Who Watches the Watchers?

A story like this always gives me a chuckle…

The Russian Orthodox Church has apologised for showing a photo of its leader Patriarch Kirill that was doctored to airbrush out a luxury watch he was wearing.

The gold Breguet watch is estimated to be worth more than $30,000 (£19,000) and was spotted by Russian bloggers.

The watch’s reflection could be seen in the 2009 photo on the church’s website.

The Patriarchate said the manipulation would be investigated and “the guilty ones will be punished severely”.

In a statement the Patriarch’s press service said “we reject on principle any use of photo editing software to alter the appearance of images.”

So, they reject on principle the use of photo editing software. Going by the evidence of watches that cost 19 grand however, they also, like many other christian churches, appear to reject some of the things written in that book that they are always on about…

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least among you, you did not do for me.'”

-Matthew 25:41-45
“Jesus answered, ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.'”

-Matthew 19:21

Yellow and Red Dust

In the Mediterranean there is a climatic condition whereby at certain times the clouds look like they are boiling red. As they come over the hills the air looks almost as if the oxygen in it had rusted.  This happens because the winds are blowing the desert sand over the Mediterranean from Africa. These clouds usually bring rain with them too and when the wind dies down the rain evaporates and the sky returns to normal leaving all the cars with a coating of red sand. When I saw it most clearly, with a mountainous backdrop, is the time in my life I most regretted not having a camera on me because as the clouds roll over the mountains it is a quite spectacular sight.

That said, the red dust isn’t pleasant and covers your clothes too. However, in South (and presumably North) Korea there is something called the yellow dust which is extremely nasty. I’ll get to explaining what the yellow dust is exactly in a roundabout (or should it be rounders?) sort of way.

Baseball is quite a popular sport in the USA but it is something I had never been able to like. I like to at least give things a try though and several times had tried to watch an entire match from start to finish on TV, always with the result of falling asleep.

Therefore, shortly after I arrived in Korea in March and noticed baseball was a rather popular sport there, I thought I would go along to a match and see if it was any better in the stadium . When April began it was getting warm enough that you could go out basically with just a t-shirt and jeans in the daytime so I was only wearing exactly that . I noticed also in April that people were wearing the face masks that you see so often in pictures from Japan but I didn’t bother to get one.

It must have been about 25 degrees that day, which is not hot but certainly not cold. I was just wearing a t-shirt but all the punters in the crowd were telling me to cover up. I thought they must be telling me this because they were being nice and were worried that I could get burned.  Not so.

You see, the yellow dust (or Hwang Sa as it is called in Korea) is something which  sweeps down from Mongolia, Kazakhstan and China into Korea. The sands from the deserts in those countries are blown down by seasonal winds in March, April and May, sometimes as far as Japan or further.

This is obviously something that has happened for thousands of years. It is worse now though because…

In the last decade or so, it has become a serious problem due to the increase of industrial pollutants contained in the dust and intensified desertification in China causing longer and more frequent occurrences, as well as in the last few decades when the Aral Sea of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan started drying up due to the diversion of the Amu River and Syr River following a Soviet agricultural program to irrigate Central Asian deserts, mainly for cotton plantations.


For the past few years, the dust storms often carry oxides (aluminium, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and silicon) and toxic waste thus increasing the risks of respiratory and skin reactions.

So I think now that the Koreans were trying to tell me to cover up for another reason entirely and

I experienced the double whammy of watching a crap sport and getting a little bit sick for a few days on account of that.

For a few days after I didn’t feel so good but the main thing that annoyed me was that no one at my work bothered to tell me about it until after the event. I explained about my weekend and I that I wasn’t feeling so good and they told me “Oh, that would’ve been the yellow dust”. Kamsa Hamnida for that!

So if you are going there, you have been warned.

Yuri Gagarin

That would be a happy birthday to Yuri Gagarin the first human being ever to go into space who, by any standards, has to be a hero.

I read a biography of him a few years ago of which the name escapes me for the moment.  It was very interesting but seemed to suggest foul play surrounding his death (in a plane crash) that has never been proven.

What is certainly true about him as that after his incredible achievement, the propaganda role he was asked/forced to play never sat well with him and he became increasingly upset with, and alientated from, the leadership of the former communist regime. They were never happy about his unwillingness to support them wholeheartedly and therefore relations became somewhat frosty (no cold war pun intended).

He just wished to fly again and this desire unfortunately led to his death. This reluctance to be a poster boy for the regime may be the reason for the lack of attributable quotes and speeches by him.

Anyway, here are a couple from him…

“What beauty. I saw clouds and their light shadows on the distant dear earth…. The water looked like darkish, slightly gleaming spots…. When I watched the horizon, I saw the abrupt, contrasting transition from the earth’s light-colored surface to the absolutely black sky. I enjoyed the rich color spectrum of the earth. It is surrounded by a light blue aureole that gradually darkens, becoming turquiose, dark blue, violet, and finally coal black.”

“No I didn’t see God. I looked and looked but I didn’t see God.”


The other famous anniversaries of today are being covered extensively elsewhere so I would just like to point out that today would be the 178th birthday of Fyodor Dostoevsky.

Given that I will just give you some of the things he had to say. Some short quotes first and then a longer [but not long] piece…


Deprived of meaningful work, men and women lose their reason for existence; they go stark, raving mad.

It is not possible to eat me without insisting that I sing praises of my devourer?

There is no subject so old that something new cannot be said about it.

Below is an extract from Notes From Underground

“And what is it, that civilization softens in us? The only gain of civilization for mankind is the greater capacity for variety of sensations and absolutely nothing more, and through the development of this many-sidedness man may come to finding enjoyment in bloodshed.

In fact, this has already happened to him . Have you noticed that it is the most civilized gentlemen who have been the subtlest slaughterers? To whom the attillas could not hold a candle and if they are not so conspicuous as the attillas it is simply because they are so often met with or are so ordinary and have become so familiar to us.

In any case, civilization has made mankind, if not more bloodthirsty, at least more vilely, more loathsomely bloodthirsty.

In old days he saw justice in bloodshed and with his conscience at peace exterminated those he thought proper. Now we do think bloodshed abominable and yet we engage in this abomination, and with more energy than ever.

Which is worse? Decide that for yourselves.

They say that Cleopatra, excuse an instance from Roman history, was fond of sticking gold pins into her slave girls breasts and derived gratification from their screams and writhings. You will say that that was in the comparatively barbarous times. But these are barbarous times too, because also, comparatively speaking, pins are stuck in even now. That though now man has learned to see more clearly than in barbarous ages he is still far from learned how to act as reason and science would dictate.

But yet you are fully convinced that he will be certain to learn when he gets rid of certain old bad habits and when common sense and science have completely reeducated human nature and turned it in a normal direction. You are confident that then man will cease from intentional error and will, so to say, be compelled not to want to set his will against his normal interests. That is not all. Then, you say, science itself will teach man, though to my mind it’s a superfluous luxury, that he never has really had any will or caprice of his own and that he himself is something of the nature of a piano key or the stop of an organ and that there are, besides, things called the laws of nature…so that everything he does is not done by his willing it but is done of itself – by the laws of nature. Consequently, we have only to discover these laws of nature and man will no longer have to answer for his actions and life will become exceedingly easy for him.

All human actions will then of course be tabulated according to these laws mathematically like tables of logarithms up to 108,000 and entered in an index. Or, better still there would be published certain edifying works of the nature of encyclopaedic lexicons in which everything would be so clearly calculated and explained that there would be no more incidence or adventures in the world.

Then -this is all what you say-new economic relations would be established – all ready made and worked out with mathematical exactitude so that every possible question will vanish in the twinkling of an eye simply because every possible answer to it will be provided then the…palace of crystal will be built. Then, in fact…those will be halcyon days.

Of course there is no guarantee…this is my comment, that it will not be, for instance, frightfully dull then. For what will one have to do when everything will be calculated and tabulated?

But on the other hand everything will be extraordinarily rational.

Of course boredom may lead you to anything. It is boredom sets one sticking golden pins into people.

But all that would not matter, what is bad, this is my comment again, is that I dare say people will be thankful for the gold pins then.

Man is stupid you know, phenomenally stupid. Or rather he is not stupid but he is so ungraceful that you could not find another like him in all creation.

I for instance, would not be in the least surprised if all of a sudden, apropos of nothing, in the midst of general prosperity, a gentleman of ignoble or rather a reactionary and ironical countenance were to arise and putting his arms akimbo say to us all

‘I say gentlemen hadn’t we better kick over the whole show and scatter rationalism to the winds simply to send these logarithms to the devil and to enable us to live once more at out own sweet foolish will?’

That again would not matter, but what is annoying, is that he would be sure to find followers.

Such is the nature of man.

And all that for the most foolish reason, which one would think is hardly worth mentioning…that is that man everywhere, at all times, whoever he may be, has preferred to act as he chose and not in the least as his reason and his advantage dictated”.


Russian news agencies are not exactly renowned for their fairness, muckraking and general impartiality. Hey…that sounds just like their US and European counterparts*.

One of John Pilger’s anecdotes [if that is the right word] is about a couple of Russian journalists being taken around an American newspaper during the cold war to see how a ‘real’ media operates. I can’t remember exactly, but at the end of the tour they were indeed impressed and one of them apparently said something like “I am amazed…to get this level of compliance [conformity or something, like I said, I can’t remember exactly] we have to send people to the camps. How do you do it?”

Nevertheless, the Russian news agency is carrying a story that has an interesting little piece of information in it.

Fourth paragraph, second sentence…

UN adopts Russian proposed anti-Nazi resolution

UN, November 19 (RIA Novosti) – The UN General Assembly on social and humanitarian issues has adopted a draft resolution proposed by Russia on tackling a rise in the glorification of Nazism and the desecration of WWII monuments.

The draft resolution on “combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance,” is aimed at tackling the practice in the former Soviet republics of Latvia and Estonia of honoring SS veterans who fought for Nazi Germany during WWII.

“Nazi monuments are unveiled in a ceremonial atmosphere and the dates of liberation from the Nazis are proclaimed as days of mourning,” Russia’s UN representative, Grigory Lykyantsev, told the UN, adding that “this attitude towards anti-fascist veterans plays into the hands of those who call for ‘a pure race.'”

The resolution was passed with 122 countries voting in favor, while 54 delegations abstained, including Ukraine, Estonia and Latvia. Only the U.S. voted against. The resolution is now practically guaranteed to be adopted at the next UN General Assembly session in December.

Parades in honor of Waffen-SS veterans, involving veterans from the Latvian Legion and the 20th Estonian SS Division and their supporters, are held annually in Latvia and Estonia. Russia has repeatedly criticized the Baltic States for allowing these parades to take place.

*It is a well-documented fact that in the run-up to the Iraq war the BBC gave less time to anti-war people than any other major broadcaster.


Too strange, this story was just too strange to leave alone…

mapGeorgia has hired a member of 1970s pop group Boney M, famous for songs like Daddy Cool and Rasputin, in its fight for control of breakaway South Ossetia.

Marcia Barrett played a concert in a small frontline village not far from the rebel capital Tskhinvali.

Thousands of people came in cars, buses, trucks and on foot through a mountain pass skirting separatist territory to hear her sing.

The rebels have close ties with Russia and are trying to secede from Georgia.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili told the BBC he hoped the music would persuade people to lay down their arms.

“We hope that we’ll lure out people from their trenches, force them to drop [their] Kalashnikovs, come here and dance with the others and understand that nothing is as nice as peace, nothing is as nice as reconciliation,” Mr Saakashvili said.

“This place was only famous for killings, violence, crime past and present. And now it’s like adding some new thing, it’s looking much more colourful, much less violent, just normal, and being normal is such a novelty here,” he added.

Why that person I hear you ask? Well, apparently…

Boney M have a loyal following in the former USSR. Their songs were among the few approved under Communist rule.