Peaches, the twenty-first century torchbearer of feminist punk, just released a video and track in support of Pussy Riot, the Russian female anarchist art group that has become the symbol of political oppression in Russia under Putin.
Unlike in the case of something like Kony 2012, this video is not a gratuite kind of protest. The whole point of Pussy Riot, and the wider protests in Russia of which it is a part, is the embeddedness in social media, and performing symbolic acts against the regime. That’s reflected in this ‘Free Pussy Riot’ video, which consists of footage sent in by Peaches fans.
Pussy Riot – whatever else it is – is also really an example for those Western hipster, a-political, “ironic” bands and the people who wallow in it (not excluding myself here). Punk, youth culture here once was a form of actual protest against the powers that be. That aspect of youth culture, thanks to the consumerist hipster, is long gone; grunge probably was the last vestige of it.
The three girls of this group, however, are literally risking everything. By staging an act of protest against spy-dictator Putin in an Orthodox cathedral, they have incurred the wrath of the most powerful institutions in the country. Pussy Riot is facing years in a Siberian prison camp – the worst imaginable place you can be in. This must have known this was going to happen, even though it’s an outrageous and thoroughly undemocratic and unjudicial sentence.
Throughout their trial, in their statements Pussy Riot have courageously pointed at the creeping dictatorship, the obliteration of the separation between church and state, and the squashing of free speech and right to demonstrate in Russia. They’ve even done this in an artful way, declaring themselves heirs to 1920s and 1930s absurdist collectives, and standing in a tradition of ‘last statements’ in show trials like dissidents of the Stalin and Soviet era.
As a political essay, the closing statement by Yekaterina Samutsevich, member of the group, is superb:
Why did Putin feel the need to exploit the Orthodox religion and its aesthetic? After all, he could have employed his own, far more secular tools of power—for example, the state-controlled corporations, or his menacing police system, or his obedient judiciary system. It may be that the harsh, failed policies of Putin’s government, the incident with the submarine Kursk, bombings of civilians in broad daylight, and other unpleasant moments in his political career forced him to ponder the fact that it was high time to resign; that otherwise, the citizens of Russia would help him do this. Apparently, it was then that he felt the need for more persuasive, transcendental guarantees of his long tenure at the pinnacle of power. It was then that it became necessary to make use of the aesthetic of the Orthodox religion, which is historically associated with the heyday of Imperial Russia, where power came not from earthly manifestations such as democratic elections and civil society, but from God Himself.
So, what these women have achieved is exposing the coming-into-being of dictatorship in Russia. They’ve shown that to the world. For that – even though Putin is probably feeling the heat and is already saying that the group shouldn’t be treated “too harsly” – they’ll probably end up in jail.
With Kim Jong-Il gone (or Kim Jong the second, as Rick Perry calls him), everything related to the DPRK is all of a sudden hot again. But most stories are simply a repetition of what we already know. Not this one. You might remember Shane Smith, the reporter of the online video magazine Vice, who sneaked into North Korea a few years ago and secretly caught the whole trip on camera. In the documentary he showed he had balls of steel, but mostly it was a very black-humored film, in which the whole People’s Republic sharade was made fun of.
For their next North Korea-related project, Smith and his team have paid a visit to Siberia, where, on the border with China, thousands of North Korean laborers are working in huge logging camps. They are housed in camps which are copies of the work camps in their home country, fitted with North Korean-style living quarters, all the propaganda banners, indoctrination rooms, etc. They also wear their standard North Korean workers outfits. Basically, they are slaves, who are used by the Russian government to cut trees at the most remote and harshest locations in Siberia. They are forced to work there for years or even decades under the most arduous conditions. The Vice team travelled to a number of these camps and simply started filming and interviewing the North Koreans working there, being the first journalists to do so.
In the resulting documentary you can see how they are at first met with surprise, are then ousted by the North Korean camp leaders and Russian operators, and at the end are forced to sneak out of the country because they are wanted by the FSB (the modern version of the KGB). And it also involves a traincar filled with agressive antisemitic Russians on the Transsiberian Express, old remote abandoned Soviet cities, and local Siberian shotgun-waving mafia. Smith lives through all these dangers in quite a lighthearted manner, mostly because he and his cameracrew and translators are on a steady diet of wodka and beer. All in all, a must see film. Start with part 1 here:
Can’t say anything but agreeing completely. From the people at Tahrir square, Egypt and in Tunisia to those in Libya, Syria, Yemen and Qatar, from the 15-M movement in Madrid and Barcelona, Spain, to the Occupy protesters on Wall Street, New York, in London, Frankfurt and Amsterdam, to those now marching against Putin in Russia: whatever the cynics, ‘realists’ and conservatives say, 2011 has been the year of the democratic protester.
Let’s hope it continues - in the Middle East, in Russia, and the West - in 2012. It’s still more than necessary.
Today, it’s 50 years ago that the first human being was launched into space. Arguably one of the biggest single events in history. On April 12, 1961, farmer’s son Yuri Gagarin boarded the Soviet Union Vostok 1 spacecraft, was shot into the sky, and became the first human ever to witness the Earth as a blue globe, to experience weightlessness, and to experience the pitch-black universe first-hand. To be that kind of person, well, there are no words to describe what that must be.
I think it was the Dutch Volkskrant that this weekend had a nice story in the science pages about the events leading up to the mission. In classic Soviet style, everything was rushed and rambled on all sides, as rumor had it that the Americans would launch a man into space by the end of April. They really did not have much of an idea how the human body would react to the conditions of outer space – weightlessness and cosmic radiation – and although some animals, plants and pieces of human skin had been shot into orbit earlier on, it was still an epic gamble. Gagarin himself only knew three days beforehand that he was chosen to perform the mission, apparently in the end having been chosen by Chrustchev himself because of his peasant origins. And then they still had to fit the space suits and adjust the craft and everything. In other words, it was a ramshackle undertaking and Gagarin, I guess, is lucky to have survived, but it bloody worked: they shot a person into space!
In honor of this historical event, film maker Christopher Riley, in cooperation with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the astronauts of the International Space Station (ISS), has made a movie recreating Yuri Gagarin’s space trip. Combined with historical footage, it documents what Gagarin must have seen and felt aboard that spaceship, and then rounding the planet for the first time.
To mark this historic flight we have teamed up with the astronauts onboard the International Space Station to film a new view of what Yuri would have seen as he travelled around the planet.
Weaving these new views together with historic voice recordings from Yuri’s flight and an original score by composer Philip Sheppard, we have created a spellbinding film to share with people around the World on this historic anniversary.
And the film’s free on YouTube! First Orbit. So here it is, enjoy! In remembrance of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.
If you’re interested, here’s more about the making-of. And via Nerdcore, here’s some more about Gagarin’s last words before lift-off. Apparently he was keen of making sure that he had enough sausage on the way back.
Gagarin at one point is told to rip off some adhesive tape and adjust a piece of equipment because “we forgot to tape that thing”.
He is later told that access hatch would have to be readjusted because “one of the contacts failed to light up” on the mission control panel.
Gagarin appeared to take everything in stride and began happily reporting all he saw once his spacecraft was finally aloft.
Various historians noted that one of the Soviet officials’ biggest fears was that their cosmonaut would lose consciousness once he became weightless.
“The sensation of weightlessness feels nice,” Gagarin reported to ground control at one point. “Everything is swimming.”
If there is one story, ever (aside from maybe the Bible), that is morally unequivocal to the extreme, it is J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Not a tiny shade of doubt about who the bad and the good guys are in that narrative. No uncertainty, conflicting interpretations or complicated morals possible here. The elves and the hobbits are as upright and angelic as they get, while Sauron, the Lord of the evil hordes of the black land of Mordor, is a bad guy if there ever was one.
Salon has an interesting piece, though, on a recent Russian novel that turns this narrative around, and imagines the story from the point of view of Mordor. Entitled The Last Ringbearer, it depicts Mordor as a land of scientific rationality, technology and progress, and the peoples of the West as backwards, feudal and hostile. The illiterate hordes from the woods and plains with their ancient magic attack Barad-dur as the only civilization that wants to employ philosophy and science for the benefit of mankind. Pretty brilliant, if you ask me.
While the novel, written by paleontologist Kirill Yeskov, was published to acclaim in Russia in 1999, an English translation hasn’t come out until recently, out of fear of the Tolkien heirs, who are quick to go to court over copyrights. Now, however, a translation by one Yisroel Markov, in cooperation with the original author, is available as a free download. It actually seems to have been written very well, and at least morally a lot more interesting and less straightforward than the original Lord of the Rings.
As bad lots go, you can’t get much worse than the hordes of Mordor from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings.” Led by an utterly evil disembodied entity who manifests himself as a gigantic, flaming, pitiless eye, and composed of loathsome orcs (or goblins), trolls and foreigners, Mordor’s armies are ultimately defeated and wiped out by the virtuous and noble elves, dwarfs, ents and human beings — aka the “free peoples” — of Middle-earth. No one sheds a tear over Mordor’s downfall, although the hobbit Sam Gamgee does spare a moment to wonder if a dead enemy soldier is truly evil or has simply been misguided or coerced into serving the dark lord Sauron.
Well, there’s two sides to every story, or to quote a less banal maxim, history is written by the winners. That’s the philosophy behind “The Last Ringbearer,” a novel set during and after the end of the War of the Ring (the climactic battle at the end of “The Lord of the Rings”) and told from the point of view of the losers. The novel was written by Kirill Yeskov, a Russian paleontologist, and published to acclaim in his homeland in 1999. Translations of the book have also appeared in other European nations, but fear of the vigilant and litigious Tolkien estate has heretofore prevented its publication in English.
The novel still has some rough edges — most notably, a confused switching back and forth between past and present tense in the early chapters — and some readers may be put off by Yeskov’s (classically Russian) habit of dropping info-dumps of military and political history into the narrative here and there. For the most part, though, “The Last Ringbearer” is a well-written, energetic adventure yarn that offers an intriguing gloss on what some critics have described as the overly simplistic morality of Tolkien’s masterpiece.
In Yeskov’s retelling, the wizard Gandalf is a war-monger intent on crushing the scientific and technological initiative of Mordor and its southern allies because science “destroys the harmony of the world and dries up the souls of men!” He’s in cahoots with the elves, who aim to become “masters of the world,” and turn Middle-earth into a “bad copy” of their magical homeland across the sea. Barad-dur, also known as the Dark Tower and Sauron’s citadel, is, by contrast, described as “that amazing city of alchemists and poets, mechanics and astronomers, philosophers and physicians, the heart of the only civilization in Middle-earth to bet on rational knowledge and bravely pitch its barely adolescent technology against ancient magic.”
Because Gandalf refers to Mordor as the “Evil Empire” and is accused of crafting a “Final Solution to the Mordorian problem” by rival wizard Saruman, he obviously serves as an avatar for Russia’s 20th-century foes. But the juxtaposition of the willfully feudal and backward “West,” happy with “picking lice in its log ‘castles’” while Mordor cultivates learning and embraces change, also recalls the clash between Europe in the early Middle Ages and the more sophisticated and learned Muslim empires to the east and south. Sauron passes a “universal literacy law,” while the shield maiden Eowyn has been raised illiterate, “like most of Rohan’s elite” — good guys Tolkien based on his beloved Anglo-Saxons.
Ok, this blew me away. A science fiction short movie from Russia, that seems to be partly inspired by Half-Life 2 (as well as I, Robot). I’ve watched it with my mouth hanging open pretty much all the time. Absolutely stunning visuals; great imagery of a snowy Moscow; and well-crafted sound effects as well. Watch this!
A dispute over the existence of God between four Russians, drunk on a litre of pure alcohol, resulted in two of them being killed, news agencies reported.
The disagreement began over the weekend when the female house owner, her son, a male roommate and undisclosed male relative drank the litre of pure alcohol, “which they downed with snow,” a police investigator told RIA Novosti.
“Soon after the drinking session, the suspect [the son] and the two other men got into a fight about the existence of God,” the police official in the western Siberia region of Tomsk reported.
The son ended up attacking both men with a knife, killing them both, the report said.
The suspect, who has a prior conviction record, faces life in prison if found guilty.
It’s on: despite a cyberattack on their website just hours ago, WikiLeaks has published more than 250,000 classified diplomatic cables from American embassies around the globe. In major newspapers, there’s now talk about a worldwide diplomatic crisis.
What’s in it is, well, huge and encompassing, with lots and lots of information on countless international matters.
The United States was catapulted into a worldwide diplomatic crisis today, with the leaking to the Guardian and other international media of more than 250,000 classified cables from its embassies, many sent as recently as February this year.
At the start of a series of daily extracts from the US embassy cables – many of which are designated “secret” – the Guardian can disclose that Arab leaders are privately urging an air strike on Iran and that US officials have been instructed to spy on the UN’s leadership.
These two revelations alone would be likely to reverberate around the world. But the secret dispatches which were obtained by WikiLeaks, the whistlebowers’ website, also reveal Washington’s evaluation of many other highly sensitive international issues.
These include a major shift in relations between China and North Korea, Pakistan’s growing instability and details of clandestine US efforts to combat al-Qaida in Yemen.
Among scores of other disclosures that are likely to cause uproar, the cables detail:
• Grave fears in Washington and London over the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme
• Alleged links between the Russian government and organised crime.
• Devastating criticism of the UK’s military operations in Afghanistan.
• Claims of inappropriate behaviour by a member of the British royal family.
The US has particularly intimate dealings with Britain, and some of the dispatches from the London embassy in Grosvenor Square will make uncomfortable reading in Whitehall and Westminster. They range from serious political criticisms of David Cameron to requests for specific intelligence about individual MPs.
The cache of cables contains specific allegations of corruption and against foreign leaders, as well as harsh criticism by US embassy staff of their host governments, from tiny islands in the Caribbean to China and Russia.
The material includes a reference to Vladimir Putin as an “alpha-dog”, Hamid Karzai as being “driven by paranoia” and Angela Merkel allegedly “avoids risk and is rarely creative”. There is also a comparison between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Adolf Hitler.
The cables name countries involved in financing terror groups, and describe a near “environmental disaster” last year over a rogue shipment of enriched uranium. They disclose technical details of secret US-Russian nuclear missile negotiations in Geneva, and include a profile of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who they say is accompanied everywhere by a “voluptuous blonde” Ukrainian nurse.
The electronic archive of embassy dispatches from around the world was allegedly downloaded by a US soldier earlier this year and passed to WikiLeaks. Assange made them available to the Guardian and four other newspapers: the New York Times, Der Spiegel in Germany, Le Monde in France and El País in Spain. All five plan to publish extracts from the most significant cables, but have decided neither to “dump” the entire dataset into the public domain, nor to publish names that would endanger innocent individuals. WikiLeaks says that, contrary to the state department’s fears, it also initially intends to post only limited cable extracts, and to redact identities.
The cables published today reveal how the US uses its embassies as part of a global espionage network, with diplomats tasked to obtain not just information from the people they meet, but personal details, such as frequent flyer numbers, credit card details and even DNA material.
Classified “human intelligence directives” issued in the name of Hillary Clinton or her predecessor, Condoleeza Rice, instruct officials to gather information on military installations, weapons markings, vehicle details of political leaders as well as iris scans, fingerprints and DNA.
The most controversial target was the leadership of the United Nations. That directive requested the specification of telecoms and IT systems used by top UN officials and their staff and details of “private VIP networks used for official communication, to include upgrades, security measures, passwords, personal encryption keys”.
They are classified at various levels up to “SECRET NOFORN” [no foreigners]. More than 11,000 are marked secret, while around 9,000 of the cables are marked noforn. The embassies which sent most cables were Ankara, Baghdad, Amman, Kuwait and Tokyo.
People in the cities of Cherepovetz, Norilsk and Kadykchan live in these apartments, go to work (in the factories), take a bus, go to the grocery… All in very harsh conditions.
We’d like to call them “ghost towns”, but they are clearly not abandoned. Amazingly, people still live in them, go to work in the harshest possible conditions (paradoxically making it the richest and mightiest industrial area in Russia) and then come “home” to relax in inhuman weather, non-existing infrastructure, in dangerously dilapidated buildings…
Truly, this is an “abandoned, terrifying, ruined environment”, multiplied to the N-th degree! Judge for yourself.
Check this out, there are way, way more photos here. Otherwordly, like Tarkovsky’s Stalker…
- Edit: One caveat though, according to commenters on the blog these pictures are from particularly bad areas of the cities, so not entirely representative. Still…
A Russian amateur cgi artist, Alex Semenov, has created his own interpretation of Transformers. Looks amazing! It ends with a making of.
My new video experiment, based on Michael Bay’s Transformers, for you and myself))
This short film was shot in 2 hours. Edited in month=) For shooting I used my new camera Canon 550D (+ kit lens 18-55mm + 50mm 1.8) and a little bit my friend’s camera Nikon D5000 (+ kit lens 18-55mm). Thanks for Watching.
The Russian art group Voina (“war”), which previously gained publicity by painting a giant penis on a bridge in St. Petersburg, has now managed to achieve the following: stealing a chicken from a supermarket, by putting it in a vagina. Yes. Witness this remarkable feat yourself in this (NSFW) video.
Check out these pictures of the Russian blogger and photo journalist Ilya Varlamov, who, in a rare exception, was allowed to go into a 3 Megawatt nuclear power plant near Smolensk, Russia, and take pictures. Pretty awesome.