Sunday, March 22, 2009

Cold War Artifacts #143

The Soviet Weather Machine is up near the Arctic Circle. Underground.

The Soviet Weather Machine is gray. Leftover paint from battleships. Appropriated by the Commissar of Gray Paint, manufactured by the Progress Gray Paint Factory, where women in gray overalls and gray kerchiefs squeezed elephants and thunderheads in big presses to extract the gray pigment. A byproduct of the Progress factory was white elephants and big, puffy, white cumulus clouds.

The theory behind the Soviet Weather Machine was developed by Aleksandr Timofyeyev Sarkhov. Sort of like Lysenko, who was responsible for Soviet genetic theory, which, as it happens, was false. But at least the weather theory didn't hurt anyone.

Sarkhov, Lexi to his friends, developed a theory with three main principles, known as Sarkhov's Three Laws of Weather.

The first: Weather wants to change.

The second: Weather at rest tends to stay at rest, and weather in motion tends to stay in motion, unless acted on by an outside force, such as a big, gray weather machine constructed on the Siberian tundra.

Sarkhov's Third Law of Weather: If you don't like the weather, shut up and quit bitching about it, unless you want to get sent up to work on the big, gray weather machine.

Work on the machine began in the early 1940s, under Stalin's plan to create avalanches in the Austrian Alps, thereby blocking supply lines to the Nazis' eastern front.

The Commissar of Meteorology went to watch the first test. The machine was the size of a small refrigerator, the kind you could keep a keg of beer or the weekend supply of vodka in. There was a slot in the upper half, a knob with a pointer that could be turned to a number of selections designated with numbers, and an opening near the bottom.

"All right, Comrade Researcher, show us what you've got," said the commissar.

"Well, Comrade Commissar, the operation is quite simple. One sets the dial, thus." He turned the knob to a setting in the middle. "Then, to activate the machine, one places a ten-kopek coin in the slot." He shrugged apologetically. "Later we hope to add change-making functions, but at the moment exact change is necessary."

The researcher accepted a coin from his assistant and put it in the slot. It rattled down inside the machine. There was a humming noise, then the machine began rocking violently from side to side. The commissar jumped up, but the scientist held out his hand. "No cause for alarm," he said. "This is the normal function of the machine."

After about 30 seconds a buzzer sounded. The machine stopped, then a slushy white ball dropped into the opening. The assistant removed it with a pair of tongs and held it out for the commissar to examine.

"That's it?" he asked.

"We're still in the early stages of development."

"Development of what?"

"Hailstones, Comrade Commissar. We're well on our way to pea-sized hail, and we hope to have hail the size of golf balls by the end of the month."

"Golf balls?" said the Commissar. "Golf is decadent, bourgeois, capitalist. There will be no hail the size of golf balls."

"Very good, Comrade Commissar. We will proceed directly to grapefruits, melons, and soccer balls."

"Well, it all seems promising. Only…"

"Yes, Comrade Commissar?"

"Well. It's weather. One supposes that the hailstones, whatever their size, must eventually find their way into the air."

"Yes, Comrade Commissar. We have a crack artillery team working on that aspect of the project."

"Well, then. This is good progress."

"If I may suggest, Comrade Commissar..."


"The prototype hailstone that my assistant is holding..."

"Seems a bit large and mushy."

"We're working on the compression. But as it is, if the prototype hailstone is placed in a cup, or, say, a paper cone, and one adds flavored syrup or vodka to it, it becomes a delicious confection."

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