Posts Tagged ‘Russia’
In 1900, Baku, a small town on the western edge of the Caspian sea in what is now Azerbaijan, produced half the world’s oil. Its inhabitants included the Nobel brothers, later of Nobel prize fame, and the Rothchilds. The town boasted garish displays of wealth never before seen, but it was so poisoned with oil that the life expectancy of its residents was only thirty…
Baku was a city of ‘debauchery, despotism and extravagance,’ and a twilight zone of ‘smoke and gloom.’ Its own governor called it ‘the most dangerous place in Russia’…
Baku was created by one dynasty. Swedish by origin, Russian by opportunity and international by instinct, the Nobels made their first fortune selling land mines to Tsar Nicholas I, but in 1879, the year of Baku’s first ‘fountain’ of oil, the brothers Ludwig and Robert Nobel founded the Nobel Brothers Oil Company in the town known mainly for the ancient Zoroastrian temple where Magi priests tended their holy oil-fuelled flames. The drilling had already started; entrepreneurs struck oil in spectacular gushers.
The Nobels started to buy up land particularly in what became the Black City. Another brother, Alfred, invented dynamite, but Ludwig’s invention of the oil tanker was almost as important. The French Rothschilds followed the Nobels into Baku. By the 1880s, Baron Alphonse de Rothschild’s Caspian Black Sea Oil Company was the second biggest producer — and its workers lived in the industrial township called the White City. By 1901, Baku produced half the world’s oil — and the Nobel Prize, established that year, was funded on its profits.
Its oil boom, like the Kimberley Diamond Fever or the California Gold Rush, turned peasants into millionaires overnight. A dusty, windy ex-Persian town, built on the edge of the Caspian around the walls and winding streets of a medieval fortress, was transformed into one of the most famous cities in the world.
Its ‘barbaric luxury’ filled the newspapers of Europe, scintillated by instant riches, remarkable philanthropy and preposterous vulgarity. Every oil baron had to have a palace, many as big as a city block. Even the Rothschilds built one. The Nobels’ palace was called Villa Petrolea, and was surrounded by a lush park. One oil baron insisted on building his palace out of gold but had to agree to cover it with goldplate because the gold would melt; another built his mansion like the body of a giant dragon with the entrance through its jaws; a third created his vast palace in the shape of a pack of cards emblazoned in golden letters: ‘Here live I, IsaBey of Gandji.’ A popular singer made his fortune when a performance was rewarded by some land on which oil was struck: his neo-classical palace is now the headquarters of Azerbaijan’s state oil company.
Baku was a melting-pot of pitiful poverty and incredible wealth, its streets, observes Anna Alliluyeva, full of ‘red-bearded Muslims … street porters called ambals bent under excessive loads … Tartar hawkers selling sweetmeats, strange figures in whispering silks whose fiery black eyes watched through slits, street barbers, everything seemed to take place in the streets,’ …
Yet the source of all this money, the derricks and the refineries, poisoned the city and corrupted the people. ‘The oil seeped everywhere,’ says Anna Alliluyeva. ‘Trees couldn’t grow in this poisonous atmosphere.’ Sometimes it bubbled out of the sea and ignited, creating extraordinary waves of fire.
The Black and White Cities and other oil townships were polluted slums. The 48,000 workers toiled in terrible conditions, living and fighting each other in grimy streets ‘littered with decaying rubbish, disembowelled dogs, rotten meat, faeces.’ Their homes resembled ‘prehistoric dwellings.’ Life expectancy was just thirty. The oilfields seethed with ‘lawlessness, organized crime and xenophobia. Physical violence, rapes and bloodfeuds dominated workers’ everyday lives.’ …
‘Equal parts Dodge City, medieval Baghdad, industrial Pittsburgh and nineteenth-century Paris,’ Baku ‘was too Persian to be European but much too European to be Persian.’ Its police chiefs were notoriously venal; its Armenians and Azeris armed and vigilant; its plentiful gunmen, the kochis, either performed assassinations for three roubles a victim, guarded millionaires or became ‘Mauserists,’ gangsters always brandishing their Mausers. ‘Our city,’ writes Essad Bey, ‘not unlike the Wild West, was teeming with bandits and robbers.’
* Essad Bey
As we remind ourselves that There Will Be Blood, we might recall that it was on this date in 1989 that the Exxon Valdez ran aground in the Prince William Sound, off Alaska, and spilled hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude oil into the sea. The largest oil spill ever in US waters until the 2010 Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, it happened in more remote waters and is considered one of the most devastating human-caused environmental disasters.
Erin Thompson is fascinated by our junk– more specifically, by our junk drawers…
The contents of a junk drawer are a historic cache of information about a person. They raise questions about what makes us happy, what objects hold sentimental value and what makes us who we are—much like a time capsule or a scrapbook.
This project seeks to explore the reasons behind keeping a junk drawer while unlocking the puzzling nature behind why we hold on to the used birthday candles, unpaid bills, the old pack of gum, the toy dinosaur and Bed, Bath and Beyond coupons all in the same place.
Find her collection of junk drawers, and interviews with their owners/creators, at The Junk Drawer Project.
* Thomas Edison
As we wonder where we put that Swiss Army Knife, we might recall that it was on this date in 1825 that Russian army officers, frustrated at Nicholas’ recalcitrance to liberalize Russia, led about 3,000 soldiers in a protest against Nicholas I’s assumption of the throne after his elder brother Constantine removed himself from the line of succession. As it happened when it did, it has come to be known as the Decembrist Uprising.
The rebels were quickly put down. Several of the leaders were executed; the bulk of the revolutionaries, exiled to Siberia. And though serfdom was officially abolished in 1861, Russia’s autocracy continued for almost a century. Still, the Decembrists were the first open breach between the government and reformist elements of the Russian nobility, a rift that ultimately widened and contributed to the Russian Revolution of 1917.
Bread is the staff of life, but beer is life itself.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, snacking
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has signed a bill that officially classifies beer as alcoholic. Until now anything containing less than 10% alcohol in Russia has been considered a foodstuff.
The full story at BBC.com
As we revisit our food pyramids, we might spare a sweet thought for William A. Mitchell, the food scientist who invented Pop Rocks candy, Cool Whip, the orange drink mix Tang, quick-set Jell-O Gelatin, and powdered egg whites; he died on this date in 2004. In his 35 year career at General Foods he received over 70 patents.
click here (and again) for a larger image
[TotH to Brainpickings]
Along these same lines, readers might also be interested in the “Perpetual Notion Machine” (which includes, as a bonus, the story of Dmitri Mendeleev and the “real” Periodic Table…) See also the Periodic Table of Typefaces (“‘There are now about as many different varieties of letters as there are different kinds of fools…’“) and the Periodic Table of Visualization Methods (“Now See Here…“).
As we constructively stack our writers’ blocks, we might wish a thoughtful Happy Birthday to Immanuel Kant; he was born on this date in 1724 in Königsberg, Prussia (which is now Kaliningrad, Russia). Kant is of course celebrated as a philosopher, the author of Critique of Pure Reason (1781), Critique of Practical Reason (1788), and Critique of Judgment (1790), and father of German Idealism (et al.).
But less well remembered are the contributions he made to science, perhaps especially to astronomy, before turning fully to philosophy. For example, his General History of Nature and Theory of the Heavens (1755) contained three anticipations important to the field: 1) Kant made the nebula hypothesis ahead of Laplace. 2) He described the Milky Way as a lens-shaped collection of stars that represented only one of many “island universes,” later shown by Herschel. 3) He suggested that friction from tides slowed the rotation of the earth, which was confirmed a century later. Similarly, Kant’s writings on mathematics were cited as an important influence by Einstein.
More posing pointers at Russian Drunk Yoga Poses.
As we limber up, we might recall that it was on this date in 1965 that the Righteous Brothers’ recording of Cynthia Weil/Barry Mann/Phil Spector’s “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 (it also reached #1 in the UK and #2 on the U.S. R&B chart).
Centered on the vocals of “Brothers” Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield, with instrumental work by “The Wrecking Crew” and a background contribution from a very young Cher, the record is a classic example of Spector’s “Wall of Sound” approach. Landing as it did in the midst the the “British Invasion,” Spector and the boys were concerned that the tune was too slow and (at 3:45) too long for DJs increasingly looking pick up the pace of their shows. There was nothing to do about the tempo; but they printed the record label to indicate a running time of 3:05… and tricked enough spinners to launch the hit. In this version and many covers, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” had more radio and television play in the United States than any other song during the 20th century (according to performing-rights organization BMI).