Putin’s propagandists not known for ethics

Russia doesn’t have the highest standard of living or the best democratic institutions, to say the least, but many believe it is a world leader in one field – propaganda.

Since President Vladimir Putin began consolidating the country’s news media under his control in 2000, the Kremlin’s indoctrination machine has not stopped growing.

While previously it was more subtle and nuanced, Russian propaganda has become more outrageous and in-your-face since Ukraine’s EuroMaidan Revolution, which ousted President Viktor Yanukovych on Feb. 22, and the Kremlin’s March annexation of Crimea. Now it resembles Josef Stalin-era rhetoric as the last independent media are being squashed.

The pursuit of truth is not on the agenda. Demonization of Ukraine is now the main focus of the Kremlin’s propaganda, with Ukrainian events accounting for the bulk of news coverage.

While previously a key task of state-controlled Russian television was to vilify the opposition, now a major goal is to label major Ukrainian politicians as “fascists,” without pointing out the relatively low support for far-right groups among the Ukrainian population or the presence of neo-Nazis among Russian-backed insurgents.

Kremlin propagandists have also tried to present the war in eastern Ukraine as being orchestrated by the United States while ignoring Russia’s direct involvement in support of separatists.

The intensification of propaganda has coincided with an economic slowdown in Russia. To boost support for the regime during the slump, Putin is now trying to create an “alternative reality” in a fashion similar to the Soviet period, Russian political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin says.

“Soviet people got used to living in two parallel realities. They were poor in objective reality but, in a virtual reality, they felt powerful,” he said. “The worse the objective reality, the better the reality created by propaganda.”

Creators of that reality have been very flexible in their ethics and principles, with the only constant being their loyalty to the powers that be.

“These people don’t have any views,” Russian journalist and writer Viktor Shenderovich told the Kyiv Post. “They read their views in their bosses’ eyes. If the Dalai Lama comes to power, they’ll become Buddhists.”

Propagandists might even genuinely believe that whoever infringes on their material interests – such as the opposition, for example – are enemies of the country, Oreshkin said.

“For them, the country is a cash cow. They don’t see a difference between the homeland and this cash cow,” he said.

Dmitry Kiselyov

One of the major pro-Kremlin journalists, Dmitry Kiselyov, first dabbled in propaganda when he worked on Soviet television in the late 1970s to 1980s.

But in the early 1990s, when freedom of speech was introduced, he became an opponent of censorship and was fired after refusing to present a censored report on the clashes between the Soviet army and protesters in Lithuania in January 1991.

“Often people seen on television screens can’t be called journalists,” he said in one of his shows in 1999. “Often they are just propagandists. A journalist’s task is to show the true proportions of the world, the whole picture.”

Shenderovich said he had met Kiselyov in 1995, when he appeared to be a stylish Westernized man and enjoyed flaunting his foreign wife.

However, in the 2000s, Kiselyov became the Kremlin’s propagandist par excellence.

He moved to Ukraine in 2000 and became the host of a talk show and chief editor of the news department on Ukrainian television channel ICTV, which was controlled by Viktor Pinchuk, the son-in-law of pro-Russian President Leonid Kuchma.

Kiselyov was then accused of whitewashing Kuchma amid a major scandal in which the president was suspected of ordering the Sept. 16, 2000 killing of journalist Georgy Gongadze. He was fired in 2003 after the channel’s staff met with ICTV chief executive Alexander Bogutsky and accused him of distorting facts.

Kiselyov then moved back to Russia and started working at Rossiya-1, a state TV channel. He has been the anchor of the Vesti Nedeli news program since 2012 and chief executive of the state-owned Rossiya Segodnya news agency since 2013.

In 2013 to 2014, Kiselyov spearheaded a media campaign to demonize the Ukrainian revolution and post-revolution authorities. In his shows, separatists in eastern Ukraine have been invariably presented as noble “freedom fighters,” while the Ukrainian government is consistently labeled as the “junta” and “punitive squads.”

Kiselyov has often been accused of factual distortions or direct lies about Ukraine. In early December 2013, he reversed the chronology of events in Kyiv, saying that the clashes between police and protesters on Bankovaya Street on Dec. 1 preceded the crackdown on Maidan Nezalezhnosti on Nov. 30.
But his masterstroke piece of propaganda came out in March, when he told his audience: “Russia is capable of turning the USA into nuclear dust.”

Kiselyov was not available by phone or e-mail for comment.

Arkady Mamontov

Unlike Kiselyov, who has called himself a “liberal,” Mamontov, another Rossiya-1 host, has positioned himself as a conservative and an advocate of Russia’s military might.

In 2012, he went to great lengths to depict the Pussy Riot punk band, which was jailed for singing an anti-Putin song at the Christ the Savior Cathedral, as a lethal threat to Orthodox Christianity, routinely calling them “blasphemers” and “possessed.” Citing John Chrysostom, a Constantinople bishop, he said in one of his shows that, “once you see a blasphemer, you should beat him.”

Mamontov also claimed that Pussy Riot was being financed and orchestrated by exiled Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky and the U.S.

Mamontov has been accused of ignoring the argument that Pussy Riot never insulted God in their song and only criticized Putin. Nor has he ever covered the wealth and alleged corruption of Orthodox clergy, including Patriarch Kirill, amid major scandals linked to his Breguet watch and luxury apartment in central Moscow.

Vladimir Solovyov

Vladimir Solovyov, also a host on Rossiya-1 television, is subtler than hardline propagandists Kiselyov and Mamontov.

From time to time, he has criticized some of the government’s policies but only to a certain extent. He still mostly toes the party line and is viewed by analysts as the more liberal pillar of the Kremlin propaganda machine.

Initially his shows tended to present two opinions – the pro-Kremlin one and that of moderately opposition-leaning people. Criticism of the Kremlin was toned down, however, and popular opposition leaders like Alexei Navalny were banned from the shows.

However, as Kremlin propaganda became more virulent after the Ukrainian revolution and the annexation of Crimea, the space reserved for opposition viewpoints drastically shrank, and now Solovyov’s show mostly presents pro-Kremlin views.

Solovyov denied, however, that he was a propagandist, saying that only those who had not listened to his radio and television shows can label him as one.

“Who cares what fools say?” he said by phone.

Solovyov added that it did not make sense to accuse him of propaganda after Valery Boyev, an official of the presidential administration, filed a libel lawsuit against him in 2008.

Margarita Simonyan

While the trio of Mamontov, Kiselyov and Solovyov target the domestic audience, Margarita Simonyan is in charge of the Kremlin propaganda machine’s foreign façade. She has been the editor-in-chief of English-language television channel Russia Today since 2005, and the chief editor of the Rossiya Segodnya news agency since 2013.

Simonyan, a fluent English speaker whose task is to send Putin’s message to the outside world, is more sophisticated than those catering to locals.

She has denied that the government dictated content to RT, but earlier this year she presided over an exodus of foreign journalists who left the channel because of what they saw as extremely biased coverage of Ukraine.

The Ukrainian site Stopfake.org, which specializes in debunking Russian propaganda, said that some of the most blatant cases of lies and manipulations came in reports about the crash of Malaysia Airlines’ MH17 flight. RT accused the Ukrainian army of shooting down the airliner, saying the rocket was aimed at Putin’s plane, for example.

Simonyan was not available for comment by e-mail or phone.

Stephen Cohen

Stephen Cohen, a scholar of Russian studies at Princeton University and New York University, is also spreading the Kremlin’s message abroad.

Cohen might be described as “an agent of influence” – a KGB term used to describe opinion leaders in the West who lobbied the Soviet Union’s interests, Oreshkin said. Some of them were paid for that, while others were motivated by ideological reasons, he added.

Cohen represents the part of the American left that used to admire some aspects of the Soviet Union and transferred their allegiance to Putin, who has increasingly appealed to the Soviet legacy. While Cohen criticized some Soviet policies, he was an ardent fan of Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika and a vehement critic of anti-communist President Boris Yeltsin.

In 2008, Cohen asserted that Putin “ended Russia’s collapse at home and re-asserted its independence abroad.” He has paid little attention to problems with free speech, freedom of assembly, rule of law and separation of powers in Russia, as well as to pervasive corruption that has only worsened since Putin came to power.

Cohen has also accused Ukrainian authorities of “war crimes” while ignoring numerous reports on kidnappings, torture, rape and murder by pro-Russian insurgents.

Sergei Kurginyan

Another admirer of the Soviet Union is Sergei Kurginyan, a theater director and political activist.

He was an informal advisor to the Politburo, the Communist Party’s management body, in the late 1980s. Kurginyan subsequently supported a pro-Soviet coup attempt in 1991, and backed the parliament, controlled by communists, in its violent standoff with Yeltsin in 1993.

This, however, did not prevent him from throwing his support behind Yeltsin before the 1996 presidential election and authoring the “Letter of 13,” an address by Russia’s most powerful tycoons in support of the president.

Kurginyan experienced another U-turn in the 2000s, when he became a vehement critic of Yeltsin and the tycoons. From 2011 to 2013, Kurginyan organized numerous rallies in support of Putin, describing Russia’s anti-Kremlin protest movement as an attempt by the West to organize “an Orange Revolution” in Russia similar to the Ukrainian revolution of 2004.

In the past few months Kurginyan was caught on video visiting with rebels in eastern Ukraine to consult them on strategy and coordinate supplies and aid from Russia.

A spokeswoman for Kurginyan said he was not available because he was on a business trip.

Alexander Dugin

While Kurginyan looks to the Soviet empire as the “golden age,” Alexander Dugin is an Orthodox Christian monarchist who idealizes the times of the Russian Empire.

Dugin’s extreme version of Russian Orthodox conservatism has been widely ridiculed.

In 2010, he became a target of jokes after publishing a video in which he says that shaved men represent a “purely hellish sodomite type” and that shaving is effectively tantamount to castration.

“Whoever puts a razor to his beard shall be damned and shall burn in hell,” he said. “Love for beards can even lead a person to heaven… For modern Orthodox conservatives, a man without a beard is no man.”

In 1980, he joined a neo-Nazi group called “the Black SS Order,” according to Russian news agency Stringer. This did not prevent him from claiming recently that he supported a pro-Russian anti-fascist movement fighting against Ukrainian Nazis.

In 2003, he became the leader of the International Eurasian Movement, which aims to integrate Russia with former Soviet republics into a superpower called the Eurasian Union.

Dugin has advocated Russia’s territorial expansion and the resurrection of the Russian Empire, saying that an independent Ukraine was a key obstacle to this.

“Ukraine’s sovereignty is such a negative phenomenon for Russian geopolitics that it can easily provoke a military conflict,” he wrote in the Foundations of Geopolitics, first published in 1997. “Ukraine as a sovereign state with such territorial ambitions is a great threat for the whole of Eurasia… Strategically, Ukraine must become Moscow’s southeastern projection.”

Since the war in eastern Ukraine began in April, he has repeatedly called for killing Ukrainians.

“Idiots should be purged from Ukraine,” he wrote on Facebook in August. “A genocide of cretins is the obvious solution… I don’t believe that these are Ukrainians. It’s just some bastard race that emerged from sewer manholes.”

In an interview with Abkhazia’s Anna News in May, he said he was ashamed of his own Ukrainian blood and wanted it to be “purged by the blood of scum – of the Kyiv junta.”

“As long as the scum is in Kyiv, Russian people… can’t exist peacefully. Either (Kyiv) should be destroyed and built anew, or people should come to their senses,” Dugin said. “Kill, kill and kill! There should be no talk anymore!”

A spokeswoman for Dugin told the Kyiv Post by phone that he did not talk to Ukrainian media and that he was abroad.

Alexander Prokhanov

Writer Alexander Prokhanov, one of Russia’s most prominent Stalinists, is also an advocate of reviving the Russian Empire. He espouses a kind of mysticism based on Russian cosmism, a philosophical and cultural movement of the early 20th century.

Even when Putin pursued largely liberal economic policies, lambasted by many leftists, Prokhanov abstained from harshly criticizing the president, believing the ruler’s authority to be sacred.

In 2002, Prokhanov wrote a book called Mr. Hexogen, in which the ‘Chosen One,’ a character based on Putin, is presented as a sacred image of power and turns into a rainbow.

The novel is rife with Soviet and religious symbolism, with Lenin’s corpse in the mausoleum guarding the Kremlin from the subterranean Serpent.

Prokhanov is also well known for his pompous and flamboyant oratory.

“Militiamen who had just come from Novorossiya ascended the top of the hill and scattered earth from Savur-Mohyla, which had just been freed from cruel punitive squads,” he wrote earlier this month in his Zavtra newspaper. “The people sang praises and rejoiced, seeing that the sacred land of martyrs is being united with the Russian land.”

While routinely accusing Ukrainian authorities of terrible atrocities, Prokhanov has consistently praised the regime of Joseph Stalin, whose death toll is estimated at millions of people.

Speaking with the Kyiv Post by phone, Prokhanov agreed that he was an “apologist for the Kremlin.”

“I’m definitely not an apologist for the Supreme Rada or (Ukrainian President Petro) Poroshenko,” he said.

Addressing accusations that he supported Stalin’s repressions, he said, “other people say I’m the most merciful person, and a child’s tear is more important for me than any ideological differences.”

Dmitry Tsorionov, aka Enteo

Like Prokhanov, Orthodox activist Dmitry Tsorionov, also known as Enteo, believes Putin’s power to be sacred on religious grounds.

He has participated in numerous attacks on Pussy Riot’s supporters, LGBT protests and contemporary art venues as part of the Kremlin’s crackdown on dissent.

Enteo, a Christian fundamentalist and a vehement supporter of Patriarch Kirill, the leader of Moscow Patriarchate, believes that “all authority comes from God.”

He told the Kyiv Post that he respected Putin but denied that he was an apologist for the Kremlin. He said, however, that any government, including Putin’s, was sacred if blessed by the church.

On Sept. 7, he delivered a lecture that addressed the following questions: “Is Vladimir Putin God by nature or only by grace? Can one worship Vladimir Vladimirovich as God on earth?”

In Russia, it seems, there is no shortage of those who already do.


Terrific Treehouses: 10 Brilliant Topiary Masterpieces (PHOTOS)

It’s inescapable– the urge to walk away from our civilized lives and find peace in nature.  For every cubicle and cookie cutter suburb, there’s a man or a woman who desires for an escape to our natural roots.  Treehouse living has been the dream of many since childhood, and to celebrate our drive to escape here are 10 of the very best treehouses in the modern world.

SUSTAINABILITY TREEHOUSE02sustainability-treehouse_1

Looking to elevate your living a bit?  02 Sustainability might have the answer.  This Minneapolis-based architecture firm creates a range of treehouse options that shine in their geometric glory.  Built with a metal frame, plywood floor and canvas shell, the 02 Sustainability Treehouses are a solid temporary-term option to canopy-level living. [link]


The 4TREEHOUSE treetop dwelling by Lukasz Kos is as much modern as it is natural.  Featuring a few cutting edge architectural facets available today, like slatted wood privacy shutters and cascading lighting effects, 4TREEHOUSE is where the Gehry’s and the Wrights of the treehouse world might reside.  Additionally, the slatted siding provides plenty of protection, both in and out, from falling to the ground below. [link]


If you really want to escape the rat race, here is the office for you.  Can you imagine this daily commute?  Leave the city, drive until the trees outnumber the houses, you’ve got the perfect spot to build your business– that is, as long as your business is tele-mobile.  This Treetop Office is the daytime dwelling of Peter Frazier, a man who got fed up with the habits of the urban working world.  Do you blame him for choosing this as his office? [link]

BAUMRAUM TREEHOUSESbaumraum-treehouse_1

When it comes to modern treehouses, there is no name more respected than Baumraum.  Baumraum Treehouses span a wide range of styles and designs, but the one shown here is amongst their most progressive.  This angular arboreal architecture is comprised of a wooden frame and wall structure and long glass windows that create a unique new style of treehouse.  Have you seen one more modern than this?  [link]


Looking to take a relaxing vacation in the woods… and not be spotted by a soul?  Harad’s Reflective Tree Hotel can give you the privacy you need, plus the greatest canopy-level view the woods can offer.  If you’re walking below this one unawares, you might miss in completely.  That is the special character this treehouse provides… [link]

GROWING TREE ARCHITECTUREgrowing-tree-architecture_1

As the trees on this treehouse grow, its structure grows stronger.  Ever seen a tree grow over a fence, wrap around a power line or otherwise?  These artificially-selected trees are designed to bolster and support the structure of this treetop building.  Over time, this home will become stronger and stronger, as will the trees that have been born as its frame. [link]

FREE SPIRIT SPHERES TREEHOUSESfree-spirit-spheres-treehouses_1

Sharing a bit of inspiration with the triangular-fashioned 02 Sensability Treehouse above, the Free Spirit Spheres Treehouses are among this list’s most unique.  These floating forest forms can house a small family for long weekends and provide a comfortable retreat from urban living.  Just choose your spot, pick up a Free Spirit Sphere and hoist it high in the sky.  You’ve got a cabin like none other.  [link]

ALNWICK GARDENS TREEHOUSEalnwick-gardens-treehouse_1

Does the Alnwick Gardens Treehouse look a bit disconnected from the rest of this list?  It may not be as contemporary as the others, but this Alnwick Treehouse has a size advantage over any you may ever set foot in.  This hardwood colossus could provide shelter for countless travelers, and an experience none of them will forget.  Don’t get lost in this one, it may be the largest treehouse ever created. [link]

YELLOW TREEHOUSE RESTAURANTyellow-treehouse-restaurant_1

Do you prefer outdoor seating?  This treehouse restaurant may be the ultimate destination in that regard.  The Yellow Treehouse Restaurant in Auckland, New Zealand features all the style and circumstance of the city, but with the lavish location that only the forest can provide.  Enjoy your five star meal while the music of the forest provides your soundtrack. [link]

JOEL SHERMAN STEEL TREE HOUSEjoel-sherman-steel-treehouse_1

Wait a minute, a steel treehouse?  That doesn’t quite fit.  If you look at  Joel Sherman’s Steel Tree House, however, you’re sold on it’s uniquity.  This steel-beamed stilt home shows what could be created if trees were out of the equation.  While there may be many high structure homes of the sort, Joel Sherman’s project shows what could be for high elevation architecture without the use of trees.  Let’s hope it never comes to that! [link]

This Is What The Future Should Look Like: Jacque Fresco’s The Venus Project


Jacque Fresco (age 97); American self-taught structural designer, architectural designer, concept artist, educator, and futurist. His blue prints for the future may revolutionize the way we look at the structure of cities.

Jacque Fresco is an inspiration to many, with his innovative ideas and blue prints for a sustainable society and planet that reject the current models of mass consumerism and self-destruction. Fresco holds many titles, such as educator, architectural designer, and concept artist but is known to most as a leading futurist who has spent the majority of his life promoting a re-structuring of our current way of living. His latest venture, called The Venus Project, advocates what Fresco has coined as a “resource-based economy”, a society which runs on socio-cooperation and which utilizes the methodology of science and the advancements in technology in one of the cleanest and most energy efficient systems ever conceptualized.

Fresco was born in Brooklyn, New York, in the 1920s amidst the Great Depression. Fresco is stated as saying that his experiences growing up around poverty, war, and devastation influenced his later work and views on society and provided him with the incentive for his life’s work.  He spent the majority of his young adult life pursuing a career in structural design, where he worked in such fields as aircraft design, Trend Home building, science fiction film set design, and freelance inventions.

In the 1960s, Fresco co-wrote a book titled “Looking Forward”, which broke down the three important components of society which needed re-working: humanity’s values, people’s way of thinking, and the utilization of science and technology.

Although he did not gain popular acceptance his later years, Fresco continued to promote his concepts throughout the 1970s and 80s, lecturing at different venues and universities about his new theories such as “Socio-cyberneering”, an idea which implemented the highest advancements in technology to aid in human affairs such as building new cities and the replacement of common labor jobs. It wasn’t until the late 80s that Fresco and his friend Roxanne Meadows developed and incorporated The Venus Project.

Located in Venus, Florida, The Venus Project is a research center which develops innovations in the fields of freelance inventing, industrial engineering, and conventional architectural modeling. The Venus Project aims to answer the question, how can we utilize technology wisely so that there is more than enough for everyone on our planet? To make this happen, Fresco proposes that a planning process must first occur, where the entire infrastructure of the planet is re-worked as a coherent resource trading system. This means the planet working together as one, eliminating the false borders that separate continents and countries and looking at our planet as an open trading highway system. For example, where in the world is the most efficient place to grow certain crops and produce?

Today our resource production is based around mass consumerism which promotes environmental neglect, as apposed to being based around dynamic equilibrium or the carrying capacity of the planet. This means we are not living in a sustainable society, and it is only a matter of time before we suck the planet dry of its resources. The key to abundance and high standards of living for all, Fresco suggests, is to automate as much as possible in the shortest period of time, working alongside technology to produce and distribute resources in the cleanest and most efficient way possible. The Venus Project suggests that our biggest problems right now are technical, not political, and that our questions can be solved through the use of science and technology to benefit all, not just a select group. Fresco believes that computers can serve everyone, and that computer intelligence and engineering will be at the epicenter of the global intelligence network of the future planet. The computer systems would oversee things such as production and distribution of goods, to ensure there would be no shortages or overruns of resources to any location on the planet. Decisions being made in this innovative society would be based around the needs of the people and the conservation of the planet, not corporate interests.

A rendering of the living quarters in the new cities proposed by The Venus Project; this layout would make for the most energy efficient way to construct a city, with all of the resources stationed in the center and the living quarters situated on the outskirts of the city.

A rendering of the living quarters in the new cities proposed by The Venus Project; this layout would make for the most energy efficient way to construct a city, with all of the resources stationed in the center and the living quarters situated on the outskirts of the city.

The Venus Project works to showcase the amazing and inspiring potential of computers and technology, and to help people understand that it is not technology that is responsible for the deterioration of the planet and society, but rather it is the abuse and misuse of machines and automated technology for selfish benefits that we should be weary of. Fresco and Meadows have been working together since the early 90s to provide technical blueprints for this proposed society, revealing how it would operate and how it would affect the entire social spectrum.

More interesting aspects of Fresco’s utopian world include the dissolution of automobiles, and the introduction of a complex but energy efficient transveyor and monorail system which would transport people wherever they needed to go. This would eliminate the pollution and high death rates caused by automobiles. The cities would be rebuilt as a circular shape, for this would allow the important resources to be readily accessible to everyone living in the city. The cities would be built using the least amount of materials as possible, and would be flexible enough to allow for innovative changes while preserving the local ecology.

In a society where everyone has equal access to goods and services, there is no need to fight for civil rights, or no need for laws that state “don’t steal”, because the abundance in this society would bypass that sort of behavior.

The cities would utilize the best in clean energy which would be harmonious with nature such as wind power, geo-thermal power, solar power, temperature difference, etc. This would supply energy to everywhere on the planet and ensure the highest standards of living for everyone. Polluting with hydro-carbons will be a thing of the past.

Some argue that Jacque Fresco’s plans are idealistic and crazy, and that our world is too far away from such a utopia. However, if we take a moment to observe our current state, it is easy to see that people are not content with the way the world is currently run. Countries all around the world are standing up to their governments with hope of reconstructing a future which provides equal and harmonious living standards for all.  We are aware that we need to create something new, and perhaps Jacque Fresco’s blueprints hold the key to the new Earth we’ve been waiting for all along.

A Couple Leaves their Jobs to Build a House of Windows in the Mountains of West Virginia

A Couple Leaves their Jobs to Build a House of Windows in the Mountains of West Virginia windows glass architecture

For their very first date, photographer Nick Olson took designer Lilah Horwitz on a walk in the mountains of West Virginia.

A Couple Leaves their Jobs to Build a House of Windows in the Mountains of West Virginia windows glass architecture

While chatting and getting to know each other during a particularly scenic sunset the two jokingly wondered what it would be like to live in a house where the entire facade was windows, so the sunset would never be contained within a small space.

A Couple Leaves their Jobs to Build a House of Windows in the Mountains of West Virginia windows glass architecture

Where most people would file the idea away as a dream or maybe an item at the bottom of a bucket list, the newly minted couple were a bit more aggressive. Less than a year later the two quit their jobs and embarked on a road trip starting in Pennsylvania to collect dozens of windows from garage sales and antique dealers.

A Couple Leaves their Jobs to Build a House of Windows in the Mountains of West Virginia windows glass architecture

A few weeks later they arrived in West Virginia and built the glass cabin in the exact same spot where they envisioned it on their fist date.

A Couple Leaves their Jobs to Build a House of Windows in the Mountains of West Virginia windows glass architecture

Filmmakers Matt Glass and Jordan Wayne Long of Half Cut Tea caught up with Horwirz and Olson to learn more about the construction of the building and their unusually strong commitment to following through with their artistic visions.

Joe Bell’s experience: “I was snowed in inside a pub for nine days”

Joe Bell Lion Inn pub Blakey Bank North Yorkshire

‘We stoked the fires until they roared louder than the wind outside and had a party every night’

Joe Bell was stranded in the Lion Inn pub , Blakey Bank, North Yorkshire for nine days in the winter of 2010. Photograph: Gary Calton for the Guardian

The first blizzard hit at 9pm. It was Friday 26 November 2010 and I was working, as usual, behind the bar of the Lion Inn, at Blakey Ridge, North Yorkshire. Built in 1553 in the heart of the North York Moors, the Lion is reckoned to be the fourth highest pub in England and is certainly one of the most remote.

Surrounded by miles of wilderness in every direction, the pub’s nearest village is Castleton, six miles down the valley. On a normal night, you can spot its lights glimmering in the distance – a reassuring reminder to those of us who work at the Lion that we are not completely alone. But that night they were gone, hidden behind an impenetrable wall of white.

I stepped outside, with chef Danny, 18, only to be beaten back by the howling wind. I took one step into the road and sank to my waist in snow. Then the voice of our waitress, Katie, also 18, echoed from inside: “The radio says they’ve stopped ploughing the roads. We’re stuck!” I shuddered as the reality of our isolation set in – suddenly the Lion felt like the last place left on Earth.

The evening shift comprised Katie, Danny and me, fellow barman Rob, 22, and 25-year-old head chef Stuart. We’d worked together for years and were good friends. The landlord was away that night, and our only guests were a friendly couple in their 50s from Sheffield.

The next morning I awoke in a guest bedroom to an eerie calm. The heavy snowfall and strong winds meant drifts of up to 16ft blocked the windows and doors, and the roads were too treacherous to drive on. Even if they hadn’t been, our cars were buried under 9ft of snow. Mercifully, the phone still worked, so we could keep the landlord updated and let our loved ones know we were safe.

For the next nine days we worked by day, looking after our guests, and by night we ate and drank like kings, feasting on all the finest food from the specials menu – steaks, pies, roasts – washed down with an ale or five.

After all, if we didn’t eat the food, it would go off, as would much of the ale. We stoked the fires until they roared louder than the wind outside and had a party every night. We drank, laughed, watched movies and played Monopoly before staggering drunk up to bed in whichever guestroom took our fancy.

The guests handled it well. They went on walks around the car park and didn’t once complain. They joined us for a drink each evening and even helped out by peeling veg.

One evening Stuart worked out that we could sledge on serving trays from the roof of the outhouse, which was completely buried, right to the pub’s back door. We sledged every night after that, while Katie made snow angels and the guests built snowmen. It was as good as any ski resort.

It was also strangely liberating being cut off from the world; the pressures of daily life ceased to apply. But when we ran out of cigarettes on the eighth day, the smokers – Katie and me especially – began to suffer. The novelty was wearing thin. I remember wondering if anybody outside was thinking of us. At first the phone had rung constantly, but now it was silent.

On the ninth day I’d had enough. I was determined to get back to my life. Perhaps I’d gone stir crazy, but I could see the snow had begun to thaw a little, so I went outside to dig out my car. I dug for seven hours until I could get inside. Then, as I turned the key, I heard the chug-chug of a diesel engine and two yellow lights appeared through the mist. The snowplough had arrived to dig us out.

It turned out we hadn’t been forgotten. In fact, the whole of Yorkshire was talking about us – our ordeal even made the national news.

Four years on, I still work at the Lion, as assistant manager. Even now, people come in, asking about what happened then. I tell them it was hard and we were scared for our lives. But the truth is, I’ll treasure the experience for as long as I live. Looking back, I remember mostly how we laughed, cocooned inside the pub, the seven of us, with drinks in hand under flickering candlelight. I’ve not felt so cosy since.

The Seasteading Institute Promotional (VIDEO)

Joe Quirk, co-author of the forthcoming seasteading book, has more than a couple of reasons. Joe was one of dozens who attended the Seasteading Conference 2012 in San Francisco, which brought together dedicated adventure seekers and entrepreneurs looking to transform the ocean into the next frontier for humanity. Every great change throughout history has begun with a group of individuals who dreamt up a desire, and then acted to make their vision a reality. The number of reasons behind the desire to seastead are as numerous as the number of people in our community. Why are you seasteading?

Gold Smuggling Increases 7x In India And Surpasses Illegal Drug Trade

Seized gold bars are kept on displayed by custom officers at the international airport in Kolkata November 19, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer/Files

(Reuters) – Indian gold smugglers are adopting the methods of drug couriers to sidestep a government crackdown on imports of the precious metal, stashing gold in imported vehicles and even using mules who swallow nuggets to try to get them past airport security.

Stung by rules imposed this year to cut a high trade deficit and a record duty on imports, dealers and individual customers are fanning out across Asia to buy gold and sneak it back into the country.

Sri Lanka, Thailand and Singapore are the latest hotspots as authorities crack down on travellers from Dubai, the traditional source of smuggled gold.

In a sign of the times, whistleblowers who help bust illegal gold shipments can get a bigger reward in India than those who help catch cocaine and heroin smugglers.

“Gold and narcotics operate as two different syndicates but gold smuggling has become more profitable and fashionable,” said Kiran Kumar Karlapu, an official at Mumbai’s Air Intelligence Unit.

“There has been a several-fold increase in gold smuggling this year after restrictions from the government, which has left narcotics behind.”

From travellers laden head-to-toe in jewellery to passengers who conceal carbon-wrapped gold pieces in their bodies – in the mistaken belief that metal detectors will not be set off – Indians are smuggling in more bullion than ever, government officials say, driven by the country’s insatiable demand for the metal.

That suggests official data showing a sharp fall in gold buying, which has helped narrow India’s current account gap, may significantly underestimate the real level of gold flows.

The World Gold Council estimates that 150 to 200 tonnes of smuggled gold will enter India in 2013, on top of the 900 tonnes of official demand.

Between April to September alone, India’s customs officials seized nearly double the amount of smuggled gold it nabbed in all of 2012.

“Though the quantum of seizures has increased, in our opinion it reflects only 1 to 2 percent of total smuggling,” said a revenue intelligence officer in Mumbai who declined to be named. “Dubai is still the number one place from where gold gets in and Singapore is slowly emerging. Sri Lanka has become a staging point.”

Grappling with a high trade deficit and weak currency, India imposed measures this year to crimp demand for gold, the second most expensive item on its import bill after oil. It imposed a 10-percent duty on bullion and a 15-percent tariff on jewellery. Imports plunged to 24 tonnes in October from a record 162 tonnes in May.


Gold is an integral part of Indian culture, offered at weddings and festivals. India was the world’s biggest gold consumer until last year but will be overtaken by China in 2013.

India has now stepped up cooperation with nearby countries to stem the smuggling.

Last week, Sri Lanka limited the amount of jewellery its residents can take out of the country and it will try to monitor whether they bring it back. Pakistan banned all gold imports in August for a month as it believed much was being smuggled on into India.

Indian gold premiums have soared to $130 an ounce over London prices due to the supply crunch, compared with about $2 an ounce in Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand.

Banks and other official trading agencies in Singapore and Thailand that had supplied gold to their Indian counterparts have stopped due to India’s new rules.

But smaller dealers and retailers say they have been selling more to Indian customers than ever before, in jewellery and other forms.

Brian Lan, managing director of Singapore-based dealer GoldSilver Central Pte Ltd, said he has sold about 10 kg (22 lbs) of gold to a single Indian customer and gets multiple similarly big orders on some days.

“We have Indian dealers buying from us directly on a regular basis,” said a second Singapore dealer. “They say they have their own means of taking it in without getting caught.”