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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Category archive: Russia

Thursday October 02 2014

Earlier this evening I attended a talk given by Michael Jennings at the Rose and Crown in Southwark.  Read Michael’s background briefing about the things he talked about further this evening, either here, or here.

I have friends who seem to revel in having their photos taken, but Michael is not one of them.  He entirely lacks vanity, and tends, when being photoed, to have the look of a man worrying about how bad he fears he will look in the photo.  So it was that, having earlier been asked for a photo of Michael by Simon Gibbs, the organiser of the meeting, I was only able quickly to find one that was remotely good enough.  (You can see it at the other end of the second of the above links.) This evening I made a particular effort to correct this, and here is one of the better shots that I took of Michael this evening:

image

The most dramatic moment in the evening came when the Putin-echoing stooge Russian lady in the audience (there always seem to be one such stooge at any public event mentioning Russia and its current policies) tangled with Michael on the subject of Poland.  Why were the Poles so paranoid about Russia and so keen to join NATO?

Michael replied with a short history lesson that was brief, and crushing.  Nazi-Soviet Pact.  (The stooge later denied that this had even happened, so Michael later told me.) Katyn Massacre.  Warsaw Uprising.  (Stalin parked the Red Army outside Warsaw and let the Nazis crush it.) An imposed Communist government, that the Poles would never have chosen for themselves, for the next half century.  Final sentence, something like: “If fearing Russia after all that means you are paranoid, then yes, I guess the Poles are paranoid.” Applause.  With any luck, this little interchange will be viewable on video, along with the talk itself of course.

Earlier, the lady stooge had waxed eloquent to me, in the socialising period before the talk, about the superiority of Russian education over English education.  She had a point.  Russian children are indeed made to work far harder at their lessons than English children are these days.  But what if the lessons they learn are a pack of lies?

See also this, recently at Samizdata.

On a happier note, I harvested several names and emails of various young, clever libertarians to add to my Brian’s Last Fridays list.  A couple of them being, so it seemed to me, of exceptional promise.  (I hope that doesn’t sound patronising.) I was particularly impressed by this guy.

Tuesday June 17 2014

Michael J, frequent contributor to this blog (he contributed yesterday’s photo, for instance), has a piece up today at Samzidata concerning a mysterious tank that he photoed in Southwark.  It’s an old T-34 apparently.  Michael calls it “a Soviet tank”, but it might make more sense to call it “the Soviet tank”, for this was one of the decisive weapons of World War 2.

Here is another tank:

image

This is to be seen outside the “Firepower Museum”, which is next to the Woolwich Arsenal.  According to one of the contributors here, this is “an Iraqi 2SC Akatsiya”, but another commenter says its a “2S3 152mm spg”, spg meaning self-propelled gun, aka tank.  Sounds like a type of computer file.  Or then again it could be the Special Patrol Group.

Here is something else you can see across the road from the tank, in the form of some armour plating that has been rather severely tested:

image

But best of all, I think, is the nearby clutch of Metal Men.

Tuesday April 22 2014

The speaker I had previously arranged had to cancel, hence the delay in me telling the world about it, but … my speaker at my last Friday of the Month meeting on April 25th, i.e. this coming Friday, will be my good friend (and frequent commenter here) Michael Jennings, talking about Russia.  Russia is lways an important topic of discussion, but it is of course now also a particularly timely and newsworthy one.

Here is what Michael has just emailed me about what he will be talking about.

On the 21st of last month, I arrived in Moscow. This was my first trip to Russia. That this was my first trip to Russia was somewhat curious. I have been a frequent traveller for twenty five years and a compulsive one for the last ten years, and throughout that time I would have always put Russia in the top few countries that I wanted to visit, and yet I never did.

This was not, however, remotely, my first trip to the lands of the former Soviet Union. I had previously been to Latvia and Estonia (twice). I had previously been to Ukraine (five times). I had previously been to Moldova (twice). I had previously been to Georgia (four times). I had previously been to Armenia (twice). The former Warsaw Pact countries further west than that, I have been to many times - around 20 times in the case of Poland, half a dozen times to Romania, and multiple times to all the others.

My reasons for visiting these countries have always been private. I go where my curiosity takes me. I go where my financial resources can take me. And I go where other, bureaucratic and practical obstacles are relatively easy.

What factors led to my choice of destinations? Well, two practical factors. One was the ease or difficulty of obtaining a visa. The other was the ease, of difficulty of physically travelling there. The rise of discount airlines was a key factor in all of this, also. Their presence in markets not only makes it easier and cheaper to get there, but is at least an indicator in how open to the west the country is trying to be.

Going east, there has long been a psychological boundary between places looking east to Moscow and places looking west to, well, no particular city or place, but western Europe in general. The business with the visas and discount airlines has made it easy to go up to that boundary, if you will, as it moves around. At times, it has allowed me to go over that boundary, sometimes to slightly hairy places such as Transnistria and Abkhazia - breakaway regions of Moldova and Georgia respectively. More commonly, though, what I mean by this is the drabber regions of Ukraine or Moldova.

However, it was time to bite the bullet, and go completely to the other side. So, Moscow. As it happened, the wall appeared to be permeable. The western discount airlines have started flying to Russia, at least in a small way. The visa process was baroque and Soviet, but the customer service was with a smile. I had Russian contacts who were happy to catch up for a beer in one of the many English pubs in Moscow and St Petersburg. Even when they worked for the Russian government, they were happy to talk pretty frankly about what was going on.

And yet, in the couple of weeks before I arrived, Russia had been asserting its power over Crimea. On the day I arrived, (according to Russia, at least) Russia formally annexed Crimea. (I got to see a lovely fireworks display over the Moskva river in the evening.) The places I could go on a discount airline without a visa retreated that day, possibly for the first time since 1991.

And that was the overall impression I got of Moscow and St Petersburg. There is a feel of modern cities in both places, but certain things are askew. And certain things are absent. (Soviet style customer service still exists in many places. But in others it doesn’t.) Middle class life feels like middle class life in many places, although if you are poorer, I suspect life is very different. On Friday I will describe some of this, and if I am bold I will try to draw some conclusions.

Excellent.  And to Michael, my gratitude for having got me out of a small bind with what will, I am sure, be an excellent talk at rather short notice.  Not that the short notice will affect its quality.  If it is as good as the talk he gave at my home last year about globalisation, all those who attend this Friday will be much educated and much entertained.

I’m guessing that the mood of the meeting will be a lot like this Samizdata QotD from Michael Totten.  But that’s only a guess.

Wednesday February 19 2014

There are some spectacular pictures now up at English Russia, taken from the air over the Russian Far East, i.e. Vladivostock and surrounding parts.

Here is a good one (scroll down at page 3 of the posting):

image

What’s good about that is that it shows how roads stop fires.  On the right, fire!  On the left, the other side of the road, no fire.

Other pictures in the set include several of two rather spectacular bridges in Vladivostock, of which this snap is my favourite (scroll down at page 2):

image

That is the bridge over the Golden Horn Bay.  The other and bigger Vladivostock bridge joins Vladivoskock to Russkiy Island.  See this Guardian reportThis map, if you reduce its size and go north a bit, shows where both the bridges are.

Sunday February 16 2014

Tonight on BBC4 they just showed a programme about Carl Faberge, blingster to the Czars.

image

I learned a lot.  Next up, a show done by Jonathan Meades, about Brutalist architecture.  He’s for it.

This seems an appropriate juxtaposition, and I am recording both.  The insanely ornate and extravagant trinkets unleashed by Faberge, and all the other riche and nouveau riche junk that flooded into the world in and around 1900, had a direct cause-and-effect relationship with the anti-ornamental puritanism of architectural brutalism.  Many, including me, some of the time, react to Faberge eggs not just with indifference but with aggressive hatred.

I also beheld Brutalist architecture for most of the last half century with even greater loathing.  This loathing is only now abating, as the buildings themselves start to diminish in number.

image

That building used to adorn the roundabout on the other side of the river from Parliament.  It is now no more.  I photographed it.  Then, I photographed its demolition.  I did not mourn its passing.

Meades is now, as promised, rhapsodising about Brutalism.  Why, he asks, does architecture have to be nice?  He is likening it to Victorian architectural oddities of earlier times.

What he misses, or is missing so far, is that Brutalism’s aesthetic aggression went hand in hand with huge collectivist power grabs.  Brutalism was the architectural face of state centralism.  For me, Meades makes a big distinction between “Brutalism” and regular modern.  I don’t really see this.  Both went hand in hand, I’d say.

Meades’ injunction that people should not hate Brutalism is rather like expecting conquered Europeans not to be such philistines about the obviously beautiful design of Junkers 87s or Tiger Tanks.  Ah, correction.  Now he is acknowledging quite explicitly the roots of Brutalism in second world war concrete bunkers, most notably those constructed by the Nazis.  “Forget” that the Nazis built these things, says Meades.  But I suspect that the Brutalists actually liked the very quality that made the Nazis do this kind of thing.  Nazis conquered twee old Europe.  Brutalism assaulted the twee architecture of post-war Europe, the Europe that is still awash with Fabergerie.  There is a deep affinity here.

The show is still going as I post this, and is in any case only part one of two.  This was live blogging.

Monday February 03 2014

Here are an extraordinarily large number of photos of the Airbus A380, showing off at a Russian air show.

Here is one of my favourites, in the photoing-planes-from-above-and-yet-also-from-the-ground genre, that the A380 so likes to encourage, when showing off at air shows, the point being that for such a big airplane, this is a bit surprising:

image

I could be wrong, but somehow I don’t think a slogan like that – “Own the sky” - would be used in the primmer, prissier West, now so much more environmentally hesitant about jet airplanes.  Not environmentally hesitant enough to actually stop flying them and flying in them, you understand, but environmentally hesitant enough for everyone to pretend they feel bad about it.

I got a very similar shot of the A380 when it performed the same kind of dance routine at Farnborough, in the summer of 2010:

image

No mention of anyone owning the sky then, there.

Another difference you can see there - see planely, you might say - is the difference a better camera makes.  Happily my 2010 camera is not the one I use now, which is rather better.

Wednesday January 08 2014

I just watched a tv show about hydrogen bombs.  One of the things I never, until now, got around to finding out about was how hydrogen bombs work.  What I had not realised was that hydrogen bombs include atom bombs inside them, to trigger the “hydrogen” bit.

Basically, they sick a stash of other stuff next to an atom bomb.  When the atom bomb goes off, it turns the other stuff into an explosion that is even more spectacular than the original atom bomb explosion.  I did not know this.  Now I do.  Tremble, world.  Well no, I still couldn’t make a hydrogen bomb.  But I now understand a bit better how others make them.

The funniest moment was when a bloke said that there comes a time when shoving more and more stuff next to the atom bomb to make a bigger and bigger hydrogen bomb stops being worth doing, because the blast is just so huge it disappears out of the earth’s atmosphere.  This means, he said, that a bomb this big, when compared to a slightly smaller one, “does no good”.

You can just hear those bomber pilots, setting out for Dresden in 1945, saying: “Come on guys, let’s go do some more good.”

Tuesday November 26 2013

My attention has been drawn to some excellent photos by Michal Nuniewicz.

I, of course, particularly like this one:

image

That being a horizontal slice (I like horizontal slicing) of this one.

A classic, in the genre recently referred to here.

Sub-genre: group selfie.  An important sub-classification, I think.

Polish girls in Moscow doing a selfie
Bad times for the NHS
Meow
Kyrgyzstan cemetery and awesome frogs
Soviet health and safety posters
Let us now trash infamous men
Cool sculpture
Digger and chain
James Waterton on a very smart very dumb Russian
Soviet space leftovers
The cats from out of town that cleared out the rats during the siege of Leningrad
Unravelling the puzzle – and making it into a movie
David Farrer photos
Hotelicopter
They aren’t complete idiots all the time
“Who are you going to sell it to if we don’t buy it?”
Clang
Non-bio oil
I’d be cheering
Outstanding and numerous aerial photos of St Petersburg
Sounding like a different country
Celebrating a victory
Meltdown in Russia … and New Zealand
Winter wonderland
Russian weirdness for the Anglos
Friends of Slava
Slava dies
Billion Monkeys photo their own demo!
Amazing map of amazing new Moscow bridge
Shame you can’t do this kind of thing here
New Moscow road bridge
Other people’s photos (4): Kitten on man’s head