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Fountains of love [Apr. 21st, 2008|02:52 pm]
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Just saw a piece on Vesti Moscow about the cleaning of the city's fountains after the winter. A cleaning brigade chief with 7 years of experience tells the camera that they just throw all the small change away after its found in the fountains.

I dont know what they do with this change in other countries, but here in Russia it would go some way to restoring faith in human kindness if the coins were spent on icecream for children or something like that...

I doubt the Mayor's campaign team would see the oppertunity, somehow
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Flashback [Apr. 20th, 2008|07:12 pm]
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Having watched the unusually friendly breakfast Putin recently had with Gaddafi I am reminded of this article, written a year ago (April '07) by Konstantin Eggert , the BBC Russian Service bureau editor:

Moscow’s growing attention to the Middle East continues, part of a new
global strategy espoused by a more assertive and ambitious Russia.
President Vladimir Putin pays much more attention to the region than his
predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, ever did. In the last two years, he has paid a
historic first visit to Israel, visited oil- and gas-rich Algeria and, in
another diplomatic first, toured the Gulf states.

He has established a firm personal friendship with King Abdullah II of
Jordan and charmed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Moscow makes a point of
regularly talking to those the United States, and sometimes even Europe,
consider pariahs - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Syrian President
Bashar Assad, and the Hamas leadership. Major Russian companies are eyeing
the region closely and Russian arms manufacturers hold out firmly against
Western competitors and continue to irritate Washington by selling arms to

Iran and Syria.

Why? There is one overriding reason: Russia’s - or rather the Kremlin’s

- enduring obsession with the US victory in the Cold War. The current policy
is aimed at getting at least partially even with America. The policy itself
is nothing new. Originally from the Soviet days, it came back into fashion
in the mid-1990s, especially after Yevgeny Primakov became Russia’s foreign
minister and later prime minister. It was he who was (and still is) one of

the most prominent proponents of the so called “multi-polar world” view - a
theory that really just serves as a flimsy disguise for opposing America’s
preponderance in global affairs.


But the difference is that today, as opposed to the days of Yeltsin, Russia
has sizeable resources from oil and gas exports to back up this line.
America’s difficulties in Iraq and Afghanistan serve as an additional
encouragement for the Kremlin since Washington’s hand in the region is

perceived as weak.

Quite a few people in Russia’s military-industrial and
atomic energy
industries derive direct material benefit from Moscow’s vigorous Middle East
policy. But the policy should primarily be seen in an
ideological light.
Anything goes if it serves the goal of checking US influence.

Hence, the refusal by the FSB - Russia’s security service - to put Hizbullah
on the list of terrorist organizations (the official explanation was that it
does not operate in Russia). One of Russia’s leading defense correspondents,
Ivan Safronov of Kommersant newspaper, recently died in mysterious
circumstances while allegedly investigating clandestine sales of Russian
arms to Iran and Syria. To Washington’s consternation, Moscow remains Iran’s
staunchest international advocate.

Speaking in Munich recently, Putin stressed that Russia always conducted and
will continue to conduct “independent foreign policy.” This is another way

of saying that Russia does not consider itself an ally of the West, and
especially America. The Russian political establishment views the Middle
East exactly as a place where such a policy can be pursued with no risk to
Russia. Despite protestations to the contrary, Moscow does not see a nuclear
Iran as a threat to itself, at least not an immediate one.
Russian diplomats
and Kremlin administration staffers would admit as much off the record.

Islamist radicals in the region are also seen as a separate species from the
ones being bred in the North Caucasus. Russia, as
opposed to the US or even
China, does not depend on the region’s energy resources. Finally,
domestically the Russian Muslim vote is insignificant compared to, say,
France or Britain. All this leaves the Middle East as the ideal field for

staking a new claim for global importance.

However, there are limits to this policy. Moscow will pursue it as long as

it does not seriously hurt its relations with the US or the European Union.
World Trade Organization membership, oil and gas exports and the changing

situation in the former republics of the Soviet Union are all much more
important for Russia than the Middle East. And it is exactly because it has
no vital interests in the region that Russia will never play the kind of

tune it played there in the 1960s-1980s.

Middle Eastern leaders know this. Even at the zenith of Soviet power, they
never considered Moscow a player of equal standing to the US.
Having worked in the region in the 1980s, I remember well a quip by one of
its veteran diplomats. “People here like the Russians, but respect the
Americans.” This remains unchanged. Russia can prevaricate, double-cross and

insinuate, but ultimately it will not be able to prevent the West, and
especially America, from doing what it wants in the region.


I disagree with all the stuff in red at the end there, but theres no mistaking it, the man's spot on when he remembers the Arabs liking Russia but respecting the Americans... its something I myself have heard time and time again. An enduring image we must overcome by applying proactive, coherent, transparent policy... policy that involves taking sides and breaking a few eggs in the process.

But I say its about time (almost too late even) that we started earning the respect of Middle Eastern nations by acting as recently in Lybia. Though Russia still has problems of its own, I think the benefits of writing off Soviet-era debt far outweigh the long wait for hard cash. The whole affair could easly turn into a foreign investment tool with the right public relations support.

Did you know that the television in Gaddafi's residence was showing Russia Today's arabic language service? It was. Thats why Miller and the cabinet heavyweights are all OKs and smiles...

Meanwhile, the President elect was checking out a high-tech subspace blaster factory in the fine town of Dubna. Clearly some sort of secret steampunk design for a traffic radar.

 Gaddafi the truth putin medvedev the truth
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O Canada! [Apr. 19th, 2008|03:11 pm]
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Not many people know this, but Canada happens to be where some of the best science fiction series ever created have been filmed. In fact, Dan Aykroyd, John Candy, Jim Carrey, Michael J. Fox, Leslie Nielsen, Walter Pidgeon, Michael Shanks, William Shatner, Martin Short, Donald Sutherland, Kiefer Sutherland, Amanda Tapping, Lexa Doig, Laura Bertram, Keanu Reeves, Kristin Kreuk and Carrie-Anne Moss, not to mention David Cronenburg and James Cameron, are all Canadian.

That list is from Wikipedia and not especially fantastic, but my money would be on Sutherland any day. I don't think I remember a single role he has played badly.

On the cusp of sinking into dispair I learned about A&E's new miniseries based on Michael Chriton's The Andromeda Strain, in this case produced by Scott Free Productions and filmed in Hedley, British Columbia. In an age of scarcity anything produced by Ridley and Tony is worth the hype. We haven't long to wait until US Memorial Day (May 26) for the end result.

Looking at the cast there's a few familiar faces - the kind of actrors you don't know by name but have enjoyed watching in the past. The black guy has been great in many scifi shows and of course the Korean guy from Lost is in there as well. I dont recognize any of the females, though tony winner Viola Davis (center) played "Mother in Hospital" in The World Trade Center... I dont know if I would have accepted this role. Must be an American thing.

However much this lives up to the hype, it will certainly be better than what the Sci Fi Channel has been churning out recently... In the last few years they have had nothing but crap on the inhouse productions front. If not for Battlestar Galactica I would have forgotten about them completely living as I do in Russia with no direct access to the channel.

Just look at Warbirds: "The crew of a downed WWII bomber carrying the first A-bomb must battle Japanese soldiers and flying reptiles on a remote Pacific island." How could something like this ever look good on a made-for-tv budget without interesting producers? I can tell you this: Warbirds will never live up to its poster.

See that light mangrove vegitation? Its Baton Rouge, Louisianna... not quite rainy Vancouver so I'll be skipping this one and watching the next installment of Gallactica and then hanging myself to the Destination Truth theme music afterwards. It was bound to end in compromise, final five or not.

The truth is, Andromeda Strain looks top notch and goes right up to the top of my coming soon list. You can watch an impressive trailer here... almost as good as the original Wildfire trailer linked above.

 the truth canada  scifi
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What the frak is going on? [Apr. 18th, 2008|07:46 pm]
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When the Russian winter descends, nothing warms me better than science fiction. But recent offerings have been slim, and after a cold winter I have an axe to grind.

Of course, the new Battlestar Galactica is on everyone's mind, and people haven't forgotten the magic of Andromeda, early Babylon 5 or Janeway's battle against Species 8472... but therein lies the problem.

Every show aired since season 5 of The X Files jumped the shark as soon as people started having babies. I don't know what the producers were thinking: ratings are falling, lets get some babies in there to expand our audience? Gene would be turning in his grave. 

Enterprise had so much going for it - least of which was an incredible blue-lit decon chamber where Vulcan Commander T'Pol and various others would rub each-other with a futuristic decontamination gel. It was good scrubbing for everyone.


An alien doctor locks people in there with Jolene Blalock for hours at a time after every away mission... the finest science fiction erotica, nothing less. The Germans attempted something like this in Lexx, but it was inferior.

So what is going on? Why are people watching comic book shows like Heroes or Eurika? Is it because Lost is never going to make it as far as The Prisoner with its never-ending secrets?

I'll say this - everyone's gone soft. Unchallenged aggression across the globe and the impotent stance of UN Secretary-Generals is failing all those futurist ideals of a united world government accross the atomic horizon.

Fraking motherfuckers. A post conspiracy age - we doubt everything so they throw  some uplifting comedy chumps on our favorite meatgrinder. What happens then? What happens to kids who grow up with this instead of Star Trek? They'll grow up fraking lol, thats what.

I want hard science fiction. Show about things just out of reach. The stories are there - read any science fiction author born after the 50's and you will find plenty. Why for example has no-one thought of scripting Hamilton or Banks? In Russia we could film a miniseries based on Zorich's Tommorrow War trilogy. It would certainly be cheaper than filming Liteyny 4 and more sellable on the open market.

In any case, its a long way to Galactic Empire from where I'm standing.

 the truth  scifi
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I Want to Believe [Apr. 17th, 2008|11:17 pm]
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This morning I watched Uzbek municipal workers washing the Mokhovaya side of the Moscow Manege. What struck me about this was not the casual efficiency or bright orange jumpsuits (so reminiscent of chian gangs) but rather the fact that it was being washed after the big event.

A few days ago the former indoor riding academy hosted the IX Annual United Russia Party Congress. I wasn’t interested in the event – from what little I saw on television it was an internal matter… a question of getting everyone in the same room, I am sure Putin would say.

Defying conventional wisdom, a man without a party ticket is to be its leader and consequently head of the Cabinet. Nothing new there - Putin made things happen and they owe him big. And here I am remembering the heady days when Rahr would bet his orange pubes that Putin was Gazprom bound. The Germans say we have established an autocracy, possibly an enlightened one. I like that.

Anyway, it was all white blue and red, minus the flowers – they’ve been going out of fashion ever since the Red Chinese started inviting foreign journalists to their big red gathering.

Flower-covered podiums barely pass the mustard at UNDP meetings anymore. I say hold the course - have them dancing in our streets for a change.

On a lighter note, it seems they have deftly turned Solovyev's political call-in show to something of a late night headfuck... it now airs at 23:05 on a thursday , though all the usual suspects are still at it - only their doppelganger secundates have changed. I can imagine getting tanked up on beer one night and watching it with some buddies, though I hate that man for his general complicity in What's Wrong With This Country.

Its about time they steered him out of the mainstream. In a way having this sort of show on the sidelines is very democratic... malcontent hacks staying up late and all.

I did mention that this was to be on a brighter note: Adamov's case has finally been... closured. He came to court looking like a hitman in his weekend casuals. The political trash of a bygone age shouting at journalists like a party commando in October of '93. Something about the established court system... hard to believe the man was a nuclear minister and accomplished scientist, stock full of crazy knowledge. According to the Russian-language wiki, he is author of over 100 scientific works and inventions, though I don't see how you could count these together.

I have the feeling we should be grateful he was extradited here in the end, or we would have had a problem. Remember Berezovsky? He was deputy secretary of the Security Council and he's sleeping with the enemy. At least Adamov didn't claim that the proceedings were motivated by antisemitism.

As far as I could tell, he wasn't convicted - more proven guily and handed a suspended sentence. The case has been something of a glitch in the system since he was arrested. What was it that Lt. Commander Worf said about the Mobius? A rip in the fabric of space, where time becomes a loop... I suspect even the state prosecutors don't really know whats going on.

In any case, the truth is out there.

 

Notes:

The Moscow Manege had its rafters filled half a meter deep with tobacco to protect against
mice and insects back in the 19th century. During WWII it was all smoked up, but the saturated beams continued to smell of tobacco until the builing caught fire a few years ago.

Time Becomes, a track I once saw performed live by Orbital, samples Lt. Commander Worf of Star Trek fame. What he actually says is "There is the theory of the Möbius — a twist in the fabric of space where time becomes a loop." This track should not be confused with The Möbius, also by Orbital... remember Generation X?

 the truth putin medvedev
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