The Russian Olympics: Observations of a Perplexed Spectator

My friend Dale Dougherty, founder of MAKE Magazine and creator of Maker Faire, went to Sochi with his wife, Nancy. He wrote a long, fascinating account of their stay in Russia for Medium. He included lots of pictures.

“You are such a sports fan,” Nancy said to me, as though she just noticed it after 30+ years. I do love and hate being a sports fan. I’m conflicted. I’m not always sure why I like to watch sports — and it is as a spectator that I’m most intensely involved.

The conflict for me is that I really don’t care anymore who wins or loses. This is true in the Super Bowl, World Series and the Olympics. I don’t have a team I’m rooting for. I’m looking for something else and I think I realized what it is at the Russian Olympics.

It’s hard to watch the Olympics on TV in America because of the way they package it for Americans, trying to develop a sense that we are rooting for our country and making a connection to American athletes. So much is fabricated, and I wanted to see beyond that. I didn’t come to root for TeamUSA, although I do care what Americans are doing and how American athletes are competing. But it is not why I came to Sochi.

The Russian Olympics: Observations of a Perplexed Spectator

Putin launches Russian invasion of Ukraine; UN security council meets


One week after Ukrainian strongman Viktor Yanukovuych fled Kiev and the government snipers who'd murdered dozens of protesters ran for the hills, Vladimir Putin has received approval from the Russian Parliament to invade the country. In Crimea, an area where armed gangs loyal to Yanukovuych have taken control, protesters have been beaten and been made to kneel. The Ukrainian navy has taken to sea. The Russian ambassador to the USA is said to be withdrawing. Russian tanks are in Crimea. The UN Security Council is meeting to discuss intervention.

Twitter's #russiainvadesukraine is a good place to stay abreast of affairs.

On the Guardian, Conal Urquhart is maintaining a running feed of new developments.

What it’s like to be a Russian journalist

Wired's Alan Devenish on reporting in Putin's union: “Writers have a good sense of what stories won’t make it past their editors.”

Pussy Riot's Amnesty International press conference

Joly sez, "The good folks at Tom Tom Magazine captured Pussy Riot's Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina talk about the importance of Pussy Riot's collective structure, being influenced by punk and Riot Grrrl, and a Russia without Putin. February 5th, 2014. Skip to 7:00 for when they start talking. The video begins with Flaming Lips frontman, Wayne Coyne, speaking off camera."

Pussy Riot Amnesty International Press Conference at Barclay's (Thanks, Joly!)

Russian Olympic official to reporters: stop complaining about hotels or we'll release CCTV footage of you in the bathroom


Dmitry Kozak, Russia's Olympian deputy prime minister warned a Wall Street Journal reporter that he would release hidden-camera footage of journalists in their hotel bathrooms if they continued to complain about the substandard hotels in Sochi.

Just a reminder for anyone thinking of travelling to Sochi after the Olympics for a spot of tourism: according to Russia's deputy prime-minister, the hotel bathrooms have surveillance cameras that watch you in the shower.

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Reporters document Sochi's Potemkin hotels

As journalists descend on Sochi for the most corrupt Olympics in history, they're discovering the region's Potemkin hospitality industry. The hotels that were meant to billet them while they reported on the games are half-built, unbuilt, falling to bits: but at least they've had their portraits of Vladimir Putin installed. Slave labor just isn't what it used to be.

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Sochi: the most corrupt Olympic Games in history


Russian opposition member Alexei Navalny created a website to document the rampant corruption at the Sochi Olympics. The site is a map with clickable regions showing how illegal dumping, graft, inside dealing, and general sleaze caused billions of dollars to disappear into the pockets of Russian political elites and their mafiyeh buddies. The site was translated to English by the Interpreter, which notes:

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Snowden's Russian asylum extended

Speaking at the World Economic Forum, Russian Head of Foreign Affairs Alexy Pushkov announced that whistleblower Edward Snowden's asylum would be extended at the end of the year, and that Russia would not deport him to the USA. Cory 15

Mechanisms: steampunk armored bestiary


Vladimir Gvozdeff's illustration series Mechanisms depicts a wonderful bestiary of armored, mechanical creatures in steampunk style, surrounded by the detritus of contrafactual Victorian inventorship. Some of my favorites after the jump:

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Details about the malware used to attack Target's point-of-sale machines


The news that Target stores lost 110 million customers' credit card details in a hacker intrusion has illustrated just how grave a risk malicious software presents to the average person and the businesses they patronize. Brian Krebs has good, early details on the software that the hackers used on infected point-of-sale terminals at Target, and some good investigative guesses about who planted it there and how they operated it.

Krebs suggests that a Russian hacker called "Antikiller" may be implicated in the Target hack, and that Antikiller is, in any event, the author of the malware used against the point-of-sale systems.

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Clever Popeye forearm tattoo


This very clever Popeye tattoo has unclear provenance -- apparently the artist is Russian tattoo artist Alina Fokina from Ufa, Russia, possibly with help from Jaksic Milan.

(via Neatorama)

Pussy Riot in Putin's gulag: daily forced gynecological exams


When Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova walked out of the Siberian prison camp IK-50, they were defiant. The Pussy Riot members said they wanted acquittal, not amnesty, and an affirmation of the right to protest in Russia. Tolokonnikova gave the press a V-for-victory and shouted "Russia without Putin!"

But afterwards, in a phone interview with the Guardian, Alyokhina described the horrific conditions inside, where women were put to slave labor, and where Tolokonnikova faced daily, punitive forced gynecological exams for three weeks.

Pussy Riot has called on western countries to boycott eh Sochi Games in February.

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Edward Snowden declares victory: "I defected from the government to the public"

Edward Snowden granted a 14-hour interview to the Washington Post, commenting on his relationship to the NSA, Russia, and the USA. It's a defiant, uncompromising, and principled interview. He says that his mission has been accomplished, because "I didn't want to change society. I wanted to give society a chance to determine if it should change itself," and that chance has arrived thanks to the sunlight he shone on the NSA's illegal spying activity.

He also says that he's still "working for the NSA" inasmuch as he's taking the only path he could identify to force the agency to conduct its affairs in accordance with the Constitution. And he defended leaking the documents he brought with, because "The oath of allegiance is not an oath of secrecy. That is an oath to the Constitution. That is the oath that I kept that Keith Alexander and James Clapper did not."

To those who say he overstepped ethical bounds by "electing himself" to disclose NSA wrongdoing, he counters that he was elected by the Congresspeople who were nominally overseeing the NSA, like Dianne Feinstein and Mike Rogers, as well as the judges of the FISA court -- that their dereliction of their duties left him with no alternative.

He vehemently denies that he did not attempt to raise the issues of mass spying internally at the NSA, and describes the "front page test" ("What do you think the public would do if this was on the front page?") that he routinely administered to his colleagues and superiors whenever they discussed the scope of spying.

Asked how the US should conduct its spying, he articulates an admirably simple principle: "As long as there's an individualized, articulable, probable cause for targeting these people as legitimate foreign intelligence, that's fine. I don't think it's imposing a ridiculous burden by asking for probable cause. Because, you have to understand, when you have access to the tools the NSA does, probable cause falls out of trees."

Snowden denies defecting to Russia: "If I defected at all, I defected from the government to the public."

Snowden denied having a "dead-man's switch" that would release the remaining leaks if he came to mischief, saying that this would be a "suicide switch" that would invite spies and criminals to torture him to learn its secrets and gain access to the documents themselves. The greatest irony of the interview is that Snowden reveals that the NSA refused to adopt his recommendation that two people should have to sign off on large data-transfers -- a measure that would have prevented him from smuggling so many documents out of the NSA last June.

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Vladimir "Secret Squirrel" Putin meets the Gipper, 1988


Here's a photo that purports to show Vladimir Putin -- during his time as a KGB agent -- in plainclothes, inconspicuously hanging out near Ronald Reagan during the Gipper's visit to the USSR in 1988.

[Allegedly] Vladimir Putin (far left) when he was a KGB agent posing as a family member out for a stroll in Red Square when Reagan was visiting the USSR, 1988

Amnesty for Pussy Riot, Greenpeace 30


When Putin and the Kremlin throw a charm offensive to distract people from the popular uprising in the Ukraine and the institutionalized homophobia in Russia, it's good news for dissidents and former billionaires. Russia's Stalin-loving strongman has extended amnesty to Pussy Riot, the Greenpeace 30, and Mikhail Khodorkovsky (formerly Russia's richest man, who fell into Putin's bad books and onto hard times).

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