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Thursday, October 08, 2015

From Russia, With Love



In the three-room apartment in Moscow that they shared with her mother-in-law, the couple argued. They had graduated from Moscow State College to mediocre jobs. He had just returned from a conference in Warsaw, Poland, with big ideas. Let's move to America, he said. Jews can have good jobs there, he said. It is not as bad as authorities say they are, he said.

And she said she didn't want to leave her family. She said things were not that bad for Jews. She said they both had good jobs.

And he said what about the boy?

And their four-year-old played with his toy clown with its spinning head. He loved it. His first word was "golova" -- Russian for head. She realized that what she could accept for herself, she could not accept for her beloved son. The decision was made. They applied for exit visas in September 1978, after their son's fifth birthday.

Thus began the worst year of their lives.

Because they applied for exit visas, they were labeled refuseniks. They lost their jobs. He was a mathematician who worked as an economist -- propagandist. He had wanted to be an astronomer. The Soviets banned Jewish people from astronomy and certain other fields, including physics. Years later, he told Reuters, "Most of that time I devoted to proving that the Russian living standards were much, much higher than the American living standards. How about that?"

They took temporary jobs and waited for word from the Communists who ran the Soviet Union. With time on his hands, he taught himself computer programming. He was sure authorities would turn them down. Then in May 1979, came a surprise. Authorities issued them exit visas.

They took the mother-in-law and their son, and headed for America, landing at JFK Airport on October 25, 1979. Money was a problem. Enter the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which arranged for work for the parents, and loaned them money to buy a 1973 Ford Maverick.

He became Michael Brin, a mathematics professor at the University of Maryland. She became Eugenia Brin and went to work for NASA as a computer scientist. And Sergey remained Sergey. Spoiled. Lazy. ("It wasn't a strictly ruled household. But, no, he didn't really help too much," his mother later said.) Conceited. He dropped out of Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, Maryland, in his junior year, but the University of Maryland accepted him early. He was that bright.

His father straightened him out. Professor Brin took a group of math students to Russia in the summer of 1990, including Sergey, for two weeks. On the second day, Sergey took his father aside and said, "Thank you for taking us all out of Russia."

Sergey buckled down in college, graduating with honors in 1993, and moving on to Stanford, where he received his master's in 1995. The next year as a doctoral student at Stanford, he had a dream of having in his hands every page on the Internet at his disposal. Along with his intellectual soul mate Larry Page, Sergey developed the complex algorithm to do this involving backlinks and a method of bringing order to the wild west of the World Wide Web.

At the time, this seemed redundant. Surely Alta Vista, Dogpile, and other existing search engines left no room for another competitor. But using Stanford University computers, they developed their program and it became quite popular on campus.

This was the work of two men. In many ways, Larry Page is the American-born version of Sergey Brin. Born March 26, 1973, in East Lansing, Michigan, (Brin was born on August 21, 1973, in Moscow) Page's father was a computer scientist. Page, too, grew up in an intellectual household. Graduating from the University of Michigan in 1993 with degrees in science and engineering, Page headed west to Stanford where he became a classmate of Brin. They received master's degrees in 1995, but it was their doctoral work that led to Google -- originally called BackRub -- which led them to drop out of college to start their own company, thanks to a check for $100,000 from Andy Bechtolsheim, co-founder of Sun Microsystems.

Born Andreas von Bechtolsheim near Ammersee, Bavaria, on September 30, 1955, Bechtolsheim came to America to study at Carnegie Mellon University and stayed. He wound up at Stanford as a doctoral student in electrical engineering. He conceived the Unix work station while at Stanford, and on February 24, 1982, Bechtolsheim was one of the four founders of Sun Microsystems, whose first name was an acronym for the Stanford University Network. By 1998, he had oodles of money, and a $100,000 check was no big deal to the billionaire.

To Brin and Page, it was everything. Google was founded in the traditional Silicon Valley manner -- in a garage. Both Hewlett-Packard and Apple were founded in garages, and Brin and Page rented a garage and some rooms in Menlo Park from Susan Wojcicki, who had just received her MBA from Stanford and was worried about making her mortgage payments.

Not only did she receive rent, but later she worked for Google and is now the CEO of YouTube. She also became the sister-in-law of Brin, who was later married to her sister, Susan, for 14 years.

The men became billionaires, largely due to the personalization of online advertising. The same algorithm that searches the Internet pages also searches the Internet readers. Their philanthropic works have just begun. Brin's include an interest in research on Parkinson's disease. He has given at least one million bucks to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

His father, whom the Soviet dictatorship denied a chance at becoming an astronomer, told Reuters in 2004, "I left because of myself and because of his future. I didn't want him to be in the same situation as I was. Did we expect him to become, what's it called — Time Magazine calls him a 'titan of industry'? No, I had no idea. I expected him to get his Ph.D and to become somebody, maybe a professor."

Dictatorships bring death. Freedom brings life.

***

I am publishing the best of these tales, in Kindle and on Amazon. Volume I covering American history from the 16th through the 20th century is here. And Volume II on The Capitalists is available here.

Suggestions are welcome. Email me at DonSurber@GMail.com.

5 comments:

  1. Amazing isn't it? Capitalism versus socialism. Evil capitalism wins ever time. That's why we are the most powerful and prosperous nation in the history of this planet. Unfortunately, we have people in both parties who don't understand this truism and are insistent upon undermining our success, some on purpose (Obungler) and many due to ignorance and/or stupidity.

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  2. But, but, but....they didn't build that! Leftist Democrats would like to take the Brins and all the rest of us back to the life and country the Brins left.

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    1. Yes, so they could be like the bosses of the USSR (never knew why CCCP are the USSR in Cyrillic).

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    2. Hercule Poirot gives you the answer in the episode entitled "The Double Clue."

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  3. Capitalism is a system in which the individual has the liberty or, is permitted, by the current entity that has monopoly on violence, to retain their personal earnings over that required for subsistence and use this “profit” to purchase additional productive capacity, such as training, machines, real estate, etc., i.e., capital, to better themselves vice spending it on non-productive consumption. Capital is nothing more than retained “old labor” that is put to use producing additional income.

    The type of capitalism one has is determined by who is permitted to engage in investments to better themselves up to State capitalism, commonly known as total socialism. Crony capitalism is when friends of the office holder are given special leave to better themselves.

    Socialism in contrast uses government to limit the individual ownership of productive capacity up to total socialism where the individual is permitted no ownership of productive capacity except for their direct personal skills and may be prevented by the overseers from using their skills in a job that requires them, instead being assigned other work.

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