Friday, December 06, 2013

Monday, November 04, 2013

A new use for an old exit visa

A little while ago I checked out the web page of the Russian consulate in NYC, and found the following text:

"Applicants who used to be citizens of the USSR or of the Russian Federation and then emigrated from the USSR or from Russia must submit one of the documents which confirms that they are no longer citizens of the Russian Federation (so called "Visa to Israel" or stamp in their passport saying that they left for "permanent residence abroad" before the 6th of February, 1992 or official document certifying that their Russian citizenship was renounced), otherwise the applications will not be accepted. A naturalization certificate is to be submitted also."

The reason I checked that page out in the first place was that an acquaintance was denied a tourist visa because her current last name happened to be different from her last name when she left the USSR in 1970-something. They figured she must be a spy or something.

The bottom line: in order to visit Russia as a tourist, I would have to show them the exit visa that the Soviet Union issued me 25 years ago, a piece of paper looking approximately like this: The text I quoted above appears on so many consulate pages in so many countries that I assume the requirement is universal. One of the consulates explains that in the absence of such a document a person would have to apply to have their citizenship or lack thereof confirmed, which costs money and takes from one to six months.

I probably even have that exit visa. Or my parents have it, somewhere. OTOH, London would be a perfectly nice place for my next vacation, and British officials, for all their tendency to ask weird questions, have never asked me to prove that I am not their citizen before letting me into the country.

Yeah, I know that "bugger them, I am not going there" sounds somewhat ridiculous from a person who wasn't going there in the first place.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Allies who listen to each other

In a 2008 speech in Berlin Obama told Germans that allies should listen to each other. Well, I am glad that at least some of our politicians keep at least some of their campaign promises. Although, judging from the Germans' reaction, I don't suppose they'd realized that he meant it that literally.

 Now the media is speculating whether or not Obama knew about the surveillance, and the White House is not admitting anything either way. I can sort of understand them. "I didn't inhale" sounds kind of stupid, and "I did inhale" is somewhat embarrassing.

 What are the implications of Obama not knowing about the surveillance (which, IMO, is about as likely as Clinton not knowing about what Monica Lewinski was doing with his dick)? Either the man is (possibly intentionally) stupid and doesn't know where his surveillance data comes from, or he just doesn't care, or the NSA is doing whatever it wants and doesn't inform the president at all, or share the surveillance data with him. None of that sounds particularly good.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Back from the US

Back from Florida and Boston and NYC. Should really visit there more often. Yes, even Florida.

For the first time ever didn't go anywhere at all in Boston, just spent my time seeing people, and still didn't see everybody I wanted to see.

This was my first time in Florida, and it was quite lovely, much better than expected. They have sandy beaches, and warm sea, and little lizards, and iguanas, and weird-looking turtles, and weird-looking birds, and flying fish.

Like almost any American I occasionally have some grievances against the federal government, but I could never imagine that I'd add "they hid all the crocodiles and alligators in Florida" to the list. But they did. We didn't get to visit Everglades or see any crocodiles at all.

Realized I actually like beaches quite a lot as long as there is no hot yellow thing in the sky.

Wish I could have taken some pictures of the flying fish, but they absolutely refused to pose in midair.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Some random thoughts on the Snowden scandal

1. Yeah, governments spy on each other, including their own allies. Everyone knows that. When you get caught doing that, the thing to do is to look sheepish and apologize, not to make a huge scandal and create one diplomatic incident after another chasing the whistleblower around the world.

2. We have this thing called the Constitution. Also the Fourth Amendment. The current administration should read it sometime, and so should the Congress. It does not say "the Federal Government should read everyone's mail and eavesdrop on everything that moves".

3. Yep, terrorists. I am all for catching terrorists. Other evildoers, too. That's what we have warrants for, and probable cause. "Uses Gmail" does not constitute a probable cause. While you are at it, you might consider more efficient methods of catching terrorists - for example listening when a foreign government or their own parents warn you about them.

4. I understand there are minimization procedures in place, where NSA only collects the data, and only uses it under very strict rules, so for the most part the data just sits there safe and unused. Hmm... Safe... Didn't NSA just have its own secrets leaked all over the Internet? How safe do you think are yours?

5. It's damn hard to keep secrets nowadays when any fucker with a USB drive and a security clearance can publish them on the Internet.

6. The above concerns both the NSA, and the people's data they collect.

7. That's a lot of data, BTW. How many people do they give the security clearance to in order to deal with it? How well do they check them? How many wannabe terrorists are actually on the NSA payroll?

8. It appears that what Snowden has done was illegal, and what the NSA has done is only of questionable legality. Nevertheless chasing the whistleblower all over the world in embarrassing ways only works to convince the observers that the whistle needed to be blown. And yes, it did.

9. One thing that I've been wondering about since the original Wikileaks scandal: how easy is it to add fake data to any such revelation? Especially if you add it to a mountain of real data?

Change we can sure as hell believe in

"Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled. We need to empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance. Barack Obama will strengthen whistleblower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud, and abuse of authority in government. Obama will ensure that federal agencies expedite the process for reviewing whistleblower claims and whistleblowers have full access to courts and due process."

From Obama's pre-inaguration ethics agenda.

I think the ethics have changed just a bit.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Should take young people more seriously

When I was young, I was very annoyed when older people treated young people as someone who just doesn't know anything about life yet. Now I noticed doing so myself. Last week I was arguing with a 25-year-old guy and I noticed myself thinking "just wait till you grow up, silly child".

And then I thought about it some more, and realized that my 25-year-old self, and probably even my 18-year-old self, would have immediately recognized that the guy was not a silly child who needed to grow up, but an absolute moron who would remain so for the rest of his life.

I don't mean that there aren't any things that one learns through age and experience - there certainly are, and some perfectly intelligent young people just haven't learned them yet, but it appears that the one thing that I unlearned with age is the ability to easily distinguish between immature and mind-bogglingly stupid. Should practice more.

(And to anyone else with whom I have argued last week: if you are reading this and know me in person, this is not about you.)

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Things change

I remember when my friend Anna got up and argued for slavery, or rather for the northern states allowing the southern states to continue with it. She made a very good and convincing argument, too, as much as one can be made on the subject, mostly based on property rights and the rights of states. A guy named Reza argued for stopping the slavery, using the arguments that are more familiar to us, and was also quite convincing. Then they switched positions, and were quite as good arguing for the opposite side.

This whole thing was very new to me (I had been out of USSR for several months), and I was not any good in arguing for the things I don't believe in (I think I could do a much better job now but am still not as good as Anna and Reza were back then), and I got a C for the class and didn't enjoy it much, but I did learn quite a lot.

We've done a lot of uncontroversial topics like that. I think the only reason we didn't do Holocaust was that this was a US history class, and we only did the debates where both parties were American.

It appears that similar assignments are national news nowadays.

I want nukes

Imagine that I have come to Rautatientori with a pistol. I aim it at one person, then at another, and tell them that I'll kill them all. Would anybody say "don't worry, she doesn't really mean it"? "Don't worry, it's just her usual rhetoric, just look at all her postings mentioning raping people with cactii." "She just wants to look scary so that people will give her some money." (I believe the technical term for the latter is "armed robbery".)

How long will I have to threaten before the talk starts to shift from "she doesn't really mean it" to "she probably doesn't really mean it, and her pistol is probably no good anyway, and she is probably a lousy shot"? And if I threaten to go home and get a proper automatic weapon, will people actually wait for me to do that?

If nobody is gonna take that shit from me, why are people taking it from a dude who a) actually has nukes, b) has threatened to attack the US and Japan with said nukes, and wipe South Korea from the face of the Earth, and c) whose only redeeming quality appears to be that he doesn't have a very good delivery system for said nukes - yet? Granted, kicking is ass his way harder than kicking mine, but he does appear a somewhat bigger threat as well, what with the nukes and a 1.2-million active-duty army (that's for a country with 24 million people - think about it).

10 years ago we (the US) invaded a country ruled by a dictator who was alleged to have weapons of mass destruction. Despite all the effort the weapons of mass destruction were not found, and I - despite not being a supporter of said war - remember thinking for a moment, in a rather cynical way, that it might be better to kick the guy's ass before he has the weapons of mass destruction and not after. And now there is a guy who actually has weapons of mass destruction, and has threatened several countries with them, and nobody is doing anything.

I think the only message to be learned from here is that if you happen to be an insane dictator, your best bet is to get some nukes. Pretty soon every dictator is gonna be getting nukes. Hell, I want to have nukes of my own, and I am not ever a dictator yet. I even have a grand plan for my nukes: gonna make a lot of noise, threaten a lot of neighbors, then give the nukes up and receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

Friday, April 12, 2013

An open letter to IRS

Dear IRS,

I do hereby solemnly swear that I don't file my federal taxes for fun and personal entertainment, but because you require me to. If you would like to change your mind and stop requiring tax returns from people whose total income is 0, adjusted gross income is 0, and taxes or refunds owed are 0, please do so, it would be most welcome. Until then - please adjust your processing software to be able to process the forms where these values are 0.

Also, please do not ask people to put things in parentheses if your forms don't accept parentheses.

Checkboxes that cannot be unchecked are not a nice touch, either.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

I have a bad feeling about it...

The whole North Korea thing somehow reminds me of a sci-fi novel by Vladlen Bakhnov, The Story of Ogogondia (the real name of the novel is way longer - How the Sun Went out, or the History of the Thousand-year Dictatorship of Ogogondia, which Existed 13 Years, 5 Months and 7 Days ). At some point the leaders of other countries are talking about what to do with Ogogondia, a dictatorship that became a bit aggressive:

"I suggest we drop a bomb on Ogogondia, and start a war."
"And I suggest we drop two bombs, and start peace negotiations."
"It's best to drop three bombs, and not start anything at all."

I can sort of imagine Chuck Hagel saying "Hey, let's drop two bombs, and start peace negotiations, it has worked for us before!", although I suppose it would be a bit tasteless to say that to the Japanese.

Just checked with the text (sorry, it's in Russian), and it goes on (this is the part I didn't remember):

"Gentlemen, gentlemen, don't forget: Ogogondia also has bombs.Granted, they are second-hand, but still..."
"That's true. So what do you suggest?"
"Let's send this upstart an ultimatum with a strict reprimand and a final warning."

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Relaxation day

Took it fairly easy today. Went for a walk in town and saw the weird yellow thing in the sky that everyone had been talking about. Went to the gym. Got a takeout from Dong Bei Hu   Bought a bottle of BenRiach (15 year old Pedro Ximenez Sherry wood finish). Watched Starks and Lannisters perform various violent acts on each other (for those who don't know, these are characters in the Song of Ice and Fire, and not my neighbors or suchlike, although there is one lady in our building whom I can well imagine in the Kingsguard).

Lately I'd been having a feeling that I am just sitting at home, not working, not being sociable, etc. Which is really weird, because it has absolutely nothing to do with reality. Last Saturday I just kept thinking "why am I sitting at home", and reminding myself that I was actually not.

Oh well. I usually interpret all the weird psychological phenomena as "I need a vacation". And vacation is coming. And winter, I hope, is going.

Feel like I need to write something about Anjem Choudary. I will as soon as I manage to say something printable or at least legal.

Sunday, March 31, 2013


"Get up, get up! There is a hurricane here, and tanks in Moscow!"

One of my eyes opened, registered the time on the clock - 6 - and closed again. My brain, partly awakened by the assault, tried to process the information. The hurricane was the only understandable thing. It was expected to make the landfall in New England today, although it was not entirely clear what I was supposed to do about it at 6 am. Tanks, what tanks?

I made a somewhat impolite and highly figurative suggestion as to where my mother could shove the tanks. The suggestion was disregarded, and I was pulled out of bed and into the pile of clothes on the floor.

Figuring that there was no chance of going back to sleep under the circumstances, I crawled into my parents' bedroom and curled up in front of the TV. The parents were trying to talk over the TV, turning up the volume in order to hear what was being said, and then talking even louder in order to hear each other.

There were indeed tanks in Moscow in the Red Square, and it sure didn't look like a military parade. Some government dudes whom I'd never heard about before had declared the state of emergency and seized the power, or were trying to.

Every once in a while either ourselves or the TV cut to the local news. Rhode Island and Connecticut had also declared the state of emergency in expectation of the hurricane landfall, and Massachusetts was about to follow suit. People were being evacuated on Cape Cod and all over the coastline.

Every once in a while the TV would show some people who had actually gone to Cape Cod to watch the hurricane and appeared to have quite a good time at the beach. For a moment I considered driving up there, but the huge car line on the Sagamore bridge (in the wrong direction, to be sure, but what goes to Cape Cod must come back) and the perspective of being disemboweled by my mother made me think better of it.

At some point my parents left for work, promising to be back by noon, and I wondered why they bothered. I stayed with the TV, watching the tanks and the hurricane. It occurred to me that the tanks didn't feel particularly close to home. Not that I didn't care - I certainly cared just as must as about Tiananmen Square and the fall of the Berlin wall - but it was just an important but distant historical event, which I could watch on TV while being quite certain that if those tanks fire on the crowd they won't hit anyone I really care about.

Argh! Suddenly I realized that Tanya's brother was due to arrive in two days. From Moscow. And could be in that crowd right now. And they could close the borders. For many years, like they've done before. Probably already have.

I figured I'd better call Tanya. She never read a newspaper, watched news on TV or in general followed the current events in any way, and was probably the only person in New England who hadn't heard about the hurricane. (Which was a bit ironic considering that she is nowadays, among other things, an award-winning journalist.) Waking her up at 8:30 was cruel, but I figured the earlier she knows, the better.

She was already awake, having just arrived home from some party. As I told her the news she considered telling me that this is a really bad joke, but then she realized that I am not a person who jokes about such things at 8 in the morning. Or indeed jokes about anything at 8 in the morning.

We were interrupted by a wail worthy of a whole regiment of banshees. "Oh shit," said Tanya. "Mom was listening. I'll calm her down and call you later in the afternoon."

I drove to the supermarket, figuring that this emergency calls for ample supplies of salmon cream cheese and crackers, and came back home in front of the TV.

By noon the winds were already high, the tanks were still in Moscow, either the hurricane watchers on Cape Cod or the people filming them had found some shelter, and my parents came home.

"We need to take shelter," said my father.
"We are in the kitchen," I pointed out.
"That's not enough. What if a tree flies in the window?"

There were some branches of trees already flying outside, but such an event seemed a bit unlikely. As we considered the probabilities, my father grabbed all the food in the fridge and ran to the basement, screaming for us to follow him. For the next couple of hours we were having a picnic in the basement and berating him for cheap sensationalism and a tendency to panic.

By 4 or 5 the wind subsided a bit. Tanya called me. "Come if you can," she said. "Be warned that my mom is naked and standing on her head." Anya called me too, relating the story of how she went out and got blown away. Anya is a very small person, who at the time was also extremely thin, and unfortunately fond of big clothes. She went out in a big skirt, a big jacket and with an umbrella, and almost got blown away like Mary Poppins. She managed to grab on the the building, kissed her umbrella good-bye and decided to remain home for the duration.

When Tanya opened the door she repeated her warning. "My mom is naked and standing on her head." I don't mind nudity, and "standing on one's head" is a normal Russian  expression for making a lot of noise, but when I came in I was confronted with Polina who was actually naked, and standing on her head in the most literal way.

"Hi, how are you?", I said, all the time thinking about the proper etiquette for talking to a naked person - mother of a friend - standing on their head. The obvious problem here is that when they are standing on their head, and you are not, you are pretty much talking to their genitals.

"How the fuck do you think I am!" wailed Polina. "I am never gonna see my son again!"
"You can't know that," I said, hoping for the better. "He might not be the first person they'd be interested in."
"They are interested in everyone!"

I really liked Polina from the first sight, when she found me in her home at 3 am (I was giving Tanya a ride and she asked me in for tea) and opened the conversation with "Are you real? I thought you were a hallucination." I answered that yes, in fact I am real, but if she prefers to continue considering me a hallucination she can certainly do so. We got along pretty well after that.

I wished I could say something to reassure Polina, but she was beyond reassuring, and at some point said that we could leave her in peace and go buy some potatoes. Minding Anya's experience, we left umbrellas at home and went on a potato quest. The wind was howling but there were no more trees flying.

When my parents picked me up at Tanya's and we got home I was looking forward to watching the news again, but suddenly the lights went out, both inside and outside, and apparently in the whole area. It's amazing how dark it is without the city lights.

"Shit!" screamed my father. "The fish sticks are gonna melt!"
"Good riddance," mom and I thought simultaneously, and added out loud: "Leave them in the freezer, they's survive till morning."
"No! We gotta cook them!"

For the next hour or so I was holding up candles - did I mention how much I hate candles - and fantasizing about where to stick them along with the fish sticks, while my father was frying those fish sticks and expressing grave concern about their eventual fate.

The concern was not misplaced - by the morning the fish sticks had mysteriously disappeared.

Tanya's brother Borya arrived safely two days later, with his wife, two children, and a perpetually constipated dachshund named Max.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Improving the society - a couple of thoughts

I wonder how many of the people who say "I want to improve the society" realize that this is just a very polite way to say "I want power"?

I also wonder about the people who expect their employers (lovers, friends, organizations, whatever) to want to improve the society. At what point do they actually try to find out whether there exists any consensus as to what does or does not constitute an improvement?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

"We'd love to have more women!"

I attended a developer event on Tuesday. I wasn't planning to go there - I am fairly new to iOS and didn't expect to understand much of the presentations - but went on impulse and understood enough to make it worthwhile.

Before the event I read their Twitter feed, and noticed a journalist asking how many female developers are attending the event. My first thought was "oh no, poor organizers, now they will feel the need to apologize". And sure enough, afterwards I told the journalist that I was the only woman there (out of about 30 people), and the organizers felt the need to inform us that they'd love to have more women and don't want to be a male-only club.

(For a second there I considered lying and telling the journalist that 25 out of 30 attendees were women to see how she'd react, but it's not really all that funny if you don't get to do that in person.)

This is by no means criticism of the organizers. They just said what was expected of them. More to the point, I knew that they would say it at some point as soon as I saw the original question. And that, people, is really something. I am not the kind of person who easily notices such generalized social pressure; usually subtle social clues have to be beaten into my head with a two-by-four at a considerable personal risk to the beater. If even I notice things like that, the pressure on everyone to explain why they don't have more women must be enormous.

But seriously, why? It makes sense to discuss why there are fewer women in the CS/IT field than could be, what can be done to attract them, should anything be done, and how, but what can realistically be expected from the organizers of any specific professional event? They announce the event, they choose the speakers, they invite people to come, and some of these people might or might not be women. It should go without saying that women are welcome there, but it obviously does not in fact go without saying. Makes me wonder who needs it to be said explicitly, and why.

Monday, February 04, 2013

The pilots are doing what?


"(a) An applicant for or holder of a Class 1 medical certificate shall have no established medical history or clinical diagnosis of any sexually transmitted disease or other infection which is likely to interfere with the safe exercise of the privileges of the applicable licence(s).

(b) Particular attention (see Appendix 7 to this Subpart) shall be paid to a history of or clinical signs indicating:

(1) HIV positivity,
(2) Immune system impairment,
(3) Infectious hepatitis,
(4) Syphilis."

Now maybe I understood something wrong, but wouldn't the activities likely to transmit syphilis be a bit of a potential hazard in-flight? Regardless of whether or not the person in question actually has syphilis?

Rurouni Kenshin (the manga, not the movie)

Finished Rurouni Kenshin (the manga). Liked it well enough.

The one thing I don't quite understand: when the story is in the present (in 1878) Battosai is treated very much like Kenshin's alter (evil merciless murderer) ego that is very-very different from actual Kenshin, and can wake up under sufficient stress, and has to be controlled - basically the whole thing is treated as some split-personality disorder.

However, when we see actual Battosai in the flashbacks, he is very much teenage Kenshin: very nice when he is not doing his job as an assassin, not particularly bloodthirsty, and quite idealistic. He certainly doesn't seem any more different from Kenshin than a person at 18 would normally be different from themselves at 28.

If this is some general allegory of people's relationship with their teenage selves, I don't quite get it.

France: Amiens, Rouen

I guess the fine art of vacation blogging still eludes me. I'll try though.

In October I started blogging about my trip to Paris and the the north of France, in November I got as far as Beauvais.

In real life everything was a bit faster.

Amiens had a beautiful cathedral, a nice riverfront, and hortillonnages, which are sort of gardens on a swamp. It also had gardens that were not on a swamp. At night the town was dead-dead-dead.

Rouen was quite a lot livelier than Amiens. Bigger, too. Full of half-timbered buildings. Or maybe half-full of fully-timbered buildings? Whatever.  Beautiful. Cathedral, churches, clock tower, pederstrian area. I am so totally gonna visit there again.

They were really proud of Jeanne d'Arc, which was a bit tasteless since their only connection with her was that they burned the poor kid at the stake. But their is Jeanne d'Arc this and Jeanne d'Arc that everywhere, the actual place of burning is marked, and there is a Jeanne d'Arc church next to it, which is shaped like a flame on the inside (how tasteless is that?) and has hanging eaves for some reason.


Haven't updated this blog for a while. Part of it is a lot of work and a lot of travel last year, part of it is that some of the things I used to say in the blog I say on FB and/or G+, part of it is that I don't feel like writing about politics now - I am at a "I think I have already said everything I had to say" stage. It will pass, though.

In the meanwhile, gonna try to be better. Don't I promise that in almost every post nowadays?