titanic. Maybe there’s nothing we can do at this point but rearrange the deck chairs and look for a good orchestra.
“How does a yogi celebrate his freedom?” I wrote in thanking Andrei for his e-card. As for me, “I'll celebrate it by not celebrating. We do have a beautiful day for it. Maybe I'll go for a walk with my dog. We'll celebrate her freedom :-))
”And in turn a happy holiday to you,” I continued. “How does a yogi celebrate his freedom? I never thought of it. But now that I've raised the question, tell me.”
“Well I cannot speak for all yogies, there's too much of that stuff nowadays which call themselves yogi;” he replied. “What I can say is that the true yogi celebrates his freedom by daring his death. Anyway, it's the only way for him to tell if he's still alive.”
“Glad you're still alive :-))” I responded.
“Yeah, I'm still alive, still free, and still in Russia. Unbelievable! I
guess this preposterous situation won't last long though.”
“What's going to change -- life, freedom, or Russia?”
“I don't know, nor am I in a particular hurry to find it out. All I know is
that the anomaly of this trinity - life, freedom, Russia - cannot last long.
But let's wait and see.”
“Yeah, I see what you mean. It is an unlikely trio.”
“I won't feel sorry if the latter part of this unlikely trio disappears over
the horizon. 'Adieu, monsieur, tout et finis', as the song goes - excuse my
“May she rest in peace – or pieces.”
Friday was also my 74th birthday. I celebrated it quietly. I told almost no one that it was my birthday. Even so, I got a lot of calls and a lot of wishes. I didn’t want a party. Maybe I’ll have a whing-dinger next year for my 75th!
My one concession to the occasion was to invite fantasy Peter to an Ethiopian restaurant. He toasted me with the usual wishes for health, wealth, and happiness, and finally, a “may you always be as young in spirit as you are now.”
Okay, I’ll take that.
A lunch with Peter was my only concession to birthday tradition. He also gave me my only birthday present -- a coffee table volume of Russian Chronicles.
He also gave me a large expensive coffee table volume of Russian Chronicles, which I plan to at least try to read.
But inevitably the talk turned to Russian politics and a continuation of our discussion last time, when Peter said he felt no less free under Putin than he did before. Of course, his only “before” was Yeltsin, so that doesn’t count for much.
But it was all a little depressing. He acknowledged that he is a “patriot,” meaning, in Russia, a jingoist. His country is always right. The Soviet Union was entitled to the Baltic countries and Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Yugoslavia because Russia won the war against Hitler and the spoils belong to the victor. The Prague spring offensive was justified because the Czechs didn’t like the Russian government, and that constituted a threat.
“And the United States invaded Vietnam,” he countered.
“Yes, and it was wrong,” I said. “And I along with millions of other people protested on the streets of Washington that it was wrong, and my government didn’t arrest me.”
“No one will argue that we have human rights in Russia,” he said. “We never have had and we probably never will.”
So the two things that are most important to me and, I think, traditionally to most Americans – human rights and self-determination – aren’t in the Russian tradition and shouldn’t necessarily be, he said.
Russia is defending itself against the West in general and the United Stanecessarily betes in particular – if not militarily, at least economically. In Russian tradition, if you win, somebody else loses. There’s no such thing as a win-win. So Russia is out to win at all costs – against everybody.
It all took a lot of luster out of my fantasies for Peter. Do I really want to seduce a Russian patriot?
And what are my chances in any case? We were discussing going to Minsk or St. Peterburg in August – maybe to catch the Rolling Stones concert.
I told him that I had a friend who had gone to the John Elton concert there two nights before.
“I like his music,” Peter replied. “I don’t like his life style – living with another man – but he’s a good musician.”
So where does that leave my fantasy?
Gazprom and Transneft will be creating their own armies under provisions of a law now making its way through the Duma.
The purpose is ostensibly to enable the two energy giants – the largest gas company in the world and Russia’s biggest oil pipeline company – to better protect their increasingly precious hydrocarbons from terrorism, but Andrei Sh. sees something more ominous: Private armies marching to the drum of company profits and oligarchs rather than to the drum of state security.
And Russia is abdicating its responsibility for the protection and safety of its own citizens.
”It's obvious even for a damn fool that the Kremlin gang has chosen to dismantle their own state before its inevitable collapse,” Andrei wrote. “I wonder do they really think they would be much safer if guarded by Gazprom goons…?
“….Whatever their immediate personal reasons for doing this, the hard fact is now they need neither the army, nor actually the FSB, the backbone of their state.”
“What do you see as the worst possible scenario under this provision?” I asked him.
“The first thing that comes to mind is the feudal wars when every baron had his own troop of bandits. But bearing in mind that they are also going to pass an updated version of the law on fighting extremism, which is supposed to stamp out not just political opposition but simply any kind of dissent (Chapt. 255, Putin races Bush for “most contemptible” title), it means they have decided to reduce the complex mechanism of the state to a simple gas & oil pump.
“The Kremlin's tacit support of rabid nationalism, read separatism, is yet another evidence of the existence of such plans. Bearing in mind their mental capacity I'm not surprised they want to make the world as unsophisticated as their brains are, and I'm rather curious to see if these bunch of empowered morons may succeed in their schemes.”
I’m not sure I follow Andrei’s reasoning in all this, but it seems to be that these private “feudal” armies will be concerned, not with protecting the state or the citizens, but their individual masters and their fortunes – perhaps against each other.
The army becomes largely a useless appendage – as in fact, it already by and large is.
I suppose we can only wait and see if his dire forecasts materialize.
“When Tanya returns, I am going to kill her and then kill myself.” Sergei was in tears Wednesday night. I hugged and kissed him.
“Honey, that’s a terrible thing. You should never destroy a human life.”
“She destroyed mine, and I will destroy hers.”
“Sergei, she’s not the only girl in the world.”
“She’s the only one for me. I wanted to live with her and have children. She has destroyed my life.
Lots of people have said this when the love of their life has jilted them. But Sergei has a history of volcanic impetuosity. He’s also of the old eye-for-an-eye school, so it’s possible he might just carry out his threat, I thought.
Through his tears, he said he loved his father, his brothers and sisters, and me.
I went to bed in a state of depression.
When I woke up at 5 a.m. on Thursday, I went into his room. He was still watching television. He hadn’t slept all night.
“Honey,” I said. “Do you really love me?”
“Yes, of course.”
“If you really love me, you won’t do what you said last night. Life is the most precious thing we have.”
While I was eating my muesli and banana he came into the kitchen. “There are other girls. She’s a tramp. Her mother is a tramp. And she’s just like her mother. I watched a film, and other guys my age lose their girlfriends and life goes on. They find wives, get married, and have children.
“Fuck her!” he concluded.
That’s more like it. So I guess I won’t be packing up a body to send back to Svetlograd after all. Death here is such a bureaucratic nightmare.
But as is often the case with true love, the story was quite different a couple of days later. She was coming back. He was overjoyed. And he will reform, he promised. No more all-night sessions playing “Legend” on the computer or watching TV. He will sleep with her and fuck her and never let her go.
Well, you gotta admit, it’s a lot better than butchering her.
But then a couple of nights later the roller coaster dipped again: He had SMS’d her begging her to return to Moscow. “What do I have in Moscow to come back for?” she replied.
So she doesn’t love him. She’s not coming back. Oh, Lord, now he’s going to kill her again. And her mother. But this time, not himself. He’ll go to prison instead. But fortunately by the next morning he had changed his mind again. He’ll get a job and a new girlfriend and doesn’t want to ever see her again.
But his propensity for violence is disturbing. Even to say that you want to destroy a life because that life has hurt you is a violation of everything I believe and stand for. But I do think I am a tempering influence on his rage, and that at least he’s not acting on it before he thinks it over, and when he thinks it over, he comes down on the side of reason. So far.
As my teaching load – and income – continue to dwindle for the summer months, the question inevitably arises: Am I losing my touch? Is this somehow a reflection on my teaching skills? Or is it just a seasonal reality?
I called Potemkin U.: Will I be teaching this fall? “Yes, we would be very happy if you can teach Organizational Behavior in September.” Okay, that will boost my bank account. And of course, the director of the Inst. of Diplomacy has already asked me if I can teach the regular fall classes in mid-September.
And Maxim’s promise last week of four more students (Chapt. 255, Putin races Bush for “most contemptible” title) has been bolstered by another former student, Andrei (whose girlfriend’s father was the Mogodan prison superintendent who may have solved the mystery of the “third man” – Chapt. 233, Mogadan prison may shed light on mystery killers), who told me he had “a beautiful woman and a good looking man” who want to take lessons from me. He’ll get back in touch about specific times.
But he hasn’t gotten back.
Another former student Ostap, a high-powered bank lawyer, wants me to improve his written English. He will send me essays to correct and I will critique them and send them back to him. We’ll meet periodically for payment. He also stressed several times that if I need any legal help, he’s ready to help me. That’s a comfort. I could have used him ten years ago when Tioufline stole my apartment. But ten years ago the 26-year-old was still a school boy.
But Ostap has yet to send me an essay.
And Arman, another former student, called and wants to resume lessons immediately. He’s started already.
My Information Plus classes also resume this week, and my student Alexei has returned from vacation.
So maybe I don’t have to declare bankruptcy after all. Things are looking up.
And it’s about time! I took in less than $ 200 last week. But this week I should see between 400 and 500 bucksi, so I’m inching back to normal even without my new students. By the time the fall schedule kicks back in full time I’ll be comfortable again.
My experience with Nizhny Novgorod Vanya, whom I put through the university and then lent $ 3,000 last fall, after which he has simply disappeared (Chapt. 251, Is U.S.-Russian conflict unavoidable? Probably), has been the bitterest pill yet and has steeled my determination to never again lend more than a couple hundred dollars – to anybody. I trusted Vanya absolutely. I am reluctantly concluding what everybody else has been telling me for ages: Nobody in Russia is to be trusted with my money.
But I know that isn’t true. I know some that I know could be trusted – Basil, Sasha, Peter. But the ones who can be trusted never ask for it. Maybe that’s a clue.
Kisses are good for you! say researchers at the Univ. of Cologne in Germany.
We all know that. But they’re not talking about playing smacky mouth. They’re talking about Hershey’s candy kisses.
The team of researchers found that one small square of a 16-square Ritter Sport bar – the equivalent of about a kiss and a half -- per day for nearly five months lowered blood pressure – slightly.
But who can stop at one small square? It’s hard enough to stop at one whole bar of Ritter chocolate, a superb nut-filled chocolate bar made in Germany. I assume it’s made its way to America by now. If not, a couple of Hershey’s chocolate kisses would serve the purpose.
The limited study, which appeared in last week’s Journal of the American Medical Assn., involved only 44 people aged 56 through 73. The systolic blood pressure, the top number, dropped by an average of nearly three points and diastolic by two.
So where’s the inevitable “but…?” Ah, here it is! If you eat more than one square, you’ll get fat and the weight gain will undo any benefits from the chocolate!
Anyway, for us chocoholics, it’s good news, even if only a very small dose of it.
There was an Elton John concert in St. Pete on my birthday, and Red Queen Administrator Basil was one of the thousands of Russian fans who braved the rain and surly security guards to catch their hero live in the open air Dvortsovaya Square concert next to the Hermitage Museum.
For a seat in the equivalent of the orchestra section, Basil paid 6,000 rubles – about $ 265!!! If you didn’t insist on being comfortable, you could buy standing room for only about $ 20.
Here is Basil’s account:
Black clouds and umbrellas covered Dvortsavaya Ploschad -- Palace Square -- not far from the Hermitage Museum in St. Peterburg, for the first half of the July 6 Elton John concert. Seats cost $ 265. For about $ 20 you could stand for the two-and-a-half hour performance. Surprisingly, there were few overtly gay spectators.
There were a lot of soldiers and (security) men in black suits. They told us how to behave during the show: not to leave our seats, not to stand in front of the stage, and not to join in the songs. That was odd for fans who had visited Elton's European concerts, 'cause EJ doesn't like such dumb audiences. It was strange for me, too, 'cause I thought it would be like a rock concert where you could show your affection towards the star in many ways.
But some said that they were expecting some sort of Spanish prince or maybe Valentina Matvienko, the governor of Peter, to attend. I didn’t see either. But the fact that we didn’t have a roof over our heads didn’t seem to bother them.
The weather that day had been nice, but just before the beginning of the concert it turned nasty. The clouds literally boiled up! EJ's staff, who just a couple of minutes before, had opened his piano, which was covered with canvas, began to cover it again with first huge drops of rain.
I got up and put on my raincoat and within a moment my plastic seat was filled with water. People who had umbrellas opened them, and those who didn't, ran to the stage. So it was impossible for the security guards to force people to follow the rules.
There were rumors that the show would be cancelled or postponed.
“This is the story of my life,” I told myself: After 12 years of trying to catch an Elton John concert, I had managed to get tickets to one, only to have it postponed or canceled? But I didn't really believe it, because that’s not what they usually do under such circumstances -- especially for a concert by Elton John, who was celebrating his 60th birthday on this tour.
And I was right.
I was reminded of a quote from an American movie: “You're not a hero! Elvis went to the army. Elvis was a hero!”
So was Elton.
Lights appeared over the stage and excitement filled the square, but still I could see no Elton John – only the tops of umbrella.
In a few seconds I realized that people were beginning to stand on the chairs. I immediately stood on mine also. The first song was Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding with a long instrumental part. The song was still playing when we - jumping over the chairs - managed to get into the VIP zone, almost right in front of the stage. I noticed that some of the VIP visitors had left the show with the first rain drops and they continued leaving. So step by step we edged closer to the stage, but still it was hard to see EJ behind the umbrellas.
Fortunately, after the middle of the concert the rain stopped. My shoes and jeans were wet, but I didn't feel it. I was singing and dancing in the rain :-) standing on the chair. And there were a lot of people who got soaked through and did the same!
So the rain turned out to be a good thing, and made this concert unforgettable. EJ thanked us for standing there for two-and-a-half hours under the rain and dedicated to everyone his most childish, but most sincere song, called “Your song”.
He did his best, including two-and-a-half hours of live singing, acrobatic feats in front of his piano and autographs for fans with vinyl records.
I hope he liked this concert as much as we did, though many were disappointed by the poor organization. “But it's Russia, what did you expect?” they said.
As for me, everything was as good as it could get, because it was my first, long-awaited Elton John concert!
So this is my story.
The most incredible thing was the oddly-assorted public. I saw only one blond, blue-eyed guy who looked gay. I saw a middle-aged man in a dull suit who looked like something from the Soviet past. I saw many about whom I could say something, as was, I'm sure, said about 20-year-old short, fat Reginald Kenneth Dwight when he first started his great career.
By the time the rain stopped, we had pushed up to within 15 feet of the stage where Sir Elton John -- nee Reginald Kenneth Dwight -- was performing. It was still almost the peak of white nights, so although the concert finished at 10 p.m., it was still almost broad daylight.
The fact that the 2014 winter Olympics will be held in Sochi, the Russian resort city on the banks of the Black Sea, has many Russians boasting of the world’s recognition of Russia’s rising prominence and crediting Putin with virtually single-handedly capturing the “prize.”
Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov has already predicted that Putin will again be a candidate in the 2012 election and will open the games himself as Russia’s president.
Putin has promised that the state will invest $ 12 billion in creating the Olympic infrastructure by that time. It has a long way to go. The city is generally underdeveloped, the mountain roads are narrow and dangerous, and the airport is too small for jets to land.
Some Russian officials were already using it as proof that Russia is a “fully recognized democratic nation.”
Putin himself proclaimed it “beyond any doubt, a judgment of our country…, a recognition of our growing recognition of our growing capability, first of all economically and socially.”
Human rights activitists had urged the International Olympics Committee to block the bid, saying it would legitimize a repressive government.
But Putin’s personal speech before the Olympics Committee meeting in Guatemala was apparently too appealing to resist.
And there is, after all, the remote possibility that Russia might grow to meet the world’s expectations by that time. But I don’t think anybody really believes that.
What everyone agrees on is that a lot of already well-lined pockets – the oligarchs in steel, aluminum, building, etc. (stocks in these industries started going up the next day) -- will get lined a lot more. Real estate and even retail prices in Sochi have already started rising.
The rich will get richer and the poor will watch it on TV.