Jul 25

“Other” Revelations

It’s amazing how quickly a subject for this blog sometimes presents itself.

Since Σ and I are going to Portland in a couple days to see Rush, she’s staying with me beginning tonight. Having just put her to bed, I was resigned to writing tonight about how she’s looking forward to an all-day car trip to Oregon’s I-5 corridor to … “go to the mall.”

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Which, as I told her, makes about as much sense as going to Japan to eat at McDonald’s.

As it turns out, you can thank the UK’s Daily Mail for saving you from reading about that.

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May 01

History Wednesday: Taxed, Tanked and Ticked Off

It’s May Day. That means this week’s History Wednesday is effectively obligated to focus on the old Soviet Union, which always made May Day a big deal. You know, parades, speeches, public appearances of Politburo members, and plenty of red flags to go around. It was a good old time.

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Wasn’t it, Товарищ Эасто́я?

Ah, but plenty has been written about May Day already. As for Leonid Brezhnev, he’s about as exciting as a bowl of plastic fruit in a windowless, concrete room. That’s not what I’m going for here.

But what about Russians and vodka? Now there’s a target-rich environment. Let’s do it! Right, so here we go:

When Brezhnev died in 1982 the Soviet economy was basically dead in the water, committed to an arms race it increasingly couldn’t afford and a massive bureaucracy run by dour old men. Brezhnev’s successor as Communist Party general secretary (and therefore as the country’s de facto leader), was one of these old, dour men, Yuri Andropov. The highlight of Andropov’s rule was that he disappeared from public view for months until the Soviets announced his death in 1984.

Andropov’s successor, Konstantin Chernenko, was even less interesting than that.

Konstantin_Chernenko

*insert static-filled elevator music here*

Chernenko kicked the bucket after only 13 months at the helm. He was followed by someone I bet you’ve heard of: Mikhail Gorbachev. Unlike Andropov and Chernenko, Gorbachev was willing to do something about the ever-growing clusterfuck that was the Soviet economy. He did so by attempting to address the shortcomings of his notoriously boozy culture and increase revenue at the same time. To wit, shortly after taking power he raised the price of vodka and other alcoholic drinks.

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“Дерьмо!”
Image credit: ProhibitOnions

Now in statecraft there are several things you simply don’t do. You don’t barf on the Japanese prime minister. You don’t piss off the King of Spain. And you definitely don’t screw with a Russian’s vodka. The policy had a minimal effect on alcoholism statistics and at the same time cost the government billions of rubles in lost revenue.

It may be tempting to dismiss this as a rookie mistake on Gorbachev’s part, but he really should have known better. Lenin attempted to ban vodka altogether, but that proved to be a miserable failure. It took Uncle Joe Stalin, a guy not exactly known for his commitment to civil liberties, to reverse this policy. As for Gorbachev, he quietly lightened up on his policy a couple years later.

Stalin_Image

“Naturally, we will opt for vodka.”

In the grand scheme of things an abortive effort to regulate alcohol nearly 30 years ago may not seem like much, but it was. It’s been theorized that this policy started a chain reaction of unintended consequences which ultimately led to the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. In that context, it’s a big freakin’ deal.

It’s important to remember that toppling communism is not what Gorbachev had in mind. What’s more, despite continued international acclaim Gorbachev remains deeply unpopular in Russia. Despite that, attempts to raise vodka prices continue in Russia today.

If you’re so inclined, have a shot of Stoli this May Day. But keep in mind this silly little drink may very well have changed the world.

Feb 16

That Miku Thing on YouTube

I’m in the 2T this weekend with my daughter. One of our favorite bonding activities is watching YouTube videos together. She’s into things like Annoying Orange, Kids React and, um … Fred.

fred

Seriously, they gave this guy a TV show. Twice.
Image credit: Scott Bedard

But the most perplexing YouTube icon we’ve come across is Hatsune Miku. Now this requires some explanation. Through software developed by a Japanese company, Miku is a programmable anime character who can sing and dance to anything you want. I think that’s how it works, anyway. Creating videos of a fictional Japanese singer is not high on my to-do list.

At the risk of sounding cliché, Miku is big in Japan.


Really, REALLY big.

As one can imagine, this is a perfect formula for creating YouTube videos for people who can’t get dates. There are well over 2 MILLION of ’em, in all their glory. Unsurprisingly most follow J-pop or anime themes, but others dare to be different.

Example: my daughter HATES Justin Bieber. Fortunately Miku has a video for that.


This sums up her feelings on the matter pretty well.

Another example: if you know me well, you know that one of my favorite bands of all time is Rush. If you know Rush well, you know that they’re about as far away from J-pop as one can get. Yeah, I think you know where I’m going with this one ….


Absolutely dumbfounding.

CRACKED.com update: Unfortunately both of my submissions were sent back to the pile. I’m not too concerned about it, though. I have plenty of other submission ideas, and content that doesn’t make the cut may just wind up here.