Archive for December, 2014


December 14, 2014

2014-12-14Comet_67PToday I was travelling through the Solar System having made up my own scale of measurement. With the Earth being one centimeter wide, the Moon was as big as 2.7 mm across rotating round the Earth at the distance of 30 cm. The Sun (a little more than 1 meter wide) was 117 meters away, with its mass measuring 333,000 times of the Earth’s mass. Mars stayed on the other side – 60 meters farther from the Earth, and Jupiter – another 430 meters after Mars (490 m from the Earth). The distances of Saturn, Uranus and Neptune were respectively 1 km, 2.16 km and 3.471 km from the Earth. I did not to take into account Pluto, since it had been “demoted” from a planet to an asteroid by some decision-making astronomical organization.

Interestingly, our cosmic environs can be mapped out through time parameters as well.  Whereas it takes 8 minutes for light to travel from the Sun to the Earth (the time I take to get home from my Metro station by shuttle-bus), light will travel 43 minutes to reach Jupiter (the time you need to get to the center of Kyiv from outskirts by Metro), 1 hour 20 minutes to Saturn, 2 hours 40 minutes to Uranus and more than 4 hours to Neptune. Incidentally, it takes me about that time (4.5 hours) to travel from Kyiv to my parents’ city in the center of Ukraine.

My special interest in space was caused by the recent news about Comet 67P discovered by the Soviet astronomers from Ukraine Klym Churyumov and Svitlana Gerasymenko in 1969. In March 2004 the European Space Agency sent a robotic space probe Rosetta on a mission to the Comet. On 12th November 2014 Rosetta’s lander module Philae successfully touched down on 67P and transmitted data about the Comet’s composition.

Since every aspect of ex-USSR’s life is permeated with politics, journalists presented this space news through the prism of political confrontation too. As it has turned out, Svitlana Gerasymenko lives nowadays in Dushanbe (Tadzhikistan) and thinks that Ukraine has been occupied by pro-American fascists, while Klym Churyumov (the head of the Central Astronomic Observatory in Kyiv) takes a strong pro-Ukrainian stand and writes books for children in the Ukrainian language.

The Russian communists insist that the Rosetta mission is the continuation of the Star Wars waged by the West, and the Philae landing is the “encroachment on our comet” because the Comet was discovered by the Soviet scientists and, allegedly, is under the jurisdiction of Russia ( LOL!!!

As regards the data transmitted from the Comet, the mission lander detected organic molecules on its surface. The discovery could provide new clues about how the early chemical ingredients (carried by comets and/or asteroids) led to life on the Earth. “How did those ingredients turn out to be on the comets?” my wife asked. “We should probably read the Bible for that,” I answered with a smile.


December 13, 2014

I take a special interest in reports from countries with “Big-Brother” regimes. Another reason for such interest is my personal experience of living in the ex-USSR where people’s everyday lives were continuously screened by the authorities. Fortunately, in the Soviet Union there was no “one child policy”, as in China (see the reposted article), but I know some people whose careers stalled because they married “wrong” persons (foreigners, Jewish, etc.).  The article below was published in today’s issue of the Financial Times.


Jamil Anderlini – Beijing

Police in central China have launched an investigation into the disappearance of more than 100 Vietnamese women who married local bachelors and had been living in villages around the city of Handan. The women all disappeared at the same time in late November, along with a Vietnamese woman who married a local villager 20 years ago and had introduced most of the brides to local men in recent months in exchange for a fee. Faced with severe gender imbalances as a result of China’s decades-old one child policy and a traditional preference for male children, many Chinese men are unable to find suitable brides and resort to paying for wives from poorer Asian countries such as Vietnam.

Marriage, particularly in more traditional rural parts of China, is highly transactional and men are expected to provide a house, car, electrical appliances and a steady income before a Woman or their family will consider him eligible for marriage. For those who cannot afford the expensive requirements of Chinese brides, paying for a bride from Vietnam or elsewhere in the region Can be a much cheaper option.

As a consequence of the demand for cheap foreign brides, China has a Problem with human trafficking.

“My brother worked outside the village and was too poor to afford a local wife so my family paid Rmb100,000 ($16,000) to get a wife from Vietnam through that old Vietnamese woman who came here 20 years ago,” said the brother of Bai Bao-xing, whose Vietnamese wife disappeared with the others barely a month after they were married.

Mr Bai’s brother said the new bride spoke decent Mandarin Chinese and he and his family were now wondering whether she was even Vietnamese. An officer in the local Handan city police office told the Financial Times that provincial policewere handling the case and they could not comment on the investigation. Local officials in Handan said it was possible the Vietnamese brides had organized  their mass departure through social media networks.

“Chinese law prohibits marriage brokers from selling Chinese brides abroad and it is also illegal for Chinese to buy brides from Vietnam,” said Chen Shiqu, a policeman working in China’s anti-human-trafficking task force, in a comment posted online. “We should strike hard against human trafficking and marriage fraud.” 

Additional reporting by GuYu


December 7, 2014

2014-12-07cThere are reports about another Maidan – this time in Vynnytsia,  a provincial center of Ukraine. Behind-the-scenes maneuvering inside the local administration angered the people, some of whom had also been participants of the Maidan in Kyiv last winter. Again burning tires, clashes with the police, blood on faces, arrests.  I ask myself: why is this country destined to have its political and social issues always solved through “maidans”? Answers may be many, but one of them is: while declaring the changes, powers-that-be never dare make RADICAL changes. The approach seems to be going back to the times of Czar Alexander II who, in 1861, abolished serfdom by preserving the remnants of serfdom (the landless rural poor were again dependent on their former landlords, which caused a major uprising catalyzed by the Great War half a century later). Once I heard a joke about how some local authorities were reducing the number of traffic accidents in their city. They knew that the country with the fewest traffic problems was Great Britain. Putting on their thinking caps the authorities “understood” that it was because traffic in Britain was left-hand. They decided to introduce the British experience in their city, but only progressively: buses and taxis were allowed to go on the left side of streets but the rest of the traffic should, for some time, remain right-hand.2014-12-07

The current Ukrainian President has been in office for half a year, the current Premier – for about 9 months. Only the political façade of the country has changed: the presidential and parliamentary elections were held, which put this President and this Premier into their present-day positions. There were practically no other changes. None of those who ordered the deaths of hundreds last February have been punished or even found. Many of the “old guard” got into the new Parliament due to the old election law which could have been changed by the initiative of the acting President but which wasn’t . No opportunities have been opened for small businesses, the size of underground economy is as big as half the country’s GDP.  Education and health care are in a pathetic state, money-bags keep grabbing plots of land from municipal councils, the legal system keeps being corrupted all through… You just name it.2014-12-07b

Interestingly, pro-government media were crying “stop the thief” yesterday by attributing the disturbances in Vynnytsia to the intrigues and underhand practices of the Russian Secret Service. “Keep staying with the President, otherwise Putin will take you”, they also warned, which reminds me of “Be quiet, or the policeman will take you” – that’s what our granny used to say addressing us, mischievous urchins. The difference is that the policeman was fictitious, but Putin is real. Those in supreme command know it and they exploit it to push people around.


December 6, 2014

This weekend three eventful dates are observed and remembered in Ukraine: The first two are December 6 – Army Day, which was set as an annual holiday by a parliamentary resolution in 1993, and December 5, 1994 – the date when the Budapest Memorandum was signed.   As stipulated by the Memorandum, its signatories (Russia, Great Britain and the United States) guaranteed the territorial integrity and political independence for Ukraine in case Ukraine gives up its nuclear weapons. The weapons were given up, the integrity and independence were not guaranteed. As it has recently been explained by a high-positioned EU functionary, the Memorandum gave the signatories justification if they took action defending Ukraine, but it did not force anyone to act in Ukraine.

As regards Ukraine’s army, it was continuously underfinanced and its combat readiness was being reduced from year to year. Each next President declared that Ukraine had “no enemies.” President Yanukovich, who fled from Ukraine to Russia last February, even “forgot” to traditionally address the Ukrainian army in December 2013. But he had been doing his best to appoint pro-Russian specialists (some of whom were also Russian citizens) to the leading positions in Ukraine’s Armed Forces and Security Service.

After Russia (a guarantor of Ukraine’s territorial integrity!) annexed the Crimea and invaded the Donbas, the Ukrainian army started being restored by the grass roots. Ordinary people have been collecting money and food, buying clothes and bulletproof vests, sending medication and messages of greeting to the soldiers in the front. In this regard a third date should be mentioned: December 6, International Volunteer Day. IVD was designated by the United Nations in 1985. All over the world volunteers contribute to the Millennium Development Goals by combatting poverty, hunger, diseases, illiteracy, environmental degradation, discrimination of women, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, halting the spread of HIV/AIDS, introducing universal primary education…  But ask anybody in Ukraine “Who are volunteers?” and the answer will be: “They arrange the collection of money, food and clothes and deliver what they have gathered to our guys in the East.” The state has too little finances in its coffers and it is too red-taped to effectively supply the army. Whereas, in contrast( just one example), people from a village I know collected money and bought an armor vest for a young person, their fellow villager, who was in the front. The vest (alongside with other supplies) was immediately delivered by the volunteers to the young man 600 km away, who phoned already the next day to his parents that the vest was on him.

Three dates… Each of them has a special significance in the Ukrainian context.

2014-12-06an oven

P.S. In the pictures: a stove made in the village of Khmelyove (Kirovohrad oblast of Ukraine) specially for soldiers: besides furnishing heat for warmth, the stove also has compartments for drying clothes and footwear; pickled and canned products; the van from the “mainland” has arrived in the war zone.

2014-12-06van with supplies in the war zone2014-12-06food

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