Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Ukraine, 2 September 2014 - Hitler and Putin

There are lots of parallels between Hitler in 1938/1939 and Putin in 2014. Both started with foreign territories that were culturally close: Hitler with Austria and Sudetenland, Putin with Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Both were talking about peace while grabbing more and more foreign territory, both had support of the majority of their people, both were able to convince some portion of foreign leaders and regular people that they were the good guys, both suppressed free media in their countries, both used propaganda shamelessly, both made people who opposed them disappear or get beaten.

"On Friday night, a local lawmaker left his home in the north Russian city of Pskov and was attacked from behind by three men. He was beaten unconscious, only to wake up, bloodied, in a hospital hours later. The lawmaker, Lev Shlosberg, had been leading an investigation into the mysterious burials of several members of the Pskov-based 76th Airborne Division who were rumored to have died fighting in Ukraine. Journalists who attempted to reach the cemetery days earlier were also attacked." Source: http://www.buzzfeed.com/miriamelder/vladimir-putin-isnt-going-to-stop#48gn400

The big difference is that Putin has nuclear weapons and was not afraid to threaten Ukraine with them if they don't stop resisting.

"Kiev has received threats of nuclear retaliation from Russia through unofficial channels if it continues to fight pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, the Ukrainian Minister of Defence, Valeriy Heletey, announced on his Facebook page on Monday." Source: http://www.newsweek.com/russia-has-threatened-nuclear-attack-says-ukraine-defence-minister-267842

A few days ago there was an incident with the plane of the Russian Defence Minister who did not file the correct flight documents to fly over Poland from Slovakia and was subsequently temporarily denied entry into Polish airspace. Well, we did not need to wait long. This is a video made by one of the Russians fighting in Ukraine - Arsen Pavlov aka "Motorola". He says "If you don't want to let Russian Federation defence minister through Poland, Motorola will come to you"... watch till the end to see what he means: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B4zTM8FvJR4

This is not a joke. Russians lived under Soviet propaganda since 1917 to 1989, then had about 10 years of relative freedom under Gorbachev and Yeltsin and started falling into tyranny again under Putin since 1999. Russians, contrary to Germans, never acknowledged that they were the bad guys during World War II: they attacked Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, and Finland, but they still have monuments to Stalin and proudly display the hammer and sickle of the Soviet Union.

Propaganda works like advertisements, you may think that you are immune, but you are not. If you listen to it often enough, it soaks in. What propaganda can do to people? Let me give you an example from a book I am reading now: "Savage Continent" by Keith Lowe. On page 29, he describes the fate of displaced persons in Germany after the war:
"[...] as Poles, [they] were even blamed for starting the war and bringing this whole misfortune upon Germany". This is exactly what Russia is doing now: blaming Ukraine for civilian deaths in Ukraine where Russian-sponsored and Russian forces are fighting Ukrainian forces. There would be no civilian deaths if Putin did not want parts of Ukraine for himself.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Melbourne, Victoria

Some Australians say that Melbourne (pronounced Mel-ben, not Mel-born, see Forvo) is their most European city. A city of culture and sophistication. For me it was the most American of Australian cities... a mix of San Francisco and New York. Have a look:

Land divided into squares. I saw that in the American Midwest.
Concrete elevated highway and an island of skyscrapers. Could be almost any big American city.

A downtown mess of old and new, tightly packed. Too much colour for Manhattan, but maybe Boston?

Streets wide for cars, narrow for people, few trees. 
Trams going uphill, a new imposing skyscraper next to old buildings - San Fran?

But then Melbourne has many faces. Have a look at these:

Some Persian Gulf state?

Somewhere in Scandinavia? 
Over-engineered train station... Netherlands, definitely.
An office building. Germany?
Paris or Warsaw?

Blocks of flats, a common sight in Europe, but this is Melbourne.
I'm sure I saw places like this elsewhere, but this is Melbourne too.

Melbourne is tourist-friendly. There is a free tram, number 35, that goes in a loop around the centre of the city. 

Free tram.
Melbourne people are friendly: in 24 hours since arriving, 4 people helped us with directions - without asking, all we had to do was open a map and look a bit lost. :-)

Melbourne is very political. We were there only Friday and Saturday and we saw four protests: first on Friday night, a very loud march against Israeli actions in Gaza (people had "free Palestine" signs), then on Saturday, a gathering in Federation Square against the terror of ISIS in Iraq (Muslims, Christians and Kurds against terror), then on the steps of a government building ecologists protesting the lack of protection of forests, and finally a few bikers protesting the laws that limit their right to meet freely. Then there were stalls: Falun Gong making people aware of how the Chinese government is persecuting them - a terrible story really - a reminder that China is not a free democratic country. Another stall tried to make people less afraid of Islam. There were also flowers in memory of the victims of flight MH-17 (put there by Ukrainians).

Federation Square - Anti ISIS protest.
Poster on the church: Let's fully welcome refugees.

Finally, I used the opportunity to visit the Jewish Holocaust Museum. It is small, but well designed and maintained. Its strong point are volunteer guides.
Jewish Holocaust Museum and Research Centre
A few glimpses of the world of Polish Jewry before WWII:
Jewish newspaper in Yiddish from Warsaw, 17 August 1939.
Jewish Sports Club in Białystok.
And the terror of German occupation from 1939 to 1945:

German soldiers rounding up Jews in Poland - Strażacka street.
Jewish mother and three children walking towards gas chambers in Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Sara, Kalman, Bronia, Miriam, and Nathan.
My motto: Ellie Wiesel's speech in Oslo in 1986.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Ukraine, 18 July 2014 - Putin's "Green Men" Are Back

Putin did not choose to openly enter Ukraine. According to Ukrainian sources, Putin is sending the Russian army into Ukraine again without insignia and documents, but fully armed with tanks, anti-aircraft, and other weapons. He did it before in Crimea, now he is doing it in Donetsk and Lugansk.
Buk missile launcher being transported in Russia controlled area of Ukraine.

Yesterday, his men (I am using this term broadly here, I treat both the regular Russian army without insignia, the Russian special forces sent earlier, and the local Russians and pro-Russians as Putin's men) shot down Malaysian civilian MH17 plane killing 298 people. His propaganda does not deny it directly, but instead is insinuating that it could be Ukrainians, and that anyway it is Ukraine's fault because they don't want to give up Donetsk and Lugansk regions. Phone conversations between pro-Russian forces, recorded and released by Ukrainians clearly indicate that it was those pro-Russian soldiers who shot down the plane, mistaking it for an Ukrainian transport plane. I hope that Russians in Russia wake up, and realise what kind of government they have and what propaganda they are fed. Shame.

Sunday, July 13, 2014


What does a software developer do when he has to rename 100 files? Writes a little script. In this case in Sikuli - a tool that will eventually allow computers to take away even programmers' jobs. Click to enlarge:

If this was for work, images would be replaced with file paths - the DRY principle!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Ukraine, 2 July 2014 - A Case for War

I've been watching Russian news almost every day for the last few weeks. In Australia, you can watch NTV сегодня on SBS. Most days, most of the news was dedicated to the situation in Eastern Ukraine. The picture is not pretty. Hundreds of civilians killed, cities cut off from the rest of the country, people living without running water and electricity, thousands or maybe hundreds of thousands fleeing Ukraine to Russia, Russian journalists beaten and killed. There is a recurring request to open a humanitarian corridor to let civilians escape besieged cities. The Ukrainian army seems to be using artillery and planes against civilians, in what looks like random fashion. Nobody is safe: a bomb falls on a church, a home, a village, a bus with civilians, journalists - Ukrainians are dropping bombs everywhere. There were even cases of shells falling on Russian territory and Ukrainian tanks or armoured vehicles entering Russia, admittedly by mistake.

Some background: NTV used to be an independent news organisation, but now is owned by Gazprom, which means its news is government propaganda. It does not mean that it is all false, nobody would fall for that. It is probably mostly true. But it is not objective. Propaganda is subtle: drilling some topics, while glossing over others, showing some pictures repeatedly, choosing words carefully, building a case for war, in this case.

What is President Putin doing about the Ukrainian crisis? According to NTV news, absolutely nothing: June 17th - Putin meets with the mayor of Moscow to discuss new real estate tax law, June 18th - Putin meets with young farming cooperative workers to discuss agriculture. Strange, isn't it? Only yesterday the news finally showed Putin talking strongly about situation in Ukraine.

If I was Russian and my only source of news was the official Russian TV, I would be asking president Putin to move the army into Eastern Ukraine now. I would be angry at him for allowing Ukrainian fascists to kill our fellow Russians for so long. Enough is enough.

In my opinion Putin is waiting for the right moment. He will say he was forced to react. It may come very soon. The ending of the 10 day cease fire seems like a good moment. Putin will enter Eastern Ukraine and restore peace.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

No Sex in the City by Randa Abdel-Fattah

No Sex in the City is a book of 383 pages written by Australian Randa Abdel-Fattah.

It is a light book, similar in style to Marian Keyes, but less shocking. My daughter got it from her high school library. I'm not sure why I read it. It was lying on the table and somehow I picked it up, started reading, and got sucked into it.

It's a book for girls and young women. Maybe I like to look into the mysterious mind of the opposite sex sometimes. Anyway, it is a good read. It has a few relationship twists, a future mother in law from hell, a mild sexual harassment case, and a father with a gambling secret. It is the first book in which I saw "put out" used in sexual context.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Glass House Mountains

A half-day trip to Glass House Mountains in the hinterland of Sunshine Coast, about 2 hours from Gold Coast by car. The 11 peaks are the remnants of volcanoes from 26 million years ago. Unlike the Gold Coast hinterland, the area around the peaks is almost flat.

Start of the Mt Ngungun track, 2.4 km return.
As you can see the spelling of the park name is not consistent. This sign has "Glasshouse Mountains", but the official park website has "Glass House Mountains".

Don't leave valuables in the car.
A good advice, but how about putting up a camera, and catching the thief, instead of putting the signs?

A cave halfway to the top.
Mt Tibrogargan 364m and Mt Beerburrum 280m behind it and to the right.
The twin peaks of Mt Coochin, 235m, and Mt Mellum far behind them.

Mt Beerwah 556m (pyramid shape) and Mt Coonowrin 377m
 (wizard's hat) in front of it and to the right.

From left to right: Mt Cooee (a hill really), Mt Tibrogargan 364m,
Mt Beerburrum 280m, Mt Tibberoowuccum 220m.
A small tree near the summit with a smooth pink bark.