When marketing types talk about the world's most famous brands, they usually have names like Coca-Cola and Marlboro in mind. But there's; one brand which has conquered whole swathes of the world where Western consumer goods can find n o purchase. Pepsi isn't the choice of the new generationin Afghanistan. It's Kalashnikov. Plus the world of mini-movies where an Iranian au pair runs off with an American agoraphobic in a bid for freedom
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The Independent Culture

The AK-47 submachine-gun made its mark on history by putting full auto death at 600 rounds a minute within the grasp of the least educated and most impoverished youths in the Third World. Although it owed its success in this respect to Soviet foreign policy as well as to its rugged engineering, AKs were the only mass-produced Soviet goods that anybody with a choice might prefer to Western equivalents. With its memorable name and visual signature, the AK family of weapons has two valuable assets in the struggle to survive in the battlefields of the free market. And, yes, it also has a website. Not the obvious either, but the to-die-for domain

One of the site's main functions is as the latest in a series of tributes to the man behind the guns, Mikhail Timofeevich Kalashnikov, which began with a Stalin Prize in 1949. Mikhail Timofeevich is in the premier league of 20th-century survivors. Born in 1919, he commanded a tank in the Great Patriotic War, devised his first submachine gun while recovering in hospital from wounds sustained in combat, and spent nearly 50 years designing guns in the city of Izhevsk, while Soviet leaders came and went. He never made a kopek in royalties from the 70 million AKs said to have been built. He has his fan mail by way of consolation. "MT Kalashnikov is curious to know what you think of his products," it says above the e-mail form, and one is curious to know what he thinks of people with names like Swamphead who say things like "Cool weapon, works great." Or the disabled US Army veteran who, despite having been on the receiving end as well as the business end of Mikhail Timofeevich's creations, writes to say "I love your work".


The Reds may have gone, but the tyres are still whitewalled and the tanks are still rolling in the on-line English-language edition of Military Parade, which proudly boasts that it is "the only national publication of the military-industrial complex of Russia". The military may be unpaid and hungry, but the industry doesn't have an inferiority complex about products such as the T-80U-M1 Bars tank, which according to Military Parade is "as powerful as a dreadnought, as fast and comfortable as a Mercedes car". It can probably take drunken drivers and concrete pillars in its stride as well - probably has to, in Russian Army service - but it missed out on the mission that had its name on it.


Real Kalashnikovs, not your Romanian or Chinese copies, come from Izhevsk, in a republic of the Russian Federation that rejoices in the name of Udmurtia. Although it sounds like the nether regions of a bog, we learn from the Republic's website that Udmurtia is a woodland realm in the Urals whose people carry within them the pagan forest spirit of their Estonian and Finnish cousins. Udmurts, the site observes, are distinguished in appearance by a tendency towards red hair, high cheekbones and wide faces; and in temperament by diligence, shyness, thrift that can become stinginess, and insistence that may turn into obstinacy.

"I posted a message about a month ago asking for your autograph. I told you we all wanted AKs. Now each one of us has at least one AK-74. In my homemade bunker in which we meet, I have an AK mounted over the entrance. I have supplied each of my members with the Hellstorm 2000 fully automatic conversion and each own a 100 round drum. We have at least 60,000 rounds of 7.62-39 ammunition. I just wanted to tell you that our militia is based on the AK-74 and its excellence." An e-mail to Mikhail Timofeevich Kalashnikov from the self-styled 'President of the Confederate States of America Raiders Militia'


The Sync, a site with ambitions to rewrite the rules of Internet broadcasting, has a repertoire of feature films on offer. The catch is that they are delivered by RealVideo, which means a window the size of a passport photo, with a distracting box underneath that displays messages about how slowly the video is being transmitted. Highlights include Reefer Madness, the 1936 anti-marijuana shocker now played for laughs, Nosferatu, The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, Pasolini's The Gospel According to St Matthew, but these classics pale beside Walls of Sand, "a sensual film of friendship between two women, an Iranian au pair and an American agoraphobic, who embark upon a dramatic quest for freedom."


King Hussein of Jordan has stayed on the throne for 45 years, flies his own jet, and probably coded up his own website too. But whoever did it, the results show the British Royal Family site up for the stuffy, uninspired affair it is. Clicking on various items in His Majesty's office (left) opens up pages about the Hashemite royal family and its line of descent from the Prophet Muhammad, the role of Islam in modern life, and the delicate question of Jordan's role in the Middle East. About the only trick missed by the monarch formerly known as the Plucky Little King (until he sided with Saddam after Iraq annexed Kuwait) was to call his domain "kinghussein" rather than "plk".



When personal stereos were first launched, some of them even came with their own built-in speaker. This was almost always mono, thus defeating the point, and always always terrible quality. LG's latest beaut, the snappily named AHA-RX11M, is a neatly styled silver cassette recorder. Take it home, though and you can simply plop it into the waiting slot on its base unit. The combined system plugs into the mains, can recharge the battery, and plays your cassette through the actually-quite-good speakers. It looks neat, it sounds okay, and if those things weren't enough, it also works as a stereo radio (FM only), and by the cunning use of the "wake" function, you can set the radio to switch on up to 12 hours later, making it an expensive and not very user-friendly alarm clock. A word of warning, though, the instructions are quite difficult to understand, having been authored, presumably, by a writer for whom English was not their first language. Fifth, perhaps. Price pounds 129.99, stockist information 0870 607 5544. David Phelan