Thursday, June 29, 2006

Игорь Шпиленок - Igor Shpilenok's Nature Photography

Игор Шпиленок

Russia's natural resources extend far beyond petroleum products, minerals, and lumber. One of its greatest assests are the large expanses of nature - ranging from remote mountain wildernesses to swampy bogs to small dying villages.

Igor Shpilenok is a nature photographer and wildlife preservationist who lives in the Bryansk region. Igor founded the Bryansky Les Zapovednik and acted as its director for 11 years. He and his wife, Laura Williams, work as a writer-photographer team, bringing attention to rural life in Russia and to promote protected wildlife areas within Russia. Their focus is on "Russia’s system of protected areas, consisting of 100 zapovedniks (strict nature reserves) and 35 national parks".

You might also know Igor and Laura's work from Russian Life magazine, where they have had several articles (and photographs) about their life in the village of Chukhrai and travels in Kamchatka. Laura has written articles for other magazines and journals as well regarding Russia's natural resources (excerpt from E magazine article Russia's Global Treasure below):
When most Americans think of Russian nature, they think of environmental catastrophe--Chernobyl, oil spills, pollution. Yet Russia, with one-eighth of the Earth's land area, has one of the world's premiere systems of strictly protected areas, called "zapovedniks." Few people outside Russia know of the system or its important part in sustaining the global ecological balance. Large tracts of virgin forest play a role in global ecology comparable to rain forests. Intact areas of wilderness allow large-scale animal migrations. Scientific data long collected in the zapovednik system could shed light on global climate change and ecological trends.

Московский Метрополитен - Another View of the Moscow Metropolitan

I am sure many readers are familiar with the wonderful Bee Flower's Moscow Metro photography. Those images present a very utopian version of the Moscow Metro. Let's not kid ourselves, it isn't a Metro that you will ever actually see yourself - the experience of the Metro is still very interesting and worthwhile, but it isn't the sterile and perfect image presented by Bee.

Some time ago, I stumbled upon another view of the Moscow Metropolitan. Maybe many Russian readers have already visited this behind-the-scenes view of the Metro. And perhaps it is a view that only a civil engineer could find interesting. None the less, I thought it was worth sharing. The livejournal blogger Russos (and friends, apparently) find ways to make photographs of tunnels under construction or behind the scenes. He makes a point to say that he won't answer questions about where his images are made, or what they specifically might show. He also adds that he doesn't have problems with the police (and he won't explain why) - but he does have problems with passengers who stick their nose into his business.

The following is just a small sample of his images ... I encourage interested readers to explore the rest of his website and livejournal.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Service with a smile: Anna knows how to court fans

Service with a smile: Anna knows how to court fans

We have a short little fun sports article by Michael Felger of the Boston Herald and ESPN radio Boston regarding Anna Kournikova playing for the World Team Tennis Sacramento Capitals match in Boston ... against finger-flipping Martina Navratilova's Boston Lobsters (Seriously, I couldn't make this stuff up).

The event happens July 9th at Harvard's Bright Arena. I am sure tickets are on sale for all those who might be interested in attending.

The best part? Kournikova doesn’t seem to have a problem with either group. The Russian sex symbol knows the reasons why most people pay attention to her, and the tennis comes secondary. So be it.

During a conference call yesterday to tout her WTT stint ... Kournikova was bubbly, perky and coquettish. She giggled and guffawed. She admitted she couldn’t locate Delaware on a map (where the Capitals play three days before Boston) and had no problem with John McEnroe’s recent comments in which he said he could still handily beat the best women’s players in the world.

“John is just creating controversy,” Kournikova said with a laugh. “In a good way.”

Kournikova, 25, came across as the rarest of athletes, someone who doesn’t take herself too seriously. And despite all the criticism levied at her over the years for having never won a singles tournament (she has 16 doubles titles), you have to concede Kournikova her love of the game. Why else would she be slugging it out on the team tennis circuit years after a chronic bad back forced her from the tour?

“It’s just a great way to be on the court again,” Kournikova said. “It’s just so I can be on the court and play, because I do miss it. There are a lot of reasons why I love it.”

Even the trappings. During the upcoming trip to Delaware, for example, there will be a Kournikova look-a-like contest for girls ages 6-16. Some tennis players might take that as an affront. Not Kournikova. She’s going to serve as a judge.
“I think it will be cute to see them dressed up in their little tennis skirts,” she said.

Kournikova virtually gushed every time her impending trip to Boston was mentioned. (Maybe there’s a reason. Here’s a Tales-from-the-Naked-City item: What big-time, unmarried, local jock recently partied on the town until 4 a.m. with a high profile tennis star/sex kitten?).

“Hi Boston!” screeched Kournikova when a New England reporter came on the line. “I always have a great time up there!”

Hard to believe, but there is apparently some rowdiness in the crowds during team tennis matches. Get this: During a match last year (again, in Delaware) Navratilova gave the crowd the finger.

“There are bound to be weird incidents,” Kournikova said. “But you don’t take anything personal. Sports fans are sports fans. I think it’s awesome.” "
As a New England Patriots fan, I'm a regular reader of Felgers - and it is rare for his work to connect to something regarding Russia (the last time being Vladimir Putin's pocketing of Bob Kraft's Superbowl ring about 1 year ago).

Enjoy the light read and go see the team tennis match if you have an interest in the sport.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Kalashnikov Inventor Laments Proliferation

A quick apology followed by a quick article. I hadn't meant to be quite so infrequent in my blogging efforts the last few weeks. But between taking Katja to the emergency room for a sinus infection, the preparations for getting married, a week-long trip to Las Vegas, and getting caught up again at the office - there hasn't been a great deal of extra time for writing. I see some signs that I'll be able to get back on-track this week.
Kalashnikov inventor laments proliferation

From the associated press, we have a weekend email interview with Mikhail Timofeevich Kalashnikov (Михаил Тимофеевич Калашников), designer of the
AK-47. There is probably no weapon that has a more storied, dramatic, and influential history than the Kalashnikov assault rifle. Whether this is a black history or a golden one depends largely upon which side of the dividing line you reside. In this short interview, Kalashnikov restates something that he has said in the past: He is proud of his design and its achievements but laments its wide-spread use.
"Whenever I look at TV and I see the weapon I invented to defend my motherland in the hands of these bin Ladens I ask myself the same question: How did it get into their hands?" the 86-year-old Russian gun maker said.

"I didn't put it in the hands of bandits and terrorists and it's not my fault that it has mushroomed uncontrollably across the globe. Can I be blamed that they consider it the most reliable weapon?"

"We sold the weapons to some countries for a symbolic price or even for nothing, with the aim of assisting national liberation struggles. Of course, this meant the Kalashnikov became available around the world,"
The reasons for his weapons proliferation are multiple. Beyond just the fact that it is extremely simple, durable, and reliable - the AK-47 and its manufacturing was distributed widely by the former Soviet Union. This is a decision that has repeatedly come back to haunt the former CCCP and Russia, in Afghanistan and most recently in Chechnya. Lastly, it is worth noting that like many former Soviet Union designers, Mikhail Kalashnikov has never gained real financial benefit from his design or expertise. He continues to work for Izhmash (Ижмаш) producing updated versions of his original rifle. His personal awards are multiple, including the Stalin Prize (First Class) for his rifle design in 1949, the year it was official adopted as the standard issue rifle for the Soviet Army; Hero of Socialist Labor (1958 and 1976); The Lenin Prize (1964); Order of the Red Banner of Labor; and Order of the Red Star. He was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Engineering in 1971.
And additional 2001 interview with Mikhail Kalashnikov is quoted below. I felt several of his points expanded upon the more recent AP news articles.
“I was in the hospital, and a soldier in the bed beside me asked: ‘Why do our soldiers have only one rifle for two or three of our men, when the Germans have automatics?’ So I designed one. I was a soldier, and I created a machine gun for a soldier. It was called an Avtomat Kalashnikova, the automatic weapon of Kalashnikov - AK - and it carried the date of its first manufacture, 1947.”

The AK-47 became the symbol of revolution—Palestinian, Angolan, Vietnamese, Algerian, Afghan, Hezbollah, the battle rifle of the Warsaw Pact. And, of course, I asked old Mikhail Kalashnikov how he could justify all this blood, all those corpses torn to bits by his invention. He had been asked before.

“You see, maybe all these feelings come about because one side wants to liberate itself with arms. But in my opinion, it is the good that prevails. You may live to see the day when good prevails—it will be after I am dead. But the time will come when my weapons will be no more used or necessary.”

“When I met the Mozambique minister of defense, he presented me with his country’s national banner, which carries the image of a Kalashnikov submachine gun. And he told me that when all the liberation soldiers went home to their villages, they named their sons ‘Kalash.’ I think this is an honor, not just a military success. It’s a success in life when people are named after me, after Mikhail Kalashnikov.”

“My aim was to create armaments to protect the borders of my motherland. It is not my fault that the Kalashnikov became very well-known in the world; that it was used in many troubled places. I think the policies of these countries are to blame, not the designers. Man is born to protect his family, his children, his wife."