Friday, May 28, 2004


The International Herald Tribune carried a story about the strategies Islamic cab drivers use to pray in New York while working. The strategies are basically to find a clean place and spread their prayer rug at the appropriate place. There are also restaurants that provide prayer space (probably very similar to the Pakistani places on Orleans in the Chi).

The interesting thing to me is a personal experience. Every Monday at 1:00 we have a meeting at work. Before 9/11 I used to notice that there were usually one or two cabbies in a little grassy area by the Hyatt praying when we arrived for our meeting. Nobody seemed to notice. After 9/11, someone in the office noticed, and people gathered at the window to watch this guy pray. Even though we were probably 150 feet above him, can you imagine having people stare at you when you pray?

BLUE EYED DEVILS, which is an EU news service carried a story today about poll results indicating that the residents of the Nordic countries (Denmark, Sweden, and Norway) would rather be in a Nordic Union than in the EU.

These damned Nordics can never decide what they want. In 1397 the Union of Kalmar was formed. At the time Sweden and Norwaywere united under a single monarch already, and Denmark had a separate monarch. Sweden and Denmark (and thus Norway) were united under a single monarch. However, it turned out that they couldn't stand each other and split up again in 1523. In the event, Denmark got Norway in the divorce and kept it until 1814, when Denmark was compelled to give Norway to Sweden (although the theiving Danes did keep Iceland, and the Faroe Islands, which had been Norwegian). The Norwegians got sick of the Swedes in 1905 and threw them out for their own monarch.

The point is, these Nordic types are unreliable when it comes to forming unions. The EU should've known they were trouble. Blue eyed devils.


Happy and safe Memorial Day to everyone. We in the North are out of Summer practice, so be extra special careful with the grills, boats, beer, etc. Just as baseball players need Spring training to get back into game shape, so too do we need Memorial Day to get back into Summer shape.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004


This blogger deal I use is a google product. Google has become sort of the poster child for web innovation. Thus, not only are there new features now, including a comment section, but there may be some in the future. Since I really have nothing to say, and have been given a blank canvas on which to say it, I will need to utilize the new features to their maximum.


I don’t even have a link for this, but I read that, “badminton bad boy Taufik Hidayat was threatened with police action . . .” Badminton bad boy? What does he do, double dip in the chip bowl? Take other people’s burgers off the grill? What is a badminton bad boy?


The Denver Post ran an unfocused, ill-executed article that still merits a note because it really does address a few important issues. The premise of the article is the issue that cultural institutions and churches have when they are no longer able to financially able to support their art works and other treasures. For museums this does not seem like a very big issue. They can liquidate their collections, and the community that was not supporting the museum in the first place is none the worse for wear.

The bigger problem is for those institutions that serve a population that cannot financially support the treasures of the past. The New York Times carried a somewhat similar story about Jersey City. I have no link to it. Go to the library and look at microfiche for it. What do you expect for free? In any case, the Denver article is about the Annunciation Catholic Church, which was built with beautiful and elaborate stained glass, organs, etc. for the immigrant populations that used it when it was built in 1883. Now these $2 million windows require repair and restoration, and the parish can’t come close to affording it. In the Jersey City article, there are two Catholic churches literally abutting each other. Historically, one was Polish, the other Italian. Now they need to be consolidate parishes and close at least one church.

The question in each of these scenarios is, what do you do with these buildings? No steward of anyone’s investment can allow $2 million windows to be destroyed through neglect. On the other hand, you can’t really sell them. What do you do? Similarly, people have a real aversion to churches being knocked down. However, the fact of the matter is that populations change, and people move and start new parishes. What do you do? I don’t know the answer, but my and L’s parish opened in 1884, and needs expensive renovation. We are fortunate that the area is gentrifying, and people in the parish have some money. Ultimately, our work will get done. Not sure about the work in Denver though.


With apologies to U2, who frankly ought to apologize to us for everything from Joshua Tree on, the New York Times ran a story a few weeks ago about the process of naming and “demapping” streets in New York. To some extent, this echoes a lot in the New York link above for abandoned subways etc. However, the most interesting of these streets is Red Hook Lane in Brooklyn. In the 1760’s this street was the major street running from downtown Brooklyn to Red Hook. The Continental Army used the street during the Revolutionary War, and it remained important in the post-colonial era. Now it is on the verge of being “demapped,” which may be the mapping equivalent of becoming an “unperson.” Local preservationist seek to have whatever is built over the lane have a central corridor going over the lane and commemorating the lane.

The bigger issue here is that there will absolutely be maps for the next twenty years that show Red Hook Lane, even after New York has demapped it. In fact, look at a map of lower Manhattan. It is a maze of one block streets, streets gone for two decades, streets that go nowhere, and streets that never were. It reminds me of when L and I were in Pittsburgh to see our friend D. Pittsburgh has a number of “streets” that are stairways. They are in the very hilly areas. Apparently Seattle, San Francisco, and some other hilly cities have these also. I kept joking that you should be able to drive to the top, run down the stairs and jump into another car. Kind of like the Danes and their bicycles.


Europa Europa is a good movie. It is about a German Jewish Communist boy whose family flees to the Soviet Union when Hitler takes over in Germany. The kid is educated in Soviet schools from 1933 to 1941, when Hitler invades Russia. This means that he speaks perfect, native German, and perfect, native Russian. Without spending 10,000 words describing the movie, he ends up being swept up into the war, “liberated” by the Germans, fleeing to the Russians, being “liberated” by the Germans again, and being saved from a Russian POW camp by Jews he knew in Russia. Quite an adventure.

A somewhat similar story was reported in the Moscow Times. Joseph Beyrle is a kid from Muskegon, Michigan. In 1942, when he graduated from high school, he decided to enlist in the army instead of going to college. He ended up as a paratrooper, and was part of the Normandy invasion. He was captured, almost murdered by the Gestapo, saved by a soldier who told the Gestapo that they didn’t have jurisdiction because he was military, not civilian (wow, I never saw *that* in any World War II movies), and ultimately escaped from his POW camp.

After escaping, Mr. Beyrle headed toward the fighting he heard, and ran into the Russians. Fortunately he was able to say “Amerikansky tovarishch.” This is apparently close enough to “American comrade” to keep him from being shot out of hand. The Russians put him with a tank brigade, where he fought into Germany. He was then injured by a Stuka and sent to a hospital behind the front. While there the Soviet General Zhukov came by the hospital to visit. After hearing Beyrle’s story, Zhukov gave Beyrle a letter of transit to Moscow to allow him to get to the US embassy.

As it turns out, then US officials in Russia had Beyrle listed as killed in action in Normandy (which must have seemed like a thousand lifetimes before to Beyrle). It took about a week for anyone to think to send his fingerprints to Washington for confirmation. After the results were returned and the embassy confirmed to Beyrle (!) that he had not been killed, he was sent back to Michigan, where he spent the last few months of the war.

What an insane story. There seem to be a number of times he could have been killed, including by the Gestapo, by the Russians when he came out to surrender (or whatever to them), by the Stuka, or anytime along the way back to Moscow, or back to Michigan. Now his son is deputy chief of mission of the US embassy in Moscow. I bet he can say more than “Amerikansky tovarishch.”


This blog has touched on the Chinese and their budding obsession with Central Asia a few times. Now (actually last week) comes news that the Chinese have signed an oil pipeline and delivery agreement with the Kazakh’s. Kazakhstan is landlocked, and exports most of its oil through Russia. It is looking to China to give it some flexibility in that regard. The plan is for the China pipeline to be able to move 140 million barrels per year after 2005.

China doesn’t have anywhere near enough fuel for its economy. Central Asia has way too much fuel for its economies. The Central Asians are generally newly independent, and not at all keen to remain subservient to the Russian bear. While some people may prefer the devil they know to the devil they don’t, it may be that these oil-rich Central Asians are throwing their lots in with the Dragon as a counterweight to the Bear. It didn’t work for those countries between Russia and British India, it didn’t work for the countries between Russia and Germany, and I don’t see it working here. If the Russians don’t get on the ball, they won’t have much to compete with China on.


L’s blog touched briefly the other day on stealing a Christmas tree in Germany. I can give the rest of the story. It was a few days before Christmas and my German relatives had been continually segregating men from women in all activities. Thus, I can’t say I was surprised when the men told me it was time to go “steal” a Christmas tree. Now, my cousin Paul had a very quirky sense of humor. I was never sure if it had more to do with the fact that Ostentrop was so RELENTLESSLY rural, or the fact that he was German. In either case, he often said things that he found funny, but I just found disturbing. This was one of them.

Our adventure started at one of the two pubs in town. We walked in, and instead of ordering a shot and a beer, Paul said that we needed the key to go steal a tree. The guys in the bar (at 11:00 in the morning it was full) all laughed, and the bartender handed Paul a key. Then we left (where the hell is my beer?!?) We drove out to the country, which was about 150 yards from town, and stopped at a gate. Paul got out, opened the gate, got back in the car and said, “now we commit a crime, yes?” This is what I was saying about his sense of humor.

After settling on a particularly nice tree, Paul got out, handed me the axe and the saw, and explained that an American would not get in trouble. Again with the sense of humor. Anyway, after hacking the tree down, we carried it back to the house. When Lisa saw it, she asked Paul where we got it. When he told her, she got angry, and they went into their bedroom and argued for about twenty minutes. I may be a felon in Germany, although in the US that tree would not have gotten over about $150, so I figure the Statute of Limitations must have lapsed years ago. Right? Right?

Monday, May 10, 2004


Joe Morgan

A few baseball thoughts as I watch ESPN Sunday night baseball (Phillies at Diamondbacks). Joe Morgan is announcing the game. I am shocked that he retains his job. For instance, Phillies have runners on second and third with one out and the batter hits a medium deep fly ball to left field. Typically, you’d expect the runner on third to score on a sacrifice, and the throw to third to keep the runner from second on second. However, as Jon Miller insightfully points out, Luis Gonzalez in left field has an injured elbow. Thus, the runner from second goes to third on the fly ball. After the play, Joe Morgan says, “As deep as that ball was, anyone would have scored.” Miller replies that he was talking about the runner taking third, and Morgan weakly responds, “oh, that was a good play.” What a maroon.

The Santo Legacy

As many people realize, third base has been a problem for the Cubs since the early 1970s when Ron Santo left for the South Side, then retired. While Ron Cey had a short, sweet run there, Ken Reitz, Lenny Randle, Steve Ontivaros, and innumerable other non-entities have been given the position, only to prove that they really had no business there. Last year the Cubs tried very hard to get Shea Hillenbrand from the Red Sox, and then Mike Lowell from the Marlins. Eventually they “settled” for Aramis Ramirez from the Pirates. Hillenbrand has been nothing special, Lowell is good, but Ramirez has been fantastic this year. Today he hit a solo tenth inning home run to tie the game, which the Cubs eventually won. What a good deal.

Good Grief

I really have no idea how the show Airline is on the air. It depicts the trials and tribulations of both the employees of Southwest Airlines and the people flying Southwest. What they don’t typically depict is a plane arriving on time, people getting on it, and flying to their destination on time. Instead, they show problems, conflicts, and all of the other things that make plane travel unpleasant. So, why do people watch it? There is nothing more frustrating than the behavior of airlines when things go wrong. Most of us understand the utter lack of control we have, and hope for the best. Still, wasting ANOTHER half hour of my life watching airline employees explain what isn’t their fault seems like a TERRIBLE waste of my time.

Subtitles? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Subtitles

On Polvision, there is a very Central European-looking woman crying, telling a story. She is talking to an older man. They are in a bag yard. Very casual, except he’s wearing a cravat!?! Nothing says relaxing in the back yard like a cravat. How come all the Poles I grew up with on the Nortwest (sic) Side wore boxers, black socks, sandals and Dago tees in the yard? Was the cravat brought by the Communists? Does it reflect Poland’s aspirations as an EU member? Inquiring minds want to know.

Earlier today I thought I was watching a Bollywood film. There was a terrifically beautiful Indian woman dancing and singing, and a funky looking guy with a porn mustache dancing near (with?) her and singing. After twenty-eight seconds or so, I realized it was an ad for basmati rice. Still a pretty good show, though.

All four Spanish channels are celebrating Mother’s Day (El dia de la Madre). Univision seems to have an interview show on. Gala has a soap opera (telenovela) set sometime between Ferdinand and Isabella and Pancho Villa on. They have electric light, but they dress like the lady on the Spanish rice bag, so it’s very hard to tell. It might be helpful if I spoke Spanish. Then again, it might not be. Meanwhile, Telemundo is showing The Hunchback of Notre Dame in Spanish. Telefutura seems to be doing a gossip show. I’m not sure, but J-Lo was on TV, so gossip show seemed like a good bet. Never before have Spanish-speaking mothers been so honored by television!

At the same time, on Haiti Jeunesse (Haiti Today?) there was a short movie that looked like a guy was rapping. Frankly, it made no sense to me. Now there is a video with a very hot Haitian woman getting picked up on the street. Since AIDS isn’t a problem in Haiti at all, this strikes me as a great idea.

Oh God. Polvision is showing a music video. In fine Cars tradition, the woman is smoking hot. The guy looks like he got thrown out of high school for general greaseballedness. Meanwhile he’s screeching . . . I mean “crooning” in a very, very bad way. I think he’s saying, “thank god she’s blind, because I am a dirt bag.”

Bulgaria Today just started. The first scene had a quote from Mariah Carey. The show then cut to a conference room, and someone speaking (presumably) Bulgarian. There is a guy in a Roman collar, as well as a black man in the room. Another guy is holding a lit candle. They are all speaking (presumably) Bulgarian. I cannot imagine what I am watching.

Time to go to bed, I guess...

Wednesday, May 05, 2004


The weekend Financial Times had an article on the Thai relaxation industry. The article quotes a card Somerset Maugham is supposed to have received in 1923 in Thailand. It read:

Oh, gentleman, Sir,
Miss Pretty Girl welcome you Sultan Turkish bath,
gentle, polite message,
put you in dreamland with perfume soap, latest gramophone music.
Oh such service!
You come now!
Miss Pretty Girl want you, massage you from tippy toe to head top,
nice clean to enter Gates of Heaven.

I will freely admit that (a) "Turkish bath" makes me think this may be a gay thing, and (b) I am a little concerned that Miss Pretty Girl foresees my imminent entry into the "Gates of Heaven." On the other hand, in the interest of international comity, it might be necessary to explore this a little bit further if I were Mr. Maugham. I mean, why offend in the Land of Smiles?


For weeks I have been working on a blog about the private development of public transit systems in New York, Boston, and Chicago. The thesis is that Chicago and Boston had municipal takeovers before competition went from good to wasteful, whereas New York did not and now has an irrational subway system to show for it. This was all sparked by a New York Times story a few weeks ago about New York taking over some private bus lines that still operate in the Bronx and Queens.

I have decided to show mercy to all four of my readers and just dump the topic. I think it might only be interesting to me, and frankly, I'm not sure I was all that thrilled. Anyway, the one good thing it does is allow me to post the links below.

Here are links to pages that show some of abandoned and/or incomplete mass transit or other rail projects in a variety of cities. These are sometimes failed attempts, sometimes competitive losers, and sometimes simply what is left over when upgrades are made. The pages are generally pretty good: London; New York; Chicago; Boston; Cincinnati; LA; Rochester.

Monday, May 03, 2004


A few weeks ago (I've been busy, OK?) the International Herald Tribune ran a story about the issue of English names in Asia. The article discussed the fact that Hong Kong should be Xianggang, using the Chinese system of Romanization that gave us Beijing for Peking, and Guangzhou for Canton. It's an interesting article because it points out the difficulty in keeping track of names and not offending (do you say Madras, or Chennai).

It seems that there are three strains of name changes. The first is that discussed above. China and India, and various places in Africa exert their place in the world by forcing a name change. It is sort of like rebranding, in that it is intended to change the way you think about the place. Belgian Congo must be a real playa, because their the much hipper Zaire now (admittedly, a rebranding that has been undone). India is a playa, and you know it because they are making you call Bombay Mumbai for no reason other than because they said so.

The second group is not to assert a place in the world, but to exclude people from a place. Thus, the right wing Austrian press insisted on referring to Bratislava as Preßburg at least into the 1990s. When the Russians renamed Königsberg Kaliningrad after World War II, it was to make the unmistakable point that the city was no longer German, and never would be again. This worked both ways, so that when you buy a map of Central Europe, it is best to seek one that lists the cities in countries in the local language. Otherwise, you may search in vain Leibach as you drive through Slovenia, and arrive in Warsaw before you get to Thorn from Berlin.

These two impulses to rename are in stark contrast to the bulk of the American experience. While Fort Duquesne did become Fort Pitt (thence Pittsburgh) and New Amsterdam did become New York, Louisville, New Orleans, Santa Fe, Los Angeles, San Francisco, St. Louis, Mackinac Island, and innumerable other French and Spanish names were retained even as they became English or American.

Finally, for anyone who has ever been to, or near, Pekin, Illinois, it is interesting to note that Pekin is French for Beijing. Thus, little Pekin joins the ranks of Canton, Ohio and other Cantons throughout the US (including Illinois) as cities inexplicably named after Chinese cities. I say inexplicably because normally, say New Berlin is (or was) full of Germans. Pekin, Illinois is sure as Deere & Co. not full of Chinese.


The Habsburg Empire (d/b/a Austria-Hungary) was a strange and somewhat random collection of land. It lacked any of the characteristics that we have come to think of as inherently unifying. It did not have a common language, it did not have a common history, it was predominantly Roman Catholic, but not exclusively, and its constituent peoples largely felt whatever loyalty they felt to the monarch, rather than their fellow Austro-Hungarians. Ultimately, the fundamental issue with the empire is highlighted by the extreme difficulty in using a collective noun for its residents. They were not generally "Habsburgs," since this is a family name. Most were neither Austrian nor Hungarian. In fact, the vast Slavic population of Poles, Bohemians, Slovakians, Croatians, Slovenians, Ruthenians and others were wholly unrepresented. In the age of nationalism, the empire created a lot of crazy issues on its fringes.

The International Herald Tribune carried two stories in the last few weeks that highlighted the effect of the ebb and flow of the empire in one forgotten corner of Europe. The first is about Trieste, Italy. This was once the major sea port for Austria-Hungary and a major base for the imperial navy (which is how land-locked Hungary ended up with a dictator with the title Admiral in the interwar period). The end of this favored position came in the 20th century, when Trieste changed hands five separate times, with the Austro-Hungarians, Italians, Germans, Yugoslavs, Americans, and finally the Italians administering the territory at some point during the century. However, the wheels really came off after World War II, when the city was awarded to Italy, but its immediate and historic hinterlands were awarded to Yugoslavia. With Central Europe split into east and west, and the city suddenly a border town with no hinterland, the trade routes that were its lifeblood were redirected and the city withered as sort of the worst of the west.

A little further to the east, Slovenia is a very small Alpine state, with about 2,000,000 residents. It was in the same World War I battle zone as Trieste, and also saw enormous numbers of its residents killed on each side of that conflict. However, Slovenia was firmly part of Austria-Hungary until the empire crumbled in 1918. Slovenia was taken into the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. Thus, in an instant the political center of gravity went from Vienna south to Belgrade. In 1941, when the Axis attacked Yugoslavia (as the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenians was then known), Slovenia was largely incorporated into Nazi Germany, with the remainder split between Hungary and Italy. Thus, Berlin, Budapest, and Rome became the political centers. After World War II Slovenia was again incorporated into Yugoslavia, where it stayed until 1991, when it became independent. On May 1, 2004 the country entered the European Union, with its political center in Brussels. This was made possible by the fact that Slovenia, directly next to Trieste had the advantage of being the best of the east, with the benefits inherent in that position.

The real synthesis here though is that the Triestians (?) and Slovenians were as close as two neighbors could be on the Romance, Germanic, Slavic axis of Europe. Trieste ended up maintaining its more or less Italian character and withering without the access to Central Europe that made it an important city. Slovenia suffered the same vagaries of history and occupation, but ended up on the bad side of the iron curtain. However, Slovenia fared substantially better over time than did Trieste. This is in direct contrast to (a) our expectations, and (b) the experience of so many other places, including most obviously East and West Berlin.


I finished The Thought Gang by Tibor Fischer. It is absurdist, so the idea of a "plot" can get lost in the facts of the book. Suffice it to say that a failed English philosopher on the lam accidentally ends up in a bank robbery gang with a French thug. The book is smart and funny. I will, of course, read it several more times and get something new from it every time, but not right now.


By the way, the Houston Chronicle, which has been roundly lambasted in this space, has come up with another gem Today they carried a story indicating that . . . wait for it . . . John Kerry and George Bush both went to Yale! What gound breaking coverage from such a complete rag.