(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Russia

“A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself”*…

The world’s largest permafrost crater, Batagay, Russia, 2017

The cliché, avidly promoted by Moscow, is that Russia, one of the world’s largest petro-states, will be a relative winner in climate change; but a new book argues that the country will find itself in deep trouble. Sophie Pinkham unpacks the lesson’s in Thane Gustafson’s Klimat: Russia in the Age of Climate Change

Thane Gustafson, a longtime specialist on Russian energy, wrote Klimat: Russia in the Age of Climate Change before the [Ukraine] invasion, when the Covid pandemic seemed the great unexpected event complicating every prediction. Yet with its focus on the future of Russia’s energy, grain, and metals markets, all of which have been reconfigured by the war and the new sanctions, Klimat could hardly be more timely. Gustafson argues that Russia’s days of hydrocarbon-funded might are numbered. Unfortunately, the end of this era will not come soon enough for Ukrainians, or for the planet.

Russia is warming 2.5 times as fast as the world on average, and the Arctic is warming even faster. The cliché, avidly promoted by Moscow, is that the country will be a relative winner in climate change, benefiting from a melting and accessible Arctic shipping route, longer growing seasons, and the expansion of farmland into newly thawed areas. Gustafson counters, with a dry but persuasive marshaling of facts, that in the redistribution of wealth and power that will result from climate change, Russia is doomed. After reading Klimat, Russia’s attack on Ukraine begins to look like the convulsion of a dying state.

About two thirds of Russia is covered in permafrost, a mixture of sand and ice that, until recently, remained frozen year-round. As permafrost melts, walls built on it fracture, buildings sink, railways warp, roads buckle, and pipelines break. Anthrax from long-frozen reindeer corpses has thawed and infected modern herds. Sinkholes have opened in the melting ground, swallowing up whole buildings. Ice roads over frozen water, once the only way to travel in some remote regions, are available for ever-shorter periods. The Arctic coast is eroding rapidly, imperiling structures built close to the water…

Russia’s forests are the largest in the world, accounting for a fifth of Earth’s trees, but they are being grievously damaged by fire, drought, and disease, all of which are caused or exacerbated by climate change. Smoke has choked Siberian cities. During the 2019 fires that burned about 10,000 square miles of forest in Siberia, the Internet lit up with protest, and Russian singers and actors took part in a flash mob called “Siberia Is Burning.” President Putin sent in military units to help extinguish the fire, but he was soon rescued by rain. The problem was forgotten. As burning, dying, clear-cut forests become carbon producers rather than carbon sinks, they make the problem of climate change even worse. The same is true of melting permafrost, which releases methane, another potent greenhouse gas…

Imperialism originates in a struggle for resources; the ideology justifying the brutality of conquest and control is secondary. Oil has been one of the most coveted resources of the modern era, but the oldest and most essential resource is food. Ukraine’s famously fertile “black earth,” desired by many invaders and colonizers over the course of the country’s history, may also be among the motivations for Russia’s new aggression. According to recent reports, Russia has been commandeering or destroying Ukrainian grain stores and making off with Ukrainian agricultural equipment, smuggling the stolen grain to Syria for sale in the Middle East. Gustafson points out that as shortages become more frequent, food will become an increasingly significant tool of geopolitical influence…

Eminently worth reading in full: climate change is coming for Russia: “A Hotter Russia,” from @sophiepinkhmmm on @ThaneGustafson in @nybooks.

Lest American readers feel complacent: “The challenging politics of climate change,” from @BrookingsInst.

* Franklin D. Roosevelt

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As we get serious, we might send imperial birthday greetings to the man Vladimir Putin seems to wish he was: Pyotr Alekséyevich, also known as Peter I, and best known as Peter the Great; he was born on this date in 1672. But even as Putin is trying to turn back the cultural clock, Peter was the Tsar who modernized Russia and grew it into an empire, capturing ports at Azov and the Baltic Sea, laying the groundwork for the Imperial Russian Navy, ending uncontested Swedish supremacy in the Baltic, and beginning the Tsardom’s expansion into a much larger empire that became a major European power.

Peter led a cultural revolution that replaced some of the traditionalist and medieval social and political systems with ones that were modern, scientific, Westernised, and based on the Enlightenment. His reforms had a lasting impact on Russia, and many institutions of the Russian government trace their origins to his reign. He adopted the title of Emperor in place of the old title of Tsar in 1721, and founded and developed the city of Saint Petersburg, which remained the capital of Russia until 1917.

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“I wasn’t worth a cent two years ago, and now I owe two million dollars”*…

If you think that our democracy cannot endure with the economic inequality that afflicts the 21st century, go back to the Gilded Age, when Americans worried that the nation could not stand with the economic inequality that arose in the late 19th century. If you think that the nature of work is changing dramatically, go back to the Gilded Age, when the economy was transformed. If you worry that changes in the environment are threatening health and humanity, go back to the Gilded Age when urbanization and industrialization gave birth to those worries. These parallels allow us to step back from the concerns we’re immersed in now and think about our world in new ways. The long lens of history shows us what we’re too myopic to see in the present…

Historian of the period Richard White recommends “The best books on The Gilded Age.” His five choices are each and all eminently worthy of reading; but his explanations for his choices are an education in themselves.

* Mark Twain, The Gilded Age

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As we peer into the not-so-distant-mirror, we might recall that it was on this date in 1867, at the dawn of the Gilded Age, that U.S. Secretary of State William Seward and Russian minister Eduard de Stoeckl agreed to a treaty effecting the purchase of Alaska by the U.S.; it was briskly ratified by Congress.

The transaction added 586,412 square miles of new territory to the United States at a cost of $7.2 million 1867 dollars (2 cents per acre); in 2019 dollars, the price was $132 million (37 cents per acre).

he US $7.2 million check used to pay for Alaska

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

March 30, 2021 at 1:01 am

“Every time you learn you can do something, you can go a little bit faster next time”*…

 

Screen Shot 2020-07-15 at 11.59.50 AM

Joey Chestnut set a new world record by eating 75 hotdogs in 10 minutes at Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest on July 4

 

… at least, up to a point.  Readers will know that (Roughly) Daily has checked in on the competitive eating circuit before (e.g., here), with special attention to the the event hosted by the iconic Nathan’s.  So imagine your correspondent’s surprise to learn that the era of dramatic new records year after year might be coming to a close…

The four-minute mile and the two-hour marathon were once believed impossible: now a new gauntlet has been thrown down for the world of elite competition. A scientific analysis suggests competitive eaters have come within nine hotdogs of the limits of human performance.

The theoretical ceiling has been set at 84 hotdogs in 10 minutes. The current world record, set by Joey “Jaws” Chestnut earlier this month, stands at 75.

James Smoliga, a sports medicine specialist at High Point University in North Carolina who authored the research, described 84 hotdogs as “the maximum possible limit for a Usain Bolt-type performance”.

The analysis is based on 39 years of historical data from Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest, an annual spectacle of gluttony held on Coney Island, New York, combined with the latest sports science theory, which uses mathematical modelling to project trends in performance.

Hotdog composition and size have, reportedly, remained unchanged at Nathan’s Famous in the fast food company’s 104-year history, allowing for valid comparison between competitors across years.

Improvement curves in elite sports ranging from sprinting to pole vaulting tend to follow a so-called sigmoidal curve, featuring an initial slow and steady rise, followed by an era of rapid improvement and finally a levelling off. “Hotdog eating has definitely reached that second plateau,” said Smoliga…

The limit of progress? The end of history? “Competitive hotdog eaters nearing limit of human performance.”  See also “Scientists Have Finally Calculated How Many Hot Dogs a Person Can Eat at Once.”

* Joey Chestnut, competitive eating champion [pictured above]

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As we chow down, we might recall that it was on this date in 1762 that Catherine II– better known as Catherine the Great– became the Empress of Russia after the murder of her husband (in a coup that she’d helped arrange).  While her personal habits (largely her love life) tend to dominate popular memories of her, scholars note that her reign (through 1792) was a “Golden Age,” during which she revitalized Russia, which grew larger and stronger, and became one of the great powers of Europe and Asia.

Catherine enthusiastically supported the ideals of the Enlightenment; and as a patron of the arts, presided over the age of the Russian Enlightenment, including the establishment of the Smolny Institute for Noble Maidens, the first state-financed higher education institution for women in Europe.

503px-Catherine_II_by_J.B.Lampi_(1780s,_Kunsthistorisches_Museum) source

 

“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 (Roughly) Daily

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 (Roughly) Daily

December 12, 2019 at 1:01 am

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