Saturday, February 23, 2013

February 23rd: Happy Defender's Day!

While it is still February 23rd allow me to say *Congratulations on Men's Day!* Actually, it's Defender's Day, more precisely Defender's of the Fatherland Day, more easily expressed in Russian than in English. 

Originally, 23 February was a day to recognize those who have protected the Fatherland by serving in the military. Now it has evolved so that guys of all ages are honored, even those who have protected nothing more than their toy cars and trucks.

Thought you might enjoy a couple of neat cards. First, a retro-style card. On the front you see an aviator, a soldier and a sailor.
It says, *23 of February. . . (Congratulations) with the Holiday!*  (The congratulations part is understood  from the grammar.) (Click images to enlarge.)

Here's the back, Thought you might like to have a look. I find Soviet-retro art so charming. Oh, and please forgive the marking on the verse. . . my beloved language teacher likes to scribble  mark all over my things in ink to help me understand.

Here's the first verse: Line 1) This day is the holiday for men  2) We traditionally consider for 3) our beloved men 4)  success and kind wishes. Verse 2: Line 1) May optimism help (you) 2) easily to move toward desired goals 3) And may life not stingily give 4) great success in all your favorite activities. (Russian's such a poetic language, you know, this has lovely cadence in the original language.)

Here's the perfect card for a boy. . .

*23rd of February. . . *

Click image. (*Wishing you. . .* is understood and built into the grammar)... Line 1) Decisiveness and courage in everything. 2) Wide horizons, brilliant goals, 3) good luck unchanging -- day after day, 4) Success without fail in everything you do.

And so dear men, young and old alike, CONGRATULATIONS on your holiday! Myself, I didn't give out cards, but did make up a double batch of chocolate zucchini muffins to share with neighbors and guys who work in nearby shops. Hold on, bet there's a picture here handy. . .

It's a fun way to meet neighbors, make new friends and say thank you.. Neighbors have been a major help to me over the years.

We need to show more appreciation to the men in our lives. Congratulations, dear ones!

Aldrich Ames: One Spy's Search for Significance

In February, 1994, Aldrich Ames was arrested and charged with selling secrets to the USSR. In his 30-year career with the CIA, Ames was promoted to chief of counterintelligence for the Soviet Division. He had easy access to the most delicate information of Soviet-American espionage.

In the early 1980's, Ames and his first wife divorced and as part of the settlement, he agreed to pay $46,000 over three years. But with an annual income of $60,000 and new wife who enjoyed the finer things of life, he was facing bankruptcy. Looking for a second source of income, he realized that the information at his fingertips could bring him a nice sum of cash

And so it was that Aldrich and Rosario began rather conspicuously to upgrade their standard of living. Stationed in Rome, Ames replaced his thrifty casuals for tailored Italian suits and $600 leather shoes. The new Jaguar in Ames' garage was worth more than his annual income but when zooming north through the Italian Alps and into Switzerland, he imagined himself a James Bond. 

Meanwhile, Russian informants were disappearing. The CIA had become alarmed and assigned a small team to investigate. In the video below, meet the pair accredited with catching Ames.

The list of Russian informants that Aldrich Ames sold to the Soviets included a General Deimitry Polykov who had supplied information for 20 years. One CIA source said that when a package of information arrived from Polykov, it was like Christmas. There was something for everyone. Polykov was described as the crown jewel, the perfect spy. And then he simply disappeared

Aldrich Ames is serving a life sentence without parole. He admits, The reasons that I did what I did in April of 1985 were personal, banal, and amounted really to kind of greed and folly. As simple as that.

The most cold-blooded traitor in US history, Ames was also the world's highest paid spy, having received more than 2 million cash with another 2 million dollars in a Moscow bank awaiting his retirement.

What really amazed me about Rick Ames is that I thought he had a feeling of loyalty to the people whom he dealt with and that is the betrayal that I can't understand, said FBI agent R. Patrick Watson.

As I see it, this drama comes down to money and what a person is willing to do in exchange for cash. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. (I Timothy 6:10). Actually, at the root is discontentment, wanting to be more significant, or rather to feel more significant. And believing that significance can be bought. And that it can be purchased with people's lives.

Let us learn to be content. Let us learn that significance is a given, whether or not we feel it. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Meteor Explosion Over Russia's Ural Mountains

You're likely aware that this morning at 9:00 local time, a meteor exploded over Chelyabinsk (pronounced Chel-YA-beensk), a city in the southern Ural Mountains of Russia. According to RT news, 300 buildings were damaged and 514 persons need medical care, mostly for injuries from flying glass. 

For some geographical perspective, here's a high-tech map for you: Because of course you deserve to know. ;)

So here's Russia: Click photo to enlarge. The red marker is pointing to Moscow. The orange sticky-note is pointing to Chelyabinsk, site of today's drama, some 930 miles east-southeast of Moscow. The green marker points to Rostov-on-Don, 650 miles south of Moscow and my home-sweet-home. That blue sticker points to lots more drama; we'll get to that in a minute.

First, here's a great video of highlights thanks to RT, Russia Today.

Interesting: I'm watching, more or less, РОССИЯ24, Russia's 24-hour news channel. This story is the only thing on the news.

But not everyone is convinced that today's phenomenon was a meteor. Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a politician with ideas of his own, claims the explosion was the US testing weapons. Bless his heart. Makes you wonder what he had for breakfast. Here's more on his theory.

Now, a look back to the last exploding meteor to hit the earth which also hit Russia. Thanks to the Smithsonian Institute for twittering today about the Tunguska Event, which hit Siberia in 1908, leveling forests for 800 square miles.

Here's our trusty map (Click to enlarge). The blue sticker points to Tunguska, an area 1,500 miles east of today's drama and 2,400 miles east of Moscow, according to my figuring.

While today's explosion was significant, it pales in comparison with the Tunguska Event. The Smithsonian story quotes NASA's calculations that the Tunguska explosion was equivalent to 185 Hiroshima bombs.

Have to admit, the first I heard of this was after coming to Russia. Actually it was in 2008, with the 100th anniversary of the event, I wrote,  I Feel the Earth Move...with a nod to Carol King's song of the 1970's.

How about you, dear blog reading friend. Any experience with meteors? Or. . . UFO's. Or. . . testing weapons, for that matter? Seriously, maybe you've been all too close to a natural disaster such as a tornado or earthquake. Please do share.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

The McCarthy Era Began: February 9, 1950

On this date in 1950, U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy charged that the U.S. Department of State was riddled with Communists. Thus began the 4- year era of McCarthyism.

Who would ever have predicted that within fifty years, Communism would decline in Russia and a democratic form of government would emerge? While there are folks here who pine for the good old days when Lenin and Stalin were in power, the younger generations have moved on. And the U.S. has moved on too. Joseph McCarthy's tactics and claims were exposed and the U.S. is concerned with security threats of a rather different nature.

Do You remember the McCarthy witchhunts?

Monday, February 04, 2013

Volgograd ~ Stalingrad ~ Commemorates February 1943 Victory

Over the weekend, Volgograd observed the 70th anniversary of the bloodiest battle of World War II, the battle in which Nazi forces surrendered, a turning point in the war. The victory of February 2, 1943 was the lead story on the news all day last Saturday, with special programming, interviews with veterans and grainy black-and-white video footage. The battle of Volgograd, that is Stalingrad, waged on for 200 days and has been described as one of the bloodiest in history. As many as two million Soviet citizens were killed.

Just as a rose by any other name is not a rose, veterans have campaigned that Volgograd return to its Soviet-era name, Stalingrad, a rather controversial request. City officials have compromised:  Stanlingrad will be the city's official name on six patriotic days scattered throughout the calendar year including February 2nd. 

A member of our congregation, Elena Lalaevna, served as a nurse during the war. As a decorated veteran, she receives regular letters of appreciation from Moscow, as she puts it. Elena Lalaevna graciously allowed me to photograph her with the newest card signed from the president, himself.

Elena Lalaevna with her card, *70 years after the Battle of Stalingrad.*  (Click  photos to enlarge.)

Pictured inside is Mat' Rodina, or The Motherland Calls, the symbol of  the Volgograd victory, a monument taller than the  Statue of Liberty. The card is beautifully written, expressing gratitude for each veteran's role in the war effort, what a difference his or her bravery made in stopping the Fascist aggression and how their efforts will always be remembered. The card is signed by Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, a most interesting signature.

Speaking of The Motherland statue, here are shots from my trip there one fine May.

Massive. See the people at the base of the statue? Mat' Rodina is atop a hill, 200 steps above the entrance to the memorial area. Each step represents one of the 200 days of the battle.

The general public is not permitted inside the statue. In the second video below, The Motherland Calls, meet the team of mountain climbers assigned to maintain the statue 

This video captures the reverence with which Russia observes such memorial days and the respect given war heroes.Video is courtesy of RT, Russia Today news service.

In this video, we meet the statue's designer and sculptor, the curator and the mountain climbers who maintain the statue.

So, dear Blog Reader, have you been to Volgograd, per chance? Have any family members who served in Russia? Or are you a World War II history buff? Please do share.