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  • Language Log reports on the transliterations of "Trump" into Chinese and Chinese social networks.

  • Marginal Revolution shares Jill Lepore's argument that modern dystopian fiction deals with submission to the worst, not resistance.

  • At the NYRB Daily, Tim Flannery notes how Trump's withdrawal from Paris is bad for the environment and for the American economy.

  • Peter Rukavina's photo of stormclouds over Charlottetown is eye-catching. (I have not heard of "dark off" myself.)
  • Savage Minds announces a MOOC ANTH 101 course starting tomorrow.

  • Window on Eurasia argues that Putin can afford to be aggressive because he is not constrained by Communist ideology.

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  • blogTO looks at deserted Mirvish Village.

  • Crooked Timber reenages with the Rachel Carson and DDT myth.

  • The Crux looks at the Mandela Effect, exploring false memories.

  • Dangerous Minds makes the case for the musical genius of Bobbie Gentry.

  • From the Heart of Europe's Nicholas Whyte recounts his visit to Albania's bunker museum.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes Brazil's retirement of its only aircraft carrier.

  • The LRB Blog looks at the extent and speed of events in the Trump Administration.

  • Marginal Revolution engages with a book examining France's carving out a "cultural exception" in international trade agreements.

  • Personal Reflections' Jim Belshaw reports on the passing of rulership of the Australian micronation of Hutt River.

  • Peter Rukavina shares good advice for visiting museums: visit only what you can take in.

  • Window on Eurasia looks at Russian Orthodox Church opposition to a certain kind of Russian civic nationality, and argues Russia is losing even its regional superpower status.

  • Yorkshire Ranter Alex Harrowell reports on how local councils in the United Kingdom are speculating on commercial property.

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  • The Broadside Blog's Caitlin Kelly writes about the need for opponents of Trump to fight, not just the man but the root causes.

  • Centauri Dreams notes a study suggesting Proxima Centauri is gravitationally bound to Alpha Centauri A and B.

  • Dangerous Minds shares photos depicting the devastation of Gatlinburg by fire.

  • The Dragon's Gaze notes that stars with close-orbiting rocky worlds seem to have above-solar metallicity, and considers the albedos of exoplanets.

  • Far Outliers looks at how Poland's Communist government tried to undermine Pope John Paul II in 1979.

  • Joe. My. God. notes a lawsuit lodged against the American government demanding the release of information regarding the Russian information hack.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes poor working conditions in Bangladesh.

  • Marginal Revolution notes a Yoruba tongue twister.

  • The Planetary Society Blog links to China's planned program of space exploration.

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  • The Big Picture shares photos from ruined Aleppo.

  • Centauri Dreams looks at the new explanation for the ASASSN-15h, of a Sun-mass star torn apart by a fast-rotating black hole.

  • The Crux looks at the condition of hyperemesis gravidarum.

  • Dangerous Minds shares the dark and Satanic art of an Argentine artist.

  • Joe. My. God. reports on one man's displeasure that Malta has banned ex-gay "therapy".

  • Language Log looks at where British law confronts linguistics.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money imagines an alternate history where Jill Stein leaves the presidential race and gives Hillary Clinton a needed victory.

  • Peter Rukavina recalls the simple yet effective early version of Hansard for the Island legislative assembly.

  • Mark Simpson notes the objectification of men on the new Baywatch.

  • Window on Eurasia fears the violence of an open Russian imperialism and looks at the confusion over how to recognize the 1917 revolution.

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  • blogTO recommends five neighbourhoods for people looking for apartments.

  • False Steps' Paul Drye describes a failed European-Russian project for a manned capsule.

  • Language Log looks at the oddity of English pronunciations of words in foreign languages, like placenames, with no connection to how these words are pronounced in English.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money is critical of the coverage given to Trump and Clinton, finding it biased against the latter.

  • Marginal Revolution suggests that seasteading has a future.

  • The NYRB Daily suggests Israeli colonization will mean the end of the traditional lifestyle of Palestinian Bedouin.

  • Personal Reflections' Jim Belshaw reports on the spread of the red fire ant in Australia.

  • Peter Rukavina describes the unusual round boundaries of the Island village of Crapaud.

  • Savage Minds shares a lovely timeline of the history of anthropology.

  • Torontoist looks at the origins of human rights law in Ontario.

  • Window on Eurasia argues Russia's position as the Soviet successor state hampers its ability to engage with Communism, and reports on Belarus' concern at the dominance of local television by Russian imports.

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Late in December of 2015, I wrote an answer in Quora to a question wondering if Cuba proves that Communism worked. Could it stand as an example for the Third World? It could not, I argued, mainly because Cuba before Castro was an advanced society with high levels of human and economic development, and because Cuba after Castro simply coasted.

PBS' synopsis notes the fatal flaw in Cuba's prosperity, which was distributed very unevenly and helped to create a pre-revolutionary situation.

Cuba's capital, Havana, was a glittering and dynamic city. In the early part of the century the country's economy, fueled by the sale of sugar to the United States, had grown dynamically. Cuba ranked fifth in the hemisphere in per capita income, third in life expectancy, second in per capita ownership of automobiles and telephones, first in the number of television sets per inhabitant. The literacy rate, 76%, was the fourth highest in Latin America. Cuba ranked 11th in the world in the number of doctors per capita. Many private clinics and hospitals provided services for the poor. Cuba's income distribution compared favorably with that of other Latin American societies. A thriving middle class held the promise of prosperity and social mobility.

There were, however, profound inequalities in Cuban society -- between city and countryside and between whites and blacks. In the countryside, some Cubans lived in abysmal poverty. Sugar production was seasonal, and the macheteros -- sugarcane cutters who only worked four months out of the year -- were an army of unemployed, perpetually in debt and living on the margins of survival. Many poor peasants were seriously malnourished and hungry. Neither health care nor education reached those rural Cubans at the bottom of society. Illiteracy was widespread, and those lucky enough to attend school seldom made it past the first or second grades. Clusters of graveyards dotted the main highway along the foothills of the Sierra Maestra, marking the spots where people died waiting for transportation to the nearest hospitals and clinics in Santiago de Cuba.


This 1966 New York Review of Books exchange of letters on the Cuban revolution makes Cuba's relative advancement clear: "[I]n 1953, not a particularly good year for the Cuban economy, Cuba’s per-capita income of $325 was higher than that of Italy ($307), Austria ($290), Spain ($242), Portugal ($220), Turkey ($221), Mexico ($200), Yugoslavia ($200), and Japan ($197)".

Ward and Devereux's 2010 study "The Road not taken: Pre-Revolutionary Cuban Living Standards in Comparative Perspective" (PDF format) makes more detailed claims: "On the eve of the revolution, incomes were 50 to 60 percent of European levels. They were among the highest in Latin America at about 30 percent of the United States. In relative terms, Cuba was richer earlier on. Income per capita during the 1920s was in striking distance of Western Europe and the Southern United States. After the revolution, Cuba slipped down the world income distribution. Current levels of income per capita appear below their pre-revolutionary peaks." Notwithstanding criticism of these figures--Ward and Devereux do seem to account for price levels, contrary to Louis Proyect's claims--they seem valid. Cuba on the eve of the revolution was a high-income Latin American society, fully bearing comparison with the Southern Cone and Venezuela, even much of Europe.

What does this mean about the success of Cuba under socialism? Probably the most noteworthy element of Cuba's post-revolutionary history is that of economic stagnation and relative decline. Cuba has fallen behind spectacularly, not just behind its western European peers but behind Latin America as well. Latin America's high-income countries have had a chequered growth history, but even these, Cuba's peers, have done better: Wages and living standards in Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile are substantially higher. Even in the context of the Caribbean, Cuba's geographic peers, Cuba's performance has been patchy, with the Dominican Republic making lasting gains.



What happened? One counterfactual analysis suggests that Cuba's economy began underperforming badly in 1959, the moment of the revolution. Ward and Devereux suggest, ironically enough, that it is only by the late 1950s that the Cuban economy had completed its long, slow recovery from the devastating impact of US sugar tariffs imposed in the early 1930s. (Cuba, they suggest, may have seen little net economic growth since the 1920s!) Of all the economies in the world to be transformed into autarkic socialist states, Cuba's highly-export dependent economy may have been among the least suited.

There may well have been gains to general Cuban living standards from the redistribution of wealth and resources. These gains were limited: The positive effects of the revolution, including increased investment in human development, may have been swamped by the negative effects including the collapse of Cuba's previous trade networks and the costs of converting an economy to Communism. Cuba may simply have coasted on its pre-revolutionary achievements, expanding access to pre-existing institutions.

In the end, Cuba has been left as vulnerable as any other post-Communist countries by the failure of its political model, perhaps even more exposed and vulnerable than before the introduction of Communism. Castro and his communism did not improve Cuba's position relative to the outside world. In this, Cuba bears comparison not so much with the countries of the Third World as it does with the countries of central Europe, similarly semiperipheral countries with similar problems of inequality which did not see much benefit in the long run from Communism.
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  • Beyond the Beyond notes an upcoming exhibition of photos of Vaclav Havel.

  • blogTO notes a local controversy over the demolition of a community-built skate park.

  • Centauri Dreams considers how advanced starfaring civilizations might deal with existential threats.

  • Crooked Timber looks at how presidential debates could be used to teach logic.

  • Language Hat examines the origins of the evocative Slavic phrase "they perished like Avars."

  • Language Log notes how "Molotov cocktail" was confused by a Trump manager with "Mazel tov cocktail".

  • The LRB Blog notes Brexit-related insecurity over the rule of law in the United Kingdom.

  • The Map Room Blog notes an exhibition in Maine of Acadian-related maps.

  • Marginal Revolution looks at how the Hong Kong press has been influenced by advertisers.

  • The NYRB Daily looks an exhibition of abstract expressionism.

  • The Planetary Society Blog looks at what we can learn from Rosetta.

  • Savage Minds considers the place of archeology in anthropology.

  • Window on Eurasia looks at Belarus' commemoration of the Bolshevik Revolution and considers the dispute in Kazakhstan as to whether the country should be known as Qazaqstan.

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Transitions Online recently linked to Jamie Rann's essay at the Calvert Journal about the questionable politics surrounding ruin porn in post-Communist Europe. There are notable differences.

In an international context, however, the objectifying gaze of the ruin photographer can be revealing. Although the rhetorics of Cold Wars past and present would emphasise their difference, the gaze of the photographer helps to demonstrate the inherent kinship between the ruins of the US and those of the former USSR. In both countries, at around the same time, giant factory cities emerged, with the same purpose and with similar architectures and philosophies (Taylorism, Fordism, technological positivism); in both countries, industrial progress went hand-in-hand with extravagant defence spending, scattering expendable outposts of a vast military-industrial complex around a continent. In the ruin, subtleties of dogma are forgotten: when we look at the snapped pillars of a Greek temple, we don’t care whether it was dedicated to Apollo or Dionysus.

In the Russian context, this sense of serendipity is redoubled because the established western stereotype of communist Russia for so long excluded this personal aspect. In fact, ruin photography can be seen as a factor in a general shift in the perception of Russia and the Soviet Union: the superpower has not lost its reputation for strictness and inhuman grandeur, but now this — for better and for worse — is combined with a sense that the Soviet world is, from an aesthetic point of view, ready to be mined for content by the contemporary culture industry.

Soviet communism always had, in contemporary branding speak, “a great corporate aesthetic”: strong use of colour, an accessible visual grammar and eye-catching, easily reproducible logos. This branding recurs again and again in books like Soviet Ghosts (it is, to be fair, hard to avoid). This can be seen as part of a broader reassessment of the iconography of communism, one begun long ago. Once the symbols of the Soviet Union have been shifted into the world of ruins they becomes reusable as purely aesthetic objects. This is not unprecedented: the Renaissance world could “discover” and exploit the art and design of pagan antiquity precisely because its connection with ruination neutered the potential danger posed by its non-Christian origins. Once Venus de Milo has stumps for arms, she can be a symbol of secular beauty rather than, as she once was, a revered devotional figure. Likewise, a faded red star on a rusting missile is no longer a threat, but a mood board waiting to happen.

As many have observed, the nostalgic aspect of ruin photography is connected to a certain post-modern alienation: the ruins of the 20th century seem to conjure a lost, longed-for time of ideological self-confidence and practical purpose. The physicality evoked by these photos contrasts with the way they are consumed in the virtual world of the internet. Moreover, one of the reasons, I suggest, that ghost-city, ruin-porn photography is so popular is that its engagement with the physical offers the promise of serendipity. Photographers often juxtapose images of hulking buildings with quiet human moments — a girl’s doll, a faded poster, a family photo. The implicit message of the genre is “look what you can discover if you go through the locked door”. This makes it perfect for an information marketplace dominated by the peepshow principles of clickbait headlines: ruins offer a valuable online commodity — the possibility of a chance encounter with a sense of our own humanity.
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  • The Big Picture shares photos from Rio in advance of the Olympics.

  • James Bow remembers Mel Hurtig, the recently dead Canadian nationalist.

  • Centauri Dreams considers space-based collection of antimatter.

  • Crooked Timber examines the tyranny of the ideal.

  • Dangerous Minds looks at a charming early 1980s board game, Gay Monopoly.

  • The Dragon's Gaze predicts future transits of Beta Pictoris b.

  • The Dragon's Tales examines dwarf planet candidate 2015 RR245.

  • Far Outliers shares some odd placenames found in the western United States.

  • Language Hat reports on a new English/Yiddish dictionary.

  • Language Log looks at how speakers of Slavic and Turkic communicate with each other across Eurasia.

  • The Map Room Blog reports on an interesting-sounding exhibition on maps here in Toronto.

  • Marginal Revolution considers a link between slow population growth and slow economic growth, and suggests land use policy in Tokyo is ideal for a large city.

  • Steve Munro shares exchanges on GO Transit services in the Weston corridor.

  • North's Justin Petrone shares his progress towards
  • The NYRB Daily looks at how Russia and China in particular make extensive use of doping at the Olympics, and international sports generally.

  • Savage Minds considers how writing can help anthropologists who have witnessed violence heal.

  • The Volokh Conspiracy engages with the bloody legacy of Mao.

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  • Business Insider looks at the sad state of a project to build a Chinese bullet train in Venezuela.

  • Bloomberg notes the profound unconstitutionality of Donald Trump's suggestion that the US national debt might be renounced, looks at the needs of the Brazilian economy, and suggests Poland's economic nationalism is viable.

  • CBC reports that Sinéad O'Connor is safe in Chicago.

  • National Geographic shares hidden pictures of the Cultural Revolution.

  • The National Post notes the discovery of what might be the ruins of an old fort at Lunenburg.

  • Open Democracy suggests that Brexit, by separating the City of London from the European Union, could trigger the end of globalization, also taking a look at the popularity of populism.

  • Reuters notes the softening of the terms of a Chinese-Venezuelan loan arrangement.

  • The Washington Post notes the migration of some Ethiopian-Americans to a booming Ethiopia.

  • Wired looks at how natural gas will be used to move beyond the Haber-Bosch process which has created fertilizer for a century.

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  • Crooked Timber takes issue with the idea of navies to keep sea lanes open.

  • The Dragon's Tales links to a paper speculating how Planet Nine formed.

  • Geocurrents shares slides examining the Brazilian crisis.

  • Joe. My. God. reports on the Colombian constitutional court's approval of same-sex marriage.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money wonders what will happen to the North Korean army's soldiers in the case of state failure.

  • maximos62 notes the historical influences of Chinese and Indonesians in Australia, particularly in the north of the country.

  • pollotenchegg maps the shifting distribution of the Ukrainian population from 1939.

  • The Power and the Money's Noel Maurer talks about, among other things, the New York City accent.

  • Understanding Society looks at the ideologies and institutions which will help improve life in rural India.

  • Window on Eurasia notes Russia's problems with dealing with its past and observes that the West did not want the Soviet Union to disintegrate.

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  • Anthropology.net notes the discovery of Australopithecus remains east of the Great Rift Valley.

  • blogTO suggests that Toronto restaurants east of the Don face trouble in attracting customers.

  • Patrick Cain maps gentrification over the past decade in Toronto and Vancouver.

  • Geocurrents polls its readers as to what themes they would like the blog to examine.

  • Joe. My. God. shares the new Pet Shop Boys tracks "Burn" and "Undertow".

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes the problems of the right in the United States with being consistent in its rhetoric about abortion being murder.

  • Marginal Revolution links to an interesting article suggesting that Soviet movies had fewer Americans villains than one might expect, partly because Nazis filled that niche but also because Americans were not seen as inherently threatening.

  • Personal Reflections looks at the particular fiscal imbalances of Australian federalism.

  • The Power and the Money's Noel Maurer starts to examine the likely consequences of a Venezuelan defaullt.

  • The Volokh Conspiracy notes the ongoing litigation over the Star Trek fan production Axanar.

  • Towleroad notes the first attempts to set up arranged same-sex marriages for people of Indian background.

  • Transit Toronto notes a repair to a secondary entrance of Ossington station and the continued spread of Presto readers throughout the grid.

  • Window on Eurasia suggests Russia is the chief beneficiary of an Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict.

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Bloomberg carries Patrick Symmes' article from Bloomberg BusinessWeek noting the disinterest of official Cuba in moving to overcome the economic legacies of the US trade embargo. Could it be that this opposition was all rhetorical?

The U.S. president’s mission to Cuba, which has spun itself into a hurricane of diplomatic and cultural expectations, is due ashore on March 21. Barack and Michelle Obama will tour Old Havana’s cobblestone alleys, meet with revolutionaries and anti-revolutionaries, and possibly go as far as shaking the hand of an ancient, trembling, and all-powerful king.

That would be Mick Jagger, who is scheduled to perform at an outdoor concert with the band known as Los Rolling in the official Cuban media. Half a million fans are expected. The first American presidential visit to Cuba in 80 years will also include nine innings of baseball diplomacy, as the Tampa Bay Rays play the Cuban national team in the first exhibition game in 16 years.

For the U.S., the trade and economic benefits of Obama’s attempt to normalize relations with the island are obvious: Cuba was once a major importer of American farm and industrial products, linked to the economies of New Orleans and Tampa by ferry, and flooded with state-of-the-art Buick Straight Eights, circa 1952. Obama has carved out exceptions to the 55-year embargo—including, on March 15, allowing U.S. citizens to visit Cuba individually, instead of in groups, and giving Cuba access to the international banking system. But only Congress can lift the whole thing.

Raúl Castro, 84, now the island’s president and more pragmatic than his retired brother Fidél, 89, recognizes that Cuba must create millions of jobs for its restive young people and can’t afford to pay for that itself. He’ll probably ask Obama for billions of dollars in investment and an end to the embargo.

Despite the hoopla, little has happened to expand commerce since Dec. 17, 2014, when Obama announced that the U.S. was reestablishing ties with Cuba. The road ahead will test how intransigent Cuba’s monopoly state enterprises are in the face of change. (The Ministry of Labor still keeps an official list of who’s allowed to work as a birthday clown.) Inertia and socialist doctrine continue to support a closed economy. The entire point of the Cuban Revolution was to keep America out. Pivoting the island from central planning and state monopolies to an open economy engaged with the U.S. won’t be easy.
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Bloomberg View's Leonid Bershidsky looks at a Russian-Cuban entrepreneur making his fortune in Florida. May Cuba be as lucky as Zakharov.

At a rally on Wednesday in Hialeah, Florida, which has the biggest share of Cubans of any U.S. city, Senator Marco Rubio told his audience that they embodied the American dream. "As I walk the streets here, it's small business after small business," he said with a fellow Cuban's pride.

One of these 44,000 businesses in Hialeah -- 80 percent of them Hispanic-owned -- belongs to Fabian Zakharov. It also provides evidence that Rubio's view of his community and its relationship with Cuba is increasingly out of touch.

Zakharov Auto Parts sells the rarest of commodities in the U.S.: components for Soviet-built Lada cars. In the Miami area, where Ferraris outnumber Ladas, nobody except perhaps Zakharov himself, who owns several of the Russian clunkers, needs the parts. But the store, its owner says, does $1 million worth of business per year, and Zakharov keeps expanding his retail space.

His customers are mostly locals, but the parts ultimately go to Cuba, where, he says, up to 50,000 Russian cars still roam the potholed roads. Besides, much of Cuba's signature fleet of U.S. vehicles from the 1950s is equipped with Lada engines and other parts: That's how the stately sedans survived the Communist era. Zakharov has no competition: Since he founded the business in 2011, he has obtained deep discounts from suppliers in Russia and brought delivery times down to three days or less, a steep entry barrier to anyone who doesn't speak Russian and doesn't know the ropes.

Zakharov was born in Moscow to a Russian mother and a Cuban father, not an infrequent intermarriage thanks to active student and professional exchanges between the Soviet Union and Cuba. The family moved to the island, where Zakharov grew up and trained as an electrical engineer. But he dreamed of making a fortune, an impossibility under Fidel Castro, so he went back to President Vladimir Putin's Russia in the early 2000s, when that country still looked like a land of opportunity. It didn't work out as he planned.
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  • blogTO identify five neighbourhoods in downtownish Toronto with cheap rent.

  • The Dragon's Gaze notes one paper suggesting Earth-like worlds may need both ocean and rocky surfaces to be habitable.

  • The Dragon's Tales reports that Pluto's Sputnik Planum is apparently less than ten million years old.

  • Geocurrents begins an interesting regional schema of California.

  • Language Log notes a Hong Kong ad that blends Chinese and Japanese remarkably.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes that societies with low inequality report higher levels of happiness than others.

  • The Map Room points to the lovely Pocket Atlas of Remote Islands.

  • Marginal Revolution wonders why Amazon book reviews are so dominated by American reviewers.

  • Savage Minds considers, after Björk, the ecopoetics of physical geology data.

  • Window on Eurasia commemorates the 25th anniversary of the Vilnius massacre.

  • The Financial Times' The World blog looks at Leo, the dog of the Cypriot president.

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Open Democracy carries Svetlana Bolotnikova's article noting controversies surrounding Don Cossack identity and historical memory in a confused Russian situation.

Last month, the Fifth World Congress of Cossacks took place in Novocherkassk, in the heartland of the Don Cossacks in southern Russia. 120 delegates from the Cossack diaspora attended, to discuss the possibility of closer economic links with overseas Cossack communities and offering their members a faster Russian citizenship process.

One prominent figure, however, was missing. The congress took place against the background of official harassment of Vladimir Melikhov, one of the most internationally respected Cossack leaders and the founder of two anti-Bolshevik resistance museums. This summer, the FSB searched Melikhov’s museums and property, seizing cartridges, a number of deactivated rifles and First World War bayonets, as well as several signal rockets.

With one in Podolsk, a town outside of Moscow, and the other in the village of Yelanskaya, in the Cossack heartland, these museums keep the spirit of the pre-revolutionary Cossack nation alive (‘For our faith, our Tsar and our Fatherland’ as the Cossack motto goes).

The official reason given for the Melikhov search was to look for evidence relating to criminal charges against Yury Churekov, the chief, or ataman, of an unregistered group called the Caucasus Line Cossack Host. Churekhov was arrested in June for attempting to smuggle arms into Russia via eastern Ukraine.

In 2014, Churekov, together with Sergei Popov, leader and ideologue of the Russian Caucasus Unity movement, fulfilled Melikhov’s long-held ambition of creating a dedicated Cossack political party, which they christened Brotherhood.
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  • blogTO notes that a TTC driver has been caught on video ... doing pushups.

  • Centauri Dreams looks at the discovery of distant dwarf planet V774104.

  • The Dragon's Gaze reports that white dwarf SDSS1228+1040 is surrounded by a ring of shattered planets.

  • The Dragon's Tales notes widespread German espionage on allies, undermining somewhat German official protests.

  • Far Outliers notes how the desire of Afghan Communists in the late 1970s for radical reform undermined their cause fatally.

  • Geocurrents looks at the various heterodox Christian movements around the world, like Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses.

  • Language Hat notes how people repairing a church in Russia found centuries' worth of bird nests, often made of written documents.

  • Language Log looks at a photo caption translated from Tibetan to English via Singlish.

  • Marginal Revolution writes about the Chinese economic slowdown.

  • The Planetary Science Blog reports from Ceres.

  • The Russian Demographics Blog shares a map of China, comparing life expectancy in different jurisdictions to different countries.

  • Torontoist reports on a pediatric clinic that opened up in a Toronto public school.

  • Towleroad notes the governor of Utah has argued a judge who removed a child from gay foster parents should follow the law.

  • Window on Eurasia notes the relative disinterest of ethnic Russians in the Baltic States in Russia, and looks at the Ukrainian recognition of the Crimean Tatar genocide.

  • The Financial Times' The World links to a paper noting, in Africa, the close relationship between city lights and economic growth.

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At The Balkanist, one Susanna Bitters has a marvelous photo essay examining the unusual but striking monuments to the Second World War built in Yugoslavia.



In the Internet age, Partisan monuments, or spomenik, have become as scattered across websites as they have across the Balkans. The presentation of these “space age” marvels depict only their futuresque and crumbling qualities. The bloody memento mori of their origins have become omitted, if they were even known in the first place. The spomenik have effectively receded from the landscape as markers of the Partisan socialist struggle, only to emerge again as beacons of a Brutalist, over­reaching, and unrealized future.

At the end of WWII, thousands of spomenik were erected. A majority of them were situated on battle sites, creating a consciously­ constructed constellation of Partisan struggles across the landscape. They remain scattered across the region, some as simple as a plaque with the names of those killed. You can find them still, tucked onto hilltops and occasionally marked from the road by brown government signs. The early sculptures were representative and, quite frankly, exceedingly dull, telling a careful story in stone and iron. They showed the pores of a post­war world. The subject matter was severe, the construct depressing.

Metal men seemed to sag and fray under the sheer weight of time and death and loss. But when Tito turned from Stalin and cast his gaze on the west, so did the Yugoslavian spomenik. Within the length of the Informbiro Period began the rise of what was later termed “socialist modernism,” in which the horrors of war became an abstraction. The long, laconic, and notionally weary faces looming above the elevated platform at Tjentište, discernible only to the practiced eye. The rapidly shifting sun when ensconced at Kozara, vacillating wildly from dark to light as if to depict the mercurial nature of humanity. The spomenik began to depict not war and conflict, but the struggle for self-­determination and the optimistic energy therein.


Remarkable, essays and photos (the author's own) both.
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  • Alpha Sources notes that Eurozone economic sentiment is holding up.

  • Centauri Dreams looks at SETI in the light of KIC 8462852.

  • D-Brief notes predictions that Cassini could determine if Enceladus' ocean is active enough to support life.

  • The Dragon's Gaze links to a video presentation examining how habitable planets around Alpha Centauri could be imaged.

  • The Dragon's Tales has the latest on the Russian war in Syria.

  • Geocurrents is impressed by this map of world religion, so finely and accurately detailed.

  • Language Log notes the oddities of the promotion of China's next five-year plan.

  • The Map Room is impressed by Martin Vargic's new book of maps.

  • Personal Reflections' Jim Belshaw is touring Denmark and noticing the differences and similarities between that Nordic country and his native Australia.

  • The Planetary Society Blog notes workshopping for the location of the first manned Mars landing.

  • The Power and the Money notes that Cristina Kirchner might be setting up her successors to fail, so as to ensure her eventual re-election.

  • Towleroad notes that Italy forced the removal of registries of same-sex marriages contracted outside of the country.

  • Window on Eurasia talks to a Kaliningrad regionalist, notes Dagestanis are not being drafted in the proportions one would expect, and reports that the HIV/AIDS epidemic is out of control.

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At Meduza, Alexey Kovalev describes the extent to which "fringe anti-Western conspiracy theories" have been embraced by Russia's government. This is alarming, not least because policy based on these beliefs is quite unlikely to actually work.

[Canadian lawyer Christopher] Black's interest in the air traffic controller is not insignificant: testimony by "Carlos the Spanish air traffic operator" is one of the earliest versions of the MH17 catastrophe touted by RT and other Kremlin-aligned media, which were immediately exposed as fake. There's no evidence that WikiSpooks is Kremlin-funded or in any way aligned, but its motivation is explicitly expressed in their mission statement: any fact promoted by the “official narrative” via the “commercially-controlled media” is inherently false and must be disputed. Hence, to WikiSpooks and other similar websites, the position that Russia or Russia-backed rebels shot down MH17 is false simply because it is endorsed by the American government and must be confronted, even if it leads to a jumble of contradictory versions of the same event, based on spurious evidence.

A link at the bottom of the WikiSpooks article indicates that it was reprinted from the website of the Strategic Culture Foundation (where, in turn, it was borrowed from the website of the Gorchakov Foundation, a Kremlin-funded NGO). The Strategic Culture Foundation is a supposedly independent think tank that “provides a platform for exclusive analysis, research, and policy commentary on Eurasian and global affairs.” Some headlines are generic for any news website ("Donald Trump: Unexpected Impact on US Presidential Race," "Afghanistan on Brink of New Wave of Escalating Tension"), but a closer inspection reveals a strong anti-American and anti-Western undercurrent.

While the English version of Strategic Culture Foundation's website looks relatively ordinary, its Russian version (there's also a Serbian one) is outright bizarre. The 'About' section states harmlessly enough: “Benefiting from the expanding power of the Internet, we work to spread reliable information, critical thought, and progressive ideas.” But right beside this text is an op-ed by Dmitry Sedov full of diatribes so astonishingly racist that you want to rub your eyes to make sure you've understood. “The trumpeters of democracy from [liberal radio station] Ekho Moskvy don't need those grants," Sedov says of supposed US government funding for aspiring journalists in the Baltic countries to counter "propaganda" out of Russia. "They are already covered in chocolate like the negroes in Harlem!” In another piece, titled “America's Dark Side,” published on August 6, Sedov (whose credentials are unclear, as no biography is provided and his writings can only be found on SCF's website, or reprinted on other loyalist outlets) explains that the US, led by a black president, is falling to the onslaught of "black racism": there are bars that are off-limits to "dogs and whites" and armed gangs of "black fascists" facilitate white flight from major American cities.

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