Sunday, July 22, 2018

Did I ever tell you about the time I had dinner with a beautiful Russian spy?

What to write today...?

My first inclination was to work up an irate response to our pseudopresident's inane tweet about Carter Page. Fortunately, my betters have taken up that task.

My second inclination was to publish an investigative piece about Melania -- a post that has been a-brewin' for a while. But that one will have to wait. Being in a nostalgic mood, I'd like to commit to cyber-ink a memory that comes to mind whenever we see stories about Maria Butina. (Stories like this one).

Did I ever tell you about the time I had dinner with a beautiful Russian spy?

Her name was Natalya. I met her circa 1982, just after the Reagan election ignited Cold War II, which always threatened to morph into McCarthyism 2.0. She wasn't focused on me, for I was just an inconsequential would-be commercial artist. (I am now an inconsequential former commercial artist.) The object of her attention was my friend Colin, whom a few long-time readers may recall from this 2009 post.

Colin, a professional student, lingered at UCLA; if he had his druthers, he'd probably be there to this day. At the time, he exemplified the cliche of the college-aged Marxist destined to become a middle-aged reactionary.

While taking a Russian language class -- out of a love for Dostoevsky, not because he had any interest in visiting the USSR -- Colin ran into Natalya, an attractive "student" in her mid-twenties, making her a bit older than us.

Not being privy to the early stages of the relationship, I'm not sure how they met. Frankly, by this time, I was starting to distance myself from Colin. My own "career" at UCLA having ended ignominiously, I had embarked on a series of unspeakably horrid jobs, invariably getting fired within a couple of weeks. Colin's insufferable Marxist pretensions had ceased to be charming, as had his incessant need to prove himself the smartest guy in any room he walked into.

Nevertheless, Colin called me to discuss the Natalya situation. She attracted him and frightened him. He was going to meet her. Couldn't resist; she was that pretty. Yet, weirdly, he wanted me there as well, playing the "third wheel" role.

Well, why not? Anything beat spending time in my wretched one-room apartment -- an apartment which seemed, on some nights, smaller than its own refrigerator.

Natalya was married to a rather nervous British man who didn't seem to mind when Colin and I showed up to take out his wife. God, she was lovely. Talented, too. In her home country, she had been an artist and an art restorer. She showed us examples of ancient icons she had worked on in her studio -- icons she had transported through Moscow via public transportation, the public unaware of the treasures in her bags.

I accompanied Natalya and Colin on a few of their "dates," or at least the meal portion thereof. I was no cold warrior and certainly no Reaganite, and I had not yet developed an interest in the history and mysteries of espionage. Still, it was clear to me that she was no mere student.

Colin disputed this assessment, buying into Natalya's cover story, the details of which I forget. (It was all pretty flimsy.) He felt desperate to convince himself of a narrative he secretly knew to be false, the way Trump supporters now do on a daily basis.

A collegiate flirtation with Marxism was one thing, but dating a Russian spy...? That was real. Scary.

No. Can't be. She can't be.

Oh yes she was. I knew it by the way she acted toward Colin.

He clearly annoyed her, no matter how valiantly she tried to hide her feelings. Frankly, she seemed more interested in me than in him, a preference expressed by no other female of our acquaintance. She and I had a love of art in common, and she could hold her own in a discussion of technical materials, a topic of interest to no woman (or man) I've met since.

She clearly couldn't stand Colin's ostentatious displays of hyperintellectual one-upsmanship, his most irksome characteristic. He could also be very funny, but the "class clown" side of his personality didn't compensate for the annoyances -- at least not in her eyes. Although her English was very good, some of his wordplay probably went over her lovely head.

Why the hell is she interested in him? I kept asking myself.

One night, he subjected her to a showing of avant-garde short subjects -- two hours of masterworks prefiguring the post-linear narratives of Webdriver Torso. "Why can't you ever take me to a real movie?" she spat.

Why the hell is she interested in him? I kept asking myself.

At dinner that night, she asked if I, like Colin, had read Marx. I told her that I liked the middle part of Capital -- the compelling descriptions of 19th century working class conditions -- but the economic stuff in the first part of the book (the labor theory of value and so forth) was unendurable, although summaries had given me the gist. My bottom line: No sale. Worst of all, the book offered no practical replacement for capitalism; Marx was great at identifying problems but was weak on solutions. No, I told her, I was an FDR/JFK liberal and always would be.

She nodded. You can tell that she wanted to agree.

Colin rushed to Uncle Karl's defense, reminding me that Capital had three sequels which he, of course, had read. He had also read everything by a latter-day Marxist named Ernest Mandel, whose very name caused Colin to erupt in a volcano of polysyllables which soon overflowed the restaurant and forced a partial evacuation of Santa Monica Boulevard.

"And don't get me started on the Grundrisse...!"

We knew better than to do so. Natalya rolled her eyes as Colin once again sought to best me in a battle of Der Shmartness. Even though I wasn't much to look at, she clearly would have preferred going home with me. Or maybe with the cashier. Or the guy making taco salads in the kitchen.

So why the hell was she pretending to be interested in Colin? Obviously, duty called.

From my current standpoint, I can see why he may have been considered a worthwhile prospect. He was brilliant, he attended a good school, he wanted to learn Russian, and his family had some money. If he had applied himself -- if he had been the sort of person capable of applying himself to a task he didn't want to do -- he could have found a position in government, even in the CIA.

Natalya had wasted her time. Colin may have been a genius, but he was also a screw-up, just like me. Always would be. No matter what he tried to do, he would find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Decades later, his politics did the inevitable 180 and he became an intellectual cheerleader for the Iraq war and other neocon misadventures. For a while, his name became fairly well-known in those circles. And even though right-wing think tanks and media outlets love to toss money at guys like that, he somehow managed to screw up that segment of his life.

In 1982 -- and this is the God's honest -- I started to tell people that the USSR was doomed. Why? Because every time some teevee cold warrior prattled on about the Soviet threat, I thought of Colin. If the Russians saw possibilities in him, if they stupidly went cruising through Loserville to shop for converts, then Uncle Sam obviously didn't have a goddamned thing to worry about.

(They, um, seem to have gotten better at spotting talent.) 
How many Maria Butinas are working their magic here in the Big PX. At least one is cozying up to a Democrat to weasel a password.
Too bad ICE and CBP busy separating Brown families to check on Eastern Europeans with expired visas.
Sorry to hear about your Muse.
Koseph, thanks for an enlightening story.

@Mr Mike, it is noteworthy how the distractions, from the trivial to the horrific, just keep pounding in.

I am sure in every five leftists there is a Colin.
Over at TPM there is a post about "Why Russians Like American Universities." It's very good. Link:

In the comments, someone posted a link to an article on Big Think:

It is simultaneously mind boggling and revealing.

(Readers of this blog who check out the TPM post and comments may find a familiar story about a guy who met a Russian mathematician back in the mid 80s. I posted that story here some time ago. It's been on my mind a lot recently.)

Anyone writing or reading this blog will find it necessary reading.

Please forgive typos, that tablet I use makes reading posts difficult.

Joseph, maybe think twice about my enthusiasm for that Big Think.

Sorry. I should have googled first.

The source is an interview done with a defector by G. Edward Griffin..

It took a few minutes to realize that name was vaguely familiar as a nutcase conspiracy monger.

Rats! I think I reposted the Big Think piece too. The hair on the back of my neck did stand up when he said something about Americans on the left just wanting free stuff. Eek! They're everywhere.
The USSR collapsed; the KGB didn't. It divided into two, changed name, and got stronger. Anything to do with organised crime in Russia or satellite countries (e.g. Estonia, Hungary) concerns the FSB; anything to do with banking, with communications, with media, with political parties. And look who's president in the Moscow Kremlin.

Here's a nice story about Putin when touring a factory in 2009. A metalworker asks him for something to remember his visit by. It's an honest and direct request from one "stand-up" guy to another, so there's not going to be any trouble. For a moment Putin is thrown by it. Haven't really got anything with me. What do you want? Metalworker: how about your watch? Putin takes it off his wrist, gives it to the guy. Sure, here you go, mate.

Who's everybody in the room going to vote for at the next election? Even if they enjoy watching Pussy Riot on the internet, they won't be backing some "opposition" creep who is as implicated as the Prez's own candidates but claims he's Mr Clean. They'll vote for Putin.

To appreciate this story, it helps to know that Putin is known for wearing expensive Swiss watches. And good-taste ones. None of that gaudy shit made by Rolex.
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