22 December 2011

Russia's Darkest Days

Winter Solstice, defined by when the sun reaches its southernmost extreme on earth's horizon, is on December 22.  The further north one is, the shorter the length of the day.  For fans of starlight tanning, the lengthy nights are excellent times and Murmansk is the place to be.  Here is a sampling of sunrise and sunset schedules in three Russian cities:

Day Length
Night Length
9:58 am
4:58 pm
St. Petersburg
11:00 am
4:54 pm

High Noon at OK Corral 

By comparison, Miami, Florida has over 10:30 hours of sunlight on the same day.

Ah, Russia's darkest days, and I bet you thought that I was going to talk about other current affairs!

Next topics:  Blowing hot air and smoke.  Never mind; I already covered it here, here, and here.

21 December 2011

Winter Glory

Moscow's weather has been a puzzle as of late.  By "as of late," I mean for the past few years.

My wife was born and grown in Moscow.  Her years of local weather experience always translates to the following advice to tourists who are eager to experience the Russian winter:  "Come in December, January, or February.  Avoid November and March because those months are not cold enough, meaning that there will be lots of slush and mud on the roads."  My friends who were also born and grown in Moscow agree with my wife's advice.  Years of predictable winter experience by Muscovites has made this advice into a sort of a latent wisdom.

 Word from the Wise:  Avoid This

But that advice would not have worked for the past few years.  Until today, 21 December, which is just one day short of the Winter Solstice and hence the beginning of winter in the northern hemisphere, Moscow was too warm to be covered in a snow blanket.  Pedestrians, like me, slogged through soggy and wet streets for some of October, all of November, and most of December.  Today we are treated with a wonderfully beautiful snowstorm.  White is everywhere, and the quality of openair sound has changed as it always does when abundant snow muffles the background hum.

A More Beautiful, Quieter Day

A note for American friends:  Despite the fantastic snowstorm, Moscow is humming along just fine.  Schools are open, work places are running, and traffic is flowing just as erratically as ever.  In similar conditions, any major US metropolitan area would have been crippled.  Indeed, Russians are a rugged and hearty bunch.

How Do You Say "Light Snow" in Russian?

At last, winter glory is in Moscow.  The only question is why it took so long to get here this year.  A good friend, and a Moscow native, said in passing two nights ago that "every winter seems to be getting warmer here."  I hope not.

19 December 2011

Off Topic: Dear Leader's Death

Kim Jong-il passed away.  Like any good dictator, such as the ones I spent part of my childhood under, "Dear Leader" did an excellent job of creating a paternalistic society build around a personality cult - his personality to be specific.

View the video clip below.  From an outsider's point of view, these organized grief-letting meetings may seem ridiculous and, perhaps, even funny.  However, and sadly, most of this grief is likely to be real.  After all, their Dear Leader, their father figure, passed away.  When all hope is invested in one figure, as a child invests so heavily in his mother, the passing of that figure is extremely terrifying and depressing.

Regardless, part of the adult in me says:  "Get a life people.  Make your own future."  But, when years of censorship and brainwashing have made an otherwise capable people into a hapless adolescent bunch, my opinion is about as valuable as the copious teardrops shed for a useless, dangerous, and dead despot.

In case you are doubtful of the cult that existed around this man, here is a sampling of his great feats per Korean Central News Agency, North Korea's official mouthpiece:
  • His 1941 birth in a humble cabin in the slopes of Mount Baekdu was foretold by an unseasonal swallow and heralded by a double rainbow. Simultaneously, a bright star lit up the sky.
  • He learned to walk at 3 weeks old.
  • He learned to talk at 8 weeks old.
  • He penned 1,500 books in his spare time during this 3 years at Kim Il-sung University.
  • He first picked up a golf club in 1994, at North Korea's only golf course, and shot a 38-under par round that included no fewer than 11 holes in one. Satisfied with his performance, he immediately declared his retirement from the sport.