Thursday, February 26, 2009

Man Week

Remember how I told you all about Russian Man Day? Well, let me say a few words about men:

Men are a tricky bag of sticks. It's hard to be a man; you can be awesome or you can suck. Men can eat manly foods like many chilicheese dogs and Hungryman frozen dinners. In North and South, Mr. Thornton suggests that a man is much better than a gentleman, and his ideal is the "true man." The rest of the book mostly backs him up on that. Hellboy, ironically, is a good man superhero. He's got his foibles (men usually don't use words like "foibles"), but he's committed to helping other, weaker people; he likes to get things done and, of course, he like to smash things. Hellboy is the 40-year-old working class equivolent of Spiderman's geek-boy superhero.

Men go to war. Yes, some women also do this, but the vast majority of them are men, and, may I say, all of the worst jobs in war are done by men. Historically, with extremely few exceptions, all soldiers have been men. And wars suck. Especially historically, what with no painkillers or synthetic fabrics or precision firing or lawsuits against hazing or cruel C.O.s, and all this time men have been going off and doing it anyway. Orson Scott Card points out through one of his characters that the battlecry of most wars has been "protect the wombs!" Speaking as one with a womb (and don't worry: women will get their shout out in March), thank you.

Men also work. That's not to say that women don't, especially lower-class women of all time periods, and much of that work has been extremely difficult. Women were working more hours than men a hundred years ago, but men's work is often way more physically exhasting. Farming without machinery. Artificially blowing chaff. Digging ditches. No fun. In fact, so not fun that a lot of these men were dying, if not directly from exhastion, then at least from lowered immunies from the food-in/work-out balance being off-kilter. The movie Pursuit of Happyness, I think, did a pretty good job of demonstrating that desire men have to provide for their families--I think this is a real instinct that most men have.

Without denying that women lacked many of the advantages of men, in many situations, there are such been some pretty great men who have contributed to our society: Aristotle, Willberforce, George Washington, John Stuart Mill, Shakespeare, Bill Gates, Rembrant, W. W. Phelps, the Quaker Oats man. Thanks, men, for having done so much cool stuff!

Then again, I'd be amiss if I didn't also point out that men are pretty violent. There are only six countries in the world (all of them will limited freedom) where women make up more than even 10% of the prison population. I'm not saying ("Ruben Ruben, I've been thinking...") that if we got rid of men, we'd get rid of crime, but it seems like men are (and this is adjusting for cops not wanting to arrest women) more likely to commit crimes, especially violent crimes.

So men: be good, take care of your family, fight evil and eat a hotdog on me today!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Thoughts are Russian Through My Head

Okay, so fairly, some of you have pointed out that my last post didn't so much of tell how cool Russia is as it did point out how not entirely it sucks. So this post is all about how freakin' awesome Russia is. Period. Exclamation point. Asterisk. Question mark.

Awesome Thing about Russia #1: Sweet holidays.

Russia has much better holidays than America, possibly better than any other country. For example, not only do they celebrate International Women's Day (March 8th) with gifts and flowers, but they also celebrate Army Day (which is technically Defender of the Fatherland day, which is essentially Men's Day, since Russia has mandatory conscription) on February 23--mark your calendar! Men get gifts, too, and lots of guy movies come out in theaters on this day.

They also celebrate Knowledge Day, which is Sept. 1st. This day not only does the whole country celebrate lifelong learning, but all the schools in the country start. The first day is laid-back; everyone gets tea and cake and listens to a speech by the principals and other special guests. And everyone dresses up and gives the teacher flowers.

I definately think we should add these holidays to our calendar.

Awesome Thing about Russian #2:
Shirtless presidents.

Awesome Thing about Russia #3: Cultured Folk

Everyone in Russia is cultured. Everyone. It's weird. The poorest people on the street, they can all quote Pushkin. The test that you have to take to go to college, the equivolent of our SATs, you have to memorize several nationally-significant poems. People go to the ballet and opera. Chess is a spectator sport.

Awesome Thing about Russia #4: Good Eatin'

Not all Russian food is my fav, but there's lots that is truly yummy. For example: Piroshki.

Canisters of ready-to-bake biscuits
Savory filling:
One small head of cabbage
One small onion
½ clove garlic (or to taste)
1 tsp dill
Salt and Pepper to taste

Dice the onion. Sauté with garlic in butter or oil until clear. Meanwhile, slice cabbage and boil until soft. Drain cabbage, add onion, garlic and seasonings. When cool, spoon a tablespoon of the mixture into the center of a squished-down biscuit. Fold the edges of the biscuit in half and seal shut.
Bake at 350° F until golden brown.

There are a lot of variations you can make on these pirgori pockets: rice and hamburger, mashed potatoes and mushrooms, or, if you have a sweet tooth, maybe jam, sliced apples with cinnamon or strawberry and rhubarb. Experiment—these always taste good!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

What You Thought You Knew, but Don't about Russia

So Jamie S/Z asked me what it was with Russia; how is it that I like this place so much? What is Russia about, anyway? Without professing to be a Russiologist (there's really no catchy synonym to "Sovietologist"), here are my thoughts on what people think of when they think of Russia and how wrong they are.

Common Generalization #1. Russia is icy cold and dark all year round.

Okay, yes I lived in the north of Russia, with 35 degree below winters, and yes, 2/3rds of the country is in permafrost, but Russia does get warm. In fact, it gets downright hot, even in Petrozavodsk. I spent a summer there sweating and downing delicious mango ice cream. Some places in Russia are warm all year long. In fact, some people forget that Russia goes down to the Black Sea. It borders Georgia and across the lake from Iran. There are even palm trees and beautiful beaches in Russia.

This is Sochi, for example. (Yeah, this is where they're having the winter Olympics. Go fig.)

Common Generalization #2. Russian men are drunken pigs.

Yes, the average Russian consumes 27 liters of alcohol (and this statistical average includes newborns and the comotose, so that's got to be a lot higher for the adult, conscious drinker). Yes, men are more likely to be the drinkers. Yes, there's a culture of machoism that leads to abuse and violence. Yes, Russia is fifth on the list of the most violent countries in the world and men, far and away, are the ones perpertrating that violence. But even though Russian men have a lot of forces working against them. The best Russian men though, are very good. Very, very good. In fact, some of the best men I have ever met have been good Russians. It's like that poem about the little girl with the little curl in the middle of her forehead: when Russian men are good, they are very, very good; when they are bad, they are horrible.

My theory? Satan is doing his best to destroy all the the good Russian men.
Don't give up, Russian men! Stay good! Staaaay good!

Common Generalization #3. Russia is all a bunch of white athiests.

Okay, while I was in St. Pete I saw exactly 3 black people over the course of 22 months and Russia has a very high incidence of athiests: 24% and that doesn't include very nominal Orthodox.

But Russia has lots of Muslims and Buddahist and even plenty of old-style pagans. There are plenty of brown people from the southern republics and lots of Asian people. Russia is actually a very diverse place. In fact, if you define an empire as a diverse group of states ruled by a single authority, Russia has been an empire THREE times: under empires, under Soviet rule, and now again. Russia includes several "republics" which are semi-autonomous. Know where Karelia is? I do. I served there. What about Tartarstan? (yeah, Tartars! How cool is that?) Russia has all these very culturally diverse republics brimming with different races, religions and political traditions.

Well, that's enough of that for now. I'll do a sequel later. In the meantime, let's all remember why we all love Russia: Rocky IV's Ivan Drago.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Blogpoll for My Comedic Future

Okay, so I'm 90% certain I'm leaving Divine Comedy after this semester (but last time I said that I stayed for another year so here we go.) It takes more time and work than a hobby and pays less than a part-time job. So I figure I don't have time for all that.

But I still like comedy-- who do you guys think I should join: Humor U or LOL? Humor U probably has fewer rehearsals, so that would be less time, but LOL is improv and I'm way better at improv AND I'd get to hang out with the troupe (assuming the troupe is as fun and friendly as DC).

Voice in and convince me!