January 27th, 2006 §
Of all the arts, dance and poetry are my true passions.
So I’ve seen a lot of dance in Vienna. Been to the theatre a few times. I have yet to see an opera.
The dance this season has been deeply disappointing since the fabulous Jan Fabre-blessed season at Tanzquartier a couple of years ago. The dance which is being commissioned and presented is conceptual. Abstract.
Hardly dance at all.
So in despair I have turned to music, buying a host of albums which I will review here, going to concerts at Flex, becoming a member at Porgy and Bess.
I’ve often said dance is the poetry of motion. One could turn the definition on its head and say that poetry is the dance of language.
At the root of both poetry and dance is music.
There are only a few things which Austrians do better than anyone else in the world. One is skiing. The other is music.
The ballet orchestra at Staatsoper is head and shoulders above any other in the world. I recently attended an evening of As You Like It. The choreography is dull, the characterisation trite, but to hear the Staatsoper orchestra play Mozart made for an excellent evening.
I would never have guessed that a people who are so repressed emotionally – living in Vienna is like a timewarp to English Canada 30 years ago where repressed emotions were also the order of the day – could be so expressive emotionally.
All this repression can be agreeable at times – very rarely does one see people shouting at one another in the streets here. Bar fights or harsh words are rare. People are remarkably calm in the course of a day’s interaction.
Somehow all this repression must force the emotions out elsewhere.
And it appear the outlet is music.
I am tired of second-rate dance or worse not dance masquerading as dance.
So I will be writing a lot about music this year.
January 23rd, 2006 §
Last winter when I was living in Paris, I went regularly to the cultural evenings and exhibitions at the Centre Culturel Irlandais on rue des Irlandais just behind rue Mouffetard.
At one of the exhibitions I was introduced to a pair of tall and imposing Serbians with the incredible project of mounting a for free cultural satellite channel. The two Serbians were the brothers Atanasković and their channel was called Art Channel.
Art Channel is now broadcasting 21h to 05h CET, free to air, via satellites HOT BIRD and W2 (EUTELSAT) over Europe, Western Asia and Northern Africa to more than 120 million households.
You can preview the programming on the web. It’s not bad. I particularly liked the simplicity of Laurent Mazar’s Carte Bleue. But there are lots of other more baroque and/or experimental works.
Congratulations Milan and Slobodan!
If you see anything you like feel free to leave a note below. Video artists don’t neglect to visit Art Channel’s submission page to see if it might suit some of your works.
January 7th, 2006 §
Unbelievably hilarious resumé of ex-Washington (4 terms) mayor Marion Barry’s career:
Getting reelected mayor after being videotaped smoking crack should make him a shoo-in for the Politicians’ Hall of Fame.
Eugene Robinson uses the occasion to give F. Scott Fitzgerald a poke. It seems times have changed since he wrote:
“There are no second acts in American lives” is one of the few truly dumb things F. Scott Fitzgerald ever wrote. Everybody in America gets an Act II, and even an Act III — look at how Arnold Schwarzenegger went from bodybuilder to movie star to governor.
January 6th, 2006 §
Yesterday the business press was busy lauding IBM’s decision to cut back on their pension plan.
IBM said it expects the announced changes, along with 2006 changes under consideration in several other countries, to cut worldwide retirement-related expenses this year by $450 million to $500 million. From 2006 through 2010, the company expects to cut costs by $2.5 billion to $3 billion.
This is absurd. IBM is one of the most successful corporations in the world. Even Bill Gates recently acknowledged (albeit somewhat disingenously as a back-handed swipe at Google) IBM as the company for Microsoft to beat with four times as many employees as Microsoft. If anyone can afford to pay their workers properly and treat their retirees with dignity it is IBM.
The employees getting those good pensions did a lot to create the wealth in which they had expected to share in old age. For decades IBM was able to scoop up many of the best minds in engineering and MBA programs. Those signing on the dotted line might have looked elsewhere if they were to know the ingratitude that awaited them.
Yet another violation of the social contract.
Every time these pension plans gets cut or goes bankrupt after being pillaged by the mother corporation, it is our money (as working people) which is stolen. We worked, we created these pensions funds. Pay us our pensions and stop robbing us.
It is high time that white collar crime is treated with the severity of petty crime. Why are our millions less worthy of protection than the merchandise of the local Walmart?
What really incenses me though is the applause for this behaviour from the press. I suppose most in the press long ago were forced to give up any kind of job security, let alone decent pensions. They are thrilled to see those with join them with nothing. Even better if it is retroactive, so they can point their spindly fingers and shriek to their parents and siblings or anyone else who will listen – I told you there was nothing wrong in becoming a freelance journalist – there is no job security for anybody!
As far as I am concerned this is theft and double-dealing and the rogues who came up with the plan to cheat their fellow workers should be in prison – not collecting triple bonuses this year.
On the up side, enough shenanigans like this at the expense of the middle class (we are not talking about screwing Walmart employees this time) and we will be able to talk about a revolution again.
For more on how Americans on being swindled out of their lives by the new economy. A very fine and detailed article. Via Melanie.
January 2nd, 2006 §
In the first campaign of 1941, the Germans captured four million Soviet soldiers. Later in the campaign in July 1942, they even managed to capture a very competent and charismatic Soviet general, Andrei Andreyevich Vlasov.
Vlasov knew the horrors of Stalinism first hand and offered to lead a Russian Liberation Army (Russkaya Osvoboditelnaya Armiya) against the Soviets. Many of the POW’s were prepared to follow Vlasov into battle against Stalin. Apparently Vlasov’s ideology was patriotic, anti-Communist but not particularly democratic. Putin’s Russia would be a logical ideological heir. Both men favour close collaboration with German neighbours to strengthen the Russian state.
Hitler instead opted for a policy of oppression and state terrorism and lost the Eastern Front.
With a new Russian civil war raging with German air and mechanical support, one has to believe Stalin would have had a great deal of difficulty holding the Soviet Union together for long.
How different the world would look now if the Soviet Union had come to an end in the forties and had been replaced by a nationalist Russia.
Vlasov and his armies were not put on the Eastern Front until 1945 when it was too late for the Nazis. Shamefully enough, the Allies returned these anti-Communists into the hands of Stalin, where predictably all of the officers were put to death while the soldiers were condemned to life in the Gulags.
A drab propagandistic page from the Russian-Americans on Vlasov, which gives an emigré perspective on the Russian Liberation Army.
A wonderful picture site with a couple of pages about Vlasov and his defence of Kiev and even more photographs of many of the battlefields and bunkers around Kiev that give a real sense of place to all of these events. Highly recommended to read through the whole site. Serpent’s Wall is exactly the kind of work for which the world wide web was created. Many pictures, minimal text, self-published but clean and clear. A chance to see and study something first hand which otherwise would be very difficult to learn about.
January 2nd, 2006 §
Here’s what Casanova has to say about Catholic girls back in 1768 during his sejour in Madrid.
Rien d’ailleurs n’est plus certain que ceci: une fille dévote ressent, quand elle fait avec son amant l’oeuvre de chair, cent fois plus de plaisir qu’une autre exempte du préjugé. Cette vérité est trop dans la nature pour que je croie nécessaire de la démontrer à mon lecteur. [III, p. 649]
There nothing more certain than this: when a religious girl yields to temptations of the flesh, she feels a hundred times more pleasure than one who doesn’t believe in God. This truth is so evident I hope it isn’t necessary to prove it to my readers.
Short translation. Catholic girls are the best. I always knew that.
Russian/Greek/Ukrainian Orthodox girls are pretty hot as well.
Protestants and even atheists are just not in the running.
Without belief in something and without sin, earthly temptations lose their sacred allure.
January 2nd, 2006 §
In 1942, the Germans own estimate for the number of Russian, Polish and Ukrainian women with child from German soldiers and officers numbered over one million. Such an extraordinary figure is plausible as the invading German army numbered almost three million.
Birth control has always been very primitive from Tsarist Russia to the end of the Soviet Union (abortion was the primary method of birth control at the end of the Soviet Union with an average of four abortions per woman over the course of her life).
Russia and the Ukraine had been often enough invaded and life was nasty, brutal and short enough that – whether for cultural reasons (historical memory) or genetic (those strongly inclined to resist the Golden Horde left no children at all) – Russian women tend to offer a warm welcome to benevolent foreigners. There was always something mysterious and attractive about the foreigner in Russia. Just as there is something alluring and mysterious about Russian women, who are certainly the most beautiful in the world.
One basis of the attraction of Russian women to foreign men is the different personal habits. Historically, alcoholism in Western European men does not reach the extent that it does in Russian men (with the shameful exception of the Finns who drink enough to be an embarassment to Russians when on binges to Petersburg). Even when alcoholic, the Western European man remains a functional alcoholic, consuming daily cocktails, wines and spirits but at a level which allows him to work a normal day and interact normally with neighbours and even with his own family.
Women don’t care much for tea-totalling men (such abstinence hints at an absence of love of life and pleasure), but alcoholics have even less appeal (inability to work or to create or maintain a suitable home, danger to herself and her children via alcholic violence, eventual sexual impotence). So a permanent liason with a foreign man offers much greater hope for a clean and long-lasting home for both her and eventual children. In romantic terms, a marriage free of alcoholism offers hope for a better couple.
Previous German settlers to Russia (especially the Volga Germans) had earned a well deserved reputation for husbandry, sobriety and fidelilty.
No doubt the opportunity to trade sex for food and favour for many offered the same appeal in Russia as it did in conquered France.
In light of the above, it is not surprising that so many Russian and Ukrainian women found themselves pregnant. As long as they entertained the notion that their invaders’ intentions were ultimately benevolent they would happily give themeselves up to fate (fatalism is endemic in Russian philosophical and even in practical ethical thought) and see what happens with their new admirers.
The Nazis quickly faced a serious question – how to deal with the consorting of the invading army with the local population. Their response was vile and incredible. Rather than supporting these attachments and gradually assimilating the territories by encouraging marriage or at least permanent ties between the soldiers and the local women, they determined to kidnap the progeny and patriate them to German soil. If the mothers passed certain racial tests, they would be shipped to Germany as well.
Can one imagine a better way to alienate a local population than to remove children from their mothers by force?
January 2nd, 2006 §
What were the Germans intentions in Russia?
It turns out – the Nazis planned an even grimmer fate for the Russians than they initially reserved for the Jews.*
After conquering Russia (at the very least as far as the Urals), the Nazi idea was to abolish higher education in the new Russian territories, stopping school at Grade 4 (ten years old). In a speech to the police, Himmler outlined Nazi policy.
I can only repeat what the Führer has asked. It is enough if, firstly, the children are taught the traffic signs at school so that they won’t run under our cars; secondly, they learn to count to twenty-five; and thirdly, they can write their names as well. No more is necessary.
The goal was that the local inhabitants be bereft of any leadership and made effectively slaves for a new German ruling class. Not only were Russian and Ukrainians not to have their own schools, they were not to have German schools either.
Of course all of this was to be preceded by a campaign of mass executions of the political and cultural elite. In addition, a policy of institutional kidnapping of the many children fathered by the three million German soldiers on Russian and Ukrainian territory.
At the end of June 1941, Hitler thought Moscow would fall into his hands imminently. He planned to eliminate the city altogether and create a lake in its place!
In a few weeks we’ll be in Moscow. Then I’ll raze it to the ground and build a reservoir there. The name Moscow must be expunged.
Fortunately Moscow never fell into Nazi hands and survived – Moscow which is like a third Rome after Constantinople. The destruction of Moscow would have ranked as an historical and cultural loss with the destruction of Carthage and Constantinople itself. Sadly, Stalinism itself has wreaked havoc with the original unique village/church/countryside style of Moscow and has left Moscow a flawed and strange beauty. Very few of the old quarters of town with their stately mansions and soft wintery streets remain intact.
The same destruction was planned for Petersburg (Leningrad) – the Venice of the North. Martin Bormann writes on 16 July 1941:
The Leningrad area is being claimed by the Finns. The Führer wants to raze Leningrad to the ground – then he’ll give it to the Finns.
Instead of giving the land back to the peasants (which would have brought the Nazis eternal loyalty from the Ukrainians and the Cossacks, still reeling from collectivisation in the early thirties), the Nazis planned to continue to exploit the huge state farms with virtually slave labour.
On 23 September 1941, Hitler told his commanders over dinner of plans to liquidate the Slavs up to and beyond the Urals.
The frontier between Europe and Asia is not the Ural Mountains but there where the settlements of Germanically inclined people end and unadulterated Slav settlements begin. It is our task to push this frontier as far east as possible, and if need be far beyond the Urals. It is the eternal law of nature that gives Germany as the stronger power the right before history to subjugate these peoples of inferior race, to dominate them and to coerce them into performing useful labours.
Given the brutality of Stalinism, I had always wondered why the Russians and Ukrainians resisted the Nazis so determinedly. Wouldn’t it have been better to live in comparative prosperity under National Socialism (i.e. occupied France) than under the misery of Stalinism. In the end, I ascribed it as a propaganda victory.
But in fact, the Nazis own conduct is almost wholly responsible for Soviet patriotism and partisan activity. After a year under the Nazi whip, the Russians and Ukrainians understood they were fighting for their very existence against the Nazis. It was that knowledge which made them capable of the tremendous sacrifices necessary to defeat the Nazi armies.
Next to the Nazis, Stalin seems almost benevolent. His plans for Germany in the case of victory were to take and use the German intellgentsia both immediately in a practical sense as engineers and workers to strengthen Bolshevism. In the long run, apparently Stalin intended to mix Russian and German blood to improve the Russian population. Albeit after much bloodshed, Stalin did allow the Poles a country and even left his old foes Rumania and Bulgaria and Hungary more or less intact.
To learn of German intentions for Russia is a real shock for me. Russian culture is the midnight flower of the world. A culture of deep despair and grand emotions and overwhelming hope, Russian art offers more emotional and philosophical depth than any other on this earth. In music, in literature, in ballet, in visual arts, Russians are the great tragic geniuses of this world.
The Russian language is the deepest and most flexible and most beautiful language I have ever heard. Russian poetry is the most sonorous and powerful ever written. Next to Russian, German is a nasty, broken tongue, emotionless and flat, with nothing to recommend it apart from a certain useful precision for the issuing of detailed instructions.
And this fopling and wretched painter aspired to annihilate Russian culture and language from this world while razing the two citadels of Russian culture and architecture?
Both Germans and the Austrians cooperated and prosecuted this project with abandon. What were they thinking about?
With this knowledge, I feel very strange living in Austria now.
* Initial Nazi plans were to ship all European Jews to Madagascar. Curiously, Hitler had significantly more respect for Jews and Jewish culture than for Slavs. Apparently he feared to expulse Jews to Siberia as the difficult living conditions would just make the Jews stronger while the natural riches there, they could learn to exploit. In the end, the project to liquidate Jews and Gypsies was only an opening note in a much greater campaign to eliminate Poles, Ukrainians and Russians as independent peoples. More than a million Catholic Poles fell victim. Many tens of millions more Slavs were slated for work camps, starvation and death – the rest for selective racial merging.
Citations above are from David Irving’s bestselling and meticulously researched biography Hitler’s War. Hitler’s War is an incredible piece of military history, regardless of Mr. Irving’s more recent untoward dalliances with the extreme right. Hitler’s War may be the best written book in copyright freely available on the web. For an understanding of the difficulties with which writing modern history is fraught and of exactly where and how Mr. Irving errs, the full trial judgement of Mr. Justice Gray against David Irving in April 2000 is essential reading.