30 January 2011

Healthy Reaction to Incredible Stupidity

The 24 January terrorist bombing in the Domodedovo airport was remarkable in at least two of ways.

First, Russians, at least those with whom I interact, took the blow rather well.  While there was some anxiety right after the attack, people seemed to shrug off the event rather quickly.  As it happens, this type of behavior  is the most constructive response to a terrorist act from the average citizen as it effectively neutralizes the "terror" part of "terrorism."

Second, the inaneness of the attack is incredible.  The action took place at Russia's busiest airport favored by foreign travelers; hence the goal of the attack seems to have been to somehow isolate Russia from the rest of the world by spooking foreigners.

Focusing on the "spooking foreigners" part, the Russian government's bureaucracycorruption, and inefficiency already does a fine job of "terrorizing" foreigners either seeking a visa or hoping to do business in this country.  Any additional effort by terrorist on this front is likely to backfire it will concentrate the government's attention to make Russia more foreigner friendly.

Focusing on the location of the action, the bombing took place right after travelers clear Russian customs after they land.  As I explained in my 13 June blog, this is the area where "throngs of illegal taxi drivers and passenger greeters that congregate right outside of customs."  Most of these illegal taxi drivers are emigrants from Azerbaijan, and most of Azerbaijanis are Muslims.  So, the probable Muslim terrorist who committed this vicious, unforgivable act was most likely successful at slaughtering a high number of fellow Muslims.

After the 29 March 2010 bombings in the Moscow metro, I argued that terrorism was both shameless and ineffectual.  It would have been useful for the (now dead) Domodedovo terrorist to have read this; but, when you are as stupid as the Domodedovo bomber was, reading is not your first priority.

27 January 2011

Of All the Stupid Things That Can Be Said ...

This should not be one of them:

Georgia's President says terror attack in Moscow was 'payback'

Taxi Drivers Expound on the Explosion

There are legal and illegal taxi services in Moscow.  For some reason, immigrants from Azerbaijan seemed to have cornered the illegal taxi market in this city.  As it happens, I am a frequent customer.

Islam is the predominant religion of Azerbaijan.  However, these taxi drivers, being a motley crew, are of various faiths as evidenced by the religious artifacts displayed in their vehicles.  Mostly, these religious artifacts are Islamic or Christian, but a Star of David can be found now and then.  

I have been intrigued by the differing reactions of these taxi drivers to the 24 January bombing of Moscow's Domodedovo airport.  The reactions range from blasé to idle conspiracy theories to sheer outrage.  Interestingly, the most outraged taxi drivers are those with Muslim names and Islamic artifacts in their vehicles.  Drivers of other faiths tend to have a much more muted reaction to the event.

The stated source of the outrage is the immorality of the murderous action.  In their outrage, the drivers wax philosophically and religiously about the nature of these events and their consequences.  Phrases like "God is watching" and "there is a place in hell for people like these bombers" are common.

My hypothesis is that there is something different at play than just the sheer evilness of the action:  Because in the current day these suicidal terrorist actions are often carried out by (a small minority of) Muslims, they reflect poorly on all Muslims.  And, if you are a Muslim who is in the minority - as most Azerbaijani taxi drivers in Moscow are - the opinion of the majority starts to weigh heavily.  The outrage, thus, is anger directed at those small group of delirious few that see it as their God-blessed duty to kill others for some arbitrary cause because, those crazy few ruin the social standing and livelihood of many others who want nothing to do with terrorist actions and want to live their lives normally as part of a larger society.

Let us hope that this outrage, expressed by small pockets of people in the diaspora, becomes a cultural force in Muslim homelands and a driver for eradicating the sheer lunacy that calls for terrorist attacks around the world.

24 January 2011

Explosion at the Domodedovo Airport

There was another insane act of terrorism in Russia today:  Moscow's largest airport, Domodedovo, was the subject of an alleged suicide bombing.  This much is known:  More than two dozen were killed and over 100 were injured.

My family and I are fine.

It will take many days to understand the real and practical impacts of yet another disgusting attack.

BBC News live report.

18 January 2011

Kurt Cobain in Russia

Kurt Cobain, the talented Washington musician and an icon for Generation X, ended his own life in 1994.  I was living in Switzerland at the time.  News of his death rippled through Switzerland's university youth and a palpable sense of sadness sunk in.

Alas, the Gen X icon lives on.  Here are a couple glimpses of him at a Novosibirsk metro station:

Update:  Here is a video of the actual Kurt Cobain for comparison's sake.

17 January 2011

Beautiful, Sunny Sky

The Moscow sky was something to behold today:  crisp sunny blue, cloudless, with tinge of gold that comes with high-latitude sun skirting the horizon more closely than it does in California.  There was only one small problem.  When I left the house for work, it was 0 ... fahrenheit.

Frozen Sun

And I thought that sunshine and warmth were correlated.

14 January 2011

Dumb and Dumber

Downtown Moscow is awash with the Micromax Q55 bling advertisement for a device that looks like this:

The trouble for Micromax is that there is hardly any reference to its brand or the device capabilities; instead, the advertising highlights the Swarovski brand with a tagline like "sim+sim Swarovski Zirconium."   Then, right next to the silly tag line is another silly picture of a pretty woman with an empty stare, pretty much like this one:

sim+sim = Dumb and Dumber:  I Hold My Phone Backwards

Obviously, I was not the target audience for the advertisement, but the sheer inane nature of the campaign rubs me the wrong way.  The saving grace for Micromax is that it is not Vertu.

Ever The Dumbest

10 January 2011

Nigeria with Snow

Sergey Brin, Google's American cofounder and Russian emigrant, once said that Russia was "Nigeria with snow."

I had dinner with a Nigerian man yesterday.  He lives in Moscow now.  He covered many topics a wide-ranging conversation, including government corruption and rich Nigerian's ostentatious purchasing habits.  The behavior that he was describing was familiar on many fronts and very reminiscent of the behavior of the "New Russians" that I have heard so much about and have observed on occasion.

I then told him about the Sergey Brin quote.  He laughed loudly and shook my hand in a sign of camaraderie.  Much to my dismay, he agreed with Mr. Brin.

He also told me about being Black in Russia.  He gets stopped frequently so that people can take pictures with him, as it was the case only three days ago.  Ofen, he is referred to as a "monkey" by no less than the police.  This is insanely shameful, especially given that Moscow is a major cosmopolitan world city.

Serving in the Russian Army

06 January 2011

Russia's Lost Days

The predominant religion in Russia is Eastern Orthodox Christianity.  The Orthodox Christian Christmas day is 7 January, as opposed to 25 December on Western calendars.

Julius Caesar Says Christmas is on 7 January

The date drift has to do with a certain Pope's interest in astrology.  Pope Gregory XIII noticed that the Julian calendar was slightly longer than the Earth's complete rotation around the sun.  The Julian calendar ascribes 365 days to a year with a leap year every four years, thereby making the Julian year the equivalent to 365.25 years.  In fact, the Earth only takes 365.2422 days to rotate around the sun; basically, the actual year is approximately 11 minutes and 14 seconds shorter than what the Julian calendar described.

Pope Gregory XIII Says Keep Better Time!

Big deal, you might say, but over long periods of time, those fractions of days add to many days.  Pope Gregory decided that every 400 years should be shortened by 3 days, thus giving birth to the Gregorian calendar.  Under the Gregorian calendar, a system was devised such that years divisible by 100 are not leap years - although they are divisible by 4, - except if the year is also divisible by 400.  In other words, years 2100, 2200, and 2300 are not leap years while years 2000 and 2400 are.

The consequence, of course, is that in 2100, the Eastern Orthodox Christmas will be on 8 January, shifting yet another day as the Julian calendar "clocks too fast" for Earth's rotation around the Sun.  Another consequence, if you connect the dots, is that in 2200, the Eastern Orthodox Christmas will slip by another day to 9 January.  Keep connecting the dots and an interesting problem appears some 6,989 years into the future (I like to think ahead).  In year 9000 AD, the Eastern Orthodox Christmas will be on 29 February as it is expected to be on the Julian calendar.  The problem is that on the Gregorian calendar, year 9000 will not be a leap year and therefore 29 February will "not exist."

Year 9000:  Christmas in Doubt

So, in some 7,000 years from now, Russia will experience a lost day of sort; but somehow, if we still exist and have working civilizations, I am certain that we will be able to overcome this obstacle probably through an Eastern Orthodox Church decree.  Russia's bigger problem is the lost days that it is having in 2011, had in 2010, and will have in 2012.

Russia, as a country, shuts down from 1 January through 10 January of every year to observe the winter holiday season, but keeps humming along while more than half of the world's economy takes break from 24 through 31 December.  In this sense, Russia loses quite a bit of productivity from 24 December through 10 January every year, first because it operates when a good chunk of its trading partners do not and, vice versa, it ceases to operate when a good chunk of its trading partners come back fresh from the winter holidays.  Indeed, Russia loses some 18 days a year, or 5% of its calendar days, because of some strangely planned winter holiday season.

In his book titled Diplomacy, Henry Kissinger states that France, while being part of the West, defines itself in opposition to everyone else in the West.  My fear is that Russia, due to its Soviet Legacy, continues to define itself in opposition to the West, damn be the consequences.

In Russia, We Do Things OUR Way

Russia's lost days are a loss for Russia.  May I propose a new winter holiday season, starting 25 December through 1 January, and another holiday to celebrate the Eastern Orthodox Christmas on 7 January (until we will need to shift it to a day later sometimes in the future)? 

01 January 2011

Learning to Walk

This winter marks my second season of navigating through Moscow's snowy and icy streets.  Last year, while clumsily and slowly stepping on ice with an Italian friend, we both expressed amazement at Moscow women's ability to seemingly float past us while wearing high heels.

 Moskvichka Striding Her High Heels on Ice

With more experience and a few good banana-peel-falls (that made my backside smart for more than a few minutes with each graceless but elegant spill), I came to realize the trick for avoiding publicly humiliating mishaps that occur so frequently to strangers to ice when they visit Moscow for the winter.

The trick to not slipping on ice is to keep the center of gravity beneath the hips as much as possible.  This calls for smaller steps.  Larger steps shift the center of gravity away from the body and, if the foot happens to be on a low-friction surface like ice, the entire body goes they way gravity indents for it to go:  Down.

The rule of thumb is as follows:  The length of the stride should be proportional to the length of the day.  Winter brings shorter days, so shorter strides are called for.  With summer's higher temperatures and longer days, longer strides are the way to go. 

And so, I finally learned to walk on ice.

"Elegance" on Ice