Redheaded Ramblings: Sheila A-stray  

"This race and this country and this life produced me, he said. I shall express myself as I am." -- James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

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I came across the following Jewel quote and had to post it for those of you out there (Brendan ... Jean ... ) who hate Jewel with a passion that moves beyond my understanding. I don't like her music at all, but I do not HATE her as you both do, I do not share your schadenfreude-ish attitude in regards to her foibles, yet I support you fully in it because I think it is amusing, and supply you with this horrifically awful quote attributed to Jewel. Apparently she announced this to a concert audience:

"Obviously Bob Dylan is gay if he's not interested in me. I mean, look at me. Who would have guessed that Dylan is a fag? That's going to get me in trouble. It's going to be in all the papers tomorrow."

I would like to give her the benefit of the doubt, and so I am trying to hear her say it with an ironic tongue-in-cheek tone, but it's not ringing true. Especially with suddenly throwing "fag" in there.

Her statement is obnoxious on every level. Vain, stupid, cruel.

I hate her now too. Bob Dylan is a LEGEND, okay?

  contact Sheila Link: 11/22/2002 04:31:00 PM

Friday, November 22, 2002  



Breakaway regions

Now if you look on a map, (scroll up a bit when page opens to see the map of the area) Georgia is a relatively small country. It is the size of West Virginia with 5 million people. But size does not matter (for once). The place is as complicated and as intricate and as messed-up as the entire former Russian Imperium altogether. Its location is one reason for this. It sits on the crucial land-bridge joining the Russian north with the Persian and Turkish south. Historically, this land-bridge has been marched over in countless wars, struggles, invasions, whatever. And every invasion, every war, every conqueror left its mark on the look and feel of Georgia.

There are those stories (which have nothing to do with Georgia, but bear with me) about ancient ruins in Afghanistan which, of course, due to the almost constant state of war in that country for the last thirty years, have never been fully excavated, but amazing initial discoveries were made. For example: ancient Hellenistic coins and artifacts were found in ancient ruins all over Afghanistan, which meant that Alexander the Great actually had moved farther east than anyone had ever realized. These coins from ancient Greece were proof positive of Alexander's presence in the region. Which made his travels even more astounding, if you look at the distance he had to move. There are also, in the ancient ruins, buildings with Hellenistic features, columns and porticoes, etc. The ancient war leaving its mark.

Georgia is also filled with legacies like that. Evidence of their history in the architecture, the street names, the ancient churches. Georgia has a long and complicated history with Turkey, with Persia. Both countries have left indelible marks on what Georgia looks like. "Georgia for Georgians" is all well and good, but one cannot deny that the history here is extremely multicultural. And always has been.

One of the weirdest and most complicated things about Georgia is all of the "breakaway regions" and "autonomous regions" it has. In such a small country, this is quite bizarre. There are people basically who live in one specific TOWN who say, "We do not like Georgia. Our ancestors were originally from OogaBoogaBoo so we now call our town OogaBoogavian."

Shevardnadze certainly has his work cut out for him.

There's the region called Abkhazia, in Northwestern Georgia, which has declared itself autonomous from Georgia. Again, it really doesn't matter if Abkhazia announces to the whole world: "Hi, there. We are our OWN THING now." If the world doesn't recognize this, then nothing will change. Maps will stay the same. There are many countries out there right now who have declared themselves to the world, and the world turns away. "Nope. You are not legitimate. We won't give you the time of day." Afghanistan under the Taliban was one example. Burma (or is it Myanmar??) is another.

So Abkhazia. What is their deal? Here's what I get from the little I have read: Abkhazia is one of the most beautiful places on the planet (apparently). They have dreams of turning themselves into a resort: they are right on the Black Sea so the whole place has a very Mediterranean feel, with a Mediterranean climate. And a ton of natural beauty. As long as they are attached to Georgia, and are somehow beholden to a government (a government which has not yet completely gained control of the country, a government which cannot hold back the forces of corruption and cynicism), they will be stuck. Trapped. Their dream is to liberate themselves from Georgia and go on and become the Riviera of the Caucasus.

Georgia of course recognizes the potential gold mine that is Abkhazia. It could be a cash cow for the country if they ever got their act together. Right now, no tourist in their right mind is going to come to Georgia for a vacation. It is still too dangerous and chaotic. Once those problems are resolved and order starts to occur naturally in the country, then they can build up Abkhazia, and let the money start rolling in.

Abkhazia wants none of this. In 1990, 100,000 Abkhazians declared their intention to separate from Georgia and form their own state. Georgia basically said, in the midst of the civil war, "In your DREAMS. You ain't goin' NOWHERE." Russia got involved, on the side of the separatists, which made things tremendously worse. Russia backed up the rebellion, supplying arms and support. Full-out war ensued, leading to 10,000 deaths. Additionally, there was a lot of ethnic cleansing going on. The Abkhazians set out to cleanse their region of ethnic Georgians. 200,000 Georgians were killed or displaced. The country was suddenly filled with internal refugees, wandering around, trying to figure out where to go next. Gamsakhurdia was president at the time. The refugees were kept from leaving Abkhazia by the main road due to Gamsakhurdia's road blocks. He had cordoned off "Abkhazia". The thousands and thousands of people, fleeing for their lives, had to detour through the Caucasus mountains, which are not gentle rolling hills. It is a mountain range. A daunting mountain range. Thousands of Georgians died in this attempt.

The ethnicity of the Abkhazians is ancient and Caucasian, but their tribe is older and stronger than most. They were the last to be conquered by the Russians. There had actually been plans before Stalin's death to exile the entire Abkhazian population to Siberia because they were such troublemakers, and so hard to govern and subdue.

Then there's another small breakaway region which is known by two different names, but the official one is Ajaria. The population here is mainly Muslim, but they do speak a Georgian dialect. They feel very connected to Turkey, which is right over the border. Lenin created Ajaria in 1921, using the whole different religion thing as the perfect opportunity to divide and conquer. The people who live here, as Muslims, do not want to be part of such a firmly and faithfully Orthodox Christian country as Georgia. They insist on their autonomy. Whatever, people. Turkey, right next door, with a long hostile relationship with Georgia, supports this breakaway province, and undermines Georgia's attempts to make everything right.

Ajaria basically consists of one town and the area surrounding the town: Batumi. Batumi has an interesting history. It sits smack at the point where the Anatolian (Turkish) plateau meets the Caucasus mountains. It is so amazing to me how geography determines history in many ways. In ancient times, Batumi was a port on the Black Sea. It was either a Roman, a Byzantine, or a Persian port, depending on the year. Batumi was a jewel to be captured. Whoever controlled Batumi controlled the traffic on the Black Sea. So it kept changing hands throughout history, until it fell under the Ottoman Empire's shadow. Centuries of Ottoman rule pass for Batumi. In 1877 the Russians captured Batumi. In 1918, the Turks retook Batumi. After the armistice, 15,000 British troops replaced the Turks. Within two years, the Bolsheviks grabbed control again, and the British left.

Batumi's border was snapped shut for DECADES. Incomprehensible. This once cosmopolitan seaport, host to every culture, open to the Black Sea, in the land of the Golden Fleece, closed down. Like Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory: nobody every goes in, and nobody ever comes out. Batumi, a teeny city, was trapped and squished between two massive regional superpowers: NATO-member Turkey on one side, and Communist Soviet Union on the other.

But in recent years, Ajaria is no longer called Ajaria, it is now called Aslanistan. Here's why: The region is now run by a warlord (a kind of cuddly benign warlord, but a warlord nonetheless) named Aslan Abashidze. Hence, "Aslanistan". This would be like Rudy Guiliani saying, "Manhattan is no longer Manhattan. It is now GuilianiLand. " Or "New York City, from this day forth, will be called RudyStan." Abashidze is a criminal. An extortionist, a bully. He has set up "customs" offices all along the border with Turkey, which basically bribes everybody coming in or going out. It is an openly and blatantly criminal enterprise and it's how Abashidze subsidizes his power over the region.

Also, and here's where it gets dangerous and ominous: Aslan is a Muslim. Of course. He has packed his bureaucracy with Muslim officials. He has filled Batumi with new mosques. A mosque on every corner. He wants to institutionalize the difference between Ajaria and Georgia. He wants nothing to do with the infidel country surrounding him on every side. Robert Kaplan (of course) says the following about Abashidze's obsession with having more mosques than churches:

In the ex-Soviet Caucasus, where religion was less a factor in ethnic identity than in the Balkans, this was a clear case of a modern politician inventing hatreds retrospectively. Abashidze was a small man with a large ego and a noble surname: his grandfather Mehmet had played a key role in brokering the agreement between Lenin and Ataturk that settled the border here. Aslan, as he was called, liked to receive visiting dignitaries in the new tennis courts he had built, which were the pride of his warlord fiefdom ... His offices were generic Communist style: massive white-marble hallways and dark red carpets that dwarfed a metal detector and a small cheap table. Around the latter stood a group of tough-looking young Georgians, who carried cell phones and sidearms and rubbed their unshaven cheeks as they inspected my Atlantic Monthly business card. Outside the office was a militiaman, also unshaven. His shoes were worn down to the soles, his uniform was missing buttons, and he was wearing one of those grandiose visored caps favored by the Soviet military. His breath stank, and he asked me for a cigarette. The official face of government here was uncivil, untamed.

And last but not least we have Ossetia. Ossetia is a region of north-central Georgia. Ossetes are a hodge-podge. They are both Muslims and Orthodox Christians. They speak a language akin to Persian. Their religious diversity helped keep them neutral in czarist Russia's campaigns and pogroms against purely Muslim people: (the Chechens, the Ingush, the Dagestanis). Ossetia is also in a very important strategic position. It straddles the north and south slopes of the High Caucasus, halfway in between the Black and the Caspian seas.

Muslim/Christian Ossetia emerged as an ally (it's amazing how these things work) to the atheistic Soviet Union. Both Lenin and Stalin adopted the Ossetes as favored people, not to be messed with or deported or slaughtered. Good of them, huh? So kind, so generous. They were given an autonomous republic on the northern slopes of the mountains, and also an autonomous region within Georgia. The Ingush, on the other hand, were deported, en masse, in 1944. The entire population of Ingush were dispersed and banished into exile. Killed, imprisoned, shot, whatever. In 1950, the Ingush who had survived all of that came back to Ossetia, their former home, to find all of the land taken up by the Ossetes. This (as I am sure you can imagine) ended up causing enormous problems. It still causes problems to this day.

The Soviet Union collapsed. Spectacularly. Civil war broke out in Ossetia. In North Ossetia, ethnic war exploded between Ossetes and Ingush, now sworn and bitter enemies. In 1992, the Northern Ossetes expelled thousands of Ingush, adding to the number of war refugees staggering through the country. In 1993, South Ossetia declared its intention to leave Georgia and join North Ossetia in a new "Greater Ossetia."

Warning: any time any country wants to call itself "Greater" anything, you can be sure that ethnic cleansing will follow.

Which is just what happened. War broke out. 30,000 ethnic Georgians were expelled forcibly from Ossetia. None of this has been resolved or cleaned up, but Ossetia does declare itself independent from Georgia and to get in and out you have to pay a fee. (Which is a complete racket. We are talking about drunken staggering homeless soldiers, hailing cars to stop, and then forcing the people in the cars to hand over their wallets.)

In everything I have read about the current situation in Ossetia, I have heard nothing good. As a matter of fact, the term "low circle of hell" was used a couple of times. It is a kiosk economy. There is no government, no one is in charge of anything, there are no services, there is no infrastructure, everything is falling apart.

If I've missed any other "breakaway regions" in Georgia, please let me know. These are the ones I am aware of.

A highly volatile situation. To be watched closely.

Next country? HUNGARY.

  contact Sheila Link: 11/22/2002 07:04:00 AM

A certain provincialism is invaluable. It is the essence of individuality, and is largely made up of that crude enthusiasm without which no great thoughts are thought, no great deeds done.

-- Thomas Hardy

  contact Sheila Link: 11/22/2002 06:53:00 AM


After a day of ranting, here is a tale which completely restores my faith in humanity. Unbelievable. The random 100 million dollar donation to Poetry magazine by Ruth Lilly. Just BECAUSE. Truly. People never cease to amaze me. Billy Collins, poet laureate, has this to say: "Yes, it does seem to have a couple of extra zeroes at the end of the number. It is probably an unprecedented gift to a literary publication. It's a wonderful and good thing, unambiguously good, that Mrs. Lilly has done." I have tears in my eyes. "Unambiguously good." Beautiful.

  contact Sheila Link: 11/21/2002 04:01:00 PM

Thursday, November 21, 2002  


What a funny quote:

"Halle Berry may be an Oscar winner, but that doesn't mean she can succeed as a Bond girl." -- James Berardinelli, in his review of the latest Bond film

  contact Sheila Link: 11/21/2002 03:43:00 PM


Weirdly, I just rented that movie last week, and suddenly Bobby Fischer is everywhere again. Some people seem to wish he would disappear again. The Atlantic has a riveting piece on Fischer. The beginning of the essay focuses on Fischer's raging anti-Semitism and virulent anti-Americanism, but what hooked me in was the the CHESS. I don't know chess well enough to recognize how good Fischer was, but the story of the explosion of his genius is thrilling.

What was astounding wasn't simply that a gawky thirteen-year-old kid in blue jeans was suddenly winning chess tournaments. It was the way he was winning. He didn't just beat people - he humiliated them. The thing he relished most was watching his opponents squirm. "I like the moment when I break a man's ego," he once said, during a Dick Cavett interview.

Fischer also just won a lot of games - an impressive fact given that draws among grand masters are commonplace. At the highest level of competitive chess, players are so familiar with one another's games that they can practically read their opponents' minds. The memorization of opening theory and the intensive study of an opponent's oeuvre so dominate the modern game that when two grand masters square off, the first twenty moves unfold like a stale sitcom plot. Players often lament that "draw death" is killing the game.

But Fischer didn't play for draws. He was always on the attack - even rhetorically. Of the Soviet champions who had dominated the game so completely, he said, "They have nothing on me, those guys. They can't even touch me."

Well worth the read.

  contact Sheila Link: 11/21/2002 02:13:00 PM


In a rant-y mood today, clearly:

USA Today cautions us to not judge Michael Jackson, because of his one "error in judgment".

Uhm: EARTH TO USA TODAY: Dangling a baby over a balcony is not on the same level as leaving the child unattended for two seconds in the checkout line. Both perhaps are "errors in judgment" but give me a BREAK. I freely and happily judge the King of Pop for that horrific display of "bad judgment". I LOVE to judge stuff that is criminal. I really do.

Stupid quotes galore from this stupid article and the stupid parenting experts interviewed:

Sally Lee, editor of Parenting Magazine says no parent is perfect. (Hi, Sally? Hi there, it's me, Sheila. LOOK AT ME. We're not talking about perfection, we're talking about thinking it would be funny and cool to dangle a baby over a 4 story drop...) She also says, "celebrities' mistakes are captured on film, (and) that sets them up to be a pariah.'' My response is: damn straight it does. But also I see that Ms. Lee is doing the opposite of setting him up to be a pariah. She is giving him a pass BECAUSE he is a celebrity. Nobody gave the "Irish traveler" who punched her four year old daughter on camera a pass. Or if they did, it's only because they are idiots.

Michael Jackson says: "I would never intentionally endanger the lives of my kids." I believe you need to try just a teeny bit harder, MJ, on that front, okay? So...somehow, in your crazy world, holding onto a baby with one arm, with its damn head cloaked in a towel, as it wriggles over a drop that would KILL IT, is "unintentionally" endangering your kids. He is saying that like: "Oops, I didn't know that my baby couldn't digest a dill pickle..." Sorry. No pass. You're a freak and you're dangerous.

A. Sidney Johnson, head of Prevent Child Abuse America, has this gem to contribute, "All of us, regardless of income, can unintentionally place children in harm's way." What the hell is wrong with these people?

And then this quote would actually be amusing in an OH MY GOD THAT IT IS SO STUPID way if I weren't so haunted by the sight of Michael Jackson's howling cat expression and the squirming tyke hanging over the drop: ''Is he a fit parent? There's a lot of reasons to question that based on his history, but we can't jump to conclusions without knowing the facts." Child psychologist Sam Goldstein said that. Uhhh, okay, so what you are saying is is that somehow, I am misinterpreting the facts? Somehow, being enraged at the sight of Michael Jackson putting his child in such an obviously precarious position means I am "jumping to conclusions"?

Oh, GOD, I can't stand the people who take a cool rational "judge not" response to every atrocity on the planet. There is something seriously wrong with them.

And then here's another stupid comment from Sally Lee: ''I'm not saying Michael Jackson is parent of the year. But it's dangerous to say the children are bound to be strange or weird because they were raised by Michael Jackson.'' There is so much that is idiotic in that statement that I actually am a little bit speechless, for once.

Sally, honey, hi, it's Sheila again. First of all, nobody is talking about nominating Michael Jackson for parent of the year. Please try to stay focused on the issue at hand, okay? Second of all, nobody is saying "Wow, that child is bound to be strange because his father is Michael Jackson." What people are REALLY saying is: "That child is CLEARLY in danger because his father is Michael Jackson." And this is not a "judgmental" response based on Michael Jackson's freakazoid appearance. This is based on the fact that Michael Jackson held onto his teeny baby, with one arm, and dangled the damn thing over a balcony so far up that if he had let go of the baby, the baby would clearly have died.

Also, Sally: why is it DANGEROUS to say that the child is bound to be strange? You chose that word, so I would love for you to explain yourself further. Is it really DANGEROUS to say "Wow, I feel sorry for those poor little kids who get dangled over balconies with a towel draped over their heads, and I feel sorry for them having to dress up in burkas, when they go to the damn zoo..."? "Dangerous" as in: it's dangerous to run with scissors? It's dangerous to play Russian roulette? It's dangerous to stroll into Osama's cave? Or go on a date with Ted Bundy?

There's nothing that annoys me more than caution and hesitancy in the face of something that is clearly wrong.

  contact Sheila Link: 11/21/2002 12:51:00 PM


Michael Ledeen should receive a Pulitzer Prize for his persistent relentless nagging columns about Iran since September 11, 2001. He is a voice screaming in the wilderness. He is pleading for us to listen. If all you read is The New York Times, then you will have no idea what is going on. The Times focuses on the laws Khamenei and the Iranian parliament are trying to get passed, reform laws. Of course the Times would think that all social problems can be solved by passing a couple of laws. It's so NAIVE, it makes me sick. Meanwhile, the public executions continue. People hung from lampposts, as warnings to the population. Persecutions, increasing censorship, dissidents imprisoned, journalists sentenced to death, terror. The regime is running for their lives. This has nothing to do with legal-speak, referendums. This is civil war.

Ledeen's latest brought tears to my eyes. If anyone Iranian out there is reading, know that Americans are with you, we support you. We want you to be free. You are the hope of the Middle East.

Listen up. Listen up. History is being made, and nobody is watching.

Ledeen screams:
The students now risking their lives in Iran are not calling for new legislation; they are demanding an end to the regime of the Islamic republic. Each time the thugs of the regime charge onto University land, the students chant "Death to the Taliban, in Kabul and Tehran," not "pass the laws, pass the laws."

And even more phenomenal: Iran can be liberated without firing a shot, dropping a bomb, or risking the lives of American soldiers.

  contact Sheila Link: 11/21/2002 12:14:00 PM

I found the following piece on Inappropriate Response, read it feverishly, and felt: "Yes. That is all that needs to be said." A while back, I ranted about Alanis' song "Utopia". Waiting for the world to turn into a Utopia is a waste of time. Can we deal with what is really in front of us, please? That way, perhaps we can really make a damn difference!

Choice quotes:
There are the heirs of Woodrow Wilson, who ignore global power realities in favor of bringing the world to a "natural" state of democratic peace and harmony. They view history in much the same way as Marxists, substituting liberal democracy for the inevitability of a communist utopia. Peace and stability, Wilsonians claim, are not merely desirable but wholly natural; the butchery and rapine perpetrated throughout history are the result of socio-political pathologies that can be remedied just as a doctor can cure a sick patient.

And more:
Wilsonians prefer employing diplomatic tactics over using coercive power. By ignoring power realities, they are ill equipped to deal with those who do not respond to gentle pleas.

In all the turbulence of a changing world order, one particular paradigm has been almost totally neglected. Ironically, we have abandoned realism - the one doctrine that can best navigate our role in the uni-multipolar world we find ourselves in. For if we hold that the attempt to remake our global history of conflict and chaos into a hopeful future of peaceful order is an illusion, then we must accept the anarchic nature of our world and attempt to live in it as best we can. Specifically, we must create policies that recognize and place our national interests above all other priorities--and not draw the wrong lessons from history in conceptualizing the future.

I prefer reality myself, as nasty and dangerous and depressing as it is.

  contact Sheila Link: 11/21/2002 11:39:00 AM

All this talk of underwear brings to mind yet another quote from "What's Up, Doc", the funniest movie ever made:

"I have been following this man for SOME TIME...and I KNOW that he is in possession of ... secret --- government ----underwear. UNDERWEAR?"

Scuffle follows.

"Gimme that case!"
"Let's check all of them!!"

One voice exclaims above all the others: "THE PEOPLE HAVE A RIGHT TO KNOW!!"

  contact Sheila Link: 11/21/2002 11:14:00 AM

I only buy underwear at Victoria's Secret. By doing so, I do not feel that I am participating in the downfall of American values. Gimme a break.

  contact Sheila Link: 11/21/2002 10:49:00 AM


Okay, so unless you have been locked in your room, fingers in your ears, shouting, "LALALALALALA", you have heard of the controversy surrounding the Victoria's Secret TV special. It all seems monumentally silly to me, and I actually haven't been paying that much attention, because I have other things to concentrate on, and I actually don't really care why people seem to be up in arms about girls in their underwear. My GOD, people. Let's get SERIOUS. But I read Lileks' Bleat today, which is (as always) a brilliant and mocking deconstruction of the entire issue. He was listening to a radio show featuring two guests who were completely up in arms about it, seeing Victoria's Secret as the beginning of the end of morality in America. Really, you have to read the whole thing to get into the flow, but here are some typically terrific quotes:

They have every right to protest; I'm not telling them to shut up. I'm suggesting they stop thinking of Tyra Banks as one of the Four Horsepersons of the Apocalypse.


And then there's:

Several of the callers to the radio show wanted the FCC to shut down the VS TV show as an affront to public morals. They hadn't even seen it - but the idea of Wonderbras on a prime-time show was so horrifying you'd think the government had required everyone to be fitted with Clockwork Orange eyeclamps and be forced to view an "Ellen" marathon.

Lileks breaks down the responses of one of the angry female guests on the show:

Sex is acceptable only in the context of marriage. She's welcome to think that, of course, but I would point out that no one in the viewing audience had sex with the Victoria's Secret models. Her very point seems oblivious to the possibility that married folks might shop at Victoria's Secret. Every been to a VS store at the mall? I'd bet that half the clientele is married, at least. But she seemed to think that a lingerie show was, by definition, incompatible with marriage, as if there was something dangerous about female sexuality that wasn't explicitly tied to a social convention.

And here's this laugh-out-loud skewer:

Marriage itself, however, doesn't guarantee a healthy society; if the society is clan-based, rigidly patriarchal, polygamous and gynophobic to boot, well, we know what hell on earth for women that creates. But wearing Victoria's Secret lingerie before one is married will not destroy America. Being 20 years old and watching the TV special will not shatter the institution of marriage like a cold toffee bar struck with the spike of a high-heeled shoe.

Oh, lordy, I love it. Make sure to read the whole thing.

  contact Sheila Link: 11/21/2002 10:46:00 AM



The people

I marked a bunch of passages in a couple of books and articles as I was preparing for this morning, and then thought that I would compile them and list them out, index-style. It's an interesting thing, to scan over these "snippets", and see what you might pick up about the Georgians: who they are, what drives them. It may be a bit disjointed. However, taken as a whole, a picture begins to emerge.

From The Making of the Georgian Nation by Ronald Grigor Suny:
"Georgian society has its own networks and codes. It is a society dominated by men."

From Eastward to Tartary by Robert Kaplan:
"Corruption here was less a moral shortcoming than a survival mechanism by a people living in poverty and dominated for centuries by outsiders."

Lawrence Sheets, Reuters bureau chief who lived in Tbilisi throughout the civil war:
"Every night downtown, macho men with grenade launchers fired into the air at nothing in particular. The road between Batumi and Tbilisi was blocked for months at a time by battles that had no military or political purpose. Mini-rebellions broke out based on nothing really except male testosterone."

From Qu'est-ce qu'une nation? Scholarly Debate and the Realities of Eastern Europe in "The National Interest", Fall 1997, by Anatol Leven:
""The Georgians, with strong cultural traditions of individualism, machismo, and the cult of weapons, differ a great deal from the peaceable, gloomy, and obedient inhabitants of the cities of eastern and southern Ukraine. National character is not a concept much liked by contemporary political scientists, but it is necessary to explain why, all other things being equal, an ethnic dispute in Azerbaijan or Georgia would be much more likely to turn extreme and violent than would be one in Estonia or Ukraine."

From Eastward to Tartary by Robert Kaplan: Kaplan interviews Professor Alexidze, a former adviser to the nationalist wacko Gamsakhurdia.
" 'Georgians were passionate against the Soviets and passionate against each other,' said Professor Alexidze. 'Gamsakhurdia destroyed the Soviet spirit more than anyone, but in Georgia, a civil war was necessary because of the kind of people we are. The real cause of the war is our medievalness: our knights of the round table simply quarreled and fought each other.' "

From Among the Russians by Colin Thubron:
"I was in Georgia. The name defines a land whose inhabitants are ancient to it, a people of the black-eyed Armenoid kind, the self-styled offspring of biblical giants. For at least three thousand years they have held their mountain kingdom through disunion, invasion and prodigious bursts of independence, becoming Christian early in the fourth century and surviving conquest with a native glitter and resource ..."

From Eastward to Tartary by Robert Kaplan:
"Another Georgian intellectual described the Russians to me 'as Scythians, still unformed, unsettled, who in the 20th century rediscovered the art of laying waste whole tracts of territory.' Along with the hatred of communism that often spilled over into hatred of Russians went a dislike of Armenians, 'usurers who ruined Georgian families, who are now allied with Russia against Georgia and Azerbaijan.' 'The Armenians are always claiming that they are the best, that they are fighting with nothing, even while Russia supports them.' 'I don't like Armenians. The Azeris are nicer people.' 'The only good-looking Armenian is Cher.' Listening to Georgians talk about Armenians gave me the chilling sensation of what Old World anti-Semitism must have been like."

Again from Among the Russians by Colin Thubron:
"The high places of its pagan idols -- moon-god and fertility goddess -- were exorcised by Christian churches on the encircling hills and the foundation of its great cathedral is suffused with fables. Clenched in battlement walls, the building is typically Georgian ... It is strong, handsome. It belongs to a tradition grown from the far marches of the ancient Christian world, like the churches of Armenia. Its people show a peasant attachment to it and circumambulate its walls piously in the drenching sun, fondling its blond masonry and leaving flowers at its doors. For the Georgians the Church is the expression of the nation ... Everybody seems at home with God.

From Imperium, by my main man: Ryszard Kapuscinski:
"The splendour and excellence of Georgia's ancient art are overwhelming ... The most glorious period of this work spans the eighth to the thirteenth centuries. The faces of the saints, dark, but radiant in the light, dwell immobile in extremely rich gold frames studded with precious stones. There are icons that open, like the altar of Vit Stoss. Their dimensions are immense, almost monumental. There is an icon here on which several generations of masters worked for three centuries ... Then there are the frescoes in the Georgian churches. Such marvels, and yet so little is known about them outside of Georgia. Virtually nothing. The best frescoes, unfortunately, were destroyed. They covered the interior of the largest church in Georgia -- Sven Tschoveli, built in 1010 in Georgia's former capital, Meht ... They were a marvel of the Middle Ages on a par with the stained glass at Chartres. They were painted over on the order of the czar's governor, who wanted the church whitewashed 'like our peasant women whitewash stones.' No restoration efforts can return these frescoes to the world. Their brilliance is extinguished forever."

Again, from Robert Kaplan's interview with the Professor:
"Professor Alexidze told me: 'Our society is rotten, the mafiosi are strong, and while the West worships laws, we worship power. We leapt from the darkness in the late 1980s. We did not have the kind of social and economic development as in Central Europe. So our dissidents were never enlightened.' "

Robert Kaplan interviews a group of intellectuals in Tbilisi (this is in the late 1990s). Here are some of the quotes:
Kikodze: "The Russians built up Tbilisi in the nineteenth century as the capital of Transcaucasia. On this street, where I have lived since 1958, there used to be Kurds, Armenians, Jews, Russians, and others. It was a golden age. We thought nationalism did not exist. Then it destroyed us. The Jews left for Israel; the Armenians, for Armenia; the Russians for Russia; and so on. And now we are losing the Russian language which is a disaster for us. English is still only for a rarefied elite, while the loss of Russian cuts the average Georgian off from the outside world. All our books of learning, our encyclopedias on art, literature, history, science, are in Russian. Young Georgians can no longer communicate with Armenians and Ossetians. There is a new illiteracy promoting ethnic separation."
Rondeli: "Georgians are a very old tribal entity, but we have no identity as a modern state. We are a quasi-state. All nations get what they deserve, so to see what kind of government Georgia will have in the future, it is merely a matter of dissecting our national character. We are nominally Christian, but really we are superstitious atheists. We know how to survive but not how to improve. Our church is pagan, politicized, part of the national resistance, and thus unable to move forward."
Again from Rondeli: "Remember, we had seventy-four years of political-cultural-economic emasculation under the Soviet Union; three generations of Georgians were destroyed. The West concentrates on the crimes of Hitler, but the Nazis ruled for only twelve years."
Saakashvili: "Sometimes very little is needed to survive. We don't need thirty thousand NATO troops or weeks of bombing -- just small, highly specialized security forces from the West to protect our president from assassination, to monitor our borders, to protect the new oil pipeline. If Washington pays attention and gives us advance warning and technical help, we may manage. Unemployment and other statistics are meaningless, because a huge black market helps Georgia survive ... because Georgians have always been corrupt and cynical, with mafias an old tradition, there is not a strong Communist opposition in parliament as in Russia."

From Eastward to Tartary by Robert Kaplan:
"NATO's air war against the Serbs in Kosovo coincided with my journey through the Caucasus. People here seemed to have two related reactions to it. They were much too impressed with the bold, naked display of Western power to be concerned over the Clinton administration's clumsy diplomacy and planning for the operation. But they also felt that the ten weeks of NATO bombing would never be replicated in the Caucasus, no matter what atrocities the Russians or anyone else perpetrated here."

Robert Kaplan approaches Zaal Kikodze, an archaeologist, living in Tbilisi, to see if he can get some answers about Georgia. Here is how the exchange went (and it doesn't say much, but at the same time, I believe that it says a hell of a lot:)
Kaplan: I was wondering if you could tell me what Georgian history says about Georgia's future.
Kikodze: Such questions are best discussed over cheese and wine.

Tomorrow? The breakaway regions of Georgia.

  contact Sheila Link: 11/21/2002 07:18:00 AM


That government is best which governs least.
--Thoreau, "Civil Disobedience"

  contact Sheila Link: 11/21/2002 07:03:00 AM


The main headline on AOL News at this moment is: "JACKSON SORRY HE DANGLED HIS SON." Well, YEAH, freak, you should be!! This is NEWS? Those kids should be taken away from him. You dangled your damn BABY over a 4 story abyss. With a towel over its head. Holding it with one arm. One arm. How could you do that? What if that baby fell? How could you do that?? Being "sorry you dangled your son" is lame. Infuriating. You're a freak.

Thriller came out when I was in high school and I completely participated in the Micbael Jackson madness. In college, "Man in the Mirror" got me through some very tough times. I still have a real soft spot in my heart for that song. The first videos I ever watched were Michael Jackson videos. The man can dance like nobody's business. So it has been rather alarming watching the man slide off the rails over the past couple of years. Cliches come to mind: staring, horrified, at a traffic accident; picking at a scab; gawking at a crazy homeless person muttering to himself. It's weird, watching this once celebrated entertainer lose his frigging mind. It's scary to watch someone fall apart.

But not as scary as it would be to watch that baby fall four stories to its death. Not as scared as that baby must have been, squirming and wriggling in thin air like that. Babies are terrified of falling, anyway. Their first dreams are of plummeting through space. Terrible. Just terrible to contemplate using a baby in that way. It's hard to say what possible purpose Michael Jackson had in mind ... but all it shows is is that he is a complete freak, a dangerous freak, and he must be stopped.

"I'm sorry I dangled my son." How on earth can you say something like that and not hear how ridiculous it sounds?

  contact Sheila Link: 11/20/2002 04:50:00 PM

Wednesday, November 20, 2002  


Claudia Rosett, in her Wall Street Journal "Real World" column, today describes the increasingly dangerous and chaotic situation in Kazakhstan. It is definitely worth reading. Kazakhstan has been a great support to us, but things are increasingly out of control. It reminded me of what I wrote this morning about dysfunctional power-hungry leaders: All we have to do is look at Iraq, or Libya, or Syria to to see the sickness of societies completely bound to the personality of one specific leader. The entire country (like Turkmenistan) becomes an expression of the leader's ego.. Kazakhstan started out okay, 10 years ago, but more and more it is looking like a repressive Communist monolith.

  contact Sheila Link: 11/20/2002 02:57:00 PM


Dave Barry, of the Miami Herald, cracks me up. His prose rollicks along, skewering everything in its path, pointing out the absurdities lined up on the roadside. Nothing gets past him. And he never loses his sense of humor about it all. His piece today is on scientists who have discovered that kangaroos do not emit methane, and cows emitting methane is a big problem in terms of global warming, so a group of Australian scientists are going to try to make cows behave like kangaroos (ie: stop being so damn stinky).

A typical Barry-esque response to this nonsense: The scientists plan to isolate the anti-methane bacterium in the kangaroo's stomach, then see what happens when they put this same bacterium into the stomachs of cows. Speaking as a layperson concerned about the future of my planet (Earth), I just want to say to these scientists, in humble gratitude: ARE YOU INSANE?? What if the bacterium causes the cows to develop other kangaroo characteristics? And what if these modified cows escape from Australia? It would be like the killer bees, only much worse: 'WISCONSIN -- Weary National Guard troops continued to battle a rampaging herd of bacteria-enhanced Australian kangaroo cows that have been bounding around this heartland state, soaring over fences with moos of derision and punching their way into grain silos. `The worst thing,' said one Guardsman, 'is when they get airborne, and suddenly you're facing a hailstorm of incoming meadow muffins. Although I have to say they don't smell as bad as the local cow' .''

But the other piece which had me snorting with laughter today is a piece he wrote on how, now that he is a new parent, he is literally bombarded with idiotic parenting magazines, chock-full of "experts" who assume that every single new parent is a complete and utter dolt and nobody has any idea how to do anything, and there is NO natural parenting instinct in any of us, and potty-training is an activity as complex and serious as organizing the Allied forces in World War II. I work for a website which has a lot of parenting content on it (but I won't say which one), and I have to say I agree with many of his points. Maybe I'll feel differently when I breed and suddenly have no idea whether to breastfeed or go with formula and I have to have 5 opinions before I make up my mind. But from where I sit now, single and free, I find the whole thing utterly amusing. Read it and laugh!!

  contact Sheila Link: 11/20/2002 02:26:00 PM




By late 1991, Georgia was engulfed in a terrible civil war, spurred on by the power-hungry Georgian leader Gamsakhurdia, who has since been compared to Macbeth. Driven by his own personal demons, holed up in his castle, surrounded by bodyguards and vicious dogs, driven mad by his own dreams of power. Georgia was destroyed by the civil war. The cities were ruined, the roads were ruined, internal travel became impossible. The economy (what existed of it) was also destroyed.

A military council ousted Gamsakhurdia in early 1992. He fled to Chechnya. The civil war continued. Gamsakhurdia still had troops of crazed supporters, more like followers of some personality cult than an actual army, and these troops were still battling it out with the new military council, and all of the rival mafias which had suddenly exploded throughout the country.

Eduard Shevardnadze was the Communist Party boss in Georgia, as well as the ex-secret police chief. He was also Gorbachev's foreign minister. The two of them would take private strolls, and talk about Communism, and Leninism, and how to make it work, and what else could be done to bring about the glorious Communist society. They were both committed Communists. However, in 1979, right before the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, Shevardnadze, in a moment of truth, blurted out to Gorbachev: "This entire country is rotten. We have got to see if we can salvage something out of this entire mess." Gorbachev continued to believe, almost until the very end, that Communism could still work, and that the Soviet Union could manage to stay together. Even with a new economy, and more freedom. Of course, he was proved tremendously wrong, but that was the level of belief he had in the right-ness of Communism.

Shevardnadze headed up the Communist apparatus in Georgia for many years. He represented the strong-hand of Moscow. As Mr. Secret Police Chief, he also was in charge of one of the most feared and despised institutions in all of Communist Russia.

But...amazingly, once Gamsakhurdia, the dissident, the idealist, took the country by the hand and led them into civil war, Shevardnadze (one of the truly great unsung heroes of the break-down of the "evil empire") was called back from Moscow to clean up the mess.

It is truly an extraordinary story, one which I can't really describe in too much detail. But here is this man, this person who was once at the TOP of the Communist Party. He had all the perks of his position. And then, in a matter of 2 years, the entire edifice through which he has created his entire life, his entire philosophy, disappears off the face of the planet. Unbelievable. Many apparatchiks in the Communist Party could not handle the transition, and committed suicide. Others were completely lost when faced with the prospect of actually having to COMPETE in an open society for jobs, for raises, etc. Others leapt almost immediately into entrepreneurial pursuits, and others veered off into more criminal pursuits.

Shevardnadze kept his head. He let it go. He let that dream go, and immediately set about doing what needed to be done in Georgia. Now this is why this man is so extraordinary. So many of these ex-CP guys were called back to help run the countries who were now independent and floundering, and so many of them did so because they enjoyed the power so much. They kept all of the facets of the Communist Party intact (one-party systems, personality cults surrounding the leader, no free press, secret police), and just called it by another name.

Shevardnadze let go of Communism. Truly. And came back to Georgia, with the aim to rebuild the country, restore the economy, and get Georgia ready to join the modern world. He brought reformers into the government. He also kept many of the gangster-mafia types in high-level positions, so that they wouldn't be able to form a strong opposition. He included them in the process. He was very canny, very smart. He also survived countless assassination attempts during all of this.

Shevardnadze has worked a mini-miracle in Georgia. It is quite a success story, albeit one in progress. There is still a huge mafia problem in the country. There is still a huge criminal element. But throughout the 1990s, the economy has been growing by double digits. One of the best signs of how well things are going is the ubiquitousness of traffic jams in every major city. This may sound incredibly annoying, but add this to the picture: In 1991, there were NO drive-able roads in the entire country. Cars couldn't get anywhere. You could not leave your village, you could not get from here to there. Shevardnadze has created an infrastructure in the country which has raised the quality of life tremendously. Traffic jams!! How wonderful!

Shevardnadze is still the leader of Georgia today. Still battling off assassination attempts, still trying to rebuild the country, still putting down separatist movements all over the place, still trying to help foster a middle-class. A Communist man!! Committed to nurturing the bourgeoisie. I admire him very much.

Robert Kaplan, as always, has some very insightful things to say about Shevardnadze, in his book Eastward to Tartary. Check it out:

Shevardnadze, 71, was a burly man with white curly hair and, normally, a ruddy complexion. But now he was haggard and exhausted, and it was clear that helping to run the world as Soviet foreign minister had been a lot easier for him than running Grgia. His voice was deep and gruff, but he was patient, as though he were conducting a fireside chat with us -- 20 local reporters and myself ... One reporter asked the President why he was blaming the Russians [for the most recent assassination attempt] when the CIA was known to have ordered assassination attempts on Castro. This former Politburo member, used to limousines with the curtains drawn, symbolizing the power he had wielded in a vast tyrannical state, did not lose his temper at this. He smiled and enjoyed the exchange. In his own way, Shevardnadze had become a democrat ... Shevardnadze had a simple strategy: personal physical survival. If he survived a few more years without dying or being killed -- enough time, perhaps, for more political stabilization, more reforms, more institution-building -- then his personal survival, or that of his successor, might no longer be synonymous with the survival of the state itself.

If you have spent any time at all learning about Communism, and how the whole thing went down once it ended, you will know how unbelievable this is. To let the power go, and know that in order for Georgia to survive, it had to survive whether he was the leader of the country or not. All we have to do is look at Iraq, or Libya, or Syria to to see the sickness of societies completely bound to the personality of one specific leader. The entire country (like Turkmenistan) becomes an expression of the leader's ego. It's sick. Shevardnadze could easily go that way, like many of his colleagues did. He did not. He is a man of character.

One more quote, and then I'll finish up:

Eduard Amvrosiyevich Shevardnadze was one of three famous Georgians in 20th century world history. The other two were Stalin and Stalin's feared secret police chief, Laventi Beria, a bespectacled man who combined the roles of Himmler and Eichmann in Stalin's death machine. There are many similarities between Shevardnadze and these two great criminals. They too were manipulators, able to take advantage of any situation; they both betrayed their best friends as they rose to power. None of the three was truly educated, but all were talented: Each man had the strong intuition of a good hunting dog, who could sniff the essence of every idea an dsituation and adapt it to his needs ...

For example, after one assassination attempt, everyone expected Shevardnadze to fire his interior minister. But he didn't. What couldbe more useful than an interior minister who has been politically discredited, so that he cannot plot against you, because he is now dependent on your goodwill! Shevardnadze now runs the police directly through this man.

Morality is a funny thing. In the 1970s and early 1980s, it seemed that Gamsakhurdia -- the intellectual who had translated Shakespeare -- had been a moral man while Shevardnadze, the Communist hack, was an immoral one. But Shevardnadze, the Machiavellian hunting dog, had sniffed out the rot in the system he was a part of, and, along with his allies Mikhail Gorbachev and Alexander Yakovlev, tried to reform it for the sake of their own survivial. They failed and the Soviet Union collapsed. The peaceful dissolution of the Soviet Union, perhaps the single most significant event of the 20th century, owes almost as much to Shevardnadze as to Gorbachev.

Meanwhile, Shevardnadze's survival game continued in Georgia, where the lessons of The Prince were the surest path to democratization.

It's certainly not a warm and fuzzy world and Shevardnadze is not a warm and fuzzy Jimmy Carter kind of guy.

But I believe he is a hero nonetheless.

Next: The people of Georgia

  contact Sheila Link: 11/20/2002 08:17:00 AM

I know that, to the common apprehension, this phenomenon of whiteness is not confessed to be the prime agent in exaggerating the terror of objects otherwise terrible; nor to the unimaginative mind is there aught of terror in those appearances whose awfulness to another mind almost solely consists in this one phenomenon, especially when exhibited under any form at all approaching to muteness or universality. What I mean by these two statements may perhaps be respectively elucidated by the following examples.

First: The mariner, when drawing nigh the coasts of foreign lands, if by night he hear the roar of breakers, starts to vigilance, and feels just enough of trepidation to sharpen all his faculties; but under precisely similar circumstances, let him be called from his hammock to view his ship sailing through a midnight sea of milky whiteness -- as if from encircling headlands shoals of combed white bears were swimming around him, then he feels a silent, superstitious dread; the shrouded phantom of the whitened waters is horrible to him as a real ghost; in vain the lead assures him he is still off soundings; heart and helm they both go down; he never rests till blue water is under him again. Yet where is the mariner who will tell thee, "Sir, it was not so much the fear of striking hidden rocks, as the fear of that hideous whiteness that so stirred me?"

Second: To the native Indian of Peru, the continual sight of the snow-howdahed Andes conveys naught of dread, except, perhaps, in the mere fancying of the eternal frosted desolateness reigning at such vast altitudes, and the natural conceit of what a fearfulness is would be to lose oneself in such inhuman solitudes. Much the same is it with the backwoodsmen of the West, who with comparative indifference views an unbounded prairie sheeted with driven snow, no shadow of tree or twig to break the fixed trance of whiteness. Not so the sailor, beholding the scenery of the Antarctic seas; where at times, by some infernal trick of legerdemain in the powers of frost and air, he, shivering and half shipwrecked, instead of rainbows speaking hope and solace to his misery, views what seems a boundless church-yard grinning upon him with its lean ice monuments and splintered crosses.

--Herman Melville, Moby Dick This excerpt is from the chapter in the book which completely BLEW ME AWAY. "The Whiteness of the Whale".

  contact Sheila Link: 11/20/2002 08:05:00 AM

Michael Jackson has completely and utterly lost his MIND. Take that baby away from him! NOW! Jesus CHRIST.

  contact Sheila Link: 11/19/2002 04:31:00 PM

Tuesday, November 19, 2002  


So far, every blog I have checked this morning is linking to this photo. And I must as well. Just take it in. Absolutely amazing. The mullahs are being overwhelmed. They cannot give an inch, because it would mean their own throats. But the Iranian people are not putting up with it anymore.

  contact Sheila Link: 11/19/2002 10:20:00 AM


This photo is one of the most frightening things I have ever seen in my life.

  contact Sheila Link: 11/19/2002 10:16:00 AM



The collapse of the USSR

Georgia is a country dominated by outsiders, surrounded by enemies. They have no identity as a modern state. They were emasculated on every level by 74 years of Soviet tyranny. As a friend of mine says, "The mind boggles..." 74 years ... Now the Soviets are gone (sort of), but the Georgians remain fixated on Russia. They have a longing for the order the Soviets once provided, and yet they resent having been so dominated. As I said yesterday, their national character is intractable. They are intelligent, they are rebellious, they are schemers and wheeler-dealers (Georgians have taken the concept of a black market to a whole different level), they are deeply religious, and they also refuse to give up who they are. They speak their own language, etc. However, once the Russians retreated, taking the Russian language with them, the Georgians were left hugely isolated in their mountainous country. They have no experience with needing to speak to the rest of the world. Someone else was always speaking for them. Now they have no way to communicate, no way to participate. They have never had the opportunity to join world events, the world economy, and they are completely unprepared. Russian was the only language that connected them to the world, so the collapse of the Soviet Union, although positive in some respects, left a massive void in Georgia which has yet to be filled.

In the late 1980s, the Soviet Union (of course) began to crack up and began to grant all of the various republics more autonomy. They were allowed to choose their own destinies, make their own way, tear down the Berlin Wall if they wanted to. Georgia, like all the other breakaway republics, immediately set about to become a modern democracy. Change was fast, furious, chaotic. Even reporters at the The New York Times seemed unable to keep up with everything that was happening. Georgia raced to have elections. Of course, elections are just a symbol. We know that NOW, looking in. Elections mean diddly-squat if the country itself does not have the institutions to support democracy. America hashed stuff out, concepts, desires, ideals...creating the system of checks and balances which was necessary to the development of a democratic society. Georgia had none of this. So their first experiment with democracy was (just like it was elsewhere, all over the former Soviet Union) a complete and utter disaster.

The first democratically elected president in Georgia was Zviad Gamsakhurdia. He was the leading dissident during the Communist-era period. A very idealistic man. (I hate to say it, but being "very idealistic" is a terrible quality to have if you are going to be a President of anything. You need to have your feet on the ground and know how to get shit DONE.) Anyway, I know it's so easy to judge standing on the outside. Georgia needed to make its mistakes, and learn, and grow, in order to transform itself. This process is still going on.

But regardless: Gamsakhurdia completely friggin' destroyed Georgia. He walked Georgia right into civil war.

There are, actually, a lot of similarities between Gamsakhurdia and Slobodan Milosevic. Gamsakhurdia came along and fanned the flames of ethnic hatred, racism, xenophobia, and historical grievance. His entire "platform" had to do with needing revenge against what the Communists had done. Additionally, though, Georgia is a country overflowing with minority groups. Armenians, Ossetians, Abhazians, and many many others. Gamsakhurdia saw them as second-class citizens, and began a program of oppression and discrimination against them. His motto was "Georgia for Georgians". All this did was fill people with hate. You can't run a government efficiently on hate.

Here's a quote about Gamsakhurdia from Michael Dobbs' great book Down with Big Brother:

"Georgia is a unitary independent state, and therefore there can be no concessions to the separatists in Abhazia or southern Ossetia," [Gamsakhurdia] told the meeting outside the parliament building. "The representatives of all other nations are merely guests on Georgian land, who can be shown the door at any time by their hosts."

In many ways, Gamsakhurdia's brand of xenophobic nationalism was as authoritarian and myopic as the Communist ideology it sought to replace. He convinced his followers that independence would lead automatically to prosperity, as the Kremlin would no longer have the opportunity to "exploit" Georgia economically. In his patriotic zeal he ignored the fact that Georgia relied on other Soviet republics for practically all its oil and gas, 94 percent of its grain, 93 percent of its steel, and 82 percent of its timber. His assumption that ethnic minorities would meekly accept the will of the Georgian majority turned out to be another fatal miscalculation, which laid the basis for a prolonged civil war.

In the emotional aftermath of the Tblisi massacre (in April 1989, when Soviet soldiers gunned down a peaceful protest in Tbilisi's main square, a la Tienamen) reason and common sense were in short supply. Revolted by the shedding of innocent blood, Georgians rallied around the leaders who denounced the Soviet "imperialists" the loudest. At this point the Communist authorities made a series of blunders that played right into the hands of the nationalists. They arrested Gamsakhurdia and other opposition leaders, endowing them with the halos of martyrs. Then, for almost two weeks, the army denied using toxic gas against the demonstrators. Panic swept the city as hundreds of people were admitted to local hospitals with symptoms of poisoning. Anti-Soviet sentiment reached a fever pitch. By the time Gamsakhurdia was released from prison several weeks later, the role of one of his father's heroes seemed ready-made for him. A year and a half after "Bloody Sunday", he was to win the first free election in Georgia's history, by a two-to-one margin.

Ah, what a mess, what a mess. It's obvious that all of this is going to go badly, but what happens next is quite surprising. Gamsakhurdia is, of course, ousted. Run out of Georgia on a rail.

And somebody appears to save the day from a most unexpected place.

I'll talk about who that person is tomorrow.

  contact Sheila Link: 11/19/2002 07:56:00 AM

--Why is the underplot of King Lear in which Edmund figures lifted out of Sidney's Arcadia and spatchcoked on to a Celtic legend older than history?
--That was Will's way, John Eglinton defended. We should not now combine a Norse saga with an excerpt from a novel by George Meredith. Que voulez-vous? Moore would say. He puts Bohemia on the seacoast and makes Ulysses quote Aristotle.
--Why? Stephen answered himself. Because the theme of the false or the usurping or the adulterous brother or all three in one is to Shakespeare, what the poor is not, always with him. The note of banishment, banishment from the heart, banishment from home, sounds uninterruptedly from The Two Gentlemen of Verona onward till Prospero breaks his staff, buries it certain fathoms in the earth and drowns his book. It doubles itself in the middle of his life, reflects itself in another, repeats itself, protasis, epitasis, catastasis, catastrophe. It repeats itself again when he is near the grave, when his married daughter Susan, chip of the old block, is accused of adultery. But it was the original sin that darkened his understanding, weakened his will and left in him a strong inclination to evil. The words are those of my lords bishops of Maynooth: an original sin and, like original sin, committed by another in whose sin he too has sinned. It is between the lines of his last written words, it is petrified on his tombstone under which her four bones are not to be laid. Age has not withered it. Beauty and peace have not done it away. It is in infinite variety everywhere in the world he has created, in Much Ado About Nothing, twice in As You Like It, in The Tempest, in Hamlet, in Measure for Measure, and in all the other plays which I have not read.

He laughed to free his mind from his mind's bondage.

John Eglinton summed up.

--The truth is midway, he affirmed. He is the ghost and the prince. He is all in all.
--He is, Stephen said. The boy of act one is the mature man of act five. All in all. In Cymbeline, in Othello he is bawd and cuckold. He acts and is acted on. Lover of an ideal or a perversion, like Jose he kills the real Carmen. His unremitting intellect is the hornmad Iago ceaselessly willing that the moor in him shall suffer.
--Cuckoo! Cuckoo! Cuck Mulligan clucked lewdly. O word of fear!

Dark dome received, reverbed.

--And what a character is Iago! undaunted John Eglinton exclaimed. When all is said Dumas fils (or is it Dumas pere) is right. After God Shakespeare has created most.
--Man delights him not nor woman neither, Stephen said. He returns after a life of absence to that spot of earth where he was born, where he has always been, man and boy, a silent witness and there, his journey of life ended, he plants his mulberrytree in the earth. Then dies. The motion is ended. Gravediggers bury Hamlet pere and Hamlet fils. A king and a prince at last in death, with incidental music. And, what though murdered and betrayed, bewept by all frail tender hearts for, Dane or Dubliner, sorrow for the dead is the only husband from whom they refuse to be divorced. If you like the epilogue look long on it: prosperous Prospero, the good man rewarded, Lizzie, grandpa's lump of love, and nuncle Richie, the bad man taken off by poetic justice to the place where the bad niggers go. Strong curtain. He found in the world without as actual what was in his world within as possible. Maeterlinck says: If Socrates leave his house today he will find the sage seated on his doorstep. if Judas go forth tonight it is to Judas his steps will tend. Every life is many days, day after day. We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love. But always meeting ourselves. The playwright who wrote the folio of this world and wrote it badly (He gave us light first and the sun two days later), the lord of things as they are whom the most Roman of catholics call dio boia hangman god, is doubtless all in all in all of us, ostler and butcher, and would be bawd and cuckold too but that in the economy of heaven, foretold by Hamlet, there are no more marriages, glorified man, an androgynous angel, being a wife unto himself.

--James Joyce, Ulysses

WHAT?? If I squint really hard, I get the jist of what is going on here. I just love the sound of the words. They are incantatory.

  contact Sheila Link: 11/19/2002 07:32:00 AM




This week I am going to talk about Georgia. The enclave country in the Caucasus Mountains. It's another one of those countries which may be in complete and utter chaos right now, but they have memories of being an empire. And I mean memory as in cultural memory. Once upon a time, Georgia was a great kingdom. This was in the Middle Ages, but Georgians do not forget. Their country may be run like a criminal enterprise at the moment, but there is a consciousness within of being once-great. Georgians have a strong sense of cultural identity, of "Georgian-ness". This has aided them tremendously in the wrenching and violent changes since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Georgia is an ancient country, with a largely Orthodox Christian population. The country also has a tremendous mix of ethnicities which has led to a very complex and bloody history. I'll start with the ancient history, and then move on to recent events. It's always good to put a country into context.

Georgia is a beautiful and fertile place, nestled in the Caucasus mountains, and also stretching along the east coast of the Black Sea. Russia fought very hard to keep Georgia under its control, and it is easy to see why. Georgia is a rich breadbasket of a country. The mountain range has allowed Georgia, over the millennia, to remain linguistically homogenous and intact. Which is phenomenal in an area of the world where the minimum amount of ethnicities/languages in any given city is 50. Georgians have been described as "a pocket people preserved in a dusty museum case."

4th century
In 330 A.D., Christianity was brought to Georgia by Assyrian monks. Georgian Christianity is its OWN THING; it has the passion of Orthodox rituals mixed in with flavoring from ancient pagan rites. Georgian Christianity is among the world's oldest form of the religion (along with Armenia, right next door). It mixes in rituals from the Greek pantheon, Zoroastrianism, Anatolian cults. The church holds the country together.

5th century
In the 5th century, A.D., the Georgians created one of the world's 14 alphabets. Incredible.

Georgia's positioning, on the Black Sea, has made it a prize to be captured over the millennia. It is another country (like Armenia, like Poland) which has a long history of being coveted. Empires marched over this land, retreated over it, marched back again, chopping it up, devouring it, ruling it, occupying it. From what I have read, though, there is something in the Georgian character which cannot be subdued. (I'm Irish, so this sounds a bit familiar to me!) Perhaps it is their passionate community-building brand of Christianity. But there is something intractable in Georgians which does not allow them to be psychologically conquered, even when their country is being ruled by an occupying force. They do not take their occupiers very seriously. The land has been ravaged by Arab, Byzantine, Turk, Mongol and Persian armies, and still: these people are Georgian.

Georgia was an ancient monarchy. As long as there was no threat from the outside, all went well. The population was so diverse, and so individualistic that it made things difficult. Diversity is a lovely ideal, but it can be extremely unwieldy when trying to fight off a foe. How do you come to agreement? How do you decide on goals? How do you identify yourself?

10th century
In the 10th century, A.D., that foe arrived in the form of the Byzantine army. The Georgian monarch was unable to unite all the different principalities and populations and ethnicities hiding in the mountains of his country, so the Byzantines easily took over.

11th/12th centuries
Then came the heyday of Georgian history which peaked in the 11th and 12th centuries. The Georgians easily adapted to Byzantine rule, and flourished. The culture thrived, the empire spread from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea, and also down into Persia. Georgia was a cosmopolitan mix of Byzantium, Seljuk Turkey, and Persia. The leader of Georgia at the time was David the Builder, who is one of Georgia's many folk-heroes. Georgians love heroes (which is a very important thing to is one of the keys to this country...their addiction to hero-worship). David the Builder spearheaded the expansion of Georgia. The Turks had conquered and occupied Tbilisi for 400 years, and David basically marched in and took it back.

13th century
The 13th century brought the Mongol invasions. Which were savage and divisive. The Georgian monarchy fell apart. The Mongols supported and promoted the provincial noblemen, in order to shut out the King's influence.

14th century
The 14th century brought the Black Death, which decimated Georgia. This was also the century when the feared Tamerlane conquered Georgia.

Meanwhile, during all of this, the Georgian people are hiding out in the mountains, resisting the outside influence of their conquerors. Yes, they assimilated some of the Persian or Turkic influences, but their alphabet stayed strong, their language stayed strong, their personalities stayed strong. Georgians can thank the barriers of the Caucasus mountains for that.

Georgia eventually was divided up, brutally, between the Turks and the Persians. It was a classic East-West division. (Which, basically, exists in this country until this day). Although Georgia yearns to join the West, yearns to be modern, looks to the West for its inspiration ... the East dictates the tenor of the politics here. It continues to be an internally divided nation. So the Ottoman Turks conquered Georgia from the West, and the Safavid Iranian empire conquered Georgia from the East. The oppression was extreme, from both sides of the coin.

17th century
In the 17th century, we have to add Russia's expansion into this mix. Russia began to creep its way south, keeping its eye firmly set on the jewel of Georgia.

18th century
By the time the 18th century rolled around, Russia and Persia were basically at war over Georgia. This small mountainous chunk of land on the shores of the Black Sea. But again, if you look at a map, you can see how crucial Georgia is to any empire looking to expand in that area. You must have Georgia if you want to have an outlet on the Black Sea. The Black Sea is what connects East to West. It is essential.

19th century
In 1801, Czar Alexander I forcibly incorporated Georgia into the Russian empire. Throughout the 19th century, the Russians hastened the pace in Georgia, forcing them to modernize, to catch up with the rest of the world. This was a jarring transition for the people of Georgia; however, the Georgian Church continued to bond the people together, in a secret and passionate way. One of the goals of the Russians was to subordinate the Georgian Church to Russian institutions. They were never able to succeed with this. Apparently, some of the most gorgeous painted religious icons came from Georgia. The oppression of the Church catapulted religous art into greatness. I've seen some of those icons, and they bring tears to my eyes. It is faith, burning with a strong and steady flame. It is faith which digs its heels in, sets its jaw squarely. It is faith which does not need a BUILDING to contain it. It is faith which exists whether it is given permission to or not. It is faith which never has to scream about itself, or justify itself, or explain itself. Quite extraordinary. It is indestructible.

20th century
Then along comes the 20th century and slowly, Marxism starts to become very attractive to Georgians. Marxism, in its pure sense, in its naive beginning, was opposed to czarism, opposed to the "officialdom" of Russian society, opposed to the bourgeoisie. All of these elements were extremely appealing to the beleaguered poverty-struck Georgians. Georgia is the real historical birthplace of mass-movement socialism.

It is not surprising at all that such a country would be the birthplace of Josef Stalin. A country filled with peasants, a country bound together by faith (Stalin had studied to be a priest), a country obsessed with heroes, a country obsessed with its own past. This is the ground from which one of the greatest monsters of the 20th century sprung.

Next: The collapse of the USSR

  contact Sheila Link: 11/18/2002 10:23:00 AM

Monday, November 18, 2002  


It is not true that suffering ennobles the character; happiness does that sometimes, but suffering, for the most part, makes men petty and vindictive.
--Somerset Maugham

  contact Sheila Link: 11/18/2002 09:57:00 AM

I was reading the following piece and snorting with laughter. The Onion strikes again...pointing out the idiocy of p.c. bullshit, by following it to its logical conclusion.

  contact Sheila Link: 11/17/2002 07:59:00 AM

Sunday, November 17, 2002  


The Couriers
The word of a snail on the plate of a leaf?
It is not mine. Do not accept it.

Acetic acid in a sealed tin?
Do not accept it. It is not genuine.

A ring of gold with the sun in it?
Lies. Lies and a grief.

Frost on a leaf, the immaculate
Cauldron, talking and crackling

All to itself on the top of each
Of nine black Alps.

A disturbance in mirrors,
The sea shattering its gray one --

Love, love, my season.

--Sylvia Plath, 1962

  contact Sheila Link: 11/17/2002 07:48:00 AM

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