A couple of weeks ago on a Saturday I went on a run, and as I crossed one of the bridges over the Danube (just a kilometer away from my apartment) I heard music begin to play. On my way back I say a small
crowd of people standing at the side of the bridge on the north end looking down at the foot/bike path below.
What I saw was not particularly special if it weren't for the scale and timing of it all. It was before dark, and there were about forty youngsters with spray cans blasting music and vandalizing the layers graffiti that I assume had been there as long as this 100 meter section of wall. Now, I can't imagine that these guys were going to make the wall look any worse than it did already (although the old graffiti wasn't bad at all), but isn't that a crime?
Then I began to think about it. Obviously this was a fairly well-organized event, complete with a hefty boombox and enough paint to arm an entire junior high class. So maybe they cleared it with the city? Hmmm. Maybe the city knows that vandalism happens, so they might as well allow it on their terms (I've also seen people not dressed in uniforms cleaning spray paint off of the top side of the same bridge... punishment?). Maybe, just maybe.
"Write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow." -Lawrence Clark Powell
I went to a Metallica concert on July 5th. Awesome. I have to say that, right? I mean, I paid fifty eurobucks to see these guys when
they came to visit, practically in my back yard, waited around for two hours while Bullet for My Valentine DIDN'T play (sorry M.), but Heaven and Hell (Black Sabbath minus Ozzy plus Dio) did, and got to see James, Lars, Kirk, and Robert (Trujillo, DUH!) rock everyone's socks off for about three hours. how could that NOT be awesome?
Well, to tell you the truth, they played all of my favorite songs. I think the only one I was hoping to hear but didn't was "King Nothing". Otherwise, "Fade to Black", "Orion", and "And Justice for All" were in with the usual set. I never expected those.
The first time Metallica left the stage, the crowd was heartily fighting a silence that ended up getting the upper hand moments before the initial sliding guitar notes of "Wherever I May Roam," one of the undeniable (but often overlooked due to high popularity) masterpieces. That's raw energy, almost as pure as what I call "the sound of adrenaline" at the begining of "King Nothing".
There were two or three choreographed encores, I can't remember exactly, and a personal interlude of Trujillo's bass skills (of which he has plenty). I have newfound respect for Ulrich's thumping ability, absolute awe at Hammet's talent, and a genuine belief that these guys play music for the right reasons (but hate any form of stealing!). What I didn't leave with was a good idea of why I was there.
Don't get me wrong. Metallica was my favorite band for about a third of my life (maybe still is?) and will always be on my Top 5 list, if I had one. But I didn't belong at that concert. I have all of the albums (except one... did anyone actually buy St. Anger?) at home, and that's all I want.
I don't want to listen to "For Whom the Bell Tolls" being drowned out by a crowd of screaming fans; I want to hear the music. Music, like literature and poetry, is personal. It has a unique effect on my mind and my body that is easily squelched by a wall of thousands of people.
The next concert I go to will be one where the fans don't scream. The Vienna Symphony sounds good. And I'll only listen to Metallica on my own terms, alone or on headphones, when I can appreciate it. And in the mean time, if you like going to concerts, please tell me why. I'm sorry, I really don't understand.
Some rather comical friends of mine have a regular blog column entitled "Asshole of the Day". I find it completely awesome, but maybe a little balance is in order. I'm cynical enough, or maybe I'm just sarcastic, but I'm also generally an optimist. Let's salute the absolute heroes in our daily lives.
I have three in the queue actually. Let's see them chronologically:
1) There is a construction site across the street from where I work. They are in fact building a new biotechnology building for our university, and seeing as that I am in the biotechnology department, this might have an effect on me. But, our first hero has nothing to do with my department. He operates a backhoe. And one day he wanted to descend into the hole that will become the basement of this five-story building. It's about three meters down with an approximately 75 degree decline, all dirt, and the truck ramp was on the opposite end. Seriously, who wants to drive a backhoe 150m around to the other side to use the ramp? Mr. Hero just put the business end of the backhoe arm on what will be the basement floor and drove off the three-meter drop, lowering himself into action. Way cool.
2) The Donauinselfest (Danube Island Fest) is an annual three-day weekend of free live entertainment on the largest park space within the city limits of Vienna. Bands play from about noon until 1 or 2 am on something like twenty different stages. There's something for everyone. On Friday I ran the second to last kilometer of my daily jog on the Insel to check out the scene. There are typically over a million visitors per day of the event, but Friday had some bad weather (rainy and as windy as it gets without a tornado) so the crowd at the north end was sparse. I ran past the hip-hop stage (weak) and continued along minding my own business when all of a sudden I heard a melody that had not beset my ears in quite a while. I am convinced that AC/DC couldn't significantly outshine this band in a Back in Black competition. Three songs later (Back in Black, Shoot to Thrill, and You Shook Me All Night Long) I left knowing that this Jailbreaker lead singer faltered only on high notes, the drummer might take the easy way out of drum solos, and that the guitarist must be a Young. And they're german.
3) Also at Donauinselfest, on Sunday: Silbermund. I wish I liked pop rock a little more; these guys are amazing. I have never heard such a good guitarist, drummer, and singer playing together. I'm still not sure I've heard them on the radio, but it's just because I wasn't paying attention. They're pretty big here. And they've got some serious f-ing talent.
Hello out there! What follows is not meant to offend anyone, female or male, straight or curved, rational or Evangelical. It is only something that needs to be said. Or asked. Whatever.
Where can the most perfect women be found?
I have traveled the world extensively (Six countries!) and now have the answer. Well, actually I don't have the answer but I have something to contribute to the conversation.
For the sake of brevity and lack of knowledge, we will limit our world of women to the U.S.A., Italy, Germany, Australia, Spain, and Austria. Now let it be said beforehand that I have been accused of favoring long, dark locks on slightly dark faces at slightly below average height and bodies the shape of, well, middle-distance runners (like the skinny kind, but with some muscle). However, my present semi-martial status presents some counter-evidence to at least two of those attributes.
It's not an open-an-shut case. Especially seeing that these exotic lands can easily be paired into similarity classes: U.S. and Oz, Italy and Spain, and Austria and Germany. I will use the U.S.A. as my basis (the bar is set, as they say) not because I know it the best, but because they will be offended if I don't.
Let us begin. Spain and Italy take the titles for the dark and mysterious. They're not really that mysterious, but I do feel a littleintimidated, especially because they have a style of seemingly always waiting at the Versaci counter for the latest, and then heading straight to the beach, the sidewalk café, or the cluuub. I'd want to take one of these girls to show off at a not-quite-black-tie formal. Gotta show some flashy color.
Austria and Germany have quite similar genetic makeups as good ol' americans, but they treat themselves differently. The style right now is quite distinctly neo-punk, faux-hawk and mullet included (mainly for guys). But, I love the painted-on jeans, straight down to the thin ankles, and the clingy shirt-dresses of varying lengths. Painted on isn't always good, but it is in this case since the girls of Middle Europe know how to stay thin. Maybe that's the part of the DNA that's different from american beauties. I see more itty-bitty waists per capita in Austria than anywhere else in this six-country world. And that's hot.
America the beautiful. It is definitely true that there is something for everyone in America. There are heads of hair from four million shades and tints of skin you can't find in Europe. And body types too, both good and bad. There are curves going in all directions, which is something you can't find elsewhere. That may sound bad, but it's not. And despite all of the castles, Sir Mix-a-lot couldn't find a home in central Europe. That guy's crusades are for the Holy Grail should stay in the Americas, or maybe Italy.
As for Australia: I have no idea because I didn't meet any Aussie girls. They were all english and irish, and some of the americans there topped the charts.
In conclusion, if you like your white girls dark, Italy is your place, with Spain close on it's heels. If you like a wide variety, the 150 million american women fit the bill. For a narrower selection, (both of variety and waist size) the German-speaking region can easily hold its own, but without the Honky Tonk Badonkadonks. It seems that winter is not girl-season in Vienna, but when the weather warms up, game comes out of the woodwork, and there is a lot of woodwork in Austria. As somewhat of an aside, and definitely as a note for later: The 35-45 crowd in Austria is simply off the chain. The Alps are a cougar-lovers Garden of Eden.
But the question on everyone's mind is: Where can I find the Unicorn? One must look within oneself to find the answer. Only a woman-lover pure of heart and clear of mind will witness this magical creature. If you search long enough and concentrate hard enough, a unicorn will appear in your own back yard. But I don't have a back yard, so they have appeared on Vienna subways, in the Madrid airport, on Italian beaches, and in the fields of the Great Midwest.
Several weeks ago, I started reading the book Dark Ages America: The Final Phase of Empire (2006) by Morris Berman. [See his blog here.] I'm still not done with it. I admit that I don't read very much, but this is ridiculous.
The thing is, I started reading the book because I was waiting at a friend's place while a few people finished up a little work before we headed down to the park. I thought the title was intriguing as well as the kind of politically provocative that only liberal fire-starters can conjure up. I came to the conclusion long ago that the good ol' conservatives don't write books appealing to emotion (read: popular books) because their thoughts and intents are grounded in reason. Thomas Sowell does a pretty damn good job of explaining that phenomenon. Ann Coulter might be an exception.
I, unlike most of the so-called "political" people I have known, like to inform myself about the tactics and ammunition of the other side. I haven't yet met a Democrat whose argument is based on hard numbers (not anecdotal statistics) or a Republican who tugs at your heart. I knew what was coming in this book, but I wanted to taste it myself. What I got was liberal meat and potatoes instead of the sugar-coated, almond-encrusted altruistic BS that I thought I was taking in. This stuff had substance, numerical substance, and somehow argues strongly against Replublican and consequently capitalistic ways. Maybe every liberal knows this stuff, but just forgets to say it, but I have never heard this stuff. If they want to win the votes of, well... people like me, the Democrats need to let Morris Berman speak for the party.
I still can't believe that I was so easily swayed from the pure beauty of capitalism, but it has happened! Before the halfway point of the book I could already name three major reasons how free trade fails: (1) "Speculative capital" (i.e. capital seeking gains solely on currency fluctuations) moves into promising countries and out of them as they become less promising, magnifying the effects of unstable economy and sucking money out of already poor countries. (2) Giant industries (e.g. investment banking, securities traders, equity research firms) earn their profit mainly by manipulating money, not by producing any sort of real good or service (i.e. one that directly increases someone's quality of life) for use in our economy. And (3), from a more philosophical standpoint, relying on competition to make a living predisposes us to competition in other aspects of our lives. In a capitalist system, every person does what he or she wants, disregarding the others; even if Adam Smith was right that that is still good for the community, every person is still disregarding others. What kind of community is that?
Berman comments that (1) became a problem after the effective cancellation in 1971 of the Bretton Woods Agreement (1944) in the form of the dismantling of the gold standard of the dollar. His arguments are sound. Then, (2) is possibly subjective since financial markets do provide value to a society in the form of facilitating information and money transfer between goods/service-producing elements of the economy, but no one knows how much value really is there. The fact remains that this system helps the rich get richer, which would not be a problem if money did not equate to political power in a "democracy" such as the U.S. And (3) is completely an opinion, but an opinion I happen to agree with after reading Bermans included statistics.
It is quite obvious even at the beginning of the book, that the title Dark Ages America (which follows Berman's The Twilight of American Culture, 2001 ) refers to the handful of undeniable similarities between modern America and Rome just before the fall. While these two are certainly not the same animal, perhaps we can see the distant relation. I don't know if living in Austria for four months has made me a socialist, but I do know that talking to all sorts of people about world news and cultures hasn't hurt the cause at all.
This month, just one kilometer from my apartment in Vienna, is a concert festival lasting three days. Over three million people attended last year. And it's all free. The annual Vienna Symphony performance in the park is also free. Perhaps I can tolerate government financial inefficiencies when all I can see is a safe, clean city with a public transportation system to die for, and all the free events I can handle.
I just wish there was a Skyline Chili and monday night Fed Hill Runners.
But, after the Kenyans took the first seven places for the men, a Russian woman took the race wire-to-wire with one male pacer the whole way, and Austria's marathon darling and former mid-distance star Susi Pumper "raced" the 42.195km P. Diddy style, with an entourage of no fewer than six men surrounding her at all times, I decided I needed a better view of the course and the event. This would be a bit of preparation for next year when I may, dare I say, participate. I'm a little afraid of a marathon, so I'm setting my sights low, about half as high, actually. The half sounds like a pleasant outing.
I ran the thirty minutes or so to approximately the 35km mark in the middle of the Prater, the large park on the east side of town that is a runner's favorite. I ran the rest of the course with those guys taking approximately twice as long as the winners and almost twice as long as I would hope to run when my day comes.
The course is great; I highly recommend it for the runner-tourist. It's not hilly, the logistics are great, and the city along the course is not only beautiful but also varied.
Speaking of runner-tourists, whats the deal with that? Why do some people travel far away only when there is a good marathon to run there? And conversely, why do some people for whom marathoning is an arduous ordeal ruin a perfectly good vacation by avoiding local food for the days before a race and then walking around like the extra cavalry in Take 30 of a John Wayne movie for the days following the race? Maybe running and pleasure (such as the kind I get from seeing new places) are two separate elements of my life. Do I like running? [Awkward silence.] Do I like winning races? Hell yeah!! What does everyone else find enjoyable about running, especially a 4:20 marathon in a foreign city when it's sure to cause you a fair bit of pain and limitation during your travels?
Although I didn't see these while I was running (I wasn't really looking for them), watching average marathoners makes me think of a wonderfully functional water bottle belt my roomies and I came across in college. It's called "Fuelbelt 5k". Surely most customers purchasing these for running purposes spend no longer than 35 minutes on a typical five kilometer course. I don't know about you, but I can usually go 35 minutes without water. If they have water on the course, that's a bonus. Does anybody have any statistics on the advantages of having your favorite fluid at your fingertips when compared to the extra weight of such a belt? Maybe I should think of these more like baseball fans' beer hats. You could do your own beer mile or Wild Turkey Trot with one of these belts. Hmmm.
Despite learning from my first blog that whiny, self-infatuated posts are... well... shitty, I still used one as my first post here. Sorry about that. I just wanted to let you know that I'm over it from the time being. This is going to be a good blog. I swear.
Meanwhile, check out Regina Lynn's blog on sex and sexuality. It's not a typical subject of focus for me, but it is incredibly sensible and enlightening. She has dispelled several predispositions of mine simply by discussing them rationally, making me realize that my own prudeness is itself irrational.
Sowell became a hero of mine shortly after I read one of his columns back in 2002. In some ways he exemplifies how I believe people should think: rationally, patiently, thoughtfully, and plainly. However, his conservatism also spans to the negative meaning of the word, and for this reason Sowell has since fallen slightly out of my favor. While I have not yet found another writer who can provide truly insightful comments on such a wide variety of topics, I find myself disagreeing with him on many occasions despite seeing his intention.
Below is the quote that placed Sowell on a pedestal:
There have always been ignorant people, but they haven't always had college degrees to make them unaware of their ignorance. Some people imagine that they are well informed because they have memorized a whole galaxy of trendy dogmas and fashionable attitudes.
-Thomas Sowell, 26.4.2002
When I read that, I suddenly felt relieved, as if I had been to confession (a big IF!) and the Father had told me what I had confessed was not a sin at all.
The quote that knocked Sowell off the pedestal:
As someone who gets a headache from being around people who are smoking, I still do not see the banning of smoking on California beaches as anything more than the totalitarian mindset of the left.
-Thomas Sowell, 15.4.2004
I have always wanted to write my own, and so now I am giving it a try despite a lack of good material. I hope I'll remember more of my random thoughts for future editions.
Random Thoughts on the Passing Scene
By Brian Godsey
Here in Vienna, I know lots of people trying to learn German. Almost all of them focus mostly on the grammatical rules of the language, when they learned to speak the language they know best (English, Spanish, Italian, Turkish, Bosnian, Chinese, Nepalese, etc.) without seeing a grammar book for years.
People are clearly more fit here in Vienna than in America, but somehow no more attractive.
Some people go outside to "get some fresh air" and then smoke.
There are no normal walkers in Vienna. If not running, wearing a backpack, carrying a briefcase, riding a bike, or walking a dog, those along the paths of Vienna are carrying ski-pole like sticks and claim to be doing a sport called "Nordic Walking" that also works the arms. Even if they are simply carrying both sticks in one hand.
People in the U.S. complain about high or rising gas prices, when at the most expensive in history, $3.08 per gallon in September 2005, gas prices in Canada were 28% higher, and gas prices for most people in Europe are regularly well over $5.00 per gallon.
So many regions of the Internet were designed to make friends (Friendster, MySpace, Facebook, etc.) when the biggest effect of these sites is keeping their users at the computer and away from other people.
The internet was built to facilitate exchange of information between people, not substitute for it.
Public transportation systems in larger cities are all-or-nothing. If the system caters to only some of the neighborhoods, people cannot get everywhere they would like using trains, subways, and buses, and most people will buy cars. If I have a car, why not drive it?
The above includes offering some empty routes. The system needs to offer non-profitable (of its own right) public transportation routes in order to keep customers. If a night line is cancelled, and I can't get home from the soccer game without calling a friend with a car, maybe I'll buy a car and stop taking buses altogether.
Vienna has good public transportation. Baltimore does not. Washington, New York, and Chicago are doing reasonably well. Could I live anywhere else in America without a car?
Churches in Austria (mostly Catholic) charge you per year to be a member. They still pass around the plate, but a good chunk of tithing (or whatever you want to call it) comes straight out of your bank account. Only then can you marry, participate in ceremonies, and be memorialized in a church. My girlfriend's dad haggled with the minister of his church over the price before finding a better deal on salvation elsewhere, Armenian Orthodox I believe. One can save money by outsourcing even religious work.
Do I have an attention problem? I spent my years 16-21 stuck in the Dark Ages of personal development, only focusing on competitive running and my own ego, all the while stifling what was to become a seemingly overwhelming need to figure out something. I guess it turns out that that something is also something I need to figure out, but whatever, it doesn't really matter.
I'm a narcissist. I take ordinary things and make them into something enjoyable, or I throw them away. Running is my paradigm. When I ran, and when I was good, my ego thrived off of the success, and wallowed in any admiration of others. It still does. But, I don't think I need to do it forever. Or maybe I do. I pride myself in never having taken illegal drugs, whatever that means. I first drank alcohol when I was twenty and a half, smoked one cigarrette (didn't inhale; will that joke ever die?) when I was twenty-four and drunk, but I got addicted at sixteen to one of those Sensationally Sexy Seven Sins, Pride.
He is the heavy cavalry, the tin-alloy soldier, the reinforcements, and on speed dial on the mobile phones of the other six. Perhaps it was earlier that I began, but I was doing Pride when I started school, and got good grades. People called me smart. I won the geography bee in the sixth grade. I am still embarassed that I misspelled "tortoise" in the spelling bee in the fifth grade, especially when neither of the two kids remaining could spell "mystify". Everybody knows that the second letter is a y. I could have won. Like tracks on my arm.
In German, Sinn means meaning, more or less, and that's what Pride did for me. In my life I've wanted the hottest girlfriend, the most money, to eat the most hot dogs in twelve minutes, the longest nap, and to exact revenge on those who have wronged me. Or, in the last case, more likely those who have embarassed me, because in all five cases, it was a competition. He who wins gets Pride, and the envy of others. Without winning, I am just an Other.
A wise fictitious action-movie archaeologist once said, "Fortune and glory, kid. Fortune and glory." While neither of those are complete sentences, I understand the meaning. It is presented as a goal. Since when do two deadly deadly sins make an admirable goal? I'd say: since Lance Armstrong realized that it was about the bike and decided to win seven in a row; since Christian Bale decided to work his ass off in theatre; or since Takeru Kobayashi thought that maybe he could fit 53.5 hot dogs and buns in his stomach or wherever. What did they earn? Pride. Pride-pride-pride-pride-pride. And money, but then they bought more Pride.
I eat that stuff for breakfast, but lately I've been feeling a bit thin, so I decided to Michael Jordan my way back into competitive running. I was out in 2003, back in in 2004, out and back in in 2005, and then made it three months in 2006, before now. I think I'm on the Wizards now. Well, whatever. I didn't feel like running any more. In other words, I wasn't getting enough attention and my ego was feeling a bit thin. The year 2007 and its goal of learning German hasn't quite paid off in the Pride account. (Who the #@&% cares but me?) And, I'll never win an international German competition in front of thousands of people. I need a new drug. I need to go back to the old drug. I'm in a new city, making new friends, and having what I see as a much better opportunity to astound people with my slightly-above-average endurance (only on my feet).
I run for Pride. I run to destroy the short-term hopes of others. I run... because somebody didn't believe that I would win, and the look on their face when I did fed me for years. Then I woke up in a train station bathroom with a needle in my arm and had to hit the streets again.
It just gets boring. But less boring than anything else I would do for twenty hours per week. So I'm picking it up again and maybe I'll find something to last for the rest of my life. Maybe it's a habit, maybe it's a compulsion, but since my Dark Ages I've been lost. I can't be average, but I haven't found my way yet.
On the back of the American's shirt yesterday, for the first time I've seen it on a runner:
...and miles to go before I sleep.