Sunday, November 30, 2008

घोस्ट दोग सेकुए;

(Camille Winbush) the original Perline

Perline: <> (Hagakure passage)

(font identical to previous Hagakure passages, overlay ghost filter) image to be
determined later…panning camera)

Text/Narration “ The Way of the samurai is found in death. Every day when he is most calm the samurai must contemplate death by sword, being pierced with arrows, being shaken to death in a great earthquake or committing seppuku at the death of ones master. This is the substance of the Way of the Samurai.

Perline’s Mother:

“Japan is so far away Perline”


<>(Perline is in her room, turning over a gift box of Japanese paper, brush and ink. There is an ice cream cone drawn at the bottom of the card)
“I promise I’ll write to you all the time. You know they have rice paper over there, and people don’t write with pens, they paint, Kanji, य'रे called Kanji, Japan is a strange place… I bet)


Perline’s Mother:



“mom, I’ll be right back, after a couple years”

Perline’s Mother:

“Ok sweety I’ll be here waiting.”


“Maybe you can come and see me.”


“Yeah sweety…yeah ok”

The next scene is the steps of a museum in Japan, somewhere mountainous, not urban but modern. A small museum, like a shrine to a fallen Samurai. Cut to beautiful elaborate woodwork in the interior, the archway and lacquer work, (sound of gong as shots change, same or similar to gong in GDWOS also similar to gong in opening sequence of “Kung Fu”.) ferocious masks, statues, panning shots of all these things a few seconds long each. The narration begins.

(Forest Whitaker)
Ghost Dog :

“There is an ancient legend about a wandering samurai, a Ronin, who had lost his way and his master. He failed to commit seppuku at the death of his master, he hesitated for a moment, less than a heartbeat, and he knew he was not ready for death. His shame and dishonor were great but he knew in the Way there was a path for him. He did not fear death, nor was his wish for life so great that he did not wish to leave. He merely knew at the moment of his death that there was an action that he must perform, and that his death would have to wait for the completion of that task.

<<”Ronin” the graphic novel should be visible as an influence, as well as “Ghost in the Shell”, and the monastic elements of “Kung Fu” – older classic Kung Fu Theatre type movie monastic training scenes ala “Chinese Connection” shuld be inclided. This sequel should feel like “Ronin” as a screen play. Perhaps the original GDWOS is so strong because it is how I imagine a Ronin more in touch with his environment. Instead of slaughtering the street toughs, Ghost Dog is part of the Hell’s Kitchen-like neighborhood. He walks, seamlessly, invisibly down the street, whereas Ronin stood out. Perhaps it is very similar to Ronin, Perline is the Ronin, but she is in a Japanese city where she stands out, like a wandering, masterless Samurai in Hell’s Kitchen. Elements of Hamlet 2000 to include: Substituting modern states for ancient feuding houses. Special forces are ninja like assassins, military forces are like samurai field generals. One state seeks total domination of all the others, alliance are sought and honored until inconvenient, treachery is everywhere. Perline is the retainer of one of these great houses (Atreides and harkonen/ Capulet and Montague type enmity between them) and her quarry are members of her kind who work for the rival house(s). Her great feudal house is France. (La Femme Nikita). <

Weapons are both traditional and modern, Ninja smoke bomb should be used in one scene, traditional Japanese weapons, crossbows, manriki gusari, the things that look like small sickles, starts with a k “Kama?” Will need expert consultant in Japanese weaponry, perhaps Stepen K. Hayes

Story board artist from Cohen brothers.

Get copy of Ronin graphic novel, as well as Batman vs. arch enemy comic form storyboarding ideas.

I was born, like all humans, without the capacity for remorse. But I was never taught that such a concept was necessary, useful or in any way desirable. Why would anyone want to feel remorse, guilt, shame, or any of the myriad of other useless human emotions.

Fear is important, as are rage, happiness, greed, envy, lust and a host of others. But remorse? If I believed in God I would consider it a blessing that I was born without the capacity for such tripe. As it is, I simply consider myself lucky.

I was born into a martial culture, my father was dropping bombs on Vietnamese civilians when I was born. I took pride in this destruction for many years. Then I was angry for many years. But I never felt any shame. I wanted to challenge him, to confront him about the deaths he had to have known he was causing, I wanted him to feel pain, but I always said with noticeable pride in my voice: “My father was a B-52 pilot in Vietnam”. Maybe killing is in our blood, it makes me happy even now to think this, my heart races a little to think of the murderous impulses that course through my veins.

I am the product of an unbroken line of military men and women on both sides of my family. My great aunt was one of the first female Marine Corp officers, she served as a mathematician in WWII, no doubt calculating more precise and efficient means of slaughtering Nazis and incinerating Nips.

My paternal grandfather was a Marine, my maternal grandfather was a fighter pilot in Korea. He did a two year program at West Point at the end of WWII and came out an officer and a pilot just in time to wait around for the Korean conflict a few years after his graduation.

My paternal great-great grandfather was in the Prussian Imperial cavalry, beyond that I don’t know who served under whom but whenever I watch movies about the Romans fighting the Germanic tribes I am pretty sure that my ancestors were the “barbarians.”

Killing is underappreciated in modern culture. It is done crassly with guided missiles, and food blockades, jumbo jets full of fuel and passengers and trucks packed with explosives. Everyone is appalled when some poor schmuck gets his head sawed of with a dull sword on the internet but no one bats an eye when a stray bomb hits a school in Afghanistan. The Janjaweed in Darfur gets lots of bad press for raping and pillaging on horseback but at least their not farming out the dirty work to a subcontractor…or a machine.

The last modern culture to appreciate hand to hand combat was the Japanese Empire which ended with a fireball in WWII. The kamikaze performed a ceremony reminiscent of their samurai ancestors before departing for battle. The glorification of this concept of killing and dying as an intimate human experience is gone. Ironically, now that we are “civilized”, more people die, and in ways that are far more gruesome. One need only imagine a child in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, or any number of African nations, picking up an anti-personnel mine and then slowly bleeding to death after a major limb is blown off. Compare this to the honorable hand to hand combat death of two warriors who have knowingly chosen a martial existence and it is clear that modernity has not led to civility.

There is nothing wrong with killing, it is a part of the natural order of every species, the humanitarians who pretend otherwise are fooling themselves. Perhaps only a martial culture can teach this. The Cold War may have never revved up, but it spawned a martial culture. Our games were hand to hand combat, full contact sports (including street basketball) and plain old street fighting. As children we learned the art of intimidation, brute force, finesse and technique, psychologically undermining an opponent, and when all else failed: negotiation.

One may find that negotiation is the most important skill for survival. All the ju-jitsu in the world won’t help you if you are flat on your back in a hospital bed at the mercy of a nurse who speaks only Russian and had been given specific instructions not to give you any water. If you are sure that you will die of dehydration without that water than negotiation is your only hope.

Soviet doctors on the whole are better at what they do then western doctors. Faced with outdated equipment and lack of basic supplies they must out think the problems they face, which vary greatly depending on what the hospital or clinic is out of that day (or hour). I rarely got the sense of arrogance from a Soviet doctor that I invariably get from most American doctors I interact with. There is obviously less stratification in Soviet/Russian culture, you may very well see your doctor on the subway or in the market. Perhaps this prevents the aloof attitude that American doctors can’t seem to shake.

Without the proper supplies my doctors managed to bring me back from what should have been death from blood loss. They stitched me up and sent a shrink down to see if I was planning to try the deed again. The shrink was very compassionate (as he was my first I didn’t know that this trait is unusual in American psychiatrists). He asked me why I had attempted suicide and I answered that I didn’t want to go to prison. His response is with me to this day. Instead of discounting the possibility that I would go to prison he stated in a very gentle way “I have many friends who have been to prison who now lead very normal lives, they have wives, children, and meaningful work”.

Although I dismissed this response mentally and immediately thought of Soviet era dissidents who were considered heroes for standing up to the totalitarian state and that they were nothing like me I realize now how profound that doctor’s words were.

The idea of prison is terrifying because it is unknown but there is a greater fear than that of prison itself and that is the social stigma attached to it. Here was a doctor, representing, in his very person, the essence of what society considers respectable, telling me “I have friends who were in prison……” This opening phrase, in many ways, was more important than anything that followed. It was a vindication in advance, like saying “if you go to prison you will have nothing to be ashamed of when you come out.” This was a very insightful thing to say on his part, he had to decide what to say with a very small amount of information about me, and he knew that what he said would have some effect on whether I would repeat the suicide attempt. I wonder if an American psychiatrist would have said anything quite so effective.

I. Psychological Overview
II. The Soviet Insane-asylum

III. The lies of our fathers
a. California school Soviet slide show
i. Mom’s reaction
ii. Her story of Soviet dissidents
iii. Treatment of my dissent in America
1. 1992 reading Marx and Lenin
IV. Summer in the Soviet Union
a. Impressions initially of Soviet life
b. The coup attempt
i. Tiananmen Square times 1000
ii. Trying to write about it
iii. Talking/lying about it to the press
V. School afterward and the return
a. Trying to educate myself
i. Learning the American classics from the Soviets
1. why they are Soviets and not Russians
a. Armenian/Georgian
b. Can’t erase history,
i. Culture that raised them was purely Soviet,
1. parents and grandparents Soviet
2. Stalin had the trains running on time
ii. Marriages and children
1. parents response to first marriage
2. Inna
a. Tennis and culture
i. Movies
ii. Dressing nice
1. boots
2. coat
3. Rueben Ratchivitch
a. Cars
i. This is our new model
ii. Otdel’ kadrof
1. traveling zagranitsa
2. Turkey
b. Rueben as a child in Tblisi
iii. libraries
iv. Olga
1. Vladimir
2. pregnancy
3. Christmas at home
a. The missing car
b. The ski trip and the oatmeal
c. Drinking bourbon and football
d. Fired across the Atlantic
4. The return
a. The anger
b. Break ups and make ups

v. homelessness as a teacher
1. Yuri, Aikido
2. Mafik
3. Lena
4. suicide
VI. the trauma of the return
a. forced therapy, forced medication
i. what choice when returning with my tail between my legs
b. UC
i. Freud
ii. The bookstore
iii. RPS
iv. FBI
c. The trip out West
i. The road
ii. The mountains
1. Estes Park
2. Trish
iii. California
iv. Mexico
1. surfing
2. home grown
3. mysticism
a. when the student is ready the teacher will arrive
i. Heather
ii. Gordon
iii. Little wolf (volk)
v. California
vi. Seattle/Vancouver
vii. Alaska
1. wilderness
2. the wolf
3. the lean to
4. the enlistment
VII. the trauma of the return
VIII. Lena and Parents
a. Christmas
i. Greek Orthodox
ii. Vladimir
iii. Sex on the side of the road
b. The great escape
i. The road
ii. Sending Lena home
IX. Virginia
a. Sic Semper Tyrannous
b. Arlington County jail and the feeling of invincibility

i. Panopticon
ii. diagnosis
iii. Chess \
iv. Reading and Sergeant Burns
v. Failed attempt at work release
vi. The Christians, the Muslims and the Devil’s advocate
vii. Spades and push ups with the brothers
viii. The night release
1. soccer at Georgetown
2. nights in the libraries of GWU and Gtown
a. Boston Market trash and other food sources
3. wandering SE Washington
4. Natacia “ya tebya lublu”
a. Algerian/French
b. DJ Shan and Trax 2000
c. Fairfax County jail
i. Combat
ii. Blue band
iii. Isolation
1. on display for the field trip
2. pick one religion
3. disobeying an order
4. volleyball, basketball
d. grocery voucher and bus ride to Dayton
e. parents put me in a hotel
f. homelessness in Cincinnati
i. how did I get there?
1. walking up the hill in Clifton
‘Civilization’ and Le Resistance

In every era there exist commonplace beliefs which appear nonsensical to later civilizations. The leading philosopher of Greece was put to death for corrupting the youth by teaching them that the pantheon of gods might not exist, Rome, despite all its technological and civic achievements glorified slavery, Copernicus attempted to square his theory with the official Catholic version of the universe, Thomas Jefferson maintained slaves despite all his writings of liberty and the equality of men, nineteenth century philosophy disputed the validity of the material universe and attempted to find some alternate reality which placed men outside the scope of history and evolution, the twentieth century validated the logic of the cold war and calmly asserted the rationality of a doctrine entitled “mutually assured destruction (M.A.D.)”. We may look back now at our intellectual forbears and mock their naivety but the madness of our ‘civilization’ continues unabated.

The battle of irrationalisms continues into the 21st century. The lines have been drawn between two camps which will both be discarded by future thinking persons as lunacy. Though it would be convenient to classify the two sides as religious fundamentalists and rationalists we unfortunately must acknowledge that 1) there are religious fundamentalists on both sides of the “clash of ‘civilizations’” and 2) the rationalists have been relegated to the children’s table. “Islamic fundamentalism” and neoliberalism currently wage a pitched battle for the hegemony of the planet earth. Although many countries and cultures exist which fall outside both of these forms of collective insanity and may be considered rightfully hostile to both concepts the raw physical power lies with these two systems of ideas. Let me back up for a moment. The term “Islamic Fundamentalism” would have made the Ministry of Information in Orwell’s 1984 quite proud. It contains an argument within the term itself that is overlooked each time the term is used. To deconstruct the term it simply means that those individuals who choose to wage war against the United States and its allies and happened to be Muslims are adhering ‘fundamentally’ to the tenets Islam. This performs two functions for the creators and users of the term: First it creates an association between whomever the term is applied to and the religion of Islam, thus marginalizing the religion itself and those who actually adhere to its fundamentals, and secondly it lumps together various elements of the resistance to neoliberalism’s attempts at global hegemony into a convenient ‘group’. This moniker of ‘Islamic Fundamentalism’ can then be marginalized by associating the most heinous acts of some members of the group with anyone who opposes American might and happens to also be a Muslim. An even broader term which includes all “Islamic Fundamentalists” as well as non-Muslim members of the resistance to the tyranny of the ‘market’ is “terrorist”.

In the United States this term is used quite broadly encompassing animal rights activists, environmentalists, socialists, communists, those who engage in non-violent acts of resistance to the deployment of nuclear weapons, and anyone whom the media wishes to characterize as dangerous and undesirable. With the recent abolition of habeas corpus the U.S. government may now simply arrest someone, classify them as a terrorist, and hold them indefinitely without the benefit of legal counsel or the ability to challenge the legality of their detention. (cite source Military Commissions Act)

To humor the future historians for a moment I will recap the basic concepts of both philosophies. Neoliberalism is a social policy masquerading as an economic philosophy. This policy pretends to have ‘free markets’ as its core economic platform but the ‘free market’ as practiced contains numerous contradictions. ‘Free’ refers only to the movement of capital, not human beings. Although competition within those markets is touted as a fundamental principle they are in fact heavily regulated in ways that nearly always favor a large, multi-national corporation over individual citizens. To take the most obvious example, a corporation may relocate an operation to any point on the planet where labor costs and regulation is more favorable to its profitability but individuals may not legally relocate themselves to the locations where labor is paid the most and living standards are the highest. This fundamental contradiction results in a phenomenon known in the rich areas of the world as “illegal immigration”. I realize the absurdity of such a notion in a world controlled by powers that continually use the word “free” in their political and economic rhetoric but please bear with me as I attempt to explain this madness.

The multinational corporations need two things to be successful, large markets where their products are in demand, and large reserves of cheap labor whom (they are human beings after all) can be ruthlessly exploited to create those products at a fraction of the cost of their selling price. One example of this is ‘sweatshops’ where marginalized members of a population, often children, are paid wages which are near the poverty level but the product of their labor is consumed by those with large amounts of disposable income in faraway wealthy countries (Nike sneakers selling for $100+ in Europe and the U.S. produced by children being paid ?? per day).

The profits amassed by these activities can then be used to buy influence in governments around the world to ensure that laws enacted by those governments continue to remain favorable to the multinationals often at the expense of the individual citizens of each country.

The countries where these multinational corporations are “located” (located meaning where the stockholders and executives reside usually not the same countries where production facilities are located) maintain massive military forces which can be used to pacify elements of the global population which prove unwilling to submit to neoliberalism.

Opposed to this order of things are some of the elements of the marginalized labor force, though many willingly submit in hopes of reaching the economic pinnacle themselves someday. The most visible element of this opposition are the suicide bombers and other elements of radical religious groups who have abandoned all hope of rational negotiation with the powers that be and simply wage war against their militaries and civilians. While the standard narrative in Western culture is to portray the suicide bombers as fanatics and the neoliberal countries as the purveyors of reason and progress one must consider the possibility that the suicide bomber is the more rational of the two.

The logic of the suicide bomber at its core is altruistic in the truest sense of the term. Each suicide bomber is prepared to sacrifice his life in the belief that his actions will ultimately result in a more just and peaceful world. The neoliberal corporation also engages in actions which result in the death, injury and impoverishment of millions of people but these actions are performed in the pursuit of financial profit and with no sacrifice necessary. This statement appears ludicrous and it is for that very reason that it must be presented with its opposite and the resulting dialectic analyzed. Setting aside the moral calculus of daily death and misery in the third world with the relatively small number of victims of the WTC attacks one may reasonably assume that much death and misery results from both suicide bombings and the global war which has been waged by the U.S. and other Western Powers over the last 100 years. I will not elaborate the case here that the military actions of Western governments are directly tied to expansion of markets and pursuit of ever greater profits but suffice it to say that the current system of the world results in the abject misery of the majority of the worlds population and the vast enrichment of a very small number of individuals.

The suicide bomber challenges this world system in the only way feasible in his or her world view, attempts at political and economic reform aiming at greater economic, political, and capital egalitarianism have failed miserably and the enemy must therefore be attacked at the point of its spear so to speak.

Teaching Russian in the Russian countryside, the wedding. Teaching Russian in the city, the war in Chechnya, viktor tsois lyrics in class for translation, the vague feeling of beign rebellious, the firing, the homelessness, the wandering, the Hapkido school,

When I arrived in Moscow in the winter of 1993 I had a cushy job and a swank apartment a few floors up from my office. For a twenty two year old with no idea what the hell he was doing this set up was pretty grand. I even had a pool of drivers that could take me anywhere I needed to go and a cook that made breakfast and lunch for the entire office everyday. She may have made dinner too but I was never at the office late enough in the day to find out.

A few months later, or maybe it was weeks, I was out of the apartment, broke and jobless. My employer had promised to pay my account back in the states, but this hadn’t happened. Then he fired me and said my plane ticket was good for a year and could go home whenever I wanted. I had managed to finagle a one year multi entry so I stayed. I taught English.

My first students were three boys destined for a year abroad in America. Their dads were up and coming biznessmin who had decided that their economic success warranted their sons having a private American English teacher.

One of the dads picked me up at the subway station and deposited me at a sanatorium about 50 miles outside of Moscow where the boys were awaiting my arrival. The ride out into the country with two of the three dads left me with the impression that they expected me to be something of a drill sergeant as well as English instructor. An early morning routine of calisthenics and running was strongly suggested as a way to entrench the discipline of learning into the young men’s minds. They wanted me to prepare the boys for the independent frame of mind they felt the boys would need to survive in America during their exchange.

My students and I were separated in age by ten years in the case of the youngest and six years in the case of the two older boys. They were not Muscovites. Though they “looked Russian” to me I was soon to find out that the twelve year old Dennis was Ukrainian. His two older companions, Sasha and Ruslan, were Azerbaijani. My experience in determining the ethnic identity of Russian citizens consisted of one semester in the Soviet Union as a college junior and I was soon to learn that ethnicity, nationality, and identity were all mutually exclusive concepts.

Although Ruslan and Sasha were younger than I, it was immediately clear to me that they were adults in a way that I was not. They both carried a heavy sadness, a bitter edge that was wholly unlike the sullen and spoiled attitude of the teenagers middle class America. I did not want to know what had hardened them, I knew it was bad and that was enough. I found it strange that their fathers thought they would learn something about the ways of the world and how to be self sufficient from me. They both washed their clothes by hand in the sink, knew how to steal cabbage from the fields of a collective farm, and eat it with black bread to take the edge off the burning sensation it created in our mouths. They were fiercely unafraid of soldiers and bullies that tried to intimidate them and their assumption that I had their back in any combat situations made me nervous and envious of their bravado. I had nothing to teach these boys about self sufficiency, manhood, or anything outside of rudimentary English grammar.

Sasha and Ruslan grew up in Baku, their fathers were Russian, Ruslan’s mother was Azerbaijani, Sasha never mentioned his mother. The banter of teenage boys tells an outsider things about them that they would never reveal voluntarily. Ruslan wore a medallion; he never took it off, even when we all took off our crosses in the sauna because they singed our skin. I could see his jaw set against the pain, I knew what that pain felt like because I foolishly tried to leave my crucifix on in a pathetic attempt to show that I was man enough. To this day I don’t know how he could sit there calmly relaxing and laughing while that metal heated up on his neck flesh. Dennis mentioned once that Ruslan’s mother had given him the medallion, and that she was a Muslim and that even though Ruslan believed in Christ he considered himself a Muslim out of loyalty to his mother. When Ruslan’s father left Baku for a much younger Russian woman in Moscow Ruslan came with the package, and it was clear from their interactions as a family that he was considered by his step-mother to be a hindrance to the harmony of her new family.

So when his necklace heated up in the sauna perhaps he thought of his mother, the difficulty of life in Baku for an Azerbaijani woman abandoned by her Russian husband, and the pain she must feel at the loss of her only son. I had nothing to teach this boy about life, he had become a man at an early age, and he was teaching me something about what that meant. His baby half sister adored him in spite of the veiled messages her parents projected about him. I could see their discomfort when she crawled into his lap during weekend visits, they wanted her to shun him like they did, they wanted her to see his Muslim mother in him, and everything about him as a thing from a past life to be discarded and forgotten.

My wife noticed this dynamic while visiting us. When Ruslan lashed out in rage at Dennis for one of his many insensitive and crass remarks she simply whispered in his ear “you know what it is like for someone to cause you pain, don’t do it to someone else”. Ruslan silently responded to these words, this address to the man inside a boy’s body. He acknowledged the respect she was paying him, treating him as a man, respecting his suffering, helping him not to spread it like a virus that spewed out it the heat of anger.

We didn’t do any jumping jacks or running that summer, and we didn’t study much English beyond the workbook exercises that consumed our morning hours. Instead of setting an example for them to follow I fell in with them, learned their bad habits, and enjoyed their infinite profanity and ability to insult one another in ways I did not know were possible. Whenever Dennis was particularly annoying Ruslan would menacingly mumble “whose mouth is going to be hurting tomorrow?” I naively thought this meant Ruslan was threatening a slap in the face, but later heard the same insult with “mouth” replaced by “asshole” and understood the implication was different.
When the boys were especially unruly or their fathers had threatened by telephone to visit I would try to scare them into studying with the ominous question “when the guy at the embassy asks you why you want to study in America what are you going to say other than…(gesture miming drinking, gesture miming toking, gesture miming fucking)”. By the end of our time together we would all perform these three gestures in unison and whoever could be the most graphic in their air humping received special praise and kudos from the rest.

I loathed the expectation that I would enforce order, I reluctantly bullied them into studying the worse than useless material provided by the “coordinator”. But I knew that through our informal conversations they might actually learn something useful about American high school language. Unfortunately for them my Russian was slightly better than their English so we rapidly fell into Russian whenever an interesting topic came up. We talked about cars, girls and food, as the lack of these three things grated on all of us, regardless of age and nationality.

Much of our time was spent planning the manufacture and design of a cheap car that could be produced in Russia using components from the three models already being produced in Soviet era factories. Sasha had an enormous car encyclopedia which showed every car in the world and where it was made. Whenever appropriate a boasting loudmouth could easily be silenced by the accusation that the car in their garage at home was a “Beijing Cherokee”. Apparently the Chinese version of the popular American SUV held a special place of contempt in the hearts of Russians.

Rueben Rachievich, My Armenian father in law, joined us one weekend for tennis and the discussion turned to the meaning of nationality, ethnicity and identity. In the Soviet era those who had parents of differing ethnic heritage could choose the nationality they wanted stamped in their passports. The smart money was on choosing Russian if you had one Russian parent. The assumption was that this integrated you into the Russian dominated culture of the Soviet Union and shielded you from the stereotypes associated with non Russian ethnicity. On any job application or university admission form your nationality would appear. There was an unspoken rule that Russians were at an advantage because those making the decisions were likely of Russian nationality and favorably inclined to helping others of the same lineage. The flip side of this was the implication of betrayal to ones ethnic and true national identity by “siding with the enemy”.

This decision was made by young Soviet citizens at age 16. I was terribly envious of such a large measure of authority over ones identity being granted at that age. Right smack dab in the middle of the tumult of teen life the kid got to say who he was and have it stamped in his passport, “take that dad, I’ll teach you to walk out on us, I’m picking Mom’s nationality”. The fact that I could have such a mental outlook at all proved to me how infinitely immature I was relative to Soviet teenagers.

My wife’s father had been enraged when she chose her mother’s Russian nationality. He was very proud of his heritage, not only as an Armenian, but specifically as a “Tbiliski Armenin”. Tbilisi, the ancient and stone bridge riddled capital of Georgia has a significant Armenian population and they are held in high regard by both Georgians and Russians. When I traveled to Georgia with my wife before we were married I witnessed the deference paid to her Tbilisan Armenian heritage, as if she were due all the courtesies reserved for a guest but entitled to all the intimacies reserved for a true Georgian.

Rueben Rachievitch had much to say on the question of nationality. Ruslan had chosen Azerbaijani as his nationality, though he had done this after he had moved to Moscow and both his parents had become Russian. Sasha had chosen his Russian side to dominate that fateful slot in his passport. Rueben observed that nationality was not about blood, or where you were born but about your education, and how you identified yourself. To him the boys were automatically cultured because they had been educated in Baku, an ancient and intellectual city. They carried this distinction for life, whether they chose Russian or Azerbaijani as their official nationality. I loved him in that moment for his diplomacy, his cultured and sophisticated way of paying homage to the boys heritage, knowing that as new Muscovites they would now experience what he had gone through as an Armenian coming from Tbilisi so many years ago.

My attempt at ethnic identification came at 17 or 18 when I started attending mass. Though I had thoroughly debunked the idea of Christianity to my own satisfaction at age twelve I felt that attending mass instead of Presbyterian services stamped my proverbial passport as a Pole instead of a Norseman. Mom had been in charge of the religious upbringing and her family was Scandinavian, dad was a lapsed Catholic and Polish. My decision to self identify as Polish Catholic was strongly reinforced when I traveled to the Soviet Union for the first time at the age of 19.

My last name is easily transliterated into Cyrillic, in fact it would be more accurate to say “returned to” Cyrillic. For the first time in my life no one was asking me how to spell my last name, I said it, they said it, they wrote it, perfectly and always the same way. This had a very powerful effect on my idea of me. Americans could not, or would not pronounce my name correctly. Spelling it was simply out of the question. My contempt for my country only deepened as I became more well read and attempted to alleviate my fellow Americans’ difficulty with my name by saying “you know like Stanley Kowalski in ‘Streetcar’”….…”you know ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’”….…”K_O_W_....”

For a 19 year old who has always been a little uncertain that he wasn’t a member of a different species an entire nation of people saying, spelling and talking about your name properly and respectfully has a powerful effect. In Russia Poles were considered intellectual, hard working, and artistic. I discovered that Chopin was Polish, that Copernicus was Polish, that Poland had been a great center of European culture. I also learned that I really was a Catholic because I had a Polish last name.

To the Russians know religion is simply a part of national identity. A country of official atheists looks at religious denominations as one of many genetic characteristics: Russians, Serbs, Armenians, and Georgians are Orthodox; Croats, Poles, the Irish, the French, and the Spanish are Catholics, Brits are Anglican, Azerbaijanis, Chechens, Turks and Arabs are Muslims, Indians are Hindu, Asians are Buddhist.

Belief was irrelevant. I never met any Soviet atheists. For all their Marxist education they were far less doubtful than the Americans I had known as a general rule. But it was never something that led to discussion, if you were an atheist that was all fine and well, but you were Catholic atheist if you were Polish and an Orthodox atheist if you were Armenian.

Ruslan should have been a Muslim atheist, but he was an Orthodox believer. He carried his Islam like a cross, first to defend it, but silently wishing he hadn’t been saddled with an Azerbaijani mother, and a chain that told the world he was a Muslim.

The first crucifix I ever bought was in Russia. My Catholic girlfriend had given me a St. Christopher medal to protect me on my trip to the Soviet Union. When I got to Sochi I found a cross in a kiosk and hung it next to St. Christopher on my chain, part of my newly discovered identity for all the world to see. The religious portion of my distorted ethnic heritage, conveyed to me in jokes about dumb Polacks with big cocks. Even now I am offended that Microsoft Word recognizes this disgusting word “Polack” with no red underline, in tacit complicity with the American ignoramuses who made me ashamed of my beautiful Polish heritage, who made my mother send us to a respectable Protestant denomination and kept us out of the dark and dingy mass that would have corrupted us and made us papists.

My contempt for America grew with every new love I found in the Soviet world. I read the greatest classics of American in English literature in Progress Publisher editions with Russian footnotes explaining details of American Indian culture in The Spy or nuances of Scottish life in Hatter’s Castle. I was amazed that I could grow up in America, score in the top percentile on the SAT and attend college on academic scholarship and be so woefully ignorant. It was bad enough that I knew nothing of the great literature of the world, that I was barely monolingual and struggling to learn a second language when everyone in Europe spoke 2,3,4,5,6 languages but to learn about the greatest American cultural achievements from Armenians, Georgians, Russians, and Ukrainians who knew not only the great writers, poets and directors of their own cultures but of American culture as well was embarrassing on a whole different level. “You’ve never seen ‘On the Waterfront’? You’ve never read Shakespeare? My wife took me by the hand the foreign language section of the Moscow State University library and began loading my arms with books.

What does a culture have to be proud of when it does not know what it has to be proud of? Libraries…

The boys wrote me a letter a few years later, their trip to America had been a great success, I was even able to speak to them on the phone and after a little bit of English we fell back into a profanity laden Russian that felt warm and familiar, like the sauna.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

थिस इस जिओं एंड वे अरे नोट अफ्रैद

Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death

Patrick Henry, March 23, 1775.

No man thinks more highly than I do of the patriotism, as well as abilities, of the very worthy gentlemen who have just addressed the House. But different men often see the same subject in different lights; and, therefore, I hope it will not be thought disrespectful to those gentlemen if, entertaining as I do opinions of a character very opposite to theirs, I shall speak forth my sentiments freely and without reserve. This is no time for ceremony. The questing before the House is one of awful moment to this country. For my own part, I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery; and in proportion to the magnitude of the subject ought to be the freedom of the debate. It is only in this way that we can hope to arrive at truth, and fulfill the great responsibility which we hold to God and our country. Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offense, I should consider myself as guilty of treason towards my country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the Majesty of Heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.

Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it.

I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past. And judging by the past, I wish to know what there has been in the conduct of the British ministry for the last ten years to justify those hopes with which gentlemen have been pleased to solace themselves and the House. Is it that insidious smile with which our petition has been lately received? Trust it not, sir; it will prove a snare to your feet. Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss. Ask yourselves how this gracious reception of our petition comports with those warlike preparations which cover our waters and darken our land. Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation? Have we shown ourselves so unwilling to be reconciled that force must be called in to win back our love? Let us not deceive ourselves, sir. These are the implements of war and subjugation; the last arguments to which kings resort. I ask gentlemen, sir, what means this martial array, if its purpose be not to force us to submission? Can gentlemen assign any other possible motive for it? Has Great Britain any enemy, in this quarter of the world, to call for all this accumulation of navies and armies? No, sir, she has none. They are meant for us: they can be meant for no other. They are sent over to bind and rivet upon us those chains which the British ministry have been so long forging. And what have we to oppose to them? Shall we try argument? Sir, we have been trying that for the last ten years. Have we anything new to offer upon the subject? Nothing. We have held the subject up in every light of which it is capable; but it has been all in vain. Shall we resort to entreaty and humble supplication? What terms shall we find which have not been already exhausted? Let us not, I beseech you, sir, deceive ourselves. Sir, we have done everything that could be done to avert the storm which is now coming on. We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and Parliament. Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne! In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope. If we wish to be free-- if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending--if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained--we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of hosts is all that is left us!

They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot? Sir, we are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. The millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable--and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come.

It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace-- but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!