Category Archives: Off-topic

The Conquest of Laundry

As I will be in the air for an extended amount of time in the near future, I’d like to leave you with an anecdote that characterized the first year and a half or so of my life abroad.

Clean clothes. Such a simple concept yet we take it for granted so often. We Americans are spoiled- we have dryers. Until I traveled to Russia for the first time in 1999, I’d never seen anyone hang clothes outside of films or TV. After you wash your clothes, a mere 45 minutes is all you need and you can wrap yourself in the warmth of freshly dried clothes. But soon after I moved abroad I would learn that while a dryer is simply a luxury, a washing machine is essential in our modern, urban life.

Our story begins in Prague, where I first arrived in the beginning of March, 2006. I was there to take a course in subverting the Russian government for the American neocon deep state establishment teaching English as a foreign language, and the school running the course offered students rooms in apartments that they owned. Thankfully, this apartment had a washing machine, so everything was in order. No worries, other than that time I got so hammered I threw up in “the biggest club in Central Europe!” and was later nearly robbed by a woman posing as a cab driver, but that’s a story for another time.

Once the course was over, naturally, they wanted you out, and even if they were to let me stay the room was very pricey, so I set about finding a new place. I eventually got a room overlooking Ječná street. It wasn’t the best arrangement. The most obvious deficiency was the lack of the washing machine. But the landlord, an Afrikaner man married to a Czech woman, promised he’d get one within a week. Needless to say, he didn’t get it within a week. I don’t remember how long it took exactly, but it was much later. And within a few days it was clear that it was broken.

Naturally the only solution while we waited for the landlord to “replace” it was to wash stuff by hand. Needless to say as an American I have no experience washing clothes by hand. Even us poor folk had access to washers and dryers, though they were often coin operated. I never managed to get the smell of soap out of my clothes. I suppose there could be worse smells. Every once in a while, like if I was going out at night, I’d treat myself by having a load of laundry washed at this place that did it for you (not drycleaning, just ordinary laundry). They also pressed it, which was a big plus.

Eventually I ended up moving far from the center of town to an establishment known as Hotel Dum, a name which sounds funny regardless of whether or not you pronounce it correctly. I lived on a floor for long-term residents, most of whom were students. Naturally my first question was about laundry. And of course, I was to be disappointed.

There was a “laundry room,” but it contained only one washing machine. The procedure for using said washing machine was ridiculously complex. What you had to do was leave a deposit with the front desk in order to get a key to the room for 24 hours. However, since there were many other people on the floor who wanted to do laundry, you had to find out from the front desk who had the key and when they would be returning it (assuming they were going to return it around the end of their 24 hours and not early). You’d need to coordinate with this person so as to make the handoff. Of course some people were happy to let you use the washing machine while they had the key, but this meant you had to coordinate your schedules for the day. I probably managed to use that machine maybe three times, about once a month. Needless to say I still paid those people to do my laundry a few more times, most notably when I moved to Russia in late August of 2006.

washingmachine

The Holy Grail that I had sought in Prague in vain. Would I find it in Russia?

Moving to Russia was the realization of a dream I’d had for roughly six years (my Russian and Ukrainian readers are most likely rolling on the floor with laughter at this point), but now it was the potential fulfillment of a great desire I’d had ever since I’d left that first apartment in Prague. Because I would be working in a small town in the Moscow region, I was entitled to my own company-provided apartment (Moscow-based teachers had to share). When I arrived I was quite pleased to see how modern and spacious it was for a one-bedroom. Sadly, it wasn’t modern enough to have a washing machine.

No worries though- the school administrator promised to get me a washing machine within a week. Spoilers: It was more than a week, but they did actually deliver the damned thing. Once it was delivered, I had to wait for the handyman to install it. Of course it was missing some parts and couldn’t be connected as is. The handyman promised to get the parts and return one day.

Unfortunately that day didn’t come soon enough. You see, two new teachers, a married couple, arrived at our humble school and didn’t like the idea of sharing a washing machine with me, a slovenly bachelor living down the block in another building. Thus my washing machine was moved to their apartment. Sharing the washing machine, especially as the weather began to turn unpleasant, wasn’t really practical. But the final insult was still to come.

I want to stress that both these people were extremely pleasant and competent teachers, and we got on very well. But apparently they didn’t take kindly to Russia. These people had taught in China and traveled throughout Southeast Asia, seeing a great deal of underdevelopment and poverty all along the way- and yet they loved it. Russia, however, managed to break them in about two months. My washing machine was torn from my life and given to them, and yet they left. The administrator decided to leave the washing machine where it was, since they already had a new teacher to replace the couple that left. I would spend the rest of that contract washing my clothes by hand, with the same terrible results.

At the end of that contract, I transferred to Moscow. I would be sharing an apartment. Unfortunately this one was old and dark, and the room where I would spend the next year and two months was practically the size of a walk-in closet. But that didn’t concern me when I first arrived. I looked in the kitchen, and there, under the counter, was a washing machine! One that worked! The nightmare was over. I would have clean clothes all the time. I had zero fashion sense and my clothes were cheap or old because my salary was still quite low in those days, but they were clean and didn’t smell like detergent.

From that day on, I would never be without a washing machine. Even when I was in Ukraine for most of this year I was never without a washing machine, because contrary to what you might have read on Sputnik News or novorossiyanews.info, Ukraine has no shortage of washing machines. I can personally attest that Ukraine’s washing machine game is on point.

Since that first rough year abroad I have called many washing machines my own, including two in one place (the door broke on one and it nearly flooded the bathroom). Over the years I’ve noticed something funny about some of these washing machines here. They all tend to be Italian-made. That wouldn’t be particularly remarkable except for the fact that it seems that some of these Italian manufacturers decided that they could overcome language barriers by using a system of hieroglyphic symbols, numbers, and random letters as opposed to words on the front panel of the machine. The second-to-last washing machine I had was impossible to truly decipher. I had to download a manual and it always seemed like no symbol actually did what the manual claimed it would do.

washing machine

Panel of a Zerowatt washing machine similar to the one I had. Nothing here makes sense. It only provides the illusion of control. For in reality, the machine controls you.

It is possible that one must not only decode the symbols on the machine, but also say or chant a magical incantation while setting the dials in order to actually get the desired effect. It shall forever remain a mystery. Thankfully the washing machine which replaced that ancient model is clearly marked with Russian words and works perfectly, a real testimony to Italy’s prowess at producing washing machines. Bravi!

Anyway, I hope this light-hearted saga from the early period of my time abroad proved amusing to you, the reader. Hopefully it will serve as a temporary but welcome distraction from the horrendous awfulness of our modern world. A distraction from things like this, for example.

See you on the other side of the world!*

 

*Where we have dryers too!

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Summing It Up

So the big news is that very soon I’ll be leaving not only Russia, but the Eastern Hemisphere altogether. For the first time in nearly 12 years, I’m finally, truly, “going home.” It’s a weird feeling- when I left the US in 2006 for the Czech Republic, I was leaving behind everything I knew and forging a path into what was more or less the unknown, yet it was exhilarating. Now I’m going back to what should be familiar, and I’m dreading it. Nonetheless I think this is a very necessary step- a chance to learn new skills, acquire new qualifications, and most of all, make money.

Ideally I’ll return to Ukraine with far more resources, enabling me to do more for the cause, but I have no plans to return to Russia in anything but the most extreme case. Because I have no plans to return, when I leave it will be the close of a very long chapter of my life- the majority of my adult life in fact. As such, I have been mentally taking stock of everything that’s happened, everything I’ve done and the lessons I have learned. I plan to distill all that into a very longread for my patrons, but for the rest of you I’d like to share a few of my observations over the years, with special focus on the positive aspects. After all, I started this blog in September of 2013, when Russia was already clearly entering a dark place. Thus a lot of the positive things from the earlier time, the time when there was hope and progress, were overshadowed by the increasingly authoritarian and reactionary nature of the post 2012-Putin regime. And though I’m focusing on the positive, it may turn out more tragic, because it gives you a glimpse of what the regime is destroying. Whatever the case, when you look at everything we associate with Russia today, keep in mind things could have been different.

Before moving on I just want to stress that I’m not saying these features are uniform in Russia and they are certainly not exclusive to Russia. I have made similar observations about Ukrainian culture, for example. But this is Russia Without BS and this is about leaving Russia after all, so Russia it is.

Culture

What did I like about Russian culture, especially in contrast to American culture, is first and foremost the lack of anti-intellectualism. Of course Russia, especially today, has more than its share of right-wing populists making all kinds of idiotic claims, but they more often than not present these claims as though they are intellectual and academic. They’ll cite sources or books, or they’ll reference other facts to back up their rhetoric, however flawed or questionable some of those “facts” may be. By contrast, many Americans, including big-name commentators who rake in money by the millions, basically sell their bullshit based on “common sense.” “Common sense” said that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. It told people that the real reason for the economic collapse was the government forcing banks to loan to minorities who couldn’t afford to make their payments. Liberals would try to counter with facts, but who needs “book-learnin'” when there’s common sense? “How are you going to catch the game with your nose buried in some book that was probably written by some liberal Marxist professor because he’s saying things I personally don’t believe despite having no background knowledge of this issue?”

I’m going to be blunt with my fellow Americans here and say that the US, at least as I experienced it, is a country that often straight up hates intelligence. You’ll often hear people use phrases like “useless knowledge” to describe things such as history, which happens to be one of the most important topics a person can study. Meticulous knowledge of professional sports is fine, even respected in American masculine culture, but you’re a complete dork if you happen to know something like the history of Al Qaeda and US foreign policy in the Middle East. I’m also not convinced by the superficial rise of “nerd culture” and the obsession with STEM. I think this is simply driven by corporate interests. In general, I’d say a good portion of America, even its liberals, hate intellectualism.

By contrast in Russia even people who disagree with you show a certain modicum of respect when you couch your arguments in academic knowledge. There’s always a minimum of respect for knowledge and people who pursue it. Russians can be just as fanatical about sports as any American, but at the same time they tend to understand that the mind is just as important as the body. The Soviet Union, which brought Russians (and many other people) universal, compulsory education as well as access to higher education, put a high value on learning, even if politics often hampered the process. By contrast in America higher education has become more or less a giant scam, and you deliberately subject yourself to it because “you’ll get a good job.”

While we’re on this topic, I should devote a few words to Russian sport culture. Obviously it has been tainted by last year’s doping scandal, but I can only speak for what I personally experienced while training in judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu here. Whereas I’ve always seen a lot of posturing in American sport culture, I find Russian training partners to be very supportive. They are extremely competitive, but not in an egotistical, “I’m the greatest” sort of way. Sports offer the chance of social mobility to some who might not otherwise be able to attain it, so you can understand why some Russian citizens push themselves so hard. Yet somehow they manage not to be such a dick about it.

There is hope for America, however. Lately we’ve seen a lot of talk about “toxic masculinity,” i.e. that sort masculinity that is harmful, negative, and at times dangerous for society. Many American men will dismiss the concept as “feminist SJW crap,” but if they’d only take the time to actually read up on what it is, they’d see that toxic masculinity tends to hurt males first and foremost. One could argue that it is a societal tool whereby men oppress and abuse each other in order to force conformity into roles that have long ceased to make sense in modern society. Of course talk like this is almost unheard of in Russian discourse these days, yet it’s interesting to note how in some ways the Russians are ahead of Americans in deed, if not in word.

Another thing that must be said is that Russians seem to be far more tolerant of human fallibility. Okay, maybe sometimes too tolerant, but let me illustrate what I mean. A good friend of mine who was a major motivator for me in writing a blog once explained at length about how Russians tend to be more forgiving of social slip-ups than Americans and other Westerners. If someone gets drunk at a party and gets a little bit too loud or maybe gets sick, no big deal- it happens. People were drinking. By contrast in the US that individual is more likely to be uninvited to future events and the whole circle of co-workers or friends will undoubtedly talk behind their back.

Now when I talk about this, I can instinctively hear an American voice asking something like: “Oh okay, so you think someone should just let it slide if someone comes to their house party, gets hammered, and then sexually assaults women while shouting racial slurs and endorsing eugenics?!” And you know what my answer is to that question? Thanks for proving my point about Americans being totally uptight tightwads, because of course you immediately came up with the absolute worst scenario you could imagine. We need to imagine the worst about people so we can justify not forgiving little social faux pas, as if forgiving them will lead to people forgiving horrible, criminal behavior. By contrast I’ve seen Russian friends get angry and shout at each other at many a drunken party, and afterward everyone makes up and understands because hey- we were consuming alcohol. Drunk people do drunk things.

I think this extends to a lot of other aspects of American life as well. For example, much of what I wear in Russia or Ukraine I’d never wear in the States. I can imagine the weird looks, the weird questions I would get if I were to say, wear my black beret. Yes, a beret, the one that was issued to me in the army with the flash and insignia removed. In Russia and Ukraine I’ve often seen people wearing berets. But in America, like I said, I can just imagine the questions. “Oh my god are you like, French or something? Are you in the army? Were you in the army? Why do you have a beret?!” It’s just a hat, America! Look at me, I’m talking to my own country now. This is what years of upbringing in such a nitpicking society has done to me.

The crazy thing about it is that compared to Russians and Europeans, Americans are by no means more fashionable. And yet in these more fashionable countries, you don’t have to follow fashion trends and you don’t get so much judgment for doing so, at least from ordinary people. If you wear something a bit exotic, it’s not taken as a statement, nor are you deemed a hipster. Since 2015 I have often worn a Ukrainian vyshivanka in public, including to work on one occasion. I got nothing but compliments from the few people who said anything. It’s just not such a big deal.

I think this is as good a place as any to wrap up the main cultural points.

Transport

I come from an American city where you have to have a car. Even if you happen to be located within walking distance of good supermarkets, you still need a vehicle because chances are the only job you may find is across town and our public transit sucks. And when you find out why public transit sucks in America, you’re going to be pissed.

During my driving life in my hometown I was fortunate to use a company truck which came with a gas card, especially given the prices at the time. A relatively simple drive across town was a slow, stressful affair. When I had my own car, it was like a ticking time bomb, exploding over and over again to take away a big chunk of my money. Transmission, brakes, water pump, tags- these things could easily wipe out a paycheck.

In Moscow (and Prague, and Kyiv for that matter), I have never felt the need for a car. To be sure, there are a couple good reasons for car ownership in these cities, but you can easily live your life without ever getting behind the wheel.

Moscow has what is arguably the best public transport system in the world. Even with the price hikes over the years, you can still spend less than a dollar to ride literally all over Moscow for as long as you want. If you just want to circle the ring line all day- fifty rubles. That’s nothing.

Sure it can be extremely crowded at rush hour, but I have never had much of a problem getting to any job that was within 15-20 minutes walk of a metro station, and those metro stations keep multiplying across the web that is the Moscow Metro. It is so effective in spite of all the massive problems in the country that you almost wish it would one day become self-aware and overthrow the government. Of course there’s always the danger that it wouldn’t stop there, and instead tunnel its way throughout the globe hell-bent on destroying humanity.

Ecology

When I first came to Moscow in 1999, one of the most striking things I noticed was the large swathes of green territory. At night, from the window of my hotel room near Izmailovsky Market, I noticed the clusters of city lights were interrupted by huge expanses of black. This contrasts greatly with my home town, which is basically paved from one edge of the city to another. At night it’s a flat, electrified waffle with virtually no blacked-out holes in the grid.

Moscow, by comparison, is extremely green. There are large forested parks well within the bounds of the city, easily accessible by metro (there it is again).  Even just around the neighborhood it is extremely green during the summer. It’s also nice to get outside the city and feel the difference in the air.

Sadly I was unable to see the Caucasus mountains (those in Russia, at least), or Lake Baikal.

Culture of Resistance 

Recently resistance to the regime has been rising in spite of increasingly authoritarian behavior since 2012. Right now the opposition movement, if you can even call it one movement, is far from attaining any kind of serious impact on politics, despite its recent victories in Moscow’s municipal elections. But when you look at the shortcomings of the opposition, you have to consider what they’re up against, and then you see how courageous many Russians can be, from soldiers that face prison for desertion because they refuse to take part in the invasion and occupation of Ukraine, to young people who come out to unsanctioned rallies in droves in spite of several years of this so-called “patriotic education.”

All the scheming of the president’s “political technologists,” the vigilante groups, assassination, jailtime for retweets and “likes” on social media, billions spent on domestic propaganda, including paid internet comment trolls- all this has failed to extinguish the spark of resistance and the desire for freedom among the Russian people.

I know that many of my Ukrainian friends look down on the Russian opposition, which has often had a very poor understanding of the “Ukrainian question.” As they say, it is with this question that the Russian liberal ceases to be. And this viewpoint is not wholly unjustified. Ukrainians are understandably upset due to invasion, annexation, occupation, and a war that has killed 10,000 and displaced almost two million people. More to the point, many Russian liberals, including Alexey Navalny, tend to be against the war in Donbas but for the Crimean annexation, making them irreconcilable with Ukrainian national aspirations.

That said, the behavior of Russian liberals is somewhat understandable when you consider the context of the system they live in. If Navalny publicly states that Crimea is Ukraine, he can be immediately hit with a charge for questioning the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation (which, incidentally, is allowed to question other countries’ territorial integrity). The penalty can be as much as five years. Ukrainians like to make a big deal of overthrowing a dictatorship via Maidan, but they never had to go up against a system like Putin’s- a unified dictatorship with a single purpose. Ukraine has been ruled by competing clans, which makes struggle a lot easier because your interests can align with those of other powerful groups. One should also note that Viktor Yanukovych had a place to run to. Putin does not, and I’m quite confident that if he were facing a Maidan-style revolution he’d unleash far more than snipers on his own people. Hell, Putin’s predecessor Yeltsin did exactly that.

Though it has numerous flaws, some of them quite serious, Russia’s opposition is an ember of hope. It’s not just the marches and the organizations either. It’s the little acts of personal resistance we see from time to time. Each one is a reminder to the system that its oppression and propaganda have failed to fully subdue the Russian people, that it will always fail to do so.

Conclusion

When all’s said and done, I have to admit I didn’t use my time here nearly as well as I could have. I often got so caught up in trivial things and missed many opportunities. But still, in these ten years I feel like I have learned more than I did in my whole previous life- about the country, about the world, about myself. I have had the opportunity to meet amazing people of many nationalities and learn from their experience. From Moscow I traveled not only throughout Russia, but throughout the whole hemisphere, from Shanghai to Tangier. I did jobs I’d never have a shot at in the US before I left. I learned to budget my money, and to cook from scratch those things Americans are able to buy in a box or a cheap Chinese buffet. I lost my hair, but I also lost a lot of weight. I experienced the thrill and ultimately the emptiness of casual flings, but also the fulfillment, exhilaration, and even pain of true love. I came face to face with an untimely death, something I’d never had to deal with before.  I experienced war first-hand, something I’d totally missed in the army. I pushed myself harder than I ever have and I offered my life for a cause which I still believe is just.

It’s been a wild ride, one which fails description. When I look back on what I’ve done here, or even how I got here, I feel like I can’t explain it to anyone. It barely even makes sense to me. Hopefully I’ll be able to put everything down in writing one day. At least now I can write the first volume.

 

Two of The Greatest Things You’ll Ever Hear on Anti-Fascism

I’ve been a bit snowed under preparing for my upcoming move, but I wanted to share with my readers some of the most insightful commentary I’ve heard on dealing with fascism and the alt-right in America in a long time. Both are from Chapo Trap House, which shot to the top of my favorite podcast list while I was in Ukraine this summer.

The first is a full episode. which you can find here. It’s a scathing indictment of mainstream liberals’ behavior in the face of rising neo-Nazism in America, when some liberal commentators decided that the radical left was more of a threat than literal neo-Nazis. Worse still, they brandished their idiotic “horseshoe theory” to help explain why the far left is supposedly the same as the alt-right, and it’s also their fault that Queen Hillary crashed and burned while running against a gelatinous orange blob with the mind of a child.  But when the Nazis made their presence impossible to ignore, it wasn’t the middle-aged suburban white moms wearing “pussy hats” on their heads or think tank academics who faced the thugs down in the streets- it was the “unrealistic” radical left.

The other important message in this podcast is that liberalism’s inability to solve the contradictions of the capitalist system inevitably leads to the rise of fascism. Capitalist logic, Malthusian ideology, and an utter lack of ideas or a vision of a better future leads people to formulate terrifying solutions to the real problems we all face. As the hosts point out, the liberal system tells us that our resources are finite and overpopulation is a danger, and because they won’t propose a progressive solution to this issue, thousands of people worldwide see the solution to the problem in wiping out other ethnic groups or “races” so as to secure all the resources for their own group (and by extension, themselves).

The second piece is an excerpt from another episode of the show, featuring Angela Nagle, author of Kill All Normies. Nagle has produced one of the first books on the Alt-Right, and in this interview she explains how the media actually aids alt-right figures like Richard Spencer. In short, many journalists are wholly unable to properly interview neo-Nazis and their fellow travelers because they have little background knowledge about their beliefs.

 

It’s interesting to speculate as to why so many journalists and politicians fail to understand neo-Nazi ideology and often fail to take them as a serious threat. I’m just taking a stab in the dark here, but it could have to do with the fact that most of the journalists who conduct such interviews tend to be middle class liberals who don’t really hold strong beliefs. A feature of contemporary liberalism today is disdain for any kind of idealistic belief. Liberalism itself is often presented as though it’s not an ideology at all. Well sadly for the think tank crowd- people still believe in things, and some of those things are downright terrible. The only way you’re going to deal with them is to oppose them with counter-ideals, and as I wrote above, liberal centrists simply aren’t up to the task.

If the Shoe Fits…

The recent violence in Charlottesville unfolded while I was away from my computer, preventing me from giving detailed commentary. While the rest of the world was reacting, I had to sit on the sidelines and watch. I ended up reading this abomination of an article from Raw Story. I had to suppress my rage for days until I could get back and react to this idiotic piece, which seems to highlight everything that is wrong with America today. Let’s start with the obvious:

rawstory

Got that folks? You see an angry racist, but apparently he’s not actually an angry racist. He just went to a racist rally and displayed anger. For all we know he could be a method actor learning a role.

No wait, hold on, turns out that’s not the case:

Peter Cvjetanovic, 20, told KTVN that he traveled from Reno to Charlottesville to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

The student said that he wanted to attend the rally to support the white nationalist movement.

So he came out to support the white nationalist movement. And he was clearly angry at some point. But he’s not an angry racist. Okay.

“I came to this march for the message that white European culture has a right to be here just like every other culture,” Cvjetanovic opined.

That’s strange because General Lee has virtually nothing to do with European culture, and nobody is trying to deny European culture’s right to exist. It almost sounds like this guy is a racist, an angry one at that. But he says he’s not, so we must not trust our lying eyes. I had also expected the interviewer to maybe challenge or criticize his claims about Lee and European culture, but strangely they didn’t, because apparently Raw Story is fine with essentially publishing white nationalist propaganda. Think I’m exaggerating? Check this out:

Cvjetanovic added: “As a white nationalist, I care for all people. We all deserve a future for our children and for our culture. White nationalists aren’t all hateful; we just want to preserve what we have.”

This is one of the biggest lies of the white nationalist movement. If you go on virtually any white nationalist forum, apart from the endless debates about “who is white” you will see mostly threads trashing other races and ethnic groups. Very few white nationalists, especially those in America, display any significant understanding of European culture (many have never been to Europe). When they’re not seething with hatred against other races, they’re attacking whites, usually women, who don’t support them, as well as each other. It’s common to see white nationalists at each other’s throats, sometimes across several forums, often with mutual accusations of Jewish ancestry. If you want to see for yourself I suggest you bring popcorn.

Once again Cvjetanovic’s claim goes unchallenged by the interviewer, but that’s not the most infuriating thing about this article. For me the maddening thing is how Americans seem to believe that you can engage in a series of deliberate actions, and then, like Mr. Cvjetanovic, insist to anybody and everybody that you are not that thing you were caught on camera doing. Could you imagine someone who mainlines heroin every day telling you they’re not a drug addict? I can now, and that person would almost certainly be American, because in America apparently what you actually do doesn’t matter compared to what you think you are in your own head.

If you think this is an isolated case, think again. A while back a couple was sentenced to prison for rolling up on a birthday party for an 8-year-old black child, bearing Confederate flags, shouting racial slurs, and pointing a loaded shotgun at the attendees. Guess what they had to say for themselves when they heard the sentence read out.

The woman keeps repeating “that’s not me.” No, honey, it is you. You did that. You didn’t plead insanity, which is the only way you could possibly claim this “wasn’t you.”

Need more examples? Here’s a guy who went on a racist rant against a comedian. But wait, when we read more of the story:

Lanham told NBC 2 that he’s not a racist. He blamed his racist behavior on alcohol.

Well shit that clears it all up! He says he’s not racist! Alcohol is to blame! Well I certainly hope he’ll become a teetotaler then, seeing as how his racist rant got him fired.

Here’s yet another example of a totally not racist guy doing seemingly racist things.

Seriously, what do you have to actually do to be racist in America?

We’ve spent so much time buying into the media-driven moral panic about “safe spaces” and “political correctness” that we apparently missed the rising tide of jackasses who do things and then don’t want to be judged for their actions. No, they insist that we judge them by what they really, truly are in their heart of hearts. I’m sorry but that just isn’t going to fly. I realize that sometimes mitigating circumstances or other outside factors can cause people to act in unusual ways. I realize sometimes we don’t perceive the contradiction between our actions and our desires or perception of ourselves. The phenomenon described above, however, is simply ridiculous. You are first and foremost what you do, not what you say you are.

I wish I could think of a possible source for this phenomenon. Maybe it’s in our pop culture, where protagonists are often portrayed as having this inner, true self that other characters don’t know about initially. Maybe it’s a side-effect of liberal capitalism’s cult of the individual. This almost seems like it’s such a problem that we need to start teaching the concept of “you are what you do” in kindergarten or something. We’ve got to do something before morons like Cvjetanovic bring our society to ruin.

 

 

Words That Need to Die

In today’s fast-paced, meme-based culture, some words which may have been useful at first but which eventually become so overused to the point of abuse that they lose all descriptive value and meaning. A good example of this is the term manic pixie dream girl, which was originally used to describe a type of writing trope but eventually became tossed around so much that even the creator of the term expressed their regret for creating it.

What can we do with meaningless terms that no longer have any value? I propose they be put out of their misery. The following is a list of prime candidates for liquidation.

Social Justice Warrior (SJW)

You know there’s something wrong with a political term when you can’t find anyone who sincerely identifies themselves using that term. It tells you that you’re most likely dealing with a snarl word and not a valid term. Who tends to use the term SJW? Well anyone from neo-Nazis to Youtube gamer celebrities. In general it seems to have been made popular by various quasi-famous individuals who constantly complain that they have been silenced by these nefarious Social Justice Warriors. How do we know they are being silenced? Well because they tell us- on Twitter, on Youtube, on TV, on podcasts, at public speaking events. Totally silenced. If it weren’t for all those readily accessible venues why, we’d never hear their opinions at all.

Some might suggest that SJW never had any real meaning, that it was simply dreamed up by the aforementioned idiots so they could portray themselves as persecuted. I disagree. I think the term once had some validity, but it lost it once it became the sole property of the far right and the confused far right that likes to call itself “classically liberal.”

I was first introduced to the term via a radical leftist friend, and we took it to describe certain people we’d both encountered among various leftist discussion venues online. An SJW was basically someone whose politics revolved entirely around devising new ways to call people out for racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc., often by creatively interpreting something that they once wrote so as to fit the accusation. Calling someone out usually involved a post, often with screenshots (very problematic in radical activist security culture), in which the offended would declare their exasperation with the “so-called left,” often deciding that it was as bad as if not worse than the far right. Every call out post would be followed by several comments from sycophantic friends, assuring the “victim” that they were appalled and that this was “no comrade of mine!” The person who is called out is not allowed to defend themselves, lest they commit even more sins- microaggressions, “mansplaining,” etc. In short, for us, SJW described a certain type of leftist who was over-zealous in identity politics and often very weak in theory and actual activism.

Within leftist circles, SJWs can actually be a problem because besides not actually doing anything activism-wise and being huge hypocrites most of the time, they often sow distrust and dissension within political organizations. A leftist activist tarred by rumors of being misogynistic may be rejected offhand without any good reason. Some people, having been so unjustly labeled or having seen the same happen to a friend or family member might leave the movement altogether. That’s why SJW, at the time, seemed like a useful term, if only because it could distinguish between someone legitimately complaining about racism, sexism, or whatever, and those who think that doing so is the highest form of radical activism, to the point where one should actively invent behaviors to call out if no real cases present themselves. The latter is just one symptom of a larger problem within the left, which is that while the right looks for converts, the left looks for traitors.

Now if you’re not a college student and you’re not involved in leftist politics, you don’t really have much of a reason to be up in arms about SJWs. Sure, you’ll encounter them on internet comment sections, but they are far outnumbered by edgy little shits spouting racial slurs these days. Yes, I’m aware of some cases where people with this kind of mentality ruined the life of someone who probably just made a poor choice of words or in some cases, didn’t really do anything wrong at all. That said, if you’re overly upset about SJWs you might want to take a moment to determine exactly what influence these individuals have actually had on you, personally. I was actually involved in venues where these people actually existed, and I managed to get around them just by subtly avoiding them and blocking them until they were out of my life for good. Certainly not a plague taking over Western civilization.

Nowadays the term has been so bastardized by the far right that I don’t use it anymore, even when I’m referring to people who actually deserve the label. These days I just call those people morons.

Bro, Dudebro

Bro as an insult seems to have garnered mainstream popularity thanks to the myth of the “Bernie Bro” which helped deliver the White House to H.R. Pufnstuf last year. The term bro, often used by those who would rightly be labeled Social Justice Warriors according to the explanation above, is basically a liberal centrist snarl word. It is often used by American die-hard Democrats as a cudgel against the left.

Want single payer healthcare? Well there’s more than one issue, dudebro! Health care is totally a white male concern! Fifteen dollar minimum wage? Did you even consider what POCs (People of Color) want? Of course not, bro!

The implication here is that the person expressing a dissenting opinion must be a 18-25 year old insecure white male who possibly plays fast and loose with the norms of consent. It’s particularly embarrassing when the target of the label is gay, non-white, or in some cases, a woman. Whatever the case, using labels like dudebro amounts to inventing an entire negative persona for someone just because they disagree with you. You may even be right, but that doesn’t mean you need to construct a strawman of them so as to help you hate them with a clear conscience.

Dudebro is like the SJW of the left (or part of it) and it needs to be put down.

Snowflake

This one got old quickly. It started with a media-driven moral panic about how the younger generation (often they can’t even decide who is or isn’t a part of said generation) is supposedly the softest and most pathetic ever. Yes, only in recent times has anyone ever suggested that the youngest generation is softer, weaker, or dumber than previous generations. Nobody has ever raised this issue in the past, so it must be objectively true. Oh…wait.

Two key components of the snowflake trope were the safe space and the trigger warning. The media gave the public a very poor understanding of these two concepts (which are far less widespread than people realize), and based on that they declared that young people are hypersensitive weaklings who can’t handle the slightest adversity.

One reason why snowflake was bullshit from the beginning is because whenever you’re complaining about the youth, even when it’s justified, you must always ask who raised those youth. Not only raised, in fact. The question is who shaped their entire world? The answer to that question will tell you whose responsible for the state of the youth. Did you find a soccer league that actually gives out participation trophies? Is that league founded and run by the children themselves? I’m guessing no. Are grades being inflated in schools? Are the schools run by the pupils? Is it the pupils who complain about poor grades, or their parents? Put simply, the rule of thumb is- problem with the youth equals problem with the adults who shaped and controlled their entire world.

The second reason why snowflake is idiotic is because much like SJW, it came to be adopted by conservatives and far rightists, who tend to be the most sensitive people on the planet. American conservatives equate the use of “Happy Holidays” to a “War on Christmas.” They want extra tight controls on immigration because they don’t feel safe around Muslims and people who claim they aren’t Muslims but are probably lying because they look like they’re from the Middle East and everyone knows the Middle East is Muslim. And what about the far right? Well these are people who can be sent into a rage just because a TV commercial features a black male clerk helping a white female customer find the vacuum cleaner she’s looking for (“You don’t understand! It’s SUBTLE race-mixing propaganda!”). Hell, conservative media is basically one outrage after another over the stupidest, most trivial crap.

Of course for a year or so it was fun to throw the snowflake label back at those who had made it popular anytime they were complaining about some trivial thing that had offended them. I think now it has run its course, however.

Maybe instead of just throwing the snowflake label around, thus perpetuating a flawed concept, we should just put it down and acknowledge that people are going to express their dissatisfaction with things they don’t like. Sometimes those things will be trivial. Sometimes they will be objectively wrong about the topic. It doesn’t mean that person is oversensitive unless they spend virtually all their time nitpicking and screaming about every little thing that offends them.

 

 

That’s all for today. Do you have any words or phrases you think should be put down and sent to the glue factory? Leave your suggestions and explanations in the comments.

“LOL U MAD, BRO?” Troll Politics

What is the biggest political crisis of our age? Is it the rise of far-right reactionary politics, or “populism” to use the centrists’ blanket term? Is it polarization, partisanship, or tribalism? Not only could people spend hours debating that question, but they could just as easily debate whether there is a singular problem or a combination of some of the aforementioned tendencies. Whatever one thinks the answer to that question is, there’s one general tendency that seems to be on the rise and it may be more detrimental to political discourse than any rigid dogma or fanatical rhetoric.

Think back, for a moment, about all the times you’ve seen some story or tweet about some group being “triggered” by something. Most recently it was male Dr. Who fans (or people suddenly pretending to be in order to pander to an audience) who threw a fit when it was announced that the next incarnation of that sci-fi protagonist would be female. I don’t normally consume conservative media outside of Twitter, but I’m sure there are several things “libtards” or “SJWs” (Social Justice Warrior- a snarl word) are supposedly “triggered” by at the moment. Let’s break this down, shall we?

When someone is “triggered,” as they say on the internet these days, they are actually upset or otherwise expressing disapproval of something. The word triggered here makes no sense because triggered refers to a PTSD response. A person voicing disapproval, including loud and possibly hysterical disapproval, is not “triggered.” Someone who is actually triggered might not say anything at all. When someone is “triggered” on the internet, they are actually upset or angry.

It’s interesting how on the internet, being angry or upset is somehow a “loss” of sorts, and making people angry is admired and done with pride. Ordinary people don’t take pride in making people angry in real life. In real life there are consequences for that. Yet the internet gives people the ability to deliberately provoke others to anger and some people take a lot of pride in that trolling.

trolling

Of course I myself have to admit that I’m guilty of trolling, and if you’re being honest you probably did your share of trolling as well. In our weaker moments, we get amusement out of knowing we can provoke an angry response from dozens of more-or-less anonymous people, often simply by saying the exact opposite of whatever they passionately believe in. But some people recognize this for the distraction that it is, and some people confuse it for politics itself. I’m beginning to believe that the problem of 21st century politics might not be just the lack of lofty ideals and ideological discipline, but rather the degeneration of virtually all politics into what could best be called troll politics.

It’s easy to pin this mostly on the right, especially in America where it seems that your average conservative would happily castrate himself in public if you told him it would “trigger the libtards.” Indeed, it is on the far right where we see trolling and “memes” forming the basis for a political identity group, if not an ideology, loosely known as “Kekistan.”  While many people have referred to these highly defective individuals as neo-Nazis, the reality is actually far more pathetic. They use Nazi symbolism not because they actually have National Socialist beliefs and the will to express them, but rather because they get a cheap thrill out of the idea that they’re making people angry by breaking what they see as a taboo. In a way that makes them worse than actual neo-Nazis, who at least believe they are advancing some kind of ideology they feel is morally justified. They have to put up with the consequences of expressing beliefs which most of the world rightfully finds morally reprehensible. The “Kekistanis” can just tap out “LOL U TRIGGERED, SJW FAG?!!” and then it’s back to jerking off to Japanese cartoon schoolgirls.

Though troll politics are extremely widespread on the right, a good swathe of the left has been guilty of foregoing real politics for troll politics. To be sure, many leftist are just reacting to the right’s moral panic about “political correctness” when they point out how the same people who scream about young people being over-sensitive “snowflakes” will scream about businesses using the term “Happy Holidays.” At first it was novel, but after a while it gets old. We get it- the people who call everyone a special snowflake are in fact the most sensitive and the most likely to get upset about trivial matters. It’s always been this way with “political correctness.” Those who complain the most about political correctness tend to be those who whine about their beliefs being criticized and who want society to tip-toe around their feelings so as not to offend them by challenging or criticizing them in anyway.

We can see the existence of trolling politics in the international arena as well. Oftentimes on Twitter I see people cheering about how some official Ukrainian account “trolled” the Russians over some controversy such as the recent “Anna of Kyiv” reference Putin made during his meeting with Emmanuel Macron in France. Sure, Ukraine’s official Twitter “trolled” Russia, but Russia has trolled Ukraine quite a bit since 2014. So if you were keeping score, Ukraine got in one sick burn against Russia, and Russia has killed about 10,000 citizens, displaced a couple million more, and annexed a large part of Ukrainian territory. It pains me to admit it, but I think Russia came out on top in this little trolling engagement.

The Ukrainian example demonstrates one major shortcoming of troll politics- they’re completely worthless if your opponent has a concrete advantage over you or is simply beating you. A similar case can be made about American liberal comedians and their so-called “eviscerations” of President Trump and the GOP. No matter how biting their tweet or rant might be, at the end of the day Trump is still president and the GOP wields enormous power in the US, not only at the federal level but in many states as well. You can make them mad- they can screw up your country. It’s no contest.

While people might call troll politics a symptom of polarization or otherwise trivialize it, I think if this trend continues unabated it might end up reaching the level of an existential crisis. Advocating things because you think they will get a rise out of your opponents is not a good methodology for finding good policies. On the contrary, it’s likely to lead to the absolute worst, and quickly too. Already there are people who gush with glee about the idea of eliminating environmental regulations, all because they think it will make some caricature of a hippie angry, we’re talking about a very dangerous line of thought.

 

Get a JERB!!!

I was asked to write something on this topic by a friend of mine who has been in the same boat for much longer than me. Basically it began when she retweeted my appeal for donations yesterday. A particularly self-righteous dipshit of a Western cheerleader decided to give her unsolicited opinion on the concept of a blogger asking for donations. My friend shut her down and then wrote a timely rant on the subject, because as I said she’s in the same boat and she felt it needed to be called out. She also said I shouldn’t remain silent about it either.

First of all I must say that I have received some substantial donations from some long-time readers and I seriously appreciate it. I’ve had problems with crowdfunding in the past, largely because I’m limited to a platform people apparently hate (at least some people have told me this), and because my life situation is constantly changing. As I’ve written before, what seems feasible at the beginning of a campaign usually turns out impossible by the time it’s over, especially since the goal has never been reached (last time I reached only 50%). These failures are entirely my own responsibility. I know why they failed and I know what I can do to turn things around, but that’s another story.

Getting back to the topic at had, the Russia-watcher in question put forth two very cogent arguments:

  1. I should get a job.
  2. Nobody should expect to get paid to write a blog.

Let me answer those here. For the first question, I’ve been in Ukraine trying to get a job I had lined up. I left a full-time position for this job which entailed a significant pay cut. For me, money was not the issue- helping Ukraine was, and I have very limited resources with which to make a difference. By contrast the cheerleader in question’s method of helping Ukraine, as much as I can see, consists of tapping away at a keyboard from the comfort of their home somewhere in the West (I’m told the UK). I took a big risk, it didn’t pan out through no fault of my own and in spite of my best efforts- that’s it.

Next, “get a job” doesn’t work so well in countries where you are not a legal resident, be that Russia or Ukraine. You can’t just walk into a McDonald’s and fill out an application. “Pounding the pavement” isn’t an option. It’s amazing how many Westerners simply do not understand this concept. They apparently think only their countries are allowed to have immigration and labor laws. I have had offers for full-time jobs which would have taken care of the work permit issues, but I could not take advantage of them because I was being strung along by my other prospective employer.

In spite of all this, I have been working all this time. I’ve pointed out before that when there’s a long lapse in posts on this blog it’s typically for one reason- I’m working. If I’m not writing here, I’m writing articles for money, doing translations, proofreading, or something else. That work is never stable, but at times it was fairly sustainable. In order to make ends meet here I actually not only went back to teaching English, but I actually taught kids because it was the only thing offered at the time. I have not willingly taught anyone under the age of 16 since maybe 2008, and the last time I was teaching kids I was getting paid about $100 an hour for doing so. So yeah, spending the first half of my Saturdays as a baby-sitter for about three hours wasn’t beneath my dignity- it is an honor to suffer for Ukraine! 

Now before moving on from the personal side of this post let me address the equally idiotic second argument. I never expected this blog to make money. I never even expected to write it on a regular basis. It started as a cathartic thing that had nothing to do with politics. While it has had its share of high-traffic days, the blog has never garnered enough regular views to qualify for ad sharing, and thus has never directly made any money. Directly is the key word here. My writing is what has allowed me to get paid for numerous articles in various publications. It has got me full-time positions, TV appearances, and even a part in a reality TV series. More important than money, it has given me access to people I’d otherwise never meet and allowed me to experience things most Americans never experience. So in reality, this humble blog has paid off a lot more than I ever expected it would in 2013. Having provided thousands of people with free entertainment and education here and on Twitter for years, there’s nothing wrong with putting out a tip jar.  The fact is that if I had a sustainable income or a sizable amount of money for investment, I would be able to greatly increase the quality and quantity of content I produce. And that brings me to the main point of this post, what my supportive friend was so upset about.

The problem is that since 2014, I’ve mostly been subsumed in the so-called “gig economy.” Our wise innovators in Silicon Valley as well as the hacks in the media tell us that it’s wonderful. “Work from the comfort of your own home!” Well I’m here to tell you that’s nonsense. Anything that pays decent money, or even just significant money, requires a lot of time, or in some cases there are expenses to be paid. The highest I’m typically paid for articles is $150. If you want more than that, you need to spend some money. Those articles I did from the Donbas? I probably lost money the first time and maybe made about $150 “profit” on the latter ones- the ones where I was in an active warzone. I know people who have had full time positions and spent far more time on the front lines than myself yet their salaries would put them below the poverty line in their home countries.

If you want to talk about a sense of entitlement, talk about media companies these days. They want journalists to put their lives in danger, but they don’t want to pay for it. Indeed, some publications pay a lot for an article, but rest assured there are expenses associated with such pieces. It’s not the kind of thing you do sitting at home writing emails or on the phone. Here it also bears mentioning the all too common “write for exposure” problem as well, even though I’ve been lucky enough not to encounter it myself.

Aside from low pay and sporadic work, just getting in touch with editors is a pain in the ass. People don’t answer emails, or answer them weeks after the fact. Here we have this amazing tool to get in touch with people almost instantly around the world, and now we have smartphones so you can maintain access even outside of the office, yet many people whose job is to communicate with journalists seem to be unable to answer emails within a reasonable amount of time, if at all.

Another problem that is somewhat connected with the above is late and or sporadic payment. In this business you often have to chase down payment, and you always are made to feel like you’re bothering someone for asking about the money they owe you for work performed. Even when they’re not late, your pay cannot be reliably calculated when you don’t know if a pitch will be accepted, when it will be accepted, when it will be ready for editing, publishing, etc. I’ve seen the process for one article last about a month before it actually got published and I got paid. Any site that claims writing for them can provide a stable income is most likely lying.

This is what many of the people who inform you are doing- spending their own money and sometimes risking their own lives to bring you something more in-depth than what you’re going to get on cable news. You say the headlines don’t give you a good well-rounded story about Russia, Syria, or Ukraine? Well the people that are willing to provide that need to be paid for their trouble. That’s just the way it is.

Getting back to my situation, the truth is that back in 2013 when things first started to go awry work-wise, there was actually a very simple solution to all my financial/work problems. In other words, I could have just “got a job” and not even written a blog at all. See I had and still have connections in this really big media company you might have heard of called RT. It wouldn’t have been very difficult at all to get a full time position there, and from what I know the salary and benefits are quite good. I’ve also had other offers from other Russian state media outlets over the years. So in reference to my aforementioned detractor’s unhelpful suggestion to “just get a job,” I could have just got a job with one of those media outlets. It would have made life from 2014 to the present a whole lot easier on every level. But alas, there’s just this thing I’ve been saddled with all my life called a conscience. It’s the reason I haven’t solved my financial problems to date by becoming a self-help guru or religious cult leader.

On the other side of the coin I could easily buy a fake diploma, a decent suit, and peddle my skills as a “Russia foreign policy” expert. I’m sure plenty of think tanks, politicians, and other thought-leaders would pay decent money for lectures about how “Russia’s going to hack the midterms, like, really badly this time!” Maybe I could teach corporate and private clients how to “safeguard your data against Russian hackers,” or teach people how to evade and thwart “SVR active measures.” I know the jargon, I know how to sound credible, it’s just that I value not being a grifter asshole than the amount of money that such “work” might rake in.

So yeah, life’s just a little more complicated than “get a job.” We’re living in an era when jobs are increasingly disappearing or getting worse. The most advanced countries seem to be suffering the worst from this trend.

When I put out the call for donations yesterday, it isn’t in the expectation of a reward for writing blog posts. I have the opportunity to do some volunteer work in Ukraine, but that means foregoing paid work. I also am considering doing other stories from other regions, or changing the focus of my work. Beyond that I’ve lost a good chunk of my savings while being strung along here in Ukraine. If someone who has enjoyed or been informed by my work after all these years thinks any of that is worth a few bucks, they’re free to donate. Otherwise no one’s arm is being twisted here. Your donation either helps produce more content of some kind, or it helps me help someone in Ukraine, modestly though it may be (apparently only the rich should have the privilege of volunteering).

The fact that people get so outraged at such appeals is a combination of the resentment culture in the West as well as people’s misconceptions about entitlement. We ignore when investors or businessmen feel entitled to hundreds of millions of dollars without actually doing any of the work that generates that value. We don’t question the entitlement of pundits who never actually engage in journalism and yet are given a platform to pontificate on every issue under the sun as though they were experts. But someone who puts out free content 90% of the time is suddenly a beggar and “entitled” for putting out the equivalent of a tip jar.