500 Years of Stupid: Idiocracy

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The following is a reprise of a review I wrote some years ago. Unfortunately, as the years have passed, the film looks less like a satire and more like a documentary.


Director and writer Mike Judge’s cult classic film Idiocracy mines lethal satire from low comedy and shows a genius for defining stupidity.

Welcome to the year 2505. The president of the United States is a former porn star and three-time “Smackdown” champion, the nation’s top law school is housed in Costco, the most popular TV show in the country is the graphically painful “Ow My Balls,” and the Number 1 film in America is the aptly titled Ass, a full-length feature that simply depicts a bare buttocks accompanied by audible fart sounds.

Such is the bleak yet hilarious future world of director, writer, and actor Mike Judge, whose comedy Idiocracy presages an America so dumbed down by dysgenics and junk culture that steroidal consumerism and baseline I.Q. have combined to create, literally, an Everest-sized cultural garbage heap.

A five-century siesta

Idiocracy’s story line follows Private Joe Bauers, played by Luke Wilson, an average, middle of the Bell Curve guy and Rita, a pimp-persecuted hooker played by Maya Rudolph, who in the year 2005 become guinea pigs in an army experiment to suspend soldiers in deep sleep for use in future combat. Continue reading

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The 400-Year-Old Restroom and Other East Europe Travel Blunders—Part 2

For Part 1, go here.

Ancient streams

Crimea had long been a beloved destination for my wife (pre-current troubles), and as one of our first travels together, she insisted that we go there.

30102010135_editedCrimea sits at the bottom of Ukraine, a large, wide peninsula pushing into the Black Sea. It fascinates the foreign visitor: Part Russian, part Ukrainian, part Tatar, Muslim, Christian, Turkish, Armenian, Jewish, and still flaunting a fair amount of monuments to Lenin. Its mostly rocky shores edge the deep green waters of the sea, and its inland hills offer gentle walking and serene landscapes. Yalta’s seaside Livadia Palace owns a special spot in history as the famous last meeting site of Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt in 1945.

Crimea boasts its share of exotic as well as historical points. One is the medieval town of Bakhchysarai. Founded in the 16th century by the Tatar Khan Sahib I Giray, the city was at one time the capital of the powerful Crimean Khanate.

The town still holds its Asia Minor character, and one of Bakhchysarai’s prime attractions is the former dwelling of the Crimean Khans, the Khansarai Palace. Here, potentates and their harems once lived an Arabian Nights fantasy. It’s easy to get swept away.

Intoxicated as I was on the Oriental vapors, I rallied when my wife casually mentioned that, in the vicinity, survived a 400-year-old public restroom that was still in use. This I had to see. She led me on.

What can you say about a medieval toilet? Turns out, not much. It was old, dark, primitive, and pungent. Thus, with nothing to hold my attention there, but thinking of the archeological record, I dutifully added my stream to the ancient loam and then sought fresh air. At least it wasn’t a pay toilet.

Now, full disclosure. After a year of crowing about my connection to four centuries of Tatar and Crimean privyists, my wife broke the bad news. The restroom, she said, was not really that old. She had fibbed. Rather it was built later in the style of the first ones.

As I learned, however, that still could put it close to 100 or even more years-old. I can live with that. Continue reading

The 400-Year-Old Restroom and Other East Europe Travel Blunders—Part 1

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Some years ago, soon after meeting the Ukrainian woman whom I would later marry, I decided to learn Russian. I hoped to build enough understanding of the language to converse with her family and enrich our travel.

My first step was to acquire a colorful little tape and booklet package for beginners and travelers called Learn Russian the Fast and Fun Way (The activity kit that makes learning a language quick and easy!).

After a brief introductory chapter, which among other warm-ups introduces the Cyrillic alphabet, the lesson plan joins an improbably Russian-fluent American family on their first trip to Moscow. They are checking into their hotel, and problems begin immediately.

They’ve reserved two rooms with showers. But, they’re told, the shower in the first room doesn’t work (douche ne rabotayet). The shower in the second room is working, assures the front desk man, but the window doesn’t open (Okno ne otkrit). We then learn that the one television also doesn’t work (televisor ne rabotayet), and the elevator is out of commission (Lift’ ne rabotayet).

These would not be the last hurdles for our junketeering family as they navigate local crossroads and culture, and I had to wonder: what a silly way to introduce language and travel in Russia—which might be summed up as Nichevo ne rabotayet! (Nothing works!)

But as time and travel with my wife in Russia and Ukraine would reveal, the lessons held much wisdom—and warning. The East may amaze and delight the gentle voyager but it does not pamper. And many things just don’t work, open, close, stay put, or make sense.

Can’t-See TV

On my first trip to Kiev, my future wife and I decided, instead of staying in her small suburban apartment, to rent a three-room furnished apartment in the downtown Podil neighborhood. She wanted my first experience of Kiev to be vibrant.

The old apartment building stood hunched in a line of old buildings on a busy street that offered a prime view of the Dnieper River and easy walking access to the city center. Its construction looked of pre-war vintage, so I entered prepared for the worst. Continue reading