Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Around the World with Embalmed Communists

Recently there’s been some blather about removing Lenin from Red Square and inserting him into a hole in the ground. Yeah, I’ll believe it when I see it. About once a year some Russian public figure suggests burying the Father of the Proletariat, everybody talks about it for a day or two, and then the idea fades away. You see, the interesting thing about Lenin is that, after you’ve seen him once you forget that he’s there. I mean, I’m sure Putin never thinks that there’s a hollowed out shell of a human located in a glass box a stone’s throw from his office. I lived in central Moscow for three years and hardly ever thought about it myself. Lenin’s basically invisible. Familiarity breeds indifference.

Why I Love Bad Movies (With a Few Exceptions)

One of the stranger aspects of human nature is our capacity to take delight in things that are awful. For instance, in my late teens I embarked upon an intense study of the horror movies I had been forbidden to watch as a child: Dracula flicks starring Christopher Lee, or B-movies with Vincent Price. None were scary, most were boring and then I stumbled upon Dracula AD 1972, in which the vampire drinks the blood of groovy people in 70s London. It was awful. And yet I enjoyed it more than the others, as my tears of boredom alternated with laughter and amazement at the poor judgment of it all. I was hooked: bad films were good.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Somebody Still Loves You, Tom Cruise

Last week, I was mildly surprised to hear that Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are getting divorced. Why, only a few days before I had read an interview in People magazine in which Cruise kept banging on about “Kate” and his daughter Suri, and how he was looking forward to a happy 50th birthday celebration with his family. And then this Tuesday Tom turned 50, alone… How could it all have gone so wrong so quickly?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A Short History of Useful Idiots

Mussolini: you might think he was just a blustering fool in a fez, but once upon a time many people took him very seriously. I remember my shock when, aged 15 or so, I learned from my history teacher that Churchill had spoken approvingly of the black shirts in the 1920s. This week however I was reading a biography of the first Fascist and learned that Winston was not alone. Franklin Roosevelt praised the Italian dictator as a gentleman; Chiang Kai-shek asked for a signed photograph; and even Gandhi (yes lovely, non-violent, vegetable-munching Gandhi) described him as the “Savior of Italy.” Hmm. That’ll be the guy who let his soldiers use live Ethiopians for target practice and ended his political career shipping Jews to Hitler for extermination? All right then!

The Best of British!

This summer, London will host the Olympic Games, and many foreign visitors will visit Great Britain. Although the games are still a few weeks away, I am pleased to report that my green and pleasant homeland’s reputation for hospitality is already proving well-deserved. This week for instance a gentleman named David Beckham, who is married to one of our famous “Spice Girls,” released his “Best of British” guide for visitors. Alas I cannot tell you what it contains, for Mr. Beckham requested that I acquire an “app” for my “phone,” whereas I still rely on carrier pigeons for long distance communications. But not to worry! This week, for those planning a visit, or who are simply curious about our Sceptred Isle, I have prepared my own list. Tally ho!

America Has No Problems

Problems, problems, everybody has problems. Look at Russia right now. Those protesters - they’ve got problems. If they don’t get prior permission for their rallies they will now be fined thousands of dollars. The opposition leaders have problems: the police raided their apartments, seized all their hi-tech gear and “investigations are ongoing.” Pussy Riot has problems. Ksenia Sobchak has problems… jeez… so many problems.

Save Us From The Moderates

Recently in Texas we had some elections, and I was very interested in the smears politicians hurled at each other. The worst thing a politician can be called here is a “Washington Insider” as the Federal Government obviously represents nothing but waste, incompetence, cronyism and assaults on freedom. Some of this contempt is undoubtedly deserved, but it’s not as if the Feds are entirely awful. For instance, Washington runs the military, which most Texans support very strongly.

YOU SAY “помидор” I SAY “помідор”

Last week, fists flew in the Ukrainian parliament over the latest attempt to grant the Russian language a measure of official status in the country. Fat politicians brawled with other fat politicians, while outside, an angry crowd protested. From her jail cell, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko denounced the bill as a “crime.” Earlier, she had characterized it as an apparently sacrilegious assault on “an issue that is holy for many of us.”

White Indians

Recently there’s been a bit of a kerfuffle in Massachusetts, where Ted Kennedy’s old senate seat will soon be up for grabs. Having kept it in the family since 1955, it went Republican at the last election, which is akin to the Biblical prophecy of “'The Awful Horror' standing in the place where he should not be" (Mark  13:14) as far as Democrats are concerned. Hoping to win it back this November, the party has put forward a high cheek-boned member of the privileged, white, upper middle class liberal intelligentsia, a Harvard law professor named Elizabeth Warren.

How I Got Back to Nature

Like many British people, I grew up disconnected from nature. Though my small town was close to forests and woods and water, we pretty much left the animals and plants alone. Specialists, known as “farmers”, were our mediators. Every now and then you might go for a ramble between fields, but that was about it, even though (in Scotland at least) you are never very far away from a herd of sheep.

March of the Pygmies

Right now it seems as if the leadership of the entire planet is coming up for election. At least that’s the impression I get from the news: there are changes of leadership everywhere, or at least in those places where the population is allowed to have a say in such matters. But when I look at the results, I can’t help thinking that the people coming into power are completely incapable of meeting the challenges of our times.

Watching Kim Jong-un

What would it be like to be told at age 27 that for the next four decades you were going to have to kill, starve and oppress millions of people if you wanted to stay alive? A strange question you may think, and yet not an unreasonable one. It is after all, precisely what happened to Kim Jong-un, the son of Kim Jong-il and now leader of the world’s most oppressive state.