Empty Days

Saturday, May 21, 2005



Leaving for Toronto shortly. The cat will be left alone a lot this week - I will be back only for a day and then will enter the last portion of the clinical trial. Poor beast. He has no clue what's going on or why I am disappearing so often. My brother will probably hate him out of fear or immaturity or both - however I still expect that he will treat the cat decently if not lovingly.

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Couldn't sleep much these past two nights. Unexplained anxiety, wake up around 2am, can't go back to sleep until 5-6am, don't know why.

The only remotely probable cause seems to be the upcoming trip and some deeply unconscious worry I have about it - rationally speaking I am not at all worried, but my own mind is hiding from me, it seems.

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The atmosphere in the family is unpleasant. My mother is too openly disgusted with me and uncontrollably terrified of the impression I will make in her presence "once we're there" - it's really hard to take. The curious thing is that she both tries to humiliate me over this and yet expects compassion for her resulting fears and worries. She obviously imagines I am the problem and her attitude is justified. My mother is not too intelligent in these things, kinda narrow-minded. She's the regular bourgeois of the family (my brother takes after her for lack of better).
I think she vaguely understands that this may not be all my fault, that maybe there is room for some tolerance here, but she can't change her outlook and keeps re-acting as above.

I have to overcome all this psycho-pressure and be tolerant of her intolerance. This is only possible with some aloofness. Yet this aloofness itself causes my mother to wince at me as if I were betraying her friendship or something.

One thing I've noticed: parents are so rabidly and uncontrollably judgeamental of their children, it's a miracle the children still go on loving such ruthless judges :-/
I am not nearly as judgeamental of my parents for all their failures and many shortcomings in life, not to mention the many ways they screwed up my own existence by extension. I take them as they are and I don't expect them to change for the better - and when I criticize them to their face out of various upsets, at least I understand that I am causing some needless pain. But parents criticize their children without this understanding: they're actually convinced they're doing it for their children's own good. What strange unconsciousness.

Thursday, May 19, 2005



The root of life.

And here's a passage that could easily be called "the essence of Rozanov's philosophy" - the corner-stone and the bottom-line. I don't know if I'll manage to give a meaningful translation but after that I won't need to quote anything else, I think. It's more important and fundamental than his talk of God or whatever such other subjects.

All in all it was love especially that never failed me. I was disillusioned in religious belief, in civilization, in literature. In people in general. But those two human beings who loved me - never was I disillusioned in them. And it's not that their love made me comfortable, not even that: but the desire to see something ideal, something true is eternal in man. In these two people who were attached to me (my "friend" and Julia) I saw truth that had none of the "defects of the moon" - on their luminous faces I could not detect a single moral "wrinkle".

If only I myself were a human being of that sort - my life would have been full and I would have been perfectly happy, without constitution, literature or a handsome face.

To be able to see perfection, the most beautiful, and to know that it's attached to you - this is the lot of gods. Twice in my life - and the second time it lasted a full 20 years - I had access to this "semblance of god-like life".

When I think of Florensky, I bless him and his wife as they pass before me - and with pain in my heart for my own inability, I think: "this one will know how not to lose [what he has]."
Rozanov called his wife "my friend" - partly because they were not legally married. She was very ill for most of their life together and died much earlier than her husband - because her real desease was not detected early enough. Rozanov blamed himself for having allowed this to happen (careless, full of fear).
By "defects of the moon" he refers to his theories about the development of sexual symbolics in world religions; cults of the moon actually adored a god hostile to all natural life - monks and sexless priests, celebacy, rejection of procreation, adoration of death, everything cerebral and "ideal", are a feature of the moon-worship. By contrast sexuality and all natural characteristics of man are life-affirming and belong to the cult of the sun and procreation. For example, Rozanov saw judaism as a religion almost entirely devoted to affirmation and sanctification of natural life - procreation, sex, race, physical life. It is thus the most life-affirming of all religions - while christianity as it developped is something quite different and essentially hostile to life. When Rozanov talks of love he absolutely means sexuality, having children, being physical - and yet he also means the oneness of this love with everything emotional and spiritual that is found in loving. Real morality is based on such real love - all this is part of the tree of life and being blessed and "being with God". Of course it's not a very accurate or exhaustive outline of Rozanov's philosophy but I think it's about enough to make this excerpt more or less understandable.




Or how about these quips by Rozanov (my awkward translation):
Russian life is dirty and weak, but it's still lovable somehow.
And it's this latter quality that one is afraid to lose, even though the rest deserves to be "flushed down". One is afraid to lose this uniqueness and the one quality that will never occur again.

Something good and better will occur again perhaps, but not this. And I want "this"...

(at the Volkovo cemetery)

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"Modernity" badly bothers only those who are of no consequence. Which is why all complaints against modernity are of no consequence.
"Of no consequence" in russian is actually "empty" - but in english the double-meaning would not carry - existentially speaking :-/




I really like Rozanov it turns out. A while ago I tried to read some of his other writings but they didn't seem pertinent - he's only good (and very good) at diary-like notes, of which he published a few collections. Or maybe it's not that he's "good" at it, but simply that it's the most personal and "modern" of his writings - they don't feel outdated like the rest.
Fight for your love with your nails, fight for your love with your teeth. Fight for it against your reason, fight for it against all authority.

Be true to love - and God will bless you.

For love is the root of life. And God is life.

(at Volkovo cemetery)
This is what I call true philosophy. Though others will say that Kant and Hegel are philosophy and this is just unclear shit. I wonder...




Meantime canadian dollar continues its rapid fall due to extremely hectic political situation in Ottawa. Today they will try to vote the gov out of office - if this succeeds, the dollar will drop like a dead duck. This means that whilst last week I could get US$400 for our 500, next week I will be lucky to get $380 or less. I need at least 2000 US for my three months in russia/ukraine, which makes at least 2500 canadian or more. I already went through the roof with these rushed visa/passport expenses. On May 29 I will get the check for the clinical trial (if I don't die or something before that), at which stage I would have something like 2600 at the bank. If the dollar drops another cent, I won't have anything left for pre-travel expenses. Which sucks big time - because I still will have those expenses, how else.

So basically this fall of the currency is causing palpable problems to me. And anyway - I don't want to see this liberal gov voted out of office because some conservatives want to grab their chance. Fuck them - I don't want conservatives ruling this country, no way. Even if liberals have been there too long which caused some corruption especially in Quebec - it's still better than some narrow-minded libertarian pioneer from the prairies whose outlook on life has been formed by watching too much tv from his immediate neighbours south of the border. No thanks. These guys talk a lot about canadian values but what they want for real is a system modelled after the US - minimal taxes, minimal gov programs including medicare and education, free-market for all and no or little protection for those who can't fly with the flock. That's what conservatives are about - they're all for the rich enterpreneur guy and the rest is not their problem.
They also have zero idea at the moment how to deal with Quebec. If they come to power Quebec will end up separating - through natural disgust with these US drones :-/

It's ironic that I am already made to lose money (!) because of these conservative intrigues - what will it be when they come to power?




Worries.

I stayed up until 4am trying to call ukranian consulate in Moscow (to make sure I can make a visa from there) - no dice, it's always either busy or no one picks up the phone. Very typical of all post-soviet bureaucracies. And typically enough - I will not know what awaits me until I am there and they tell me at the consulate that I have to go back to canada to get a private ukranian visa. In which case I will probably travel to one of the three baltic republics - they're as good as western-europe at this stage and foreign consulates on their soil are supposed to behave less nasty as a rule.

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The tumor in the ass continues its glorious progress. I hope it will slow down somewhat during my three-month vacation abroad. It would be presumptious of a lowly tumor to overgrow and completely block my ass causing an emergency and unforseen expenses. Maybe I should talk to it in private - but will it listen?

Wednesday, May 18, 2005



Fears.

I am feeling paranoid about my trip to Russia - or more specifically about my cousin who will have to endure my presence for two months. The problem is: we haven't seen each other since 1994 and communication has remained sketchy at best. All the nice memories and actual friendship go back to my early teenhood and her youth - they're really very much out of date. And things have changed. Life in Russia changed terrifically, it became savage and merciless, and people had to adapt so as to survive. People have become brittle and their nervous systems are fragile and unpredictable. My own life has gone so very much downwards that I wonder whether my sight will be a shock or a mere disagreement. I am full of asocial habits and behaviors that I am not even aware of until I find myself in close quarters with others.

And so on and so forth. I have valid grounds to feel paranoid.

The only solution I can think of to stave off a possible disaster, is to keep faith and an unfalteringly loving and forgiving attitude even if insuperable circumstances present themselves. It is easier said than done - those we trust most are the ones who can wound the deepest.

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Another possibility is that my cousin's 17-year old son might hate my guts once I am there, which will be our first meeting since he was a small kid. These things can't be controlled and I'll be hogging some of his living-space - I hope he's more tolerant than I myself was at that age :-/

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I am also scared of meeting other people from my deep past. Shit - I've changed a lot, and for the worst. But I am not expecting much welcome in any case, so I guess I'll survive any impression I might produce out there.

Of course my biggest weakness is my lack of practice at social life - it means that I lack manners on one hand and that I am fairly constrained and awkward in social interaction, for example in all the flirty sexual situations. I avoid asserting myself in front of people because that would be an imposture given the kind of avoiding-life I actually live out here. It's a very special life, a life of social-and-sexual failure - an anomaly by most standards. Therefore in my case there are only two ways of presenting myself: self-effacing, remote, and toning down, or eccentric and defiantly theatrical. I think I'll naturally go with the first.
And I'll need to be very humble to deflect contempt which is the very natural social reaction to preceived failure.

Already my mother is suffering agonies at the very thought that she might witness other people reacting to me in that way, with uncontrolled social arrogance that is - which is why I decided to avoid her in Moscow as much as possible, but I won't be able to be on my own in Ukraine where her sisters live, so I guess I can't alleviate her shame of me after all. That's what one might call "reverse moral support" (it's when you need it and yet end up providing it to the expected supporter :).

I will probably need to buy a brand new pair of jeans just to spare my mother's nerves out there - and perhaps my own nerves too. Russia is a very judgeamental country.

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And finally there is the physical health aspect that's starting to worry me for real. It's not very noble as a topic but I might actually die from it at some point, so I guess anything life-threatening should be ennobled on the spot and cleared of its dubious mundane status in ordinary conversation. In short, I am now aware that my ongoing piles problem is being caused by a pretty tremendous tumor growth in the rectum that has occured roughly after I quit smoking in late february. It was also a time of severe stress for me from upstairs neighbours with their noise. I figure that smoking served as an anti-stress agent on the body level, so once I got deprived of nicotine, all my existing tumors (and I know for a fact that I have a few) went amock and now I am in danger of developping both colon and breast cancer unless I have it already and just don't know those cysts and growths are malignant. I just hope that it will not catch with me while I am travelling. That's how cancer finally announces itself: one fine day you just feel your energy is gone and you can't do anything. "Hello world", you say, and you die a few months or a few years later. But before that happens I still don't know how I'll manage this horrid hemorroids problem - the tumor won't grow smaller, that's for sure. Eat only light highly digestible food and never cause any build-up in the colon so as not to supplement the effect of the tumor? That would be the only non-medical solution and I am not sure I can count on it because of a fairly bad digestion due to stress and anxiety. But I can't walk very far nowdays unless my stomach with its many kilometers of intestines is as good as empty - so yeah, this sounds like the only way out.

Fast and pray and be light of heart and body. Right - that might be my last trip anywhere in any case.




Some snippets of Rozanov-in-english.

From that blog:
The pain of life is much more powerful than the interest of life. That is why religion will always conquer philosophy.

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Always dreaming and always about one idea: how to avoid work. (About Russians)

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All literature is babbling... Or nearly all.
Exceptions are killingly few.

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I should like a few people to remember me, but by no means may they praise me, and only on condition that when they remember me, they also remember those close to me. Unless they, their goodness and their honor, are remembered, I do not want to be remembered.

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Where does this feeling come from? From the sense of guilt, but also from the deep and true knowledge that I have not been a good man. God gave me talent, but that is something else. The more terrible question is - was I a good man? - and the answer is No.

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Two angels sit on my shoulders: the angel of laughter and the angel of tears. Their eternal quarrel is my life.

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Then a longer bit from that same source (though perhaps it is easier to just go and read through the blog, but I want to keep it on file here too):
Remove prayer from the very substance of the world— remove it so that my tongue, my mind shall unlearn the words of prayer, the work of prayer, its essential nature; so that I shall not be able to pray and people will be unable to pray—then with protruding eyes and a terrible scream I will run out of my house, running, running, running, till I fall down. Without prayer it is utterly impossible to live… Without prayer all is madness and horror.

You can understand all this when you are weeping… But how do you explain this to someone who does not weep, who has not wept? He can never understand it. And surely there are many people who never weep.

A husband does not love his wife; a father does not love his children; his wife is unfaithful to him, and he “shrugs his shoulders”; his son is expelled from school. So he blames the school and sends the boy to another school. Tell me, what can religion say to such a “positivist”? He will shrug his shoulders and smile.

“Yes, but he is not everybody.”

Positivism is true, necessary, and even eternal, but only for a certain group of people. Positivism is necessary for the “positivists”; the essential thing is not in positivism, but in the positivist. In this case, as in everything else, man comes before theory.

Yes…

A religious man comes before all religion, and the “positive” man was born long before Auguste Comte.
More here:
I am happy when I am alone and also with people. I am neither solitary nor sociable. When I am by myself I am complete, and when I am with others, I am incomplete. I am, after all, happier when I am alone.

Alone I am happier because I am alone with God.

I could surrender my talents, literature, the future of my “I,” fame, popularity—I could do all this rather too readily; but happiness, well-being… I wonder. But I could never give up God. To me God is “the warmest.” With God I am warmest. With God I am never bored or cold.

After all, God is my life.

I only live for Him, through Him. Apart from God I am nothing.

What is God to me? Am I afraid of Him? Not at all. Will He punish me? No. Will He grant me a future life? No. Does He feed me? No. Do I exist through Him, and was I created by Him? No.

Then what is He to me?

My perpetual sadness and joy. A special mood related to nothing.

Is not God then “my mood”?

I love the being who makes me grieve and rejoice, who speaks to me, reproves me, comforts me.

My God is special to me. He is mine and no one else’s. If he is also “someone else’s” I do not know it and am not interested in knowing.

“My God” is infinite intimacy, infinite individuality. This intimacy resembles a little funnel, or even two funnels. From my “social I” goes out a funnel, narrowing down to a point. Through that point only one ray passes: from God. Beyond that point exists another funnel, which does not narrow down but widens to infinity: this is God. Here is God. Thus God is
1) my intimacy, and also
2) infinity, of which the universe itself is but a part.
Rozanov is very blog-like. And very modern by the sole virtue of that form: publicly talking to oneself for lack of better company :-/




Yesterday in the passports office I looked at a couple of small children frolicking uninhibitedly among stone-dead adults, and I wondered closely: "how can one kill children?" And yet in war and in genocides killing very small children is the most mundane thing. But how is it possible?

I just don't know - or am too afraid to imagine.




Escape from USA.

Oh, here's some real-life dynamics I found while looking for stuff on Rozanov. An american blogger's autobiography:
My Introduction:

My name is Erich Lippman (spelled that way because my father wanted to name me after the convicted German war criminal Field Marshal Erich von Manstein, famous for his innovative plan to defeat France quickly). Condemned to question my identity and meaning from the getgo. Strangely enough, considering the dubious nature of my first name, my family was probably Jewish (emigrating relative named Jacob Lippman). They came from the German city of Koenigsberg (now Kaliningrad) in 1849. Probably a good time to leave. Anyway, I grew up in rural Centralia, Illinois, 70 miles dead east of St. Louis, MO. I grew up in an Evangelical Christian family and went on as the 25th member of my family to attend Asbury College, a theologically Wesleyan, Evangelical school. It was at Asbury that I first encountered the Russian writer Fedor Dostoevsky when, following Professor Mike Peterson's advice, I read The Brothers Karamazov. Ironically, this aspect of my collegiate experience led me to an obsession with Eastern Orthodoxy and Russia. As a result, coming away from Asbury with a double major in history and philosophy, I headed to Minnesota to study Russian Orthodox history and culture with the guru of such studies -- Professor Theofanis Stavrou. That's what I've been doing for the last 5 years, and still am doing, hoping to come away with a Ph.D. eventually. However, as for now, I continue to float in that elusive limbo known as ABD (all but dissertation) status. While doing so, I teach and TA classes, the current one being on European History, 1945- Present.

This is my "professional" background (it has to be in quotes until I actually have a profession). On a more personal note, I also met my beautiful wife, then Dawn Tevis, at Asbury (her blog is linked). After dating for a few years, we were engaged for my first year in grad school. She stayed in Kentucky working while I was in Minnesota taking classes. This allowed me the privilege of letting her do the wedding planning, shortly after which I headed for Greece and Cyprus on a research trip, leaving her to get acquainted with Minnesota on her own. I won't be doing that again any time soon. After she had been up here for about a year, we both converted to Eastern Orthodoxy. I still take research trips, only nowadays to Russia instead of Greece. Hopefully, Dawn will get to go on the next one for a while.
I do wish I were hungarian! :-/




I thought of "Sacrifice" because I sense a strong need to pray and yet I can't find a place inside myself for any such action. I forgot how one may pray - I don't know what it is anymore or what to do or how.

At the same time I can feel that prayer is only possible if one loves somebody or something - it can't happen without such an opening in the heart. Maybe that's why I can't find a way to pray inside myself - that this opening is lacking.

I want an insider's connection to life, that's why.




Some people regret they're not russian and can't really access the culture. I in turn regret I am not hungarian.

And so on.




Found a very neat site about the russian film-director Andrej Tarkovsky. He is part of the russian intellectual tradition of the 70's and is often seen/quoted/referenced as if he were a writer or a philosopher rather than film-maker. Which he was indeed.

I used to like his films a lot and went to watch them in run-down repertory cinemas over and over again. It was too long ago but I guess I learned his language too thoroughly then to really ever forget.

One of his last films that is fairly hard to find nowdays is called "Sacrifice". He was dying of cancer at the time and probably had a hard time controlling the production - the film is way too long. It's actually boring (cinematically speaking), but it does have some striking ideas in it. I wouldn't mind seeing it again. Maybe it is easily accessible in Russia? I'll find out soon.

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Very good site. About the film in question:
In true Tarkovsky subtle narrative style, during dinner preparations, the glasses clink, the room shakes, then the sound of a concussive wave is heard. Is it an earthquake? We find out from fragments of news broadcasts that World War III has begun. In a desperate attempt to save his family, he decides to offer himself as a sacrifice - to relinquish all of his worldly possessions and part with his loved ones if they can be spared from the horror. But how does one make such a covenant? He prays to God, he pleads with a housemaid whom he suspects is a witch, he suffers in silence. He appears melancholy, despondent, even delusional. The beauty of Alexander's sacrifice is that no one realizes what he is trying to do (and the lengths that he will go to) in order to save his family... and isn't that what a sacrifice truly is? The Sacrifice is a devastating, but powerfully reaffirming film on love, humanity, and faith.





V.V.Rozanov.

I already mentioned that turn-of-the-century philosopher Vasilii Rozanov was extremely popular in Russia these days. So are such un-russian thinkers as GK Chesterton, Mark Twain, and George Orwell.

People are craving "some sound words without much ado".

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I tried looking for Rozanov's works on the english internet but instead of translations found a bunch of academic papers with titles such as: "The scandal of Vasilii Rozanov", "The case of an amoral procreationist", "Vasilii Rozanov's Erotic Mythology", "Is There Pleasure in Suffering?" - and such.

One of his collections of aphorisms and "reclusive notes" is called Ephemeral.

Really.

Or his most well-known book - Solitaria.
It's so very much out-of-print on Amazon.com that it sells for nearly US$200.
Product Details:
Unknown Binding: 188 pages
Publisher: Boni & Liveright (1927)

OUCH.

Yeah - he was a slavophile, an out-spoken antisemite, and he married Dostoevsky's former lover who was an insufferable bitch and his 20-years elder. Partly because he admired Dostoevsky.

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Lev Shestov, a russian-jewish philosopher of the same period, tried to describe Rozanov thusly in 1930:
"I shall attempt, so far as it is possible to do this briefly, to "evaluate" the literary legacy of this great writer - more correctly, of this tireless battler. I say of this battler, for Rozanov was, like almost all great Russian writers, first of all a battler. His matchless literary talent was for him only a weapon in the struggle against an eternal and terrible enemy - an enemy, moreover, with whom reconciliation, a compromise, even only a temporary armistice is impossible. Whoever is not with him is against him. Whoever is not against him is with him. This enemy Rozanov saw in Christianity. Or more correctly: this enemy Rozanov called Christianity.

But, strangely, Rozanov, who always attacked Christianity so unrestrainedly and passionately, once said about himself, using the words of Feodor Karamazov: "Even though I am a piglet, God still loves me." As coarse and cynical as this may sound - in his writings Rozanov reached the extreme of coarseness and cynicism, and precisely when he was so coarse and cynical he revealed himself most of all - as coarse and cynical as this may sound, in these words there is a great truth about Rozanov. It is true that he was a "piglet," but it is also true that God loved him. Beyond this, although he did not express it, still another truth is hidden in these words: Rozanov himself loved God, loved Him with his whole heart and his whole soul, as the first commandment requires. And if all things do not deceive me, in this lies the key to the solution of his animosity toward Christianity. He could also have repeated the words of another hero of The Brothers Karamazov, the words of Mitya that he addressed to his younger brother: "I am sorry for God, Alyosha."
Rozanov went to church a lot, fasted, and variously cherished practical religion - russian orthodoxy more specifically. This didn't prevent him from calling the popes the "iron army" of Christ: a bunch of metal figurines surrounding a living figure so nobody might touch or see it. Pretty neat, hmm?




Can't sleep. Or rather - I just had an extremely violent-sadistic dream where I casually ground a miniature human body in the juice blender and then looked in the mirror to see whether I had satisfaction in my eyes. Oh boy. Indeed I've been very high-strung and nervous lately :-/

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I am having some last-minute problems with getting a new passport and I still don't have a russian visa. It's true that these things can get fixed rapidly for a fee, but such fees would make a bad hole in my finances. So I am trying to avoid these easy-options and go about being stressed/rushed instead. Money can indeed buy peace of mind if not always freedom as such - and that's plenty enough already.

*

I can't remember a time when I lived without computer or internet and didn't even know what they were about exactly. Yet those were my most generous and promising years: end of high-school, university, friends, sex, social life...

Things have changed drastically.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005



Today in the passport office a grown woman sat waiting for her turn with a pretty sizable teddy-bear clasped in her arms. She looked entirely normal - and all the more fierce for it.




Unusual art :-/



(it's all wood btw)

Sunday, May 15, 2005



"There is a great sadness in being guided by reason."

I found a draft of a blog entry that I wrote in december 2003 but never got around to develop. I still think that way. So - here goes.
There is a great sadness in being guided by reason.

Something that struck me while reading Ray Monk on L.W. - that ethics and logic are one. When we talk of reason we think of logic (rational thinking) and the word "ethics" evokes a set of rules of conduct that are reasonable. "Reason" implies both logic and ethics. But there is something frightening in this view.

Are our morals really reasonable? That's an old question but the *preferred* (though by no means the only) answer is always the same: yes. And we are convinced (and keep on convincing ourselves through arguments) that ethical choices are made by reason, and this is our idea of free will - that it is predicated on reason.

I have to think of people who are born or become reason-less - crazy or mentally handicapped or something of that sort. Are they still human then, do they have free will, or they are not part of humanity anymore?
If free-will is nothing but reasonable choices, then they are not human - not quite people, just beings, creatures of sorts: logic and ethics have nothing to do with them.

But what if ethics were not really a matter of reason? What if free-will had nothing to do with reason? What if good and evil were not quite the concepts we believe them to be? It is an old point that you can't really argue a reasonable foundation for Good and Evil (Nietzsche, who tried to see "beyond", and buddhists who say that there is no duality here at all in the absolute, and more still). But whichever way you try to explain this, you can't very well rule out the overwhelming experience of badness and goodness, you walk knee-deep in it every day of your life - relative or absolute, it is there, it reaps you open before you get a chance of making a theory of it.
What I meant here is simple: I never forgive some offense, for example, because it's reasonable or more useful to do so - I am only able to forgive when something inside my angry heart is let go and I can fully forget the offense. Arguments do not convince me to let go - but other unsaid things happen on the inside that are entirely non-rational yet have a profound moral effect. Etc and so on - nobody really lives from the head (though some people perhaps do, more than others).





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