Culture

Belarus Watch

How is Europe's last dictator faring these days? Not so good. Belarus's current president, de facto dictator Alexander Lukashenko, has fallen afoul of the Kremlin over his refusal to recognize the breakaway territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Consequently, Russia is mounting a media barrage against him and agitating in Belarus's upcoming elections. One possible beneficiary? Jaroslav Romanchuk, one of the opposition leaders, who also happens to be an Ayn Rand disciple. In this 2006 interview with the Atlas Society (which bills itself as "the most respected independent source of information about Objectivism"), Romanchuk discusses his road-to-Damascus moment:

It all started in May 1993, when I met two Americans, Charles and Susanna Tomlinson, in Minsk. They were on a People-to- People mission and they wanted to learn more about post-socialist countries. We talked about the situation at that time in former Soviet countries, and also about deeper ideas. They spoke about one thing that shocked me at that time: the morality of making money and of capitalism. I had never thought of capitalism in those terms. After they returned home, they sent me this big book by an author unknown to me.

My major at the university had been American and English literature, so I was supposed to learn about all major American and British authors. But I had no idea who this author was. So it was like a revelation to me when I read this book, Atlas Shrugged. And I immediately ordered more books by its author, Ayn Rand, and more books about her philosophy of Objectivism.

Also, I began to read extensively—in Ludwig von Mises and other free-market and freedom oriented thinkers—about philosophy, ethics, and economics. And that is what changed my life.

He also suggests that he might be regarded as the anti-Lenin and mentions that people in Minsk "cry like kids" when they discover the existence of other Randians among them. Here's how he described his program back then:

One of the first decisions of a reform government should be to change the curriculum in schools, at the elementary, high school, and university levels. And to get rid of Marxism and Keynesianism! The ideas promoted by the current regime in the schools will necessarily lead to conflict. They are ideas that pit individuals against one another—that are based on the notion that the interests of individuals conflict, that one individual’s gain is at another individual’s loss. Those ideas are worse than dangerous drugs, because they don’t simply sicken or kill one person at a time; they kill thousands with their effects.

And here I thought capitalism thrived on competition. Clearly I've been imbibing the dangerous drugs of Keynesianism. Still, one wonders whether Belarus will become a Shock-Doctrine-style laboratory for crackpot libertarianism if Romanchuk takes command, and how Belarusians will take to being forced to be free.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

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TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

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The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

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Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

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If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

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