Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Why Solzhenitsyn Still Matters

When I first moved to Russia I set myself the goal of getting to grips with the titans of Russian literature. Ultimately I would spend six years reading primarily Russian authors, but in those early days the prospect of battling my way through all those massive texts seemed intimidating, the reading equivalent of crossing Siberia on foot.

One author I was especially intimidated by was Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, at least in part because the book I had brought with me from Scotland was Cancer Ward. I mean, why didn’t I bring Ivan Denisovich? That book was about the GULAG yes, but it was very short. Cancer Ward was about cancer AND Stalinism AND it was 560 pages long. Hey, why not read The Master and Margarita instead? It’s got the devil in it!

Waiting To Burn

This past Monday was Labor Day, a rare and precious day off for most Americans. As I am self-employed I was faced with three options:

1)    Work and get the edge on my competitors while they are napping - or at least stave off homelessness a little longer

2)    Work, but dedicate the time to my more esoteric writing projects

3)    Do nothing

Colonel Gaddafi's Conan The Barbarian Moment

Ah, the unpredictable world of the dictator. One minute you’re a living god with a gold toilet, multiple palaces and a personal bodyguard of nubile female ninjas, and then the next it’s all over, as if all that splendor was nothing more than a very long - and mostly quite pleasant - dream.

Such is the reality Muammar Gaddafi finds himself inhabiting right now. Until recently he was not only the planet’s most famous colonel (after the guy who makes fried chicken, of course) but also Africa’s longest reigning head of state. Less than nine months ago he was still being feted by world leaders and fawned over by a prestigious English university hungry for oil money. His children enjoyed expensive educations at European and American institutions. And what about those tender, personal moments spent leafing through his album of Condoleezza Rice portraits?

Faith In Helicopters

The other night I was working in my backyard when I caught a whiff of smoke on the wind: a barbecue? I wondered. But there were no smoke trails coming from behind my neighbor’s fences; nor could I smell sizzling meat.

I checked the green belt behind my house- no tongues of flame there either. Furthermore, the odor was different, not a wood fire, but rather…. Ah that’s it! It was the same burning plastic/chemical/metal aroma that had hovered over my Austin apartment last year after an angry man had flown a plane into the local tax office, hoping to inflict a mini 9/11 on the IRS (He got there too early, before most of the staff were at their desks, and so killed only himself and one other person).

American Election Watch II: The Cowboy Cometh

In June, I wrote an overview of Republican candidates for the 2012 presidential nomination, and concluded with the suggestion that readers keep a close watch on Rick Perry, governor of Texas. Well, last weekend Perry declared his candidacy and immediately leaped into second place, behind Mitt Romney (who is a Mormon). That’s what happens when you run against such obvious losers. Now we are swamped with critical articles about Perry and Texas, most of them by people who knew very little about the state or its governor until a few days ago. Today, I will analyze the effectiveness of these criticisms, and once I’m finished you won’t need to read any more articles about Perry (unless I write them, of course).

When Fools Go To War

What was the central lesson that the Great Powers learned from the carnage of World War II? I firmly believe it was “never again”- that is, “never again will we fight a country that has even a remotely comparable military strength to our own.” Even so, beating the crap out of weak nations is not always as straightforward as one would imagine.