Kiev, Ukraine. January 2013.
This rather extraordinarily monumental statue stands on top of (and forms part of) the Museum of the Great Patriotic War in Kiev, Ukraine. The monument is officially named “The Mother of the Fatherland” but (perhaps curiously) is more commonly referred to as “The Mother of the Motherland”, and (perhaps less curiously) is sometimes referred to colloquially as “Tin Tits”. The museum commemorates the Soviet victory of the Nazis in World War 2. Although people in most countries of the USSR have rather ambiguous (at best) feelings about their Soviet past, the victory over the Nazis is quite reasonably seen as a good thing, and memorials to the war are still generally looked after and treated with respect. The statue itself is 62 metres tall. Including the base and building it stands on, the statue is over 100 metres above the ground, making it one of the largest statues in the world.
The statue sits upon a high hill overlooking the Dnieper River from its right bank, towards Kiev’s endless Soviet era suburbs on the other side of the river.
Enormous as this statue is, it is actually less grandiose than an earlier proposal. In the 1950s, there were proposals to built twin statues of Lenin and Stalin side by side, each approximately 200 metres tall – each significantly higher than the Washington Monument. Thinking about this in the past, I have thought that these statues would have been unspeakable abominations, and that the Ukrainian people were extraordinarily lucky to merely have the current, modest structure instead of this.
Kiev, Ukraine. June 2009.
This evening, though, I am not so sure. Well, not entirely. Sure, they still would have been unspeakable abominations, but what a fine day today could have been had they been there. Imagine these gigantic statues of these evil men being pulled down, and the immense splash that they would have made as they fell from the top of the hill into the Dnieper, causing tsunami all the way to Dnipropetrovsk.
That would have been awesome.
In August, I spent some time in my native land of Australia visiting family and friends. One Sunday morning I found myself wandering around the inner west of Sydney. I used to live in the area. If certain things in my life had gone slightly differently, I might still live in the area.
That’s life, though. I don’t regret moving to London in 2002. For one thing, if I had not done so, I might not now be writing for this blog.
In any event, I was thirsty. I nipped into a convenience store to buy a Coke. Anyone who has ever lived in a city will know the type of store. A selection groceries for people who have not managed to get to the supermarket. Drinks. Snack foods. Possibly a few pots and pans and other household goods. Cigarettes. In cities full of immigrants such as London and Sydney, these stores are normally owned and run by first generation immigrants. In the UK, this often means south Asians. In Australia, the owners of such shops are more often Chinese people, in some sense. (Often this can mean ethnically Chinese immigrants from Malaysia, Vietnam, or various other places).
People reading carefully may thing I am being careless in leaving alcoholic drinks and newspapers out of the list of things that such stores sell. After all, in London these things would make up a large portion of the business of such a store. Surely this is the same in Australia?
Well, no, actually. Australian convenience stores do have vast amounts of shelf space devoted to sunscreen and insect repellant, but this hardly makes up for it.
Australia loves to regulate to protect vested interests. Laws vary according to state, but in Sydney an area will have a single newsagent, which will have a monopoly over the sale of newspapers in that area. This newsagent will be free to sub-licence other stores in the area to sell newspapers, but this normally only happens for Sunday papers, as the owner of the local monopoly will (or at least might) take the day off. In theory, the holder of the newsagent monopoly guarantees that he will provide local delivery of newspapers in the morning in return for being granted this monopoly. This may have once made sense, although I doubt it. Now though, most people who read newspapers at home do so over the internet. The monopoly remains, though. It’s about vested interests being protected from competition. This means, amongst other things, that convenience stores run by recent immigrants are not going to be allowed to sell newspapers.
→ Continue reading: Loving the Aussies slightly less
Young, ambitious, Chinese officials are being required to read Tom Friedman if they want to get ahead.
I knew the Chinese government was cruel, but until now I had no idea just how cruel.
There is, in this world, something called the Budweiser trademark dispute. The giant American brewery Anheuser-Busch produces a beer named Budweiser, an industrial mass produced lager that is not greatly revered by beer connoisseurs but which sells in large quantities, and a brewery called Budweiser Budvar Brewery in the Czech city of České Budějovice (Budweis in German) produces another beer called Budweiser, which is considered an excellent beer by most beer lovers. The two breweries have been fighting in courts throughout the world with respect who has the right to the name Budweiser ever since the end of Communism in Czechoslovakia. In some countries the Americans have won and the Czechs have had to find a different name, and in others the Czechs have won and the Americans have had to find a different name. In Britain the courts have made the eminently sensible ruling that both brewers can use the name and drinkers are smart enough to be able to tell the difference, but I don’t believe this has happened anywhere else.
Beer lovers are often sympathetic to the claims of Budvar, because the beer is better and because it actually come from Budweis, and this is therefore the “Original Budweiser”.
This is not really true, however. Anheuser-Busch started brewing the American Budweiser in 1876, due to the fact that the beers of Budweis were famous, including amongst German Americans. However, the Budvar brewery did not exist at that point. This brewery was not founded until 1895. At some point after that, they also started using the name Budweiser, possibly because the name had been given further fame by Anheuser-Busch. At least to some extent, the Czechs at Budvar may have started using the name because of the use of it by Anheuser-Busch, and not the other way round. Budvar was founded by ethnic Czechs, and the only reason they would have had for using a German name was that the German name had already been made famous by other brewers.
However, what of those earlier beers from Budweis, responsible for Anheuser-Busch starting to use the name? Well, there is another, much older, brewery in Budweis / Budějovický Budvar. This brewery, known as Budweiser Bürgerbräu until 1945, made beer in Budweis under the Budweiser name at least as early as 1802. It is almost certainly this company’s beers that Anheuser-Busch was copying when they started using the name “Budweiser”. This brewery was run by ethnic Germans from its founding until 1945, after which it was taken over by ethnic Czechs and de-germanised. The brewery is now called Budějovický měšťanský pivovar, which is a precise Czech translation of its original name. When de-germanisation took place, the brewery ceased using German words and names, including “Budweiser” (it regained some interest in using them post-1989). However, this brewery has by far the strongest claim that it produces the beer that is the original Budweiser.
That said, the trademark battles between the other two, larger companies have been so ferocious that Budějovický měšťanský pivovar has stayed clear of them, despite apparently having a stronger claim to the name than either of them. The brewery is quite a substantial one, and produces a significant quantity of (excellent) beer. It sells the beer under a variety of names including Crystal, Samson, B.B. Bürgerbräu, Boheme 1795, and more. It only uses the word “Budweiser” in places where trademark law is weak.
This is why I took the above photo, in Tbilisi in Georgia last month. It was certainly not the first time I had consumed beer from the brewery that actually gave us Budweiser, but it was the first time I had ever seen beers from that brewery actually using the word. It is not the most prominent word on the label, perhaps, but it is still prominently there.
“In terms of technology I hate to sound ridiculously optimistic, but I am ridiculously optimistic”.
– Terence Kealey
Speaking today at the Liberty League Freedom Forum.
“William Shakespeare evaded tax and illegally stockpiled food during times of shortage so he could sell it at high prices, academics have claimed“.
Some organisation has recently filled my local neighbourhood in the inner London borough of Southwark with a remarkably large number of the above signs. These have been attached to stop signs and other traffic signs, poles holding street lighting, and a few are even attached to poles that hold nothing else and have presumably been installed specially for the occasion. It is hard to imagine government of some kind not being involved, given the public places where they have been erected, but WTF?
Are these supposed to make me feel safe? Reassured? Threatened? Creeped out? Vaguely worried? Concerned that money that could otherwise be spent on something useful is being used to pay the salaries of people with far too much time on their hands? Also, WTF?
Going to the advertised website is only of limited help. Something about fighting crime with fighter jets? In any event, a badly designed website of the kind one would find from some small company that is desperately short of capital and trying to impress investors after an unsuccessful listing on AIM. Oh, okay, there is something about some kind of partnership in London with the Metropolitan Police elsewhere on the website, but it is virtually impossible for me to link to due to the horrendous overuse of Flash. So taxpayer money probably is involved somewhere.
Once again, WTF?
The annual Earth Hour, in which people are requested to turn their lights off out of respect for the planet Earth, commences at 8.30pm this evening, local time. Here in London this is seven minutes from now. Please do what you think is right.
So far Voyager 1 has ‘left the Solar System’ by passing through the termination shock three times, the heliopause twice, and once each through the heliosheath, heliosphere, heliodrome, auroral discontinuity, Heaviside layer, trans-Neptunian panic zone, magnetogap, US Census Bureau Solar System statistical boundary, Kuiper gauntlet, Oort void, and crystal sphere holding the fixed stars.
- A rather marvellous alt-text from Randall Monroe of xkcd. Can we just give the guy the Nobel Prize for Literature right now? And possibly also the prize for Peace (assuming he has the bad taste to want it)?
“Last time I remember over-reaching legislation being similarly rushed, we ended up with the Terrorism Act Section 44 which started out as preventing terrorism and ended up as random stop-and-search powers being exercised by the Met on any motorist they felt like bothering.”
- Alec Muffett, in a rather depressing summary of his thoughts about the meeting that he, other members of the Open Rights Group, and other civil liberties groups had with Hacked Off last night. Read the whole thing. (This is a subsequent post to the one that was linked to earlier).
In December last year, I had some delicious seafood in one of a chain of restaurants in Cyprus. The chain was actually South African owned, and the style of cooking was actually Cape Malay. The restaurant didn’t mention either of these things in its advertising, signage, or on its menue. There was a vague suggestion that it was Cajun. (Being very vague about where they come from is a skill South African businesses picked up in the apartheid era, and they haven’t lost it). When I got my bill and paid by credit card, I was intrigued to see that the merchant bank was not a local Cypriot bank, but was a South African bank. I was slightly mystified by this at the time (other than that it is no secret that, well, interesting capital flows go through Cyprus), and wondered if the restaurant and the bank shared ownership for reasons similar to the reasons why the mafia also finds it convenient to own lots of restaurants.
Possibly, though, the situation is simpler. The Cypriot banks were and are bust. A South African company doing business in Cyprus does not trust the Cypriot financial system and is avoiding it as much as possible by bringing its own bank. Perhaps my payment for seafood was going directly to somewhere else in the euro area rather than to a Cypriot registered institution. Possibly it was going further afield. Some of the species of seafood on the menu were not native to the Mediterranean, so there were certainly foreign payments to be made, and that part would at least be legitimate to some extent. (To be fair, seafood may be one of the world’s most globalised industries, and this is true of almost any seafood restaurant anywhere). Someone, though, may have suspected what was coming.
Encountered at a truck stop near the Armenia/Georgia border (on the Armenian side) yesterday.