Sunday, January 31, 2010

Чехов - Радость

It was twelve o'clock at night.

Mitya Kuldarov--excited, disheveled--flew into his parents' apartment and ran through every room.   His parents had already lay down to sleep.  His sister lay between the sheets reading the final pages of a novel.  His schoolboy brothers slept.

From his astonished parents: "From whence comest thou? What's with you?"

"Oh, don't ask! I never expected such.  No, I never expected such!  It''s simply unbelievable!"

Mitya burst out laughing and sat in an armchair, too overjoyed to hold himself up on two legs.

"It's unbelievable! You cannot imagine it! Look!"

His sister jumped out of bed and, throwing on a blanket, approached her brother.  The schoolboys woke.

"What's with you? It's like your face isn't on you!"

"It's me overjoyed, Mama, for now all of Russia knows me!  Everyone!  Earlier only you alone knew that in this world existed civil servant Dmitri Kuldarov, but now all Russia knows about it!  Mama! Oh, Lordy!"

Mitya galloped off, ran through all the rooms, and again sat.

"Well, what happened? Just do tell!"

"You all live like wild beasts: not reading the papers, not paying the slightest attention to publications--but in the papers there is so much of note!  Now all is known as it happens--nothing is hidden!  How happy I am!  Oh, Lordy!  For the papers only publish about famous people, and here they've taken something about me to print!"

"What? You? Where?"

His father turned pale.  His mother glanced at an icon and crossed herself.  The schoolboys galloped in together as if wearing the same short nightgown and approached their older brother.

"Yes-siree! They've published about me!  Now all Russian will know about me!  You, Mama, will save this edition for remembrance!  We'll read it from time to time.  Look!"

Mitya pulled from his pocket an edition of the newspaper, handed it over to his father, and stuck his finger to the place, highlighted in blue pencil.


The father put on his glasses.

"Read it!"

Mama looked over at the icon and crossed herself.  Papa coughed and began to read: "On the 29th of December, at 11 o'clock at night, civil servant Dmitri Kuldarov..."

"See? See? Continue!"

"...civil servant Dmitri Kuldarov, exiting the Kozihina tavern on Little Bronnoi Street and finding himself in an unsober state..."

"I was with with Simon Petrovich... Everything is described to the smallest detail!  Continue! Onward! Listen!"

"...and finding himself in an unsober state, slipped and fell beneath the nearby horse of cabman Ivan Drotov, a peasant from the village of Durikin in Yukhonovska District.  The startled horse--stepping over Kuldarov and dragging over him the harnessed sleigh along with its occupant, Moscow merchant of the 2nd Guild Stepan Lukov--raced along the street before being detained by a group of maintenance workers.  Kuldarov, initially found in a semi-conscious state, was led to a police station and was examined by a physician.  The blow that he received to the back of the head..." 

"It was the axle, Papa.  Onward!  Read on!"

"...that he received to the back of the head, was classified as minor.  The occurrence was entered in the public record.  The victim was given medical assistance..."

"They wrapped my head in cold, wet bandages.  You believe me now?  Ay?  So there it is!  It has gone out to all of Russia!  Give it here!"

Mitya snatched the paper, folded it, and put it in his pocket.

"I'll run to the Makarovs and show them...I also must show the Ivanovs, Natalia Ivanova, Anisim Vasilivich...I'm off!  Farewell!"

Mitya put on his cockaded hat and triumphantly, blissfully ran out to the street.

(trans. Michael Wasiura)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Obama the Ющенко?

Desultory Eclecticism was in Ukraine on November 7, 2006, the day Democrats retook the U.S. House and Senate in that year's midterm elections.  On November 8, 2006, nearly two months before the 110th Congress was to convene, he was asked by a politically aware Kievan, "Well, what have they done so far?"

Victor Yushchenko lost popular support within months of assuming office in January 2005, having failed to fulfill inflated expectations immediately.  A lame duck for the bulk of his term, his main accomplishment remains overcoming Russian propaganda and poison to lead a peaceful revolution, ensuring at the very least that his successor will be freely and fairly elected on February 7th.  Yushchenko was a sub par president; at 56, he may live long enough to die a hero.  

Traveling through Ukraine over the holidays, Desultory Eclecticism was frequently asked about American attitudes toward Barack Obama.  He generally responded that expectations for Obama were very high, that many supporters were already disillusioned with the President's performance, and that many vocal detractors still harbored irrational fears about the President's Marxist-Pacifist allegiances.  His Ukrainian interlocutors were generally surprised to learn that delusional propaganda exists outside the Kremlin's sphere of influence (Yushchenko is still compelled to deny allegations that his American-born wife is an FBI agent) and that after 221 years of democracy, Americans still do not appreciate the inability of politicians to accomplish just about anything.

Obama, like Yushchenko, has an immortal place in his country's history for symbolic reasons alone.  Realistically--even looking ahead to shrinking Congressional majorities after the 2010 midterms--Scott Brown is probably the nadir of Obama's first term.  With a Republican Party still fractured between the David Frum center-right and Glenn Beck's minutemen, it's hard to imagine a Republican nominee capable of going 2 for 3 in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida in 2012, Nader or no.  Here's to the unlikely hope that the Left can separate the perfect from the possible, a moderate Republican or two can call a Tea-Bagger a tea-bagger, and a President who's likely headed for two terms anyway can win more than just symbolic victories.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Вибори 2010

No surprises in the first round of Ukraine's Presidential election, and little international coverage outside of a few small stories buried on BBC's website.  Ukraine's electoral process requires a candidate to win a 50% mandate in a nationwide vote before assuming the Presidency.  With the industrial east of the country strongly behind Victor Yanukovych and the western and central oblasts undecided on a candidate to assume the tainted Orange mantle, the January 17th vote functioned more as a primary for former Orange supporters, as 18 candidates split the vote sufficiently to necessitate a runoff between the top two candidates on February 7th.  Yanukovych, the villain of 2004, won the opening round handily, as predicted.  Yulia Tymoshenko, the former Orange princess, held off a late surge from banking millionaire Sergei Tihipko to secure the second position in the second round.

Now the fun begins.  Korrespondent, Ukraine's largest news weekly, has maintained a running tally as the votes are counted.  Since last night, Yanukovych's percentage has fallen from over 41% down to 35.39%.  Tymoshenko's tally has risen slightly, from 23% to 25.01%, with future contenders Tihipko and Arseniy Yatsenuk picking up 13.1% and 6.96% respectively.  A first glance would favor Yanukovich in two weeks; this first glance is misleading.  While the beast of the east is sure to pick up the 3.55% that went to Communist Pyotr Simonenko and the 2.34% won by Rada Speaker Vladimir Litvin, Tymoshenko will reap the vast majority of Tihipko, Yatsenuk, and Victor Yushchenko (5.48%) supporters.  By Desultory Eclecticism's unscientific count, if turnout for the February 7th election mirrors the 67% figure seen on Sunday, Tymoshenko should be able to count on 50.5% of the vote.  Fortunately, such events do not occur in vacuums, meaning that the next two weeks should be very interesting. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Harry's Boner

Desultory Eclecticism does not like to comment on the 24-hour news cycle.  If you would like a sane analysis of Harry Reidgate, see Ta-Hehisi Coates at The Atlantic.  That said, The Daily Show should have no shortage of material tonight with the Senate Majority Leader "on the trolley."

Friday, January 8, 2010

All Bad Poetry is Sincere

Glance to the right as you cross fifty-fifth;
Recession has come for Fifth Ave.
Furred women leave Prada and hail their cabs,
Small shopping bags signs of their thrift.
At Starbucks: free tables! And some near bereft.
Are sandwich and scone no more craved?
And what of these lattes, all tall and none grand,
Can such cure the afternoon drifts?

Glance to the left as you cross fifty-fifth;
A larva 's crept south from the Park.
A blanketed mass with a Starbucks-cup hand
Lies curled in front of St. Barts.
The city eyes pass, drifting north t'wards the Park,
Where lilies ne’er toil, but freeze in cold land.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Iran Into a Civics Lesson

Desultory Eclecticism will elucidate his Eastern European observations once the jet lag wears off.  For now, its time to catch up on last week's developments.

At Foreign Policy, Gary Sick reveals the machinations behind the Obama Administration's quiet political coup on Iran policy.  By granting exclusive interviews to The Washington Post and The New York Times, the administration was able to divert media coverage towards old successes at a time when the punditocracy was set to pounce on diplomacy's failure to meet an arbitrary deadline.  The ploy is Judith Miller-esque, although Desultory Eclecticism feels less prone to moral outrage when prominent media shills shill for the right side.  The article would be a helpful addition to any high school--or university--civics curriculum.

Elsewhere, legal architect John Yoo grants an interview to The New York Times Magazine.  Some fun:

"Which president would you say most violated laws enacted by Congress?
I would say 
Lincoln. He sent the Army into offensive operations to try to stop the South from seceding. He didn’t call Congress into special session until July 4, 1861, well after this had all happened. He basically acted on his own for three months.
Are you implicitly comparing the Civil War with the war in Iraq, in order to justify President Bush’s expansion of executive power? 
The idea is that the president’s power grows and changes based on circumstances, and that’s what the framers of the Constitution wanted. They wanted it to exist so the president could react to crises immediately."   

Lincoln certainly outstepped formal Constitutional bounds during the Civil War, and Yoo is likely correct that most framers would have approved.  Conversely, liberal scholar Juan Cole sums up the Bush-era Constitutional infractions and its former henchmen's response to Obama, hyperbole in-kind:

"Cheney wanted to use the nonsensically phrased 'war on terror' as a wedge to destroy the Bill of Rights and permanently undermine the US constitution, and is annoyed that all the groundwork he laid for the return of rightwing monarchy has been sensibly tossed aside by the constitutional lawyer who succeeded him." 

Lincoln's benevolent dictatorship earned him a national monument, portraits on the penny and $5 bill, and everlasting regard in human history occurring outside of the postbellum South.  George W. Bush's proposed lecture tour was called off when it became evident that the former leader of the free world would not be able to fill a moderately-sized auditorium at $15 a ticket.  Not all abuses of power are created equal.

Back From the Former USSR

Desultory Eclecticism has been on unannounced hiatus for the past week and a half conducting informal pre-election polling in southern Ukraine.  More to come.