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Monday, October 19, 2009

Dental Chair Blues

Rati hipped me to my first Georgian dentist shortly after I arrived in the country. His cousin spoke English and she drilled in a storefront around the corner from the school we worked at. Rati's teeth weren't exactly pearly, but the filling I needed was in the back of my mouth where no one could see it and I had procrastinated long enough.

"She has all the latest equipment," he assured.

The cabinet consisted of one blue patient's chair and a plastic table, with moist stainless steel instruments scattered about, as if oral surgery on a two-headed beast had just been performed minutes before. The little spit sink was full of bloody spit. The little rubbish box next to it was overflowing with bloody wads of kleenex and cotton. Salome came in from a dark, dusty looking room, lit by the glow of a small television and put on a white lab coat. "Sit down," she said.

I thought of how lucky I was to be living in the 21st century, having dental work done.

I didn't get hepatitis from that visit and the filling is still where it should be, but rather than push the luck, I decided to try a new, modern dental clinic in my neighborhood to replace an ugly old filling Dr. Lude drilled in 30 years ago.

The new micro-financed clinic was equipped with a new X-ray machine, which is much smaller than the clunkers I recall from the previous century. I suppose that's why I wasn't given a lead vest. My bet was that the assistant had never operated the contraption before.

"Sit down," Dentist Rusa said. What the blue chair lacked in comfort, it made up for in sanitation. There was no blood anywhere. She arranged her tray and plugged in a device that began to billow more smoke I have every seen any electrical gizmo emit. "What's this?" she said. The funk of burning electrics filled the room.

Rusa ordered me into another room. I was not deterred, even after I noticed the X-ray picture next to her workstation was of a molar, not the incisor I was paying her to work on. Dentists never look at X-rays anyway. Besides, her job was to simply drill some gunk out of a tooth and fill it back in with tooth spackle, much like a house painter fixes a wall.

"Sit down," Rusa said again. I wiggled in and tried to find a comfort zone, which would never be there.

"Do you have any allergies?" she asked.

"Only to pain. I suffer from a childhood dental trauma. My dentist, Dr. Lude, was a Nazi war criminal," I said.

Rusa coldly ordered me to lay back and open my mouth as she pulled out one of her torture tools and sprayed me in the face with water. It wasn't until she actually started drilling that she first laughed. I admit feeling slightly ill at ease at that moment.

The job set me back 225 lari - 130$, which was no great deal, although included were the X-ray and a fluoride cleansing I didn't ask for. After the Novocain wore off I realized Rusa had also shaven off a part of a good tooth, for practice or something, I'm not sure. I have another old filling that needs to be replaced, but under the circumstances, I may wait for pain before I venture to the dentist's again.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Knucklehead Brigade

Among the minions of nutters on the net with misguided notions of last year's war over South Ossetia, are the photo savants, who behind their computers, can judge whether a war image has been faked or staged. Most of these conspiracy theorists are neither photographer nor journalist and therefore know nothing about optics and perspective, let alone what a war zone or humanity is like.

The iconic images of the Gori apartment bombing on August 9th became a prime target for pro-Russian websites and blogs, like russia_insider, that insisted the photos were faked to serve some propaganda agenda. Then the story was picked up by some smarty-pants western journalists and exploited, like David Axe's story in Wired, in which a photographer of insects analyzes the images. Next thing you know, every left-wing Bush hating blog has an opinion. As if it weren't enough to show what Russian aircraft really did in Georgia, Tbilisi and its big western brother had to create it. These experts know. They were at their computers when the bombs were flying.

"I thought these pictures were fake the moment I saw them. What bullshit. I am so disgusted to be an American right now. This is what they want though, to make u s so sick that we give up. Fuck the corporate media," says Meathook on uruknet.

From russia_insider:

"Now on this picture we see a crying man and a body in his hands. But look closely! This is the same checkered shirt, same trousers and shoes, the same person. So does it mean that the crying man took the body brought it some place else? Hardly so, this is just one of the participants of the show. And again if you look close enough you can notice that the guy crying is the person in black from the previous picture."

He's calling the tragic death of Zviad Razmadze "a show." Zaza Razmadze is holding his brother, and is clearly not the man in a black shirt in the previous photo. Fools like russia_insider are supposed to have us believe that Zaza found his dead brother Zviad among the rubble, minutes after the airstrike and a Reuters photographer came along and asked Zaza, "Hey, could you move that body over there, for a better picture."

Then some joker Gregory Freidin from the Stanford Department of Slavic languages & literatures posts one of Justyna Mielnikiewicz's war images and calls it faked based on this brilliant observation:

"The photo shows a large framed poster of George W. Bush hanging askew in a Georgian house apparently damaged by a Russian bomb. What makes it appear staged is that the poster is hanging above a sliding glass door, not a wall."

Yes, Georgian villages are full of sliding glass doors, just like in the Bay Area. And I thought only smart people went to Stanford. The Slavic language academic and interior decorator goes on to imagine what Georgians must be thinking:

"The message, perhaps the dominant view in Georgia today, is that conflict in Georgia represents a personal humiliation for George W. Bush and a national humiliation for the US for allowing Georgia, a US friend and proxy, to be defeated by the Russians."

Those of us not gifted with transcontinental telepathic powers must rely on actually conversing with people to find out what's on their mind.

Recklessly discrediting the work of respected photographers is witless enough, but when these denunciations involve the victims of the war and the people that continue to mourn them, it is downright obscene.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Substance and Reality Revisited

(image lifted off

Back in August I questioned which version of the Russian-Georgian war over South Ossetia Hollywood action director Renny Hartlin would portray. While we knew Georgia wouldn’t let anybody in the country to shoot a pro-Russian film, the question was, would it be Hollywood’s or Georgia’s version, and the answer of course is “both.”

Razzie winning director Renny Harlin has begun shooting his film of substance and reality, which Executive Producer Papuna Davitaia said in an interview with Georgia Today is “based on real facts.” The Russian drama, Olympus Inferno was also based on real facts, for that matter, just as it was based on real fiction. What we the viewers love to figure out is how many facts and how much fiction is packed into such a movie.

Davitaia co-wrote the story with David Imedashvili, who may be the same fellow that made this little film. Davitaia is also a United National Movement Member of Parliament and Head of the cultural department.

So it’s like this:
Davitaia and his friend wrote a story about an American journalist and his cameraman who suddenly find themselves in the middle of a war (not too different than Olympus Inferno plot, actually). They took the story to Hollywood to find someone to make the film for them. Call it serendipity, but they somehow got a veteran maker of schlock action movies to film their tale and a guy named Micheal Allen to write the screenplay. If it’s the same Allen who worked with Halprin on Die Hard II, then to his credit are two television screenplays – Tales From The Crypt and something called Fitting Punishment.

So on one hand we have Russia’s celluloid action-packed version of the war and now we have Georgia’s action-packed version a year later. As a cinema buff I’d expect more substance and reality from an Andy Sidaris film. I understand the patriotic motivations behind the Georgian produced project, but wouldn’t it be better to invest in the rejuvenation of Georgian cinema instead of handing over some cash to a two-bit bum from Palookaville, California to make a propaganda film for you?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

London Mayor's Aid Runs Over Georgian Man: Will he keep his promise?

On August 27th, Tariel Ivanishvili and his friend Nikolaz Gwenitadze were about to cross the Batumi-Tbilisi highway to buy a pack of cigarettes in the village of Nakhshirgele, just outside Kutaisi when Kulveer Ranger, transportation aid to London Mayor Boris Johnson, hit Ivanishvili on a BMW motorcycle and sent him flying into the highway where two other motorcycles ran over him.
When the story hit the English papers, the accident occurred in Tbilisi and Ivanishvili had suffered a broken leg "but is not believed to be seriously injured," the Daily Mail wrote, while the BBC stated "The pedestrian is thought to have suffered a broken leg." I remember the headlines in Mid-September: "Boris Johnson's Aid Held by Georgian Police."

The truth, however, is a bit different.

Tariel Ivanishvili is not a market vendor, like the Evening Standard originally reported. He worked at the LTD Chiaturmagnum Georgia plant in Nakhshirgele, where he earned a whopping 270 lari ($160) a month. He suffered not one broken one leg, but two - the right femur was stripped of meat and skin to the bone, which was fractured in half, while the left leg, broken in two places, had snapped up behind his back. He also had his hip broken and skull fractured.

The most amazing thing, besides the fact that Tariel survived the accident, is that he has nothing bad to say about Ranger - no hard feelings whatsoever. We won't know for 11 months whether he will be able to walk; he spends his days and nights in bed where the slightest movements incite intense pain as he has 7 steel pins sticking out of one leg, freshly grafted skin and a recently implanted steel brace in his other leg, not to mention the hip pain.

"It was a total accident. Bad luck for both of us," he said.

Ranger suffered a few bruises when he dumped his bike after hitting Tariel. Today he is back at work. I'd call that good luck.

Tariel has no idea how he is going to support his family and get his two young daughters (5 & 9) through school. Like the vast majority of families in Georgia, the Ivanishvili's have no insurance.

To his credit, Ranger visited Ivanishvili twice after the accident and according to the family, promised to pay for all medical expenses, including rehabilitation and compensation for the loss of work. Then he suddenly disappeared.

It was Bagrationi Sparkling Wines, sponsor of the charity rally Ranger was taking part in that actually picked up the bill for the first operation of 17,000 lari ($10,200). They didn't have to do it as nobody was held liable for the accident. The family lawyer says they have committed to covering the rest of the costs, but there is no legal document binding them to the agreement. Furthermore, nobody has mentioned compensation for the loss of work.

The Ivanishvili family maintain Mr. Ranger is "a very nice man," although they haven't heard from him since his abrupt departure and don't know if he will live up to his gentleman's promise to help the family out.

The Ivanishvili's aren't making a big deal out of the accident for fear they will appear like knavish fortune seekers. "We don't want a scandal," they said. When I interviewed them for a story they made it very clear they didn't want me to smear Ranger's name. I hoped though, that the story might trigger the Englishman's memory.

Could Ranger be a louse? According to the BBC story, Ranger said of the accident: "To be honest, it was an interesting experience. Not one you would want to repeat, but it added to the adventure... To be honest, what was just as alarming was an earthquake one night. 6.6 on the Richter scale."

My story for the London Evening Standard is HERE.