Friday, September 30, 2005

Million Pieces of Shit

I looked up sales ranks and couldn’t believe my eyes – “Million Little Pieces” by Frey is No.1. It’s recommended by Oprah! What happened to America? What happened to Oprah? I got this book about three months ago. I gave one American exchange student Pelevin’s “Omon Ra” and she gave me Frey’s masterpiece as a sample of contemporary American literature. I read about 50 pages and put the book down. That student definitely hated me or wanted to taunt me with this worthless piece of junk.
There’s an alternative newspaper “Exile” in Moscow that published probably the best review of that Frey’s book. It’s written by John Dolan. Here are some extracts from that review – “A Million Pieces of Shit”

John Dolan writes:

That's it. 400 pages of hanging around a rehab clinic.
It feels longer. It feels like years.
For all Frey's childish impersonation of the laconic Hemingway style, this is one of the most heavily padded pieces of prose I've seen since I stopped reading first-year student essays. Frey manages to puff up this simple story to book length thanks to one simple gimmick: he repeats. Repeats the beginnings of sentences. Repeats the beginnings of phrases. And the endings. Endings of phrases. Phrases and sentences.
And while his prose is repeating, his tale is descending. Descending into Bathos. Bathos in which he wallows. Wallows. In bathos. Bathos, bathos, bathos.
The results can be quite funny, altogether unintentionally, as when Frey tries to dramatize the travails of love:
"I start crying again.
Softly crying.
I think of Lilly and I cry.
It's all I can do.
I found myself laughing every time I read this, imagining Daffy Duck doing the scene: "It'th all I can do!" then turning to the audience to clarify things: "Cry, that ith."
I found myself becoming morbidly fascinated by the number of conjunctions Frey could pile into a single sentence. The one I just quoted has six "and"s. Not bad, but hardly a record. A few pages earlier, Frey offers a sparkling account of getting a bowl of oatmeal which is sustained by seven "and"s; "...I see that I'm late and I see People look up and stare at me and I ignore them and I get a bowl of gray mushy oatmeal and I dump a large pile of sugar on it and I find a place at an empty table and I sit down."
Walking on a trail outside the clinic, Frey names and capitalizes everything: "Trail," "Tree," "Animals." Then he sees a lower-case "bird." I was offended for our feathered friend. Why don't the birds get their caps like everybody else?
But then Frey is no expert observer, as he proves in one of the funniest scenes from his nature walks, when he meets a "fat otter": "There is an island among the rot, a large, round Pile with monstrous protrusions like the arms of a Witch. There is chatter beneath the pile and a fat brown otter with a flat, armored tail climbs atop and he stares at me."
Now, can anyone tell me what a "fat otter with a flat, armored tail" actually is? That's right: a beaver! Now, can anyone guess what the "large, round Pile with monstrous protrusions like the arms of a Witch" would be? Yes indeed: a beaver dam!
Luckily, Daddy has to take off for Brazil, and Frey can return to bizarrely detailed descriptions of every single hug and tearful farewell between him and his new pals.
And I mean detailed. It takes Leonard and his new son three pages just to get out to the limo. And there, of course, there must be another maudlin goodbye, stretched to absurd length. Anyone else would've said, "We hugged and said goodbye," but Frey takes you through every step of the process, padding his bathos as if explaining "hug" to a Martian: "Leonard steps forward. He puts his arms around me and he hugs me. I put my arms around him and I hug him. He lets go and he steps away and he looks in my eyes and he speaks."
Frey and his tough-guy friends spend more time weeping and hugging than the runners-up in a Miss America competition. Frey's aggressively male stance has something archaic, even campy about it. Frey has placed the entire book in a gender-segregated institution, recalling Hemingway's title Men without Women. (Male patients are not allowed to say anything more than "Hello" to female patients in Frey's rehab center.) And like most homoerotic novelists of the 1930s, his true period, Frey resorts to violence to prove he's no homosexual, confessing (that is to say, boasting) that he beat a French priest to death for daring to place his hand on Frey's utterly masculine thigh.
Oh, but that's nothing. He's got a million sob-scenes more self-indulgent and false than that one. How about this example of closely-observed detail: "[Lilly] smiles. With her lips, her teeth, her eyes, her shaking hand." I just wish I could figure out how she managed to make her shaking hand smile. That would be worth watching.
As his utterly unconvincing romance with Lilly progresses, Frey dives deeper and deeper into cliche: "I am in love with a Girl, a beautiful and profoundly troubled Girl who is alone in the World...."
The man was born too late; he should have been writing subtitles for silent-film melodrama.
And before we can even wipe the tears from our eyes, Frey is parting from his counselor and her tough yet sensitive Fisherman boyfriend: "I step forward and I hug her. There is emotion in the hug, and there is respect and a form of love. Emotion that comes from honesty, respect that comes from challenge, and the form of love that exists between people whose minds have touched, whose souls have touched. Our minds touched. Our hearts touched. Our souls touched."
If you can find a worse paragraph than that in any published book, I'd like to see it. At least it disposes of one more character. Alas, Frey must still hug the Counsellor's boyfriend, who says -- I swear to God, this is a direct quote: "I ain't much for words, kid."
Never mind, never mind; it's time to take the bags out to the car and meet Frey's brother, who's come to take him home. Guess what they do first! Yeah: they hug: "He hugs me. I hug him." It's these sudden twists that make Frey's story such a page-turner.
And this self-aggrandizing, simple-minded, poorly observed, repetitious, maudlin drivel passes for avant-garde literature in America?

I agree completely.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Take this test!

Hmm... That's flattering. I thought it would be Yeltsin.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

You don't need to be smart to be a CEO

What strikes you first when you start reading the book “Jack: Straight from the Gut” - Jack Welch is definitely not dumb, but he is not smart either. He's IQ should somewhat between 90-100 but as his story shows you don't need to smart to be the most admired CEO in the US. Actually what you really need for success:

(1) Single-mindedness and total concentration on one goal. Devote all your time and all your efforts on reaching this goal. Just don't analyze it, don't think it over and as a result - never hesitate. It's surprising how many people miss one thing - Welch's idea "be No.1 or No.2 or ..." is flawed! Later he admits himself that managers could narrow the market and become No.1. And this is not just "hmm, thanks for telling me this" - it's a fundamental methodological mistake. It simply means that the whole idea was not really thought over and was never analyzed. But thousands of people who didn't like it were fired from GE.

(2) Create corporate culture. As Jack shows this actually means - meet as many people as you can and if you find someone who is like you (passionate, loud, confident, concentrated, ruthless and aggressive) make him your VP immediately (and fire the "non-culture" guy who occupied it). Then - and this is the most important thing! - give him impossible goals and if he doesn't deliver - fire him too. This way very soon you have your top management who look like your clones and your middle management tries hard to mimic. And it's a surprise how many people missed it - Welch's list of GE values is flawed. They are not values - they are personal traits of character, description of certain individuality, self-portrait of Jack himself.

(3) Never have any emotional attachments to anyone - business and nothing but business. Welch describes all his so called "friends" only from the business and effectiveness point of view. The only person he is emotional about is his mother. His words "I loved my dad" sound as an excuse. Jack ruined his family not because he was working too hard - he had all week-ends for himself (even long week-ends!). He spent them playing golf instead of playing with kids. It comes to him as a surprise that golfing is not a good idea when you invite your girlfriend for a romantic weekend.

Please, pay attention - Welch never reads books, Welch had only two weeks of business training in marketing, Welch likes to teach but hates to be taught, Welch prefers learning by trial and not by analysis. And then - read this book again if you don't agree - Welch lacks strategic thinking. With his one "strategic" in head he just makes a lot of selling and buying everything that he has a gut for. Anyway, you don't need to be smart to be a CEO.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

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Monday, September 19, 2005

How to drink vodka and stay sober

Russians are renowned for drinking a lot of vodka staying sober. That’s not something to do with biological inheritance but with the way we drink. Russians believe that foreigners don’t know how to drink. They don’t eat while drinking. They mix cocktails. They sip vodka instead of taking shots. They drink vodka with highly carbonated sodas. In short, they do everything to get drunk from the minimum amount of alcohol. May be it has something to do with innate Western avidity or expensiveness of alcohol.
Russians, on the other hand, do everything to stay sober while drinking as much alcohol as possible. How do we do it? We try to neutralize alcohol as long as possible. I try to outline the basic principles of vodka drinking for uninitiated.

One hour before the party.

1. Eat a couple of boiled potatoes.
2. Drinks one or two raw eggs.
3. Drink one or two table-spoons of olive oil. Sunflower oil will also do.
Thus it’s guaranteed that at the Russian party you will stay sober for at least one bottle of vodka. I’m not kidding. Raw eggs are the most important part of Russian pre-party preparations.

At the party.

1. If you start drinking vodka – drink only vodka. No beer or wine. No water or juice. Carbonated drinks are taboo.
2. Drink vodka only in shots. Never sip.
3. Eat immediately after taking a shot. Russian zakuskis are often translated as appetizers. That’s not quite correct. Zakuskis are something you ‘zakusyvayesh’ with after taking a shot of vodka. They are very important to neutralize alcohol. That’s why they all contain two most important alcohol neutralizers – acid and salt. I recommend taking the following sequence:
- immediately after taking a shot – two slices of lemon;
- then some salted cucumbers, pickles, marinated tomatoes or caviar.
- then something with a lot of oil: herring (traditionally with cold boiled potatoes and onion), sardines, or shproty (small smoked sprats in olive oil);
- then traditional Russian salads, like Oliviye or Herring with boiled beet and mayonnaise. Almost all Russian salads come under heavy mayonnaise dressing. Remember – acid, salt, eggs and oil. Ukrainians and Southern Russians prefer smoked lard with garlic but it’s a zakuska for professionals.

4. Only three first vodka shots at a Russian party are ‘obligatory’ so to say. That means you have to take them if you want to show you’re a friendly person but not an unsociable person. After that you can ‘miss’ one or two shots. Just say, “Ya propuskayu” (Literally, I make it slip) and cover your glass with your palm. That doesn’t mean you can abstain from drinking till the end of the party. It means (excusing yourself that you’re a foreigner) can take one shot out of two your Russian guests take.

I think, some Russian party traditions need to be explained here. In Russia we party around a big table with bottles and zakuskis. We drink only when someone makes a toast and we drink all together. The person who makes a toast usually pours vodka to all glasses. Taking a bottle yourself and drinking vodka without others is a faux pas. Actually you (and all others) are ordered to drink after a toast. Everyone at the party is supposed to make a toast – being a foreigner is not an excuse. So be prepared – buy yourself a book on party toasts (there are a lot of them on sale in Russia) and learn some by heart.

5. Zakuskis part of the party take about an hour – or something like 200 grams (4 shots) of vodka. Then comes “goryacheye” (hot dishes). Even though zakuskis could be very filling – you should eat goryacheye if you want not be become drunk.
6. Actively participate in intellectual talks around the table. Mental activity is probably the best method to keep you excited but sober. Try, for example, to drink two pints of beer while reading a philosophical book and see the result.
7. At the end of the party come tea and cakes. Don’t miss it too. This way you show your hosts that you’re survived the party without dire consequences.

Now in the course of 4 or 5 hours you drunk a bottle of vodka (500 grams) and you’re only slightly tight.

After the party.

1. Keep a small bottle of beer in refrigerator. Wake up at about 5 in the morning, drink your beer and go back to bed. It prevents hang-over in the morning.
2. If the early morning beer didn’t help (it usually does), drink a glass of brine from the jar you kept you pickles in.
Many Russians recommend taking a shot of vodka in the morning to fights hang-over. Don’t do it. It helps only alcoholics. If you’re not, it will make things worse.

More on the subject of vodka drinking in Russian Marketing Blog.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Russian Jokes 5

Please, help the invisible man!

More jokes on Russian Marketing Blog

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Is AIDS a hoax?

Ostap Karmodi from the Moscow News newspaper intereviewed Peter Duesberg - A Startling Claim about the AIDS Virus.

In 1986, Peter Duesberg became a member of the National Academy of Sciences and was considered a probable candidate for the Nobel Prize. Next year, his career crashed. In 1987, Duesberg published an article in which he claimed that the HIV retrovirus doesn't - and cannot possibly - cause AIDS.
The consequences for his career were devastating. Colleagues branded his views not only wrong but dangerous. Scientific magazines stopped publishing his articles and, most harmfully, the financing of his research was cancelled. The scientific community all but set up a boycott of the reckless scientist. If Duesberg had admitted his mistake, everything would have been back to normal. But he always had a reputation as an uncompromising scientist. Eighteen years later, Duesberg still argues that HIV is a harmless passenger virus, while AIDS is caused by completely different factors.

Yesterday I talked about this interview with my friend who has a doctoral degree in medicine. He wasn’t surprised at all. He said that almost all AIDS research projects financed by the government agencies in Russia came to same conclusion – HIV doesn’t cause AIDS. Although the prevailing theory is that HIV virus is a so called ‘satellite virus’, the one that simply “accompanies” people with weak immunity. He participated in a research project in Kaliningrad that has the highest rate if HIV infected teenagers in Russia. When the research team didn’t found causal relationship between HIV and AIDS, the project was immediately terminated. “Actually, - he told me, - most of medical researchers in Russia know that Duesberg was right. That’s the main reason why Russian government itself spends kopecks on anti-AIDS projects but accepts international grants eagerly.” I was struck dumb from astonishment. “But why didn’t they say out load?” Now he smiled indulgently at my naivet?. “Can you imagine how many people became rich and famous fighting AIDS?”

Then I remembered similar stories. For example, 2k problem. At first, the Russian government took very seriously. A special committee studied the problem for six months and came to the conclusion that 2k is a scam. American and European media was hysterical about Russian irresponsibility. On the eve of 2000 the US Embassy in Moscow recommended that all Americans leave the country before the catastrophe. 2k problem turned out to be what it was – a scam. Nobody said, “Hey, Russians were right.” Does anyone know how many billions of dollars software developers made out of that scare?

I posted some more thoughts on the topic - "Is AIDS a Scam?"

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Hi Tech in 1919

Moscow Metro offers some surprises. “Kievskays” station boasts its picturesque mosaics glorifying the “eternal” friendship between Russia and Ukraine. These mosaics belong to 1957 when the station was build. Now look at a part of the mosaic “Struggle for the Soviet Power in the Ukraine in 1919”. You see a Red Army officer with a mobile phone, a notebook and a PDA.


Sunday, September 11, 2005

Russian Superstitions Part 2

It’s probably impossible to know all Russian superstitions. Some are very common but some are taken seriously only by a limited number of older people. Among not usual superstitions one can often comes across in Russia although they are not ‘universal’.

1. Cut bread only with a knife. Don’t break it with you hands. Otherwise your life will be broken.
If you’re not married don’t sit at the corner of the table. Otherwise you won’t marry in the next seven years. If you are 15 you can easily violate this rule.

2/ If you leave your house and then suddenly discover that you left something at home, think twice – coming back home for forgotten things is a bad omen. But it’s not that hopeless. When you return, look in the mirror and the evil spell will disappear.

3. Stranger should not look at a new born baby before it is two months old (or six months or one year, it all depends). Anyway, if you look at a baby, don’t compliment it – compliments can put evil eye on the baby. Say something like, “Oh, what an ugly child!” instead. A word of warning – this superstition is not common and many young Russian families are unaware of it.

4. Don’t start anything serious on Mondays.

5. Don’t boast about your future success. It may bring bad luck. You see if people you’re talking about might envy you and put you evil eye on you. It’s safer to sound pessimistic even when you’re sure of success. If you cannot help yourself, after saying, “Next month I get a promotion”, spit three times over your left shoulder. Don’t do it literally – three symbolic spits will do. You can also knock on wood.

6. If you see a woman with empty water buckets coming up to you, run away!

7. If you see a funeral procession stay aside and wait until it passes. It brings good luck.

8. Never buy or accept as gifts baby clothes, shoes, toys, furniture, etc. before the baby is born. In Russia when you see in a store an excited man who is buying in a rush and in wholesale quantities baby clothes, don’t be surprised. Most probably, he became a father today. This is an interesting superstition that was “regenerated” in the 90’s. In the Soviet Union we didn’t even know about it. In times of total deficit, when store shelves were always empty, it was simply impossible to buy all necessary things for a baby in one or two days. Actually we had to stock things months ahead. I remember it took me two months to buy a good (albeit second-hand) baby carriage for my daughter. My wife was six months pregnant when a friend of my friend finally found a family who were so kind as to sell me the carriage they no longer needed.

8. When someone sneezes, don’t forget to say, "Bud' zdorov" (Be healthy) or “Na zdorovie” (For your health). Otherwise the sneezing person will get sick. I think 99% of Russians think this “na zdorovie” thing is just a tradition. But actually it’s a superstition which meaning was forgotten long ago.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Russian Marketing Blog

If you wonder what this Russian ad means, visit Russian Marketing Blog by Konstantin Dlutskiy. It's in English.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Traditions and Superstitions

One thing a foreigner should learn in Russia is Russian superstitions. Important note – things that most of foreigners regard as superstitions are regarded by Russians as traditions or customs. For example, if a black cat crosses you pass it brings bad luck. Russians believe that this is a superstition although most of us would try to find another pass so as not cross the road “marked” by a black cat. Once I saw a driver who stopped his car when a black cat run across it until another car passed. You see, bad luck awaits only one person – the one who crosses the “marked” road first.

On the other hand, giving an even number of flowers to a woman is simply rude. For Russians it’s not really a superstition but a tradition (also in Romania, Slovakia, Hungary). If you give flowers to someone the number should always be odd (one, three, five, etc.). If you bring flowers to a funeral the number should always be even (two, four, six, etc.). Anyway in Moscow when a foreigner buys flowers and asks for four roses, the seller will almost always asks, “Are they for a funeral?” One of my American friends was indignant at the flower seller’s impudence – she refused to sell him a dozen roses he wanted to bring to a birthday party. She wasn’t really impudent – she saved his reputation before he made a very rude faux pas and upset the hostess.

Here’s a list of superstitions that Russians regard as traditions. If you don’t want to look rude, don’t violate them in Russia:

1. Whistling indoors is taboo. On one hand it means that you loose all your money soon. On the other – it’s simply very rude.

2. Shaking hands across the threshold is taboo. Also giving anything across the threshold. Just make a step and shake hands when you both are in the same room.

3. Birthday party before the birthday is taboo. If your birthday is on a working day and you want to party on a weekend, make sure this weekend is after your birthday and not before.

4. Before leaving a house for a long (even for a couple of days) journey, you and everyone in the house should sit for a minute in silence.

5. Don’t give as a gift any sharp object, like knives or scissors. This custom is not taboo and is often “violated”. My sister-in-law is a hair stylist and when we gave her as a birthday gift professional scissors she was happy.

6. If someone gives you an animal as a gift (a kitten, a canary or a puppy, for example), you should give them a symbolic sum of money. One ruble will do.

7. Refusing to drink vodka at a funeral banquet is absolutely unacceptable. It’s not just rude. It’s an outrage. If you are a total abstainer simply avoid any Russian commemoration.

8. Shaking hands while wearing gloves is simply impossible. You should always, even when it’s very cold, remove your glove from the right hand before a handshake. Actually in Russia no one will shake your hand if you didn’t remove a glove. The only exception – if you’re an extraordinary powerful person and you want to deeply humiliate someone who is totally dependent on you. In this case you extend your hand in a glove, meaning, “Shake it, you, insignificant insect”. As far as I know, this custom is common in all Eastern European countries.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Russian Jokes 4

Fidel Castro sent humanitarian aid to New Orleans: 200 barges with 200 000 Cubans.

Russia's MTV Charts No.1 - Group "CD-RW" with its new hit "700 Mb".

1990. Soviet Union. Glasnost. Everyone is totally dissatisfied with Communists, everyone thinks that the Soviet government is rotten, everyone hates Gorbachev. There is only one single person in the USSR - comrade Ivanov who is satisfied with communists, likes the government and loves Gorby. So once late at night he was arrested by KGB as an enemy of glasnost and democracy.

More jokes on Russian Marketing Blog

Monday, September 05, 2005

What doesn't kill us makes us stronger

The New York Times published an article ‘White House Enacts a Plan to Ease Political Damage” by By Adam Nagourney and Anne E. Kornblut

Under the command of President Bush's two senior political advisers, the White House rolled out a plan this weekend to contain the political damage from the administration's response to Hurricane Katrina.

What I always admire about American politics is the incredible ability to make successful PR campaigns. Putin and the company almost never managed to look better on TV or in the press. On the other hand, I think Putin is better when it comes to look at the problem rationally and not politically. After a disaster (and the history of Russia since 1991 seems to be just a long chain of crises and natural disasters) he almost never kicks asses but tries to make things work better.

One of my distant relatives is working for MChS – Russian Ministry for Emergency Situations (word by word translation). It’s a government body dealing with natural disasters and emergencies. In his opinion MCsS after every disaster that hits Russia becomes better and better. Being a lame and incompetent organization just seven years ago, today it’s the one of the best in the world in terms of professionalism. And I believe him.
Experience is the shortest way to professionalism. And experience from failed operations is twice more valuable. One fight on the ring with a professional brings more experience than months of punching a fisting bag. One wise guy said, “In the West the market is regulated by invisible hand but in Russia – by invisible foot.” Dozens of disasters and thousands kicks in the ass made Russian MChS so good.

Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda wrote:

[Russian] Emergencies Ministry planes have been under starter's orders for several days. But the go-ahead from the other side of the ocean never came. It leads you to think: Is Washington afraid of having US citizens rescued by people who are not flying the stars and stripes? Are they trying to preserve the prestige of a state that does not take easily to accepting aid from a "third-world" country? But isn't the saving of human life more important than PR or ideological considerations?

Does anyone know that Putin was the first to offer help to Bush Jr. after the Katrina disaster? It took MChS three hours to put four freight airplanes with equipment, medical personnel, rescue workers, etc. One freight airplanes had four light helicopters. Why didn’t they come to the US? You know, American visa regulations require that all people who want to enter the States should come through a personal interview with a US council officer in Moscow, leave the fingerprints, etc, etc. No exceptions.