Monday, April 26, 2004


The Japan Times reports that a restaurant in Kunming, China was fined 2,000 yuan for advertising that they would have sushi served from naked women's bodies. The fine was based on two violations: (1) the naked women did not have health certificates required for restaurant employees, and (2) the women were improperly dressed. For a country so seemingly unconcerned with the niceties of rule of law, these are crazy things to fine the restaurant for. I mean, they can go get the health certificates, and they were NOT improperly dressed, insofar as they were NOT dressed at all. By the way, all of the jokes here are too easy and the headline is the only one I'm going to make. Insert your own naked-woman-sushi joke.

By the way, there is a word (I don't know) in Japanese for eating sushi off of naked women. Unusual culture.


The Minneapolis Star-Tribune picked up an AP story about a survey IKEA commissioned regarding the use to which the bedroom is put in 27 countries. Now, we get the typical stats like 43% Malaysians say they have sex in their bedrooms every night, and 20% of North Americans (whoever they are) have sex outside of the bedroom. That's not only old news, but since most of us have sex with no more than two or three people at once (maximum), also irrelevant. Whether Malaysians screw like bunnies, if you get the frigid one, that 43% is useless to you. No. The interesting data was: people who change their sheets often have more sex in their bedrooms. Excuse me for playing Master of the Obvious, but I think that's backwards. People who have sex in their beds often change their sheets, so that your sex rate drives your sheet rate, not vice versa.

Silly Swedes. Lots of people could have told them that without a whole survey.


I heard a guy describe a woman as "a passive-aggressive, manic depressive with OCD." I was pretty impressed by this, since I'm betting that he came up with that off the top of his head. Still, can you imagine?


I just finished An Army at Dawn. I felt like Butthead sometimes with the size of that book ("Words, words, words . . .). Anyway, Patton is finally starting to be a main actor, and it reminded me of one the (many) brilliant, clear-headed quotes to come from Patton, who was apparently actually a lunatic.

"No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country." By the way, this is also sometimes rendered as, "The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his."


I really, really enjoyed An Army at Dawn. It reads very very will, tells a story we don't know, and has good pictures. We tend to think that the invasion of North Africa was easy and that there is a historical inevitability to sweeping through Tunisia, into Sicily, thence Italy. There was no such inevitability, and it may be that North Africa was the result of German imperial overstretch (haven't heard that term since the 1990s), causing them to rely on French and Italian troops when their own troops likely would have stopped the invasion cold. Very good book. Worth a read.

Monday, April 19, 2004


As students of history will know, Germany already had a species of what we would translate as the culture wars. Here the culture wars deal with addressing our history and our various forms of interaction now. For instance, should we be debunking myths associated with the Alamo, or is the myth more important than the actual history? Blah, blah, blah. Personally, I see the American "culture wars" as just another excuse for the right wing, controlling all three branches of government, as well as the largest news channel in the country to act like an oppressed minority. Not very interesting.

However, the Germans are showing us how to fight a REAL culture war. As some of you may know, and most of you ought to know, Otto von Bismark executed what was known as the Kulturkampf in Germany from 1870 to about 1887. This conflict was fundamentally about Bismark trying to break the Roman Catholic Church's power in the new empire the (Protestant) Germans had created. The linked article lays the issues out pretty clearly, but suffice it to say for our purposes that Bismark had imposed a new political order on the Catholic lands in southern Germany and was looking to impose a level of state control on them common in the northern Lutheran lands. The Kampf ended in a draw, with the Church regaining some of what Bismark took, and the Catholic Center Party gaining enormous influence, but the Church losing interest in political showdowns in Germany through the Nazi era.

Anyway, the current incarnation of Germany has been trying to assimilate a semi-foreign population since the country was united in 1989. This population is the 17 million or so East Germans from the German Democratic Republic. There has been a simmering discontent with the standardization of German life on West German lines, completely wiping away everything from East Germany. This was true for everything from the figure on the walk/don't walk signs, to the name of the country (the Federal Republic of Germany, as the west had been previously). In reaction, some people have been swept up in what is called "Ostalgie." Ost is German for "east" and "algie" is the second half of "nostaglie," or nostalgia. Them Germans is clever. Anyway, an good example of Ostalgie can be found here. On the left column are "new, good day, goods & design, commercials & ads, money, documents, and music." Each of these has examples of old East German stuff, with some having subcategories on the far right of the screen.

Anyway, all of that was just to get to the good story in today's Washington Post about a German business man who wants to rebuild the Stadtschloss (City Palace) in Berlin. We knocked it pretty far down in 1944 and 1945, but the Communists really delivered the coup de grace in 1950, leveling the palace to its foundations and removing the stones. You can see what the castle looked like through time here. Apparently he wants to rebuild in the later nineteenth century style.

Now, if you are still reading, you are probably thinking, "this a-hole needs an editor." Possibly you are more charitable and recognize that I really do have a point. Anyway, to rebuild the Stadtschloss, they would have to destroy the Palast der Republik (Palace of the Republic). This is a modern building built by the Communists to house their parliament and as a centerpiece of the modernity of the socialist state. The idea of destroying this building has been taken as the latest attack on the 40 years people spent in East Germany by certain (former) East Germans. In response, they have posted this web page. Now, clue one if you want to fight a culture war: your web page ought to be nicer than a Geocities page. Clue two: if you insist on including foreign language material, don't make it Denglish like, "this in Europe uniquely mature, culture-historic valuable building is in danger. Responsible German politicians would like to destroy it for political reasons. Here you want to have influence? You can recommend as a simple possibility these page-sides. So you help in the obstruction of this culture barbarism and moving new German history toretain as well as to develop." Um. OK.


Finally, today is the anniversary of the Waco incident, as well as the OKC bombing (among other things). The Chicago Tribune, that leftist rag, ran an article today highlighting the threat that white supremist survivalist types still pose. The Trib reports that down in the Republica de Tejas, the FBI found remote-controlled bombs, machine guns and silencers, containers of hydrochloric, nitric and acetic acids, and more than 800 grams of sodium cyanide.

New rule. Be suspicious of anyone dressed like a cracker in a big city. They're probably up to no good.

Friday, April 16, 2004


There is a pretty cool spot on the web that lets you do basically police sketches. It is located here. That's fine if you want to try to play with faces, make a picture of someone you know, or see how quickly, and with how few changes male goes to female and vice versa. However, if you really want to show your abilities at police sketching, you have to use this page. That's the good stuff.


Reuters in the UK was reporting today that, "Delirious fans shouted slogans praising the players and burst crackers in celebrations across the country as soon as the team clinched the deciding third test in Rawalpindi by an innings and 131 runs with over a day to spare." This is like an e.e. cummings poem.

Delirious fans (shouted slogans)
the players and burst (crackers)))
in celebrations
across the country as soon as
"the team" clinched (the deciding third test) in
by an inning(s) and 131 run . . .
(with over a day to spare).

See what I mean? What the hell is this? Why does every English-speaking country on Earth talk like this except us and Canada? By the way, Syed Kirmani (whoever he is) said, "We have literally brown-washed Pakistan." What kind of homoerotic slang is that?!?

Tuesday, April 06, 2004


I have sometimes felt that the European Union operated like a big student council. There are cool kids (Germany and France, with England sometimes), there are the kids who want to be cool, but never really pull it off (Italy and Spain), there are the kids nobody notices, but who will probably lead pretty healthy lives (the Benelux countries), the poor kids (Greece and Portugal), the rich kids (Scandanvia), and the new rich (Ireland). It is almost like a sitcom about high school.

Today I received a press release from one EU institution or another (they all seem to have similar, uninformative names) that really sealed the amateurish nature of the EU for me. The part I was interested in was the profiles of the new members to be. This issue had Hungary, Latvia, and Lithuania. Below are some of the highlights:


Describing Lake Balaton, they say "Every summer, the lake is crowded with tourists who come from abroad to enjoy a wide variety of water sports. Hungarians are fond of water. They hold their country's Olympic swimming champions, Kristina Egerszegi and Tamás Darnyi, in very high esteem as well as their national water polo and rowing teams." This reads like my German textbook from high school. "Germans enjoy hiking, and leather pants. They also enjoy sausage and war."

Describing, I guess, the air in Hungary, they say, "Music is omnipresent in Hungary. Composers like Franz Liszt, Béla Bartók, Zoltán Kodály and Ferenc Erkel drew much inspiration from the wide folkloric tradition of their country. Everywhere in the world, Hungarian music is associated with Gipsy music." That last sentence is pretty ambiguous. Just because we make that association doesn't speak to whether the Hunagrians like "gipsies" or put them in ghettos like the Slovaks have.

Describing Budapest they say, "The Danube divides Budapest into two parts: Buda and Pest. Both areas possess their own distinct charms and characteristics. In the heart of the city, at Margaret Island, lies a verdant nature reserve. In this peaceful area, where cars are banished, ancient trees grow alongside the remains of a medieval monastery; thermal baths and pleasant restaurants are also found nearby." Again, my German high school book. "Berlin is a modern marvel, with parks and a subway. There is no rubble from the war in the West."

Finally, in discussing the culinary gifts of the Magyars, they say, "The use of a few special ingredients gives Hungarian dishes their own inimitable and original flavour. These are red pepper, fresh green peppers and tomatoes, as well as sour cream and lard. The most well known specialities of Hungarian cuisine such as goulash soup, or "Gulyásleves", the different varieties of stew or "pörkölt" etc. are red with paprika. The essence of Hungarian cuisine could be summarised as follows: braise any kind of meat in lard/oil with onions, and season it richly with red pepper." That last sentence really sort of takes it down to Cooking with Emeril and his "trinity" of garlic, onions, and peppers. In fact, I may already be a Hungarian chef.


Poor Latvia has even less to say for itself than Hungary. How's this for your most famous son, "The origins of the Crocodile Dundee story can be traced to Dundaga, a little village set among three lakes. In the heart of the village, you will find a huge statue of a crocodile, given by the Latvian Consulate in Chicago in 1995. The statue honours Arvids von Blumenfelds, a local who fled to Australia during WWII and spent his days hunting crocodiles in the Outback. Crocodile Dundee is said to be based on the exploits of this Dundaga hero." Crikey that's fascinating.

Is this a warning, or an invitation? "In Mazsalaca, the Werewolf Pine is reckoned to turn you into a werewolf if you crawl through its roots while muttering certain incantations under a full moon."

Again, is this a warning or an invitation? "Latvia is located along the Baltic Sea, which provides foods such as herring and cod for Latvian cuisine. Like Poland, Russia, Lithuania, and the Ukraine, staple foods in Latvian cooking also include potatoes, wheat, barley, cabbage, onions, eggs and pork. As in other Baltic countries, bread is an essential element of Latvian cuisine. At the end of a good meal, Latvians go for a Undens Klinger, somewhere between a fresh pretzel and a bagel."

As for history, well the Latvians have really figured out how to market themselves. Towit, "The Knights of the Sword (later known as the Livonian Order), an order of crusading knights whose white cloaks were emblazoned with blood-red swords and crosses, forcibly converted the region around Riga in 1290. Latvia was subject to continuous foreign rule from the 13th to the 20th century." Um. OK. So, that probably is not that good a time in Latvian history...

Finally, if all of those weren't reasons enough to go to Latvia, how about the tallest statue in ALL of Europe?!? "The 'freedom statue' in Riga reaches 4 metres and is the highest in Europe. It was inaugurated in 1935 and represents "Milda" a woman symbolising Latvia's fight for independence. Demonstrations often started from there. People still regularly decorate it with flowers." By the way, 4 metres (sic) is like 12 feet. Yao Ming is almost as tall as this statue. Can it possibly be the tallest in Europe? How tall is the statuary on Notre Dame, or the Hofkirche in Dresden, or the Siegessaule in Berlin?


You thought Latvia had nothing to say, Lithuania is billing Vilnius as "the new Prague," as well as the "Baltic Rome." They also note that the geographic center of Europe is in Lithuania, and that the people enjoy wood carving and potato pancakes. I'm not kidding. Really. That is what they have to say for themselves. Jeez, no wonder they all emigrated to Pennsylvania and Chicago in the early 1900's.

Monday, April 05, 2004


My buddy F, who works in Xbtijohupo, ED actually has a California housing solution other than not moving to California in the first place. I am not positive that Angelinos will appreciate this input, but he theororizes that frozen property taxes creates a disincentive to turn housing over, since taxes go up when you do that. Thus, the housing situation is too static. His solution(s) is to (a) unfreeze property taxes, (b) get Angelinos out of their cars and in to public transportation, which would be supported by (c) higher density housing in urban-like areas (think suburban Washington, DC with mountains, sun, and a beach. I am not entirely sure that I have properly paraphrased him, so there may yet be revisions.

Personally, I have not figured out the solution to this issue, but I suspect that the "shortage" of land is perceived more than actual. There are crappy parts of LA, and I can only assume that those areas reflect something less than the $1000 a month rent average. For whatever reason, where we have had urban pioneers in the Chi, they do not seem to have had them in LA. Maybe this reflects the ideal that people move AWAY from places where urban pioneering is necessary to get to LA. If that is true, the city may simply be maturing past the point of 40 acres and a mule for every moron able to make it out there from the Rust Belt. To live in LA, it may become necessary to have a culture of urban hip that we see in mature cities in the Midwest and East. In other words, I suspect that the market is operating properly, but people's tastes in that market are not yet pushing them back to affordable housing.

By the way, I think the LA Times won like five Pulitzers today. If that is true, I strongly encourage everyone with access to that fine Tribune Company paper to go out a buy five copies a day. It will make you smarter. Also, as I said before, we have Cub salaries to pay back here in the Chi.

So, I am still taking suggestions on the housing problem in LA. E-mail them in, I will butcher summarizing them, and we can all discuss.

That's right. Today is Cubs opening day. Zincinnati today, Wednesday, and Thursday, Atlanta Friday through Sunday, home against Pittsburgh and Zincinnati until April 19. All of the speculation, predictions, etc. are rendering meaningless and the games finally begin. I love April.

Saturday, April 03, 2004


For most of last week, L was in SoCal. Tonight I picked her up at the airport (why does ANYONE pick up arrivals on the Arrivals level at O'Hare?). She had a few gifts for me. I always like to grab a local paper when I am away from home. Knowing this, L was kind enough to grab both the Saturday Los Angeles Times (a Tribune newspaper--keeping buying LA, we have Cub salaries to pay) and the Saturday Long Beach paper.

Here is why I like the local papers. They cover stories you would never hear otherwise. Towit, the L.A. Tribune (no link to protest their ignorant registration policy) reports that people are moving into the San Bernadino National Forest campground to live because rents in the area have become too high. They pay between $370 and $450 a month for a spot with electricity. This is between a third and half of the $1000 a month average for rents in the area. Rents are expected to increase by 8% to 10% annually in the area. At that rate, we'll need a Teddy Roosevelt type national forest boom to keep up with the housing demand.

Some of the people profiled in the story are pretty amazing. The proprietor of the campground and her husband signed a 30 year lease for the concession with the Federal government three years ago. However, he slipped from a crane while trimming trees and died. Now she is trying to keep the campground afloat.

Another resident is a computer technician from Harrisburg, PA transferred to LA. Upon arrival, she and her husband realized they could not afford an apartment. I guess she forgot to negotiate a COLA in her transfer. Turns out that the Inland Empire is even more expensive than H'burg!

Ever wonder where the guys who keep the Tilt-A-Whirl, Zipper, and other dangerous carnie rides going live? Well, in SoCal, they live in this campground. They make between $250 and $450 a week before taxes. $250 a week is about $13,000 per year (before taxes). Think about THAT next time you decide to ride the carnie rides. At $13,000 a year, that carnie had better be pretty self motivated to ensure YOUR safety.

Finally (among the interesting people), is a lady who is a wintertime waitress at a resort in the area. She got a 1975 Ford RV from the Saint Vincent de Paul Society (!) and makes about $75 a week. When money is short, she moves the RV to a cheaper campground. In any case, the camper has neither lights nor electricity, although it does have propane for cooking and heat. The lack of electricty does help keep her costs down.

I really don't know where to start with this story. In the beginning they say something clever like, "the setting is Ansel Adams, but the life is John Steinbeck." That is about right, except it is 2004, not 1934. Will all of these people get kicked out when affluent Angelinos who want to camp complain about the carnie camp in the "bunkhouse?" How do cities like LA and San Francisco expect to continue to thrive if they are turned into wealthy ghettos? How will they buy groceries without people able to afford to live close enough to the job to make $7 an hour worthwhile? Ditto restaurants, retail shopping, etc. I don't think New York-style rent control is sensible, but it does seem like where land is extremely limited (like the valleys around LA, or San Francisco), you need to build some stability into the housing market. I am open to suggestions. However, do not bother with "don't move to a sh*thole like LA." No kidding. That answer is fish in a barrel.