Travel

In the Belly of the Beast

By Andrej Mrevlje |
Sailing away. Photo: Andrej Mrevlje

“A few hours after we boarded and sailed out into the open ocean, I got a feeling that we, the passengers on this gigantic ship, were the only survivors of this planet, that we were saved on Noah’s Ark,” said Sean, the insurer from Red Hat, New Jersey. Sean and his wife were among the other hundreds of passengers on the Queen Mary 2, the world’s biggest ocean liner, that on the late afternoon of July 6 sailed out of Brooklyn Harbor towards Southampton, England. A few days into the cruise, as we were sitting in one of the restaurants on the Queen, fascination with the power and sheer mass of this boat had already settled in.

It was curious to hear what drove these passengers to board this humongous ship to cross the Atlantic, and I found Sean’s apocalyptic description one of the best. Sean, though, was not referring to Noah’s Ark in a biblical sense. He instead meant that we–the passengers of the Queen Mary–were the only survivors of the madness that is America. It, its people left behind, unaware of our small, life-saving departure, obsessed with Trump and his corrupt family.

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U.S.- China Relations

The Thucydides Revival

By Andrej Mrevlje |

How much impact can a Harvard University professor have on the relationship between two super powers contending for the world’s supremacy? Can a single person, professor or otherwise, sway the public opinion into thinking that fast-developing China can be compared to the Athens of the 5th century BC, the state that with its vibrant economy and flourishing democracy threatened Sparta, the military super power, 2500 years ago? Is the U.S.– as Sparta was of Athens–right to fear the expanding power of China and therefore, by analogy, would it be legitimate for the Trump government to attack China before Beijing becomes too powerful? Does history repeat itself, and what might be done about it?

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China

In Hong Kong, Xi Dada Relies on the Army

By Andrej Mrevlje |

Twenty years ago to the day, something funny happened on the tarmac of Hong Kong’s old Kai Tak airport, located on the Kowloon side of the then-British colony. When the big Air China Boeing 747, with the entire Chinese leadership on board, landed on a single landing track, the new, returned patrons of Hong Kong were greeted by the mainland crowd with Chinese flags and little kids handing flowers to the communist leaders. But this was not the reason why Jiang Zemin and Li Peng and others came down to the former colony. The rulers of then-rural China came down to Hong Kong to claim back the territory that British rule turned into the most brightly shining jewel of Asia.

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America

Getting Tipsy in Sonoma

By Andrej Mrevlje |
Russian River Valley, Photo: Andrej Mrevlje

“Oh, we are the biggest and the best, and do not forget that California has been producing wine for more than two-hundred years,” said Mike Duvall, a salesman at the tasting room of Truett-Hurst, the first winery I visited during my short trip to Sonoma. You have to get up early in order to get tipsy in Sonoma, or you risk dizziness from navigating through the swarms of tourists that migrate through the area wanting to do exactly the same thing you are doing: absorbing information about grape varieties and soil quality, and the wood used for making barrels; discovering whatever new technological innovation making wine crisper or airier or denser or darker; and becoming savvy about the winemakers, who combine these wild factors into a single bottle of that precious drink, wine.

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America

House of Obstructions

By Andrej Mrevlje |

It is amazing how swampy Washington became with the presence of Donald Trump in the White House. There seems absolutely nothing else he can say or do but further his story, imposed mercilessly on the entire nation, day in, day out. This president must be happy to see himself at the center of attention, of both the national media and the political chatter traveling across the nation. Once again, it is Silvio Berlusconi, unlike Stalin and Hitler, who we can look toward when seeking an example of a person as equally self-absorbed, and in love with himself, as President Trump.

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America

The new, Hidden American Elite

By Andrej Mrevlje |

Who did not read what Thorstein Veblen wrote in 1899 on the emerging leisure class of America, in which he coined the term “conspicuous consumption” and examined how the wealthy used purchasing decisions to demonstrate their class? No one. Well, 120 years later there is a new book on the new “leisure” class, by sociologist Elizabeth Currid-Halkett, called Aspirational Class. “Aspirationals” are the group that the writer sees as the new elite. The book has been recently published and was described in a review published by Quartz:

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America

A Nixonian Leap

By Andrej Mrevlje |

I first visited the U.S. when I was a young student. Curious about the country while having nothing much to do in Europe during the summer of 1974, I applied for the ICCP (International Camp Counselor Program). They were looking for foreign students who would be able to work with American kids in summer day camps, “providing leadership and delivering programs.” But it was also about giving young Americans a taste of a foreign culture. So I got the job in spite of my scarce outdoor skills and got an American visa only because I was not a member of the Communist Party.

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New York

The Tower of Freedom

By Andrej Mrevlje |
Photo: Andrej Mrevlje

Above is a photograph of Manhattan taken from the 64th floor, the sky lobby, of the new One World Trade Center. The tower replaces the twin towers that crumbled on 9/11/2001. Ground zero of the attack took 15 years and a lot of money to rebuild. The entire area surrounding the new tower, encompassing the National September 11th Memorial and Museum and the World Trade Center Transportation Hub, hasn’t been popularly named yet. In hope that space might replace horrifying memories of the tragedy with a revived purpose, the area just kept the old name, that is The World Trade Center.

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Defense

The NATO That Never Was

By Andrej Mrevlje |
Running for life, Sarajevo, April 6, 1992. Photo Mario Boccia

On April 6, 1992, the European Union (then called European Community) recognized the independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina, one of the former republics of Federal Yugoslavia. The young independent republic was one of the last to follow the path of the eventual breakup of Yugoslavia,  a socialist multi-ethnic country of 20 million, that grew from the ruins of WWII. On that day in 1992, the capital of independent Bosnia was the scene of a great peaceful demonstration. But not for long. While thousands of Bosnians brandished the portrait of the late Tito, a symbol of ethnic tolerance, the Serbian snipers started to shoot, targeting an unarmed and peaceful crowd that never wanted to separate from Yugoslavia. Single sniper shots soon turned into mortar fire from the hills that surround the city. It was a massacre and the beginning of the longest siege in modern human history. In those first hours of panic and fear, when people were running for shelter to save their lives from invisible killers, they were screaming, asking: “Where is NATO? They said they would come and protect us.”

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Spying

Spy Revival

By Andrej Mrevlje |
Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin Wall.

I always liked to read spy stories, and I’ve even met some real ones, during my student years. But the ones I met must have been unimportant since all they wanted from me was that I get involved in some political discussion. They were wasting their time because I only started to have a political mind much later after I left China. One could not avoid the politics in China in the period after Mao. So I learned how to reason politically while trying to decode the cultural environment that was nothing but politics. And, once you find out how China works politically, you will understand the politics of any other country in this world.

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