31 May 2010

Moscow's Destructive Creation

Recently, I hosted a European friend in Moscow, eager to show him the city's magnificence and beauty.  My friend was unimpressed.  He said, "the city is not bad, but is is not London or Paris."  His words surprised me; then I realized that in my love for the city, I was casually overseeing some of the ugly reality around me. That ugly reality is one of a destructive creation.

Moscow has a strange habit. This historic, (potentially very) beautiful city has a habit of creating, then destroying what it created, sometimes rebuilding a replica of the destroyed object, and most often totally disregarding the beautiful past under the rubble of a flashy, new steel and glass structure.  Here are some examples:
  • Church of Christ the Savior was constructed to commemorate Russia's victory over Napoleon's invading army.  Its scaffolding was removed in 1860.  A sad 71 years later, the church was destroyed in 1931. A replica was resurrected in the 1990s in an attempt to undo the damage.
  • Over time, there were many triumphal arches in Moscow.  An example is the Red Gate.  Per Wikipedia,
    "The original arch on the site of Red Gates was built to commemorate the Battle of Poltava in 1709. Catherine I replaced it with a new structure in order to commemorate her own coronation in 1724. This arch burnt down 8 years later and was restored in 1742, for Elizabeth's coronation procession ... In 1753, the wooden arch was demolished and replaced with a stone one ... A large portrait of Empress Elizabeth, surrounded by a lambent halo, was replaced with a double-headed eagle for Nicholas I's coronation in 1825 ... They were demolished in 1928 [to make room for a road expansion]; their name survives in an eponymous Moscow Metro station."
      Another example is Moscow Triumphal Gate, which was completed in 1838.  At the time, this monument was world's largest cast iron structure and were meant to symbolize the glory of Russia's army.  In 1936, the historic gate was dismantled with plans to move them to Moscow Square Park. Later, during the German Siege of Leningrad in 1941, the cast iron blocks of the gate were used in creating an anti-tank defensive structure near the southern border of the city. Luckily, the gate was restored in 1960.
    • Then there are ample samples of "preserved" or neglected historical buildings. Sometimes the word "preservation" is taken seriously, but often it means that an older beautiful structure is demolished, save a wall or two, and a giant glass and steel office structure is built around it in a very profitable enterprise.  This type of preservation may fill certain pockets with money, but it should break all hearts. And if a historical building is lucky enough to be neglected, it stands abandoned, lonely and broken, and subjected to the forces of nature.
      There is a common theme in the city's history:  Over the years, there have been multiple attempts to rewrite history or modernize the city, but these revision attempts have come at the cost of not preserving the city's character.  In a way Moscow's destructive creation story reminds me of an anecdote about a glamorous but aging Hollywood star who was purported to have her erstwhile properly-placed anus on the back of her neck.  Apparently, the anus-creep was the result of multiple plastic surgeries that, while keeping some parts of her body firm, distorted the rest.  You see, over the ages, Moscow has been the victim of similar beautifying projects that have ultimately caused distortions.
      I contend that Moscow could have been - and still can be - as beautiful as Paris.  I only need three photos to drive the point home.  The top photos depict Paris and Moscow skylines respectively.  From this angle, they look similar.  However, a change in perspective, angle, and time shows part of the heart-wrenching distortion by which Moscow is abused.

      Moscow's disarrayed state make it Europe's Houston. Houston, Texas, while being a grand, thriving city like Moscow, also has the reputation of being and is visually unimpressive.  This is because Houston basically has no building codes.  As such, on a Saturday night, one can park his car next to a bar, get a fill, go next door to a strip club and sin some more.  When the sun comes up on Sunday morning, the same fellow can casually stroll next door to a church and replenish his soul, and then go next door for a breakfast buffet at Denny's to replenish his tummy.  This Houston experience can be rather convenient, but for the price of living in a rather unpleasant and disorganized city.  Regrettably, a similar experience is possible in Moscow. 

      Unlike Houston, Moscow has several centuries of history and there is still the potential to make Moscow more Parisian and less Houstonian. Please do pray for Moscow's glorious soul - and pray, I hope that we all do something about ending this destructive creation process.

      Houston Says:  Oh God!  Why Am I Such a Mess?

      30 May 2010

      Missing NBA in Russia

      The great Michael Jordan made me an NBA spectator, and the athleticism and prowess of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James keeps me coming back. Alas, the 11 hour time difference with the West Coast makes NBA games an early morning exercise in Moscow - and a privilege and a pleasure to be missed.

      This year's NBA playoffs are proving to be rather exciting, and the mighty Los Angeles Lakers are poised to win the championship one more time. Regrettably, my Tivo and Sling Media devices are on a ship somewhere, making a delayed or remote viewing impossible this year. I will have to miss most, if not all, of the championship games this year.

      For those who are curious, here are the top 5 plays of Game 6 between the Lakers and the Suns. Game 6 was a closer for the Lakers and they are off to the championships.

      26 May 2010

      Low Tech Obviates LoJack

      For those unfamiliar with LoJack, it is a successful car theft prevention system in the US that is pushed by car dealers and insurance companies alike.

      17 May 2010

      Coke Makes Everything Taste Better: Part II

      While we are on this topic, it would be appropriate to show this photo of Moscow Coke girls handling out samples of the product at the Mayakovskaya Metro station on Saturday, which happens to be one of the busiest automobile and pedestrian traffic locations in Moscow.
      Given Coke's marketing tactic in this case, the title of this blog is not on apropos.  It should be "Marketeers Bet That Young Women Make Coke More Attractive (and maybe even create the psychological aura of a better taste)," but that sort of overt discussion of the obvious would be tasteless, wouldn't you think?  Hence, we will keep pretending and, as such, obfuscations will continue.

      There is a bigger point about Coke:  While this company is an American symbol, the multinational firm is about as American as Toyota is.  In the world of easily-accessed financial markets, Coke and Toyota owners (stockholders) may be of any nationality.  Moreover, Nearly all of Toyota automobiles sold in America are produced in America; I am certain that all of the Coke consumed in Russia is produced (except maybe for the secret sauce) and bottled in Russia.  In other words, Toyota creates jobs in America while Coca Cola produces jobs in Russia, despite their respective Japanese and American origins.

      Multiply the multinational firm force by as many multinational firms there are, and you will notice a global economic force that is a motivation for keeping wars at bay and political cooperation in vogue.  Of course, we are not talking about isolated states like North Korea and Iran that are out of the reach of these multinationals (in whose case the very same multinationals may contribute to political considerations for instigating a war).

      The lesson is this:  Enjoy Coke because, for various reasons, life tends to taste better in places when the Coca Cola company can sell its goods liberally.

      13 May 2010

      Coke Makes Everything Taste Better

      1% Is More Than 0%

      My favorite headline out of today's Moscow Times was Less Unlicensed Software on Russian Computers, Report Says.  Quoting from the article:
      Sixty-seven percent of the country's software was unlicensed in 2009, down from 68 percent last year ...
       Down by 1% makes the headline factually true; and 1% is better than nothing, I guess.

      Impressive Hardware, Wrong Era

      For the Victory Day parade, Russia put some its military hardware on display.

      This hardware was specifically useful in the Cold War where large-scale weaponry was needed against a well-organized, well- armed adversary.  In case the subtle fact was lost, the Cold War is over.  

      Arguably, the biggest threats against Russia today come by way of insane terrorist acts, as was evidenced by the 29 March Moscow Metro attacks.  These types of weapons do little to avert terrorism; if America's experience in Iraq is an example - and despite neoconservative arguments to the contrary - these symbols of military imperialism may in fact encourage them.  

      The hardware is impressive, but they are for a bygone era and the wrong tools for the threats of today.

      Dear Mr. Terrorist:  Jesus Have Merci on Your Soul.

      12 May 2010

      How to Lose an Empire

      The soldiers and many nations, including the UK, marched through the Red Square to celebrate the sixty-fifth anniversary of Victory Day.
      British Soliders Marching on Red Square
      At its height [the British Empire] was the largest empire in history and, for over a century, was the foremost global power. By 1922, the British Empire held sway over a population of about 458 million people, one-quarter of the world's population at the time, and covered more than 13,000,000 square miles (33,670,000 square km): approximately a quarter of the Earth's total land area. As a result, its political, linguistic and cultural legacy is widespread. At the peak of its power, it was often said that "the sun never sets on the British Empire" because its span across the globe ensured that the sun was always shining on at least one of its numerous territories.
      My Bloody Red Coat and Hat 
      Make Target Practice a Jolly Good Time 
      The British Empire is no more.  If British soldiers dress the same way in battle as they do for formal ceremonies, it is easy to understand why.
      Ready to Server Her Majesty

      11 May 2010

      Congratulations to Russia for Victory Day

      Russia celebrates Victory Day - the defeat of the Nazi menace - on 9 May.  This year marked the sixty-fifth anniversary for Russia.  Congratulations to Russia for its key role in ending one of the most terrifying chapters in human history.

      While World War II looms large in the West, it has a specific and lasting mark on Russia (and the former Soviet Union).  Specific numbers are difficult to come by, but it is safe to say that the Soviet Union of 1939 - of which Russia was the principal member - lost more than 14 million non-Jewish civilians, 10 million military personnel, and 1 million Jews.  In 1939, that was nearly 15% of the Soviet population.

      As a percentage of population, Poland suffered the most with more than 16% lost; however, no other nation comes close to Russia (and the former Soviet Union) in terms of the absolute number of deaths caused by World War II.

      To put things in context for Americans, in sheer numbers, Russia's loss was the equivalent of losing the entire populations of Texas and Oklahoma today.  As a percentage of the population, it is like losing the entire populations of Texas and California, the two most populous states in the Union.

      In the US, the Soviet Union (and often Russia) is seen through the prism of the Cold War.  With this context, it is easy to overlook Russia's contributions to ending the horrific Nazi reign.  On this sixty-fifth anniversary of Victory Day, lets us remember Russia's sacrifices, and be thankful for them.

      Congratulations to Russia for Victory Day.