Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Repatriating Russian Art

My sister-in-law works in the art auction industry. She says that Russians dominate the auctions, and not just for things Russian:

After decades of Soviet communism and repression, wealthy Russian businessmen are taking advantage of their country's growing economy to make fine-art purchases. While Russian collectors are active on almost all art markets, items of their national heritage are the most popular.

``Prices for Russian art will increase,'' said Ivanov. ``In 1993, an Aivazovsky painting that sold for $40,000 today goes for $2 million to $3 million. We'll see Russian paintings sell for more than $10 million by the end of this year.'' He joins other collectors from Russia and the Ukraine who are also amassing big collections. Banking billionaire Petr Aven has one of the finest private collections of Russian modernist paintings and early Soviet-era porcelain; oil and mining billionaire Viktor Vekselberg bought the Forbes Faberge Collection in February 2004, and also owns Aurora Fine Art Investments, an art investment fund. Construction-industry executive Marina Mamontova has more than 250 artworks; food-processing magnate Alexander Tabalov owns more than 200 19th-century and early 20th-century paintings and mining billionaire Victor Pinchuk owns at least seven Damien Hirst works.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Russia Creates a $32 Billion Sovereign Wealth Fund - New York Times

Things have changed since the early 1990s, when Russia desperately sought, but found very little, international investment in its collapsed economy. Russia doesn't have the largest sovereign wealth fund (think countries like Singapore, the UAE and Saudi Arabia), but with a relatively small population (and one that's getting smaller, not larger, as is the case in these other SWF countries) and vast natural resources (not just oil, but gas, timber, and minerals), Russia is uniquely positioned to exert long-term financial influence on other countries. The gist of this article is that the Russian Federation has divided its Sovereign Wealth Fund into two distinct entities: One as a longterm hedge against a fall in oil prices (a fall that most people think will never happen). That fund is roughly equal to 10% of the countries GDP (the total worth of goods and services produced in a county). The other, $32 billion dollars, will be invested in foreign investments, public and private. That's a serious chunk of change, roughly the assets of the largest US hedge funds.

Russia Creates a $32 Billion Sovereign Wealth Fund - New York Times:


MOSCOW — Russia has split its oil proceeds into two funds and cleared the way for one to invest in foreign stocks and bonds, officials said Thursday. But actual investments are not expected to begin until fall at the earliest.

The move sets up an investment pool with $32 billion, rivaling big American hedge funds and offering another sign of the dizzying wealth these days of oil-producing countries like Russia."

Monday, February 11, 2008


I have to say this is one of my favorite games of all time! Now, if you haven't played Tetris you didn't have a real childhood and so you're obligated to read this post.

So let's start from the basics. Tetris was created by Alexei Leonidovich Pazhitnov (Алексей Леонидович Пажитнов) in 1985 on a system he was working on called the Elektronika 60. The name Tetris combines the Greek prefix tetra- (because each game piece has four blocks) with the word tennis. Pazhitnov's friend, Vadim Gerasimov, transferred it to an IBM computer system and Tetris became an instant hit in Moscow. Unfortunately, once it got out of The Soviet Union lawsuits ensued as companies bought and sold rights without Pazhitnov's permission. But we don't really care about that, because the important thing is that it made it to the United States in 1986 and now we all get to play it.
The concept and the gameplay is extremely simple except when you start getting to the higher levels. The pieces you play with are called tetrominoes or tetrads.

They fall down from the top of the screen and the player has to move them to create a horizontal line with no spaces on the bottom of the screen. Once you do that, they disappear and you get points. The higher your score, the higher the level, and the faster the pieces fall.

Now, my blog would be incomplete if I did not have a YouTube video posted, so here you go:

Watch out though, because if you play for too long you could get Tetris Syndrome or repetitive stress symptoms where you begin to see tetris pieces even when you're not playing the game. So don't be like this kid:

And of course, Tetris has become popular all over the world and has inspired people to create shows like this:
The actual name of this show in Japan is Brain Wall, but people call it Human Tetris

Takogo Kak Putin ( You Must Be Like Putin) US Title Version

Hey guys I think this is the song about Putin that Dr. Denner was talking about in class. This is the Russian Pop group Singing Together (Rus. Поющие вместе / Poyushchiye vmeste) and album cover features a picture of President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin (Rus. Президент Владимир Владимирович Путин) with each arm around a beautiful woman. This is the Music Video for the track Just Like Putin (Rus. Такого, как Путин / Takogo, kak Putin), the English version You Must Be Like Putin. The song is about a girl who has a rubbish boyfriend and decides that her ideal man must be like President Putin. It is not known what the true motivations behind the song were; whether it was a Kremlin scheme to boast Putin's popularity among the young, or simply a bit of fun.

Bear in Circus

Look out Elephants and horses here comes the bear :-D


I want a bear!!!

So Dr. Denner talked about how bears can be found just walking around the streets of Russian cities, but I didn't believe it until I saw it:


Bears are so adorable, they're basically just big dogs! So if the Russians can figure out how to tame and train them as pets, why can't we?? I would even venture into the tourist- ridden Time Square to check out cute bears being walked around.

And on the topic of bears, I found мишки гамми!!!(Gummi Bears-a la ruse!) ловкие, смелые, добрые, милые!!!

I think we should seriously watch the Gummi Bears in class. I believe that мишки гамми will impact us way more than Vova and Lena Silin. Аfter all,этих медведей полюбят все дети!


Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Craaaaaaaaaaaaaaazy Ivan!

Everyone's heard of the crazy Ivan. If you haven't, then you're lying. It's that maneuver in Tom Clancy novels where a submarine essentially spins around to see what's behind them. I always figured that this reckless technique was invented by some wacked-out Soviet dude, chugging vodka and doing stunts with his submarine. WRONG. MAN was I shocked to learn that not only was my scenario incorrect, but it's not even like the sudden spin-around in The Hunt for Red October or in Firefly.

The Crazy Ivan is a way for submarine to shifts their radar detection to see spots where they previously could not. A submarine basically cannot detect anything that is directly behind it, so that area is a blind spot. By performing a series of sudden movements, the submarine moves that blind spot around and can detect things previously hidden.

The "crazy" part of the name comes from the sudden movements that the sub performs, and Ivan was a common nickname for Russians, much like Charlie was for the Vietcong.

American subs would counter this tactic by going for absolute silence by shutting off their engines. The problem was that their sub would continue moving due to its momentum and could very likely crash into the other sub, which is exactly what happened in the case of the U.S.S. Tautog and the Russian sub "Black Lila."

Moscow Fun Facts

Moscow, being the capital of Russia and a popular home to many, has lots of interesting information about it. It has a population of about 11. 2 million people. It's major industries include machine building, metalworking, oil refining, publishing and brewing. Most males in the city describe their jobs as either engineer or business man. Moscow is however, very undiverse when it comes to different types of people and races. The breakdown goes down like this: Russians 79.8%, Tatars 3.84%, Ukrainians 2.04%, Bashkir 1.16%, Chuvash 1.13%, Chechens 0.9%, Armenians 0.79%, other 10.34%. As for money, Moscow has more billionaires living there than any other city in the world. The total comes to 33. The area code is 95 along with 7. Both these numbers must be used even for local calls. As for seasons, it gets them all. It is known for having very hot summers but very cold winters. January 7 is when they celebrate Christmas and January 1 is New Years. June 12th is Russian Day. Moscow is also the home of the Kremlin, The Red Square and the Bolshoi Theater.

Russians are crazy..

I stumbled upon some absolutely insane images of random things in Russia - the nature of the internet, I guess. I'm thinking that some of them may be fake or altered photos(the door that is halfway up a wall perhaps), but maybe I am underestimating Russians' ability to do strange stuff.

The pictures I found are located here, but the following are a few of my favorites.

Stairs leading to a window? What is this?

I thought Russians would have been good architects?

And of course, the liquor store is the whole family's "любимый магазин!"

Русский Рок

As a fan of rock music it's interesting to see how rock scenes have evolved in other countries over time, especially a country where free expression was rather limited for a long time. Rock in Russia evolved from an earlier underground tradition commonly referred to as 'bard music', folk-influenced music written by individuals outside the central establishment and performed only to small, cult audiences. With some limited influences from western rock music, the Russian rock scene grew popular during the perestroika era of the 80s; a unique form of music followed, a combination of popular acoustic folk music and 60s-70s rock from outside - the Beatles being a primary influence.

A couple of bands popular during the 80s heyday, which is often referred to as the Russian classic rock period -

(they look like a creep new-wave band!)

(the Russian Barenaked Ladies! At least, they kinda sound like it, and their lead singer looks like a surly Russian version of Steven Page..)

(now here we go. This is a little harder.)

Pretty cool, if a little strange musically. I'll have to look into Russian metal next time.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Traditional Aussie Dish

So, I was going to try to write a post on something intellectual and interesting, but after trying to sign up on loveplanet.ru for the past hour, my brain hurts.

Instead, I've decided to catch you all up on a little bit of Aussie culture, that luckily I can vaguely relate back to Russian culture.

Behold: The PAVLOVA! (Or "Pav", if you want to be really Aussie, and therefore lazily shorten the word as we do everything else.) A most delicious dessert, the origins of which Aussie's and Kiwi's still fight over. (Kiwi being the name for a person from New Zealand) I don't really care which country it's from, both of us hold it as a traditional dish.

The story goes that it was named after the Russian ballet dancer, Anna Pavlova (told you it was relevant), after her visit to the country (either New Zealand, or Aus, depending on what story you'd rather believe) in the 1920's. (Anna Pavlova, by the way, is one of the most famous ballerinas in history -along with Nijinsky -as she was the ballerina to travel the world and perform ballet for people who had never before seen it performed. She has been hailed as the reason ballet every became popular in America.)

Pavlova is basically just a giant meringue -you beat a bunch of egg whites, fold in a whole lot of sugar, maybe add some vanilla and a little vinegar, and sit it in the oven to bake. It makes this gorgeously crispy meringue-like shell on the outside, but leaves it moist and soft and almost spongy on the inside. Sooooo delicious.

So once you have this big sugary cake, you cover it in whipped cream (but NOT the crappy, squirt it out rubbishy stuff that you guys buy in a can)...no, you buy REAL cream and whip it yourself, and then you smother the whole thing in fresh fruit.

You can use any fruit you like, but I personally believe that no pavlova is complete without passionfruit, kiwifruit, and strawberries. Lots of them. The passionfruit is key. Banana is also nice. But whatever you like, stick it on, eat it, and melt into happy oblivion.

I eat pav every Christmas, and Mum always makes it if we have international visitors. I don't know whether Anna Pavlova herself enjoyed the dish, but it was created in honor of her, so I hope so. Really, it does reflect her passion, ballet -it's light, delicate, difficult and takes a lot of skill and practice (getting pavlova just right, stopping it from collapsing and not coming out as sticky goo is EXTREMELY difficult and takes a lot of skill...) and in some cases, is rather fruity.

I plan to make it next time the RSC does something food-based. :-)

Monsters Don't Eat Russians, Russians Eat Monsters

So here is a clip of a “monster” a couple Russian men caught off the coast of the Sea of Azov, a northern section of the Black Sea, after a large storm. I found a bunch of stories on this frightening thing. Apparently, it was “moaning like a human” after they pulled it out. The “alien” was captured on video by one of the Russian’s camera phone. To prove they were not afraid of the monster, the Russian men decided to eat it and one proclaimed this meal to be the best he had ever had. 

 Spoiler Alert! If you have not watched the creepy video yet, do so before reading on…

What the Russians were actually so bravely eating was in fact a harmless giant Guitarfish or Rhynchobatus djiddensis. This member of the Ray and Skate family most likely was carried to its new home by a strong storm from somewhere temperate like the western Indian Ocean or perhaps from the tropical waters of Australia. In fact, the Russian was not being proud when he claimed the Guitarfish was the best thing he had ever eaten. These creatures are strongly desired in many Asian markets because of their great taste and for this reason hold a place on the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) red list. So hopefully the Russian town that was stirred by this “monster” has now learned the truth, frankly, I hope the men are a little embarrassed. There is just something so wrong about owning a camera phone and believing in sea monsters.


Minute of Glory

In America we get 15 minutes of fame, in Russia, you only get one, and boy is it weird. Here's some guy covered in sequins, dancing like an idiot on a Russian TV show. (There are more people doing strange stuff in the related video links off to the side.)


AND, here's something actually useful; a handy guide to noun declension:

Friday, February 8, 2008

Russian Folk Medicine

Well. It seems I've caught the bug. Feeling sick too? Not to worry! Here are some Russian folk remedies that might do the trick.

Have cold and flu-like symptoms? You should get some горчичники. Горчичники are mustard plasters (also known as sinapisms) made of dry mustard powder, flour, water or egg whites. They're said to stimulate the immune system, relieve pain, and also have an anti-inflammatory effect. They're often used to treat the common cold, runny nose, rheumatism, and respiratory problems. Usually this mixture is spread onto a cloth and applied onto the back or the chest. Make sure the mustard paste doesn't make contact with the skin. This leads to burning, blisters, ulcers, and even dead tissue. Other side effects include sneezing, coughing, asthma attacks, eye irritation, stomach problems and kidney irritation. Горчичники shouldn't be used on on children under the age of 6.

Don't think горчичники will do the trick? Maybe you should try fire cupping. First, you'll need to acquire банки (little glass jars that are usually applied to the back). Light a match inside the jar to create a vacuum and place it flush against the skin. As the air cools in the cup, the vacuum pulls up on the skin, stimulating the acupressure effect. Fire cupping is originally a Chinese tradition and has also been found, in varying forms not only in Russia but in Vietnam, the Balkans, modern Greece, Mexico, and even Iran. According to the American Cancer Society, this technique is ineffective. It leaves temporary spots on the skin (like in the picture) and poses a small risk of burns. Reports from its supporters say that fire cupping gives a lasting feeling of relaxation and invigoration.

Think you have a cold? Stay as warm and dry as possible. Try only drinking hot drinks like teas and be sure to avoid cold beverages! Although this is concept is not unique to Russia, Russians tend to be more adamant about it than most Westerners. It's also widely believed that sitting on cold surfaces is extremely hazardous to a woman's health and inhibits her ability to bear children (by somehow exposing her ovaries to the cold).

Although Westerners might be wary of these folk treatments, the last may not be completely unfounded. Some existing research shows that mild hypothermia inhibits the immune response. Keeping warm actually helps your body's defense against infection, which is why you'll sometimes get a fever when you're sick. A slight increase in body temperature makes it harder for bacteria and viruses to survive.

So, you may not be inspired to run out and get горчичники or банки, but it might actually be wise to stay warm in your time of illness. I'm clearly not a medical professional, but drinking hot tea, eating soup, and snuggling up with a blanket seems a lot less hazardous than the other alternatives. You can try those at your own risk.....

If none of these treatments float your boat, check out this website:

Hope you find a cure to whatever ails you!