Tag Archive: Leonid Brezhnev


Lost my Apple 5s smart phone on Lufthansa flight #491 from Seattle to Frankfurt.

Besides being a $599 mistake, yours truly had no cell phone for the entire course of our 17-day honeymoon to Bavaria (e.g., Gemütlichkeit) and to Tuscany (e.g., Le Dolce Vita).

To more than a few the loss of a cell phone for almost three weeks would be the near equivalent of being sentenced to three years of solitary confinement or even worse, suicide. How can life possibly go on? How can my online disciples know exactly what I am doing at exactly this very point in time? Shudder: No smart phone means a world without Facebook “likes” and immediate gratification.

Tourists use a selfie stick on the Trocadero Square, with the Eiffel Tower in background, in Paris, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015. Selfie sticks have become enormously popular among tourists because you don’t have to ask strangers to take your picture, and unlike hand-held selfies, you can capture a wider view without showing your arm. But some people find selfie sticks obnoxious, arguing that they detract from the travel experience. (AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere)

Tourists use a selfie stick on the Trocadero Square, with the Eiffel Tower in background, in Paris, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015. Selfie sticks have become enormously popular among tourists because you don’t have to ask strangers to take your picture, and unlike hand-held selfies, you can capture a wider view without showing your arm. But some people find selfie sticks obnoxious, arguing that they detract from the travel experience. (AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere)

Even for Pollyannaish me, I immediately realized that Lufthansa was not going to find my cell phone in the messy cabin of a Boeing 747. Maybe it ended up in some flea market along the banks of the Main River.

Hopefully, I still had an upgrade at Verizon Wireless (alas that was not the case). Quickly coming to full acceptance mode, I rationalized there were at least 1,000 worse things that can happen to anyone than just misplacing an uninsured cell phone.

Besides Jeanne and I were on our belated honeymoon. Beer was on the tables in fun München and soon Sangiovese would be served al fresco in romantic Firenze. There were art museums to check out, castles to explore, and little Alpine towns that beckoned us. The cell phone replacement could just wait for our return to bucolic Ellensburg, Washington

Mobile Technology Liberation

What became immediately apparent in my first moments of Apple OS cold turkey was watching the teeming hordes on München’s famed Marienplatz, and coming to the realization about literally how many people were paying more attention to their mobile devices than the centuries worth of history all around them.

What would Mad King Ludwig think? Would smart phone narcissism drive him crazy?

And then I saw them: The narcisticks. Yes, the selfie-sticks. The same selfie-sticks that would be hocked by the bushel on the Ponte Vecchio the following week in Firenze. München’s 11 a.m. Glockenspiel play may be in full motion in the background, but the selfie-stick crowd was more interested in the folks in the foreground – the very same people they saw in the mirror earlier that very same morning.selfiestickobama

Smart phones have become indispensable, but at the same time they are addicting. This point is not novel, but to see it played out throughout Europe at the height of the summer tourist season was nonetheless stunning, revealing and disconcerting.

One week later, we were the first through the doors of the Galleria dell’ Accademia in Florence. We immediately headed for Michelangelo’s 17-foot masterpiece sculpture of David. Being among the first, we took digital photos of the statue and ourselves in front of David. We concentrated and admired arguably the greatest sculpture on the planet, dating back to 1504.

Coming back later, the crowds predictably had descended on David, including literally hundreds with their mobile phones and selfie sticks (don’t inadvertently scratch the statue!). What would King David think, if he was still around? ‘I fought off Goliath, and I have held this pose for more than 500 years, just to have you take a selfie in front of me?’

Early the next day was the Uffizi Gallery and Botticcelli’s The Birth of Venus and Primavera. Once again, the early birds caught the worm and we were virtually alone with these 15th Century masterpieces for a few precious minutes. Our relative solitude would soon change as the selfie-stick brigade came charging down the second floor hallway of the Uffizi. Yes, Venus standing on her sea-shell would serve as the mere background for the narcissists in the foreground.

Be sure to smile. Maybe Venus can even be in focus?

Behind the Iron Curtain

A little more than three decades ago, yours truly made his first trip overseas to Leonid Brezhnev’s Russia. PCs were just being mainstreamed by IBM in 1981. There were really no cell phones, let alone selfie sticks. We went into and out of the Soviet Union with no ways to communicate, other than postcards back home or an ultra-expensive KGB monitored phone call from the Intourist hotel.

During the course of this venture and subsequent pleasure and business trips to Europe and Asia, I always tried to concentrate on the dramatic change of scenery, the splendors of the Old World and the different cultures. It was about Russia, England, Germany, Netherlands, Italy, Japan etc., and not about me … and I was fine with that.

The libertarian in me usually gravitates in the direction of personal freedom. At the same time, there is a global movement toward the banning of narcisticks including Disney parks, the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel, Mecca, Lake Tahoe and wisely … The Running of the Bulls at Pamplona (great selfie shot before being gored by angry Torro).selfiestickpamplona

Autzen Stadium in Eugene (e.g., “It never rains at Autzen Stadium”) has banned umbrellas. Why? They are potentially dangerous and they block views of Oregon touchdowns. As a 25-year season ticket holder, this ban makes sense. Besides it rarely rains that hard in Oregon.

Prohibiting selfie sticks in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles works for little ole me. According to Travel Advisor Tips, there are “17 grand arched windows facing Palace of Versailles gardens [which] are reflected in the 17 arches inlaid with 357 pieces of mirrors creating the effect of mesmerizing beauty.”

Three-hundred fifty-seven mirrors? Isn’t that enough for even the most dedicated narcissist?

Guess not. How would the narcissist’s friends “like” these pleasing reflections, if they cannot see them online? That simply will not do.

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

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/09/sunday-review/what-selfie-sticks-really-tell-us-about-ourselves.html?_r=0

http://www.cntraveler.com/galleries/2014-11-04/no-selfies-social-media-bans-at-landmarks

http://artdaily.com/news/76962/More-bad-news-for-selfie-stick-lovers–Paris-museums-move-towards-ban-on-sticks#.VdzA3I2FNCo

http://www.traveladvisortips.com/palace-of-versailles-hall-of-mirrors-facts/

https://uk.news.yahoo.com/more-people-killed-selfies-shark-075732332.html#Gh74G2a

 

 

 

 

Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” – Winston Churchill

My maternal grandfather never wanted to go to two places: Hell and Russia.

He lived to the century mark and slightly beyond. I doubt he went anyplace, but heaven. I’m certain he never stepped foot inside Russia.

kevinrussia

The author of Almost DailyBrett visited the USSR in 1981, when Leonid Brezhnev and the Politburo were calling the shots. That was 33 years ago.

Today, the Soviet Union is an unpleasant Cold War memory. Nonetheless, Russia remains a difficult and perplexing nine-time-zone nation on the geopolitical map, stretching from Belarus in the West to Vladivostok on the Pacific … and is just as fascinating as ever.

Putin or no Vladimir Putin, I want to go back and check out the changes before I meet Anastasia (“screamed in vain”) in the after-life.

Honeymoon in Stalingrad?

Even though I married Rachel Weisz’ twin, or at least Jeanne could easily be mistaken as Rachel’s sibling, we are not heading to the banks of the Volga for our belated honeymoon. The castles of Bavaria and the phallic symbols of Tuscany in summer are a smidge more romantic.

This is not to suggest that Enemy at the Gates was not a love story. Heck, you have all the elements of a great Casablanca love triangle: Jude Law (sniper Vassili Zaitzev), Joseph Fiennes (Commissar Danilov) and Weisz (Tania), the rubble of Stalingrad and the Wehrmacht and the Red Army in a battle to the death.lawweisz

Nonetheless Russia is calling, and it is a bucket list kind of summons. Some may want to jump out of airplanes. Others may swim with dolphins or sharks (hard to keep them straight) or march with the penguins in Antarctica.

Yours truly wants to walk across Krásnaya Plóshchaď (Red Square) one more time. The same applies to St. Petersburg (it was Leningrad back in 1981) with the Hermitage Museum (Czar’s Winter Palace) and the Summer Palace.

And of course, this time there must be a visit to the aforementioned Stalingrad, now named Volgagrad. It will never be Volgagrad in my mind; it will always be Stalingrad, the most decisive battle of World War II. Germany was finished after Field Marshal Friedrich Wilhelm Ernst Paulus surrendered his surrounded Sixth Army in January 1943.

Looking down at the Russian steppes 33 years ago from an Aeroflot flight from Moscow to Vilnius, Lithuania, I could imagine the majestic Cossacks, Napoleon’s Grand Armee and Hitler’s Panzers all charging deeper and deeper into Russia.

Reflecting back on the trip, I was repeatedly asked when I was going “in and out” of Russia, not “to and from.”

A Trip Like No Other

“Take me to your daddy’s farm; Let me hear your balalaika’s ringing out; Come and keep your comrade warm; I’m back in the U.S.S.R.; Hey you don’t know how lucky you are boys; Back in the U.S.S.R.” – The Beatles

Living in Eugene, Oregon for four years, I was always amused by the city’s “community” gardens. These are patches of land where like-minded folks under the tender, loving guidance of the City of Eugene plant their sustainable and organic crops (if you don’t believe me, just ask them) and maybe even dream of a communal environment where everyone is truly equal.

Regularly driving past this garden on Amazon Parkway, I would reflect back more than three decades to my trip to the Soviet Union. Certainly, Russia was a “social” society at the time (e.g., prefab apartment blocks, jammed fossil-fuel emitting buses, foreign currency-only outlets, and empty store shelves), but I am not certain about the “justice” part.

There was this problem with the “most equal of the equals.” They were the ones in the fancy limousines being whisked to-and-from the Kremlin in their special lanes. These were the same “simple” folks in the fancy boxes at the Kremlin Hall of the Congresses for the opening night of the Bolshoi Ballet’s Swan Lake. Something tells me that the working Ivan never made it to the intermission buffet of caviar and Moskovskaya vodka.

collective

Coming back closer to home: Do the overly educated of Eugene and other cerebral towns really want to emulate the USSR and its collective farms and communal poverty? What is the attraction? Maybe the author of Almost DailyBrett is not smart enough to comprehend.

When asked if I have ever seen real poverty, I think back to my trip to at best, second-world Russia. As my friend and colleague who made the trip with me said” “They treat their people like (insert your favorite fecal material word here).”

Spending any amount of time in the USSR and contrasting it with 1980s Morning in America completed my own political metamorphosis.

Would I recommend Russia as a vacation destination? It all depends what you want to accomplish for your precious time away from the demands of the workplace? If you are looking for romance and your Corona con limon playa, go elsewhere.

If you are a buff on history, politics, suspense (e.g., LeCarre, Forsyth, DeMille novels) and intrigue, Russia may be just your brand of vodka.

Next time, I will remember to keep my eyes open for my photo in front of the onion domes of St. Basil’s in Moscow.

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

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

http://www.excursions-volgograd.ru/en/excursion/museum_battle_stalingrad_tour

http://listverse.com/2012/09/17/top-10-facts-about-the-battle-of-stalingrad/

http://www.eugene-or.gov/communitygardens

 

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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