What awaits Russia in the distant future?

Freshly pressed: Putin, the Russian Elite, and the Future of Russia.

There is a dialectical logic to why an individual like Putin came to power in Russia. His policies in the past were controversial at best, but now, after the annexation of Crimea and turmoil in Ukraine, Russia’s future is not expected to be bright. Why do Russia’s leaders always seem embroil the country in one conflict after another?

ImageEvery nation has a character—the sum of its temperament, values, traditions, and mindset—that explains its history and its present, and helps define its future. It provides the foundations of social life, both for individuals and the whole society. In this thoughtful monograph, the author traces how this character has shaped the evolution of Russia, with a particular focus on how the ruling “elite” has led the country from one disaster to another.

The book explores a conspicuous phenomenon: Russia has always had the wrong people in power. These people, incapable of making decisions based on logic or wisdom, have invariably chosen paths that lead either to terror or to other forms of oppression. This work is an attempt to answer three questions: Why? What is wrong with the nation? And why it is always in the wrong hands?

Readers will also learn why terror in Russia was inevitable after World War I, regardless of who assumed the power, the Reds or the Whites. The author analyses the mechanics of the leadership selection process, designed to concentrate power at the top with the “elite” echelon, and its effect on the country’s governance since Lenin’s regime. This includes an objective look at why and how Putin ascended to power, and outlines some of his successes—and reasons for his inevitable failure.

Supporting his arguments with statistics, the author shows demographic trends that have resulted in the depopulation of vast Russian territories, a shrinking of labour force, and a negative effect on economy. Statistics also present a picture of the deterioration of the nation’s integrity and sense of decency, as evidenced by the number of abandoned and homeless children, high rates of alcoholism and violent crime, and many other manifestations of the nation’s trouble mental and spiritual health.

The book provides some interesting data about the Russian army, including the price of its victories in the past and a comparison of its strength with the primary military powers of the twenty-first century. The author devotes serious analysis to the Crimea and Ukrainian crises, the Russian mob mentality, and on the country’s role in global political and economic affairs.

Examining Russia through the lens of character, the nation’s psychology and mentality, the author offers insights into the economic, political, and social evolution, and provides a somber view of the country’s near and the distant futures.



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Amusement and Entertaining Industry Expo in Olralndo

Last year, 2013, the trade show of the amusement and entertainment industry took place in Orlando, Florida, from November 18 to 21. It hosted many interesting exhibits, but before going into detail, I would like to make a short introduction of what it was all about.

This expo was the initiative of IAAPA (International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions). Founded in 1918, it is the largest international trade association for permanently situated amusement facilities and attractions, and it is dedicated to the preservation and prosperity of the attractions industry. The scale of the show is impressive. A few numbers may give you an idea of its size:


Over 1,098 exhibitors

28,000 attendees

17,000 attendee buyers

5,500 companies in attendance

Over 525,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space (about 49,000 sq. meters)

Over 100 countries represented

For laypersons I’d like to clarify that IAAPA encompasses only a small part of the entertainment industry. Its business is only amusement parks and similar kinds of public entertainment; these facilities might be as large as Wonderland in Ontario, or a tiny unit, fitting in a backyard or a party room. What I saw in Orlando would be categorized as entertainment for kids. That is not to say that adults wouldn’t enjoy it, however – those who take their kids to Disneyland or other amusement parks will understand what I mean.

Among all exhibitors there was a noticeable presence of Chinese companies. They offered all sorts of products and services, which fit different budgets. For example, Fantawild demonstrated a model of a turn-key amusement park. It can be customized, of course, to any individual specification. Even the model, if you examine it closely, would impress you. First, you would notice large objects, such as lakes, buildings, roads and alleys, and squares. But the closer look reveals a much smaller world: benches, people, umbrellas, and a lot of others. The designers’ attention to detail is astounding. A blend of innovative fantasy, science, technology and new materials made these parks a unique creation of human mind and ingenuity.


Selling such a project is not easy. The cost ranges from a few hundred million dollars to billions. It engages buyers with deep pockets and a good understanding of the amusement business, but the profit is also huge.

The show is evidence of the unprecedented Chinese phenomena: this country, being one of the poorest in the world only thirty years ago, now handles large projects, surpassing capabilities of Western industrialized nations.

A lot of exhibition space was taken by products which I would call ‘inflated world’. These are soft structures, which are inflated by air, and used for different activities. The picture shows an example of them. Three young women jump from the height of a few meters down on a soft, inflated floor. Its design excludes almost any possibility of injury. I could only imagine what a great fun this would be for kids. I wanted to jump as well, but the dress code for admission was a swimsuit. The picture shows what I mean.


The size of inflatable complexes varies from a small facility to humongous outdoor parks. A good representative of these companies is Inflatable Depot. Their parks include water rides, sport games, and many other features, which gain admiration for their work.

No less interesting, though, were smaller inflatable products, which were geared toward small businesses and individual consumers, such as a small house for children of all ages, shown on the right, offered by Princess.


It is 13 ft. wide, 20 ft. deep, and 12 ft. high. This ceiling is high enough even for tall adults. It can be filled up with variety of inflatable items, to satisfy individual needs. In this picture there are imitations of dishwasher, refrigerator, and other appliances and accessories. There is inflatable furniture as well, which is strong enough for use by people of any size. The house provides good protection from any caprice of weather, and could be bought with additions, such as bedrooms, living rooms, game rooms, backyard games, etc.


Since inflatable structures are the safest of all playgrounds, they are good for all ages, from toddlers to teenagers. As such, they can be manufactured for any facility, be it a room in a house, a party room, plaza, restaurant, or a large outdoor amusement park. The variety of items is really astonishing: individual toys such as balls, sticks, or Lego-type assembling pieces, furniture items of all sorts, arches, fenced grounds, games, pools, and many others, which have to be seen to be believed. A good example can be found on this website: http://www.idepotplay.com.

Also interesting are turnkey solutions for small businesses, which operate party rooms and indoor-outdoor playgrounds. Thus, Funlandia produces playgrounds, which could be installed in premises from 5000 sq. feet and up to as big as you can afford. Even at this smaller scale, the limit of features is just your imagination. Houses on different levels, rides, staircases, and whatever humanity has invented for the amusement of kids, is there. But sometimes our imagination is not enough, we have to see it to understand what we want.

The exhibits of animals, extinct and still living, are quite impressive. Real size dinosaurs were unlikely to fit even for ceilings as high as in the exhibition building, so their place was mostly in outdoor grounds. But smaller sized animals were fun. My attention was attracted to a big tiger, which at first I believed was real. The imitation of live tiger movements is a wonder of technology.


Not only its head moves, but so do other parts of its body: its skin, and even the tip of its tail. It exactly imitates the movements of a tiger – and its roar stops you in your tracks.

Advertise-AEntertaining kids nowadays is a serious business, requiring investments, maintenance and associated financial risk. As a consequence, many businesses whose specialty is marketing, administration and financing, were keen to attend the expo. Advertising and promotion companies staged a live show, at which giants with marketing messages performed odd dances. There were companies offering financial services of different sorts, marketing research, etc.

The expo looked like a humongous amusement park, consisting of all the amazing inventions so far. There were large screen electronic games, with graphics that made you believe you were in a different kind of reality: featuring figures of vampires and dead people, which are well-suited for horror rooms, railroads, go carts, and endless list of other items.

In summary, it seemed that the marketers of this industry are sure that they can engage kids and parents alike by wowing them with new and exciting technology, which assures the prosperity of this industry.

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The author is unknown.
Brian had been in Police work for 25 years.
Finally sick of the stress, he quits his job and buys 50 acres of land in the hills in Tasmania as far from humanity as possible.
He sees the postman once a week and gets groceries once a month. Otherwise it’s total peace and quiet.
After six months or so of almost total isolation, someone knocks on his door. He opens it and a huge, bearded man is standing there.
‘Name’s Cliff, your neighbour from forty miles up the road. Having a Christmas party Friday night. Thought you might like to come at about 5:00…’
‘Great’, says Tom, ‘after six months out here I’m ready to meet some local folks Thank you.’
As Cliff is leaving, he stops. ‘Gotta warn you. Be some drinking’.’
‘Not a problem’ says Tom. ‘After 25 years in the business, I can drink with the best of ’em’.
Again, the big man starts to leave and stops.
‘More ‘n’ likely gonna be some fighting’ too.’
‘Well, I get along with people, I’ll be all right! ..
I’ll be there. Thanks again.’

‘More’n likely be some wild se * x, too,’

‘Now that’s really not a problem’ says Tom, warming to the idea. ‘I’ve been all alone for six months! I’ll definitely be there.. By the way, what should I wear?’

‘Don’t much matter. Just gonna be the two of us.

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How Contra-ODESSA Started

Clandestine war of superpowers is much more intriguing than any fiction, however we know little or nothing about it. Those who participate in actions usually do not prepare documents telling the story. That’s where fiction, based on a true story, fills the gap. Contra-ODESSA is such a story, based on true events. Below is an excerpt from the book.

From the Author

Inspired by a true story, this novel is about the activity of KGB and CIA agents in Argentina in 1960s. Enthused by success of the Cuban revolution, Soviet Union leaders stretched their resources to support communist and leftist radical groups in Argentina in their struggle for power. America was very active there as well, supporting political parties and movements that opposed the assault of communism. Interests of the two superpowers, as well as their secret services, collided in Latin America.
Shortage of foreign currency was one of serious obstacles for the Soviets. To solve this problem, at least in part, they sent to Argentina a group of its best operatives with the task to find Nazi criminals and high-ranking SS officers, who kept their fortunes in Swiss banks—fortunes obtained by looting during World War II—and extort from them their secret account numbers. This money was indeed used for support of the communist movement in Latin America. I happened to know about this operation by sheer chance.
Once, on a bright Saturday morning, my long-time friend Dr. Z visited me for a cup of coffee and a small talk. Before coming to Canada he lived in the former Soviet Union, where he was a reputable doctor in charge of elite sport teams. Among the best in the field, he was widely known in the privileged circles of the communist regime. He was regularly sought after to treat the privileged of all sorts: prominent party leaders, technocrats, and—another part of the human race susceptible to ills—high-ranking KGB and GRU officers. Many of those secret service bosses became alcoholics and drug addicts who, sensing the end of life approaching, were eager to share with someone trustworthy the intriguing secrets of their past. Perhaps, knowing that Dr. Z was friendly with many famous Soviet writers they had hoped that he would tell them the story, which, as they had thought, should belong to history. Or, it might have been the intelligence, quick wit, charisma, and excellent “miracle” medical service, which was Dr. Z’s signature at every visit that loosened their tongues, leading them to spill the beans.
At the time of Dr. Z’s visit, I was writing a novel about Stalin’s time and needed access to open KGB archives. When our second cups of coffee arrived, I asked him if he still knew someone who could help me with this. He promised to make some calls.
“You know,” he said, “some twenty years back, I had a few patients among top-ranking KGB people. One of them called me at one o’clock in the morning. ‘Come to me at once,’ he said. He begged me to save his life. Although I was still mostly asleep, I detected by the timbre of his voice that he was dying. Using words that were never a part of my vocabulary, I dressed up and went to him. When I arrived, I recognized that he was drunk, and obviously had one leg in the grave.
“’I have to take you to the hospital,’ I said to him. ‘I have neither proper medical instruments, nor the whole range of medication, to save your life.’
“’No, no,’ he protested. ‘Under no circumstances. This will ruin whatever remained of my carrier in KGB, and subsequently my whole life. I would rather die.’
“’But if you die in my hands, it would ruin my carrier,’ I argued, ‘and perhaps a lawsuit will follow.’
“Anyway, to make a long story short,” Dr. Z continued, “I did whatever I could. It took a few hours to bring him back to the land of living. In late morning, when he felt much better, I was about to leave but he begged me to stay.
“’I need your company, please,’ he said. ‘I want to tell you some stories of my life. You know, in the ’60s, I was one of those who were in charge of organizing a heat team, whose task was to find former SS members and Nazis who kept their money in secret accounts in Swiss banks, and make them speak. Eventually the team got in quite a mess there. Four of them disappeared without a trace. But later I got a hint of what happened to them. They had plenty of professionally forged passports, connections in different parts of the globe, incredible skills.’
“Suddenly he was so weak that he fell asleep,” Dr. Z said. “At that time I was not interested in the story. I had so many encounters with people like him, heard so many no less intriguing stories, that another one wouldn’t bother me a bit in my state of exhaustion. All I wanted was to go to bed. I have never seen him afterward.”
Dr. Z said that he did not know the names of KGB operatives. Most likely, this was true, although even if he did know them, he wouldn’t have told me. In the middle or late 1960s, when they operated in Latin America, they were young, in their late twenties or early thirties, which means that as of now, in the year 2011, they may be still alive in their late sixties or early seventies.

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Palestinian Refugees: Is A Solution Possible?

Gaza Strip

Gaza Strip in 2012

Article first published as Palestinian Refugees: Is a Solution Possible? on Blogcritics.
Notwithstanding a huge amount of literature on this subject, many misconceptions, emotions and political games obscure the picture of the Palestinian refugee issue. Palestinian advocates claim that without granting all registered refugees the right to return to Israel, peace in the region is impossible. Israel, therefore, has to let about 5,000,000 descendants of Arab refugees settle in its territory. This also means that peace depends entirely on Israel.
The phenomenon of Palestinian Arab refugees stands out in the history of refugees. As of 2013, it has already lasted 65 years and it seems there is no end in sight.
The UN established a specific agency to deal solely with the problem of Palestine’s refugees: The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). It has about 30,000 employees, most of them recruited from Palestinian Arab refugees. It is funded by the UN, Western Europe and the US, and deals with education and other aspects of refugee life. Corruption and the wasting of money are rampant there, but who cares? The agency ostensibly deals with one of the most important issues of our time, and as such is deemed worth every penny.

To see the bigger picture, let’s step back and compare the Palestinian Arabs refugee problem with some other refugee problems of the last century, which took place at approximately the same time.
The problem of Arab refugees emerged in 1948, when an alliance of Arab countries started the war against Israel. Here are the numbers from different sources of refugees who fled the war zone:

UN – progress report Oct. 1948…………………………………:472,000
UNRWA (Agency designated to deal with Arab refugees):711,000
Arab countries (claim):………………………………………………:850,000

For the sake of further discussion, I will take the number stated by the UNRWA: 711,000.
At the same time, Arab countries expelled more than 600,000 Jews and expropriated their properties. How did the world react to these two events?
In the UN, no issue of compensation, or right to return for Jews, was discussed. Western media and politicians did not see any moral, legal or political problem there. Be as it may.
The international treatment of Arab refugees was quite different. The Arab League has instructed its members to deny citizenship to original Palestinian Arab refugees (or their descendants) ‘to avoid dissolution of their identity and protect their right to return to their homeland’. The message was clear: to conserve the hatred and a state of war until total victory over Israel. The wellbeing of the refugees was not a consideration.
More than 150 UN resolutions on Arab Middle East refugees have been issued since then, but none mentioned Jewish refugees from Arab countries. One of the reasons for neglecting the Jewish refugees is that there are none now. All of them were absorbed into Israel and granted citizen status. In the political arena, there is no discussion of their property and their right to return. The situation with Arab refugees is quite different. At the time of writing, there are about 5 million of them, who grew from the original 711,000. Since the outset of the problem, tension and hatred in the Middle East has grown, together with the number of registered Palestinian refugees. According to the UNRWA, in January 2010 the distribution of registered Palestinian refugees by country or territory was as follows:
•Gaza Strip..1,106,195
•West Bank…778,993

In the Table1 is the rate of growth of Palestinian refugees and the population of countries where they are settled.

Table 1

In Syria it is hard to estimate exact growth of refugees, as about 100,000 fled from Golan Heights in 1967, and some from Lebanon.
As the table suggests, the Palestinian refugee population grew comparably with the Arab population in their host countries. It is worth comparing the growth of Arab refugees with the growth of other refugees who were displaced in the 20th century.
At the end of WWII there were more than 40 million refugees in Europe. The issue, in all its complexity, is too big for a short article. I will therefore limit the discussion to German refugees as the most representative example.
Altogether, at least 12 million Germans were displaced after the war. Of them, about 7 million German civilians fled or were transported from territory controlled by East Prussia and Poland. 1.8 million German civilians were expelled from East Prussia alone, which the Soviet Union had annexed without any justification. The brutality in the period of 1945-1950 was appalling. Hundreds of thousands died due to terrible weather conditions and the difficulty of the journey. Thousands of German children, nicknamed ‘wolf children’, became orphans or died in brutal winters of 1945-1947. The last 7 Germans had been expelled from their homeland in January 1950. I bet most of my readers have never heard this, as the international community and media appear not interested in refugee problems where Israel is not involved.
If registered, supported and treated by the UN the way Palestinian refugees were, the number of German refugees from East Prussia would have grown by now from 1.8 million to a whopping 11 million, taking into account their descendants. The actual number of refugees from East Prussia is now zero. I would not hazard a guess about the number of descendants from all 12 million German refugees, or about the other 28 million of non-German refugees. None of them, or their descendants, are registered as a refugee, or have any claim as such.
There are hundreds of thousands of Japanese refugees, millions of Chinese, Arab (non-Palestinian) and African refugees, and refugees from other parts of the globe. Few people, other than some scholars on international affairs, know about them. The media and politicians do not seem to care about them.
The question arises: why does the world concentrate its attention on Palestinian refugees? What is it that makes Europe and the US care so much about them and donate billions of dollars every year to support their refugee status?
We hear arguments that their living conditions are below the poverty line, therefore they have to be supported out of compassion. How about the hundreds of millions of other people, living in misery side by side with them? Do they fare better? Do we, the so called ‘civilized world’, care about them?
A recent study by World Bank (2006) discovered that 25% of the population in the Middle East and North Africa region fell below the poverty line set at 2 USD per day. In comparison, according to the Index MUNDI, 16% of the Palestinian population are considered the poorest of the poor with an expenditure of about $50 USD per person, per month. So the percentage of the poorest refugee population is lower than the rest. It does not mean, in my opinion, that refugees from any nation, Arab or not, do not deserve compassion. But if we concentrate on the poverty issue, why take Arab refugees out of the picture, ignoring the population that lives around them?
Apparently the wellbeing of Palestinian refugees, or registrants, is so important for the normal functioning of the international community, that the UN initiated a project on the subject: ‘Population and Demographic Development in the West Bank and Gaza Strip Until 1990’. There were other initiatives, which I will not discuss here. To evaluate the validity of these initiatives, I will compare the living conditions of Palestinian refugees with the other population of the countries where they live. Here are some helpful statistics.
The number of UNRWA registered Palestinian refugees by country or territory in January 2010 was as in Table 2:


In Jordan, Palestinian refugees are granted citizenship. It means that those refugee families living in camps are there by choice. But the living standards and the opportunities for refugees ‘not in camps’ are the same as the other Jordanian population.
According to Jordan Economy Profile 2012 (Index Mundi): ‘Whether for total income or wage income, refugees living outside the camps generally fare better than those living in the camps’.
Statistics and reports confirm that the other Jordanian population needs as much assistance as Palestinian refugees. In a separate statement of the MUNDI report, ‘Amman likely will continue to depend heavily on foreign assistance to finance the deficit in 2012’. However, in spite of the Jordanian population’s needs, the same report states: ‘In addition to UNRWA, more international organizations and local NGOs provide assistance in the occupied territories than in the neighbouring regions’.
On the same note, the FATO report 237 summary concludes:
The results of the Jordan Living Conditions Survey show that the population of Palestinians who have come to Jordan as refugees or are displaced due to the Arab-Israeli wars seems to be divided into two very different groups: The 13 percent living in the UNRWA refugee camps, and the remaining 87 percent who have settled elsewhere in Jordan.
While the refugees and the displaced who are settled outside the camps live in conditions not very different from those of other households in Jordan, the camp dwellers are worse off with regard to almost all aspects of what are considered relevant indicators of a good life. They have poorer housing conditions, more physical and mental health problems, higher unemployment levels, and lower income.
Obviously living in official refugee camps gives them the advantage of getting financial help from the UN, which citizens of the country do not have.
Palestinian refugees in Syria before the civil war had almost the same civil rights as Syrian citizens, and had the same opportunities.
What are the causes of Palestinian refugee registrants’ poverty, if not discrimination and the lack of opportunities? If similarity of living standard is any indicator, there are common causes for this. One of them, unmistakably, is big families. The population of the Middle East grows with a speed which cannot be sustained by any economy, even the economy of the most developed countries. Not surprisingly, the poorest households are those with 5-8 children. Even with the best opportunities, it is impossible to provide proper care, education and other services for such large families. Refugees or not, they will always live in poverty and won’t be able to function without assistance. As a matter of fact, the same MUNDI report confirms this indirectly, while considering the low rate labour force participation: ‘First, almost one third of the population is below the age of 16, which limits the pool of those who could be actively involved in the labour force’.
In the US and Canada, most large families would struggle to live without government assistance. There are numerous programs and initiatives in both countries geared toward supporting these families. They have a welfare system, food stamps, food banks, charities, social programs, etc. In spite of powerful economies, these countries would collapse if the number of large families in them were to increase to the same proportion as in the Middle East Arab countries. There are certain laws in economic development which cannot be changed by donations, charity, or determination. Until population growth is not in sync with the growth of economy, there is not much scope to improve the living standard of the population.
It appears obvious that the UN, the US, and the Western media are only interested in problems involving Israel. It does not seem to matter how large the refugee numbers are, or whether they are Arabs or not. The word ‘humanity’ does not have the same meaning for different nations and groups of people. How often do we hear about human trafficking and slavery, which amount to 12 million persons per year? Their living conditions are largely worse than that of an average Palestinian refugee.
What about other refugees, who have no connection to the Israeli-Arab conflict? The contemporary refugee crisis in Syria reveals the true nature of the Palestinian refugee problem. West Bank and Gaza refuse to help Palestinian refugees fleeing Syria and refuse to accept them, as this would undermine ‘their right to return’ to Israel. Never mind that their Palestinian brothers and sisters suffer. At the same time, the Palestinian Authority and Gaza rulers appeal to the UN and the international community to help Palestinian refugees fleeing Syria. In other words, ‘You take care of our brothers, not us’. Even less care is demonstrated by the international community. As this crisis is not caused by Israel, these Arabs have become as neglected as other refugees in history.
The Palestinian refugee problem, if not supported unanimously by Arab countries, Western Europe and the United States, would disappear without much intervention from the international community. Statistics suggest that such situations naturally resolve in time. Most Palestinian refugees would live outside the camps and settle in their host countries. Those who now live in camps would settle outside them, if not for the financial support of the international community. Even the spirit of refugee descendants is different now from what it was years ago. An independent poll conducted in 2003 with the Palestinian populations of Gaza, West Bank, Jordan and Lebanon showed that the majority (54%) would accept financial compensation and a place to live in West Bank or Gaza instead of returning to the exact place in modern-day Israel where they or their ancestors lived.
In conclusion, I believe that the problem is perpetuated by the international community’s discrimination of Israel, and historical attitude toward its people. It seems clear that the whole problem will disappear once the international community discontinues its policy of hostility against Israel.

On the photograph: Gaza Strip. Not as poor as propaganda suggests.

Alex Markman is the author of the following thrillers:

Messenger of Death
Payback for Revenge
The Dark Days of Love

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Aphorisms and Citations

Our lives can become rich in every aspect when excellence is our goal. W. Sill
Ever since time began, the work of the world has been done by imperfect men in an imperfect way, and will continue to be so done until the time ends. Sterling Sill.
Many of the great events of our history remain in our minds, not because of the thing itself, but because someone has effectively told about it. Sterling Sill.

I may lose battles, but no one will see me lose minutes. Napoleon.

The sword will always be conquered by the spirit. Napoleon.

To love wisdom is to have the ability to judge soundly and deal effectively with facts, especially if they relate to society as a whole. Sterling Sill.

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Contra-ODESSA and others

Interest to Contra-ODESSA does not vanish, which is a treat to me as a writer. Apparently the wounds of WWII never heal, and the scars of Cold War still bleed, that’s why the book attracts reviewers and readers from all walks of life.



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