What I’ve Been Watching: Czech Rust Belt Dysfunction Edition

I just finished the Czech series Pustina (Wasteland) and am completely blown away. Set in an unloveley area of the Czech Republic close to the border with Poland it is about a village whose economic base has collapsed and the adults have degenerated into shabby poverty, stewing in resentment and long-running petty feuds and have no idea what their children are up to (drugs mostly, there is an ongoing meth epidemic in that part of the Czech Republic).

Znalezione obrazy dla zapytania pustkowie poprawczak

A Polish strip mining company wants to buy out the residents and raze the village for the coal underneath and many residents would like nothing better than a cash payout and a new start somewhere else, even if only a few kilometers away in a slightly less decayed town. The main opponent of the company is the mayor, Hana Sikorová who wants to preserve the local way of life.

On the day the local council is to vote on whether to have a referendum on selling out to the company or not the mayor’s younger daughter disappears.

The rest of the series is about finding those responsible and is probably the most devastating TV series I’ve ever seen (and makes True Detective look like a sitcom). I’ll definitely write more about this, but for now run out and see this. See this.

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A Migration Non-Crisis

Migration by Ukrainians to Poland to work was slow to arrive where I live. Despite being one of the wealthier and historically better run large cities in Poland, since the end of communism it hasn’t been among the first places migrants show up in whether Vietnamese in the 1990s and early 2000s or Ukrainians starting a few years ago. But the Ukrainian movement is so large now that it’s become very visible and audible here too.

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Bulletin board in Warsaw

I was seeing off a visitor at the bus station a few days ago and noticed that there are at least ten buses every day arriving and departing to Ukraine (and apparently an air connection or two as well) and there were several on the bus the person I was with was taking as well (headed generally East).

A few days later, on Corpus Christi I took a walk in the city’s botanical garden with a friend. It was unusually hot for the end of May and there weren’t as many people as would normally be there but two thirds or more of the other people there could be heard speaking Russian or Ukrainian (or some mix thereof).

“Are we being colonized?” my friend asked jokingly.

I mentioned that when I go for walks on Sunday the presence of Ukrainians is a lot more salient than on other days (that is they make up a higher percentage of those out and about).

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A sign of the times. The largest grocery chain in Poland (owned by a Portuguese company) is recruiting in Ukrainian.

“Well, most are just here to work and living in rented rooms or hostels” I explained “When they have free time they’re more likely to want to go out instead of sitting around at home like Poles do.”

We talked a little then about how many might end up staying versus going back. The conventional wisdom is that most will eventually return to Ukraine (or maybe head further west) but no one is concerned about how many might end up staying (except for a few idiots here and there). This is of course because of the general linguistic and cultural compatibility. There are some problems of adaptation but they’re not hard to overcome. What’s surprising isn’t that there is some tension. Wha’ts surprising is that there so little and that it’s so… tractable.

“I guess most will go back” he  said at the bus stop after we’d left. A young couple speaking Russian was also waiting. She had a mouth full of new dental work and they had a baby in a carriage and a small dog in tow.

“But I think some of them aren’t going anywhere” I said.

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Pictures of My Food: Polish Young Cabbage Edition

This is a one dish dinner from Eastern Poland. It’s made with young cabbage (mature cabbage doesn’t have the right taste or texture) and like much of traditional Polish food is very seasonal. It’s pretty easy to make. I’ve never been able to find a name for it beyond kapusta (cabbage).

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It’s late spring, time for young vegetables (as unhealthy as possible, please)

Cut out the heart of one (or two if they’re small) young cabbage and cut the rest into strips about an inch wide and two inches long (more or less). Put in a large pot with some water and bring to boil (and/or pour some boiling water over it) and let sit a few minutes. The idea is to blanch it without overcooking it. Then drain.

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Bacon, found in its natural environment

In another large pot boil vegetables and herbs (carrots, onions, maybe parsenips, parsley, green onion bulbs and dill, salt and pepper) with a large slab of uncured bacon cut into one inch cubes (or raw short ribs). Cook on low heat until the bacon is soft. Add citric acid to taste (I like it sour as fuck). Pour the broth over the drained cabbage and stir around. Turn off the heat and let it sit a while.

To serve add sour cream to the top (the more the merrier) and sprinkle fresh parsely, dill and green onions on top. The bread shouldn’t be any darker than in the picture.

Leftovers will stay a few days in the fridge. I usually add flour or potato starch to the leftovers and have it as a side dish or with boiled potatoes as a one dish dinner. In health terms it’s a mixed bag (you can make it healthier with leaner meat or unhealthier with chunks of smoked lard at the end).

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Twitter, Rosanne and Reliving Trauma

Actors and actresses (or any kind of performers) have never been known for their down to Earth good sense and anyone expecting any kind of coherent political guidance from them (or who thinks they can or should be public political role models) is a dangerous idiot. That’s one reason why when an actress posted something dumb on a social media site so many (hope) otherwise normal people thought it was actually meaningful and it turned into a major political story.

Znalezione obrazy dla zapytania porcupine sex

If the twitter mob ever comes for me they can do this.

Her twit was dumb but not worth one millionth the attention it got. It wasn’t even a sentence and people are treating it as if she’d drawn up a blueprint for genocide.

Part of me thinks that part of the reaction is people reliving the 2016 shock loss (to them) of Hillary Clinton. It’s clear that became a major point of personal (maybe collective) trauma for people and as sometimes happens with people in the grip of trauma is they want to rerun the incident with the ‘right’ outcome in hopes of being able to move on (this is my theory based on examples I’ve observed and participated in). Destroying Roseanne’s career became a way of turning Trump’s victory into the defeat they think he deserves.

It also has once more made clear that apologizing to any social media mob is pointless. I don’t think I’ll ever be the object of a social media storm but if I am there is no way on Earth I would ever give the idiots stirring things up the satisfaction of being able to reject my apology. “I stand by what I said and if you don’t like it you can go fuck a porcupine! You depraved idiots!”. It wouldn’t help but it wouldn’t hurt and would be a lot more satisfying.

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What I’ve Been Watching: Nazi Marriage Manual Edition

I’ve just started the second season of the Man in the High Castle and I’m not sure what to think. There’s lots of interesting stuff but we don’t get much about Nazi America since most of it is in the Japanese controlled West Coast and the parts in the the US of Nazis are mostly around Nazi headquarters.

Talking with a friend, we both agreed that if we had to choose, we’d choose to live in the Japanese sector because things seem a littler looser around the edges there but that might be selection bias and given their penchant for mass graves not exactly fun.

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Nazi Father Knows Best and his trusty helpmeet

Somewhere around halfway through the first season I realized one of the most interesting characters is Helen Smith (played by Chelah Horsdal who I’m really going to be looking out for now) the wife of the head Nazi (Rufus Sewell’s best role… ever) and around two thirds through the first reason I realized it’s because she and her husband have the healthiest relationship in the show (maybe the only healthy relationship). They respect and trust each other totally and they’re both pretty sanguine about the risks of being a high level Nazi in times of coming turmoil.

At one point he tells would be spy Joe that he trusts her with his life and it’s the most honest thing he’s ever said. On the one hand, that has its moral traps as it soon becomes apparent her graciousness toward Joe had been part of a plan to trap him and put him at her husband’s mercy, but she’s so good at it that you’re left wondering until the last second.

Meanwhile protagonist Juliana Crain is a mess, emotionally unfaithful to her intensely annoying boyfriend (my least favorite character who goes about everything in the least effective way possible setting off landmines for the other characters but not much better in her dysfunctional love/hate relationship with Joe.

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The couple with the worst instincts… ever, they should star as themselves in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

At this point the Smiths have a perfect 1950s marriage (nostalgia version) so I’m sure it won’t last. You things don’t set up a perfect couple unless you’re going to test them severely or set them against each other. And I think that maybe they don’t intend the relationship to be so positive but at this stage it’s about the healthiest marriage on TV…

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Living and Not Learning: Marxist edition

My new youtube listening obsession is listening to unapologetic Marxists who can’t wait for true socialism, of which there is a surprisingly large amount. I completely understand studying Marxism as historical theory or whatever and purely as a theoretical historian he had some good insights. But these guys (virtually all men) aren’t into that. They’re all about praxis as they try to project his analyses of 18th century French farmers onto modern Trump voters and/or try to explain the many benefits of labor vouchers or how people who are bored by staying at home with all their material needs being met will volunteer to work in factories because, you know, that’s never reallly…. happened.

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The beautiful dream…. of corn feed mechanized cows leading to abundance

Of course the big elephant in the room is that many have tried to operationalize Marxist theory and all the attempts in a variety of places applied to various types of societies that differ in important ways culturally and socio-economically have without exception been catastrophic failures (there have been some not terrible communist parties within multi-party systems but they’re irrelevant for this point).

There’s some rewriting of history about how some communist countries weren’t that bad really and/or a lot of hand-waving about how this or that Marxist inspired disaster was not ‘real’ socialism and how ‘real’ socialism will be so much cooler because there is no essential human nature  and socialism will create and shape people in better ways.

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The messy reality…. the sign says “The authorities take care of the people”…. ha!

But there’s no way to put more lipstick on that pig. Operationalized Marxism is either:

a: One of the most well-documented failures in human history. It’s never worked (at producing liveable conditions fit for intelligent human beings) despite decades of experimentation involving hundreds of millions of human beings. Is there any social science or historical theory that is one tenth as robust as “operationalized Marxism produces steadily worse living conditions for most people”.

b: The most ineffective political theory in history since ‘real’ Marxists have never gotten their paws anywhere close to the levers of power in the century and a half since the publication of its manifesto. It’s a sterile philosophy for sterile theorists who have no ability to turn theory into practice.

If there’s a third option then please let me know.

I understand that part of what’s going on is disillusionment with neoliberalism and consumerism as social projects and the part of me that understands that is glad to see more and more people more and more disillusioned and ready for something else.

I just hope most of them are smart enough to leave the Marxist idealism behind when the time comes.

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What I’ve been watching: Regnen (The Rain)

I started this Danish series about a rain carried virus that devastates the population of Scandinavia and then I kind of gave up because it seemed like an endless idiot plot.

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Our unlikely crew of incredibly stupid survivors…. somehow

An idiot plot depends on the main characters doing incredibly stupid things because if they didn’t then not much very dramatic would happen. Here, the main characters react in the most stupid possible way again and again and again. I was starting to hope their next dumb decision would be the one to get them all killed.

In the first episode the father (a scientist working for a mysterious company) realizes what’s about to happen (death from above) and gathers his family to go to a company underground shelter. But despite having lots of time he doesn’t try to explain what’s going on at all to his 16-17 year old daughter (much less the 11 year old son). It’s all “It’s dangerous and I can’t tell you why or what will happen but it’s dangerous!” They arrive at the shelter and he’s called away by his company and then five minutes later the children do something astronomically stupid and the mother dies.

Skip to five years later and they’re ready to leave the shelter when they’re smoked out by a rag tag band of age peers who they manage to convince them to take them along rather than to kill them. Many, many, stupid decisions follow. So many that by the end of the third episode I gave up.

And then I started thinking in metaphorical terms and though maybe it’s a critique of Danish society and how authority figures do a terrible job of equipping people to deal in the larger, harsher world which is full of people who are not as trusting and honest as most Danes.

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A desolate post-apocalyptic hull of a once prosperous city… let’s act is if nothing has changed!

Scenes like the heroine trying to be kind to a child dying in slow motion but only hastening a quicker more traumatic death, looked at as a metaphor for first world meddling in systems it doesn’t understand, might be devastating.

I haven’t decided whether to give it another chance or not but now I’m thinking it might be worth a second look.

 

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