There is a place in Russia called the Kola Penninsula that is just a jump away from both Norway and Finland. At this remote locale, people can visit a crumbling cinder block building in the middle of nowhere that is surround by debris. Amongst this debris is a nondescript metal cap secured with a dozen rusting bolts. Beneath this cap is the deepest hole in the world. [more inside]
In Russia today, it's illegal to engage in "homosexual propaganda", and "anti-Russian propaganda" can attract ugly attention. So on May 1, there was a "Monstration" in St Petersburg. Absurd signs and costumes had no prosecutable meaning, but the message was unmistakable. In Novosibirsk, a little further from the Kremlin, the message was more direct. [more inside]
The Ket from the Lake Munduiskoye (2008, 30 min.) The Ket people are an indigenous group in central Siberia whose population has numbered less than two thousand during the past century. Although mostly assimilated into the dominant Russian culture at this point, a couple hundred of them are still able to speak the Ket language, the last remaining member of the Yeniseian language group. Recent scholarship has proposed a link between Ket and some Native American language groups.
Xenophobic Chill Descends Upon Moscow [NYTimes] “...For now, we have not encountered real aliens. However, the ‘fifth column’ of national traitors in Russia has unfortunately become an incontestable reality.”
It has been said in half-jest that Pepsi was the official soda of the Cold War. Vice President Richard Nixon shared a Pepsi with Soviet Russia's Premier, Nikita Khrushchev, at the opening of the "American National Exhibition" in Moscow on July 24, 1959, after the famous "Kitchen Debate" (CBS newscast on Archive.org; transcript with two photos from the day). But how was it that Pepsi was the only Western soda-pop available there that day? Look to Donald Kendall, a long-time pal of Richard Nixon, who starting out in 1947 selling fountain syrup in New York, and rose through the ranks to be President of Pepsi Cola International by 1957. [more inside]
We can't create Jurassic Park era (yet) but there is a place on Earth lost to time, a modern proxy of the Pleistocene (35,000 to 12,000 years ago). Other than the mammoth and a few other species, the flora and fauna remain largely unchanged, even the climate is similar to the last ice age (cold and dry). There are wild horses, reindeer, saiga antelopes, argali sheep, wolverines and snow leopards. The Altai and Sayan mountains of western Mongolia and southern Russia (map)... [more inside]
Britain will betray the United States and Ukraine to keep laundering dirty Russian money. "The city has changed. The buses are still dirty, the people are still passive-aggressive, but something about London has changed. You can see signs of it everywhere. The townhouses in the capital’s poshest districts are empty; they have been sold to Russian oligarchs and Qatari princes."
While you can still follow live events in the Ukraine, with either the compulsively complete live Reddit feed or the constantly updated BBC feed being good choices, there has been increasingly useful analyses of the history and politics of the situation. Yale Professor Timothy Snyder, an expert on the region, wrote a piece in the New York Review of Books describing the roots of the recent uprising, with a great overview of how "people associated with Ukrainian, Russian, Belarusian, Armenian, Polish, and Jewish culture have died in a revolution that was started by a Muslim." Other history is provided by a detailed explainer by the Guardian, in maps by National Geographic, and the dueling arguments about the roots of the conflict from the the semi-official Russia Today and the US State Department.
Dozens of armed men in Russian-marked military uniforms occupied an airport in the capital of Ukraine's strategic Crimea region early Friday, Obama warns Russia against any military intervention in Ukraine. But what is so dangerous about Crimea, and what is 'The Budapest Memorandum?'
Writer and sports personality Brittney Cason thought she had been recruited for what seemed like a legitimate network job covering the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Only days before she left, flags started going up.
Our Comrade the Electron. Maciej Cegłowski (previously) delivered a talk at Webstock in Wellington, New Zealand on theremin inventor Lev Termen (previously), futurism, the Dutch Golden Age, and the modern surveillance state.
Pussy Riot's new song and video, "Putin Will Teach You to Love the Motherland", rocks. This video features both Nadia and Masha (just released from jail) performing in public and hugging the Winter Olympics mascot - before being beaten with whips by cossack soldiers. And the song is actually catchy...
Fascism, Russia, and Ukraine (NYRB) An analysis of the Ukrainian revolt by Timothy Snyder, Housum Professor of History at Yale and a visiting fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna. He is the author of Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. [more inside]
Figure skater Evgeni Plushenko (wiki) withdrew from the men's individual event at the Olympics in Sochi and announced his retirement from amateur skating (NYT) only days after winning gold in the team event. Plushenko has won medals at four Olympic Games* (2006 gold: Short Program, Free Skating; 2014 gold; 2002: SP, FS, 2010: SP, FS); he has won 17 gold, 8 silver and 2 bronze medals in major competitions in spite of a 2006-2008 hiatus and he holds 10 titles in the Russian Nationals in a career spanning over 17 years. He was famous not only for his technique, but also for his grace and showmanship. [more inside]
Vadim Makhorov and Vitaliy Raskalov climb the 632 meter Shanghai Tower, the second tallest building in the world after the Burj Khalifa. The video of their climb, Shanghai Tower (650 meters), is riveting.
What Does Pussy Riot Mean Now? "With all eyes on Russia, two members of the country’s most notorious band of shit-stirrers are free after nearly two years of political imprisonment and enjoying the rock-star treatment during their first trip to the U.S. But the group’s unlikely journey from art-school project to international icons shows just how rotten Russia has become and how much the mission has changed."
"Putin needs external enemies and internal enemies. The external enemies are the U.S. and Europe. Internal enemies, they had to think about. The ethnic topic is dangerous. Two wars in the Caucasus, a third one, nobody knows how it would end. Jews? After Hitler, it's not kosher. We—" she waves a hand at herself and Zhenya—"are the ideal. We are everywhere. We don't look different, but we are. It's our turn. Just our turn." A GQ reporter visited Russia to speak to gay rights activists, and also to their enemies (some of whom, warning, describe committing acts of violence). Previously.
Alexander II was known as the liberator of serfs, because under his rule, in 1861, serfs were granted the freedom to marry without having to gain consent, to own property, and to own businesses. In 1862, Alexander II signed off on the ethnic cleansing of Circassians that began as a simple resettlement, and led to (by official Tsarist documents, more by other accounts) over 400,000 deaths. Circassians in fact protest the 2014 Olympics in Sochi being that it was the supposed site of their final expulsion. [more inside]
In 1959, MOSFILM released "Ballad of a Soldier," made during the Khrushchev Thaw . It chronicles a young soldier, Alyosha, and his six-day trip home from the front during World War II, which "sweeps you, with feeling, into the physical and psychological world of Russians at war." And it is on YouTube. [more inside]
Eleanor Roosevelt and the Soviet Sniper "Lyudmila Pavlichenko was a Soviet sniper credited with 309 kills—and an advocate for women's rights. On a U.S. tour in 1942, she found a friend in the first lady." [more inside]
Bandy is a game similar to ice hockey, but played with a ball instead of a puck. Somalia is set to enter its first ever team into the World Bandy Championships, comprised entirely of Somali refugees living in Borlaenge, Sweden where almost 10% of the population hails from war-torn Somalia. [more inside]
When he was arrested in Siberia in 2003, billionaire oil oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky was "the Bad Bad Leroy Brown of Russia...In a nation of mobsters, he is king, a stone-cold ruthless genius." [more inside]
On a wooded hillside outside Vladivostok, Russia, fourteen Canadians found their final resting place in 1919. Five others died at sea. They were ordinary folk who had enlisted in the closing days of the Great War for service in an unlikely theatre — Siberia. Consisting of 4,209 men and one woman, Canada's Siberian Expedition mobilized alongside a dozen Allied armies in a bid to defeat Lenin’s Bolsheviks. The mission failed — in the face of a robust partisan insurgency, divided Allied strategies, and heated domestic opposition.This is their story, including over 2,000 photographs and images. Also available in French and Russian.
Via decree, Russian president Vladimir Putin has abolished the country's state-owned news agency RIA Novosti, as well as the state-owned Voice of Russia radio station, effective immediately. [more inside]
Suzdal awaited the Emperor's arrival... So the ancient Russian town had to acquire a duly imperial lustre, somehow, anyhow. [more inside]
From 1949 onwards, the closed city of Semipalatinsk (now Semey, Kazakhstan) was the test site for 456 nuclear devices. The test site was known as "The Polygon." Testing was stopped in 1989, but the long term effects remained. [more inside]
World War I in Color is a documentary designed to make the Great War come alive for a 21st-century audience. The events of 1914-18 are authoritatively narrated by Kenneth Branagh, who presents the military and political overview, while interviews with historians add different perspectives in six 48 minute installments annotated within. [more inside]
The New York Times' Ellen Barry visits communities along M10, the Russian highway that links Moscow and Saint Petersburg, and finds a number of towns that are withering as the big cities grow. [more inside]
***WARNING ALL LINKS IN THIS POST POTENTIAL NIGHTMARE FUEL*** Crocodile (Krokodil), the super-powerful Flesh-Eating Russian version of morphine, has been called the World's Most Dangerous drug by such connoisseurs as Vice Magazine. Last week, news broke that it has spread to the United States, and even [gasp] New York City. [more inside]
“I was there in Moscow for a year and a half, without anything, we thought we were going there for only a few days. I didn’t even have a coat with me. But the Rebbe had a policy: You don’t come back until you come back with the books.”
"Putin has long kept a veil of secrecy over his personal life. Thus, he startled the world with an abrupt announcement on state television in June that he was divorcing his wife, Lyudmila, after 29 years of marriage. The news revived long-running speculation that the 60-year-old president was seeing another woman, possibly the 30-year-old Kabaeva, a State Duma deputy with United Russia and one of the most decorated gymnasts in the history of rhythmic gymnastics."
"A camera trap intended for Siberian tiger research in southeastern Russia instead captured a golden eagle swooping on a yearling sika deer on December 1, 2011." ... "There were no large carnivore tracks in the snow, and it looked like the deer had been running and then just stopped and died," Kerley said in the statement. She and her colleagues pieced together the attack from these three images, culled from more than 7,000 collected by the camera trap over five months." Pictures.
If you truly would like to hear this story, first of all you will probably want to find out where I was born, how I spent my stupid childhood, what my parents did before my birth—in a word, all that David Copperfield rot. But truthfully speaking, I don’t have any urge to delve into that. "If Holden Caulfield Spoke Russian" (SLNYer)
A Plea for Caution From Russia (SLNYT) My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.
Banks usually reserve the right to change the rules or rates for credit cards they issue at any time, and the only notice given is buried in a long legal document. Russian Dmitry Argarkov turned this on its head: After he received a junk-mail credit card offer, he modified the document to include terms ridiculously in his favor and sent it back. The bank signed and certified it without looking at it, and sent him a credit card. [more inside]
What the hell is going on in Russia, and why did it take Jay Leno to get America to notice? (previously)
Remember the Chelyabinsk meteor that exploded over Russia earlier this year, injuring hundreds and giving us dozens of spectacular dashcam videos? It may have friends.
Russian Belyanas (meaning "made of white wood") were amongst the worlds largest wooden ships, but more impressively, these huge lumber hauling ships would get dis-assembled at the end of their voyage down the Volga river, and almost every part would be sold and turned into something new. Even the crews' cabins and the captain's cabin were sold as pre-built houses at the end of their trip. After being steered down the river towards Astrakhan by huge iron bobs, the immense cargo of lumber would be off-loaded, and the vessel taken apart and repurposed. The last Belyana sailed down the Volga in 1934, and the only record of them are old photographs, and some very small modern model.
The International Olympic Committee has issued a statement acknowledging the new anti-gay laws signed by Vladimir Putin last month. The Sochi Olympic Games are set to open on February 7. [more inside]
Tekhnika Molodezhi was the Popular Mechanics of the Soviet Union. The magazine, whose name means Technology for the Youth, had illustrations of everything from space stations, computerized farming, transport of the future, friendly robots, to more abstract images. If you don't want to hunt through the archive, Mythbuster's Tested website has a gallery of 201 great images from the magazine.
Poets appeared in Russia in the eighteenth century. They wore officers’ uniforms and mostly wrote odes for the accession of German empresses onto the Russian throne. In a country where life was lived according to the wartime principle of unity of command, everyone including poets served the government, which was personified by the autocracy. But everything changed with Pushkin. Born in a country where serfdom was only the formal expression of a deep internal psychological slavery, he achieved the most important Russian coup, the greatest Russian revolution: in opposition to the pyramid of power, at the head of which the Czar administers the fates of individuals and nations, he created an alternative pyramid, at the head of which stood the poet. The juxtaposition of the czar and the holy fool—the old divided paradigm of authority—was exchanged for the juxtaposition of the czar and the poet.— Poets and Czars — From Pushkin to Putin: the sad tale of democracy in Russia by Russian novelist Mikhail Shishkin, who caused a stir earlier this year when he withdrew from participation in literary events sponsored by the Russian state with a strongly-worded letter. His action was equally strongly criticized by the state and several Russian writers. Shishkin spoke to The American Reader about recent events. He currently lives in Switzerland and recently wrote an essay about being separated from his native language community.
Black Soviet Icon's Lonely American Sojourn: For decades Jim Patterson was arguably the most famous black man in the Soviet Union, a debonair homegrown poet whose childhood role in an iconic film cemented his celebrity and who later roamed the vast country reading his work to adoring audiences. These days Patterson, whose African-American father emigrated to the Soviet Union in 1932, is convalescing in a threadbare subsidized apartment in downtown Washington, where he has led a reclusive life plagued by illness and depression since his Russian mother died more than a decade ago.
Pussy Riot aren't just on tour. They're on the run. Laurie Penny meets the Russian punk-protest group. [more inside]