2007-06-27

Hero of the Day vol 1: A Hat Trick


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.

2007-06-26

A Global Perspective of Women, for the male libido


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.

Happy hunting.

2007-06-04

I'm slow at reading.


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.