Tag: russia

Day 975: All Hail Norton I, Emperor Of These United States Of America

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For all her achievements and triumphs, America just hasn’t been the same since the good ol’ days when the Emperor ran the show.

It was a brief sliver of eccentric history (or ‘eccentristory’ – I’m copyrighting that title) that should never be forgotten. And for some who live in San Francisco, where Emperor Norton breathed the free air of his glorious domain, it’s a cause worth championing. If nothing else, he was a testament to the spirit of the San Franciscan penchant for enfolding the quirky and unrepentantly goofy into the city’s lore. This wouldn’t have happened in Omaha.

Consider this an education on the potential of the politic of passion, a reimagining of a man’s place in the society that – to his mind – has clipped the wings of his security and left him abandoned in the ether. One cannot be defeated if one is the champion of one’s own self-proclaimed might. Kudos to Emperor Norton for making up his own rules, and Super-Kudos to San Francisco for buying in.

Norton-1

No one knows for certain the details of his origin story, but we do know that Joshua Abraham Norton came to us from somewhere in England via South Africa in 1849 after receiving a hefty bequest of $40,000 from his late father’s estate. He parlayed that money into a successful dance around the real estate market, building his fortune up to a cool quarter-million within a few short years. But Mr. Norton was always on the lookout for the next big opportunity. In this case, it drifted beneath his nose in the form of a news release from China. Read more…

Day 971: Forget The Superheroes – This Man Literally Saved The World

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Look deep into his eyes. Ignore the fact that he might at any moment pitch forward from the weight of all those medals; he deserves your reverent gaze. Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov is very possibly the reason you are alive right now. Depending on how deeply you’re willing to reach into the pocket of his story – and it’s a story of such divine magnificence I’m personally ready to ink it in the history books with the crimson blood of unquestioned truth – Vasili’s stoic glare was once all that stood between us and the apocalypse.

The story of how Vasili derailed a potential nuke-storm is only part of his exceptional life, one that could not possibly fit between the frames of a biopic unless Peter Jackson was around to puff up the length beyond three hours. Part of his life actually did find its way into a Harrison Ford flick (though Ford himself played some other scowling Soviet), but not the part that earned him a spot in today’s kilograph.

Had Vasili not found himself stationed in precisely the correct submarine on that fateful day in 1963, while the Cuban Missile Crisis was doling out the likely ineffective instructions of “duck and cover” to the Western world, the physical landscape of our little planet might be significantly more pock-marked and desolate. But let’s start in the preamble, somewhere around the second act of Kathryn Bigelow’s K-19: The Widowmaker.

"Get off my sub!" was never uttered in this film. What a wasted opportunity.

“Get off my sub!” was never uttered in this film. What a wasted opportunity.

The summer of 1961 was a rough one for Vasili. While serving aboard the K-19, scooting around the North Atlantic and performing some just-in-case exercises, the sub developed a nasty leak in its reactor coolant system. The radio had also failed (I could make a joke about why the USSR lost the Cold War here, but that would be too obvious), so that meant the sub was drifting alone with a reactor that was heating up faster than Lewis Black opining about the current state of Fox News. Read more…

Day 961: Knocking On Russian Wood

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For those of us who actively seek out ladders under which to stroll, or who have completely forsaken blessing those who sneeze, superstition is a delightfully goofy window into the obsessive-compulsive static residue of the mind. What racist hoodoo has condemned genetically black-furred kitties to the bad-luck pile? Why does connecting one’s knuckles to a slab of dead tree ensure misfortune will be avoided? Does crossing my fingers in my Edmonton living room whenever Peyton Manning drops back into the pocket ensure a likely touchdown catch? Judging by my aching digits after last February’s Super Bowl, I’d say that’s a hearty no.

But as strange and inexplicably arbitrary as our goofy good-luck rituals may appear upon introspection, they would no doubt appear even more bizarre to an outsider. To demonstrate, I’m going to take the outsider’s approach and have a look at some of the traditional placations of imagined magic within the borders of our neighbor to the west (just past Alaska, of course), Russia.

Many of these superstitions are documented on paganism.msk.ru, which appears to my untrained eyes to be a legitimate source. Others have been splashed onto a Wikipedia page with no reliable citation. So, any or all of these might be fictitious, but for the purposes of fuelling our xenophobic need to giggle at other cultures, we’ll just assume them all to be accurate and practiced by every living Russian citizen. That way we won’t feel so dumb for French-kissing the underside of our Molson Canadian cans to ensure our hockey team scores on a powerplay. Or whatever we do.

Baby-1

Russians get to work early on children’s self-esteem. It is considered an invitation to rotten luck if a stranger looks directly at a baby before that baby has reached a certain age (somewhere between two months and one year). If the stranger does make eye contact, complimenting the baby is an even greater transgression. One should instead say, “What an ugly baby!” And if you want to buy that ugly baby a gift, you’d best wait until after he or she is born, otherwise it’s bad luck. For someone. Maybe for the mother, maybe for you, maybe for the ugly baby. Read more…

Day One After 909: Mr. Maxwell’s Silver Hammer Of Quality Education

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It is the final day of classes. Just a day in the life of Mr. Maxwell, a grade six teacher who’ll be flying across the street to teach summer school next week. It’s not the end for him, just the annual hello/goodbye to this year’s crop of kids. The man has a real love for his profession, but something doesn’t feel right today. This boy wants a vacation. And his kids are running here, there and everywhere with the bottled-up energy of ten months’ anticipation of being – finally – free as a bird.

 

MAXWELL:  Good morning! Good morning everyone. Take a seat.

JIMMY: Mr. Maxwell?

MAXWELL: Yes Jimmy?

JIMMY: I forgot to remember… to forget… to get a note from my mom about our end-of-year picnic today.

MAXWELL: I’ve got a feeling you’re still half-asleep. The picnic was last week. Remember the rain?

JIMMY: Right. Those three cool cats were sniffing an old brown shoe while two of us threw rocks at it by the new grazeeboo.

MAXWELL: The what? What’s the new – Mary-Jane, tell me why you just smacked Joey in the head? You can’t do that.

MARY-JANE: He told me, “Run for your life, cuz I’m searchin’ for a taste of honey, and baby, it’s you.” He’s always so bad to me!

JOEY: Oh yeah? Well she said… she said I was the sun king.

MARY-JANE: I did not!

MAXWELL: Alright, that’s enough. Mitchell, slow down and get back to your desk; you’re liable to trip and roll over Beethoven, the class gerbil, and I ain’t using my first aid skills for no one on the last day of school.

After all, the school's first aid kid is woefully out of date.

After all, the school’s first aid kid is woefully out of date.

MITCHELL: Yes Mr. Maxwell.

MAXWELL: Okay everyone. It’s the last day! Let’s talk about the summer. I’ll be on my way to the airport after dismissal today. I’m headed back in the USSR on a long, long, long flight (please let it be a smooth one). It won’t be long though, and I’ll be back here with another class of bad boys – sorry, just ‘boys’ – and girls. Ha ha.

JULIA: Mr. Maxwell?

MAXWELL: Yes, Julia?

JULIA: Why do you call it the USSR? It’s Russia, isn’t it?

MAXWELL: I call it the USSR just as I call your name – it’s how I’ve always known it. You see, in my life there’s a place in my heart for Moscow in the 80’s. The inner light of that city always spoke to me; I’m so tired of hearing how bad it was back then. The night before I left last time, the warm and lovely Rita – she’s a girl I’d just met – whispered words of love into my ear. She said, “I need you to know that I’m happy just to dance with you, but that true happiness is a warm gun.” Yep, that’s what I loved about Moscow – the girl and the guns. Read more…

Day 881: The Terrifying Hammer Of Olga

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It’s been quite some time since I’ve dropped a little bit of Eastern European history on y’all, and even longer since I last used the term “y’all”, which I think I should retire from my lexicon o’ forced quaintness.

I was not a fan of history in school. This was in part because the important stuff was often as dry and uninspiring as the Hawley-Smoot Tariff (jazzing up the cost of imported goods for 84 years strong!), and also because I didn’t have the right teacher to make history sparkle. Our past is full of righteous ass-kickers and bewildering tweaks of fate. History is about animals in warfare, rivers of urban poop, and trial by combat. Within every mandatory date of note or routine conquest, there are incredible tales of unfathomable whatthefuck.

It’s all how you look at it. Reading up on the history of tenth century rulers of Kiev has my fingers itching for the remote – even watching Charles Nelson Reilly on an old episode of Password would be better than this. To say that Olga of Kiev ruled as a regent in Kievan Rus between 945 and 963 before her son took over – that’s the kind of monotony that drains the joy out of social studies class. But once you hear how she ruled… that’s the fun part.

The venomous look in her eyes says it all.

The venomous look in her eyes says it all.

Princess Olga was married to Igor of Kiev, who commanded the area for more than three decades. Or maybe for only three years. That’s another thing they gloss over in history class – sometimes conflicting sources are a bitch to untangle. It’s not important; what matters is that Igor was a raucous ruler of the group of East Slavic tribes that would eventually become the Ukrainian, Belarussian and Russian people. While he was out collecting tribute from the Drevlians, a tribe that wasn’t overly fond of Igor, things turned ugly. Read more…

Day 844: The Girl With The X-Ray Eyes

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I think I would have made a good superhero. I get along well with sidekicks, I’m mostly incorruptible, and I’d probably look pretty smokin’ in a cowl. But alas, I have fallen into zero vats of radiation, been struck by no meteors, and if I saw a radioactive spider I’d probably blast it with a flame-thrower before I’d let it bite me. I’m destined to be a powerless schlub, I suppose.

But that’s okay – superheroes are but the stuff of fiction, right?

Well, maybe. That all depends on how much disbelief you’re willing to suspend when it comes to Natasha Demkina, the twenty-something lady from Russia who claims to possess the power of X-Ray vision.

To be clear, this is not some floozy with a Superman fetish, nor is she an impassioned collector of 1950’s mail-away cereal-box kitsch. Natasha truly believes she has this ability, and a number of people sporting a cavalcade of letters after their names have lined up to check her out.

And not just because she looks like this, you filthy-minded mongrel.

And not just because she looks like this, you filthy-minded mongrel.

According to her mother, a lady whose intentions hopefully drift nowhere near the realm of exploiting her daughter, Natasha began exhibiting this bizarre skill when she was around ten years old. To be clear, we aren’t talking about peering through plaster and brick into the next room, nor is she able to identify a playing card by looking at its back. Natasha’s X-Ray vision is just that – the ability to see into someone’s body, X-ray-style, to diagnose what’s wrong with them. Read more…

Day 839: The Stars Of Our Show – The Alphabet

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I love playing around with the format of this little experiment and trying to cram as much (seemingly) meaningless trivia into a tiny thousand-word cubicle. To that end I’m going to offer a specific number of trivia slices to spread across your plate of knowledge today, awaiting the fork of your understanding to spear them into your hungry maw of learning so that you can digest them, extracting their knowledge-nutrients and converting the rest into cerebral poo. Also I’ll throw in that over-wrung metaphor for free. Such are the bargains here at Marty’s House o’ Stuff.

Twenty-six snippets for twenty-six letters. It’s fun getting a little meta, writing about writing – or in this case, writing about the microorganisms that band together and excrete the bulk of my daily output for your enjoyment. Every picture tells a story, and every story is made up of letters and every letter is a picture with its own story… it’s the circle of linguistic life.

For your consideration, I present the Latin alphabet in all its glory.

Evolution-A-D

The letter A (under its old-school name, aleph) was the first letter of the Phoenician alphabet. It was derived from the ox-head pictogram from the Bronze Age proto-Sinaitic script, which in turn came from the Egyptian hieroglyph. The horns pivoted around and by the time the Romans adopted their own written language from the Greek alphabet and a mix of other influences in the 7th century BC, the horns were pointed downward.

The glyph that may have spawned the letter B could represent the floor plan of a cottage. Clearly the Egyptians weren’t big on fancy layouts back then. The Greeks gave the B its bulbous curves when they crafted their symbol for ‘beta’. Read more…

Day 837: The Chess Moves Of Nuclear Madness

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I hate to get all gloomy and dark, but as blissful as the post-Cold-War afterglow may have been (and oh, how it was), we need to take a step back and remember that we still live in a world saturated with nukes, ready to pop out of the ground like strategic pimples speckling a teenager’s face. While it’s somewhat comforting to know that the people who really hate us are not equipped with the ability to bury us under a mushroom cloud, I still don’t feel right about this. I live near my country’s primary oil reserves – if the bad guys want to kick Canada in the crotch, I live in that crotch.

That said, it isn’t likely. I grew up with the knowledge of precisely where Ground Zero would be, based on the Soviet nuke that was perpetually aimed our way, according to the local rumor. I didn’t let this knowledge derail my existence – I had food to eat, girls to chase and weekly doses of Quantum Leap to enjoy. But the knowledge was there.

I’m fascinated by the way nuclear weapons swiftly and immediately changed the face of military strategy. The discussion went from “we’re stronger” and “we’re smarter” to mutually-assured destruction. You attack us, we die – but we attack you and you die too. Not a lot of wiggle-room for options there. But the intricacies of nuclear strategy are far more complex.

Nixon-Madman

Richard Nixon took over the presidency in the middle of an unpopular war, after having campaigned with the promise that his “new leadership” would end it. He knew that negotiating with the North Vietnamese (or with the USSR, who – let’s face it – were really on the other side of that blood-stained coin) wasn’t going to cut it. So he borrowed a page from Machiavelli and employed the Madman Theory. Read more…