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Posts Tagged ‘Russia

“Better the illusions that exalt us than ten thousand truths”*…

 

Pushkin

 

St. Petersburg is set to open a sprawling, immersive theme park that will bring iconic Russian writer Alexander Pushkin’s fairy tales and poems to life in 2023. [sic]

Considered the founder of modern Russian literature, Pushkin wrote some of Russia’s most famous fairy tales and epic poems and remained popular through Soviet times and into the present.

Dutch design company Jora Vision will use Pushkin’s works as inspiration for the 17,000-square-meter Lukomorye park, named after the mythical Slavic land in which Pushkin’s fairy tales take place…

The interactive park, which will be populated by actors playing famous heroes from Pushkin’s stories, will stage carnivals, performances and master classes. While the park is still in its conceptual stage, visitors can expect to be able to learn about Pushkin’s life in an “immersive walkthrough experience,” Jora Vision says…

The future of entertainment is the past: “Immersive Pushkin-Themed Park to Open in St. Petersburg in 2023.”

* Alexander Pushkin

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As we make our travel plans, we might recall that it was on this date in 41 CE that Roman Emperor Caligula (see almanac entry here) was assassinated by the Praetorian Guard, which promptly proclaimed his uncle, Claudius, the new Emperor.

220px-Gaius_Caesar_Caligula

Caligula

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Written by LW

January 24, 2020 at 1:01 am

“[TV commercials] are about products in the same sense that the story of Jonah is about the anatomy of whales”*…

 

Mikhail-Gorbachev-Pizza-Hut-commercial-James-Fosdike-homepage

 

Since his involuntary retirement, Mikhail Gorbachev has raised money for worthy causes, attempted to make a comeback in Russian politics, and, notoriously, made an advertisement for Pizza Hut.

The ad would have become a footnote were it not for its long second life online, where it’s rediscovered every few years. There’s an undeniable voyeuristic frisson of seeing a man who once commanded a superpower hawking pizza.

Each time it repeats, it leaves behind a new flood of clickbait—Time listing it among the “Top 10 Embarrassing Celebrity Commercials” in 2010, Mental Floss using Gorbachev’s birthday as a hook to link to it in 2012, Thrillist naming it the sixth-most bizarre celebrity endorsement of all time. Most of the facts dredged up in these deluges are recycled from a 1997 New York Times article.

More serious authors treat the commercial as a free-floating signifier to prove whatever thesis they are peddling, as when Jacobin cites it as another data point showing that Gorbachev was a sellout or David Foster Wallace uses it to prove the vacuity of popular culture.

But the conventional stories don’t really hold up. Gorbachev isn’t actually the star of the commercial. He doesn’t even speak. He’s a bystander to the commercial’s central drama, a fight over Gorbachev’s legacy between a fiery, pro-reform young man and a dour, anti-Gorbachev middle-aged man—possibly father and son. The two exchange charges and defenses of Gorbachev’s record—“Because of him, we have economic confusion!” “Because of him, we have opportunity!” “Complete chaos!” “Hope!”—before an older woman settles the argument: “Because of him, we have many things … like Pizza Hut!”

In a lot of ways, it’s a beautiful short film and a very weird advertisement: Who would have thought that a bunch of Muscovites bickering about the end of communism would be a natural pitch for pizza?

For the people who created the ad—the executives, the agents, the creatives—it was a professional landmark. But for Gorbachev himself, the story of the ad is a tragedy: one man’s attempt to find—and to fund—a place in a country that wanted nothing more to do with him…

Finally, the full (sad) story of the Pizza Hut ad that became a meme: “Mikhail Gorbachev’s Pizza Hut Thanksgiving Miracle.”

* Neil Postman

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As we grab for a slice, we might recall that this is an important date in broadcast history.  On this date in 1896, Guglielmo Marconi introduced “radio”: he amazed a group at Toynbee Hall in East London with a demonstration of wireless communication across a room.  Every time Marconi hit a key beside him at the podium, a bell would ring from a box being carried around the room by William Henry Preece.

Then exactly five years later, on this date in 1901, Marconi confounded those who believed that the curvature of the earth would limit the effective range of radio waves when he broadcast a signal from Cornwall, England to Newfoundland, Canada– over 2,100 miles– and in so doing, demonstrated the viability of worldwide wireless communication.

 

 

Written by LW

December 12, 2019 at 1:01 am

“All that is solid melts into air”*…

 

misinfo

 

Ideas replaced with feelings. A radical relativism that implies truth is unknowable. Politicians who revel in lying openly, shamelessly, as if being caught out is the point of politics. The notion of the people and the many redefined ceaselessly, words unmoored from meaning, ideas of the future dissolving into nasty nostalgias with enemies everywhere, conspiracy replacing ideology, facts equated to fibs, discussion collapsing into mutual accusations, where every argument is just another smear campaign, all information warfare … and the sense that everything under one’s feet is constantly moving, inherently unstable, liquid …

Almost a decade ago I left Russia because I was exhausted by living in a system where, to quote myself invoking Hannah Arendt, “nothing is true and everything is possible.” Those were still relatively vegetarian days in Moscow — before the invasion of Ukraine — but it was already a world where terms like liberal or democracy were used to mean their opposite, where paranoia was increasingly replacing reasoned argument, and where spectacle had pushed out sense. You were left with only gut feelings to lead your way through the fog of disinformation. I returned to the thing once known as “the West,” living in London and often working in the United States, because, in the words of my naïve self, I wanted to live in a world where “words have meaning,” where facts were not dismissed as “just information war.” Russia seemed a country unable to come to terms with the loss of the Cold War, or with any of the traumas of the 20th century. It was ultimately, I thought, a sideshow, a curio pickled in its own agonies. Russians stressed this themselves: in Western Europe, America, things are “normalno” they would tell me. If you have the chance, that is where you send your wives, children, money … to “normalnost.”

Back in the West, however, I soon noticed things that reminded me of Moscow…

Peter Pomerantsev in an essay from his new book, This Is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality: “Normalnost.”

Pair with his essay “The Info War of All Against All” and this review of his book.

[image above: source]

* Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto

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As we get down with Diogenes, we might expect little or no help from today’s birthday boy, Henri-Louis Bergson; he was born on this date in 1859.  A philosopher especially influential in the first half of the 20th Century, Bergson convinced many of the primacy of immediate experience and intuition over rationalism and science for the understanding reality…. many, but not the likes of Wittgenstein, Russell, Moore, and Santayana, who thought that he willfully misunderstood the scientific method in order to justify his “projection of subjectivity onto the physical world.”  Still, in 1927 Bergson won the Nobel Prize (in Literature); and in 1930, received France’s highest honor, the Grand-Croix de la Legion d’honneur.

Bergson’s influence waned mightily later in the century.  To the extent that there’s been a bit of a resurgence of interest, it’s largely the result, in philosophical circles, of Gilles Deleuze’s appropriation of Bergson’s concept of “mulitplicity” and his treatment of duration, which Deleuze used in his critique of Hegel’s dialectic, and in the religious and spiritualist studies communities, of Bergson’s seeming embrace of the concept of an overriding/underlying consciousness in which humans participate.

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Written by LW

October 18, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster”*…

 

kleptocracy

 

When the U.S.S.R. collapsed, Washington bet on the global spread of democratic capitalist values—and lost…

Much of the rest of the world wanted to shout for joy about the trajectory of history, and how it pointed in the direction of free markets and liberal democracy. [CIA Moscow station chief Richard] Palmer’s account of events in Russia, however, was pure bummer. In the fall of 1999, he testified before a congressional committee to disabuse members of Congress of their optimism and to warn them of what was to come.

American officialdom, Palmer believed, had badly misjudged Russia. Washington had placed its faith in the new regime’s elites; it took them at their word when they professed their commitment to democratic capitalism. But Palmer had seen up close how the world’s growing interconnectedness—and global finance in particular—could be deployed for ill. During the Cold War, the KGB had developed an expert understanding of the banking byways of the West, and spymasters had become adept at dispensing cash to agents abroad. That proficiency facilitated the amassing of new fortunes. In the dying days of the U.S.S.R., Palmer had watched as his old adversaries in Soviet intelligence shoveled billions from the state treasury into private accounts across Europe and the U.S. It was one of history’s greatest heists.

Washington told itself a comforting story that minimized the importance of this outbreak of kleptomania: These were criminal outliers and rogue profiteers rushing to exploit the weakness of the new state. This narrative infuriated Palmer. He wanted to shake Congress into recognizing that the thieves were the very elites who presided over every corner of the system…

The United States, Palmer made clear, had allowed itself to become an accomplice in this plunder. His assessment was unsparing. The West could have turned away this stolen cash; it could have stanched the outflow to shell companies and tax havens. Instead, Western banks waved Russian loot into their vaults. Palmer’s anger was intended to provoke a bout of introspection—and to fuel anxiety about the risk that rising kleptocracy posed to the West itself. After all, the Russians would have a strong interest in protecting their relocated assets. They would want to shield this wealth from moralizing American politicians who might clamor to seize it. Eighteen years before Special Counsel Robert Mueller began his investigation into foreign interference in a U.S. election, Palmer warned Congress about Russian “political donations to U.S. politicians and political parties to obtain influence.” What was at stake could well be systemic contagion: Russian values might infect and then weaken the moral defense systems of American politics and business.

This unillusioned spook was a prophet, and he spoke out at a hinge moment in the history of global corruption…

This was capital flight on an unprecedented scale, and mere prologue to an era of rampant theft. When the Berkeley economist Gabriel Zucman studied the problem in 2015, he found that 52 percent of Russia’s wealth resided outside the country.

The collapse of communism in the other post-Soviet states, along with China’s turn toward capitalism, only added to the kleptocratic fortunes that were hustled abroad for secret safekeeping. Officials around the world have always looted their countries’ coffers and accumulated bribes. But the globalization of banking made the export of their ill-gotten money far more convenient than it had been—which, of course, inspired more theft. By one estimate, more than $1 trillion now exits the world’s developing countries each year in the forms of laundered money and evaded taxes.

An amazing amount of the illicit cash is being solicited and handled by Americans– by banks, lawyers, real estate developers actively conspiring with he mobsters. dictators, and oligarchs whose money they are hiding in anonymized investments.

The defining document of our era is the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010. The ruling didn’t just legalize anonymous expenditures on political campaigns. It redefined our very idea of what constitutes corruption, limiting it to its most blatant forms: the bribe and the explicit quid pro quo. Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion crystallized an ever more prevalent ethos of indifference—the collective shrug in response to tax avoidance by the rich and by large corporations, the yawn that now greets the millions in dark money spent by invisible billionaires to influence elections.

In other words, the United States has legitimized a political economy of shadows, and it has done so right in step with a global boom in people hoping to escape into the shadows.

American collusion with kleptocracy comes at a terrible cost for the rest of the world. All of the stolen money, all of those evaded tax dollars sunk into Central Park penthouses and Nevada shell companies, might otherwise fund health care and infrastructure. (A report from the anti-poverty group One has argued that 3.6 million deaths each year can be attributed to this sort of resource siphoning.) Thievery tramples the possibilities of workable markets and credible democracy. It fuels suspicions that the whole idea of liberal capitalism is a hypocritical sham: While the world is plundered, self-righteous Americans get rich off their complicity with the crooks.

The Founders were concerned that venality would become standard procedure, and it has. Long before suspicion mounted about the loyalties of Donald Trump, large swaths of the American elite—lawyers, lobbyists, real-estate brokers, politicians in state capitals who enabled the creation of shell companies—had already proved themselves to be reliable servants of a rapacious global plutocracy. Richard Palmer was right: The looting elites of the former Soviet Union were far from rogue profiteers. They augured a kleptocratic habit that would soon become widespread. One bitter truth about the Russia scandal is that by the time Vladimir Putin attempted to influence the shape of our country, it was already bending in the direction of his.

Read Franklin Foer’s important report in full at: “Russian-Style Kleptocracy Is Infiltrating America.”

* Friedrich Nietzsche

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As we get down with Diogenes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1866 that Jesse James robbed his first bank, in Liberty, Mo.  James and his crew (a remnant of his Civil War service in the Confederate guerrilla outfit known as Quantrill’s Raiders) are believed to have targeted the bank because it was owned by abolitionist Republican former militia officers.

220px-Jesse_james_portrait source

 

Written by LW

February 13, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Three meals a day are a highly advanced institution”*…

 

breakfast_lunch_dinner_1050x700

The typical American “breakfast, lunch, and dinner” pattern is a product of the Industrial Revolution.

Early U.S. dining habits were shaped by those of English colonists. And, as Anne Murcott, a British sociologist specializing in food, writes, for centuries, up until about 1800, most English people ate two, not three, meals a day. The larger of these was often called dinner, but it wasn’t typically an evening meal. During the reign of Henry VII, from 1485 to 1509, the day’s big meal normally took place around 11 am.

In both England and the U.S., dinner became the large afternoon meal for farm families—which is to say most families—in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It might be preceded by breakfast—the meal to break the nighttime fast—and followed by some kind of light meal or meals, variously called supper or tea.

Lunch is the newest addition to the triad of U.S. meals. Back in 1968, the English-language scholar Anne Wallace-Hadrill traced the etymology of the word itself, along with its close relation, “luncheon.” One possible origin of the words is from “lump.” A 1617 source mentions “eating a great lumpe of bread and butter with a lunchen of cheese.” In 1755, one dictionary writer defined lunch or luncheon as “as much food as one’s hand can hold,” but not as a specific meal. Somewhere in the first half of the nineteenth century, the word “lump” seems to have merged with “nuncheon,” a light midday meal (with the “nun” coming from “noon.”)

As workers and kids left the farms for factories and schools over the course of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, eating patterns shifted. Workers and children might shove a lunch of bread into their pocket to eat during the day or return home for a quick luncheon, but dinner now had to wait for the end of the day, creating the set of mealtimes we know so well…

The origin of the familiar breakfast-lunch-dinner triad: “Why Do Americans Eat Three Meals a Day?

* E.C. Hayes, Introduction to the Study of Sociology (1913)

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As we dig in, we might recall that it was on this date in 1999 that the Russian Duma (its legislature) voted 273-1 to pass an animal rights bill that prohibited Russians from eating their “animal companions”– their pets.  Shortly thereafter the newly-elected President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, vetoed the bill.

group-of-pets-together-15229056 source

 

Written by LW

December 1, 2018 at 1:01 am

“We shall fight against them, throw them in prisons and destroy them”*…

 

The Moscow Times is reporting that Bulgarian pranksters are repainting Soviet-era monuments so that the Soviet military heroes depicted are recast as American Superheroes:

Russia is demanding that Bulgaria try harder to prevent vandalism of Soviet monuments, after yet another monument to Soviet troops in Sofia was spray-painted, ITAR-Tass reported.

The Russian Embassy in Bulgaria has issued a note demanding that its former Soviet-era ally clean up the monument in Sofia’s Lozenets district, identify and punish those responsible, and take “exhaustive measures” to prevent similar attacks in the future, the news agency reported Monday.

The monument was sprayed with red paint on the eve of the Bulgarian Socialist Party’s celebration of its 123rd anniversary, the Sofia-based Novinite news agency reported.

The vandalism was the latest in a series of similar recent incidents in Bulgaria — each drawing angry criticism from Moscow…

[continues at Moscow Times]

Via Disinformation ((h/t to trans-atlantyk posting at reddit’s /r/worldnews):

* Vladimir Putin

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As we dream of empire, we might send enforceable birthday greetings to Allen Pinkerton; he was born on this date in 1819.  After migrating from Scotland, Pinkerton landed a job as Chicago’s first police detective; then, partnering with a Chicago attorney, founded the North-Western Police Agency, which later became Pinkerton & Co, and finally Pinkerton National Detective Agency (still in existence today as Pinkerton Consulting and Investigations).  Pinkerton provided a range of services, but was especially involved solving railway robberies.  After his death in 1884, his firm became deeply involved as agents– Pinkerton men, or “Pinks,” served as spies and enforcers– for employers resisting the development of the labor movement in the U.S.and Canada.  Pinkerton and his firm were so famous that “Pinkerton” became slang for “private detective”– and given their strike-busting activities, for authorities that sided with management in labor disputes. Indeed, it has been suggested that “fink” is a derivation of “Pink.”

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Written by LW

August 25, 2014 at 1:01 am

“Equal parts Dodge City, medieval Baghdad, industrial Pittsburgh, and nineteenth-century Paris”*…

 

Oil wells in a Baku suburb, circa 1900

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,’ …

Burning oil reservoir in Baku, circa 1905

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.’

From Young Stalin, by Simon Sebag Montefiore; via the indispensable DelanceyPlace.com.

* Essad Bey

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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.

The Exxon Valdez, surrounded by spilled oil

source

 

Written by LW

March 24, 2014 at 1:01 am

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