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bygone era June 2002

June 29, 2002

A Message from the Ministry of Homeland Security

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(Via boingboing.) "Remixed" propaganda posters. WARNING: POSTERS CONTAIN SATIRE!

 

June 27, 2002

Let's Fly to Meet Your Star Prince

Japanese space scientists are offering a million people the chance to put their name on to the surface of an asteroid as part of an effort to publicise a mission to land on a space rock. You can register your name here.

 

June 25, 2002

The Rapture Index: Quantifying the end-times

Is it the end of the world? How to tell? The Rapture Index keeps a running total of Revelations-style events and lets you see at a glance how close we are to the End-Times:

  • 1 False Christs 3
  • 2 Occult 4
  • 3 Satanism 1
  • 4 Unemployment 3
  • 5 Inflation 1
 


Still worried about "dirty bombs"?

Turn your toy robo-dog into a feral gamma-radiation detector! The proliferation of cheap toy robot-dogs means a bottomless source of parts and ideas for robot hackers. This site has extensive information on transforming robot-dogs into a variety of things, including a semi-autonomous gamma-radiation detector.

 


Rocketman Gumby

Shortly after the summer solstice, weather permitting, Gumby will fly solo in the Clay Brothers’ newest launch vehicle, the "Clayola Crayon X-10." This marks the first venture into near-space for a Clay-American astronaut.

When asked to comment on this historical event, Gumby, 47, had this to say: "Climbing into this rocket will be one small step for Clay, one giant leap for Clay-kind."

 


How music is the food of brain cells

Well, we knew this already, but now it's official: musicians have larger and more sensitive brains than non-musicians, and their collective IQ is much higher. They have 130% more grey matter in one area of their auditory cortexes. Ozzy Osbourne nonwithstanding.

 

June 22, 2002

Take the Chicken Challenge

Win $10,000 by playing Tic-Tac-Toe against a live chicken at the Tropicana casino in Las Vegas. May I just say that Phyllis Diller in a multi-colored feather dress is scary? But scarier still, the chicken is winning. B.F. Skinner would be proud.

 

June 21, 2002

The Hero Machine

Admit it, you've always wanted to be a superhero. Well, you can't be a superhero without first having a really cool costume to protect your secret civilian identity. Here's the first step on the way to becoming a shining beacon for truth and justice ... or heck, world domination.

 

June 11, 2002

Protect yourself from terrorism!

Worried about al-Qaeda setting off a "dirty bomb" in your city? How about another suicide hijacking being flown into your local nuclear power plant? Worry no more. Now you can buy your own Cold War-era missile silo home, and stock up on potassium iodide like the people living near the Indian Point nuclear power plant.

 

June 09, 2002

Russia: Supermodel astronauts wanted

(From Salon.) CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) --

The international space station's new skipper says forget 'N Sync singer Lance Bass as the orbiting outpost's next tourist. Send up Cindy Crawford!

"We would be very happy to see one of the supermodels," Russian Valery Korzun said Saturday in response to a reporter's question as he settled in for a long and cloistered stay.

He quickly added: "But this is a joke and we will be very happy to receive any space tourist. They're very welcome here."

Korzun and his crew, American Peggy Whitson and Russian Sergei Treschev, moved into the international space station on Friday evening after their arrival aboard space shuttle Endeavour. They will spend the next 4 1/2 months on board.

On Saturday, the astronauts hoisted a crammed cargo-carrier from the shuttle, attached it to the station for unloading and prepared for Sunday's spacewalk, the first of three planned during Endeavour's visit.

They also reported a loud, growling noise inside the space station. It turned out to be a broken gyroscope that was commanded to spin down and then shut down. One of the bearings apparently seized up.

NASA said the other gyroscopes were working fine and that the failure would not affect the station's navigation and control. But the bad unit will need to be replaced, and the soonest that can happen is early next year.

"From a risk perspective right now, we're in good shape," said flight director Paul Hill. "But this is a major component that's failed, and we are going to do the best we can to get the next (gyroscope) ready to fly."

Russian space officials, meanwhile, have yet to sell the empty third seat in the Soyuz capsule that is scheduled to be launched to the space station in October. The 23-year-old Bass, who is the same age as Korzun's son, is hoping to buy his way on board, as is a 40-year-old former NASA official, Lori Garver.

Whoever snags the seat will be the third person to spend millions of dollars for a weeklong space station cruise.

Korzun, who may still be on board when the Soyuz arrives, praised South African Internet tycoon Mark Shuttleworth, who visited the space station a month ago. Shuttleworth is a great computer specialist, Korzun said, "and he was very helpful on board the station."

"Probably somebody with certain professional qualities would be better," said the 49-year-old cosmonaut, a colonel in the Russian Air Force. "But it would not make any difference in our greetings."

Korzun and his crew replaced the two Americans and one Russian who had been living aboard the space station since December. Their mission, at the 185-day mark on Saturday, will surpass NASA's space endurance record by the time they return to Earth.

Korzun said he is prepared to remain in orbit even longer.

"Physically and psychologically, we are prepared to fly at least a year and a half," he said.

The world record is held by a Russian cosmonaut-physician: 438 consecutive days in space.

 

June 08, 2002

State rejects special license plate honoring test site

(From the Las Vegas Review-Journal) CARSON CITY -- The state has nuked a special license plate honoring the Nevada Test Site.

Department of Motor Vehicles Director Ginny Lewis, backed by Gov. Kenny Guinn, decided to cancel the plate because its design prominently features a mushroom cloud, a familiar sight to longtime Nevadans who once watched the atmospheric atomic tests set off 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

The move immediately was criticized as a bow to politics, and Troy Wade, chairman of the Nevada Test Site Historical Foundation, called on Guinn Thursday to reverse Lewis' decision.

"No amount of revisionist history will change the fact the Cold War was fought and won on Nevada soil," said Wade, former manager for the test site. "Nothing can change the fact that this state, its citizens, toiled tirelessly for this nation's security. Yet politics has found its way into doing just that."

Wade said the mushroom cloud always will be the "undeniable icon" associated with the test site. The federal government conducted 100 atmospheric tests of atom bombs there in the 1950s and early 1960s.

"Politicians talk of how important it is for science to answer questions, not politicians, and yet they used politics to make this decision," Wade said. "Yucca Mountain had everything to do with it."

Lewis readily admitted her decision was influenced in part by the debate in Congress over whether Yucca Mountain should become the nation's nuclear repository. She said she will not change her position, because the mushroom cloud design "would be offensive to most Nevadans."

But she added she also was influenced by the possible use of nuclear weapons in the conflict between India and Pakistan.

At this point in world history, "any reference on a license plate to weapons of mass destruction is inappropriate and would likely offend our citizens," Lewis said.

She said she consulted with the governor's office before making her decision. Greg Bortolin, Guinn's press secretary, said the governor will not budge from his position against the mushroom cloud plate. He added Guinn has not received any calls of protest.

Other designs could be considered in the future for a test site plate, Lewis said.

The historical foundation wanted to use the commemorative plate as a way to raise money for its museum project. The foundation, state and U.S. Department of Energy are constructing a $9.6 million museum on the history of atomic testing near the Desert Research Institute in Las Vegas. Groundbreaking is June 29.

Nevada has dozens of special license plates. The extra proceeds motorists pay for the plates go to nonprofit groups to raise money for their causes. The historical foundation would have received $35 for every plate sold.


Legislators approve special plates, but they have nothing to do with the actual design. The DMV is given final authority over plate designs, and Lewis said this is the first time a design has been rejected.

In sponsoring the plate bill, Sen. Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, had actually warned legislators not to let personal views about atomic testing affect their votes. She said the plate would not be meant as an "advocacy or glorification of testing."

"The story of the test site, good and bad, must be told," said Titus, author of "Bombs in the Backyard," a look at the days of atmospheric tests.

Richard Bibbero Jr., the Douglas County real estate agent who designed the plate, was upset with Lewis' decision.

As a youngster in San Francisco, Bibbero would climb a hill at dawn and see if a flash of a weapons test would appear on the horizon.

"I do remember atomic testing in the 1950s," he said. "I don't know if we saw it or not, but the design came to me in a vision."

He pointed out that atomic testing was once a source of pride. Eateries named food and drinks after tests. Las Vegas had atomic beauty contests. Even Clark County's logo once featured a mushroom cloud.

More importantly, Bibbero said, atomic testing kept America out of a hot war with the Soviet Union.

"I guess they want to rewrite history and say those events didn't occur," he said. "People don't want to face the fact it is part of Nevada history. They are trying to equate it with Yucca Mountain."

Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., did just that a month ago when the House voted 306-117 to authorize Yucca Mountain for burial of the nation's nuclear waste. A repository supporter, Shimkus said Nevada "has a tremendous nuclear legacy, as identified by this recently approved Nevada state license plate." He urged Nevada to continue that legacy, a comment that angered the state's politicians who noted the numerous sacrifices already made by the state during the Cold War.

Bibbero questioned whether there would have been a controversy if the plate design selection had not come at the pinnacle of the debate over Yucca Mountain. He received a $500 prize from the historical society, which selected his design over about 40 others.

Wade said he does not know what step the historical foundation will take next. Although Lewis has invited the group to submit another design, almost all of the designs submitted the first time around featured mushroom clouds.

Whatever the group does will come after July 26, the last day on which the Senate can override Guinn's veto against the Yucca Mountain nuclear repository, he added.

"I regret this Yucca Mountain thing is happening right now," Wade said. "There is nothing we can do to get out of the shadow of Yucca Mountain."

 

June 06, 2002

Jesus is alive, Elvis is alive

On a hot Friday afternoon outside Jerusalem in ad33, a 33-year old peasant-teacher named Jesus of Nazareth was executed by Roman soldiers. 1,944 years later, on August 16th, 1977, a 42-year old entertainer named Elvis Presley was found dead in his palatial bathroom at Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee.

On the surface, there should be no connection. Yet there is. Both are now reputed to be alive. Many claim to have seen, or to have been directly influenced by both. Controversy surrounds their lives, their deaths, and their present whereabouts. And literature continues to appear on both subjects.

 

June 05, 2002

Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails

Dedicated to the Gin Fizz, the Widow's Kiss, and the Singapore Sling, the drinks our mothers and grandmothers drank, and the drinks we strive to save from extinction as a small measure of remembering those great women and their great cocktail parties. Here you can find information about those cocktails, and their history, rituals, barware, and hors d'oeuvres that were once an important part of the culture that surrounded them.

 


Mysteries Under Moscow

From the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists:

What is hidden under Moscow?

This question has intrigued Vadim Mikhailov since he was a child in the early 1970s, when his father, who drove a train in the Moscow subway, first gave him a ride in the driver's cabin and showed him the network of Metro tunnels beneath the Russian capital. By the time he was 12, Mikhailov and his friends had begun making increasingly ambitious journeys beneath the city.

Discoveries began with the first expeditions. Through manholes and building basements the boys wriggled into labyrinths under the Russian capital. First, they explored the bomb shelters under Leningradsky Prospekt, then they came across an Academy of Oceanology warehouse. "Imagine walking along endless corridors," recalls Mikhailov, "something dripping from the ceiling, the uneven light of torches. And all of sudden you find yourself in a room full of tanks of formalin, containing various sea monsters."

They soon went deeper underground. According to Mikhailov there are about six levels under Moscow, and in some places as many as 12, including old sewer systems, fountain foundations, and sloping drainage tunnels entangled in the depths.

As they grew up, the explorers took their investigations more seriously, drawing maps of their routes, studying history books, and talking to elderly Muscovites about past uses of the underground. Their explorations of deserted shafts and water mains built during the reign of Catherine the Great in the eighteenth century sparked a greater interest and enthusiasm for further expeditions.

"Ten to 15 years later we realized that we had investigated the entire level closest to the surface, comprising municipal public service tunnels. It was time to go down to deeper floors," recounts Mikhailov. In 1990, the underworld travelers formed a group called "Diggers of the Underground Planet," whose aim was to study the historical, ecological, and social aspects of the Moscow underground.

 

Criminal settlements

Trips under Moscow have grown riskier as people have settled on the levels nearest the surface. The underground shelters gypsies, spongers, political refugees, and professional hermits. These people usually enter the underground through the grates of heating and rubbish collecting systems.

According to the Diggers, the underground is also a refuge for former prisoners. It is against the law for ex-convicts to reside in the Russian capital, so those who do move to the city must find inconspicuous lodgings. Some settle in basements with good air-conditioning systems and two or three exits. Sometimes they gather in groups, living by "prison laws."

The underworld is not all rubbish, rats, and dampness. Some accommodations are well equipped--with radio, television, and heat. People cook food and bring up children. In the morning, breadwinners leave their homes through manholes to make a living.

"I know about 20 places where families who have lost their apartments now live. There are also so-called 'advantageous' closed accommodations, like boiler rooms that are from time to time visited by plumbers to check water mains--and to gather payment from the squatters. Some rather well-off people are among them," notes Mikhailov. Some underground residents seem to enjoy the way of life. The Diggers remember one professor who for some unknown reason lived with tramps and enjoyed a good reputation among them.

But underground communities are also a potential source of disease and a cradle of crime. In summer and winter, the usual seasons of migration into and out of the tunnels, alcoholics, drug addicts, and prostitutes flourish in the "reverse world."

Three or four years ago the Diggers found their first corpse. Now horrible things like dismembered bodies can be found in sewers and drains. "In former times the public works department used to control these facilities," Mikhailov says. "But today the engineers--mainly women-are afraid to come down because there are a lot of strangers in the underground."

Mikhailov recalls that once they found the semi-decayed body of a tramp who had probably been killed in a fight. When the police came they took the body, then asked the Diggers to tell no one. With no name, no address, and no information to go on, the police consider such cases to be hopeless. The news rarely makes it into the press.

More recently, say the Diggers, the city government has begun paying more attention to the underground system. The police have reinforced their control over basements, and they now detain disheveled people--suspected of being tunnel-dwellers--while they check their registration documents. But this has not solved the problem.

 

Terrorism from below?

The Diggers believe the powerful and inaccessible Russian capital--with all its special security departments--is vulnerable from below. For example, it is easy to go beneath the Metro platforms and get into the "escalator park," where the mechanisms that drive the massive escalators are unprotected. One can cross the tunnels and get from one system into another. The Metro trunkways have already been damaged. And there is even access to the Kremlin from the main Metro lines.

The current city government is aware of the possibility of an undeclared "revolution" from below, and the problem of Metro security stays on the agenda at government meetings. But the Diggers consider the city's measures a drop in the ocean. More serious safety measures would require larger investments and a special staff. Neither is available.

The Diggers' concern has been heightened by sightings of groups of people dressed in camouflage uniforms. In a tunnel under the Centrobank building, the Diggers observed uniformed people in masks equipped with powerful halogen lamps. The Diggers were afraid to follow them lest they should come under fire. So far, security services have not taken the Diggers' reports of these sightings seriously.

Only once have the police responded to a report by Mikhailov. Under the Leningradsky Prospekt the Diggers noticed a detachment of uniformed men at work in a tunnel. The police sent two officers with machine guns to arrest the group, but all of them escaped. Upon investigating the site, the police found evidence of fresh digging. "Who these camouflaged people are," Mikhailov says, "I don't know. Evidently, neither do officials. As far as I know, we are the only researchers working under the city. But if another group or organization is also investigating the underground, who is it? It is neither a military nor a police force. All the state security services say they do not go down."

How serious is the threat of terrorism from below? The Diggers have written a memorandum detailing dozens of entries to closed facilities like bomb shelters and strategic command posts, together with possible combinations of terrorist actions. When the memorandum was submitted to the Federal Security Service (FSB) of Moscow--the former KGB-- the security bodies agreed to cooperate with the Diggers.

"The Diggers believe," says Mikhailov, "that regardless of barriers one can pass unnoticed under the ground. There should be a monitoring system established that could, to my mind, control such places as the Metro's ventilation shafts."

 

Mysterious labyrinths

Beneath the city are passageways, chambers of torture, and about 150 underground riverbeds lined with bricks and white stone. Studying the masonry and brickwork, the researchers found marks left by old stonemasons; they could even date, approximately, some of the drains.

Gruesome finds have also been made. While studying an old Moscow river, the Neglinka, the Diggers often came across human skulls. Similar findings were described by the Russian writer Vladimir Gilyarovsky, a pre-revolutionary explorer of Moscow. He wrote that long ago an owner of a criminal den built a tunnel leading to the underground waters. Inside the den was a pipe through which criminals threw out the corpses of those they had robbed and murdered. The Diggers made their way into one such tunnel and found among broken skulls a silver ring and a kisten, an ancient weapon similar to a large metal mace.

Mikhailov thinks there may be evidence of Stalin-era executions in some passages under the city. Under Solyanka Street, for example, there is a large inaccessible network of tunnels that may conceal a mass burial site. "But who would take responsibility for discovering it?" asks Mikhailov. Even in post-Soviet Russia, such a find would become a political issue.

Other Soviet secrets lie under Moscow, including a second ring of Metro lines built by Stalin on the outskirts of the city, but never used by the public. Muscovites speculate that the ring was employed by the military to shuttle bombs around the capital.

Under Bolshaya Pirogovskaya Street the Diggers discovered a deserted laboratory with an old telephone, chemical-protection suits hanging on the walls, and old-fashioned respiration masks. The room appeared to have been abandoned in a hurry. In adjacent rooms there were huge flasks, and the floor was covered with crystals.

A 3,000-seat bunker located under the Cathedral of Christ the Savior is another unsolved mystery. (The cathedral was demolished by the Bolsheviks in the 1930s; it is now being rebuilt.) "We were not allowed to go there, although the cathedral dean asked us to take out a sealed container with communist slogans on it," says Mikhailov. The dean called it the "anti-capsule," in the same tone he would use to speak of the anti-Christ. Mikhailov would have liked to explore, but "officers from the Kremlin guard said that nothing under the church threatened the safety of the building, and so they did not allow us to go down."

Under the Skliffasovsky clinic the Diggers encountered people dressed in monk's robes, carrying torches around a strange-looking altar made of stone. They were performing some sort of service and singing. When they saw the Diggers, they hurriedly disappeared.

 

The hidden library

Lately the Diggers have decided to search for the underground's greatest prize: the lost medieval library of Tsar Ivan the Terrible.

In 1472, Ivan III married Princess Sofia Paleolog, a niece of the last Byzantine emperor. The bride brought a splendid dowry of invaluable books and scrolls from Byzantium.

To preserve her treasures from raids and fire, Sofia employed a famous Italian architect, Aristotle Fiorovanti, to build a library under the Kremlin. Today, the location of the library is covered by a veil of mystery and legend. Sofia's grandson, Ivan the Terrible, was said to have found the treasure. If so, he took the secret of its location to his grave. Napoleon; a Polish king, Sigizmund; and thousands of lesser-known people have since searched for the library.

One Russian academic wrote that the ancient manuscripts might be located somewhere on the second or third level beneath the Kremlin. He claimed that he could clearly see the library on a map shown to him in the 1980s by a former Kremlin commander, General Vedeneev. (These levels have been very poorly investigated.)

The last attempt to find the library was made by Nikita Khrushchev, who established a special search committee headed by a man named Tikhomirov. When Brezhnev came to power the committee was disbanded

According to Galina Lelyanova of the Phenomenon Press Center, a new committee has started to work. The committee's team includes scientists, historians, and archaeologists, but the committee has also recruited "vine walkers" and psychics to take part. The vine walkers claim they can detect gold, silver, and other metals using bioenergetic powers, and the psychics are on hand to insure the researchers' security by combating any "dark forces" that may be guarding the hidden cache. (Those who have searched for the library, the legend goes, have been prone to accidents, disease, or death.)

The Diggers also want to search for the library. "We believe that the library is still beneath Moscow, most likely in a chamber built in Egyptian style, and that it may be possible to find it as well as all the treasures the Terrible took at the Kazan seizure. The tsar hid those underground as well and they are waiting for their time to be discovered."

 

Tourist attraction

Last year, the Diggers registered the "Center of Underground Research" with the Moscow municipal government. The center has departments of security, ecology, and history; eventually an analytical and archive department will be added. Their activities have also acquired a commercial character. They have signed agreements with the Moscow government, the Vityaz organization, which represents veterans, and with other organizations interested in underground research. For the 850th anniversary of Moscow, to be celebrated this year, the Diggers plan to issue an underground map. City officials want to develop underground sightseeing tours.

The Diggers have organized two exhibitions on the Moscow underground: one in the main city administration building and another in the Ostrovsky house/museum. They plan eventually to exhibit their underground findings in their own building.

But the Diggers have not hurried to tell all they know about the underground world. They are now working on a series of TV shows that they say will deliver sensational news. The programs will air during the 850th anniversary celebration, allowing Muscovites to peer into the mysteries lurking beneath the old Russian capital.

Andrei Ilnitsky, the editor-in-chief of Shass Pik, a weekly newspaper in Obninsk, Russia, was a recent Bulletin fellow.

 

June 03, 2002

Golden Hostess Snack Goes Whole-Hog

Chef perfects fried twinkie dessert. Elvis would approve.

 


Russian lawmakers try to stomp out foreign slang

(From The Christian Science Monitor) Aroza by any other name ... may soon be banned in Russia. Concerned that an invasion of foreign slang, including an estimated 10,000 English words, is corrupting the Russian language, the State Duma is considering a legislative crackdown.

A bill drafted by the majority United Russia Party aims to corral the roaming Russian language and purge it of sloppy, obscene, and alien elements that have been picked up during the loose years since the Soviet Union's collapse. It would set terms for punishing offenders who work in the media, in schools, and in government offices. Fines and administrative penalties are proposed for the most part, but serious offenders could have their broadcast or publishing licenses revoked.

Here are some of the English-based words most commonly used in Russia, along with the Russian counterparts that are threatened with extinction:
stop (imperative, as in a stop sign) = ostanovityes
forward (position in football, hockey) = napadayushchy
offis = kabinyet
supermarket = universam
show = predstavleniye
player (as in record, tape, or CD player) = proigryvatel
boyfrend = drug
girlfrend = podruga
loozer (person who's a habitual failure) = nyeudachnik
Pi-aR (public relations) = svyazi s obshchestvyenostyu

"You may say that other problems, like the economy, seem more important than this," says Mikhail Fyodorov, an adviser to the Duma's Cultural Commission and one of the bill's authors. "But we are convinced that it is crucial to restore respect for the state language in Russia."

Nationalists, backed by some linguists and language specialists, have been warning for years that the Russian language ­ which was carefully supervised and pruned in Soviet times ­ is evolving out of control and could be inundated by the wave of foreign borrowings. Experts have even given the phenomenon an appropriately English label: nyu spik (newspeak).

Often these lexical interlopers describe something fundamentally new to Russia, such as business, banking, democratic politics, and the Internet. Words like kompyuter, mobilny telefon, fax, konsultant, broker, sponsor, diler, chizburger, and kornfleiks have no equivalents in standard Russian.

Nor, ironically, do some words employed every day by Duma deputies, such as parlament, prezident, spiker, impichment, elektorat, and konsensus.

Supporters of the law complain that no effort has been made to adapt older and grammatically harmonious Russian words to meet new purposes. And they become furious at the increasingly popular usage of English words where perfectly good Russian equivalents exist. For example, many sportscasters now say golkiper rather than the familiar Russian word vratar, for goalie. Street signs in downtown Moscow refer to parking, though the traditional word is stoyanka. Even criminals have taken to saying killer, while the Russian language has always had its own word for a murderer, ubitsa.

"It's one thing to borrow words that express economic and cultural changes, but this aggressive Americanization is something quite different," says Yevgeny Chelishev, a member of the Kremlin's official Language Council, which was created by President Vladimir Putin two years ago. "Measures are long overdue."

But some experts say the proposed law is just a futile finger in the dike. "Russian has been changing for centuries, as a product of our contacts with the world," says Vitaly Kostomarov, president of the Pushkin Institute, a leading language school. "In the modern, globalized world, the language must develop even faster. The only way to halt the process would be to impose complete isolation. Who wants that?"

The Russian language is under attack from without and also from within, says the bill's main author, United Russia deputy Alexei Alexeyev. There are more than 100 native languages spoken by the peoples of the Russian Federation, and in some of the larger ethnic republics attempts have been made to replace Russian as the official language, he says.

In the oil-rich and mainly Muslim republic of Tatarstan, local authorities even tried recently to replace the Cyrillic alphabet with Latin script.

"We need a law to regulate language use," Mr. Alexeyev says. "Russian is the state language, and therefore must be the language of official discourse in this country. It's also necessary to ensure that children ... receive sufficient instruction in the state language."

Alexeyev says the standards to be imposed in Russia are similar to those in France, where the Académie française monitors changes in national speech patterns, dishes out penalties, and issues verdicts on vocabulary and grammar.

The Russian bill will probably be passed into law by the end of this year, Mr. Fyodorov says. In addition to imposing fines and other penalties on those whose tongues slip the wrong way, the Language Council would also produce special dictionaries and lists of prohibited words.

Journalists and TV performers would be carefully tracked.

"When a large TV station makes a serious language mistake, millions of viewers are affected," Fyodorov says. "The situation with radio and children's TV programming is particularly dreadful. Even worse than the use of foreign words is some of the inappropriate slang being used."

Critics say the exercise has the potential to veer into political abuse, such as further clampdowns on Russia's already beleaguered independent media.

The Putin years have seen a concerted Kremlin effort to restore order to society following the perceived excesses of the early post-Soviet years, and the bill appears to be part of that trend, notes Leonid Krisin, deputy director of the official Institute of Russian Language in Moscow.

"It is a bit worrisome," he says. "How can you make a language follow orders? Language changes along with society, and the best way to ensure that spoken Russian reflects a free and dynamic society is probably to leave it alone."

 

June 01, 2002

Showtime spinning 'Yeltsin' telepic

Showtime is taking a behind-the-scenes look at the orchestration of Russian President Boris Yeltsin's remarkable 1996 political comeback by a trio of U.S. "spin doctors."

Jeff Goldblum, Anthony LaPaglia and Liev Schreiber have been tapped to star in the telefilm, tentatively titled "The Yeltsin Project," which Roger Spottiswoode ("Tomorrow Never Dies") has signed on to direct.

They will play elite American political consultants George Gorton, Dick Dresner and Joe Shumate, respectively. The men were hired by a group of Russian businessmen to surreptitiously manage Yeltsin's bid for re-election at a time when he was plagued by dismal approval ratings as a result of the hardship caused by economic reforms, the proliferation of organized crime and the ongoing war in Chechnya, as well as shaky health after he had two heart attacks.

With help from Yeltsin's daughter and unofficial political adviser Tatyana Dyachenko, the consultants used U.S.-style political polls and marketing techniques to influence the Russian voting public. Yeltsin ultimately won the lead over his main rival, Communist Gennady Zyuganov, in the June election and defeated him in a runoff in July.

Yeltsin's worsening heart condition, combined with a bout of pneumonia in 1997, sidelined him through a substantial part of his second term, which he cut short by resigning on Dec. 31, 1999.

Amid increasing rumblings about alleged wrongdoings by him and his entourage, Yeltsin stepped down, appointing Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as acting president. Dyachenko is said to have once again played an important role in that maneuver.

Spottiswoode will direct "Yeltsin" from a script by Yuri Zeltser and Cary Bickley.

Andrew Licht, Jeffrey Mueller and John Morris are executive producing for the Licht/Mueller Film Corp., while Vicki Letizia is shepherding the telefilm at Showtime.

 


Chinese Propaganda Poster Pages

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Huge collection of Chinese propaganda posters, as collected by Stefan Landsberger. Also includes analysis of the political, social and economic movements and developments that have found their way into visual propaganda over the years, and even desktop wallpaper.

 


Looking at Earth, Through Telescope

Earth Viewer compiles satellite imagery on the fly to produce a photo-realistic, spinnable, zoomable model of the entire Earth. One slider takes you smoothly from seeing the entire globe down to seeing individual people queuing to get into the Louvre.