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Stalin: evil dictator, good editor

Holly Case on Joseph Stalin, editor. [via Kottke]
Stalin always seemed to have a blue pencil on hand, and many of the ways he used it stand in direct contrast to common assumptions about his person and thoughts. He edited ideology out or played it down, cut references to himself and his achievements, and even exhibited flexibility of mind, reversing some of his own prior edits.

E-Stonia: where the free internet now flows like water


Photo: Bruce Sterling

First things first: oh, you world travelers, for pleasure or for work, never, ever fly Baltic Airlines. First they will stiff you by making you pay sixty euros to carry regular-sized hand luggage. You will note their particular eagerness to pounce on innocent non-Baltic travellers, especially haplessYankees with credit cards.

During the flight you can expect to be charged for the air you breathe, since they don't even give free water.

Finally, god forbid if something goes wrong with your flight and ticket, for Baltic Airlines will gladly maneuver you into buying a heavily-priced new one. Fleeing home via Baltic Airlines beats prison and deportation, but not by much.

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Aelita, Queen of Mars: Soviet Science Fiction film from 1924

In vintage ad archivist Paul Malon's excellent Flickr stream, I stumbled on this beautiful Soviet film poster for a film titled "Aelita."

A quick Googling revealed that this was for the motion picture Aelita, Queen of Mars, which Wikipedia describes as "a silent film directed by Soviet filmmaker Yakov Protazanov made at the Mezhrabpom-Rus film studio and released in 1924 (...) based on Alexei Tolstoy's novel of the same name."

Some describe it as the USSR's first sci-fi flick. Archive.org has the entire 80-minute film available for online viewing here, though the quality isn't great. It's also on YouTube, and here's part one.

You can also buy it in higher quality on Amazon, and here's their review:

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Design classics of Soviet-era Czechoslovakia


Nanovo Shop sells hand-picked vintage housewares and designy tchotchkes and doodads from Czechoslovakia's Soviet era.

NANOVO shop (via Core 77)

Soviet cars


On the always-excellent How To Be a Retronaut, a gallery of the dreadful automobiles of the Soviet Bloc from the 1960s and 70s.

Chernobyl disaster, 25 year later: commemoration around the world

It's early morning on April 26 in Kiev, Ukraine, where the Chernobyl nuclear disaster happened exactly a quarter century ago. On this day in 1986, reactor number four at the plant exploded, setting off a catastrophe that still reverberates far beyond the 30-kilometer exclusion zone.

Demonstrations are taking place throughout Europe. In Tokyo, anti-TEPCO protests mark the occasion and its parallel to the still-unfolding disaster at Fukushima. The "liquidators" who were sent in to clean up the radioactive mess at Chernobyl back in 1986 received medals Monday from Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, but controversy still surrounds the health impact of the dangerous work they performed. The so-called "sarcophagus" surrounding the disaster site in Kiev is leaking, and world leaders have pledged "to provide $780 million for the construction of a shelter designed to house the toxic remains for another century." But even if and when that new container is finally in place, the radioactive mess will remain active—and hazardous—for many thousands of years more.

Maggie pointed to this recent report from Chernobyl for PBS NewsHour by Miles O'Brien— it's embedded above in this post, and worth another view on this day. [video link, or watch on PBS.org, photo gallery].

doll_slideshow.jpg

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Xeni on The Madeleine Brand radio show: Russia's "Gaga-esque Gagarin Glitzothon" (audio)

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I joined Madeleine Brand Show guest-host Alex Cohen today for a radio segment on my recent trip to Moscow with Miles O'Brien and his documentary crew, on the occasion of the 50 year anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's first space flight. On April 12, 1961, aboard the Vostok 3KA-3, Gagarin became the first human ever to venture into space.

On the show today, we talked about the crazy Cosmonaut's Day celebration we attended inside the Kremlin; what space tourists do in space; why NASA has bought up seats on the Soyuz as our shuttle program ends, and we also chatted about weird Russian strawberry sushi and the amazing Soviet time capsule that is the Moscow metro. [Listen here, or download MP3 here].

Miles shot video of the military choir finale, with breakdancing cosmonaut cosplay kids. That video is embedded above, or here on YouTube. The good stuff starts around 1:39 in.

And below, a translated video of Russian President Medvedev's speech at the Kremlin event.

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Vintage Soviet science and space illustration


This site collects vintage Soviet space and science illustrations; most appear to come from old children's books. They're eerily similar to American illos from the same era -- both empires believing that they were rocketing to a space-age, hypermodernist, Tomorrowland/Rollerball future.

Russian Science Illustrations from the 60's and 70's (Thanks, Shopsinc!)

First-person account from surgeon who removed his own appendix

From The Atlantic's archives, a harrowing 1961 account of a Soviet surgeon on a primitive Antarctic base who had to remove his own appendix, stopping frequently as he battled vertigo and blood loss:
I worked without gloves. It was hard to see. The mirror helps, but it also hinders -- after all, it's showing things backwards. I work mainly by touch. The bleeding is quite heavy, but I take my time -- I try to work surely. Opening the peritoneum, I injured the blind gut and had to sew it up. Suddenly it flashed through my mind: there are more injuries here and I didn't notice them ... I grow weaker and weaker, my head starts to spin. Every 4-5 minutes I rest for 20-25 seconds. Finally, here it is, the cursed appendage! With horror I notice the dark stain at its base. That means just a day longer and it would have burst and ...

At the worst moment of removing the appendix I flagged: my heart seized up and noticeably slowed; my hands felt like rubber. Well, I thought, it's going to end badly. And all that was left was removing the appendix ... And then I realised that, basically, I was already saved.

Antarctica, 1961: A Soviet Surgeon Has to Remove His Own Appendix

Russian wartime Cossack dance-off set to Run DMC

In this 1941 video, Russian soldiers are seen engaged in a precursor of the modern dance-off; to drive home the point, some wag has set the proceedings to Run DMC's "It's Like That," which is curiously fitting.

Cossack (or Hopak) dancing originated in southern Russian and Ukranian military communities. The general plan was to have a battle, win, then return and have a big dance off with all your comrades. The party was male-only, of course, and often involved pantomime style re-enactments of battlefield moments, with sabres et al.
Wartime Russian Cossack dancers (Thanks, Dunchead, via Submitterator!)

Furniture made from rusted Soviet naval mines


Estonian sculptor Mati Karmin creates furniture and other housewares (woodstove, prams, chairs, etc) from rusting naval "Blok" mines recovered from an ex-Soviet fortress on Naissaar Island, an Estonian island off the Finnish coast. This desk gives me the desiderata shivers.

Marinemine - The Mine furniture:

Forgotten, aborted Soviet moon-lander


Jalopnik has a wonderful set of photos of the abortive Soviet moon lander, the LK Lander, abandoned in 1971. It currently rots gently in a private lab at the Moscow Aviation Institute. The photos come from the Russos Livejournal.
Getting to the Moon requires launching a command module and a lander. Both are heavy objects and require massive amounts of thrust to get into orbit. The Soviet's planned to use their N-1 rocket, but two failed launches in 1971 and 1972 destroyed dummy landing and control modules, as well as the rockets themselves, and led to the program being shelved for lack of a proper launch vehicle.

The LK was sent into space for numerous test missions. The first two unmanned flights were successful tests of the vehicle through a simulated orbit. The third flight ended when the N-1 rocket crashed. The fourth test in 1971 was a success, but years later the decaying test module started to return to Earth with a trajectory that would put it over the skies of Australia.

Inside The Soviet's Secret Failed Moon Program (via Sciencepunk)

Soviet ad celebrating petty bourgeois resurgence


According to Farranger, a LiveJournal commenter, this 1925 Soviet advertisement "is an ad indicative of the goods available to citizens in the wake of Lenin's New Economic Policy, which allowed small shops to reopen and for petty commerce."

Also (and it must be said): that young man appears to be consummating unnatural relations with the Flatiron building.

Soviet ad 1925

1980s Soviet cartoons based on US science fiction classics

Frank sez, "Rhizome has a collection of 1980s-era Soviet cartoons based on stories by American sci-fi authors such as Ray Bradbury and Stephen King. The accompanying synth music is retrofuturist joy."

Shown here: the Soviet crappytoon version of "There Will Come Soft Rains."

Soviet Sci-Fi Animation in the 1980's (Thanks, Frank!)

Soviet statues as comedy fountains

I'm not clear on whether this Cracked.com image is a photoshop job or an actual fountain somewhere in the world (the former USSR?) or just a clever idea for repurposing all that Stalin-era monumentary, but it's sure a fine idea. I once got to visit the Soviet theme-park outside of Budapest, which is basically a giant field filled with Soviet-era statues, and it was a kind of Stalinist Easter Island experience, all these nigh-identical socialist realist piles looking bravely into the future. But this is even better.

Craptions Feb 25th, 2010 (via Making Light)