Swimsuit competition, Russian border guard edition

Apparently Saturday was Russian Border Guard Day, something I didn’t know existed.  And they celebrated in style:

Russia Border Guards Day

Former Russian border guards bathe in a fountain in the Gorky Park, as they celebrate the Border Guard’s Day, in Moscow, Russia, on Saturday, May 28, 2016. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

Screenshot 2016-05-31 07.18.29.png

When you are hired with the agency, do they issue you an official bathing costume too?  If so, I think the guy on the left didn’t get the memo (although he did get the hat!).

Russian military seeking dolphin w/ perfect teeth. seriously.

I recently came across an article entitled “Russia looks to buy five dolphins with perfect teeth and killer instinct.”  I assumed it was published by the Onion but it actually was from the Guardian (and not April Fool’s Day).

The article explains that the Russian military is “seeking two female and three male dolphins between three and five years old with perfect teeth and no physical impairments.”  Hmm, is there a match.com for militaries and marine mammals?  Do the marine mammals know that they have signed up for this matching website? I love the part about the perfect teeth.  It’s good to be specific about what you are really looking for in a combat dolphin.


Apparently both the US and the Soviets deployed dolphins during the cold war for a variety of activities, including being trained to “detect submarines, underwater mines and spot suspicious objects or individuals near harbours and ships.”  Wow, an arms race in marine mammals?  Would that be a flipper race?

And the US use of sea mammals did not end with the Cold War.  The article notes that the US deployed sea lions “to Bahrain in 2003 to support Operation Enduring Freedom after the 9/11 attacks.”

Here is a link to the website for the US Navy Marine Mammal Program and a description of which mammals they use and why:

“Dolphins are essential because their exceptional biological sonar is unmatched by hardware sonars in detecting objects in the water column and on the sea floor. Sea lions are used because they have very sensitive underwater directional hearing and exceptional vision in low light conditions.  While dogs work as effective sentries on land, dolphins and sea lions cannot be outmatched as sentries in the water.”

Thankfully, the page also notes that the animals are released “almost daily untethered into the open ocean, and since the program began, only a few animals have not returned.”  It’s a weird, weird world we live in folks.


The Devil don’t wear Prada: Turkish Embargo Edition

Some things are just too good. Like this story (I pray that it’s true)

One Russian entrepreneur’s quest to make and sell anti-Turkey tee shirts has been thwarted by…..

Russia not allowing trucks coming from Turkey with her fabric to enter the country!!

“If these trucks finally arrive with Turkish fabric, we will definitely release a collection of anti-Turkish-themed clothing,” Dobryakova was quoted as saying. “The trucks are stuck. Our suppliers are panicking because the vehicles aren’t being allowed to cross the border.” 

So the wily Turks have managed to shoot down a Russian plane AND not have to have a line of anti-Turkish tees being paraded around?

Where I come from that is called a win-win situation.

Every Collapsing Communist Cloud has a Pirated Data Silver Lining

When Kevin and I first moved to Mexico City, we were amazed by the wide variety of goods that were hawked at traffic stops.  Not just the variety but the fact that a lot of them seemed wildly inappropriate for the situation, like the guy selling 6 foot hat racks at a busy roundabout on a major thoroughfare.  That was nothing compared to the gigantic satellite dish we saw hawked at a 4 way stop in Tunisia.  It must have weighed many hundreds of pounds.

I was reminded of this when I read Bill Browden’s excellent book Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice.  Browder was struggling to find information on companies in a country that seemed at first glance to be highly un-transparent.  He learns though that the legacy of Soviet bureaucratism has a few upsides:

“Because of Soviet central planning, Moscow needed data on every single facet of life so its bureaucrats could decide on everything from how many eggs were needed in Krasnoyarsk to how much electricity was needed in Vladivostok. The fact that the Soviet regime had fallen hadn’t changed anything—Moscow ministries continued to exist, and their bureaucracies took great pains to account for everything for which they were responsible.”

In the fall of the Soviet Union, that data still existed, it was just a matter of accessing it.  And lo and behold, he finds one such source of data at a traffic stop in downtown Moscow.

“While Vadim sat there that day, a boy approached the car brandishing his wares. Vadim wasn’t interested, but the boy persisted. “All right, what are you selling?” Vadim asked warily. The boy held open his dirty blue parka to reveal a collection of CD-ROMs in a plastic portfolio. “I’ve got databases.” Vadim’s ears perked up. “What kind of databases?”

“All kinds. Mobile phone directories, tax return records, traffic violations, pension fund info, you name it.”  Vadim spotted one entitled “Moscow Registration Chamber Database.” Vadim did a double take. The Moscow Registration Chamber is the organization that tracks and collects information about who owns all Moscow-based companies.”

Now that’s serendipity!  It’s also the most unique way I’ve heard of to come across a useful dataset.

The competition for world’s ugliest building has a lot of competitors from Russia

I just finished a fun and interesting book about Russia called Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia by Peter Pomerantsev.  In one fascinating part of the book he writes a lot about Moscow architecture.  I’m going to write more on that later, but here I want to point out what sounds like the ugliest restaurant in the world.  Pomerantsev writes:

“We were having dinner in the Sosruko restaurant, the town’s most famous, named after a local mythical hero, a sort of Hercules. The restaurant, twenty meters high and concrete, is in the shape of the head of a medieval knight, with helmet and huge moustache, perched on a hill above the town and lit up in neon green, the only building well lit aside from the new mosque.”

and he’s not exaggerating.  Here are some photos of this lovely dining establishment:



it sort of looks like Putin! (not a compliment)


What a beautiful mountain range and what a hideous eye sore!

This got me thinking about other ugly buildings in Russia and this story from BusinessWeek, hilariously titled “The 12 most absurd Soviet-era buildings that are still standing.”  (very important to include the modifier “that are still standing”).  All 12 are pretty horrible but this is my favorite:


by the way, how is this building “still standing” given that it was built upside down.  I don’t know much (read: anything) about engineering, but that looks like a tragedy waiting to happen.  I would not have wanted an office on the first floor.

The funniest thing about the article though is the reaction to it by the Russian media.  Here are a few quotes:

“Insulting the memory of over a million humans who struggled through the largest battle in human history is a new low, even by the standards of Western media. American “Business Insider” today published the rating of the 12 “most absurd buildings of the Soviet era that are still standing”. This list included the monument “Motherland”, located in Volgograd. As stated on the website, Volgograd statue, reaching a height of 85 meters, is twice the size of statue of Liberty. It is worth noting that the list was published less than two weeks before the 70th anniversary of Victory day.” [my notes: does size of the statue matter?  if it’s tall enough it cannot possibly be absurd?  why is it worth noting that the list was published less than 2 weeks before the anniversary?]

The article goes on to argue that “No reasons by which certain buildings were included in the ranking were stated by Business Insider. However, the author of the list used the words “weird” and “ugly”.”  I think it’s pretty self-explanatory what the decision making process was for inclusion on the list, but it’s funny to see the Russian media trying to ferret out what could possibly cause these buildings to be listed as absurd.

Then they came for the cabbage…

Alec Luhn, a journalist based in Moscow, tweets this wonderful photo and comment yesterday:


Moscow mayor Sobyanin executes a cabbage with a cavalry sword on city day as part of ban on imported food.

Well, I should be clear.  The photo is wonderful for fans of satire and irony, but obviously very bad for consumers in Russia.  Kevin thinks he just likes to be dramatic when he makes coleslaw.