LONE STAR LUNCH: In Search of William S. Burroughs' Pea Field (Sabotage Times)

I’d been interested in Edinburg, Texas (they dropped the ‘h’ in the 1930s) ever since I’d bought a souvenir mug in a junk shop that read: Edinburg: Gateway to the Future. In fact, located as it is in the Rio Grande Valley 19 miles from the Mexican Border, it’s more like a gateway to drug war horror. But who could resist such a promise? The town also has an interesting origin: founded in 1908, it was originally called ‘Chapin’- until Mr. Chapin shot and killed a man, that is. Concerned about bad PR, the locals renamed their town after the birthplace of John Young, a big man in the history of the Valley. Actually, nobody remembered what town Young came from - only that he was Scottish. Edinburgh was their best guess.

I Was A True Crime Addict (Guardian)

A few years ago I took a break from my excessively wholesome diet of quality literature to go grazing in the world of trash. I read celebrity biographies, airport thrillers, detective stories - even new age twaddle like Paulo Coehlo's The Alchemist. Some discoveries gave rise to new reading habits, while others - such as the Coehlo - led only to envy of the author's stupendous wealth and amazement he could get away with it. Nothing, however, gripped me like the "true crime" stories.

A Short Tour of the Juarez- El Paso Border (RIA Novosti)

I met Sgt. Ron Martin of the El Paso police department early in the morning, and was about to climb into his car when I found my way blocked by an assault rifle, propped up against the backseat like a faithful dog awaiting its master. A thorny issue of etiquette presented itself: Do I push it out the way? But what if it goes off and blows my brains out?

Juarez: City of Fear (The Spectator)

‘We’re not going to die, are we Dan?’ asked my friend Joe, a CBS radio reporter, shortly before we crossed from El Paso into Juarez, Mexico, murder capital of the world.
‘Nah,’ I replied. ‘Our guide is a priest. It’s a Sunday. The Narcos will respect that.’

I was lying to make him feel better. In February a sacristan in Juarez had been murdered, one of over 1000 drug related slayings in the city so far this year. Elsewhere in Mexico priests had been beaten and butchered: for the cartels, nothing is sacred. And no sooner had we met Father Michael, an 86 year old veteran of World War II, than he assured us his priestly status and the holiness of the day offered no protection: ‘Most killings occur during daylight… and they increase on the weekend.’

Criminal Incidences (Examiners.com)


Elgin officer sentenced for possession of child pornography

Attorney General Greg Abbott's campaign against sex offenders and online sex predators in Texas claimed another scalp Monday when a Bastrop County Jury sentenced 48 year old Orvin Roger Miller to three years in prison for three third degree felony counts of child pornography possession. 

Prior to his arrest Miller had worked as a police officer in Elgin, a small city located 8 miles east of Austin, known to locals as the 'The Sausage Capitol of Texas'. Now he will find out what life is like on the other side of the prison wall.

In addition to jail time for the first of the three charges, Miller was given ten years' probation and fined $10,000.  According to the Attorney General's office, the cop's crime was discovered after he left a thumb drive containing his resume, personal data and personal collection of child porn in a police computer. A fellow officer is reported to have found the illegal material and reported Miller, bringing his career in law enforcement to an abrupt halt.

Moscow By Night (Publishing Perspectives)

In summer 2004 Akashic books published Brooklyn Noir, an anthology of
crime stories set in New York’s most heavily populated borough. Although
initially intended as a one-off, the book was so successful that the publisher
was soon inundated with proposals from authors wanting to subject their own
cities to the same hard-boiled treatment. Six years later and locales as varied
as Los Angeles, Mexico City and Trinidad are now served by an Akashic ‘noir
fiction guide’- and with the top sellers clocking up sales of 20 000+, the
series shows no signs of slowing down.

Joel Osteen: The New Face of Christianity (The Observer)

Forget Billy Graham and Jimmy Swaggart – the most popular and influential pastor in the US is Joel Osteen. On the surface he is modest and quietly spoken, but his belief in the "prosperity gospel" is changing the way people pray.

The praise and worship brought me here," says Natalie, sitting beside me in the fifth row of Houston's Lakewood Church – a vast, converted stadium that seats 16,000. "I was raised Catholic, but I don't feel the spirit there like I do here."

Three enormous video screens advertise church groups such as Griefshare: From Mourning to Joy and the Freedom Series. But just as I'm wondering what the Quest for Authentic Manhood involves, the house worship band kicks out the jams.

Requiem for a Tyrant (The Spectator)

Tearing down the statue of a megalomaniac dictator is usually a joy
reserved for the citizens of a newly-liberated country. But when President
Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov of Turkmenistan ordered the removal of
Ashgabat’s notorious Neutrality Arch last month, he was probably the
only individual feeling liberated. For over ten years this monument to his
predecessor Saparmurat Niyazov, AKA Turkmenbashi —a gold figure of
the despot in a superman cape which rotates to face the sun- has stood
atop a giant, futuristic tripod, casting a long shadow over Turkmenistan.
Soon it will be gone, but that doesn’t mean the Turkmen are free.

Andrei Platonov: Russia's greatest 20th-century prose stylist? (Guardian)

An anti-Stalinist author who died in obscurity in 1951 may be the
greatest Russian writer of the last century, his English translator
Robert Chandler explains to
Daniel Kalder

Stalin called him scum. Sholokhov, Gorky, Pasternak, and Bulgakov all
thought he was the bee's knees. But when Andrei Platonov died in
poverty, misery and obscurity in 1951, no one would have predicted that
within half a century he would be a contender for the title as Russia's
greatest 20th-century prose stylist. Indeed, his English translator Robert
Chandler thinks Platonov's novel THE FOUNDATION PITis so
astonishingly good he translated it twice. Set against a backdrop of
industrialisation and collectivisation, THE FOUNDATION PIT is fantastical
yet realistic, funny yet tragic, profoundly moving and yet disturbing.
Daniel Kalder caught up with Chandler to talk about why more people
should be reading Platonov

Death Wish: Why Are We So In Love With Apocalypse?

It’s impossible to avoid the apocalypse these days. Whether we encounter
the End in the form of news reports on Global Warming, or fears of Iran
getting bomb, or plague panics such as H1N1, we seem to be living in a high
point of apocalyptic anxiety, with horrible Doomsdays lurking round every

The 'Lost' Books of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (Publishing Perspectives)

When Aleksandr Solzhenistyn died aged 89 in August 2008 his
reputation had been in flux for a long time. Even so, most obituaries
acknowledged the power and significance of The Gulag Archipelago and
his novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, although he was
nevertheless dogged to the grave by accusations of anti-Semitism,
reactionary nationalism, and even pro-Putinism. And while he may have
won the Nobel Prize in 1970, interest in his later works was low: indeed,
many of his books had not even been translated into English. To many,
Solzhenitsyn was an anachronism- a man, a hero even, who had
nevertheless outlived his time.

The Truth About Fort Hood (Coliseum)

“Every thing is what it is, and not another thing.”
Bishop Joseph Butler (1692-1752)

Like everybody else, when I first heard about the shootings at Fort Hood I immediately rushed to judgment, assuming that anybody opening fire on soldiers on an army base in Texas expected to die. Thus the shooter was either 1) a soldier who had cracked or 2) a priapic jihadist aroused by the thought of all those virgins in paradise. Reasoning that an armed Islamist would struggle to penetrate Fort Hood’s security, I concluded that the shooter was probably an unfortunate soldier gone berserk. A few hours later however I discovered secret option 3) that the “alleged” shooter Nidal Hasan was both a soldier and a jihadi nutbag — an entirely new hybrid, in other words.

Of course, this just goes to show the wisdom of suspending judgment until all the facts are in.  Alas, this lesson was lost on the media, who from the minute news of the shooting broke managed to get almost every detail of the story wrong.

Requiem for a Russian Mobster (Coliseum)

Is it just me, or has 2009 been exceptionally rich in the deaths of legendary
figures?  In August, Ted Kennedy was finally reunited in heaven with Mary Jo
Kopechne. In July a much more interesting man, Harry Patch, the last
veteran of World War I, died aged 111.

Only a few days after Kennedy expired, Sergei Mikhalkov, the Stalin-loving
author of the lyrics to three versions of the Soviet and Russian national
anthem also shuffled off this mortal coil. And what about Walter Cronkite, Ed
McMahon etc? All of these deaths were recognized as significant breaks with
the past, symbolic passings that marked the end of an era, even if the era in
question had actually come to a close decades earlier. On October 12th yet
another such mega-death was marked in Russia, as

The End of the World is Here Again (The Spectator)

Last weekend Roland Emmerich’s wrathful CGI God was at it again,
killing billions in the name of the Holy Box Office in the film 2012. Having
already caused carnage with aliens, an ice age and Godzilla, this time
Emmerich took his cue from the Ancient Mayans, whose ‘long calendar’
purportedly stops in 2012. But not only is the End nigh, it’s hugely
profitable- 2012 raked in $225 million globally in three days. With
numbers like that it’s no surprise that a multitude of apocalypses are in
the pipeline: whether humorous (Woody Harrelson battles the undead in
Zombieland) or depressing (father and son trek across a post-
apocalyptic wasteland in The Road) it’s boom time for doom time.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn Was My Father (The Times)

‘The name cuts both ways. It’s an inalienable fact of life in my performing
career. I don’t think about it a great deal but I am often reminded that
others naturally think about it perhaps more than I do.’

Ignat Solzhenitsyn is sitting with me in a restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper
West Side. The son of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, he has just completed a
successful five week tour of Germany and Russia where as an acclaimed
pianist and conductor he works with the finest orchestras available, even
sharing the podium with Valery Gergiev, the legendary artistic director of
Saint Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre.

Turkmenistan's Tragicomic Publishing Revolution (Publishing Perspectives)

When the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic was invented in 1925, the
literacy rate among its mostly nomadic population was somewhere
between 2-3%. By 1970 not only had universal literacy been achieved,
but the country had acquired its own national literature and mini-canon
of “great authors,” many of them writing in forms—novels, plays, film
scripts—that had been alien to Turkmen culture fifty years earlier. These
masters enjoyed many privileges under the Soviet system: large print
runs, the translation of their works into the other languages of the USSR,
plus spacious apartments and trips to exclusive resorts. During
perestroika the capitol Ashgabat boasted 12 bookshops; there were also
25 large libraries, of which the grandest was the Karl Marx library, which
contained no less than four million books, all available for free to the
local populace. The library was even the central image on the cover of
the official guidebook to the capitol. It was a golden age of reading.

A Short History of Turkmen Literature (Publishing Perspectives)

Turkmen literature began in the 18th century, thanks to Makhtumkuli
(1733- 1813) who composed mournful, painful poems about injustice,
the decline of morals and the general harshness of life. Then came
poets such as Mollanepes and Kemine whose works remain popular
among Turkmen today. Makhtumkuli’s own poetry remained totally
unknown in the West until the mid-1990s, when Songs from the Steppes
of Central Asia was published. This curious little book had a truly unique
pedigree: Dr. Youssef Azoumon, an ethnic Turkmen from Iran translated
the text, which was then versified by the Hugo award winning SF author
Brian Aldiss.

Nas asas do tédio (Folha de São Paulo)


Berlim hoje é celebrada por sua posição de vanguarda na cultura e na
música, pelo design e pela arte vibrantes, e também como um ponto de
encontro brusco e atraente entre o oeste e o leste. Tudo isso se
justifica, mas para mim Berlim também é fascinante como centro de algo
mais: o tédio revolucionário.

Paradise, Texas (Another Magazine)



How to reach Paradise? This question has plagued mankind for
millennia. In fact, the ancients largely despaired of entering heaven,
which they knew was reserved for the gods and the semi-divine, or in
the case of the Egyptians, those whose souls were so bereft of sin that
they weighed the same as the feather of the goddess Ma’at. Most
mortals anticipated a miserable afterlife as a shade in Sheol, Apsu, or
Hades. Then, around 3000 years ago, Zoroaster revealed that the
righteous would be resurrected in a perfect world at the End of Time.
Hebrew prophets, Jesus Christ and Mohammed would all confirm this in
the centuries to come.

A Government Commission (RIA-Novosti)

AUSTIN (Texas), June 16 (Daniel Kalder for RIA Novosti) - In the early
1990s Russia was awash with mystics, fortune tellers and messiahs as the
collapse of the Soviet Union had opened up a Pandora's Box of hitherto
forbidden beliefs.

After seven decades of state-supported atheism, all the world's religious
possibilities flooded the country at once, and in the ensuing chaos
thousands of men and women claimed to hear messages from spiritual

Сила диктаторского художественного слова (Guardian/Khronika Turkmenistana)

Туркменский президент Гурбангулы Бердымухаммедов - очередной
тиран, пробующий себя на поприще печатного слова
Скончавшийся после продолжительной душевной болезни диктатор
Туркмении Сапармурат Ниязов, он же «Туркменбаши», предпринял
не одну попытку овеять себя славой.

Last Postcard from the Golden Age (Traveller Magazine)

Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan was the showpiece of Turkmenbashi’s
Golden Age. Originally a village, then a Russian fort, subsequently a dusty
soviet settlement, the city had been transformed once again by gas money
into a grandiose fusion of Stalinist monumentalism and oriental fantasy.
Cluttered with palaces, temples, towers and chubby golden statues of the
nation’s equally chubby dictator it was certainly spectacular- but it was also
hard to ignore the dark side, thanks to the not-so secret policemen lurking
under every tree, scrutinising the populace for signs of doubt.

Poland Diary (Guardian)

Monday 3rd November

I did not know that I was famous when I arrived in Poland, and as I spent the
first couple of days probing the remote borderlands and discussing John
Denver in broken Russian with the celebrated Polish author Andrzej Stasiuk
I had no way of finding out. I only started to suspect something was up when
I arrived at the New Theatre in Lodz for the first stop on my book tour. TV
people were waiting for me in the lobby. ‘What for?’ I blurted out. ‘An
interview, of course…’ Stasiuk then declared to the sold-out theatre that
Lost Cosmonaut was the best book ever written about Russia, before
modifying the claim slightly: ‘…or in the last couple of decades, at least.’

Vissarion Christ: Siberian Saviour (Arena Magazine)

Vova the taxi driver wasn’t happy about abandoning me in Petropavlovka, a
village separated from the nearest city by over a hundred miles of silent,
snow- covered Siberian forest. He said that its inhabitants belonged to a
sinister cult which permitted children to starve while a crooked Messiah lived
in luxury atop his holy mountain. I wasn’t convinced: I had spoken to Vadim
Redkin, the Messiah’s closest disciple on the phone and he hadn’t sounded
particularly evil. But I was concerned that after months of planning nobody in
the village was expecting me, and Vadim had gone AWOL. Fortunately one
of the local elders, a Bjorn Borg look-a-like decreed that I could stay until he
received confirmation whether or not the Messiah was willing to grant me an
audience. Muttering dark warnings, Vova climbed in his Lada and drove off.

Daniil Kharms: Today I Wrote Nothing (Guardian)

For decades Daniil Kharms was known in Russia only as a
children’s writer. In fact, he was the last genius of the Soviet
avant- garde, providing a link from the giants of Futurism to the
underground artists of the 1970s and bestselling controversialist
Vladimir Sorokin today.

The Bizarre Guide to Russia (Bizarre Magazine)

When most people think of Russia just a few images come to mind: vodka, mafia and
children getting caught in the crossfire between nutjob terrorists and government security
agents in their school. But beyond these surface impressions there’s a vast land for the
traveller to discover; not for the common tourist perhaps, but rather for the anti- tourist,
who shuns pretty postcard views and instead seeks out the pleasures of horror, bizarre
violence and the macabre wasteland...

The Joy of the Wasteland (Powells.com)

Hello. My name’s Daniel Kalder. I am the author of LOST COSMONAUT, a
blackly humorous ‘anti- travel’ book about my wanderings in four surreal (but
real) wastelands. It also contains a manifesto for Anti- tourism, which you can
read at my website www.danielkalder.com. Over the next five days I’ll be
contributing daily dispatches to Powell’s about Russia, Scotland, Central Asia
and America, where I am currently residing after 10 years in Moscow. First
however, I want to discuss the joy of the wasteland, which is a major theme in
everything I do. Today I’m going to talk about three formative wastelands I
have encountered; those that opened up the possibilities of the white zones
on the map to me. So without further ado:

The True Centre of the Universe (Powells.com)

Frank Zappa once said that the most common element on the planet is
stupidity. I suspect it’s boredom. I got bored today myself. Maybe you did too.
If so, we’re not alone: last year some guy at the Vatican published a paper on
the ‘Empire of Boredom’, suggesting that ennui could be the major existential
problem facing Western Youth today.

The Bat Hotel (Powells.com)

Last week I was in Deerborn, Michigan to attend the wedding of one of my
best friends. I was glad to be present, but still, I was a bit disappointed that
the ceremony was not being held in nearby Detroit, where I hear there’s a lot
of industrial decline and some really scary neighborhoods. But it was just a
flying visit and there was no time to hit the town: I was reduced instead to
gazing wistfully from my hotel window at the soot- black smokestacks in the
distance, as if they were the towers of some remote city on the hill.

A Brief Note on Cross- Cultural Communication (Powells.com)

Yesterday I mentioned that I was at a wedding in Michigan recently. While I
was there, I met a lot of new people and found myself telling many of the old
stories again. That can get tiring, even when I’m talking to interesting
characters. That’s why, as a foreigner, I am always looking for something
current to link me to a new place. You can coast on stories about where you’
ve come from for only so long. You need some common, shared experience
with the locals. In Russia I found that the cockroach was the main way in.

Tall Tales (Powells.com)

I’m reading a biography of Jerzy Kosinski at the moment: he was a holocaust
survivor who wrote The Painted Bird- a best- selling autobiographical novel
about his horrifying experiences as a child in occupied Poland. According to
Kosinski he spent years wandering around on his own, abused by almost
everyone he came into contact with. The only problem is that, according to
his biographer, James Park Sloan, none of the sodomy and beatings he
described in the book ever happened; rather his resourceful father
successfully concealed his family in a village of Catholic Poles, and
afterwards, took a position of power in the new communist regime. Kosinski,
meanwhile, received an excellent education, emigrated to the US where he
married a rich widow, became famous, appeared in a film with Warren Beatty
and was then exposed as a fraud in an article in the Village Voice. He wrote
one more book, and killed himself.

Glaubensstreit auf heiligen Hainen (Russland Magazine)

Drei finno-ugrische Völker leben heute in ihren eigenen Staaten:
Finnland, Ungarn und Estland. In den Weiten Russlands finden sich
verwandte Völker, die aber völlig unbekannt sind – zum Beispiel die Mari

Journey to the Centre of the Turkmen Universe (Guardian)

Two years ago I met a man from Ashgabat in a McDonald’s in
downtown Moscow. We chatted for a while and once he was relaxed
enough, I decided to ask about some of the bizarre stories emanating
from his homeland:

‘Is it true that gold teeth are banned in Turkmenistan?’ I asked.
‘Complete bullshit,’ he said.
‘What about beards? I heard that beards are banned.’
‘Also bullshit. Don’t believe what you read on the Internet. Well,
believe half of it, but as for the other half- forget it.’