G. P. Bear goes to Washington

The true story of a libertarian carnivore

 

By Bill and Joe Steigerwald

George Orwell used satire and talking pigs in “Animal Farm.” Now, with a foot of snow in Jerusalem signaling the start of the next ice age, veteran libertarian journalist Bill Steigerwald shamelessly steals Orwell’s idea and uses talking polar bears to poke fun at global warming alarmists and their fellow travelers in Washington and the media.

Twisting the title of director Frank Capra’s movie masterpiece to his own evil ends, Steigerwald and his son Joe have created “G.P. Bear Goes to Washington.”  The 6-part serialized “docu-fable” stars Grandpa, a magical, media-savvy and proudly skeptical libertarian polar bear who understands his species is in far greater danger from the interventions of the federal government, Barbara Boxer, Al Gore, Leonardo DiCaprio and overzealous wildlife scientists than from anthropogenic climate change.

Part 1

“Are we not polar bears?”
By Bill and Joe Steigerwald

Of all the animals the Inuit traditionally hunted, Nanuk, the polar bear, was the most prized. Native hunters considered Nanuk to be wise, powerful, and “almost a man.” Some called the bear “the great lonely roamer.” Many tribes told legends of strange polar-bear men that lived in igloos. These bears walked upright, just like men, and were able to talk. Natives believed they shed their skins in the privacy of their homes.

— Polar Bears International

 TASIILAQ, EAST GREENLAND

 

Grandpa Polar Bear was relaxing in his easy chair watching a special news report on TV called “Plight of the Polar Bears.” As a mother bear and her cub stood forlornly on a tiny shrinking iceberg somewhere near the Arctic Circle, the dashing reporter from CNN sounded like he was going to cry.

“…. because of global climate change, polar bears are suffering population losses and may soon become extinct. Rising temperatures are melting the sea ice earlier and earlier each summer, leaving the bears less time to hunt for their primary food ­ — ringed seals. If we don’t reduce our burning of fossil fuels soon, scientists say the only place our children will be able to see these magnificent creatures will be in a zoo or in a Walt Disney movie. For CNN, I’m Anderson Cooper.”

“Extinct!?” Grandpa roared, slapping the arms of his leather chair with his huge paws. “Melting sea ice!? Shrinking bear populations? Who writes this junk, Al Gore?”

“Don’t get upset, Dad,” said Mother, looking up from her latest copy of Reason magazine. “It’s CNN. What do you expect? Fairness? Balance?”

“What were they saying about polar bears dying, Grandpa?” asked Junior, looking worried as he came in from the kitchen with a bottle of Coke.

“Nothing, Junior. Nothing,” Grandpa grumbled. “Just a lot of make-believe.”

After dinner, Grandpa read Junior a bedtime story. As Grandpa was about to turn off the nightlight, Junior asked, “Grandpa, why do you yell at the TV? The people in it can’t hear you.”

“I know,” Grandpa said with a smile. “They live far away in New York and Washington. That’s why they don’t know anything about polar bears or the Arctic.”

Junior looked anxiously at Grandpa. “Mother said your heart will get attacked if you keep yelling at the news.”

“Don’t you worry,” Grandpa chuckled. “I just get mad when humans make us look like sissies who can’t handle a little change in the weather. We’re polar bears, for Pete’s sake. We’re not helpless victims. We don’t need the government, Keith Olbermann, Greenpeace, Leonardo DiCaprio or anyone else to protect us from Mother Nature.

“If humans just left us alone ­ and if their scientists stopped chasing us with helicopters and shooting us with dart guns ­ we’d be fine.”

“Why don’t you go to where the humans on TV live and yell at them?” wondered Junior. “Everyone always listens when you yell.”

“They wouldn’t believe a thing I’d tell them. But that’s a good idea, Junior,” Grandpa said, clicking off the nightlight. “A darn good idea. ”

*****

“Guess what I learned today?” Junior asked as he came running in from school.

“I can’t imagine,” Grandpa mumbled.

“Shush, Dad,” said Mother. “What did you learn, Junior?”

“I learned all about ‘global melting,’ ” Junior began breathlessly. “The whole world is getting hotter because humans drive too many cars. The sea ice is going to go away forever and — ”

“Whoa!” interrupted Grandpa. “Who taught you that stuff? Rachel Maddow?”

“No,” said Junior. “Principal Hansen. She came to homeroom today. Her big computer says Earth is getting hotter and hotter and Greenland is melting really, really fast. All the ice will be gone when I get as old as you.”

“That’s preposterous,” Grandpa said.

“Principal Hansen said the oceans will get taller and taller,” Junior said with a worried look on his face. “Principal Hansen said polar bears and lots of other animals will get ‘stinkt if humans keep burning stuff like coal. It’s really scary, Grandpa.”

“Principal Hansen’s crazier than Al Gore,” Grandpa said to Mother so Junior couldn’t hear. “Didn’t I tell you that boy should have been home-schooled?”

Later that same night, after midnight, Grandpa was at his desk. He was sending his usual round of disparaging e-mails to the politicians in Washington when Junior’s cry pierced the stillness.

“Grandpa!” Junior wailed. “Help me. I’m burning!”

Grandpa and Mother raced to Junior’s bedside. Junior was crying in his sleep. “Help me, Grandpa,” he pleaded mournfully. “I’m too young to melt.”

“Junior, wake up,” Grandpa said, shaking him. “You’re dreaming.”

Junior’s eyes popped open. “Grandpa! Mother! The ice was all gone! We were stuck on a tiny iceberg. The ocean was boiling!”

“It was just a silly nightmare, Junior,” soothed Mother. “The ice isn’t melting. See?” she said, patting the rock-hard wall of their cave.

Grandpa was fuming. He gritted his big teeth and looked Junior straight in his teary eyes.

“Boy,” he said firmly, “I’m going to tell you something I want you to remember for the rest of your life. We are polar bears. We are the largest land carnivores on Earth. We are the species ursus maritimus — ­ ‘bears of the sea.’ We can swim 200 miles. We can walk 100 miles a day.

“We learned how to live on this frozen wasteland thousands of years before humans discovered fire. There are 25,000 of us alive today ­ — twice as many as 50 years ago. We are not going to become extinct ­ no matter what Principal Hansen and her big computers say. Now go to sleep ­ and no more silly nightmares.”

“That was no nightmare,” Grandpa whispered angrily to Mother. “That boy’s being brainwashed by a bunch of kooks.”

“That’s all the schools teach,” said Mother. “It’s like a new religion. Every cub I know thinks the ice will be gone before they grow up. All the mothers are complaining.”

Grandpa was fuming. “Polar bears having nightmares,” he snarled. “That’s pathetic. It’s time somebody stood up to lunatics like Hansen and their doomsday stories.”

To be continued tomorrow in Part 2, unless all hell freezes over.

Saoirse Ronan as Daisy, some Brit as her sexy, sexy cousin.

Saoirse Ronan as Daisy, some Brit as her sexy, sexy cousin.

Welcome to The Stag Blog’s series dealing with portrayals of the end times through movies, novels, docudramas, documentaries, instructional pamphlets and films, songs, and memories. The focus will mainly be on nuclear fears during the Cold War, but we may branch out into some asteroids, aliens, or plagues. Let’s keep it loose.

Guest posts are particularly welcome on this subject — give me your best nuke movies, your memories of hiding under desks, or your childhood (or adult) worries over alien invasion.

This week, the subject is the new movie How I Live Now, and the 2004 young adult novel upon which it is based. It is a story of war, moving to a new country, and why sometimes you just need to sex up those relatives who catch your eye.

Apocalypse cinema or television (or even books) lives for the money shot — be it grand destruction of a famous monument, or a more humble bit of well-written or captured horror. The movie How I Live Now has two types of sequences, the bleak and the bucolic. It does them both very well, but in the end, though it’s better than the Meg Rosoff YA novel upon which it is based, the movie falls apart for similar reasons. It’s as flimsy as its anorexic, neurotic heroine, and though it tries to find a hard-ass center, there just isn’t much to it.

In each medium, 15-year-old Daisy (Saoirse Ronan) is a cold New Yorker. She is sent to  her cousins’ in England to get her out of the way of her father and stepmother. She killed her mother at birth, and therefore has issues. Meanwhile, war is looming, not that any teens give a shit. Upon arrival (in the book), she drops her American ‘tude approximately four minutes after meeting her wood sprite cousins. In the movie, this include annoying Issac who precociously drives at 14, scrappy Piper, sevinish and a bit of a Mary Sue, and Edmond, the dreamy, disturbingly attractive cousin. Yes, Daisy and Eddie hook up. Yes, it’s a little weird. But it wasn’t the dealbreaker for me that it was for, say, this io9 writer. It just isn’t enough to be the whole heart of the story, except, too bad, it is.

Daisy has a relatively endearing run-off sentence style in the book. But her narrow eye becomes less appealing — and much more contrived — after the fourth time she conveniently decides to ignore an adult’s explanation for what exactly the fuck is going on with this war business. Her obsessive focus, useful in surviving, if not contextualizing, is turned into an acknowledged character trait in the movie (basically OCD), but anything from her view still feels shallow and myopic.

The book just rakes on the cliches of the faeryland of England. There are more cousins there, and the cliches are divided up between them. Eddie has the mysteriously telepathic powers. He just gets Daisy, man. His twin, melded into him for the movie, is the obligatory strong, silent, and Dickon-esque type. And yes, I could choose to see this as so deliberate an homage to The Secret Garden that it is acceptable. But I can’t. If only because all that English shit was so appealing to me as a tween, I can’t. Edmond has a falcon, for fuck’s sake. I can’t stand it. He speaks to cows. The Secret Garden plus nukes sounds great. Why don’t I buy it?

The movie initially seems more promising — tightening things, and letting the loving, but not syrupy shots set the scene. And the English cottage is falling down, and there are dishes in the sink. Piper is a dirty-faced, solemn, kind, but human ginger, not a pixie making every soldier fall in love with her. The war situation is not treated quite as much as an excuse for playing Lost Boys as it is in the book. And the moment when we know something is wrong is treated with the gravity required . The paradise of a day at the swimming hole, during which Daisy begins to accept her God damned magical surroundings, is stopped by a rush of wind, darkening skies, and falling ash. We don’t even see the mushroom cloud. Little Piper, of course, calls it snow. It gives the necessary chill down the spine, and it gave me false hope that the movie was going to get away from the book more than it did. But again, if you want your doom and gloom money shots (and I do), the movie does come with that.

They survive. And still have a good time for a bit. Daisy burns her pass to go back to America because Eddie is now her whole world. But soon enough, scary soldiers (still British, though) come to separate the two boys and two girls. And that’s it for the plot, really. It’s all Daisy and Piper being shoved away into a creepy old English house, being sent to sort potatoes on a farm, and planning their escape back to their home. In some ways, the movie’s choice to ignore some of the details of the book make it better, or at least less maddening that Daisy has no questions about what the hell happened to her new country. The shots of wrecked countryside seen flickering through her window when she and Piper are taken are effective, showing enough for horror, but not enough for clarity or contrivance that she doesn’t see the whole picture.

But it’s still too little. There’s an enemy, at one point they “take [a] checkpoint.” A neighbor boy is shot, in the head, and is actually show still alive on the ground for a few seconds, groping in the mud. Same with the eerie details of a downed plane — the first object Daisy and Piper see is of an oxygen mask lying in the woods. Shudder. And the same with the moment when Daisy has to dig through a pile of bodies to make sure it’s not her cousins. It’s flawlessly-crafted, in the vein of the opening of the pilot for The Walking Dead, but much starker. Yet, it’s still just a nightmare moodpiece. (This is a problem for apocalyptic fiction — that dread is unsustainable — and why it so often delves into survivors sniping. And why the fiction that doesn’t do that is something special.)

Too many sad pop songs over beautiful landscape. Too many montages. How I Live Now doesn’t commit the unforgivable sin of putting conspicuous music over its worst bits, but the filler feels like all music sometimes. The frantic, whispered voices in Daisy’s head that were supposed to represent her OCD and anorexia worked better than I would think. I appreciate that she didn’t warm up and become hero mom figure to Piper like she did in the book, but some sign of caring about the red-headed moppet wouldn’t have been amiss. Ronan is good, the Brits are all decent. Nobody is stilted, but nobody is exceptional.

And though the lovely cinematography of the movie makes the book’s flimsy plot seem more substantial, it had the same endless problem. I want to know more about the war. And I want more than a teenager falling in love with a place and her cousin, then being taken away, and having to walk back for a week over broken landscape. Piper and Daisy seem exhausted, in book and movie, but I still want to say, dammit, have you not seen Rabbit-Proof Fence? You pansies think a week of walking in England is bad? Somehow, again in both mediums, the characters treat the situation too heavily and too lightly. And nobody ever asks what’s going on. I don’t care how hot your cousin is, I don’t care you much you miss him, you take the time to fucking ask an adult who nuked London.

165341)  Cigarette Smoking Man (The X-Files)

Strangely calm — maybe it was the Canadian accent — and occasionally vulnerable (seemingly) in later seasons, there was something compelling about this guy. We seem him as the top villain for Mulder, but then we see that he is just a part of the much bigger conspiracy. He’s the guy they go to for clean-up and it has cost him a normal human existence. His centric episodes are never dull. (Always wondered why he didn’t just take out Mulder, though.) He smokes not like a villain trying to intimidate someone, but like a man with all the time in the world, who isn’t even thinking about any of it.

2) Darth Vader (Star Wars)

Iconic, duh. Think of him in the first movie when he’s the terrifying cyborg, but is beneath Grand Moff Tarkin. And he has that strange commitment to this mysterious religion. We learn more about him. He blows up a whole planet. He can choke people with his hand. He is willing to get into a TIE Fighter and fight — albeit, not very well. And though people usually mock Mark Hamill’s acting when he discovers the terrifying truth about his parentage, well, think how you would feel. Look at Luke Skywalker’s reaction and realize, it’s serious, horrifying stuff to be the son of this man.

3) The Joker (The Dark Knight)

The late Heath Ledger really did deserve those accolades, regardless of their inevitability after his tragic death. Ledger plays the Joker in a transformative, uncomfortable, annoying (those fucking sounds he makes, aaaugh!) disturbing way. It’s such good acting that it’s fun to watch. He’s the best part of the movie, and is on my short list of highly praised things that are not remotely overrated. The greater meaning of the anarchic character isn’t important. Just fucking watch him act.

4) Cersei Lannister (Game of Thrones TV show)

Not the sadistic King Joffrey? Not the real power, Tywin Lannister? Nope. Give me Cersei, because we see her struggling to be a villain. She’s a woman, she’s maybe not as smart as she thinks she is, but she’s wily enough to fight hard for what she thinks is hers. She’s funny as hell. And she loves her scary-ass son, because he is just about all she has, but she knows he’s sick. She knows how women gain power, but she still yearns to be playing at the big kids table. You see her when her villainous swagger is on, and you see her being completely dismissed by her father and intellectually trailing behind her brother. She’s fascinating. And she has the world’s most flawless bitch face.

5) O’Brien (1984) and The Operative (Serenity)

Like all good top villains in a dystopia, O’Brien knows all the counter-arguments with which our hero has struggled. He knows them all and can beat them with authority, charm, conviction, and the terrifying certainty of his position. He inflicts the pain, and he is someone to whom Winston Smith can finally speak freely. He knows what he does and he does it because power exists to keep itself alive. No grand motives. Just keeping the system going.

The Operative sees even more clearly than O’Brien does that he does terrible things. But he thinks he is doing them to build something better. Yet, he also thinks there is no place in that world for people like him with so much innocent blood on their hands. He’s the mechanism for improvement at a terrible price, but he has no illusions about being warmly invited into into the new society. Strange character. Very human for a villain, but very frightening.

6) Angelus (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

God damn was he a better monster than a hero. Bland, self-hating (understandable, but still), earnest, when he had a soul, he was playfully sadistic without one. He tortured a woman into insanity, he toyed with a lovesick Giles (best character) after killing his ladyfriend. The contrast between that guy and the guy trying to do right makes even the dull fellow more interesting, just because we know what nastiness is inside of him.

What are some of your favorites, dear readers?

  • 6.Mencken drinking-I’ve had an impressively mediocre two weeks of travel, and really should have updated the blog more, but sickness, plus relatives, plus just bad travels didn’t really bring on the writing itch. Few highlights include: being stuck in a Kafaesque loop of being sent from House desk to Senate desk to House media gallery to Senate media gallery on Capitol Hill, plus having Capitol police having pick up one my socks; firing some satisfyingly huge guns in North Carolina and shopping at an endearingly sketchy military surplus store (cash only, for paranoia purposes); and of course screaming “SHUT UP ABOUT GLUTEN” at the Museum of Sex in New York City. But really, that was mostly it. Somehow the whole of my journeys was not what the parts promised to be.
  • In other news about people The Stag Blog likes, Radley Balko is moving to Washington Post, which is both great for him, great for libertarianism, and rough for those of us who will now feel obligated to read WaPost.
  • Kennedy and Matt Welch will be cohosting a new Fox Business show called The Independents, so for the ill-fitting suit jackets and the mismatched patterns alone (if you know me, you know this is high praise indeed), it will be worth a watch. Here is a snotty, lazy Gawker summation of things. I assume the comments are horrifying beyond words, so don’t bother with that.
  • In humbler news, brother Joe has been told to get a webcam, so that The Stag Blog’s new Google+ show can finally get started. It’s called Politics for People Who Hate Politics, and if you want to be a guest, annoying me about it is encouraged. More details will come. It should be fun.
  • Hey, my latest VICE piece is about how Homeland Security are being assholes to Canadians with past mental health problems.
  • What’s happening in the world? Hmmm.
  • Well, stop pretending the drug war is over, because this guy’s ruined life begs to differ.
  • NYPD mistakes Brooklyn man’s breath mints for ecstasy.
  • Is this is true, I can’t even began to process how horrifying it is. Read with caution: “I Am a False Rape Allegation Statistic”
  • Here is a decent Gawker response to the is that woman who wrote the not-very-good-sorry poverty essay actually poor or not kerfuffle.
  • 1920s prosthetic limbs
  • I want to live in J.D. Tuccille’s society. He makes anarchy sound fun, God save his crazy bootlegging family.
  • This Orange County reporter is covering/livetweeting the trial of the cops who killed Kelly Thomas.
  • Prohibition slang.
  • Currently reading this ancient Vanity Fair piece on the mysterious, sordid death of Hitler’s way too beloved half-niece.

Pam sums up the feeling of not having a reaction ready for the death of notable person:

Today’s video:

No, don’t ask questions.

policeLast year, Alex Saleh, a convenience store owner in Miami Gardens, Florida, installed 15 security cameras in and around his shop—but not to protect his business, which is in a rough neighborhood of a rough city, against shoplifting or any other crime. The 36-year-old put in the cameras because his employees and customers were getting bothered so often by the police. Thanks to Saleh, countless incidents of the cops harassing and arresting the neighborhood’s mostly poor, mostly black residents were caught on tape. A Miami Herald story about the cops’ habitual and casual mistreatment of Miami Gardens residents has gone viral (it has 21,000 Facebook likes at the moment), mostly because of the incontrovertible evidence of the cameras and the outrageous details of the harassment.

One of Saleh’s employees, a 28-year-old named Earl Sampson, has been stopped by police 258 times in four years and searched 100 times. He’s been arrested 62 times for just “trespassing,” and most of those incidents happened at the convenience store itself. One arrest, in June 2012, happened while Sampson was stocking shelves. Exactly how many scores of trespassing arrests does it take for Miami Gardens police to remember where someone works?

According to the Herald piece, Saleh initially consented to participate in a “zero-tolerance” program, which meant cops could come into his business and stop or arrest anyone who was loitering or trespassing. But the shopkeeper claims he tried to get out of the program after becoming concerned about how aggressive the police were being, and the cops responded by continuing to harass his customers and workers. Saleh also says that when he first tried to bring evidence of this behavior to internal affairs, several officers came into his store and stood silent for several minutes in what seemed to him to be an attempt at intimidation.

The rest here

soviet exhibit interior

The Soviet National Exhibition took over the L.A. Convention Center in November of 1977 to try to impress Americans with their shiny spacecraft and crappy consumer goods.

 

Looking for Anya X

 

Anya was not a happy communist travel agent.

It was Nov. 17, 1977. We were eating an inexpensive lunch together in the crowded cafeteria at the Los Angeles Convention Center in downtown LA.

I was a 30-year-old divorced bartender and freelance journalist living in Hollywood. She was married and living in New York, where she was a guide for Intourist.

Anya Ryukhin was one of 200 lucky bureaucrats, public relations specialists and KGB agents who had been sent to sunny southern California to staff the Soviet National Exhibition, a massive Cold War propaganda show that took over the convention center from Nov. 12 to Nov. 29.

Only 28, Anya was already a privileged citizen of the Soviet Union. Smart, personable, youthful as a schoolgirl, she was blessed with an easy smile and thick dark hair that piled up on her shoulders. Born in Moscow, a straight-A graduate of Moscow State University, she spoke English better than I did.

Since 1973 she had been working for Intourist and living in Manhattan with her husband, who worked for the Soviet mission to the United Nations. I had become friendly with Anya on the first day of the exhibition by taking photographs of her and her more businesslike sidekick, Tanya, as they worked in their information booth.

During our lunch Anya and I exchanged life stories and avoided East-West politics. She was in good spirits until she began telling me how little fun and excitement she was having in the entertainment capital of the “Free World.” After two weeks, she had seen virtually nothing of Los Angeles’ nightlife, tourist attractions or famous beaches.

Picking at the remains of her fruit salad, saying she felt “empty inside,” she looked like she was going to cry. She wanted to go out to a jazz club. Most of all she wanted to see the Pacific Ocean — and swim in it. They were two things I did all the time, I told her.

And she wanted to go out by herself or with Tanya, not on a tour bus with a dozen comrades and security chaperones, which was how she had seen Disneyland and the starry mansions of Beverly Hills.

But she knew an unsupervised night on the town was impossible. She and her colleagues were forbidden to leave their motel at night unless they went with a boss. Her boss was a real nice guy. He knew how miserable she was and he sympathized. But he didn’t have any free time in Los Angeles either.

Anya was disappointed, frustrated, emotionally worn out. She was being treated like a child — or a prisoner. All she wanted were some good memories to take home with her. All she had were memories of work and a Holiday Inn hotel room.

When I said I wanted to help her in anyway I could, Anya surprised me. She said she might be able to sneak out of her hotel late at night. It sounded like a great idea to a fun-loving libertarian like me. I encouraged her to try it.

And I told her that if she could escape from her unhappy outpost of the Soviet Union, I’d pick her up in my tiny $1,000 red 1960 MGA sports car and take her wherever she wanted to go.

Anya Ryukhin working at the  Intourist booth at the Soviet exhibit in L.A. in 1977.

 

Part of the reason Anya was so unhappy during our lunch was her punishing work schedule.

For the previous five days, from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., she had stood behind an Intourist information booth at the Soviet exhibition, smiling sweetly, handing out pamphlets, answering questions and explaining what ordinary life was really like in the Soviet Union under Leonid Brezhnev.

The exhibition was the first of its kind in the U.S. since 1959. It was a major news event in a town known for movies and rock ‘n’ roll. Heavily protected by police and primitive metal detectors, it was besieged each day by hundreds of anti-Communist protestors and activists from across the political spectrum.

soviet exhib -- exterior

Outside the convention center it was a circus of demonstrators, activists and cops.

Demonstrators waved Armenian and Ukrainian flags, held up “Free the Baltic States” signs and shouted epithets like “Bolshevik Murderers.” Socialists, Jews and “Save the Whales” environmentalists pushed newspapers, pamphlets and fliers into the unwilling hands of disinterested Americans.

The exhibition was free to the public. It was designed to impress Americans with the glorious scientific, industrial and cultural achievements of 60 years of Communist Party rule, but it often     looked like an unintentional self-parody of the Soviet Union.

It was a crazy jumble, half government science fair, half flea market. Shiny Soyuz spacecraft, Kosmos satellites and arts and crafts from Russia’s 15 captive republics shared the floor with silk-screened banners celebrating the fall of the tsar and scale-models of shopping malls, hydroelectric dams and BN-600 fast neutron reactors. There were few consumer items — television sets half the size of American refrigerators and piles of poorly printed travel brochures for places like Armenia and Ukraine.

Though crudely ideological and a fat target for derision, the Soviet exhibition was grossly over-praised by the Los Angeles Times as “splashy” and “seductive.”

Apparently the newspaper didn’t notice the dearth of consumer goods, the fixation on industrial production statistics or the huge silk-screened banners carrying Orwellian slogans like “Guaranteed Employment for Everyone,” “Space Serves Peace and Progress” and “The Welfare of the People is the Goal of Socialism.”

The exhibition’s main brochure itemized how many lives, towns, villages, mines and large factories the heroic Soviet Union had lost in World War II. An Intourist handout aimed at potential foreign travelers to the U.S.S.R. included useless statistics about electric power capacities, rolled ferrous metal output and 10-year plan goals.

The best example of how helpless the Soviet Public Relations Ministry was in trying to appeal to Americans was a cheap 32-page booklet containing a speech that Leonid Brezhnev had recently given at a Communist Party gala marking the 60th anniversary of the “Great October Socialist Revolution.”

Unrolling a string of wrong predictions, Brezhnev droned on and on about the  political accomplishments of the party, the superior socioeconomic achievements of socialism and the already clearly evident death spiral of capitalism.

The Soviets made another PR mistake when they scattered guest books around the exhibition space for visitors to write in their comments. Many entries were naive love notes to the Soviets for their dogged pursuit of mutual East-West understanding.

Other Americans could see through the Soviet smokescreen. “Very interesting, but stupid,” one wrote. Several quipped, “This is almost as impressive as the Berlin Wall.” Another asked, “No toaster, no microwave?” Another wondered where the SAMs and AK-47s were. One wise guy said, “Your planes kill more people than any other airline in the world — so do your disastrous space missions. P.S.: Lenin needs a hair transplant.”

While I was copying down these all-American comments, a deadly serious Soviet staffer asked me what I was doing and expressed concern that I was taking down names for “the police inspector.” “No,” I told her. “I’m writing a newspaper article, and I thought some of the entries were really funny.”

I showed the woman the “Berlin Wall” quip, but she didn’t laugh. “I don’t like that humor,” she said. “It is not friendly.”

She disappeared but returned with the deputy manager of the exhibition, who somehow managed to be even more humorless. As I explained myself and asked him a few innocent questions, the woman picked up the guest book and took it away.

For those seeking sanctuary from the onslaught of Soviet-style boosterism, there was a small, somber but powerful counter-exhibition on the convention center’s second floor.

It had been mounted — despite formal complaints lodged by Soviet officials — by Soviet Jews to protest the denial of their human, religious and political rights in the Soviet Union. Called “Soviet Jewry: Six Decades of Oppression,” it focused on the plight of thousands of “refuseniks,” the Soviet Jews who were denied the right to immigrate to Israel and elsewhere.

Little more than panels papered with black-and-white photographs and letters from refuseniks, it told the stories of the Soviet Jews who filed for exit visas and subsequently lost their jobs, had their apartments taken away and were sometimes dispatched to the gulag. It drew 62,000 visitors, 30 at a time.

For the next few days, while I hoped Anya would find the courage to risk a night of illicit freedom in Los Angeles, I played journalist/spy.

I went across the street from the convention center to the Holiday Inn, where two Soviet security men in bad suits sat in the lobby pretending to read newspapers.

The hotel manager said the FBI ordered him not to tell anyone how many of the “Russians” were staying there (nearly all 200 were) or what floor they were on (the seventh).

He said the guests were quiet, polite, patient and well-behaved. They didn’t loiter in the lounge and definitely weren’t allowed to go out at night.

A maid on the seventh floor said the Russians were neither especially clean nor dirty, and — despite the stereotypes — they didn’t do any heavy drinking or partying in their rooms.

If this were a Russian fairy tale, my story would end with Anya sneaking out of her motel room, us dancing till dawn in the surf at Zuma Beach and then falling in love and living happily ever after under assumed names in Malibu.

If this were a bad American TV docudrama, it would end with me helping Anya defect, getting in a shoot-out with KGB assassins on the Santa Monica Pier and creating an international incident that discredited the Soviet propaganda show and hastened the collapse of the evil Soviet Empire.

But this is a true story.

The Soviets National Exhibition — an unflattering but accurate microcosm of the U.S.S.R. and its sociopolitical and economic failures — was deemed a success. It drew 310,000 people in 18 days and closed without any acts of violence or a single defection.

I went on to become a modestly successful newspaperman at the Los Angeles Times and two Pittsburgh newspapers. As for Anya, she never did have to risk sneaking out of her motel.

Her boss finally responded to her lamentations about being tired and unhappy in Los Angeles. He let her go back to New York early. And before she left, he took Anya to the Universal Studios movie lot and to the beach at Santa Monica, where she got her wish and swam in the Pacific.

I said goodbye to Anya Ryukhin on Nov. 21, 1977, on my final trip to the convention center. She wrote her name and New York business address on my notepad and later I mailed her some of the best photos I had taken of her. She never wrote back.

Six years ago I tried to find her. I Googled Anya’s last name, visited web sites in Moscow and sent e-mails asking for help from people at Moscow State University, The Moscow Times and Sistema, the private company that now owns Intourist. No one responded.

At the Moscow bureau of the Los Angeles Times, reporter Sergei Loiko did some checking around for me, but it only deepened the mystery. According to Intourist’s personnel records, Loiko said, no person named Anya Ryukhin ever worked at Intourist in the 1970s or later.

 

anya hair down

So did Anya befriend me, tell me details of her personal life, expose her fragile emotional state to me and consider sneaking out of her hotel to meet me for a midnight joyride — and then give me a phony last name? Maybe, but not likely.

Today Anya would be 64 years old. I don’t know if she lives in Russia or even if she’s still alive. I don’t know if Ryukhin is her last name. Was it her maiden name? Her alias? Was she KGB, as her husband probably was?

Anya has become my personal “riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” For obvious personal and journalistic reasons, I want to find out what became of her. Maybe someone in Moscow who reads this will tell me. But for now, Anya’s trail is as cold as the global propaganda war that brought us together for lunch in Los Angeles.

I was listening to Taylor Swift, then I read about New Mexico cops and their officical sexual assault, and I had to switch over to NWA and a band that is actually called Copstabber.

This week, two men in New Mexico claimed they were subjected to horrific invasive anal medical procedures after minor traffic incidents during which the cops came to suspect they were carrying drugs. On November 5, a local news station reported that David Eckert was suing the city of Deming, Hidalgo County, and the officers and doctors responsible for his mistreatment during a January incident. Eckert was pulled over by officers because he didn’t come to a full stop while trying to exit a Walmart parking lot. At some point during their interaction, the cops decided that Eckert seemed to be “clenching his buttocks,” and their dog indicated it smelled drugs under Eckhart’s seat. According to Eckert’s recently filed lawsuit, local cops and state troopers got permission from a judge to send him to the hospital to get intimately probed for narcotics. Reportedly, a doctor at one hospital declined to search on ethical grounds, but the folks at Gila Regional Medical Center weren’t so concerned. Though he never consented to the search, Eckert spent the next 14 hours being X-rayed, got anally probed twice, and was given an enemathree times then forced to defecate in front of cops and doctors. None of this uncovered any drugs, but Eckert was billed for all these procedures, which cost thousands of dollars.

A startlingly similar story comes from Timothy Young, who was stopped by New Mexico state deputies in October of last year after he neglected to use his blinkers while turning. The very same dog that smelled drugs on Eckert also “found” some contraband in Young’s car, so he too was taken to Gila Medical Center and subjected to a similar battery of anal probing and X-rays. The team at KOB 4, the local news station, discovered that the dog isn’t even certified in the state of New Mexico, but Jacob Sullum at Forbes pointed out that dogs can continue to be used as drug detectors even if they are wrong most of the time, just so long as the cops say that the canines are doing their jobs.

The rest here, plus bonus background on the semi-legal status of this sexual assault.

Welcome to The Stag Blog’s new series dealing with portrayals of the end times through movies, novels, docudramas, documentaries, instructional pamphlets and films, songs, and and memories. The focus will mainly be on nuclear fears during the Cold War, but we may branch out into some asteroids, aliens, or plagues. Let’s keep it loose.

Guests posts are particularly welcome on this subject — give me your best nuke movies, your memories of hiding under desks, or your childhood (or adult) worries over alien invasion.

Do you fear this man’s invention
That they call atomic power
Are we all in great confusion
Do we know the time or hour
When a terrible explosion
May rain down upon our land
Meting horrible destruction
Blotting out the works of man

There are a lot of songs about nuclear war, more than I realized — a few of them passed by in nuclear war documentaries, and my Cold War history class senior year of college. But the first I heard, and so far the most epic is Alabama country-gospel brotherly duo the Louvin Brothers’ original composition “Great Atomic Power.”

There are two versions. Above is the more bluegrass-tinged one.

This song is awful, and wonderful, and creepy-Christian exploitative. It says the times are scary and uncertain, we might get nuked at any moment by the dirty Ruskies, but good news, there’s Jesus. Jesus will have your back, come mushroom cloud or nuclear winter. Indeed, that’s the only option available for those who want everlasting life free of the horror of man’s latest bad idea:

There is one way to escape it
Be prepared to meet the lord
Give your heart and soul to Jesus
He will be your shielding sword
He will surely stay beside you
And you’ll never taste of death
For your soul will fly to safety
And eternal peace and rest

It’s certain, it’s even cheerful, but then it ends with:

When the mushrooms of destruction
Fall in all it’s fury great
God will surely save His children
From that awful awful fate

It’s got the subtlety of Bert the Turtle singing “Duck and Cover.” It’s got the soothing spiritualism of  Jesus Camp, and is just as likely to traumatize the children. 

Except that it’s also pure poetry and strangeness. And that ending, well, Charlie and Ira sound convinced, but “God will surely save his children” sounds just a little hopeful, just a little desperate when you think about it. They believed it, but they were making damned sure all the same. This meeting of old-school fire and brimstone and new seemed a bizarre concept when I first heard it, but it works.

Any other favorite end of the world songs?