Archive for the ‘Useless Rants’ Category

The disturbing similarities between France and russia

Saturday, March 11th, 2023

Dedicated to yet another piece of news about French company deciding to increase its business presence in russia instead of leaving the “market”.

In general I enjoy learning a bit about various foreign languages but I never had a desire to learn French language and when asked why I always answered that I know russian language already. But with the time I saw many more common things between France and russia than their language policy. This year of 1939 (will it end already?) brought even more examples of russia behaving like France and the French Empire(s) of old. Which makes me wonder if it is a certain type of country and what makes it such.

To me it looks the root of all problems is that both countries grew too large in territory, incorporating different nations in the process and relying too much on the central power (come to think about it, Temporarily Occupied West Taiwan comes to mind as well). The only way they could keep it going was to create “single nation”, by means of the cultural or physical genocide if required, and stealing the history while at it.

Below I’ll try to group things that are similar in the both countries by category.


Both countries originated as the outskirts of some larger country that were overrun by the invaders. As the result they ended up as something semi-fictional: why do you think territory formerly known as Gallia (and proud of Galls) is called after some Bavarians (and IIRC it even had a war with them over the name, so one ended as France and another one as Franconia)? Similarly why a country in a place originally inhabited by Finno-Ugric people, where only the nobility was of Slavic origin (with their blood heavily diluted by Mongols) would boast their completely Slavic lineage (forgetting about all those Finno-Ugric, Turkic and Caucasian nations living on the majority of its territory)? And of course both countries claimed the title of the One True Heir of Roman Empire. Let’s skip most of the Medieval history, remarking only such details as St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre and the genocide of Novgorod Republic, and move to the more modern days. The French Revolution (the first and most famous one)—and the revolutionary terror of course—set the standard of how to do such things (which russia copied later). It’s worth noting that for the majority of XXth century France and russia remained friends: first the Entente, after WWII France willingly returned to the Soviet Union people who fled russia even before USSR was created (or it was russian territory at all), then (after France decided to leave NATO) Soviet-French friendship prospered (to the point possible by the foundational principles of Soviet Union), even now the French president tries hard to be russian advocate (the same can be said about Germany but despite some common things the countries were not similar throughout the majority of the history).

Country structure.

I notice that both countries occupy a large territory but despite that a significant part of the population lives in the metropolitan area of the capital: about one fifth for France, and one seventh for russia (for comparison, for Germany, Ukraine or Kazakhstan those numbers are below one tenth). Additionally the capitals in both countries are considered to be the only place to live (in case of russia their former capital is regarded in the same way too) and locals (whose ancestors probably lived far away from that capital) sneeze down at all those newcomers who don’t live in the capital and don’t speak the capital dialect either. Then there’s the whole question of the empire…

The main difference here is that russia was never good at maintaining overseas colonies (Fort Ross and Alaska were sold and the pirate nest of Septinsular Republic could not be hold) so it resorted to occupying and controlling neighbouring countries. For example, during Soviet times Mongolia was controlled by the Irkutsk division of The Party. Maybe that’s why they always wanted more oceanic ports.

France, on the other hand, had its colonies all around the world and keeps some of them under the name of overseas departments. For more exquisite things there’s Andorra. And of course there are “military advisors” in various African countries (former French colonies by coincidence). Now that France does not want or can’t maintain its presence, those are withdrawn and are usually replaced by the troops of the infamous russian military company (hopefully it’ll find its end at Bakhmut soon).

And finally, if you think that russia is the only country that tried to create puppet republics in Europe in order to annex them later you’d be wrong. When in 1945 several countries agreed to occupy parts of Germany in order to make it a decent civilised country, USSR almost immediately made its zone of responsibility into a socialistic puppet state that had been the best friends to its end and even after that (see Angela Merkel). France, meanwhile, tried to pull a similar trick with Saarland. They tried to convert Saar Protectorate into a puppet People’s Republic of Saarland but (since they could not falsify elections) the result was unfavourable for them and in 1957 Saarland joined Germany for good. Considering how Saarland plays about the same role as Donetsk and Luhansk regions in Ukraine it’s hard not to see parallels to russia’s actions in 2014 and 2018.

Language and cultural policies.

Here I’m not going to talk about the influence of the for-export version of the country culture (writers, composers, ballet and so on) on other nations but rather what they did inside their own territory.

I observe the same approach: cultural genocide and forcing the One True Language. russia did that to many of its colonised nations, see Ems decree as one of such example (I’ve been there recently BTW and spat and the bust of Alexander II installed in the local park). Nobody talks about France in this aspect but it did rather well to eliminate Occitan and Basque languages from its territory (and if you think what Basques have to do with it—learn about the history of Gascony fist). Similarly it forced French as the first language in the schools—unlike, say, British Empire where people could learn their native language first and English later. As the result many people from “former” French colonies speak perfect French while people from British Commonwealth have all kinds of accents and dialects.

Of course (in both countries) you have language chauvinism extended past beyond that when they refuse to learn and speak the language of any other country (one philologist who emigrated from USSR once said that the purpose of studying foreign languages there was mostly to incite hate to that language). And now both countries have laws for protecting their language purity against foreign influences too.

Another aspect of such language chauvinism is demanding to support their language on the state level (you might’ve heard about the situation in Canada where exists essentially a language police from a certain province that checks that all inscriptions in this predominantly English-speaking country have translations in French next to it in the same size; and of course even the most liberal russians demand the same from any country they take residence in).

And the last thing about the language is its writing complexity. By that I mean the fact that there’s not a very strong connection between the way the words are written and spoken (to the point where sometimes you need to know the context in order to pronounce the word properly). And reforms are often met with hard resistance (see France, 2016 or russia, 1918) probably because they cherish the elite status of the language and do not want to make it more available to the common folk. There are other languages with similar characteristics, but in case of English it was essentially arbitrarily picked from various dialects (of several languages) for printing convenience (i.e. it was not something forced by a government) and people curse William Caxton to this day; in case of Chinese it’s used to hide the fact that different parts of the country speak different languages so if they don’t write in the same way they would be completely disconnected (which goes against the imperial narrative of a single Han nation); in case of Japanese it’s mostly a consequence of adapting Chinese writing system for their language that is built on very different principles (it has a completely different grammar and mostly different lexis even if it has a good share of Chinese loanwords); and Hebrew as a Semitic language has little regard for vowels so they’re omitted where possible and usually indicated in full only in the texts for children and the religious texts. In either case it’s not done just to make scribes feel more important.

I could also mention how they all like to overlook the fact that a good deal of their famous people and inventions have a different origin (starting with that guy from freshly conquered Italian territory by the name of Napoleone Buonaparte or the famous russian explorer from Danemark Vitus Bering) but IMO that’s pretty normal when you’re building a unified empire based on a single culture forced onto everybody as the mean of unification. A certain country in the East comes to mind as well with its Uyghur re-education camps.

And when I talk about cultural genocide I mean not only forcing the master language and culture onto the colonised nations but also destroying (or at least hiding) the remnants of native civilisation so that the nations won’t get wrong ideas. In Soviet Union the representatives of state security always accompanied archaeological expeditions and denied publishing the findings if they were contradicting the state narratives (for example, the real age of Trypillia or Carpathian settlements as they undermined the narrative about russians being the oldest nation). Similarly I read a story over two decades ago that in French Indochina the explorers discovered an impressive city or temple complex (was it Angkor Wat?) that was kept in obscurity so it would not inspire any national liberation movements and it was effectively rediscovered in 1960s or so.


Here’s a quote from Mark Twain:

Yet even France rose at last — and would have retired to its warren again quite contented with a cuff and a bonbon if the foolish King had offered them, but it was not his style to do the needful thing at the needful time, so the chance went by. Then the nation cast its rabbit skin and put on its other national garment, the tiger skin; being closely pressed by Europe in arms, it went a step further and asserted its manhood, and was doubtless surprised to find how much it had of it. Napoleon, the great foreigner, brought the people’s soldiership up to the last summit of perfection; and when he got ready he dressed the nation in their rabbit skins again and put his foot on their necks, and they glorified him for it. Napoleon III accommodated them in the same way, to their vast satisfaction.

The same largely applies to russians as well: they never had real uprisings against the sovereign, only protests addressed to him (the only real uprisings were started by other nations, like Ukrainians or Bashkorts) but when they were allowed to display their repressed feelings we got East Prussia in 1945 or Yahidne, Mariupol’ or Izyum this year. And if you look at russians they’re meekly going to war if they can’t avoid it and their relatives blame Ukraine for their subsequent deaths (instead of the führer who sent them there to die).

And if you look at what historical figures russians worship and despise, they mostly worship tyrants who oppressed them and wasted them in countless wars and despise rulers who tried to have more peaceful and liberal politics (because it was usually a sign of them being weak). I don’t know much about the French but considering the Penguin Island novel I expect about the same. At least nowadays they have strikes to vent off their negative feelings…


As I mentioned in the beginning, I suspect there’s a reason why both countries have acted similarly throughout the ages. Maybe it was the absolute power of the monarch and the abundance of initial territories, maybe it was something else. For example, British Empire grew up a lot thanks to the private initiative (names like Cecil Rhodes or East India Company come to mind immediately); USA (with such “unincorporated territories” as Puerto Rico or American Samoa) seem to retain its satellites a lot thanks to the fact that it’s better to be part of USA and get involved in its economic processes—and for the rest there’s U.S. Navy (which reminds me a lot of Roman Empire). With russia it was the opposite—the conquered countries tried hard to get independent from it (all of the Baltic states immediately and Ukraine, even if it took it more years after 1991 to realize why). French colonies are known to have been treated some of the worst (not as bad as Belgian king’s and later simply Belgian Congo though)—Haiti is the poorest country of Americas and I urge you to compare how many of the world poorest countries are former French colonies.

So it is no wonder that the countries with similar mindset would keep doing business together as long as the public opinion permits. At least France seems to improve albeit slowly while I see only two realistic ways for russia—balkanisation or turning into another North Korea. In either case maybe the future historians will explain what was wrong with both countries and why they went different ways eventually.

366th day of February 24

Friday, February 24th, 2023

So it’s been a calendar year since February 24 started along with year 1939 (the dates since February 2020 got really messed up). Let’s see how it went.

russia decided to mimic Nazi Germany and started the war “against NATO threat” by using its own Gleiwitz incident (which they first executed a couple days before the full-scale invasion and then back-pedalling—they can’t do anything right). They committed every possible war crime, if they have missed some that’s only because they either overlooked it or didn’t know how to do it. The occupied territories suffered from the genocide (direct and cultural), not occupied territories suffer from their terrorist strikes (mostly on civilian infrastructure). And all of this happens because of some deranged führer in the bunker with a resentment about russia losing the Cold War. And while many world leaders try their hardest to not see the parallels, Hungary was eager to become its ally (it’s the only Axis country country where a 1944 coup changed pro-Nazi government with even more pro-Nazi government after all).

In either case, in the first days of February many believed russian propaganda about its power yet it turned out to be not a colossus with feet of clay but rather a colossus made from shit and sticks on brick legs. Their plan was to bribe various officials, make some precise strikes and during the confusion seize the control of various crucial positions and use them for fast occupation of Ukraine. The first step had some limited success since while certain people are willing take bribes, not all of them are eager to work for it or use those received money for further bribes (it is said that medvedchuk received a billion dollars for that purpose and he used them for his own benefit). The second step also had issues since russian weaponry was not that precise as they hoped. The third step largely failed since Ukrainian authorities were prepared so people acted on their own even without the communications to the centre so e.g. in my home city the head of local state security division acted by russian orders and yet he failed to cause enough confusion and seize control, so the city did not fall to russia forces. Sadly there were enough traitors in Kherson and some parts of Kharkiv region to surrender local towns to russian forces.

Yet the main thing that allowed russians to occupy large portions of Ukraine were their reserves of Soviet weapons and munition plus modernisations of them. Neither of their newer wunderwaffen have proved to be any good (does anybody remember how their deployed some laser weapons for shooting down drones in May? has anybody seen seen their new Armata tanks in action? what about independently verified proofs of their Su-57 usage?). Initially they could use the usual World War II military tactics but then Ukrainian air defence (which they claimed to have fully obliterated in the first days) brought down enough of their planes and Ukrainian soldiers with Javelins and NLAWs destroyed enough of their tanks so they had to resort to the World War I tactics (shelling by artillery and then sending their hordes in) but nowadays with HIMARS “cottoning” their front line munition depots and the overall depleting of the reserves (they can’t produce enough and have to hope that DPRK and China will send more) nowadays it’s mostly sending their poorly-equipped hordes plus terrorist attacks on the civilian infrastructure by various missiles they have (who cares that a good deal of them malfunctions or explodes near the launch site?) and Iranian drones.

And there’s one thing they’ve threatened the world with—nuclear weapons. From what I heard, their de-escalation strategy includes escalation by exploding a small nuke somewhere to demonstrate that they have them and they won’t hesitate to use them. So far nothing like that has happened, I heard several reasons why: USA threatening to obliterate russian forces on Ukrainian territory by conventional means, russian allies (China and India) not willing to accept that either (because everybody will lose then), or even that they tried it but either it was sabotaged on some lower level or their devices simply failed to work. In either case, in the first days of the 24th of February it was easy to believe in their nuclear threats, nowadays nobody takes them seriously. And even them taking nuclear power plants as hostages is now seen mostly just as another war crime they’ll have to pay for later (and somewhat tricky place to liberate).

War is a very horrible thing but it also shows true colours of the people and tests your claims against reality. russia has boasted its army as the second most powerful in the world and its weapons as unparalleled. When they’ve finally decided to continue the 2014 war it turned out that their tanks lose to Ukrainian tractors, none of their advertised weapons are that good (and can’t work without Western chips) and “we’ll take Kyiv in three days and whole Ukraine in a week” turned into “we need to fight for preserving the integrity of russia”. It also turned out that making Hungary a member of anything was a big mistake and that the most of European politicians lack spine. Ukrainians turned out to be the nation that unites against the common threat and demonstrates unexpected strength while russians turned out to be non-thinking thieves and liars deeply infected by imperialistic chauvinism (it’s hard to hide behind the great artists of the past, most of whom are not of russian origin anyway, when all your soldiers do is loot, rape and shitting and their relatives are mostly fighting over compensations for their relatives killed in action).

Meanwhile though they’re seemingly trying to turn it into a religion like building communism before (and with the same rhetoric)—it will be all good sometime in the future when we achieve the goal (but we’re not going to disclose it), so you should stand up to the difficulties created by our self-imposed isolation (the country is doing great by the way and anybody claiming otherwise will be prosecuted as a heretic) and be ready to lay down your life for the country in Afghani… err Syr… err Ukraine.

I hope this day will end soon, and russia will follow the suit. Hopefully then the enslaved minor nations of russia will have a chance to build their own states (now they’re mostly sent to die in Ukraine which russians approve with the notion “why should we go to die when those exist”) and the carbuncle of this world won’t be able to threaten other countries ever again (also maybe China will get a lesson from this but I shan’t bet on it).

So, are video codecs really done?

Friday, February 3rd, 2023

Yesterday that Derek’s talk at Demuxed got to me for about the fourth time and I was asked about my opinion on it as well. I can take the hint (eventually), so here’s what I think.

Unlike Derek I’m a major nobody with some interest on how the codecs are working, to the point that I’m not afraid to look at their binary specification and sometimes even implement a decoder. Anyway, I’ll try to give a short summary of the points he presents and what I think about it.

Spoils of war

Monday, January 30th, 2023

Three hundred forty one day ago russia started the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Recently I’ve stopped mentioning the war in my posts paradoxically for a good reason: initially it was unclear how it will go, now it’s apparent that russia is going to lose. Of course it still has some allies and potential left (just yesterday it shelled Kherson and launched a missile at my home city among other things) but it’s clear that it cannot win, especially when the other countries realized that and have started to help Ukraine. So today I want to rant about why there’s so little help and why it’s so late.

The verb “to spoil” has two major meaning: to go (or make something) bad, rotten; the second meaning is to rob or pillage. The nouns derived from it may also have two meanings, so while “spoils of war” usually means war trophies (or marauding at the battle line), you can also interpret it as things that became rotten because of war. Somehow both of this meanings apply to the current situation.

There were three major wars in the XX century: the Great War (1914-1918), The Second World War (1939-1945) and the Cold War (1945-1991). Some may argue that the last one was not a proper military conflict as there were mostly proxy conflicts like Korean War or Vietnam War but it involved a good deal of the world and the outcome was the same as with the other world wars—dissolution of the empires. WWI put an end to Austro-Hungarian and russian empire, WWII was the de facto end of British empire, Italian empire and Japanese Co-prosperity empire. Cold War ended with the dissolution of russian empire (again) and Nominally Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The current war (I called if WWIII for a reason) may end up with russian empire dissolving for good—and if it takes current Chinese empire along with it I shan’t be sad either.

Probably the only thing World War I taught is that some ways of fighting the war (like chemical weaponry) are atrocious and should be banned (a cynic in me says the other countries agreed mostly because it was too ineffective). The aftermath of World War II was that Germany should not become strong again while other countries should do whatever they like. Cold War had been conducted taking into account the fact that the major players could destroy each other so they should not get into direct conflict or give the other party the reason to nuke them (indirect influence or military aid is fine though). Another outcome was the reinforcement of Westphalian sovereignty (i.e. the country can do whatever it likes unless it invades another country—especially if it has nukes).

After 1991 a lot of countries relaxed and decided that everything will be fine and they should not worry about anything ever again. Unfortunately if you don’t keep freedoms in check and reinforce them time from time you have a good chance of losing them. That’s what almost happened to Ukraine in 2010s, that’s what happened to Hungary, that’s what happened to Turkey (again) and so on. In other countries politicians become spineless—everything is good so we don’t need even a competent leader, a mediocre one who does not screw up much would do as well.

As the result we have countries with authoritarian regimes that can do whatever they like to themselves and other countries too timid to interfere—so when a big bully comes nobody opposes him. Look what happened when in 2008 russia invaded Georgia—USA “rebooted” the diplomatic relations and EU investigative mission did its best to ignore russian actions that started the war. In 2014 the same sort of people urged Ukraine to find a peaceful solution with its attacker as well. So no wonder that in 2022 when the West knew that russia will attack soon all they offered was evacuation of the government and token weapons good only for guerilla warfare. It took long months of losses and suffering for Ukraine to prove to the world that there is no reason to fear russia or to listen to its words. They made puppet referenda to declare Ukrainian territories as their own (including those they didn’t control) so they could “protect the integrity of their territory with nuclear weapons”—then Ukraine kicked them away from half of Kherson region and nothing happened. They always threaten to destroy “control centres” in case something happens but all they can really do is launch massive attacks to hurt civilians.

Let’s look at some countries to see how they degraded in the last three decades.

First is the USA of course. It has never fought wars on its own turf after the Civil War but it sent troops to various conflicts rather regularly. 9/11 was the event that made them start the (seemingly permanent) War on Terror™. That’s why American forces are skilled and well-equipped but in the same time it looks like an abstract thing to the most of the population, so a lot of politicians are eager to support russia and spread its agenda not for their money but because the current government is opposed to it.

The next will be Germany. Since strong Germany is met with suspicion that it’ll start a new world war, generations of German politicians served interests of any other country but their own. Later generation served russian interests—just look at Gazprom Schröder and Angela “Germany can’t get rid of dependency from russian gas” Merkel. With this option being no longer acceptable, the current chancellor seems to have switched to serve China instead (see the recent scandal with selling Hamburg port to them). Equally German military forces are a laughing matter: remember how a good deal of the munitions from their reserves they donated to Ukraine turned out past its due date or defective? remember how they increased military spendings last March to an unprecedented amount and failed to spend those money on anything? remember the recent performance of Puma IFVs? Sometimes I think the current German stance about giving Ukraine its military technologies is caused not by the notion “we can’t have Nazism so let’s enjoy russia practising it like a good student” but rather by the potential fear that their technologies may be not working at all. I’d also name the other factor responsible for the current situation: not performing a lustration and banning socialism after reuniting with GDR (Ukraine paid dearly for the same mistake).

And speaking about no lustration or banning socialism, we have Austria. After 1945 this homeland of putin’s spiritual father pretended to be a victim and stayed “neutral”. While Germany had trials for Nazis, Austria let its own live in peace for the rest of their lives. No wonder that high Austrian officials could be bought by russians (well, I hope they were bought and not simply shared the same ideology) to the point that Austrian state security worked directly in russian interests. At least they sometimes correct their mistakes.

Another “neutral” state would be Switzerland. On the one hand they try to avoid direct involvement in all conflicts, hence their law for forbidding transferring their military equipment to the fighting parties. On the other hand they are not above profiting from a trade with various parties (and thanks to the lax export control their military technologies end up in russia). I also joke that they’ll readily recall all their military stuff as soon as the country possessing them gets involved in a conflict. But a decade or two ago their banks lost the reputation of safe heavens for various criminals (thanks to the pressure from USA and data leaks), probably their neutrality will not remain the same for long either.

Continuing the streak of “neutral” countries, we have Israel. Its neutrality is based on the country being the Jewish state so they’d rather not get into conflict with any other country in fear of local Jews being persecuted (of course this does not apply to the nearby countries that try to destroy Israel already). But the current prime minister decided that he’d rather be friends with russia and thus does everything to prevent Ukrainian people even of Jewish origin to take refuge in the country (despite this being one of their original goals and duties). Considering how long he has been in power it is no surprise. I’ve read that thanks to his actions Israel loses support of other countries like USA. After all, it they don’t respect their own people why should anybody else respect them?

And finally for something mixed, namely France. Back in the day Mark Twain wrote a chapter titled French and the Comanches that did not make it into his A Tramp Abroad book. There he (half-jokingly) argues that French as a nation stand below Comanches—because the latter have not committed as much atrocities and never were as inventive at them either. The same applies to modern russia for the same reason—you’d not expect underdeveloped nations to retrofit anti-air missiles for S-300 system to send at the ground targets (they don’t really care what it hits, be it on the enemy or their own territory—and those missiles can’t be precise on ground targets in principle so it’s purely terrorism and not a warfare). I find a lot of similarities between France and russia in terms of their imperial politics (the same attitude to foreign languages, the same dedicated role of the capital compared to all other cities, even African de facto colonies are the same!). But I’ll leave this rant to another time and now I’ll just say that maybe because of this class solidarity a lot of French companies feel well on russian market and have no intent of leaving it soon. And of course the current president managed to create a new verb—”to macron”, meaning expressing a deep concern without doing anything substantial (of course various bureaucratic organisations like United Nations have been practising it since ages but his behaviour was worth commending).

War is a terrible thing that I don’t wish to anybody beside those who actively call it onto others. But sometimes it’s the only harsh enough measure to make people (and countries) wake up from delusions and start doing something. But as you can see, some still learn nothing from it.

Ukrainian Christmas

Sunday, January 1st, 2023

Ukraine has a long and tumultuous history and there are actually four different dates which essentially serve for Christmas celebration:

  • December 19—Saint Nicholas Day (Julian calender). Instead of putting presents into socks later, St. Nicholas sneaks them under pillows while children are sleeping. Very popular in the Western Ukraine;
  • December 25—Christmas by Gregorian calender. Not that popular but it’s slowly gaining popularity thanks to the actions of russia;
  • January 7—Christmas by Julian calender. Traditional for the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church (though many people would gladly celebrate it on both dates);
  • and the 1st of January—the date selected by Soviet Union to replace Christmas celebrations with something secular. But now it’s getting a very different meaning…

In the year 1909 on the very first day of January a boy was born in a small Ukrainian village (then under Austro-Hungarian rule). He has not managed to do enough yet his deeds made him a religious figure, feared in russia and (mostly for that reason) praised in Ukraine. Of course I’m talking about Stepan Bandera.

His biography can be condensed to this: he was born in a Ukrainian priest family with a history of cultural and political activism, so it was natural for him to join political movements that were fighting for the independence of Ukraine; later he became an important member of the Organisation of the Ukrainian Nationalists. After the internal disagreements OUN was split into two wings named after their leaders—Melnyk and Bandera. Bandera’s OUN was also called OUN-R(evolutionary) since they believed that Ukrainian independence can be won only through war (as 2022 demonstrated, they were right). In order to achieve that goal OUN-B cooperated with National-Socialistic Germany against International-Socialistic USSR and on the 30th of June 1941 they tried to declare the restoration of Ukrainian state. Germans tolerated puppet states on Yugoslavian territory but not here, so many of the Ukrainian activists were arrested and put to prisons—including Stepan Bandera himself who was at the same concentration camp as Andriy Melnyk. Couple of years later he was released in hope that he could be useful in fighting against USSR. He remained in Germany and was involved in political activism until the assassination by a KGB agent in 1954.

So what was his main contribution that made him immortal? Making OUN-R into an organisation that formed Ukrainian Insurgent Army and fought against Soviet occupation until late 1950s. Of course Soviet propaganda made them all into arch-enemies and in this way preserved his name for the future generations. Similarly Ukrainians started to perceive the same things as something good and accepted this new Bandera identity.

I called Stepan Bandera a religious figure because most of the people who use his name have no idea who he really was, what he has done (beside abstract “fought for Ukrainian independence”) or what his views are. russians fling Banderite as an insult at anybody speaking Ukrainian (which should be a giveaway for their chauvinism already), some still believe he’s alive (so how is this not a religion?). But if you look at his actual views (or what is passed for them), you’ll see that they were adopted in USSR and russia (single-party state with the leading role of one nation) but not Ukraine (actually even back in the 1940s Ukrainian Insurgent Army ditched them already). Now throw in the fact that his birthday in still a state holiday in russia and you’ll see a religion in forming.

Слава Україні! Героям слава!

What does it matter?

Friday, December 23rd, 2022

This question is a translation of russian “какая разница?” (which literally means “what is the difference?” or “is there a difference at all?”) but it has two appalling meanings in russian.

The legend says that after russian empire occupied Western Ukraine (probably in XVIII century), some Ukrainian representatives came to the official governing the region and asked for giving Ukrainian language a higher status, for example make official announcements in Ukrainian. The governor asked them if they understand russian language and after they said yes he asked what does it matter then which language to speak. Since those times the question is used as a marker of russian chauvinism (and of course a narrative that russians push): why should local languages and culture matter if the colonised nations understand russian?

The other meaning is for the everyday use. In this case it means “this thing is trivial and not worth discussing, so let’s forget about it”. Of course it’s often used to evade the blame or at least an inconvenient question as in “—Who broke the window? —What does it matter, we should think about replacing it.”

So why I’m writing about it? A third meaning to the phrase seems to appear and it does not serve their agenda this time. I follow the news related to the war and a good deal of them are about russian officials making inane claims, saying outright lies and spitting completely unscientific bullshit. And usually their newer statements contradict previous ones so you either need to have the memory of a goldfish or be well-trained in doublethink to believe them. So what does it matter what they say? After all this time the only thing that should be taken into account is their actions and what they said should interest only the judges at the future tribunal.

X is outside politics

Saturday, December 17th, 2022

Yesterday russia had another missile strike on Ukrainian territory, leaving some cities without electricity, heating and water for a day. As expected from a terrorist state. But here I’d like to talk about all those spineless people and organisations that keep supporting russia indirectly by not expelling it because “X is outside politics”.

Nowadays the phrase “X is outside politics” where X is arts, sport, video games or whatever is mainly used as an excuse to do nothing against entities using that thing exactly in political reasons. Kinda like it is made to be outside politics by some natural force and nothing can change it—instead of keeping it outside politics. It is like saying that gas and oil are outside politics and ignoring all the conflicts that have happened in order to control its sources and transport let alone russian blackmail attempts where they drop prices and increase shipped volumes for their allies (like Hungary) and cut it off for the countries not agreeing to their political demands (like Poland or Ukraine).

And yet there are people claiming that other things are outside politics so you should not e.g. boycott russian art just because russians have started genocidal war and in their majority approves it (even if they don’t want to fight in it themselves).


People forget that back in the day creating art was a long and costly process, so works of art were usually commissioned by wealthy people directly (or created to suit their taste in hope the potential patron will reward the creator for dedicating such work in his honour). Of course that meant that such works were often created in a biased way to either flatter the person or to push the favourable narrative. And the creator usually could spin own views into the book (a classic example: La Divina Commedia is famous not only for synthesising various beliefs on afterlife into a single system but also for its author’s views on his political opponents, some being placed in Hell already while they were still alive during the writing of the book).

Now take into account that the state can manipulate the works of art in its own interests—encourage art on a certain theme (like the various scenes from happy lives of Soviet workers and peasants), outlaw and destroy art that does not conform to certain criteria (there are many countries where mentioning LGBT+ themes is outlawed and when such laws are passed a lot of previously “outside politics” works become criminal offences). The work of art may be an abstract thing, but its creator is a human person that lives in a society and has to obey the rules (or suffer the consequences) let alone subtler filter bubbles created by the state (for example, there has nothing happened on 5th of June 1989 at Tiananmen Square, most of Lenin’s comrades were unpersons and Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia). And of course nothing prevents the state from taking those works of art and repurposing them later, giving new context and meaning (as I said previously, almost every russian symbol, starting with the country name itself, is stolen from elsewhere).

Ballet and gymnastics

One would wonder how such rather abstract forms of arts can serve political purposes. Like with sports (which is discussed below), it can be used as propaganda for outside usually pretending on peacefulness (“look, such refined people can’t be bad”) and for inside to unite the people behind something (“look, our performers are recognized in the whole world, we’re the greatest nation”).

Soviet Union used ballet for such purposes to the point that it got a memetic status (“…and as for ballet, we’re better at it than the rest of the planet”). North Korea has a mass gymnastics show called Arirang which is for impressing people how large North Korean collectives act like one person.

Dramatic art and literature

This is probably the most obvious example but Italian and European Commission officials do not understand it.

As mentioned above, plays and books are often written with some explicit political goals (even if they’re a good reading after all those centuries like Jonathan Swift’s), some works simply comprise political views of their authors even if it’s not the main objective (sometimes it’s just a passing remark on a group of people the author dislikes, but it’s still there). And of course the work can be repurposed later.

Soviet Union initially tried to push for the internationalism, the brotherhood of all people and so on, but after the attempts to expand have mostly failed (some countries were conquered but not the whole of Europe or Asia let alone Americas) they switched to the old rhetoric equalling USSR to a new russian empire (i.e. bringing civilisation to the outskirts, being the guide who knows the way to the future and other bullshit) while condemning it (for having a czar and not Polutburo as the ruler). This means that most of pre-1917 russian classics could be used not just to demonstrate how bad was life for a common peasant (alluding it has improved greatly under Soviets) but also the old rhetoric about empire, its strength and defeating the enemies could be used almost verbatim as well. And new works had to conform the so-called party line (the current outlook on the internal and external politics) otherwise it would not be published.

Now let’s look at the other parent of modern russia. Beside creating some of the best propaganda pieces, Nazi Germany has repurposed a lot of past art to its goals. The famous Deutschlandlied (the one that starts with words “Germany, Germany above all, above everything in the world”) was created in times of disunited German kingdoms, duchies and counties and the idea was that they all should unite to one single Germany instead of having petty squabbles between each others—and you know how those words are perceived after 1939. Richard Wagner created his operas because he was interested in the German past and writing epic music with no connection to the modern days (beside maybe some jabs at critics) and that’s why the Bavarian fairytale king supported him—but you know how his music was used in 1930 and what associations it brings now. One of the books by Strugatsky brothers contains the following passage about Nietzsche: “He was a great poet but he was very unlucky with the fans.” And indeed, Friedrich Nietzsche wrote his philosophical works about individual men, how they should cope with the unwelcoming world and strive to become better—so when his idea of superhuman (in moral sense) were adopted by Nazis they still remained outside politics, didn’t they?

Video games

Video games are a work of art too (even if not all) and in many cases they tell a story and have a setting. So some games may push a certain narrative by having a “proper” version of history, “properly” behaving parties and so on. For example, Company of Heroes 2 had hostile reception in russia because you could commit the same atrocities with Soviet soldiers as in real life (like in East Prussia) and in russia they believe that there were no such things (the same way as they don’t want to hear about Bucha or Izyum now).

And considering how russian dictatorship controls all mass media, do you think they won’t try to “convince” game studios (with both money and threats of criminal prosecution) that they should make more “patriotic” games?


The Olympic games were initially conceived as apolitical competitions (that’s why Greek city-states even stopped fighting during the games). When they were revived in 1896, they tried to preserve the spirit—and then 1936 Summer Olympics happened.

Nazi Germany saw it as an opportunity to demonstrate its power and superiority of its people. In a sense it was the first modern Olympics and not just for the technical details: initially it was a competition between individuals for the sake of promoting sports and chivalrous rivalry. Afterwards it became a canonical show-off for a hosting country and it was state-sponsored teams taking part and not amateurs who trained at their own expense.

Consider the following: in the last decades hosting an Olympics (or often any other large sports event) does not bring profit to the hosting country (especially considering how the objects that had to be built to conform to the newer IOC standards are too large for any domestic use afterwards and have to be either demolished or maintained without a meaningful return). So the hosting country should be a wealthy country willing to throw away money for what? For prestige and show-off. That’s why nowadays large sports events happen in countries with dubious reputation (like Temporary Occupied West Taiwan, Qatar, russia or South Africa).

And you should remember the doping scandal for 2014 Winter Olympics—if the government used its state security in order to organise mass cheating at doping, do you think it hadn’t treated winning at the games as political goal?

There’s another fun fact: for both russia and Temporary Occupied West Taiwan the majority of males in their teams are not merely people training at the state expense, they are also on active military duty. There may be many possible explanations but some state politics is involved there as well.

So you may see all those sports events as apolitical but certain countries do not—and they act accordingly.


I hope it’s clear by now that “X is outside politics” is merely a suggestion and not an inherent property. Something stays outside politics only as long as no party is using it for some political purposes.

In my previous lengthy rant I described how I moved away from russian culture even if I’d been exposed to it long and extensively. For other people, who did not grow up in russian colonies unlike me, it should be even easier.

Similarly, still admitting russians to international competitions of any kind is allowing them to keep spreading their narratives both inside and outside the country (at least russia has thought in advance and bought enough people in various sports committees to keep allowing them even if not under their own flag).

And if you’re still asking why—believing russian narratives is exactly what made this war so horrible, long and devastating (and sadly not for russia). And it enables other parties (like Temporary Occupied West Taiwan) to influence your decisions as well. After all, convincing your enemy that he’s lost already is a victory indeed.

Ignoring feedback as the root of most modern problems

Friday, December 9th, 2022

I might sound as a sidekick to Captain Obvious but some things are needed to be said again and again.

Life in its entirety is built on a feedback loop: if you react on external conditions to maximise positive output you’ll survive; it’s not just evolution, individual organism also would die if they don’t search for food when they’re hungry and don’t flee from danger. But when you have large systems with some resilience, some of the feedback may be ignored for some time. And sometimes all of the feedback gets ignored permanently and that is the start of that system downfall. It has happened before the humanity (dinosaur extinction most likely happened because they were unable to adapt to the changing conditions—because they could ignore the changes until it was too late so they were mostly replaced by more agile animals) but here we’ll review human-made systems (mostly social and political) and failures of those.

Essentially, the cycle works like this: at first a system emerges (or is created) to fulfil some purpose, it grows large, then it starts getting optimised for a target different from the initial one, and when the differences between its initial purpose and the goal it serves grow large enough for that system to face an uneasy choice—get reformed or get eliminated. This happens because the feedback from the wrong decisions at stage three (optimising for a different target) get ignored. So let’s start with reviewing how this happens.

You probably have heard about Goodhart’s law (and if not, it’s a shame) which essentially says that if you optimise something only for a certain metric, that metric will stop mattering. To give a technical example from the area I know: there are various ways to calculate how close lossy-encoded video is to the source and the higher the value of such metric the better video should look to human eye. So far so good, right? But every metric can be manipulated and some researches found that by applying some preprocessing the popular VMAF metric can be improved while the picture quality may feel degraded (it’s not purely theoretical, here in AV1 encoder source there’s some code based on their earlier ideas). Also I heard an anecdote about Korean researchers making an AAC encoder based on neural networks that gave excellent PSNR while sounding like garbage to human ear. Now that you have an idea on how it works, let’s move to less quantifiable things.

I can’t say I understand modern economics well, but essentially in the old days companies were supposed to bring profit by providing a product or service better than the competition (in the best case by being a monopoly). Then the companies became too large to be owned by one guy or family (there are exceptions of course) so the goal became to increase the worth of the stock that shareholders possess—by increasing its market value. Again, initially such stock prices were tied to the easily quantifiable things like assets, income and profit; now it’s more about expectations of growth. Somebody from the past simply would not understand how a company having losses for years still has its stock growing. My cynical view is that it works as long as there are enough people willing to believe that it works (which is also the case with modern economics in general IMO).

Now let’s look at the forms of government. Usually there are no clear goals in either of the systems and people often can’t predict the consequences of their actions (and when they can, they’re not willing to). And there is the usual human tendency to make things better for oneself no matter what consequences it bears for the others. Thus in order to keep system vital you need to get feedback from the people (even if it’s just to know where to send forces to squash rebellion like in today Iran). That’s why China keeps several systems (party members, state security and the state news agency) to report stuff from the regions to the centre. That’s why Winston Churchill said that “democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”. Voting in sane(r) countries is a way to keep the authorities informed about what people want (even if the results of the voting are ignored afterwards). IMO the system could be improved by having a test on the basics (e.g. what parties are out there, what are their governing principles and key points of the programs—just to make sure you make a conscious vote) and account votes of those who passed the test and not separately (in order to do what the concise people voted for and if they’re indecisive—do what the majority wants). But of course such system can be exploited (plus it’s somewhat harder to implement) and we have Gresham’s law in action here (a voter is a voter and any populist would prefer a thousand people voting for him out of tradition to ten people voting because he served their interests but who might not vote for him the next time). The cases of what happens when feedback is ignored will be reviewed a bit later.

Now let’s have a look at social networks. From what I see, originally they were created to attract people by connecting them based on some feature (and make money off them of course). With the time though the goal has mutated to attracting advertisers and selling them audience based on some features. I’m not going to describe what tricks are used to make users behave in the way advertisers like the best but it seems to turn users off those platforms.

As we got to the point where not taking feedback into account has led us to a crisis, there are three possible outcomes: keep ignoring the feedback (aka Soviet Army approach), try to manipulate the metric in hope that it will improve things (shamanism) or do something to the reality to make it conform to the metric (Froogle approach). If you think that taking feedback into account is a possible option too you are an incurable optimist.

Ignoring feedback altogether is a rather simple thing to do. If you don’t like something just call it fake news or enemy propaganda and be done with it. Why I called it Soviet Army approach? Because for me it’s associated with the tradition that was common for the commanders in russian empire, USSR and current russia: keep doing what’s ordered no matter how pointless it is. There are jokes about e.g. painting grass green and asphalt in dark grey to conform the rules, but considering all the variations of it I’ve read in the memoirs and heard from people who served in Soviet Army I doubt it’s merely jokes. Similarly we can see how in this war russians are attacking Bakhmut (or Sieverodonetsk earlier) and how they made Chornobaivka a legend. Denying reality just prolongs the inevitable.

Manipulating metrics is another step, where you hope that by cooking the books and rigging the process you’ll get the desired outcome. As Richard Feynman said, nature cannot be fooled—but what about people? Maybe if we report that the majority supports us the majority will think they’re supporting us because everybody else does? This starts with rigging elections and ends with russia where the only feedback taken into account is what the führer wants to hear, so the election results are always falsified to have the ruling party get the “convincing” majority of votes, opinion polls are treated by population as “the authorities sent me to ask if you’re satisfied with everything, yes or yes?” and it is widely speculated that only good news about the war get to the führer-in-the-bunker (unless they’re too hard to hide, then they’re greatly delayed as it happened with their cruiser, fleeing Kharkiv region or Kherson). In theory this approach may work in some cases where you act in a system powered mostly by human beliefs and you have factual information yourself, otherwise it causes more damage than the previous case.

And finally we have the case where you not merely reject feedback from reality but rather try to force reality to give the feedback you want. I called it Froogle approach after one story (sorry, can’t find the link): when this search service for products on sale was still in development, the team encountered a case where a certain irrelevant product (a garden gnome) was showing up in the results for completely different things. No matter how they tuned their algorithms, it kept showing up—until one day one guy from the team went and bought it thus removing it from the search results. This is also reminding me of the final chapter of The History of One Town by Saltykov-Shchedrin where a satirical depiction of Arakcheyev sees a river on plains that does not fit into his world view and decides to remove it by filling it with rubble from the demolished town (he wanted to build a military-agricultural colony on its place anyway). As you can imagine, it worked for about one day and then the river found its way again. The famous whipping the sea by Xerxes the Great probably belongs here as well. Depending on the resources you have (and against what you fight) it may work out or not—but it’s fun to watch from afar (from close distance though it’s a horror).

We learn from the mistakes (preferably not made by us) and feedback is a very important part of that learning. Pain tells you that what you’re doing is hurting you and you’d better stop doing it, that’s how children learn not to grab hot objects and pointy things. Sadly nowadays in many cases you don’t suffer from the consequences of your mistakes (because the society values individuals a bit too much to allow that) and in some cases it leads to tragic results. Even worse when it happens to the whole countries (because Wesphalian sovereignty is an international counterpart to humanism).

In 2008 russia started a war on Georgia and what was the reaction? The famous EU report that stated essentially that the conflict happened and they don’t know the reasons behind it and can’t verify the claims of participating parties. A year later Obama government started with resetting the relationships. As the result it empowered the aggressor to do more of the same in the future (1938 called and sent its greetings from Munich).

In 2014 russia started essentially the Third World War (I wrote on this opinion of mine) by occupying Crimea and fighting in the East Ukraine using puppet “people republics” (like soviet russia did in 1917-1922). What was the reaction? Essentially it boiled down to “bad russia, don’t do it again—and you, Ukraine, should reconcile” (plus a couple of rather formal sanctions to show some concern). And in the same time russia tried to use its gas as a leverage (not for the first time though and not for the last). Baltic states took the hint and made their systems independent from russia: there were LNG terminals built and new legislation for controlling gas suppliers was passed (like requiring minimum storage fill level). Germany did nothing and as the result it met the second phase of war with near-empty storages (belonging to russia) and no means to transport gas but the pipelines from russia (mostly owned by guess which country)—all against the Directive 2009/73/EC. To me this alone is enough to start investigating Merkel (and preceding) government for high treason, but we all know this is unlikely. The lack of punishment for acting against national interests and in favour of another country will encourage others to do the same (see Scholz and China). And there’s still an issue of Hungary and its well-paid affection to russia…

The situation in the USA is not much better as both parties do not want to recognize that people might have a reason to vote for their opponents and it’s not just russia/China/big tech meddling with the elections. And instead of thinking what can be done to win more voters the parties mostly pass the blame and try to turn their views into a small religion. Also I find the calls to disregard the laws because the other party “cheated” rather disturbing. Thanks to this other countries see America as a laughing stock and, more importantly, withering power and expect to occupy Ukraine, Taiwan or Syria without repercussions.

I want to end this rant with a passage from Going Postal that resonates with me:

You see, I believe in freedom, Mr Lipwig. Not many people do, although they will of course protest otherwise. And no practical definition of freedom would be complete without the freedom to take the consequences. Indeed, it is the freedom upon which all the others are based.

Denazification, or the story my divorce from russian culture

Friday, November 4th, 2022

This is another story that I simply had to write. It may be fun to seek parallels between this and free services of a certain privacy-invading company but the only common points there are that I stopped using them out of disgust and the company helped to make the process easier. So far no matter what it did it hasn’t done even a minuscule amount of harm russia did (and does) to Ukraine and the rest of the world.

So I’m finally writing about russian culture not in general but applied to me. Short summary: I grew up in both russian and Ukrainian cultures and I didn’t hate either, yet there were always some things in russian works that rubbed me the wrong way and I had been slowly drifting from it even before russia demonstrated what a loaded deal it is.

A bit about Kharkiv

Let’s start from my birthplace. I was born and spent two thirds of my life in Kharkiv, the large cultural centre of the East Ukraine. It was founded about four hundred years ago in a territory of border Cossack forces called Slobozhanshchyna (the word comes from the word “freedom” BTW). Kharkiv grew up a large trade and industrial city. First private bank in russian empire was founded there and the best known Soviet tank (along with several others) were designed and produced there, to give just two random examples. It was equally powerful scientific and cultural centre as well—all three Ukrainian Nobel laureates studied at Kharkiv University (which is over two centuries old), and a plethora of people who made great contributions to the Ukrainian culture, from from Kvitka-Osnovianenko to the group known as Executed Renaissance to the modern ones like Serhiy Zhadan (I have actually seen him once at our Literary Museum). There were people living in Kharkiv who later moved elsewhere to make great contributions to russian culture as well (actors, singers and even the scriptwriters of the best Soviet comedies).

As you can see, my home city had a lot to offer. And I sampled a lot of it like visiting a six dozen of different theatres (half of them repeatedly) but more about it later. The main negative property of Kharkiv is being located in less than 50 kilometres from the russian border (and it shows).

My early years and language

Anyway, let’s move to my childhood. I was born in a russian-speaking family, everybody was speaking russian and we had just one topic in school taught in Ukrainian (which is, not surprisingly, was Ukrainian language itself). Side note: during that time the Ukrainian grammar was reformed to make it closer to the actual Ukrainian language instead of russian, for example the letter “ґ” was reintroduced back into Ukrainian language (it’s called “Wallachian g” and used mainly in loanwords that have a sound different from real Ukrainian ‘g’). Yet despite all that people had nothing against Ukrainian language, I used to listen to the radio station “Промінь” that had various kinds of music in Ukrainian (and some retro music in russian as well), I read children magazines in russian or Ukrainian depending on in which language an issue was available (you can guess why Ukrainian periodicals often had versions in two languages; the same applies to books). It was the same in my university years: mostly people spoke russian and we had only two subjects taught in Ukrainian (Ukrainian history and Ukrainian language for business letters). So I could observe it myself that most of the time people spoke russian but nobody was against Ukrainian language (only complaining about not mastering it). The only time I heard somebody saying that she hates Ukrainian language was in Luhansk region…

I had relatives in Luhansk region, my grandparents were from Borivske village and they lived in Lysychansk. Of course I stayed with them in summer and heard different stories about the region. For example, during German occupation in 1940s German soldiers had better attitude to the locals than collaborators (my grandmother remembered how one of them commented it in broken language—”a russian beats brother, what idiot”). My grandpa was involved in building Sieverodonetsk Azot (the large producer of nitrogen-based compounds that became infamous this spring). He said that it started as a German chemical plant that was dismantled and rebuilt in two several sites, namely Sieverodonetsk and somewhere in east russia (maybe Kemerovo but I can’t be sure). Later it was expanded using an equipment bought abroad, so my grandpa worked with prisoners who were laying bricks for the future production sites and with Japanese experts overseeing other construction works. It seems to be a common story when russian or Soviet industry is built by foreigners and prisoners (sometimes they’re the same people). And it demonstrates the problem planted by USSR: since all those large construction works in Donbas area were performed mostly by prisoners, those prisoners had to be brought from somewhere (which means russia) and they were left there afterwards, creating an alien element. That is why this region had the population that refused to speak anything but russian and well-developed criminal culture culminating in yanukovych, the fourth president of Ukraine who still had manners and jargon of an ex-con, and his cronies from Donbas who helped him to rob the country—and a bang in 2014 when Ukrainians got finally tired of this and russia showed its true colours by occupying Crimea and sending people to start an uprising in Donbas. And yes, the pretext was oppression of russian-speaking population (which is probably was a need for them to learn even a bit of Ukrainian). Mind you, that person who said that she hated Ukrainian language was not speaking the perfect russian either. This reminds me also of French language attitude but I’ll leave comparisons of France/French and russia/russians to another time.

The slow move from different kinds of russian culture

That was all mostly about the language itself, what about the other aspects of culture: books, music, plays, mass-media? I’ve written already about radio station I’ve listened to but what about the rest?


As for TV, I watched mostly humour shows (in russian, Ukrainian and even surzhyk which is a mix of both). One of my favourite shows was КВН (“a club of witty and clever ones” which grew out of student sketch shows and competitions where people asked random questions and others tried to answer with a witty response), which had a lot of Ukrainian teams as strong competitors and they even were winning tournaments more than once (two of those teams had a guy who became a famous and comedian, you might’ve heard about Volodymyr Zelensky). In the mid-2000s though the show degraded as it was no longer possible to joke about politics and everything in the show now essentially belongs to the host and his family (not just a trademark, broadcasting rights and the building where the shows are performed, teams wanting to perform in the show have to sign a contract making them virtually slaves)—and considering that this guy is over 80, tries to pretend to be young and shows no desire to leave, it feels like a history of modern russia in a nutshell.

Back in the day Ukrainian TV features a lot of russian soap operas (half of them being the local version of telenovelas and another half being about cops or criminals) and a good deal of them was shot in Ukraine because it was cheaper (in the same way as iconic American movies were shot in England). Once I’ve caught a bit of it while switching channels and acting was so bad that it made me want to puke. So I haven’t missed anything good by not watching them either.

Anyway, I’ve stopped watching TV completely around 2005 out of disgust. Advertisements may be annoying but when the same programme is interrupted with advertisements in five minutes after the first time, it’s too much. So I turned TV set off and haven’t regretted that since. I suppose I should thank certain Ukrainian TV channel for that.


As for the music, I prefer instrumental music that is couple of centuries old (German baroque music played on harpsichord or organ is the best). I heard enough russian composers but I didn’t like their music (except for Glinka for some reason). Ukrainian traditional music, played on bandura, kobza and dulcimer, somehow resonates with my soul though (it was performed sometimes at our philharmonic). And out of many theatres I’ve visited, the russian drama theatre was the one I liked the least (not the repertoire though but the attitude to the watchers). So I’m mostly into classics yet there’s one Ukrainian song from my home city that I know by heart (and it sounds equally good both in russian and Ukrainian).

See, I haven’t had to stop listening to russian music because I haven’t listened much to it in the first place.


It’s not that I like reading, it’s more that I can’t live without it. We had all kinds of books at home, from russian classics (including two or three complete sets of works by Pushkin) to modern science fiction (including both books by Strugatsky brothers, works by foreign authors and even some science fiction in Ukrainian by local authors). Later I learned other languages and I’ve read a couple of books in each language I know (and probably couple of hundred books in English). I value content and ideas over the presentation so I can forgive some problems to a book if it’s an interesting reading (and not written by a completely illiterate person). Books in russian are plenty and easy to get access to in electronic form for free (and not even via means of piracy) so no wonder I mostly read those. The problem is that many of those books have issues with quality and they get worse every year.

One of the main problems is declining literacy: while the books are still being written, they’re written used poor language (limited vocabulary, primitive sentences, words used at random, lack of punctuation) and the topics are not good either. And it’s increasingly hard to find decent books among the thousands of mediocre and outright bad ones (yeah, like with the information in Internet).

Here’s a short review of the most popular russian genres of fiction (the ones I’ve heard of, most of them I’d rather never touch but reading comments on such works was sometimes entertaining):

  • “ironic detectives” (it’s ironic to call them detectives)—pulp fiction oriented at women and produced in bulk (I still remember when you could rent such books for a nickel per day at some stalls). Considering that the best known author (allegedly) wrote over 250 books in two decades, you can guess how good they are. Pass;
  • “female fantasy” (again, a genre of its own). Comes in three flavours: a young woman gets to study at some magical school where she marries a dean or a prince; a woman in fantasy world gets what she wants (often marrying a prince) by chutzpah; a woman is a wealthy heiress or possess special qualities which makes several powerful males (not necessarily humans or elves, dragons are popular too) compete for her hand. Pass;
  • action—often features weapon porn (where a good deal of book is dedicated to the weapon specifications and what accessories are attached). The stories are usually primitive as it’s more about the amount of enemies killed and women courted with. Pass;
  • popadanets genre (or isekai if you prefer it)—stories about somebody from one world transported/teleported/reincarnated into another (or the same but in different time). By itself it’s a good tool to show a conflict of traditions and beliefs for somebody put into an alien environment. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is still being read today and Futurama is still fun to watch. The problem is that in russia it degraded into two template stories: a Marty Stu with extraordinary abilities grows riches and harem or somebody gets into the past and does whatever needed to prevent russian empire from collapsing/taking losses in World War II/USSR dissolution. There’s even a saying that every popadanets should warn Stalin about German attack, invent intermediate cartridge and two-hatch version T-34 tank, and sing Vysotsky songs (yes, it’s that formulaic). There were some interesting books there but it’s very hard to find them among the rest;
  • alternative history. The same notion as above: something in russian history does not happen (or happens differently) which leads to russia (in either form) to grow even stronger and larger and to take revenge on real and imaginary enemies. Pass;
  • fantasy in boyar-anime stylistics. This is very alternative history with a setting involving russia staying in feudalism with boyar clans keeping power by having large magical talents (like shooting lightnings or sending storms on their opponents). You can guess from the name where they got some of the ideas. Pass;
  • various “historical” “research” books trying to convince the reader that Stalin did not plan to wage a war and the fact that Soviet Union had very large forces concentrated near its (newly created) borders in June 1941 is just a coincidence. Yuck;
  • the literary RPG genre of (sciency) fiction. The settings are usually either virtual reality MMORPGs where characters spend most of their lives (or even serve their prison sentences) or even “real-world RPGs” where something (nanomachines, son!) re-creates the system with RPG characteristics, levels and skills in the real world. Few adequate books are buried under the tons of usual Marty Stu fantasies and books mostly full of main character game logs and stat sheets printed after each update;
  • there were also series based on a predefined setting of two games, namely S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Metro 2033 but it’s best to be left to the equivalent of Star Wars Expanded Universe fans.

I’ve missed something for sure (like books in more traditional genres) and there are exceptions but here are the reoccurring themes that turn me off even in more reasonable books:

  • jabs at other nations, sometimes not merely chauvinistic but gratuitous too—it’s one thing when a brave russian protagonist uncovers a plot by evil Britain against his country and another thing when a brave russian protagonist encounters some Ukrainians without any reason and they start insulting him, still without any reason, and when this episode ends it gives absolutely nothing to the story;
  • normalised prison traditions. I’ve written before that it seems to be the only natural part of russian culture (and the rest was invented to bind the empire together), a lot of people in russia believe that you’re not a Real Man™ unless you’ve been to prison, so of course it gets reflected in the literature. It’s not that uncommon to see protagonists enjoying speaking prison argot, to give one example;
  • resentment and revanchist feeling (just look at how many books are about fixing something with the russian past);
  • and finally, the attitude to plagiarism. For example, protagonist has some knowledge (technical or art), passes it as his (or her) own inventions/writings without having any regrets. Bonus points for having such protagonist offended when somebody else does the same with his (or her) stuff. I dropped reading one of the books in disgust after the author copied a well-known humoristic piece verbatim without giving credit.

Again, previously I could write these deficiencies off to the skewed views of individual authors. Now russia demonstrated to the whole world that chauvinism, resentment and thievery are the main virtues there. So why should I even attempt to read new russian books that cause only revulsion and disgust? Why should I read older russian books if they’re either the same or about the topics I have no interest about (i.e. russia and russians). And considering that most of the russian classics were imperialists and chauvinists why should I read them too? Fun fact: back in 1930s during Ukrainisation movement (started by Soviets to make their rule accepted by local population and cut off when it was no longer required) those classics were against their works being translated into Ukrainian (probably culminating in intelligentsia from Leningrad protesting against “traditionally russian” operas being performed in Ukrainian, including Aida). As for the foreign books translated into russian, considering the usual poor quality of the translation it’s better to find and read the originals.

Books were my main connection to russian culture, and this connection is being cut mostly without any efforts on my side. At least there’s enough good literature to replace it. If this makes you think about Nord Stream pipelines, it’s only because there might be something in common here.


russian movies suffer from the same problems as russian literature. Additionally since shooting a movie is not cheap (in general), one of the important parts of the process is securing funding and finding distributors. Because of certain peculiarities of russian political and economical system it essentially devolved into a system where a cabal formed from large studio owners (that may also act as directors and producers) “help” russian ministry of culture decide which movie to sponsor (usually one of their own). And they use their connections to advertise those movies in prime time on state media channels (or in some cases convincing that the movie should be mandatory to be watched by e.g. children from elementary schools and the orders are made at the ministry of education). The rest of the movies are usually something targeting lowbrow audience to be commercially viable.

As somebody put it, Hollywood movies are for making profit and all about the box office and russian movies are all about securing funding. Unlike Hollywood accounting where the idea is to make movie bring profit without paying taxes, here it’s like in The Producers—make a flop so nobody questions where money for production really went to. That’s why pitching the movie, actors lying how fun it was to shoot and exaggerated advertisement claims are usually the best part of those movies.

Are there exceptions? Yes, but most of those movies are either about criminals or depressing life, sometimes both. And the remaining couple of movies that are clever satire on russian reality I’m not going to re-watch because it’s still about russian reality.

Video games

I don’t play games much and when I find time for them it’s usually adventure games. I’ve made a short review of the games I’m aware of (or played myself). Some of them were actually decent (as they were made before the time when they started make and publish any garbage) but I’ve not played them for a long time and it won’t be hard not to play any them at all.

Internet media

Here the situation is rather simple: most of the sites I visit are in English and at the start of the war a lot of russian sites I visited closed in protest (some may have reopened since but I’ve learned to live without them). The main loss is a webcomic called Depth of Delusion (a deep passionate parody on popular movie franchises with toucans on top). Its author was from Chernihiv so in the best case he simply lost any desire to write it on a russian site (as he said in his last post) and in the worst case he lost his live during the initial state of the 2022 invasion.

As for the videos, I had no interest on what their bloggers can tell me about the russian lifestyle. I watch mostly the videos with humorous reviews of the movies or TV series (so I both be entertained and keep informed about what’s going on). Due to sanctions some of them went to greener pastures (i.e. video hostings that still pay money in russia), others disappeared entirely, yet another one made claims that made me stop watching them out of disgust (those claims may be either outright nationalistic or weaselly shifting the blame from russia). So the amount of channels I’m willing to watch is shrinking steadily and will reach zero eventually. Another thing is that considering the current situation I’m not eager to learn about new russian movies and how awful they are (I’ve explained above why they are) and I can find out stuff about foreign movies from native reviewers.

Meanwhile there’s a vast amount of channels in English offering content good enough for me. And there’s this catalogue for Ukrainian channels which helped me a lot.


There’s a phrase from Soviet times: I’ve not read Pasternak but I condemn him. My situation is opposite: I grew up in a multicultural place with a strong dominance of russian culture and have learned a lot about it. Nevertheless, I had alternatives to choose from and since I have some tastes (I’m not going to claim they’re all good, but they’re there) I don’t mindlessly consume everything but rather pick what I find interesting or entertaining and while I try something new in order to escape filter bubble, there are some things that would make me reject them immediately. And russian culture is one of the things the more you know about the more revolting it is.

As I wrote before, russian culture is an artificial thing created to bind the empire (be it called empire or USSR, doesn’t matter). Initially it was enforced by power (by both suppressing local cultures, including Ukrainian, and leaving the opportunities to work only at russian narratives), later by money (Ukraine has lower reserves of oil, so a lot of Ukrainians moved to russia to get significantly larger payments for their work as actors, singers, writers or even producers). It would be understandable but the imperialist agenda never left it (even in Soviet times they dreamed about uniting the whole world under the wise rule of The Party and praised the leading role of Soviet Russia). So it turned into a mental poison that tries to convince the whole world that Ukraine, Ukrainian language and culture do not exist.

Previously I could ignore those narratives and pick up the better bits, but in 2022 russia demonstrated that those idiocies about defending oppressed russian culture are actually their guidelines and if you do not purge it from your country there may be russian tanks and missiles coming next to “defend” it (again, it’s russian-speaking part of Ukraine that suffered and suffers the most from russian invasion). Taking all this into account, consuming russian culture is like drinking from a spring in Makiivka (this source of potable water at occupied Ukrainian territory got viral a couple of months ago after somebody took a dump into it; considering that this is a thing a russian soldier would do, it’s a very appropriate symbol indeed). Maybe I’m not so smart to cut all possible ties earlier but I can take a hint.

Visiting multimedia grave

Monday, October 31st, 2022

When people ask why I call the search division of Alphabet Inc Baidu, I answer that I do it in spite to muddle their search index and mostly because they remind me of a Chinese totalitarian company. And recent news only reaffirm such views.

As you should remember, Baidu is famous for its graveyard for the killed projects—it even has a separate alley for the messenger apps. And looks like it prepares a plot under a concrete duck for burying some multimedia formats (which makes it interesting to me).

The history of multimedia formats at Baidu essentially started with the purchase of On2 and releasing VP8 in WebMKV format. Then VP8 was mostly buried since VP9 was created (some of it remains hidden inside WebP format), VP9’s turn is near since VP10 is here to succeed it (under the name of AV1).

In the recent news though it turns out that Chrome is deprecating its support for JPEG XL, a format developed mostly at Baidu and the only one properly standardised. But as we all know, Chrome currently controls the Web and removing support for it means that the format will remain obscure. Kinda like in a Soviet joke where a foreign tourist asks in a shop why there’s no caviar and hears that there’s no demand for it—and as he observed for a whole day nobody asked for it indeed (in case it’s not obvious people in the USSR didn’t ask for caviar at the shops because they knew it would not be sold there; see also Baidu Stadia).

And because it was not enough, people spotted that WebP2 has changed its status to experimental, meaning that it won’t be supported either.

So we have, VP9 buried in favour of AV1, JPEG XL being buried in favour of AV1F, WebP2 being buried in favour of AV1F (which is AV1 still frames in MP4) and the original WebP is likely to follow the suit. Now consider that AV1 is recommended to be distributed inside MP4 instead of WebMKV and you’ll fear about the future of that container as well.

I guess now all is left for them to do is to adopt Baidu Lyra as non-experimental codec to purge Vorbis and Opus not created by them and then bury it in favour of AV1-based audio compression. That would make a nice collective grave of formats killed by Baidu to make space for AV1.

So, do you know when AV2 should arrive?