Saturday, April 28, 2007

Oh Baby

Alright, so last post of the month, and the last post before I leave tomorrow around 8:30ish. I headed down the mandatory Fulbright conference outside of Salzburg yesterday and then made my way back today. It was a bit tiring as it is about five hours each way, but I enjoyed the conference more than I though I would. We had a couple of great lectures and the weather was amazing. Austrian town are very quaint, but at the same time I have to admit I start to get a bit nervous small towns, if only because I come from one where there is also nothing to do and I start to feel that if I stay too long or eat the food I won't be allowed to leave (I am usually better with this stuff when I have my own car). The conference is mainly for the Austrians going to the states, but it was fun as they are a pretty interesting bunch. They have a bit of a rougher deal than we do. Fulbright has a number of different programs, but most are doing research projects and receive money towards their living expenses (in Austria the Fulbrighters usually have to teach English in Austrian schools so it is a bit of a bumb deal). Anyway, the Austrians going to the US are going to the degree programs, except the Fulbright commission neither gets them into schools nor pays for their tuition (they pay for about half). So the Austrians have to apply a year and a half before they want to go, see if the get the scholarship, see if they get into a school they want, and then see if that school offers them enough money for them to be able to go. I know this pretty much the same thing Americans go through, I just think that the way it works out because for the Americans if we get in we can go, for those going to the US getting into the program it is only the beginning.


Cow #1: Here it says Piranhas can eat a whole cow in five minutes.
Cow #2: Hmmm...'a cow' a you say?

Thursday, April 26, 2007


The Ukrainian foreign minister came to school today.

He didn't really answer my question.

He wouldn't let me get a picture with him



Wednesday, April 25, 2007


I am going to Odessa and I am so excited! It will be my first time in Ukraine and by all reports Odessa is pretty awesome (even if they do get made fun of by Russians all the time for their apparently very Yiddish influenced Russian). The city was founded by Catherine the Great as a free port (I think the term was 'imperial port') and as a result developed as city vibrant both financially and culturally (loads of Jewish traders, Greeks, Russians, Ukrainians, other soviet/tsarist minorities I can't think of at the moment). The city's financial wealth meant that a lot of pretty buildings were built in the 19th c., and the fact that the city isn't quite as prosperous today means things are pretty cheap. I am also really curious because Russians always say that Brighton Beach in Brooklyn is like Odessa (because it is full of Russian Jews and Odessa used to be ?) and I want to be able to compare. This is sort of my present to myself for having finished my big research paper (on Ukrainian and Georgian politics) so I will be hanging out and being privately tutored in Russian about Ukrainian politics. Did I mention I was extremely excited? Granted it isn't the part of Ukraine where my grandmother's family is from (oh, I'll make it there don't worry), but I am getting away, I am taking a week long Russian vacation, and I get to experience a whole new city.

Improv Team Names

So I remember back in the day going back and forth for days about what Klaritin should be called. Here are the names of two other improv teams I would like to create and be a member of:

Tanya Harding (oh yeah the bad girl of figure skating check out her website)

Abra Kadaver

Keep on Truckin

Running around a lot again today. I wasn't able to sleep much last night and then I had class at 8:30, which saw to it that I was pretty exhausted (I really have doubts about whether or not I will even be able to hold a job, seriously, I can't wake up and when they expect me not only to be awake but to look half-way decent I am screwed). After that I had to finish a Russian essay about the role of Russian in the former Soviet Union (i.e. yes it is widely used, but it is only an official language in a few countries), anyway it was way too short to say anything really important, but at least I got to wrestle with the Russian language a bit. That wrestling, however, made me miss the Russian class before the essay workshop which is all the more awkward because the classes are taught by the same woman. It isn't a big deal, but I always feel so guilty both thinking I have let down the professor and being annoyed myself an hour of Russian. Clearly these are issues we all deal with. Just two more classes left today! We are taking a trip to amnesty international for my human rights class and then I have yet another Russian class. Then I get to write a French composition and try and learn some terms for business Russian tomorrow so the teacher doesn't look at me like I am an idiot. Good times. But I am going on vacation! It will be the first time since Christmas when I will have a break and not be working. I am very happy. More info on where I am off to later today.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Future!

So I am going to study at Brooklyn Law next year and I am pretty happy about it. I am really excited to be returning to New York (friends, family, improv) and pretty excited to dive into the wonderful world of law after having had a sampling of international law this year. I will admit that I had had my sights set on some more competitive schools, but I am happy with the things have worked out. I have the opportunity to study law at a school that I like more and more the more I learn about it (really good people), to return to the city that is more home to me than anywhere else, and I have the potential to do more international stuff (hopefully to take a year off after the first year of law school to take part in Middlebury's masters in Russian program in Moscow). So to all of you who have listened to my complaining and worrying over the past months I thank you and ask you to enjoy my little success too.


So if you (and by this I am assuming people read my blog) ever wondered why I have loads more entries at the end of the month than at the beginning it is because I have a deal with myself to write 20 posts a month...and I procrastinate (yes I know there is the one month with 19, but the next one had 21 to make up for it). I am not sure why I decided on twenty, maybe because that is a post for about 2/3 of the days of a month or because I wanted to make sure I had at least two-hundred posts by the end of the year, but I did. The problem is I get busy and then I have two (or less weeks) to post twenty times. That is usually when a lot of the Nichtlustig cartoons start popping up. I don't feel guilty if I don't post more, but I just feel if you have a blog at all you might as well post regularly. Also for me it is a way to keep in touch with friends back home. I don't mean that in so much of my blog being a central summary of my undertakings (there is some of that), but in that I share my observations, what I find funny, what I find insane, in away much like I would would be talking to my friends. And of course my friends get to comment. Sometimes I think my blog should be funnier, or have more a central theme like 'crazy German words!' but the stuff I post is pretty much what I am thinking about, which isn't always funny and fortunately isn't always 'Hey guys! There is this great German word' either. Its a mix and that makes it me.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Holy Crap, Yeltsin died!

Look at him go! Um...have gone.

So this isn't a 'Those Who Left us this Year' both because the year has yet to pass, and because I am not entirely sure how I feel about Yeltsin. In his later years Yeltsin was certainly an embarrassment for many Russians because of his drinking problem and just clear inability to due his job. In terms of his legacy, I have to say I don't care about that. I mean, I certainly understand a people's frustration and embarrassment as a result of their most prominent political figure (Bush anyone?), but in terms of evaluating Yeltsin as a person I am less concerned with what he did (or let others do) later in his life when he was incapacitated, as what he did when when he was in his right mind. What comes to my mind first is his ordering the siege on the Russian parliament (to resolve a standoff between parliament and the president), his giving carte blanche to the leader's of Russia's regions, and his incredibly corrupt privatization of Russia's industries.

The main reason why you have the huge gap between rich and poor in Russia today is because of Yeltsin. He sold off Russia's industries, which were worth quite a bit, to friends for next to nothing provided they would be loyal to him and give him a piece of the pie. He both stole from the state and let others do so with little regard for the effect that would have on the both Russian economy as a whole and on Russians not fortunate enough to be so close to him

In terms of Russia's regions he let undemocratically elected leaders run Russia's regions like private fiefdoms. So many of them spent absolutely nothing on infrastructure, didn't give a damn about the people they were supposed to be serving, and simply used their power to amass their personal wealth. In the Yeltsin years all of that was ok, provided you supported Yeltsin on a national level. If you did that you could do whatever you wanted at home. This is yet another cause of the decay of Russia beyond the few Western islands of Moscow, St. Petersburg, and perhaps Yekaterinenburg.

Finally there was his decision to send in tanks to fire on the Russian parliament. Yeltsin had dissolved parliament and parliament had refused to obey his decree, however, Yeltsin had not had the legal right to dissolve parliament. Granted it was a complicated situation with Russia running under the constitution of the Russian SSR (which was never really meant to be used) and with a parliament left over from Soviet Union, however, at this time there was a real grass roots democratic movement in Russian fighting for a strong parliament and a government that respected their interests, and what did Yeltsin do? He sent tanks in after them. This was the West's democratic hero who fought communism, who was bankrolled by the US. Is is any wonder Russians are so cynical when it comes to democracy?

But as I said, Yeltsin's legacy is a mixed one. He fought for democracy in the the dieing days of the Soviet Union. He stood in front of tanks when Soviet generals staged a coup against Gorbachev. He was a symbol for Russia and fought for both a Russian identity and a break with the communist past, even if his actions often seemed to assume that all change was innately good. He will certainly not be forgotten, but at the same time he is much of the Russia that is so hard for the West to understand. He was charismatic, but erratic, a reformer, but not a liberal, an opportunistic supporter of democracy, but not a democracy. He was a passionate contradiction.


Do you know that point when you go from having a good amount to do to having too much to do to even keep track of everything you need to do? Well even if you don't, that is what I am dealing with. I am trying to make sure I can see the Ukrainian Foreign Minister when he comes to speak here on Thursday, make it down to the mandatory Fulbright conference, hopefully organize a language trip to Odessa for next week, get together housing for next year, organize my travels for the rest of the semester (hopefully a return to Istanbul and a return to the UK), and try and swing an internship at the Kazakhstani embassy. See? Way too much stuff. Yes, yes it is all my own fault, but I really do want to do it all, it is just this part that is frustrating. We shall see. Also, I think I may be the frwaky kid here, though, that may be nothing new...

Karl Marx - Hof

On Sunday I made it for another walk around Vienna with my friend Hannah. It wasn't the best walk, but it did let me achieve two of my goals: 1. to go and walk around the Heilegenstadt U-Bahn Stop (Holy City), and 2. to check out the Karl Marx-Hof. There isn't so much out there, but with a name like 'Holy City' you just get curious after a while (especially since here uptown/downtown doesn't make sense so for the U-Bahn they use the last stop on the line to indicate which way the train is going and I just kept seeing it again and again). So sadly Heiligenstadt is not a land of Ivory towers and pure hearted crusaders, but the Karl Marx-Hof is there and it's pretty cool.

Here's another nicer picture of it:

What you are looking at is probably less than a tenth of the entire complex. It was/is a tremendous housing project built after WWI. Back then there was real tension between Vienna and the rest of Austria as Vienna was a center of socialism with the motto of 'socialism in one city' and the rest of Austria was pretty conservative. So there was a lot of tension in Austria and even a short civil war. So the Karl Marx-Hof was one of the socialist projects in Vienna, obviously it provided housing, but if you believe my German teacher it was also meant as a fortress for the anticipated the military conflict. The support for that argument would be that the complex is huge, wit thick walls, and with small windows perfect for snipers. So a mixture of the projects and a battle fortress. I kind've think it looks like some science themed super villian's lair. Also, there was this random statue in the park:

Marx in his boyish pre-bearded glory?

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Good Times

I had a really good time at a house party last night. I got to hang out with a Russian who grew up in Siberia and had travelled all around Kazakhstan, a real cool Japanese woman who had come to Vienna to study Akkadian and (old) Middle Eastern history (oriental is still offensive in English right? So I guess I won't say she studies Orientalistik then), and argue with an Austrian going study history in Kyrgyzstan about the official status of Russian in Kazakhstan. Fun, well for me anyway. I also got to hang out with some people from my Russian classes in a social setting which was really cool. I was wearing my DDR t-shirt (no, not 'dance, dance, revolution,' but Deutsche Demokratische Republik, German Democratic Republic in English) which admittedly I don't have any good ideological reasons for wearing, I just thought it was a cool t-shirt, a nice souvenir from Berlin, and with a coat of arms hardly any American would recognize. Well, a girl from my Russian class asked me why I was wearing the t-shirt, and I taking her to be an Austrian said something sarcastic along the lines of me supporting the socialist goals, but meaning 'leave me alone I like the t-shirt.' Anyway, it turned out it was always easier for me to understand her and she seemed generally more cold and North German like because she was German, and from East Germany at that. So we had a pretty good conversation and then I told her about my East German test from my days in Berlin when I wanted to know who was from West Germany and who was from East Germany, but I didn't want the East Germans blowing up in my face (saying and I quote: What does it matter now! We are all Germans now! It shouldn't make a difference). West Germans of course were quite happy to say they were west German, but if I knew in advance who was what I wouldn't need to ask to begin with. So my test was to tell people I spoke some Russia and if they chimed in with "'oh I ha some Russian in school, but I have forgotten a lot of it" I knew they were east German, She was amused. Anyway, good night, good people.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Things Come Together

So it looks like I finally have things worked out for next year. I am coming back to New York! Friends, improv, fun. Very excited. Now I feel like I need to be the one telling people not to move out of the city because I want everybody to be there when I get back. So don't leave. I said don't! yes I know I am coming back, yes I know I'll bring the property values down, but its a big city, we'll share it. Basically I am pretty happy. For whatever reason I don't feel like saying what I'll be doing just yet, but I feel like I am moving forward. I'll be in Moscow this summer and am hoping to line things up to go back there next year, so there is some internationalism in my future, which is important to me, but for the moment I am looking forward to seeing friends again!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


Too. Much. Going. On. I like Vienna a lot, but I am just not that happy here. I not entirely sure why that is. I think part of what is hard for me is that the program is 'multidisciplinary' and I don't really want to be doing so many different things, I want to be doing one thing: studying the former Soviet Union. Granted how I would want to study the former Soviet Union would also be multidisciplinary (politics, history, and languages), but multidisciplinary studies without a regional focus doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me, it just seems to me a like you know a lot about everything and at the same time nothing about anything. What also isn't helping is that the quality of teaching just isn't what I had as an undergrad. I don't know, Columbia definitely has its weaknesses and going their certainly isn't a passage to godhood as many Columbia snobs seem to think, but my professors there really made me think. When I was at Columbia I was forced to analyze, class reading was never more than a starting point, and I was encouraged to go and do political and historical research in areas where little had been done. What I felt I learned was very much a thought process and at the same time how to challenge ideas and be challenged myself. Here, all they want you to do on an exam, written or oral, is repeat what they said in class in words as close to what they said in class as possible. It is wrought memorization with little analysis and little training in the skill future scholars or policy makers would need: thinking informatively and understanding things for yourself. What kills me is that the way things are taught here is justified as it being 'graduate school.' As an undergrad I took a lot of graduate classes, mainly history and political science. Those classes were by far the furthest from what I am getting here. In graduate seminars we would do a lot of reading, but would then challenge the readings challenging them, identifying their weaknesses, or conversely extend their arguments and see how they would apply to other subjects, all in the preparation of our own papers and research. Here there is no challenging, neither of the sources or of professors. Mind you, I don't think everything has to be challenged, but if you have legitimate doubts about an argument you should be able to discuss it, you shouldn't just be expected to memorize it. To be fair, this isn't just the Austrian system: it is the system in much of Europe and probably much of the world. I do, however, think the scholarship in those countries suffers because the academic system essentially discourages independent thought.

Friday, April 13, 2007


Santa: This is your design for my new house? Just what sort of an architect are you?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Memories of a friend

A quote from Central Asia expert Martha Brill Olcott about our departed friend Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov:

Boris Shikhmuradov, the former Foreign Minister who is still in jail, has really wonderful material on Niyazov. In a Carnegie speech he described Niyazov as already going kind of nuts. Boris talks about how he was always afraid of going to work on Mondays because when Niyazov had the weekend alone, [Boris] didn’t know what was coming. You had to make sure to get in by early Monday because by Tuesday things could be law if you didn’t talk [Niyazov] out of something...Niyazov was always telling us really dirty jokes. I mean, they were embarrassingly unpleasant. There weren’t punch lines that were obscene, but for example, one of the members of our delegation was a very well-known American, and he was offering this person “a second wife” to take home. His behavior was inappropriate for a state leader. In fact, what many Central Asian leaders used to privately complain about was the inappropriateness of Niyazov’s behavior.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


So I don't think I have ADD, but I have tendencies and generally the Internet isn't helping. Lets take for example my amazon recommendation, I don' t think they have ever recommended something I actually wanted, but looking at my amazon recommendations is sort of my way of soul searching as I hope amazon will know me better than I do and tell me what I really need. So far no luck, but I still check. I have looked at the same book about a hundred times, 'St. Petersburg a cultural history,' each time forgetting what it was that made me not want it in the end and each time forgetting that the index it shows you with the 'look inside feature' only shows you the first three chapters. Well this time I found a untranslated French quote. I decided to try my luck at it (I am leaving out the accents because I am lazy): Voila une belle occasion a vos dames de faire bidet. I did pretty well until I came to bidet (there you are a perfect occasion for women to...), so then I looked up bidet in my French-English dictionary and it turned out that bidet in English was bidet at which point I had to go over to wikipedia. I didn't know this thing was a bidet:
Then Wikipedia told me lots of things about bidets I didn't want to know, including this gem: It is said that many American men first encountered bidets in French brothels during WWII and thought they were designed for the prostitutes to douche (inside the vagina) after sexual intercourse, and the more advertisement sounding: Bidets are very useful for the elderly or anyone with mobility problems and for people with hemorrhoids. It is a wonder I don't get more work done. Though just now do I understand why Pushkin said that thing in French: he was making fun of the great St. Peterburg flood and how it created the perfect circumstances for ladies to make bidet. The End.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


This whole emo thing has been a real awakening for me. I know emo people! I always wondered why they dyed their hair a darker shade of black, but now I understand! I have also seen lots of emo posers! It is just like the surfer trend where no one on the east coast was a surfer, but they all wore the clothes. Now everyone pretends to be emo, pretending not to care what other people think of them and not to do what other people are doing, all the while hoping people will think they are cool for not caring what people think of them like everyone else.

Also, I have learned that the sweater vest is out in term of emo fashion. I think this means I could never join.

Emo does still confuse me, however, as it seems to be a composit of trends of my high school years. They [the emos] have the punks' studded belts, but lack the punk zest and anger, they have the goth depression, but lack the general pleasure in death and pain that would make them pleasantly carnivorous rather than sulking vegans. Even worse emos seem to all want to dress like Billie Joe Armstrong of Greenday, who because of Greenday Dookie will always remind me of middle school. Apparently grad school is the new high school.

Also, I am amazed how hot topic has been able to reinvent itself by selling the exact things but now to emo trendies, not to (or just to) punk and goth trendies like back in my day. Hot topic is emo. I've shopped at hot topic!

And now, tickle me emo:

Monday, April 09, 2007

Did I miss the emo generation?

I don't get emo. I mean I really don't get, when did it start, is it like goth light? See, when I went to high school we had the preps, the punks, or the goths, but no emus or whatever the hell they are killed (yes a bad pun, I know). Is an emo a metrosexual who also feels eyeliner fall on the male side of the gender divide? Does emo come in girl? Am I lame for not knowing enough about emo well enough to mock them sufficiently like everyone else? Is everyone is Europe emo since they all wear tight jeans? Are hipsters emo? To you have to be emo to be a hipster? There is an emo Bush so clearly it has to be pretty socially significant. Is emo sponsored by converse? Is it their latest high school kid sponsored trend to keep their shoes selling? Does emo have a monopoly on sad? I would kind've like answers.

Quote on the subject: Emo fashion has changed with time; early trends included haircuts similar to those worn by the Romulans and Vulcans in Star Trek.

And Now an instructional video:

Sunday, April 08, 2007


Vienna is sort of like Easter land. There have been loads of tourists about all day and then the church scene has been a bit like Disney land's its a small world after all ride. Too be sure less racist, but almost every other church had mass in another language: German, Hungarian, Czech, Croatian, Ukrainian, Italian, and many more! They also have Easter markets, which are like the Christmas markets except they are during the day and have Easter themed alcohol instead of Christmas themed alcohol. Sadly today there was a great scene that I didn't have my camera for. In the main Easter market there is a little pen with a bunch of bunnies in it, in that sort of "heah! Its a christian holiday but we've kept all the pagan symbols of fertility like bunnies and eggs" sort of way. Well today when I was walking through the market there was a guy with a huge German Shepard, I mean really big, and I grew up with big Shepard's. Well, I don't know if they Shepard's owner showed him the bunnies or if he found them on his own, but the Shepard found the bunnies and was just staring. The Shepard was completely absorbed. I kind've expected the Shepard to flip and go from staring the trying to fill its mouth with as many bunnies as possible, but he just kept looking. It was pretty cute. I mean, my dogs would have gone for the bunnies. Still it was funny because the bunnies have long pointy ears and Sheppards have long pointy ears, and I sort of just pictured the Shepard hopping into the bunny pen, sitting like a bunny, and hanging out. He didn't though. The End.