Don't read this unless you like thinking, and like some form of art

I find it funny that a TV show has brought me back to the age-old question of culture and purpose: what is art? This is a topic I'm going to tackle here, in this blog, in 3000 words or less, providing a defninitive answer that scholars will still be citing a hundred years from now. Just kidding. My aspirations are a bit more modest; I don't even hope to clarify what I think art is, because I don't even know that. What I do know is that I have some thoughts on the subject, and I'm going to share them with you now, dear reader, in an unclear and confusing manner.

The TV show which I mentioned, Mad Men, is to me in some ways unique in the world of TV shows. Perhaps this is because it was produced by AMC, whose primary genre is film. I find the standard 30-60 minute TV show is great for comedy and action (see: Family Guy, Fastlane, Hu$tle, Dukes of Hazzard) but I have never found it good for drama or suspense. I started watching Desperate Housewives when it was on its second or third episode and really enjoyed it for about five or six weeks, until they started creating even more mysteries than there were already, and I began to have the feeling that the writers were using the soap opera tactic of creating suspense in multiple ways so that hopefully at least one of the mysteries would intrigue you enough to come back and watch the following week. I quit cold turkey when I started realizing that even the screenwriters didn't know where the show was going, and would most likely leave the viewers hanging at the end of the season. This realization happened to coincide with the return from hiatus of Family Guy, so I told my girlfriend at the time that I'd be across the street at my own apartment watching animated figures by myself instead of Desperate Housewives with her, the reason being that with Family Guy, a thirty-minute session leaves me satisfied and happy, and not confused and wanting something more. [That's what she said.]

That half-season of Desperate Housewives was the first and last time in years that I tried watching a TV show which continued from week to week. I don't like having to remember stuff, and even if I did, it's not a good reason to watch the next episode. But Mad Men is different. Or was different, I should say. The entire first season is relatively devoid of action, drama, suspense, mystery, and other gimmicky weaknesses that in my opinion are overused in our main broadcast medium. One gimmick that is used in Mad Men is historical context from 1960-61. The episodes are interspersed with radio and television broadcasts of then-current events, such as the Nixon-Kennedy election battle and the Cuban Missile Crisis. I find some of this context wholly unnecessary when it isn't directly part of the plot, but it doesn't bother me. Like in Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, you can learn a lot about history through fiction, but unlike Brown's book, it isn't the only redeeming facet of the work.

Mad Men is about nuance. My favorite parts are the high-context conversations, in which few words are packed in implication and insinuation. And the main character, Don Draper, is perfect as the tersest of virtuoso advertising men, never saying a word too many, and never deviating a millimeter from what he means. In a lot of ways he's someone to aspire to, but in other ways not. He does get a lot of women.

But all that aside, I'm still trying to figure out why I like the show so much. I think it is because of the focus on detail. The writers know that what happens doesn't matter as much as how they tell the story, and how the characters react. It's too bad the end of the second season (the most recent) got a bit bogged down in drama. It worked, but it didn't reach the bar set by the show's earlier episodes. I even started drinking whiskey towards the end of the first season; it plays a relatively prominent role in the show.

So, do I like Mad Men because it is more like a film than a TV show, or is there something there in the TV medium that I'm missing. I kind of have this subconscious-turned-conscious ordering of the pureness of art forms. On one end, there's the pure written word, prose, and next to it, poetry, with it's sometimes gimmicky visual arrangement of words on the page, and rhyme. Music can also be pure, but when we put words to it, it's contaminated and lies somewhere near rhyming poetry. The purest of the visual arts are painting, film, and photography, depending on subject. More contrived and conformist (Oh, the pleasures!) subjects and methods deviate from purity. Combining music, prose, and lyrics, we get theater, and the typically more-pure opera, though neither are as pure as ballet, which is not limited by words, spoken or sung.

You see, it easily becomes confusing which are more art and which are stuffed into a conventional format usually for the purpose of easy delivery to audiences. My main criterion for artness is freedom of expression. Prose is limited only by its own medium, words, and music only by sounds. I find opera forces too many high notes and astounding acrobatics of voice to deliver something wholly beautiful, though there are good instances. I prefer a symphony or ballet, where focus is either on music or dancing, and stories and words are secondary contexts. Or, maybe I simply have a preference against the human voice.

Film, with the possible exception of time, is limited only by technology and the people who operate it. Theoretically, anything can be on the silver screen. Salvador Dali and his friends produced wonderful examples of how non-conformist you can be with a camera, as I saw in a film studies class. But TV... TV is packaged in weekly installments, 30-60 minutes, with breaks for commercials. These are tough enough constraints to work with, without the constant need to keep ratings up and keep the advertisers happy. I don't think AMC has to worry about this as much as the typical network, but the basic format is the same. That being said, they've produced, looking at it from many different perspectives, the best TV show I've seen in a long time.

But as I already mentioned, the second season fell off near the end, and I'm losing hope that the writers can save it (in my eyes only) next season. Plus, I can't help but wonder if they have know what's going to happen before all is said and done, or if they take the story one or two steps at a time and wait for audience reaction. At some point it will become obvious if the carrot is on a string.


I'm feeling like a charity case

Sometimes I like to take a break from receiving and do a little giving, before the "holiday season", nonetheless! Maybe I'm feeling motivated by the lack of respect for other human beings I witness on a daily basis, coupled with the devotion by certain people of time, resources, and effort to help out those in need and do the world at large a favor.

At the current moment (but probably not for much longer) I see no better way to help out my fellow man than by donating money to prostate cancer research (no, I'm not donating directly to prostate cancer) on the request of a very good friend of mine who is growing a mustache for the occasion. The occasion, need it be named, is in fact Movember. That it has nothing to do with cows, or finding a new apartment, is a mystery to me. Does it have anything to do with Febtober?

At this point, I must ask myself if I would have donated to this cause had this friend of mine not chosen to grow a 'stache. The answer is a resounding NO but that doesn't change the fact that he is growing a mustache, and I have already donated a bit of dough. If you would consider doing this also, please click here.

Movember - Sponsor Me


A great day to be a conformist!

Ahh... the pleasures of conformity! I believe I'll humor myself with a little post-election blog entry. Certainly millions around the world already have done so themselves, and who would I be not to join them? Certainly not a conformist! And we can't have that! No, sir. I'll begin slowly, though, because I want to make absolutely certain that I am heading in the same direction as the majority, or at least a plurality. Maybe I shouldn't make too much out of it, because there are obviously large groups on both, or all, sides of the the election, if you want to count Nader, but he's a non-conformist, so I won't. Here goes...

Change. It's such a great thing to see the president-elect breaking down the racial barriers...

No, wait, let me start that again:

It's a sad day in this world when dynamic speaking and rhetoric conquer the proven hand of experience...

Uhhh... I'm just not sure about that. Perhaps I can be a super-conformist and rope them all in at once:

This country needs change, whether it comes in the form of breaking down barriers to thwart experience, or in having the hand of experience slap the face of a champion rhetorical speaker. We need someone to lead us to this change, no matter how good or bad it is, and how different from the status quo. This leader should appeal to the general public, meaning either the young, educated urban dwellers or the "real" american plumbers, farmers, and factory workers, but not both. So it's a joy to have elected a new president to do just that, but likewise a shame to have him woo his public and the world even without having the experience of most traditional president-elects. The one he left by the wayside fought like a champion, went down swinging, and I rue that he could not exercise his vengeful fiscal policy against the necks of his sweeter-talking comrades-in-arms. But he would have messed up foreign policy, relatively, anyway. I am so happy and so sad, crying tears of joy with tears of pain, which happen to taste the same. To those victorious: wave your banners. To those defeated: learn to make the winners rue the day, and boo every time you hear His Name. This country is a seesaw, and I'm standing in the middle.

[Authors note: Today I'm reminded of a familiar feeling, one that I haven't felt so strong for seven years. My first experience with it was at the end of September, 2001. I had just seen my one-millionth American flag in the past few weeks, and was offered red-white-and-blue laces to go into my racing spikes for a cross country meet, in New York, on the following day. I graciously accepted the laces, but never put them in my shoes. These were laces that showed me the very last bit of how ordinary intelligent citizens could get carried away with patriotism when given a compelling reason. Pathos, I believe it's called. Even in the most trying times, people need to keep their wits about them, and not immediately give a gun to a widow-by-murder.

I had this feeling again today when I saw pictures of the throngs of people gathered at Grant Park yesterday to see Obama, and again when I read about McCain's speech (very, very respectable, what I read) and how he had mentioned his opponent several times, and how several times he was forced to say "please, please" to stop the booing.[link to article]

An election is not a sport, yet people treat it as such. To these McCain supporters, Obama is some Sherriff of Nottingham in a high school production of Robin Hood. Maybe they don't understand that soon he will also represent them, even though they voted against him, for the next four years. It would be best to work with him instead of against him; he can help us all, as he'll be the president. And the Obama supporters would parade through the streets claiming to have been on board since "the beginning" and proclaim that the Messiah has landed himself in the Oval Office. Cliché alert: you've only just begun. Nothing has changed yet, except the face.

I'll do my celebrating when I see less consumption, less waste, more care for the community in general, more public transportation, fewer people dying for whatever reason, more food in our proverbial mouths, and fewer people being assholes for no reason at all. Oh, and when everyone learns to stop being scared of anything that anyone else calls "Socialism". Do you even know what that really means?

I doubt that this little bit of Author's Note here is either pleasurable or conformist, so I'll leave it out of the blog proper. You can keep my little secret, right?]


3M knows the secrets of the universe

I found this over at Marginal Revolution, but it is too cool not to repost.

Apparently Scotch tape is the future of science, not duct tape as everyone had assumed.

Does anyone know what 3M actually stands for? I learned when memorizing all the stock tickers of the Dow Jones in one of my Miami finance classes. Worthless, except for trivial pride.


My precious

I'm not big into political ranting and raving, mainly because when it comes to arguing about politicians, they all have their strengths and weaknesses (until I become a politician, at which point I will be the first politician ever to be correct on every point). But, if I feel like pointing out a weakness, my finger is very quick to point at this one, which was passed along by my boss.

Ok, so, yes, I do actually work in fruit fly research in Europe, but that's pretty much irrelevant. I don't care if they take away funding for these sorts of things, as long as they have a good reason. And while I'm at it, I think this video represents everything that is wrong with the 'everyman' getting involved in politics. As I posted previously, I agree with my coworker's point that because she doesn't know a lot about all of the political issues, she wants to elect someone who has taken the time to learn about them. It is, in fact, the elected official's job to deal with issues at a much deeper level than the average citizen.

Furthermore, I think that the biggest problem in politics is that some people vote for and do what sounds good, and don't take the time to see how good it actually is. I used to think that this was a primarily Democratic problem, in that someone would say, "Kids in Africa are starving; we need to give them food," and some others would jump on board and they would begin tirades about how we need to help our fellow man, blah blah blah. Republicans are generally more calculating (and cold?). However right the outspoken soft-hearts may be, it doesn't change the fact that a lot, if not more, african children die due to unclean water supplies and poor sanitary conditions in general. And while I am not sure what the truth really is, it very well may be possible that our money could save a lot more lives by cleaning up the water than by simply sending boxes of rice. Either way, it's something we need to think about before millions of dollars are gone.

Sarah Palin's comment in the video is even dumber. Even dumb people should know that doing research on animals and other organisms helps humans. But it is beyond ignorance, to the point of arrogance, that Palin would demean research of fruit flies, and tout her own noble cause: children with special needs. Seriously, did none of Palin's staff tell her that the only viable option according to her train of thought is to breed hundreds of genetically identical autistic children in a lab and then compare them, genetically, to the hundreds of genetically identical non-autistic children we've been breeding in the next room? What I wouldn't give to see her response to that question.

Does Palin also know that our "fly incubator" here in Vienna is completely dark inside except for a light on a timer, which simulates night and day, and that for two years the timer wasn't set right, and the flies were kept in the dark during that entire time? Can you imagine the effect of something like that on autistic children? Sorry, I'm getting morbid here, but I'll leave you with one more word: Gollum.

I hope Palin runs for president in 2012. What a moron.


Too cool for school

Interacting with the people over at Morris Berman's blog has gotten me thinking. Well, I guess I could say that I've been thinking about this ever since I read Dark Ages America, but lately I hadn't done much active thinking about it, until I posted on Berman's blog.

The general question is: is there some aspect of American culture that has, in one way or another, earned the negative reputation the country has in a significant portion of the world?

I'll be the first to admit that this question is one of those impossible-to-answer, touchy-feely, liberal adgenda questions. It's like, your opinion, man. But it's worth thinking about. Seriously. Don't get all offended.

One of Berman's main theses is that, as the U.S.A. is the most capitalist among large developed nations, the competitive natureinstilled by the economy spills over from people's professional lives into their personal lives. Therefore, there is a lack of "community" among U.S. residents, which manifests itself in many ways. This seems plausible, but any purely logical argument breaks down when we start using anecdotal evidence to support claims. Berman likes to mention lots of anecdotes from the time he has spent in Mexico (he lives there) and compare that to the life he knew in the U.S. This is an absolutely valid way to form an opinion, but not extremely compelling argument for coldly rational person like myself. I am not so easily convinced. Anecdotes are great, but I could tell you the story of how George Washington mercilessly killed loads of British soldiers, while George W. Bush saved tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians. From this information alone, you may be persuaded to go against the opinion that you may have if you have all of the information (if that's possible).

The main point that has gotten me thinking in the last few days concerns the nature of what people value. I had a very interesting exchange with a coworker a couple of weeks ago. We had been talking about how one Republican, when campaigning for the presidential nomination in the primary, seemingly bragged about having read only one book in his [adult?] life. Apparently some people connect with a guy who's not an "academic", but a down-to-earth, "regular" guy. Who doesn't read books. I suppose if he'd said he'd read no books, he would have gotten significantly fewer votes, but then again, I'm not sure what that one book was. But I can take a guess.

Sure, I understand the attraction of voting for "guys like me". A guy like me might have the same opinions as me and end up voting on the issues like I would. Great. It's hard to say that you wouldn't vote for yourself in an election, but that's exactly what my coworker said. She said, "I haven't read many books either, but I'm not running for office. He's the one who's supposed to know a lot and have read a lot of books." Briliant. Refreshing. And very smart.

And that comment leads me into the Question of the Day: Does the U.S. value intellectualism any less than the rest of the world? On one hand we have hordes of people voting for a self-proclaimed functional-illiterate, and on the other we have what is arguably one of the very best university systems in the world.

I keep reading that this university system is increasingly catering to foreigners, but I also know that the vast majority of U.S. top-level elected officials have excellent education records. I don't know if there is a way to solve this quandary using data alone. Thus, the anecdotes become almost necessary.

What do you think? Is it seen as a good thing when someone you just met tells you that they recently finished Slaughterhouse 5, and they ask you if you've read it? Or is it more amusing to have someone claim "I never really paid attention in math class" when confronted by an everyday solve-for-x type math problem.

Berman claims that in Mexico, it's not uncommon to talk history or politics with your taxi driver, but that it's quite the opposite in the U.S. I confess that with respect to history and literature, I was much like Berman's American when I lived there, and I have changed quite a bit since I left. But that has little to do with where I live. It was a change that I can claim had been brewing for quite some time.

I have thought quite a bit about this now, about whether my own anecdotes follow the paths fo Berman's, if the americans I have come across during my lifetime value this contrived definition of intellectualism even a bit less than the other individuals I have met.

The only semi-concrete resolution to my ponderings I have come across is my own response to the question: Would I feel more comfortable approaching relative strangers at, say, a party outside the U.S. and attempting to start a conversation about the last novel I read? The answer is a resounding probably. But then again, that's the company I keep.

Do you like reading, smart people, thinking, and just all around learning things? Let me know! Write a comment, email, whatever. Even if you don't like any of those things.

Oh, and one last thing: Anybody who claims to be an intellectual is certainly not. They're just an idiot trying to make themselves sound important. Intellectualism is not somewhere you can be, it's more like a direction you're going. I got a late start.


Tangling with the big dogs

I loved Morris Berman's book, Dark Ages America, and so I was highly tempted to post on his blog when I found it. I resisted for a while, but then the troll in me won over, and I got firsties on his most recent post.

I didn't get the warm reception I was hoping for.

I suppose I should have expected that from a bunch of guys who think the U.S. is a sinking ship, with the rich elitists at the helm. Not that it's not true (I'm not going one way or the other; there are certainly problems there) but I'm clearly not on the same page as them, or I didn't do a good job getting them on the same page as me. One or the other. The post was on the topic of Seinfeld, for God's sake. How far can you go wrong making political observations through sitcoms?

If you'd like to see how it went, how it's going, and how it goes (with your help?), click here.

Link posted by a friend, but worth mentioning again

For a few years now, I've been enthralled with just about everything Google has released. Chrome was the only major disappointment, but only because it isn't compatible with my touchpad, yet. I hear they've got a solution, but it just has to get past quality control and into the next update. Back to the point, Google and its employees don't seem to forget who's using their software, and what they want. They also almost always provide it for free. I don't know how this business model works, but as a customer, I like it.

Probably a big part of the small innovations we see coming from Google are a direct result of the company policy stating that employees should spend a portion of their time working on projects entirely of their own choosing. Thus, many small web applications are both, which were originally conceived on a whim. If you are not aware of this, here it is now: whims are awesome. You don't have to act on whims, but you should acknowledge their existence and their awesomeness. Seriously. Many cool things and cool people have been conceived on a whim. For example. If you didn't click on "example", click here. Got it? Good.

I think that's a perfect example of what people should be doing on a daily basis. How many times have you said, "I would like to do that," but you never get around to doing that? It doesn't matter what that is. One day you should just sit down and do that. Or plan a day to do that, and don't let anyone convince you otherwise. I'm much happier with a few thats in my life, and most of them were conceived on a whim, or a series of similar whims.

That's my pontification for the day.


A thought on a great author

From the Wikipedia entry on J.D. Salinger:

Aimee Bender was struggling with her first short stories when a friend gave her a copy of Nine Stories; inspired, she later described Salinger's effect on writers, explaining: "[I]t feels like Salinger wrote The Catcher in the Rye in a day, and that incredible feeling of ease inspires writing. Inspires the pursuit of voice. Not his voice. My voice. Your voice."

Well said.


Walker for President

Apparently Chuck Norris does more than roundhouse kick the crap out of you and your cowboy hat. He's an author who promotes his political book on a conservative blog site. It sounds like some congressmen need to watch out for a boot to the face.

Although I could write a few additions to the opening lines:

I believe a revolution is coming to America. Or maybe two; it depends on how many revolutions I need to generate the boot velocity necessary to roundhouse all of America's problems at once. Just as Hurricane Ike slammed into my home state of Texas, and my boot slammed into that guy with the ponytail's face in season 3, episode 5 of Walker, Texas Ranger, I am more and more convinced as every year passes that a needed voter revolution is brewing and will arrive imminently at America's shores and ballot boxes and my opponents lower jaws.

The birth and face pains for this voter revolution can be seen through the highs and lows of current political polarities and wherever I intend my boot to make contact with your body.

I think that's enough of that. But, I hear the Chuck Norris Bailout Plan consists of three roundhouses: one for Fannie, one for Freddie, and one for Congress. Ok, I'm done.


And this was almost twenty years ago

From the Wikipedia page on minimum wage:

"The connection between more and better has been broken; our needs for many products and services are already more than adequately met, and many of our as-yet- unsatisfied needs will be met not by producing more, but by producing differently, producing other things, or even producing less. This is especially true as regards our needs for air, water, space, silence, beauty, time and human contact...

"From the point where it takes only 1,000 hours per year or 20,000 to 30,000 hours per lifetime to create an amount of wealth equal to or greater than the amount we create at the present time in 1,600 hours per year or 40,000 to 50,000 hours in a working life, we must all be able to obtain a real income equal to or higher than our current salaries in exchange for a greatly reduced quantity of work...

"Neither is it true any longer that the more each individual works, the better off everyone will be. The present crisis has stimulated technological change of an unprecedented scale and speed: `the micro chip revolution'. The object and indeed the effect of this revolution has been to make rapidly increasing savings in labour, in the industrial, administrative and service sectors. Increasing production is secured in these sectors by decreasing amounts of labour. As a result, the social process of production no longer needs everyone to work in it on a full-time basis. The work ethic ceases to be viable in such a situation and workbased society is thrown into crisis". André Gorz, Critique of Economic Reason, Gallilé,1989

I think I could handle about 1,000 hours per year. Has that day come yet?


I don't have a "Chuck Norris Lever", but I found some jokes

I heard a few good ones in the past few weeks, but hadn't seen a compilation yet. Some of them are pretty good.


When Chuck Norris calls 1-900 numbers, he doesnt get charged. He holds up the phone and money falls out.

Chuck Norris once ate a whole cake before his friends could tell him there was a stripper in it.

Some people like to eat frogs' legs. Chuck Norris likes to eat lizard legs. Hence, snakes.

There are no races, only countries of people Chuck Norris has beaten to different shades of black and blue.

When Chuck Norris was denied an Egg McMuffin at McDonald's because it was 10:35, he roundhouse kicked the store so hard it became a Wendy's.

Chuck Norris can't finish a "color by numbers" because his markers are filled with the blood of his victims. Unfortunately, all blood is dark red.

A Chuck Norris-delivered Roundhouse Kick is the preferred method of execution in 16 states.

When Chuck Norris falls in water, Chuck Norris doesn't get wet. Water gets Chuck Norris.

Scientists have estimated that the energy given off during the Big Bang is roughly equal to 1CNRhK (Chuck Norris Roundhouse Kick)

Chuck Norris’ house has no doors, only walls that he walks through.

How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could Chuck Norris? ...All of it.

Chuck Norris doesn't actually write books, the words assemble themselves out of fear.

In honor of Chuck Norris, all McDonald's in Texas have an even larger size than the super-size. When ordering, just ask to be Chucksized.

Chuck Norris CAN believe it's not butter.

If tapped, a Chuck Norris roundhouse kick could power the country of Australia for 44 minutes.

Chuck Norris can divide by zero.

The grass is always greener on the other side, unless Chuck Norris has been there. In that case the grass is most likely soaked in blood and tears.

A picture is worth a thousand words. A Chuck Norris is worth 1 billion words.

Newton's Third Law is wrong: Although it states that for each action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, there is no force equal in reaction to a Chuck Norris roundhouse kick.

Chuck Norris invented his own type of karate. It's called Chuck-Will-Kill.

When an episode of Walker Texas Ranger was aired in France, the French surrendered to Chuck Norris just to be on the safe side.

While urinating, Chuck Norris is easily capable of welding titanium.

Chuck Norris once sued the Houghton-Mifflin textbook company when it became apparent that their account of the war of 1812 was plagiarized from his autobiography.

When Chuck Norris talks, everybody listens. And dies.

When Steven Seagal kills a ninja, he only takes its hide. When Chuck Norris kills a ninja, he uses every part.

Contrary to popular belief, there is indeed enough Chuck Norris to go around.

Chuck Norris doesnt shave; he kicks himself in the face. The only thing that can cut Chuck Norris is Chuck Norris.

For some, the left testicle is larger than the right one. For Chuck Norris, each testicle is larger than the other one.

Chuck Norris always knows the EXACT location of Carmen SanDiego.

When taking the SAT, write "Chuck Norris" for every answer. You will score over 8000.

Chuck Norris invented black. In fact, he invented the entire spectrum of visible light. Except pink. Tom Cruise invented pink.

When you're Chuck Norris, anything + anything is equal to 1. One roundhouse kick to the face.

Chuck Norris has the greatest Poker-Face of all time. He won the 1983 World Series of Poker, despite holding only a Joker, a Get out of Jail Free Monopoloy card, a 2 of clubs, 7 of spades and a green #4 card from the game UNO.

On his birthday, Chuck Norris randomly selects one lucky child to be thrown into the sun.

Nobody doesn't like Sara Lee. Except Chuck Norris.

Chuck Norris doesn't throw up if he drinks too much. Chuck Norris throws down!

In the beginning there was nothing...then Chuck Norris Roundhouse kicked that nothing in the face and said "Get a job". That is the story of the universe.

Chuck Norris has 12 moons. One of those moons is the Earth.

Chuck Norris grinds his coffee with his teeth and boils the water with his own rage.

Archeologists unearthed an old english dictionary dating back to the year 1236. It defined "victim" as "one who has encountered Chuck Norris"

Chuck Norris ordered a Big Mac at Burger King, and got one.

Chuck Norris and Mr. T walked into a bar. The bar was instantly destroyed, as that level of awesome cannot be contained in one building.

If you Google search "Chuck Norris getting his ass kicked" you will generate zero results. It just doesn't happen.

Chuck Norris can drink an entire gallon of milk in thirty-seven seconds.

Little known medical fact: Chuck Norris invented the Caesarean section when he roundhouse-kicked his way out of his monther's womb.

Chuck Norris doesn't bowl strikes, he just knocks down one pin and the other nine faint.

The show Survivor had the original premise of putting people on an island with Chuck Norris. There were no survivors, and nobody is brave enough to go to the island to retrieve the footage.

It takes Chuck Norris 20 minutes to watch 60 Minutes.

You know how they say if you die in your dream then you will die in real life? In actuality, if you dream of death then Chuck Norris will find you and kill you.

Chuck Norris has a deep and abiding respect for human life... unless it gets in his way.

The Bermuda Triangle used to be the Bermuda Square, until Chuck Norris Roundhouse kicked one of the corners off.

There are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Chuck Norris lives in Oklahoma.

Chuck Norris doesn't believe in Germany.

When Chuck Norris is in a crowded area, he doesn't walk around people. He walks through them.

Chuck Norris once ate an entire bottle of sleeping pills. They made him blink.

James Cameron wanted Chuck Norris to play the Terminator. However, upon reflection, he realized that would have turned his movie into a documentary, so he went with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Chuck Norris can touch MC Hammer.

Thousands of years ago Chuck Norris came across a bear. It was so terrified that it fled north into the arctic. It was also so terrified that all of its decendents now have white hair.

Chuck Norris played Russian Roulette with a fully loaded gun and won.

It takes 14 puppeteers to make Chuck Norris smile, but only 2 to make him destroy an orphanage.


The Baltimore of the East Coast

So I'm getting all hyped up for my trip home in about two weeks. This will be my third trip to the U.S. since I moved away, so that part is like old news, except for getting to see my family and friends in Ohio is never boring.

But, more importantly, (let me say a pre-emptive "sorry" to the Ohio crew) I'm stoked about going to Baltimore for the first time since I left, which was in January 2007. I would call myself an asshole for not going back sooner, but that's assuming that my visit is just a treat for those who I'd see. Actually, it's more of a treat for me, so I'm being an asshole to myself for not going back sooner. I'm a masochist.

Anyway, I have to say that even though Baltimore is, in general, not a very good city, it definitely has it's good points. First of all, just today I mentioned to my coworkers that eating outside at McCormack and Schmidt in the inner harbor is just about the most beautiful outdoor dining experience I have had. Surprising that it isn't in the vineyards of Austria, the piazzas of Italy, or the riverfront of Cincinnati, all of which I have been to multiple times. Okay, so that last one isn't too surprising. But, Baltimore has that going for it, as well as a handful of self-contained bubble neighborhoods (Fells Point, Mount Vernon, Canton, and of course Fed Hill) that mix a bit of small-town comfort with the bigger-city environment. But in reality, this paragraph was leading up to this one sentence: it's all about the people.

That's why I felt/feel compelled to write a story about this city and it's tolerable, if not awesome, inhabitants. I'll let you know when I'm done, which I hope will only take me a couple of months in my spare time. We'll see how it turns out. In the mean time, I hope to catch you in Baltimore when I make my grand return later this month.



When crime is noble

I just got done watching the second episode of Hustle, and I would like to reiterate (or just iterate, for those of you who haven't heard this before) that this show is one of the best. Ever. That I have seen.

I can't quickly summarize what it is that I like about this show, but it's like a TV version of Ocean's X, where X represents an integer between 11 and 13, inclusive. And it's well-made. That's as opposed to the not-well-made series like... well, most of them. Even though I remember really liking Hustle when I saw it on AMC a couple of years ago, I was still expecting it to be corny and predictable like most of the other stuff on TV. Maybe that's what happens when the "best" things on TV (or so I hear) are CSI, Grey's Anatomy, Two and a Half Men (is that still on?), and whatever other police/lawyer/investigator show happens to wedge itself between 8 and 10pm.

One of these days I'll write about why I like my favorite TV shows, including (but not exclusively) Family Guy, American Dad, Fastlane, Hustle, The Dukes of Hazzard, How I Met Your Mother (well, that one's easy: NPH) , South Park, Thundercats, The Greatest American Hero, and probably some others I'm not thinking of right now. That would be a lot of fun. I can analyze the crap out of them. Sweet.

What are your favorite shows? (And why?)


The kind of runner I am

I am competitive. I like to win, and I hate to lose. That's a huge reason behind the successes I have had in running and whatever else. I used to think that was good, but now I'm having my doubts.

I used to tell myself that I was competitive when I needed to be, and that I knew a friendly competition when I saw one. Then I started getting so angry playing Mario Kart (64, of course) that I had to make myself stop playing. And then a year or two later I argued with a good friend of mine about who had the slowest time on a particular frequently-run course around Baltimore. He rightly said, "I think that was a low point in both of our lives."

I didn't understand him at the time, or at least I didn't fully understand him at the time. But, now I'm starting to. Do you think I'm moving in the right direction? Sure, with the preceding evidence, I think anyone would say "yes", but there is a price to pay.

Some time after May 31st, 2003, I lost my drive. I thought I would still have it when I needed it, but I'm pretty sure it's gone. Not once in the last five years have I commited myself fully to something, running or whatever. The question stays perpetually in my head: "is it worth it?" I haven't won a race that wasn't easy to win, and I've even let people pass me at the very end of a race without much of a fight. My training is weak; when it starts hurting I shut it down and cruise in. I rarely grit my teeth anymore. I have become a recreational runner, a social creature that runs for reasons other than running itself.

I don't want to quit, and I still have some desire. I am also 100% sure that I could run a PR at any distance, this year if I really put my mind to it. My PR at 3000m back in February proves that, at least to me. But I really need to get my mind set on something, and that's hard. It's hard to go to a race by yourself after training primarily by yourself and convince yourself that this race matters. Often, it just doesn't. Nobody really cares except me. I mean, sure, people care, but not that much.

And this, what I'm writing right now, made me realize, right now (as in, after I finished writing the last paragraph) pretty much proves my theory (because I wasn't 100% sure) that my main motivation for running is to show people who doubt me that I can. That's right, I do it for the haters.

I won State in high school, twice, because two years before hardly anyone believed me when I said I would do it. Back then, I admitted what kind of competitor I was in a conversation with my mom, before the 1998 Ohio High School Cross Country Championships, which for all of high school was the race as far as I was concerned, the one I predicted I would win two years before. I told my mom I wasn't sure how I'd find motivation after the race because, hey, what happens after the end of the world? I won, set a PR, and achieved everything I ever wanted.

But I proved that my worries about post-race motivation were well-founded when I didn't have very good races in the post season, and even more so when I lost the 3200m the following spring, and didn't care too much about it. I even told people that, since I got second place, if I had to pick who would finish ahead of me, it would be him, the guy who won. But then a week later I had to silence the haters who thought that guy truly was faster than me by beating him in a post-season race. See? I need haterz.

The people who drive me to extreme training, because of their Hater status, number only a few, perhaps only two. We have the legendary (only locally) Reis, and Germany's weird-running hero, Thomas Dold. Even Reis is falling slowly off the list. He used to create a pure will inside of me, spawned from his attitude (such as calling me a cheater for beating him after not leading a race very much, and simply being an unfriendly jerk), but I'm running out of opportunities to prove to him that I can beat him whenever I want, so I kind of have to forget about it. With Dold the fire is pretty much still there, and thinking about him during my WR attempt at 3000m backwards gave me access to another level of pain tolerance I hadn't used in a while (but still isn't the level of "back in the day"), simply because he's arrogant and I'm faster than him. I love tearing arrogant people down in fair competition. He still has six WRs while I have only two, so I'll have to get working on that. I also am considering trying my hand at tower running (or stair running, whatever you want to call it) just so I can put him in his place there, too. He's pretty good at it, though, the best in the world, actually, and he earns quite a bit of money and fame doing it. I have no idea how easy it would be for me to beat him at that, and that's what gets me going a bit: that it's a matter of training for me. I train properly for a year; I beat him. It's that simple in my mind now, but I don't want to train for running up stairs for a year, so maybe I can get away with a couple of months of half-assed training like I do for backwards running. Who knows?

The point is that there is a serious lack of good running competitions around here, as there is anywhere. There were definitely more in the Baltimore/Washington area, but even there, usually one of my friends or I would win. The really good get-your-ass-kicked races happen there maybe three or four times per year and here twice, at distances under the marathon. That's the way it is, and I've been waiting for those races. I wait no longer. I'm going to run the not-so-good races, but everyone knows it's no fun to tool on the locals at normal road races. I mean, I'm embarassed to run more than twenty or so seconds in front of second place. So, that means I have to explore other options.

First of all, I'm running a marathon with my brother and his friend on October 19th on the island of Mallorca in Spain. The winning times have been 2:31 and 2:36 for the last two years, so it sounds like a good first marathon for me. Second, I'm finally going to run a half marathon, and I've picked a few out for before and maybe also after the marathon. Should be fun. Like I said, I'm also considering tower running, for which there's a race in early November not even five kilometers from where I live. And, after talking about mountain running with some friends last weekend, I think I'm going to give that a try, too. Those 10-20km races are either uphill-downhill or downhill-uphill with some amount of elevation change, usually from 300m to 800m. About three times per week I run a 15km loop with over 200m elevation change, all of which is in the middle 7km, so I think I'm already fairly well prepared. I'll have to find a race to run on a weekend I have time.

So, I'm no so much a runner any more as I am a running adventurer, because I hope to try all sorts of new things. I just hope I don't have to go by myself, because even fun races are no fun without friends around.


Morris Berman writes a good one

I don't read a lot of essays, but this is one of the best I've read in a while. I almost got angry reading it, not because of the political implications in Iraq or wherever, but because the point Berman tries to make strikes so closely to my own opinions on the one issue in the entire world I feel most strongly about: how people treat other people.

In case you didn't know, I "accidentally" began reading Morris Berman's book, Dark Ages America, when I had an hour or so to kill one afternoon while waiting for a friend at her apartment. This was last year, and it marked the exact beginning of my political awakening. I was nearly apolitical until I read the book, basing my opinions almost exclusively on the rules of economics. It is Berman's second book on this theme, following Twilight America, which I haven't read, and if I wasn't so intent on reading as much fiction as possible, I would have read it already.

The point is: this guy is smart. Make fun of me all you want for becoming a fan of anti-american (sort of) books after moving out of the country, but it's hard to deny the facts and reasoning Berman presents. I can also say that, yes, there are assholes all over the world, including Austria and the rest of Europe, but somewhere there's a difference. I will not argue that anywhere in Europe is "better" than the U.S. in this area, but I will stand firmly behind that the anecdotes Berman describes are far too common, and are a far larger problem than most people believe.


Two chicks at the same time

I'd like to revisit a thought I had yesterday and many times before: assuming money wasn't an issue, is there anything I'd want to do for eight hours per day, every day of the week? In other words: what would I do if i had a million dollars?

Let's make that a million euros because, let's face it, a million dollars won't get you very far these days. But a million 1999 dollars could allow you to do "absolutely nothing", and I think the euro is maybe on par with the 1999 dollar. Let's go on that assumption.

So what would I do? Would I put half of it in bonds and take the other half to my friend in securities... probably, but that's not the point. Two chicks at the same time sounds good, for maybe the first month or two, but afterwards I think I'd get bored of even that. No, seriously.

I like my job, but eight hours per day, five days per week seems a bit much, considering I try to spend ten hours per week running, a few hours eating, a few more hours hanging out with friends, some time reading, and some time writing. Oh, and let's not forget internet time, and random whatever time. Those are important.

To answer the main question, I would probably spend, on average, three hours each day reading, one or two hours writing, two hours eating, two hours running and stretching, two hours hanging out with friends, one hour writing emails and being on Facebook, leaving a few hours for whatever seems appropriate on the given day, and nine or ten hours of sleep.

That's what I would do if I had a million euros. I would think I could hook that up.


How to be a superhero

I just thought of a little occurence that happened to me a few of weeks ago, while I was on my way to the indoor track meet I did here in Vienna.

I was standing on the sidewalk waiting for the straßenbahn (tram, streetcar) when I heard a yell coming from my left, further down the sidewalk. What I saw was a cliché Viennese dude (white pants, black coat, mullet-hawk) sprinting down the sidewalk with a sweatshirt-around-her-waist in pursuit. She called him a dirty word and he didn't look back, just kept sprinting, all out, as she gave up.

The first thing I did when I looked over was look to see if he had stolen her purse or something. I was preparing myself for the Hero Day of my life. I could have stopped this guy, at least temporarily, because he ran past about ten feet in front of me. I had about one second to decide if I was going to take a few steps forward and stick my foot out, straight up spear him onto the tram tracks and pin him down, or do absolutely nothing. I saw no stolen purse, and as a matter of fact I saw nothing indicating a crime other than the aforementioned not-cheaply-dressed dude sprinting silently from a girl who was yelling names. In my one second of thought, I either decided that the evidence was not there, or I ran out of time, because the guy sprinted away and around the corner.

But, I still had time to think because I had my running shoes on, and fewer than ten people in this whole country can get away from me over 3000m. So, I looked back at the girl, who had stopped, and was silent except for her heavy breathing. She wasn't close enough for me to immediately ask her if the guy stole something, and she was walking the other way. So, I stood there like every other person waiting for the tram, like nothing happened. I didn't like that. I assume that the guy had something in his hand, maybe money. I don't know. It could be that she was trying to buy drugs from him and gave him the money, at which point he turned and ran. Who knows? All I know is that this sort of thing doesn't happen often to me, and I don't like the thought of letting a crime happen right in front of me and not doing anything. Part of me wishes I would have tackled him, because I doubt anyone would have died because of it, and then I would have known.

German word of the day: "Vorversicherungsdatenauszug." That's what I'm supposed to bring with me to pick up my renewed residence permit this week. It's a statement of all of my uses of the insurance plan that I have. But, according to my insurance company, I don't actually need that (it's takes a while to get one), but a Versicherungsbestätigung should be fine. That's a MUCH shorter word.


Hero of the day

Some days restore my satisfaction with humanity, so to say. I'm not talking about some major occurrance, but sometimes I meet great people and they make me forget about all of the rude and inconsiderate individuals walking around. That happened to me today, and actually also on Friday. I'll start with Friday.

I was at a birthday party for a friend of mine, who in fact has impressed me a lot in the past couple of months both with his ability (intellectual and insightful) and his character. Suffice it to say that he's a great friend, and also surrounds himself with great people. I don't intend to self-righteously include myself in that bunch, but I actually do feel honored that I made "the list" for his birthday party, which I found to be a collection of the most honestly well-meaning people I have met. I can't really say that any one person stood out, but the fact that such a group of twenty or so exist, and were all in one place, is reassuring. There must be more! We have to find them!

And then today, I went for a run with the two guys I usually run with, and one of them brought along a young German guy who he happens to coach. The German guy is pretty damn fast, top ten in one or two European junior championships, and he said two things that made me feel good. The first, the more petty and self-indulging (for me) of the two, was that he noticed my calves as he was running behind me. No one has commented on my calves for a couple of years now. They are the pride of my running physique, and probably the only muscles on me that would warrant a compliment. Anyway, bragging aside, the German also said that I speak [German] with a half-Austrian accent. Okay, so that's bragging, too, and I should have expected that coming from a German, but it still feels good, and makes me want to compliment other people more because I know it feels good. And other people on Friday were complimenting my language speaking abilities. They were being really nice. I don't like talking all the time about languages and travel to the U.S., but it happens, and I have to deal with it, and sometimes I get compliments!

Then, the more interesting occurance today was that I had to wait at home between 10am and 12am for the utility guy (gas man) to come out and "check my pipes", if you know what I mean. Nah, of course you do. So he came to check my pipes, and he was being all brusk and to-the-point until he started talking to me about energy use in Vienna. Now, for each compliment I get for speaking German, there are ten sentences that I don't understand. So, keep this in mind while I am telling you what the gas man said to me. I'll write what I heard him say, and omit my own "uh huh"s and short questions. This is paraphrasing.

"People all over Vienna and Austria are using lots of energy and resources. We should try to keep the waste to a minimum... From your accent I guess you're English or American... Ok, if you're American and you guys have big cars like... like Chevrolet or whatever... that are not like cars in Austria, or Europe... but if you go outside of Vienna to smaller towns... big triple-M cars that use more gas... You're from Ohio? That's the place that voted for Hillary Clinton... actually none of the candidates are that bad... Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan... we have some of the same enemies... if you flew over the Atlantic twenty years ago, you would have been on a Boeing, but now some major contracts are now at EADS. Boeing's main competitor is EADS, but only in the last few years... EADS is huge, and is partly controlled by the military... Euro-fighters... huge transport planes, like if you needed to carry a 500-ton tank over the ocean and didn't have time for a boat... there are some really big planes... you can see some big planes, and also air shows, at a few places in the U.S. You should go if you get the chance. There's also a show in Austria... You're a student at the natural science university? You can take courses like water management, forest management, and natural resources..."

So, it was a little bit heavier than small talk, and I wish he would have slowed down and enunciated a little more. I think I could have contributed a lot more to the conversation. But, I was able to throw in some valid (if not dumb) questions when I could follow him, so he had the impression that I was with him the entire time. I sincerely apologize to him that I couldn't, but I also couldn't ask him to repeat himself much more than I did. That would have probably hurt the conversation a lot. I think he enjoyed himself, and actually looked a bit reluctant to leave after the half hour or so we had together. Very nice guy. I award him Hero of the Day for being a thousand times better than most of the service guys that I have dealt with. And, he is very well-informed.

Bravo to all these guys!


German word of the day

The German language word of the day, found in the book "Hard-boiled Wonderland und Das Ende der Welt", but also used quite commonly, is... drumroll please...


which is the past participle of "entgegengehen", which means "to come to meet". German scientists are currently working around the clock to figure out how to fit another "g" in there, but even they admit, five out of sixteen letters isn't too bad.


The writers' strike has been called off

It's been a while, yeah, so this'll be one of those "sorry I haven't posted in a long time" blogs. So self-infatuated. I actually had a few ideas for blog posts, but never got around to writing them. One was about how I saw a lady while I was running near top of one of the hills to the northwest of town. As a reference, this is one of my top ten favorite places to be in Vienna, because the view of the city is awesome, and in the foreground are some of the coolest-looking fields of grapevines. It's an awesome place. But, this lady was walking her two dogs, carrying her Nordic-walking sticks (like ski poles for hiking, but she was on pavement, everyone here has them) in one hand and not using them, and she was talking on her cell phone. I find that
ridiculous, not to mention that she was fully decked-out in tights and a visor, colorful of course. She looked overstimulated to say the least, but for all I know she could have had an iPod in her pocket and a PDA in her other hand. Whatever.

So, just now I was having trouble thinking of what to write for this blog entry. I don't like whining, I don't like egoism, and I don't like people who think they are interesting, but that's what blogging's about, right? That, or passing judgement on something. Ok, so there are wonderfully useful blogs with real topics, but I don't have one of those. I just have a topicless drivelbasket into which I throw my thoughts ever now and then. And I haven't even done that in a few months. So maybe this time I'll just keep it real. What have I done since my last blog post?

My parents came to visit. I broke up with my girlfriend twice. I went home to Ohio for Christmas. I've read four or five novels, gotten a library card for the main library here, went on two dates with two different girls, one of whom is very busy and doesn't like calling me apparently, the other presents no such problems. I am getting deeper and deeper into liking books. I joined and now use www.goodreads.com for book finding and reviewing books, and have decided I want to write some sort of fiction myself. I have advanced my German to the point where I'm not afraid of any situation any more, but I still have trouble understanding movies and TV shows when they speak quickly. I went skiing twice, sledding once, ice skating outside once, and attended a birthday party in a tent in the woods. I have run a new personal best in the 3000m indoor, and I hurt my knee doing it, but not too bad. I have made lots of friends, and become closer with others. I have gone from very sad one day to very happy the next, and written misguided emails to unsuspecting people, and received very welcome and comforting emails from many more people. I have submitted my first scientific paper to conference organizers, but have not heard if it got accepted. I moved into my own apartment, I think a lot about friends in other places, and I am almost positive that Catcher in the Rye is the greatest book ever written.

I hope you (whoever you are; is anyone reading this?) are having a good time.