Tag Archive: Evil Empire


Meet the baby of the family, the unexpected/unplanned baby of the family.

This coming Saturday, Pi Day, the mathematically inept, right-brained baby will “celebrate” the successful navigation of 60 years on the planet, and look forward to hopefully plenty more.kmb2

Much has changed since the decade of Ike, Elvis, Disneyland, Sputnik, U2 (not the band) and “Senator, have you no sense of decency?”

The author of Almost DailyBrett has always been a tad vertically challenged; in time became follicly challenged, and still vows to never-ever be horizontally challenged. Looking forward to Saturday’s cross-training with Nike+, charting the results.

Tempted to mimic a lyric, “Oh, what a long, strange trip it has been,” but I was never into that kind of “trip.” When it comes to sex, drugs and rock n’ roll, always been a big fan of the first, still dig the latter (never was a Dead Head), and never understood the appeal of the “medicine.”

Baby Boomers are supposed to wax nostalgic for the 1960s and the demonstrations in the streets of Chicago and arrests on the quad at Berkeley. What the heck happened to your author? Instead, he pleasantly recollects the 1980s, when he tied the knot for the first time, became a father to Allison, when it was Morning in America.

California even balanced its budget, raised zero taxes and maintained a $1 billion for emergency. Almost sounds quaint when compared to today’s oceans of red ink for our children’s children to pay. Yep, the 1980s worked; they always will; historical revisionism be damned.

Come to think of it, during my life a Wall went up in 1961 (“Ich bin ein Berliner”) and it came down 28 years later (“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”). O.J. sliced up UCLA’s defense in 1967 and Nicole Brown a generation later.

Nothing has ever been permanent, particularly disco, hem-and-tan lines.

Brady Bunch Neighborhood

Growing up in lily-white Glendale, California in the age of Hogan’s Heroes and the God-awful Brady Bunch, your blog writer will always be grateful for those priests and nuns who taught writing, reading and literature. They also transformed me into the rotten Catholic I am today with their unique combination of arrogance, boorishness and corporal punishment.

Sorry to say Padre, you were wrong: Mary Magdalene was not a whore.

There was the bitter divorce of 1967, but with it came life-long lessons about how to and how NOT to treat the fairer gender. Monogamy with a special one is best; you should try it and stick with it, fellow hombres.ibmselectric

My love of writing began at eight-years old, the very same year in which the school loud speakers told us about the death of a young president. This same infatuation with the pencil, pen, IBM Selectric, work station, PC, and now the mobile device continued as man walked on the moon, a president resigned, our diplomats were held hostage for 444 days, and planes crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Growing up, always thought that Nixon’s first name was “Damn.” Came to appreciate that Tricky Dick and Slick Willie were spot-on names for my least favorite presidents. Thankfully, Nixon abolished the draft. There was no ‘Nam for me, University of Oregon instead.

The Earth Shook

Eventually graduated from the University of Southern California with a Rose Bowl ring and no loans. Yes I was fortunate, but a long career laid before me. Cut my teeth covering the Proposition 13 tax-revolt earthquake in 1978. Toured the Soviet Union in 1981, seeing the Evil Empire and its grip on people up close and personal. Recruited to serve as the press director for the Deukmejian Campaign Committee the following year. We won the governorship of California at 5 am the day-after-the-election. We recorded the biggest landslide in blue state California’s history four years later.

Sacramento has two seasons: Hot and Cold. Served as the Governor George Deukmejian’s press secretary as the earth shook San Francisco (e.g., Loma Prieta Earthquake). Was told “The Bay Bridge is in the Water.”  Whew, it was not true, even though the Cypress Structure mysteriously came down.cypressstructure

Next was trees, owls, chips and Japan, which led to the fifth most famous person from Liverpool, Wilf Corrigan, and LSI Logic. Saw the Internet bubble rise and inevitably it exploded, resulting in seven rounds of layoffs and a company on the brink. We survived and yet it was time for Wilf to retire … The world moved on to social, mobile and cloud.

Faced mortality twice, first with prostate cancer and then with Valley Fever/Meningitis. Fought off the first and battled the second to a draw, and yet it was my first wife, Robin, who lost her battle to cancer. Life is unfair. Life is fickle. Life is finite.

Attained the so-called “Holy Grail” of public relations, vaunted agency experience with a life-changing side-effect; subbing at Santa Clara University. Could I teach at the college level, maybe even at the school that caused time to stop with “Kenny Wheaton is going to score; Kenny Wheaton is going to score”?DSC01171

Accepted a fellowship to the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication and earned 15 months later my master’s degree. The attainment of a second career was complete with a full-time instructor position at UO, and now a tenure-track assistant professor gig, teaching public relations/advertising/corporate communications/investor relations at Central Washington University.

And best of all, the author of Almost DailyBrett turned his attention away from his blog long enough to survey the field of contenders on Match.com. The result was a love affair with Jeanne, fireworks on the Fourth of July, and trips in the little green chariot. Next up is our long-overdue romantic honeymoon to Bavaria and Tuscany, Mad King Ludwig’s castles and Under the Tuscan Sun.

I am one lucky dude.

Today, I am inspired by Mick and Keith at 71, Ronnie at 68, and geriatric Charlie at 73 on worldwide tour. To use more than a few metaphors, there is still plenty of gas in the tank and the engine continues to rev every morning. It’s pedal to the metal time.

“Oh what a long, strange trip it has been.” Looking forward to continuing the ride with the top down and my few remaining hairs flowing in the breeze.DSC01421

 

It would be hard to make this up.

Our Club Universe American tour guide to the “Evil Empire” in 1981 was named … Joseph McCarthy.

Over a round of adult beverages in the “office” (e.g., hotel bar), he assigned an unofficial tag line for the state-run Aeroflot, essentially public transportation in the sky: “The Longer the Flight, The Longer the Delay.”

If your flight was about two hours from Moscow to then-Leningrad; now-St. Petersburg, the delay was about two hours. If you were flying eight hours from Moscow to Novosibirsk…Lenin help you.

aeroflot

The in-flight cuisine was Tatiana delivering plastic cups of mineral water. That’s all, folks.

With Aeroflot at the time, you knew what to expect. Yes, there was a consistency of product.

You were back in the USSR; You don’t know how lucky you are boy…

The Soviet Union has now gone into the history books, even though Russia with all of its backwardness and sadness (even with the temporary joy of the Sochi Olympics), still exists.

What also exists are customer expectations and consistency of product. And in most cases that is a “Good Thing” as Martha would say.

Take Starbucks (NASDAQ: SBUX) for example.  The line sometimes goes back to the door. The prices are high. Knowing the author of Almost DailyBrett and $3.70 will result in a Grande mocha with no whip. And yet so many will shell out for their daily fix. The Grande mocha tastes the same in Dublin, Ireland as it does in Ellensburg, Washington.

Some may scoff at McDonald’s (NYSE: MCD), but the company has nailed fast food. You know what you are getting and there is a consistency of product. Yes, a Big Mac tastes the same in Tokyo as it does in Brussels as it does in Hood River, Oregon.

Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) has essentially pioneered digital retailing. The company even acquired online shoe store, Zappos, which built its reputation on under-promising and over-delivering (shoes arrive before their promised delivery date), literally providing customers with the consummate “wow” experience.

Amazon fulfillment center

Digital search-engine leader Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) has become a verb, an ultimate sign of success as in “Google this; Google that.”

For flyers of Southwest Airlines (NYSE: LUV), you know what you are getting and not getting. Plan on joking flight attendants, Boeing 737-700s that are habitually on time, peanuts and/or pretzels and a soft drink. Don’t plan on assigned seats or in-flight cuisine. There is a consistency of product, and that speaks to the company’s brand as the nation’s leading low-cost carrier. Reportedly based on percentages of applicants vs. acceptances, the percentages are more in favor of being admitted to Harvard than landing a job at Southwest.

The point is these firms have learned the lessons from failing companies (or companies that should be put out of their misery), including J.C. Penney, Braniff, and Circuit City.

What is the usual customer expectation driving into the parking lot of any state’s Department of Motor Vehicles? There are three absolutes in life: Death, Taxes and DMV.

As you emerge from the car, you can sense your pulse quickening and your blood-pressure rising. Your dog-eared copy of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace is ready at your side. Will Napoleon’s Grand Armee drive to Moscow and beat a snowy retreat to France before your number is called at DMV?

dmv

Everyone, staring at the linoleum floors, sitting in the plastic chairs, and waiting for the cheerless bureaucrats, has the same pained look on their collective faces. Are your papers in Ordnung? If your papers are nicht in Ordnung, you will be sentenced to the gulag…another trip to DMV.

Yes, your expectations are being fulfilled, and (alas) there is a consistency of product.

Even though DMV operates in a monopoly position, similar to nationalized industries in the former Soviet Union, would anyone in their right mind invest in this stock: (NYSE: DMV)?

Keep in mind, DMV does not have a corner on the market when it comes to a desultory customer service experience. There is always (drum roll), the United States Postal Service.

How about staking a portion of your life’s savings in (NASDAQ: USPS)?

The USPS reached an all-time peak of volume served in 2006. It has been all downhill ever since. In 2013, the USPS lost $5 billion on top-line revenue of $66 billion. Not only is the USPS underperforming vis-and-vis its private sector competition, Fed-Ex and UPS, but the digital writing is on the wall as the Internet is providing even more reasons (e.g., online bill paying) to avoid costly snail-mail.

postoffice

This reality is evidenced in those selected to provide “customer service” at USPS stores (e.g., post offices). If there is the potential of staffing four registers, the USPS will offer two joyless staffers even though the customer line is stretching out the door.

Yes, there are customers standing in long lines at many Starbucks, but they have a happy ending in the offing in the form of a latte, cappuccino or mocha. At the USPS, joy comes with reaching the front of the line, shipping your package, buying snail-mail stamps and then mercifully…leaving.

To many, the word “corporate” has become a dirty word. And you can see the roots of the negativity, multi-million executive “golden” parachutes, Bernie Madoff Ponzi schemes, Walmarts driving smaller competitors out of business etc. etc. etc.

Having acknowledged the obvious, there is a flip side to the word, “corporate.” The other side of the story revolves around great products, literally millions of jobs, and bursts of innovation. Do we think of Starbucks or the DMV (or even Amtrak) when it comes to a superb product and a super customer experience? When it comes to innovation, would we bet our future on Amazon’s ability to move products or the USPS?

Many are wary of the prospect of DMV-style “service” when it comes to services provided by government, whether it be auto registration, mail delivery or maybe even health care.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aeroflot

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Postal_Service

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zappos

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernard_Madoff

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_and_Peace

Or is it Outsourcing to Insourcing?

Did I just buy a computer that was made in (gasp) Communist China?

Is this unpatriotic? Or is it patriotic?

Did Chairman Mao just turn over in his grave?

mao

These questions seem to suggest not only how much yours truly has changed, but how the world has shifted its attitudes and business practices in the past four decades.

One suspects that Henry Kissinger knew that his secret trip to China in 1971 had the potential to change the geopolitical balance of affairs, but the question is how much? And it is clear that Deng Xiaoping altered China for the better by coming to the obvious conclusion that Capitalism even with its well-documented flaws is still light years better than Cultural Revolutions and collective farms.

Having said that, it is Big Leap Forward from Kissinger’s sub-rosa journey and Deng’s landmark reforms to the significance of my purchase of a Lenovo Ideapad laptop for $600 (Best Buy) powered by an Intel Core i5 microprocessor (Santa Clara, CA) and controlled by Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system (Redmond, WA).

And now good ole boys and girls in Whitsett, North Carolina are hard at work producing more PCs, hybrid PCs/tablets (e.g, Lenovo Yoga) and servers for a company that was started in 1984 by a $25,000 state (Chinese Academy of Sciences) investment…the state that brought a chilling new meaning to the words, Tiananmen Square.

Yep, I bought a laptop from a company that was created by an investment made by Communist China and held its first meetings in a guard shack.

Back in days of the Evil Empire, I made my first trip overseas…and not to a place in which most post-college bachelors go for vacation: Russia. It was the 1981 Soviet Union of that fun-loving guy, Leonid Brezhnev.

Upon returning my maternal grandfather told me there were two places he never wanted to go to: One was hell; the other…you guessed it.

Just as if it was yesterday, I remember after a performance of the Bolshoi Ballet standing on the edge of Red Square with the onion-dome masterpiece, flood-lit St. Basil’s, on the opposite end…Ground Zero of the Cold War. Deep down inside I was hoping that this would be neither the time nor the place for a thermonuclear confrontation, particularly at that exact time.

Reflecting back on my visit to the country of 11 time zones, which is a must for any student of modern history and politics, I can see the average people packed like sardines into trolley cars, while the most equal-of-the-equals zipped on by in special lanes for their Zil limos. The USSR even took Diner’s Club, Carte Blanche along with Visa and American Express. When were the Reds coming back?

I didn’t like Communism before I made this trip. I liked it even less after my visit.

If you asked me at the time, if I would ever buy any product made by a communist country that treats its people as if they were sheep, the answer would be an emphatic, “nyet” or “het” in Cyrillic.

lenovoideapad

Serving as a director of corporate public relations for a Silicon Valley hardware innovator and later as a vice president for an international public relations agency, I wore out at least three IBM Think Pad laptops.

“What’s this blue screen?” I would ask one of our all-knowing IT managers. “Ah, did you back up your files?” I was asked. “What if I didn’t? I replied. Welcome to the “Blue Screen of Death.”

Little did I appreciate was that IBM (e.g., Itty Bitty Machines) was outsourcing a portion of its ThinkPad business to China’s Lenovo, and then Big Blue outright sold the its corporate PC business to Lenovo in 2005. I have been using a Chinese laptop for the better part of a decade, and last year I doubled downed on this bet.

Reading about Lenovo, I discovered that English is the $30 billion company’s official business language. It maintains two headquarters, one predictably in Beijing, and the other at IBM’s former PC hub in Morristown, NC. And just this year, Lenovo started manufacturing in the aforementioned Whitsett in the Tar heel State.

Let’s see…IBM outsourced a portion of its PC business to China, taking advantage of lower Chinese manufacturing costs and giving the company greater access to the world’s largest market. Eventually IBM (which invented the PC in 1981) sold the business to Lenovo. And now global market share leader Lenovo is outsourcing a portion of its PC business to the United States or insourcing the business in North Carolina, if you prefer that point of view.

Topping it off, China is becoming a more expensive place to manufacture with each passing day and the US is getting cheaper as demand for skilled Chinese labor is going up. The Pacific Ocean is just as big as ever and shipping costs are a major factor. Cost parity is expected in two years.  Lenovo is outsourcing PC production to the United States, bringing it closer to US customers and key suppliers including Intel and Microsoft.

Does this mean that buying a Chinese computer is patriotic? That seems like a stretch, particularly for a guy who saw the Evil Empire up close and personal.

If you agree that buying a Chinese computer is actually patriotic, then financing the nation’s $17.4 billion debt through China occasions playing of the Star Spangled Banner.

So why are we upset about outsourcing?

And what is the true meaning of outsourcing anyway?

Or is it actually insourcing?

Who the heck knows?

http://www.economist.com/news/special-report/21569572-after-decades-sending-work-across-world-companies-are-rethinking-their-offshoring

http://www.economist.com/news/business/21569398-how-did-lenovo-become-worlds-biggest-computer-company-guard-shack-global-giant

http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2013/05/focus

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lenovo

http://www.cnbc.com/id/100651692

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deng_Xiaoping

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiananmen_Square

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonid_Brezhnev

http://news.lenovo.com/article_display.cfm?article_id=1635

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