Sean LaFreniere

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Sean's Political Dictionary
So that YOU know what SEAN is talking about when he opens his big mouth:

 

Conservative:

Date: 1831. From Latin conservare, for "to keep", "guard", or "observe". A Conservative relies upon family traditions and figures of authority to establish and maintain values. 

A Conservative puts group security above personal freedoms. 

A Conservative believes that successful use and maintenance of power proves God's favor for the government. 

A Conservative believes that social values, religious rules, and forms of governments may only be altered gradually. 

Stability and continuity are the goals of government.

 

Liberal:

Date: 1820. From Latin liberalis for "free". A Liberal uses reason and logic to set personal, social, and religious values. 

A Liberal places personal freedom above group security. 

A Liberal believes that governments rule by the consent of the governed. 

A liberal believes that governments may be changed or removed at the will of the people.  

A Liberal supports rapid change in the pursuit of progress and reform.

Freedom and Justice are the goals of government.

 

Note: a nation, and an individual, may move back and forth between these positions often. They rarely sum up a personality completely. And they should never be permanent blinders for anyone to view the world.

When a people succeed in a Liberal revolution, for instance, they often find themselves in the Conservative position protecting these gains. Similarly a person might have a Liberal view on public financial assistance and then move into a conservative position once these demands are met.

One might say that Affirmative Action is a prime example. At one point instituting Affirmative Action was a Liberal position, it was needed to reverse decades of discrimination following the end of Slavery. However, today the Liberal position might well be the ending of Affirmative Action, as it has largely completed its task and now stands as a stumbling block to truly moving the nation beyond race as a discriminatory trait. Meanwhile, the position of defending AA is now actually a Conservative stance (whether its so-called "liberal" defenders realize it or not).

Another way to think about this is that these terms describe a way of thinking about issues, not the positions on those issues. That is a Conservative might support a war because politicians they respect urge it, because the enemy scares them, and ultimately because it just "feels right". A Liberal might also come to support the war in spite of the position of authority figures and celebrities, not because it feels right, but because hours of research and consideration support the cause.

Neither is a "better way" of coming to a position, necessarily. Sometimes too much thinking interferes with a solid moral judgment, such as on the Abortion issue. And then other times only rational examination can skip over the emotional baggage and come to the most reasonable decision, as we see in the Abortion issue.

I realize this might be difficult for some people to accept after a long time of hearing party dogma on the issue. Personally I find value in BOTH positions. On some issues I am myself rather Conservative and on others I am quite Liberal. The same with the terms Radical and Reactionary, noted below. I found that stepping beyond these labels opened up my thoughts and cleared my head of a lot of bs.

 

Reactionary:

Date: 1840. From Latin reagere for "to act". A Reactionary uses government pressure as a means of containing and responding to changes in society.

 

Radical:

Date: 14th century. From Latin radicalis from radix for "root". A Radical supports social movements and political pressure groups as a means of affecting change in government.

 

The Right:

Date: early modern. The term comes from  English Parliamentary Rules; which place the party in power on the right of the Speaker. As the Conservatives held sway for a long time, the term Right came to be associated with the "Establishment" and thus with Conservative politics.

 

The Left:

Date: early modern. The party in Opposition sits on the Speaker's left. The Left came to be associated with labor movements, the lower classes, and socialist politics. It has also come to be associated with Liberalism. This was useful for Conservative politicians, and Socialists as well, during the 60's. But I find this to be a big intellectual and political mistake.

 

Capitol Goods:

Date: circa 1639. From the French from Latin capitalis for "top", used in French for "principal" or "chief". (1) : a stock of accumulated goods; especially at a specified time and in contrast to income received during a specified period (2) : accumulated goods devoted to the production of other goods (3) : accumulated possessions calculated to bring in income

 

Capitalism:

Date: 1877. An economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market

 

Socialism:

Date: 1837. From Latin socialis for "friend" or "companion" or "associate". Any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods; usually there is no private property; in Marxist theory this is also considered just a transitional stage between capitalism and communism and it is distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done.

 

Communism:

Date: 1840. From French communisme, from Latin communis for "common". A doctrine based on revolutionary Marxian socialism and Marxism-Leninism in which goods are owned in common and are available to all as needed. It is the final stage of society in Marxist theory in which the state has withered away and economic goods are distributed equitably. In its only examples of practical application, in the USSR, China, and Cuba it became a totalitarian system where a single authoritarian party controls state-owned means of production and the people are enslaved in production geared to support the power of this party.

 

Note: in Marxist theory these three systems represent a sliding scale, with Capitalism on the Right, Socialism in the middle, and Communism on the Left. A nation was supposed to move from one to the other over time. However, in practice few systems in the world have ever been purely one or the other. Most national economic models employ some of all three.

While the US and Europe are considered the paragons of Capitalism, they both retain many Socialist elements. Both the US and Europe offer state sanctioned monopolies of public utilities. The American Postal Service is a state owned enterprise, as are the European aerospace entities. Europe offers state run healthcare, as do many American states, and both regulate the health industry heavily.

Through out history Europe and the US have also held some Communist elements. The common grazing lands of town centers and the great unfenced Western plains were both representative of these traditions. One might say that Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, and the Dole are also holdovers from our more communal days.

On the other hand, while China has long been a paragon of Socialism / Communism, it still has many elements of free enterprise. They allow small farmers and craftsmen to sell excess production on the open market, they have private telecoms and industrial companies, and now they have a stock market, the ultimate symbol and apparatus of Capitalism.

When one system or the other fails to serve a nation, many proponents argue that actually the system simply was not implemented purely enough. However, attempts to purify these systems require a heavy hand in government, education, and economic practice. And this has led to oppressive regimes and brutalized citizens.

 

Democracy:

Date: 1576. From Greek dEmokrati, from demos "people" + kracy "rule". A government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections; usually accompanied by the absence of hereditary or arbitrary class distinctions or privileges.

 

Republic:

Date: 1604. From Latin respublica; from res "thing" + publica "of the people". A government having a chief of state who is not a monarch and who is elected by popular vote.

 

Note: that the root of the word Democracy is Greek, while the root of the word Republic is Latin. These terms are NOT antithetical, they do not even derive from the same language.

In common use they both have come to describe types of Liberal governments, specifically the one is a type of the other. It is possible for a nation to be a Democracy, but NOT also a Republic. However, a nation that is a Republic is ALWAYS also a Democracy. A Republic is a TYPE of Democracy.

The UK is a Democracy, but not a Republic, because of the Queen. Ireland became a Republic only after it dropped from the Commonwealth and replaced the Queen with an elected President

 

Fascism:

Date: 1921 From Latin fascis for "bundle" or group. Last, but not least, is this term, which actually combines the economic system and the political system entirely. In this system the state and large corporations merge, the rights of the individual are subordinated to the glory of the State, and all dissent is suppressed. It often utilizes a racial or religious cause to motivate the people into giving up their rights in the first place. These states usually rise out of an economic collapse or hardship with high inflation and unemployment.

 
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Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Red Arrow

The central train station in St. Petersburg is two buildings in one. At its heart is a 19th century gem with a grand lobby and makeshift merchant kiosks. Wrapping around this core is a concrete "Stalinist" structure with a grand lobby and makeshift merchant kiosks.

In the main concourse a giant bronze map of the Soviet rail system is embedded in the marble wall. Bellow it sits a brand new Mercedes Benz and a promotional display where you can enter to win the car. Taking pictures of any of this obvious irony is barred under customs left over from the Soviet era.

When you see the train at the platform it is an instant flashback to Bond films such as From Russia With Love. The big army-green engine sits huffing away with a giant red star on its nose. The cars are all red with the soviet emblem as a brand image.

Guards wait at the doors in full soviet style uniforms. However, the double headed eagle of the Tsars has replaced the hammer and sickle on their caps. They greet you briskly but politely and assign you a berth number.

Inside the cars are lined in Persian rugs. Delicate lace curtains and shades hide the fact that the windows do not open. On each bed are clean linens and a pre-packaged kit with plastic utensils, a toothbrush, and a comb.

At the end of each car is a toilet and a giant metal samovar to boil water. You can order a tea glass and a metal holder from the staff waiting in a small room behind the WC. A tea package comes in your berth kit.

The train from St. Petersburg to Moscow runs all night long. They call it the Red Arrow. I am not sure if this is because of humor or respect for the Old Days or because you cant sleep and arrive in the capitol with red eyes.

The main reason that you cant sleep is that everyone stays up all night playing music, talking, and drinking vodka. By the end of the night I had out drunk a young Russian named Surgi who insisted on giving me his wife's cell phone number before stumbling down the line.

I escaped the party towards the back of the train and found the dinner car. Here the tables are covered in linen and set with crystal and porcelain. Art Deco table lamps and ceiling fixtures put you back in time.

A selection of liquor sits on a table labeled for sale by the bottle, but you can get just a glass. I ordered a whiskey and settled into a table to wait out the ride.

Out the window a completely black Russian countryside passed by at great speed. I listened to the rhythmic kerchunck as we charged down the rails and I heard a gravely voice in my head... my father, Sean Connery?

"Red wine with fish, I should have known".


The old station waiting room.

The new station lobby.

The old engines warm up.

The old classic cars.

Our berth was messed up and used almost immediately, sorry.

Almost no one can afford to eat on the diner car.

Enjoying a few fingers of Jonny Walker.

Sean: Sunday, April 30, 2006 [+] |
...
Friday, April 28, 2006
Construction Begins At Ground Zero

The AP reports that heavy equipment began moving on the construction of the 1776ft Freedom Tower today. The tower is expected to be completed in 2011 and four more towers by 2012.

The governor called it a symbol of our freedom and independence. I hope so. But earlier designs, including the original by Daniel Libeskind, disappointed me in their timidity. The pulled back from the full WTC height with hollow top floors and only a spire to make up the difference.

The current design by David Childs, of Skidmore Owens and Merrill, is much better. At least in the latest rendition it presents an actual building of the same height as the big boys that used to rule the block.

However, one tower simply does not make the same statement as two. No matter what we do today it will seem a pale shadow of what once was.

I still think we should have rebuilt the old WTC and I didn't even much like those buildings. Sigh.

Sean: Friday, April 28, 2006 [+] |
...
Thursday, April 27, 2006
Canada At War?

A reasoned and rational look at the Global War On Terror from a Canadian.

Gen. (Ret'd) Paul D. Manson, chief of the defence staff from 1986 to 1989, and president of the Conference of Defence Associations Institute, writes:

Are we in fact at war?

A visitor to Canada from another planet would probably conclude that we are not.

[However] Osama bin Laden, in his broadcast statement this past weekend, made it very clear that he and his followers are at war with us.

Even pacifists would find it difficult to ignore the reality of a war waged by one side only. It is still a war.

The first lines of defence must be diplomatic, ideological, humanitarian and economic. In the final analysis, however, Canadians must be prepared to exercise military force at home and abroad in defending ourselves and our friends...

...against those who strive to change our way of life radically, and to deprive us of our hard-earned freedoms.


I think the key here is to recognize the last statement. Few people with access to a television and a newspaper would argue that we do not have a declared enemy or that they are attacking us.

However some on the left would argue that the enemy cannot really harm us and so treating our current situation like a war is ridiculous.

They would go on to warn us that doing so over-empowers our own government to limit our civil rights, especially freedom of speech.

They would argue that Osama cannot attack, invade, and hold Des Moins, Iowa. And they would be right.

However, underestimating the enemy here is dangerous. And making such an assessment misses the point, the stated goals, of Osama himself.

Osama doesn't want or need to occupy Des Moins to "win". All he wants is for US forces to pull out of the Middle East and allow Islamo-fascists to put the Arab people and their conquered or influenced peoples under a more perfect yoke. This would make him happy, for now.

From this position, however, straddling the world's oil supplies and controlling nearly 1 billion people, almost anything is possible. Especially if, in the mean time, Europe, Canada, and the US have become accustomed to limiting their political discussion and dialogue at home for fear of offending Muslim immigrants and the "Arab Street" as it has been called. It really is a small step from consideration to capitulation.

Please keep in mind that nearly every major European city is fast becoming ringed with the most radical and extreme pracitioners of Islam anywhere in the world. I don't think that most Canadians or Americans realize this... but living in Denmark right now and having some understanding of the Middle East I draw this conclusion about the 400,000 Muslim immigrants to Denmark (living primarily in the suburban ring around Copenhagen)... many of them left North Africa, the Middle East, or SE Asia because they were too religious and dangerous for their home governments and therefore faced repression, jail, or death.

The Danish newspaper Jylland Posten recently published 12 cartoons regarding self-censorship and Islam (only a few portrayed Mohammed, the real issue was censorship). The Arab Street was slow to mobilize, an Egyptian Iman had to make up 12 more offending cartoons before he got any traction, but eventually the right people were bussed into Lebanon (from Syria) and burned the Danish embassy (shared with other Nordic nations, as is customary). Immediately the Danish street split into "Defend Free Speech" and "Show More Consideration" camps.

Many American (and Canadian) leftists have long looked to Europe for radical ideas and discussion. The cafes of Paris spawned the French Revolution, communists agitators, and criticism of Vietnam. Today only one French newspaper editor stood up to defend Danish Free Speech... and he was fired.

The consideration camp has won, with help from the EU and the US. The threat of unhappy Muslim immigrants certainly helped. It will come to play an even greater part as Europe's population ages, dies off, and is replaced with even more immigrants.

Are we at war? Are we being invaded? Can our "way of life" be threatened? Or is it happening already.

UPDATE: You thought maybe I was being hysterical above? Read this from Andrew Sullivan and The Local.

SWEDEN: the new world struggle against fundamentalist politics continues. The largest Muslim group in Sweden is demanding complete separaration from liberal society, the inculcation of sexist legal norms, and the de facto partition of the country into a zone for the faithful and a zone for the infidels...

Sean: Thursday, April 27, 2006 [+] |
...
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Danish Jews Fear Attacks

This week I passed by the oldest synagogue in Scandinavia. Built in 1883 during a time of wealth and success in Copenhagen. It is a modest structure along a narrow street in the medieval core of the city. A small wall and steel bollards on the sidewalk create an obvious security set back.

In front of the main entrance teen-age boys and girls held burning torches aloft and smiled as people passed within. But in front of the main gate I noticed a serious looking fellow with a hand held metal detector. Then I spotted the semi-uniformed security along the street.

I waited for a polite moment to intrude and asked the rabbi at the gate if they really feared trouble. "Well, we have had some problems in the past".

I was surprised. Denmark is a quiet place and Copenhagen seems pretty safe. I also know that the Danes pride themselves on saving 6,000 Jews during the Nazi occupation. So I looked up the history of this Jewish temple in my "home city".

A quick catalogue of attacks:

July 22, 1985 - Hezbollah/Islamic Jihad bombed the synagogue in Copenhagen, injuring twenty people. An Algerian citizen on a tour of Copenhagen died after being burned in the explosion.

December 7, 1988 - Extensive damage was caused to a travel agency owned by an El Al subsidiary in Copenhagen. Danish pro-Palestinian left-wingers claimed responsibility under the name "Anti-Zionist Autonomy".

July 1997 - A tear gas attack on a group of Jews who were leaving a Friday evening service. The perpetrators were a group of young Arabs. Later two Arabs accosted a young Jew who was wearing a kippa. One of the Arabs threatened to kill the youth but was held back by his friend.

May, 2001 - in the early morning hours a stone was thrown through the bedroom window of the rabbi's house. The person who threw the stone was of Arab appearance and rode a bicycle. No one was hurt.

June 2, 2001 - A car car drove up onto the sidewalk and drove quickly at about 60 kilometers an hour toward a Jew waiting to enter the temple. The car continue to drive on. The driver was of Arab appearance.

2002 - "Scandinavia, justly praised for its cordiality to Jews in the past, has recently witnessed both threats and violence against Jewish persons and institutions. In Denmark the Jutland Posten, a widely circulated newspaper, carried a radical Islamist group's offer of a reward of 250,000 Danish kroner (approximately $35 thousand) for the murder of a prominent Danish Jew. The head of the Danish Jewish community subsequently reported receiving threatening telephone calls and having his tires slashed. On the Sabbath before completion of this article, the Copenhagen synagogue was vandalized and anti-Semitic graffiti sprayed on its walls."

I suppose that it could be worse. But keep in mind that there are only 8,000 Jews in Denmark and there are more than 400,000 Muslims today. Should the Jews be worried? Can the Danes save their Jews once again?

Sean: Wednesday, April 26, 2006 [+] |
...
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
The New Russia (part four)
(part three) (part two) (part one)

I wander down the quiet streets of St. Petersburg late at night. Not much is happening on Nevsky Prospect, the main drag, there are lots of closed doors. Street cleaners pass by blowing clouds of dust and then watering it down into a light mud.

I turn off the main drag just one block and spot a "Cafe Bar" called "Chez". I check in with the giant bouncers, they speak English in crisp military tones. There is no cover, but I have to check my coat.

The little cafe is well turned out. Hard wood floors, red walls, spot lit columns and arches. Framed posters of naked models hang on the walls, a runway video plays on the projection screen.

I order a martini and after giving a brief lesson on how to mix vodka and vermouth I actually get a pretty good pour. I choose Russian Standard Platinum. They insisted on using the extra dry vermouth and so it tastes slightly like olives.

The bar area begins to fill in as it gets later. A pair of Russian girls come stomping inside with their boots and furs. They settle into a low couch and order drinks as loudly as they can.

The taller blonde wears a loose black blazer and no bra. When she jostles around her boobs bounce and nearly roll out. She keeps doing this while sipping her whip cream topped beverage and looking around to see who notices.

A four-person Latin band is setting up their instruments. After a few warm up sets of Spanish music a young brunette steps up to the stage. She wears a loose fitting dress that bares her muscular shoulders.

The dancer begins to sway and closes her eyes. When she spins around her dress swirls above her hips and then settles in between her legs. I sip my drink and lean forward a bit.

She begins stomping her feet in a staccato beat and squeezes her arms above her head. Then she thrusts her palms down to her bottom, looks up and smiles. She begins to perspire, and so do I.

The drummer really gets into the music. He grins broadly and pounds away on a box-drum with the flats of his hands. His dark hair and bulging biceps must really make the ladies wild.

The crowd begins to get rowdy. The dancer brings out a few cat calls and the singer finally gets the tables up front to clap along. The guitarist looks either stoned or very, very mellow. Everyone is having a great time.

After many hours we close the place out and I settle my tab. Two vodka martinis, shaken not stirred, and a French onion soup come to just $500 rubles or about $20. Not bad for the first night of real fun I have had in Europe in three months.

I pay up and tip well. When I retrieve my coat I have to resist the urge to snap off a quick salute and just grin at the big guys instead. Then I head out to walk alone down glistening streets.


Victory Square at night.

Sean: Tuesday, April 25, 2006 [+] |
...
Monday, April 24, 2006
The New Russia (part three)
(part two) (part one)

St. Petersburg was founded by Peter the Great as a modern European capitol. Therefore it has a grid system with several wide avenues or "prospects". Amazingly, although surviving a 900 day siege by the Nazis, most of the 18th and 19th century buildings survived.

Art Nuevo and Italianate styles are dominant. The main paint colors are mustard yellow, mint green, and a reddish brown with white "gingerbread" trim (painted gold or yellow on important buildings).

Along Nevsky Prospect hotels and shopping centers rub shoulders with designer boutiques selling French perfume. Canals cut across and lead the way to fantastic architectural monuments such as the Church of the Spilt Blood. Its recently restored gold domes glisten in a rare moment of sunlight.

The best buildings have some history to them. St. Isaacs cathedral has scars on its columns from WWII. The little orange palace on the corner is where Dostoevsky ate dinner before he died.

Behind the historic facades lurks another world, glimpsed at the monastery. The new mayor's restoration project only covers the front of the buildings. The interiors are still falling apart.

In the shadowed courtyards trees and grass lie dormant. Unregistered residents, the homeless of Russia, sift through garbage dumpsters. Solitary children in puffy little parkas play with drainage pipes and empty bottles.

Any one who's passport does not have their family address printed on it is homeless, forever. This includes any citizen of a "former Soviet republic" who was still in Russia when the union dissolved in 1991. Millions of people are now cut off from medical care, food and shelter, and diplomatic representation.

These folks appear to survive on a liquid diet of cheap beer and cognac. Along with the elderly and wounded military vets these people will tell you quite honestly that life was better under the old system.

Back on the main streets I reach the Winter Palace, site of the first uprising against the Tsar in 1905. This day is known as Bloody Sunday in Russia as the emperor's soldiers opened fire and killed thousands of protesters.

The square is huge, gargantuan. In fact an entire army marching band is rehearsing with room to host a football game left over. The echo of trumpets and drums from the walls of the Admiralty building gives a little lift to my step.

Tourists gather to film the band, purchase fake Soviet army hats, and photograph actors in 19th century costumes who beg for a few rubbles each. A cross bearing angel watches from the largest marble column in Europe. She saw the Tsar, she saw the Soviets, and now she watches over the New Russia.

I escape history via the longest escalator I have ever ridden down several floors to the metro platforms. Stickers for different nightclubs and bands are pasted to the art deco light fixtures every few feet. A serious looking woman in a glass booth sits at the bottom and watches for someone to fall.

The stations are decorated with red tiles, chandeliers, and sculptures of proud workers. The trains arrive with a lurch and open to either masses of crammed bodies or complete empty elegance. I step on and ride back to the hotel alone with the clank of an empty beer bottle rolling on the floor.


The Church of the Spilt Blood.

Dostoevsky's diner.

Behind the facades.

Palace Square and the Admiralty.

Sean: Monday, April 24, 2006 [+] |
...
Sunday, April 23, 2006
The New Russia (part two)
(part one)

In the morning I head downstairs to grab some food from the enormous restaurant. American pop musak blares from huge speakers along the dance floor. The place is only set for one quarter of the tables.

The serving girls wear fancy uniforms from an old movie. They give unconvincing smiles of cheerfulness. But there are far too many people serving far too few guests.

The orange juice is actually tang, the coffee comes with hot curdled milk, and the bread is stale. I give up and pull on a heavy coat and grab my gloves and head outside for a walk.

Outside people are already drinking beer and vodka as they hang in front of the metro station under the hotel. Stray dogs snarl at each other, mate, or sleep in the pot holes in front of the doors. Street vendors sell magazines and cigarettes, kitchen appliances and CD's.

Across the street a famous old monastery is being repaired. The facade displays white Corinthian columns with gold trim, but out back the walls sport holes the size of a tank blast. The haggard guard motions at me to pay a fee when he sees my camera.

After a harsh winter the landscaping looks bombed out. Grass doesn't exist, just mud and dead leaves. Patches of snow and oil mix in puddles on the broken sidewalks. Old women in worn uniforms swipe ineffectually at the ground with twig brooms, but trash is everywhere.

Snow falls lightly, mixed with soot, it turns to grey water in my fingers. My throat and eyes burn just a little. My sweater shows a dirty film where I brushed a wall avoiding a car. It is not as cold as it looks and I loosen my scarf a bit.

People wander in the park around the monastery. Some cut through with purpose while others huddle around oil drum trashcans smoking. A fancy car idles in an alley with American hip-hop blaring from the tinted windows. A young thug with a shaved head can be seen reclined behind the wheel.

It seems best to keep moving and I end up walking right out of this slum and onto Nevsky Prospect. Here the city begins to look more "normal" with Chinese restaurants and internet cafes. As I walk along these businesses give way to Gucci and Prada stores. All of a sudden I am in a place where I cannot afford to shop.


Nevsky monastery entrance.

Nevsky monastery ruins.

Park behind Nevsky monastery.

Sean: Sunday, April 23, 2006 [+] |
...
Saturday, April 22, 2006
The New Russia (part one)

It is late afternoon when the airplane taxies to a stop at the St. Petersburg airport. Well-dressed Scandinavians reset their watches and swap sim cards in their cell phones. Then we disembark down a roll-away staircase and enter the terminal.

Adds with girls in bikinis play on flat screen TV's hanging from crumbling concrete columns, their cables dangle from holes cut in the ceiling. Many floor tiles are cracked or paved over with concrete. Fluorescent lights flicker or are completely missing.

There are just a few passengers waiting at the other terminals and no lines. Security is light. A quick glance at my face, "What's the purpose of your visit?" and a stamp in the passport. No check of the bags for contraband, just a short walk to the main lobby.

Soldiers that look about 16 years old stand by a pair of metal detectors at the front doors. Machine guns hang casually over their shoulders as they laugh and smoke. A woman and a man, both dressed in black polyester, both bored, hold up hand-written cards looking for different parties. A few cabbies doze at the wheel in the pick up lane out front.

The bus ride into the heart of the city follows the usual route from industry to commerce. Factories and junk yards gradually give way to giant apartment blocks and billboards. The open space between buildings makes them look unfriendly. The road fills in with more and more traffic.

Old electric trolleys and buses that would be retired anywhere else clatter along under occassional showers of sparks. Mini-vans acting as private busses, taxis, cars and trucks of all sizes fight for space and honk at each other. Pedestrians weave through the slowest points and take their lives in their hands.

Along the streets construction crews lay new sidewalks and cleanup crews wash the iron street furniture. Buildings are hidden behind scaffolding and screens printed with images of their historic facades. There are lots of people working, but little heavy equipment. Debris are simply washed into the gutters.

The hotel is classic Soviet architecture. A low slung, extremely long concrete bunker with square window pods staring blindly out at a partially frozen river. The bus driver gets out to argue with a motorist who is blocking the drive. The silhouettes of people are visible on the roof and I immediately think of snipers.

Inside is a "grand lobby" of inexpensive marble tiles. A giant Soviet-era brass sculpture of a starburst hangs behind the check-in desk. There are souvenir stands and slot machines in the corners. A pack of 40-year old blonde prostitutes in short pleather skirts linger in front of the elevators.

On each floor is a double-loaded 1km long curving hallway. As I walk along the worn carpeting I pass open doors and hear a mix of languages from unknown tongues of the far east to French. Fire extinguishers on little tripods pop up periodically like mushrooms.

Inside my room the TV plays German language programs and a sort of BBC-lite. The shower comes in spurts of luke-warm and cold water and the toilet only flushes halfway. I lay down to sleep with the smell of cigarettes on the bedspread.


Nevsky Prospect.

An old trolley.

The Moscow Hotel in St. Petersburg.

Sean: Saturday, April 22, 2006 [+] |
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Wednesday, April 19, 2006
Terror And Consequences

The MSM carried the story of the second bi-annual Passover Bombing in Israel by a brain-washed and desperate Palestinian teen...

A Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up outside a fast-food restaurant in a bustling area of Tel Aviv during the Passover holiday Monday, killing eight other people and wounding at least 49 in the deadliest Palestinian attack in more than a year.

A witness said the blast killed a woman standing near her husband and children.

"The father was traumatized. He went into shock. He ran to the children to gather them up and the children were screaming, 'Mom! Mom!' and she wasn't answering, she was dead already ... it's a shocking scene," Yaakov said.


The purposeful slaying of civilians is a violation of the Geneva Convention, if anyone cares. It is also not a very useful tactic as it tends to encourage a "rally round the flag/government" effect by the victims. And of course, it is disgusting and abhorrent to anyone in the civilized world... Which currently pays the PA's bills.

Monday's bombing was the second major Passover bombing in four years.

In Aug. 31, 2004 suicide bombers on two buses in Beersheba killed 16 Israelis.

In 2002, a Palestinian bomber blew himself up at a hotel in the coastal town of Netanya, killing 29 people.

Palestinian militants have carried out nine suicide attacks in Israel and the West Bank since a Feb. 8, 2005, truce declaration.


That's one heck of "cease fire".

The Palestinians' new Hamas leaders called the attack a legitimate response to Israeli "aggression."

The response by Hamas leaders represented a sharp departure from the previous Palestinian leadership's immediate condemnations of such attacks.


The CNN article on this event contains the single best quote on the issue...

Although the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad has claimed responsibility for Monday's attack, Israeli government spokesman Ra'anan Gissin said Israel would hold the Hamas-led government of the Palestinian Authority responsible.

"They are the government now, they are responsible for the lives of the Palestinian people. ... They are bringing them death and carnage by allowing other terror organizations to carry out these terrorist attacks," Gissin said.

"Hamas can choose to sacrifice its ideology for the sake of its people or sacrifice its people for this murderous ideology."

Gissin spoke after a meeting Tuesday morning between Israel's Prime Minister-designate Ehud Olmert and his top ministers to consider Israel's response to the bombing.

Gissin said Israel would revoke Israeli residency status for Hamas ministers and Palestinian parliament members.

Palestinian ministers who live in East Jerusalem carry blue Israeli identity cards and enjoy all the benefits of Israeli citizens, including subsidized health care. Those benefits were extended to Palestinians living in East Jerusalem when Israel captured the area during the 1967 Mideast War and annexed it.

Hamas, like Islamic Jihad, calls for Israel's destruction.


Seems pretty obnoxious that these guys are enjoying the services of a state they wish to see driven into the ocean. Meanwhile the "cycle of violence" appears to spin on unabated. Today it still seems like the PA side needs to back of the attacks first. When the Israelis pull back it seems to only encourage more attacks (see the pull out from S. Lebanon and the Gaza Strip).

Sean: Wednesday, April 19, 2006 [+] |
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Tuesday, April 18, 2006
Visa And The EU

I once worked as a collector for a big credit card bank, I hate monopolies and I love to root for the anti-trust auditor, and while living in Europe I am constantly being ripped off by my credit card purchases. However, I think I agree with this guy...

Rick Smith at Motley Fool first notes that the current interest by the EU has less to do with unfair business practices and more to do with their interest in creating a European "counterweight" to US credit card companies.

Then he undercuts the entire logic behind the EU anti-trust complaint...

If Europe truly does "need a European card payment system that can rival Visa and MasterCard," then its best bet is to permit the existing companies to earn as much profit as possible.

Excessive profits inevitably attract competition. Leave Visa and MasterCard to their business, and if their profits are truly "outrageous," a local competitor will inevitably arise to claim a portion of those outrageous profits for itself.

On the other hand, if you cap Visa's and MasterCard's profits today... with no outrageous profits to be claimed, no local champion will ever arise to claim them.


Interesting. Another point that came to mind as I read this story was that the article, and the EU official, seem to be treating Europe as one monolithic market already. But I know that this is not the case. Laws, taxes, and costs still differ from state to state. So the apparent unfairness of different credit costs might not be so unfair after all. Dunno, just saying.

Sean: Tuesday, April 18, 2006 [+] |
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Sunday, April 16, 2006
Moscow Nights

I have been treking between St. Petersburg and Moscow this week and thus not blogging on my regular schedule. Please forgive the interruption.

Russia has dumped its communist past like a bad headache. The fury with which the Zsar's emblems and the free market has swept the former Soviet Union is remarkable. It really seems like the communist period was just a very long revolt on the way to democracy and the free market.

I think they may be more entrepreneurial than the US! Automobiles, cafes, and storefronts have sprouted in even Stalinist apartment blocks, under the streets, and down the alleys. Street performers and their front men/women are everywhere, even monkeys and eagles!

The Russian people appear dour and even formidable on the street. But one on one they are friendly and patient of even the English only tourist. And they will answer nearly any question put to them.

These people seem to have caught up with our every value and agreed with all our goals. It may be only skin deep, or confined to the youth... but these people seem like natural allies of the US. Viva la revolution!

Sean: Sunday, April 16, 2006 [+] |
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Monday, April 10, 2006
Finland

Finland is the red-headed-step child of Scandinavia. Sweden dominated the area for 700 years before losing it to Russia in the 18th century. It was fought over by Sweden and Russia for years afterwards.

Ironically it was the Russian Zsar Alexander I who gave Finland both its independence and its democracy in the 1800's. His equestrian statute stands in the center of Helsinki's town square.

The Finns managed to fight off one Russian invasion and the Germans in the 20th century. However, they lost the second round to the Soviet Union and were then pulled into their sphere of influence after WWII.

The post war years were good for Finland where nationalism and a resurgent industrial economy brought them fully into the modern era. The furniture and textiles industry did well and Finnish design has had a huge impact on Scandinavian style.

Today Finland is a globalized country and a bridge to Russia. The Finnish language and English have overtaken Swedish in common usage. And Finland is a member of the EU and adopted the Euro currency unlike Sweden, Norway, and Denmark.

Due to the architecture heavy hitter Alvar Aalto, Finland is a regular location for study tours from my school in Denmark. As required we took some time out in April for a tour of Aalto's Greatest Hits (and a few other designers as well).


Cutting through the frozen Finnish seas.

Alvar Aalto's Paimio Sanatorium.

A village commercial building.

Summer houses along a frozen lake.

The home and studio of Eliel Saarinen.

Farm building, made of wood, stained for weather protection, red due to local copper in stain.

Manor house, also made of wood but in a classical style, yellow due to silver content in the stain.

The start of Helsinki's walking street, note the trolley tracks.

Finely detailed classical and baroque buildings.

The Finnish Parliament by Eliel Saarenin.

The central train station also by Saarenin.

The National Cathedral is part of a neo-classical civic square.

Naked girl statues are a common sight in Scandinavia.

The new Steven Holl designed art museum - doesnt fit in well.

Finnish condos - these are in smaller groupings than normal apartments.

Office blocks and a mall - they have Mcdonalds and movie theatres too.

Modern glass curtain tower - Finland is still in love with functionalism.

Sean: Monday, April 10, 2006 [+] |
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Saturday, April 08, 2006
Sophisticated Sweden

Sweden was once a minor kingdom in the Danish dominated Baltic region. Danes love to remind you of this. And they claim not to be impressed by Stockholm, the Swedish capitol. But this country and its capitol present urbane charm to any visitor.

Sweden won all the final wars with Denmark and then made a mint as a "neutral" country during WWII and as one of the few industrial centers not damaged by bombing. Clandestine co-operation with the US during the Cold War also provided the Swedes with advanced technology and an eager trading partner.

I personally find the Danish language one of the least pleasant to my English ear, worse even than German, and hard to follow. Swedish sounds like Middle English from old records of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and I have the feeling that it makes sense even when I don't understand a word.

The country's architecture looks a lot like Denmark with wood. However, the urban architecture includes medieval, art neuvo, and ultra modern. All of it appears well maintained despite the climate (money can do anything).

Stockholm's major buildings sit like architectural jewels floating in its frozen harbor. The medieval walking streets are narrow and hold surprises down alleys and in basements. Check out the Irish pub, under the Irish pub, called O'Connell's.


The Oresound regional port of Helsingborg as seen from the castle in the city park, the 19th century city hall is in the background.


Old Helsingborg is represented by this 17th century half timbered house now used for receptions and other meetings.


Modern Helsingborg is represented by these waterfront condos designed by Danish architect Bjorn Utzon.


A small village on the way to Stockholm hosts this beautiful Protestant church.


A home in the village now serves as a bed and breakfast.


This manor house with portions from the 16th and 17th centuries is part museum and part restaurant.


Naked people dancing in the snow in front of Stockholm's famous library by Swedish architect Gunnar Asplund.


Stockholm city hall sits like a fortress on the waterfront.


Beautiful buildings perch on granite islands through out the harbor.


17th century Stockholm, feels like colonial America or Dickensian London. I wanted the night watchman or the town crier to wander by.


This building claims to be its own country, exclusive social events and strict bouncers are the rule.


The Swedish Parliament combines old and new styles.


The ancient Swedish "upper house" or "senate" of the nobility now serves as a private club (right, its functions never changed -ed).


The Stockholm train station offers a classy entry to the heart of the city.


Art Neuvo bath house has been soothing weary Swedish backsides since 1902.


The medieval Riddarholmen Kyrka in Stockholm was built in the 13th century for the Swedish nobility.


The neo-classical styled Adolf Fredriks Kyrka in Stockholm was first built of wood in the 17th century and then rebuilt in the 18th. It was the initial burial site of Rene Descartes in 1650 before his remains were moved to France.


Hogalids Kyrka is a modern church built in Stockholm in 1923. It is every bit as beautiful and powerful as an ancient church and it is filled with a grand collection of antique church art.


A modern tower in Stockholm.


The Scandinavian Secret? Shacks for the homeless? Or "summer houses" on "garden plots"?


Ikea anyone? Strip malls are as common in Scandinavia as anywhere.

Sean: Saturday, April 08, 2006 [+] |
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