Sunday, September 24, 2017

Shikoff's sneaker suggestions

Been meaning to post this a while, in case I ever misplace the slip of paper from my podiatrist with his suggestions for crosstrainers:

Nike Air Crosstrainer Monarch IV
Reebox DMX Crosstrainer
New Balance 623
Asics Gel Crosstrainer

(and Rockports for work)

Over the Union

I went to the Philadelphia Union match last night. It may be the last one I go to, at least for this season. For months I was looking forward to seeing Chicago's Schweinsteiger play, since I'm a ManU fan, and I knew he wasn't making the trip for an alleged calf injury, but I went anyway, though I shouldn't have 'cause I was in Marlton, NJ in the morning to help celebrate my mom's birthday, and I was in West Philly in the afternoon for a side job -- long day.

I was kinda pissed about the ticket the box office sold me. I asked for the North End, but the inexperienced Union employee put me in the nosebleeds and I had to peek around a VIP building to see a corner kick.

Something else that didn't sit well with me was their little marketing campaign for fans to re-up season tickets. The one poster has the executive Earnie Stewart under the word strength. I dunno, he hasn't impressed me with signing Jay "no goals" Simpson and Alejandro "overrated & overpaid" Bedoya, however, Haris Medunjanin and Jack Elliott have been awesome (the former has a great left foot and vision, while the latter rarely makes defensive mistakes). Plus, the front office boasts their academy is their future, but they only play the youngins in emergencies when older players are injured or sub them in super-late. Truth told, though, Stewart's just the messenger. The real problem is owner Jay Sugarman, who's tight with the purse strings. I think ESPN colour commenter is right: Bedoya is a TAM player and the Union need three real DPs.

Anyway, I left at the game at halftime. Part of the reason I split, besides my bad mood, was that I wanted to see if the shuttle left early so I could catch the 9 PM train. As I feared, the shuttle bus didn't go anywhere until the final whistle. Fortunately, a millennial who worked on VAR left early too because the MLS had called in too many VAR contractors last night. He let me hop in his Uber for the ride to the Chester train station.

Maybe next year I'll just watch matches that looking interesting instead of following one team for the entire season.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Karen Armstrong's A HISTORY OF GOD

Some sentences I liked:

Chapter 3, A Light to the Gentiles, p. 91, last graf: " many of the people who attend religious service in our own society are not interested in theology, want nothing too exotic and dislike the idea of change. They find that the established rituals provide them with a link with tradition and give them a sense of security. The do not expect brillant ideas from the sermon and are disturbed by changes in the liturgy."

Chapter 3, A Light to the Gentiles, p. 101, last graf: "Human beings are aware that something is wrong with their condition; they feel at odds with themselves and others, out of touch with their inner nature and disoriented. Conflict and a lack of simplicity seem to characterize our existence. Yet we are constantly seeking to unite the multiplicity of phenomena and reduce them to some ordered whole."

Chapter 6, The God of the Philosophers, p. 194, 1st graf: "Most Western Christians had a very limited knowledge of Islamic culture and were ignorant of philosophical developments..."

Chapter 9, Enlightenment, p. 295, 2nd graph: "...under the old agrarianate dispensation, when law was regarded as immutable and divine. It was a sign of the new autonomy that technicalization was bringing to Western society: men and women felt that they were in charge of their own affairs as never before. We have seen the profound fear that innovation and change had unleashed in traditional societies, where civilization was felt to be a fragile achievement and any break in continuity with the past was resisted. The modern technical society introduced by the West, however was based upon the expectation of constant development and progress. Change was institutionalized and taken for granted. ... The old conservative spirt...had been replaced in the West by a desire for change and a belief that continual development was practicable. Instead of fearing that the younger generation was going to the dogs, as in former times, the older generation expected their children to live better than they. The study of history was dominated by a new myth: that of Progress. It achieved great things, but now that damage to the environment has made us realize that this way of life is a vulnerable as the old, we are, perhaps, beginning to grasp that it is as fictitious as most of the other mythologies that have inspired humanity over the centuries."

Chapter 9, p. 306, 1st graph: "Religion, however, like art often consist of a dialogue with the past in order to find a perspective from which to view the present. . . . Religion and art, therefore, do not work like science."

Chapter 9, p.322: 3rd graph: "Social historians have noted that Western Christianity is unique among world religions for its violent alternations of periods of repression and permissiveness. They have also noted that the repressive phases usually coincide with a religious revival. The more relaxed moral climate of the Enlightenment would be succeeded in many parts of the West by the repressions of the Victorian period, which was accompanied by an upsurge of a more fundamentalist religiosity. In our own day, we have witnessed the permissive society of the 1960s giving way to the more puritan ethic of the 1980s, which has also coincided with the rise of Christian fundamentalism in the West. This is a complex phenomenon, which doubtless has no single cause."

Chapter 9, p. 341, 2nd graph: "In 1729 Jean Meslier, a country priest who had led an exemplary life, died an atheist. He left behind a memoir. . . . This expressed his disgust with humanity and his inability to believe in God. . . . Religion was a device used by the rich to oppress the poor and render them powerless. Christianity was distinguished by its particularly ludicrous doctrines, such as the Trinity and Incarnation."

Chapter 10, The Death of God?, p. 361, 2nd graph: "A negative image of the Prophet Muhammad and his religion had developed in Christendom at the time of the Crusades and had persisted alongside the anti-Semitism of Europe. During the colonial period, Islam was viewed as a fatalistic religion that was chronically opposed to progress."

Chapter 10, p. 361, last graf: "Freud had wisely seen that any enforced repression of religion could only be destructive. Like sexuality, religion is a human need that affects life at every level. If suppressed, the results are likely to be a s explosive and destructive as any sever sexual repression. . . . Repression of religion can breed fundamentalism, just as inadequate forms of theism can result in a rejection of God."

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Samuel Johnson

I finished W. Jackson Bate's biography on Johnson. Some selections that caught my eye:

The Seven Years' War had begun. In political articles, he strongly attacked the policy of imperial and commercial expansion. The quarrel of the British and the French in America, as he viewed it, was the quarrel of "two robbers" for the land stolen from the Indians. Of the two, the French had at least the credit of treating the victim -- the natives -- with more consideration.
(Chapter 19, section 4, 3rd graph)

The truth is that something very serious was beginning to happen to him, and he was quite aware of it. The general reconsideration of life so common in middle age and the problems inevitable to it were something he had foreseen long before this. He had taken them into account and half assimilated them in advance, in protective preparation . . . But now, as he was entering his fifties, he was more vulnerable . The larger part of middle age could seem already behind him, and instead of his life being half over . . .it could now, by any optimistic calculation, appear two-thirds over, and most of it could seem a waste -- a history of disappointments, frustrations, regrets, and mistaken choices, none of it to be blamed on the work but only on himself.
(Chapter 20, section 1, 4th graph)

"Work and love," said Freud near the end of his own life, in Civilization and Its Discontents, are the only ways in which human nature can come closet to happiness or at least avoid misery. Freud adds, of course, that far fewer people really "love " than think they do.
(Chapter 21, section 5, 1st graph)

[Baretti] was put in Newgate Prison, where a rival Italian teacher soon called on him saying he wanted to take over Baretti's pupils after his execution and asking Baretti to write him a letter of recommendation.
(Chapter 24, section 2, 3rd graph)

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Morris Trump

I'm rereading Morris Berman's Dark Ages America, which was copyrighted in 2006. In Chapter 4, "Pax Americana", in the Hot versus Cold Wars section, there's this passage (page 130 in paperback edition):

[Voters in 1980] were drawn to Ronald Reagan, a man who saw the world in just such simplistic terms, and who pledged to make America great again.

Looks like Trump owes some royalties to Berman ;)

Monday, January 30, 2017

Juan Cole

I read this months ago, and it's been bee-bopping in my head recently. Just might be the best paragraph Cole' ever written:

It is downright weird that we haven’t been able to find any evidence of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, given how old and big it is.  It occurs to me that carbon-based life may have a tendency to evolve toward an intelligent species that discovers how to manipulate fire.  But in each case, it isn’t quite intelligent enough to avoid burning so many hydrocarbons that it cooks its planet and causes its own extinction.  Hence, no radio waves from these serial hyper-tropical worlds. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

"LBJ: Architect of American Ambition" by Randall B. Woods

I recently read that bio. Two great passages in it:

Chapter 11, A Populist Gentlemen's Club, p. 246:
The North and Midwest viewed the Southeast as the most backward part of the nation, the most resistant to change, and the most out of step with postwar realities. Southerners viewed the Northeast as economic exploiters and racist hypocrites.

Chapter 39, Tet, p. 818:
Reform is rare and difficult in the United States, a deeply conservative country.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

thriller propaganda

Interesting point in recent New York Times Book Review:

American political thrillers, like American politics, can be awfully jingoistic. In the works of Brad Thor and Brad Taylor and similar writers, a heroic America often comes under existential threat from a bellicose Russia or China or North Korea. . . .  American thrillers function as a kind of propaganda, demonizing foreign enemies. . . .

Saturday, May 28, 2016


On the 1% chance Trump wins in November, I've been reading Christopher Hibbert's biography on Mussolini, because a couple pundits I trust predict a Trump presidency would be less like Hitler and more like the Italian fascist.

Anyway, there are a couple quotes that cracked me up because they're so absurd, despite the horrible history of WWII.

In the "Diplomat" chapter, section 4, p. 109, an Italian ambassador complains to the Germans about lack of openness on the Nazi's aggression plans, a Nazi diplomat says that decisions "were still locked in the Führer's impenetrable bosom."

Later in that same chapter's section, p. 112, Mussolini is bitching about the Germans: "Give them enough sausage, butter, beer, and a little car and they won't worry about sticking their bayonets into people."

Speaking of Nazis, I would argue that the current state of American/European neoliberalism is a distant second to the Third Reich, with our history of slavery and Native American genocide. Plus, capitalism exploits the worst aspects of human nature: cut-throat competition, wasting of natural resources, and the rewarding of greed. Not to mention that in a couple hundred years we've treated Mother Earth like shit so that by 2200 we'll probably enter another Dark Ages. Seems like the id of the human race always reigns supreme and leaves devastation as its legacy.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Portland, OR: day 5

I didn't do much on Monday. Like Sunday, there was intermittent rain all day.

For breakfast I went down to the Skipping Stone Cafe for another large single pancake -- I could only eat about two-thirds of it. I was talking with the waitress and I mentioned that the cafe was briefly featured in Friday night's episode of Grimm and she said the crew eats in there a lot.

Around mid-morning I headed down to Voodoo donut based on the advice of a coworker of mine from San Francisco. I got a Portland cream-filled donut. It was delicious!

For lunch I grabbed a salad again at the Fred Meyers supermarket.

I spent the afternoon back at the hotel reading Amelia Gray's Gutshot, a strange short story collection. I could've went to the Japanese Garden, which is only about a mile away, but when it rained, it was ugly, plus the only other thing I wanted to do in town here was go to Lloyd Center to hang out at the ice rink, but I'm saving that for Tuesday because I'll have tons of time to kill with checkout time being noon and my flight not taking off until 11 PM.

For dinner I went down to 10th Street (I'm staying near 20th Street). I was in the mood for a gyro. Haven't had one since I lived in Berkeley when there was a Greek restaurant around the corner from my cottage. I bought my $5 lamb gyro from an Egyptian food truck (way cheaper than Berkeley) -- the whole block was full of food trucks, most only open from mid-morning to mid-afternoon for the lunchtime rush. It was kinda cool how were all on the perimeter of the block, facing the sidewalk; the interior of the block was for parking.

I took the gyro back to the hotel and ate it while watching the Manchester United match from Sunday. I don't know if I ate it too quickly or what, but I did not feel good for the rest of the night. I eventually had to go across the street to Walgreen's to pick up some Rolaids. I crawled into bed at 9:30, listening to some podcasts. Around 10:30 I crawled under the covers, praying I didn't have to fly 3,000 miles with an upset stomach. Does United tack on fees if you use more than one barf bag?

Monday, March 21, 2016

Portland, OR: day 4

On Sunday I went to the Chevron convenience store again and got a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal. The rest of the morning I did laundry because when I travel for more than a weekend, I do laundry halfway through so it's less stuff I have to pack. What's awesome about the place I'm staying is that there is a laundry room in the main building across the street. Today was the first day raining, but it was all good -- the laundry was only $1 for the washer and dryer each, and somebody left detergent, which had more than enough for my three small loads.

For lunch I picked an Italian sandwich with Boars meat at the Fred Meyers supermarket. Washed it down with a 7.5-ounce Pepsi. I had picked up an eight-pack at Fred Meyers when I first got here.

In the afternoon I took the blue light rail for about an hour to the Gresham City Hall. During the ride I saw a couple tents pitched on the verdant hillside. Looked like people were living there.

After I hopped off the light rail, I took a bus to the only Planet Fitness listed as in Portland. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, going to the gym doesn't sound like much a vacation, but it was almost 90-minute trip to get there and I wanted to see the other side of the city. I think it would be called the southeast side (my hotel is near the northwest side, I believe). Though I think the Planet Fitness is lying a little. It looked like they're just outside Portland, in the suburb of Gresham.

I had left my keys with my Planet Fitness ID back in Philly, but fortunately the girl at the desk was cool enough to let me exercise. I did upper-body weights.

On the trip back, I got off about a mile before the hotel and picked up a Qdoba chicken burrito. This was around 5 PM. I wanted to get it sooner than later because they closed at 7 PM, and I assumed around closing time there would be slim pickings.

At the hotel I showered then watched the DC United match while I dined on my burrito. The rest of the night I just stayed in.

Portland, OR: day 3

It's Monday morning. Let's see if I can remember what I did on Saturday.

Because I thought the Skipping Stone Cafe might have a queue, I went to the Chevron convenience store around the corner and picked up a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios.

Then I hopped on the light rail to Washington Park, which is the same stop where the Oregon Zoo is at. I headed for the 4T trail. Here's the beginning of it:

It was about a mile march to Council Crest Park, the highest point in Portland.

I thought I could catch an aerial tram, but I had to keep walking the trail. I went about another mile on the trail, then took a shortcut on a roadway, though it didn't feel like a shortcut, 'cuz it went on for a while -- probably another mile.

I eventually found the aerial tram, it was next to a hospital. Too much information time: thank god the building the aerial tram was in had a bathroom. I had to go something fierce. I couldn't really find anything on the trail, and there were a fair amount of people on the trail.

Anyway, the tram was a short ride, no more than 2 minutes. I tried taking a picture of the approaching tram.

I thought the ride was free, maybe a service of the hospital, because the operator didn't ask for a ticket, but when I got off I saw a ticket vending machine. I didn't buy a ticket. Does that make me a bad person? But I did buy a ticket for the Portland Streetcar.

The Portland Streetcar isn't part of the TriMet network that runs the light rail and buses. The Streetcar takes you through downtown. The one I was on went through the university. One part was really neat, it cut through a shopping district where people were sitting, sipping on their java outside of a coffee shop. There weren't any barriers or anything. The Streetcar snaked over the red bricks a few feet from the shoppers and sippers. Pretty cool!

Eventually I got off the Streetcar and hopped on the light rail. I went to the Fred Meyers supermarket near my hotel and got a salad for lunch.

My hay fever was acting up, with itchy eyes to the extreme, so I took about a 75-minute nap in the afternoon.

For dinner I wanted to go to a local Italian restaurant, but you needed a reservation. So I stopped in at a local pizza joint, Hot Lips, but they were all out of meatball sandwiches. I checked out SFNY Pizza, where I some slices Friday night, but they didn't do meatball sandwiches. I settled on a BLT from Jimmy Johns; I really didn't want to eat there 'cuz I hit it up all the time in Philly, but I was running out of time. I picked up some Lay's BBQ potato chips at the Chevron too.

Around 6:30 I headed to Providence Park for the soccer game. The Timbers played RSL. Good game. The home team was down 2 for a while. The match ended in a draw.

Great thing about your hotel being several blocks from the soccer stadium is you don't have to worry about driving or waiting for the train. Woo-woo!

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Portland, OR: day 2

Before I get started, I forgot to write up something that happened on my first full day here . . .  Thursday, was it? After eating dinner at Qdoba, as I was ambling around downtown, I was standing at a stoplight and the road to my left was blocked off except for light rail. Some sedan goes through the green light but didn't see the two concrete barricades until the last second. He hit the brakes, though they didn't screech or anything, and the car never stopped moving. The driver-side window has halfway down, and front passenger window was all the way down. The driver goes, "Whoa, whoa!" His girlfriend/wife in the passenger seat, who looked like the crazy sister upstairs neighbor on that Jessica Jones Netflix TV show, screamed at him, calling him a "dumbass". Oh, and I think there was at least one toddler in the back seat.

Anyway, on Friday I hiked down to the Skipping Stone Cafe again. I ordered sausage links and a biscuit. The biscuit was huge, probably equal to three or four biscuits you have at Thanksgiving. Should've taken a picture. I finished it and the three sausages, though.

Like Thursday, I caught the bus back to the hotel. The rest of the morning I worked on yesterday's blog post.

For lunch I hit that sushi place. It wasn't as good as the first time I was in Portland. Maybe because this time it was at the height of the lunch rush. They just didn't have the nigiri sushi I like. Everything comes around on a conveyor belt. I ate two shrimp, two tuna or salmon, and two octopus or squid. The lemonade I washed it down with was perfect -- not too sweet, not too diluted.

In the afternoon, I walked downtown and took pictures of the Portlandia statue.

Afterwards I saw this crazy traffic sign:

What's that noise all about?

Then it was off to the Oregon Historical Society museum.

It was nice. They had an exhibit on Chinese immigrants and the hardships the U.S. government put they through. Reminded me of Lisa See's Shanghai Girls. And sadly things haven't gotten much better with Hispanics at the latest scapegoat.

Several blocks away was the exterior they use for the Portland police station on the TV show Grimm.

Before heading back to the hotel, I took some pictures of the Timbers stadium, since it's a few blocks from the hotel. Can't wait for the game Saturday night!

For dinner there's a pizza place across the street from the hotel called SFNY, which stands for Straight From New York. They sell slices, so I got a plain and a pepperoni. It was pretty funny, when I asked for the plain, the cashier asked, "Cheese?" It's like they're speaking a different language out here!

After dinner I watched an episode of Grimm and read some of Stephen King's Cujo. I fell asleep around 10. My bio-rhythms are still on East Coast time. You wouldn't think that would be the case; after all, I lived on the West Coast for two years. Maybe I prefer the Atlantic Ocean over the Pacific. . . .

Friday, March 18, 2016

Portland, OR vacay: travel day, and 1st day here

It's about 11 AM on Friday, March 18. Thought I would catch up on what I've been up to. I'm a little rusty on writing anything outside of an email, so the prose probably won't pretty -- just the facts, ma'am.

Wednesday I got up and drove straight to mom's house so I could park my car in her driveway. I didn't want to leave my wheels in Manayunk because I'd be taking up a spot for almost a week when parking is at a premium there, plus there was a chance it could get stolen; somebody seeing it in the same spot over the weekend might deduct that I'm out of town.

At my mom's house, I was going to take the bus to the train station, since it's at least a mile away, but my sister's husband, Bill, was next door helping his dad brew some beer (his parents live next door to my mum) and he drove me to the train station.

I got down to the airport in plenty of time. For lunch I had a bacon cheeseburger at Chickie & Pete's. Never ate there before. It was pretty, pretty good.

The flight was supposed to take off at 2:25 PM, but it probably touched off the runway closer to 3. The connecting flight was in Chicago. For dinner I popped in a Wolfgang Pucks and bought a hummus wrap. Never had hummus before -- it was all right . . . tasted healthy.

I landed in Portland around 8 PM PT. Like when I spent a weekend here in September '13 (when I was living in Berkeley, CA), I took the MAX red line. It's a light rail. This time around I bought a weekly transpass for $26. Not too bad, it works on the buses too.

It's about a 45-minute rail ride to my hotel, the Park Lane Suites, in the city centre. I stayed here last time. There's the main building on the one side of the street, and more rooms in a separate building on the other side of the street. I'm in the latter. I just may be in the same room as I was last time, room 227 on the second floor (duh).

Yesterday, Thursday, I slept in a little then went to the Skipping Stone Cafe. It's about a mile from the hotel.

Back in '13 I tried a pancake and a biscuit. They're both huge and I only ate about half of each. This time I got just the pancake.

Crazy thing about Portland, it only costs $3. I still couldn't finish it, though I did get about three-quarters down in my gut.

For the mile trip back to the hotel, I didn't walk too far. I caught the 15 bus, which drops you off a block from the hotel. I didn't have to slide the transpass when I got on -- you just show it to the driver. That's one of the things I love about Portland! Things are simple here.

After showering I hoofed it about a mile from the hotel to Powell's book store. I picked up  a travel guide and a book about moving here, since I'm thinking about it.

I grabbed the 20 bus back to the hotel and for lunch I wandered around looking for a sandwich. I popped in to a nearby supermarket, Fred Meyer, but their sandwiches had too much meat on 'em for my tastes. Before I left security had to escort one customer out of the store. He was a white male, late 40s or in his 50s, about 6'5", bald on the top of his chrome, and he was no more than 20 pounds overweight, though it looked like muscle that had turned to flab. He called one of the Fred Meyers employees a bitch and told her to her job. He seemed a little unhinged. I thought a scuffle might break out 'cause he sounded unnecessarily angry, but he left without incident.

I eventually bought a ham and swiss cheese sandwich at another nearby supermarket. More upscale than Fred Meyers; I think it's called Zanders. It was $5 for a half sandwich. Overpriced, but it was good. I ate it in my room.

After lunch I watched the Manchester United and Liverpool UFEA match.

For dinner I walked a mile to the nearest Qdoba. Yeah, I know I can have their chicken burrito anytime in Philly, but it's soooooo good.

Afterwards I ambled around looking for a sushi place to eat lunch at the next day. One of the busy streets I went down (well, by Portland standards, it was busy -- 10 people on one side of the street) had a closed Subway. Apparently a customer threw a chair (I saw marks in the vertical part the counter) and tried stabbing the cashier. The attacker got away. I was talking to one of the bystanders and wondered if the knifer was the same guy from Fred Meyers this afternoon, but the bystander said the Subway cat was a black guy.

As I was leaving, I saw this same guy as the one outside the Powell's book store in the morning. White guy, he was about 6'3", thin, had piebald hair, was wearing a suit jacket and had, I would guess, at least $300 specs. He had noted my Timbers cap and claimed he had family in Manchester, England and played goalie there for a god awful team.

Anyway, outside of the Subway, he gave one of the bystanders the finger and said that guy was an asshole. I did notice that unlike in the morning he didn't have a leg brace on over his jeans -- you know the kind, goes from groin to ankle, with velcro straps. He still had his guitar case and supermarket cart full of crap and knick-knacks.

I eventually found that sushi place. I think it's the one I went to last time I was here. Then I headed back to the hotel. Really tired. All told I must've walked close to five miles. Plus in the afternoon I picked up some allergy medicine. My hay fever is acting up. When I was here in '13, I went back to California with some allergy where my voice was messed up for weeks. Could have something to do with my broken nose when I got hit by that car on March 1, 2012 and my deviated septum. Hopefully if I keep taking the Walgreen's version of Zyrtec I'll be fine.

Monday, August 10, 2015

and another excerpt from John Keane's TOM PAINE: A POLITICAL LIFE

Paine was not a pacifist.  He recognized that in politics "turning the other cheek" can be a devilishly self-contradictory ethic that enables the strong to outfox or destroy the weak.  Yet he was also convinced that an ethic of "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" was dangerous, especially in politics, where its literal application invariably leads to mutual reprisals and escalating violence, thereby hardening the hearts of the combatants, destroying their civility, and forcing freedom into exile, condemning it to tramp other lands as a poor and hungry refugee.  Therefore, the use of violent means to defend liberty was only the lesser of two evils.

p.228, Chapter 7 (The Federalist), "Revolutionary Compassion"section

another excerpt from John Keane's TOM PAINE: A POLITICAL LIFE

Paine was no believer in self-regulating "free markets."  He was not an "ideological spokesman for the bourgeoisie."  He certainly believed -- in this he was remarkably modern -- that market mechanisms for structuring decisions about investment, production, and consumption through anonymous monetary exchanges could never be eliminated from the heart of civil societies without destroying the vitality and what Paine sometimes called "civil independent pride."  Industry, commerce, and agriculture regulated by means of money-based private exchanges were essential for a free civil society, if only to protect it from meddlesome state power.  But -- the qualification was of the utmost importance to Paine -- he refused to draw from this the conclusion that the various institutions of civil society should be ruled by impersonal "market forces."  Within this sphere, individuals should not be treated as private entrepreneurs whose talents and powers are presumed to be natural and whose conduct is guided by the bourgeois principle of differential cash rewards for workers and owners of property.  He was adamant that market exchanges must be controlled and nurtured politically.  A self-regulating market is undesirable.  It motivates individuals not on the basis of commitment to serve and be served by their fellow citizens, but through a mixture of greed and fear.  Market competition encourages citizens to see each other as threats and as sources of private self-enrichment.

p. 190, Chapter 6 (Public Insults), "Men of Wealth" section

Thursday, June 25, 2015

excerpt from John Keane's TOM PAINE: A POLITICAL LIFE

...fear is a central ingredient of despotic regimes, in which fear of power always corrupts those who are subject to it and fear of losing power always corrupts those who are exercising it.

p.141, Chapter 5 (War), "The American Crisis" section, 1st graph

Friday, February 13, 2015


Shit musical, indeed.

NOFX's Fat Mike's musical is finally hitting the stage.  His label, Fat Wreck Chords, dropped the soundtrack on February 10.  And it's lamer than the transients lounging on Telegraph Ave.

Most of the songs are about drug-taking and the S&M scene.  I dunno.  I quit drinking three years ago, so my household ain't 420 friendly.  And as far as dating a dominatrix. . . .  Why?  Sex is awesome all by itself.  Why would you want to ruin it by adding torture to the mix?  Consequences of a post-9/11 world, perhaps.

And here's the thing: Fat Mike is a millionaire.  Him writing songs celebrating street life is like Stalin penning an ode to those victimized by empire.

But the million-dollar question is, "Who the hell would invest in this musical?"  Theatre productions are notoriously expensive, hence the astronomical ticket prices.  Maybe it's a vanity project for Fat Mike.  Gotta spend your Knob Hill millions on something, I guess.

The sad thing is what a waste this whole endeavor is (and the money I lost buying it).  Fat Mike has an unbelievable amount of talent rocking around in his drug-addled brain.  A cursory listen to NOFX's catalog proves he has an ear for harmony and melody.

If you're going to do a musical, how about one on the plight of today's working person?  With the 1%'s war on the middle and poor classes, a musical in that key could be what America needs right now.  Art should educate and engage, not simply entertain.  But, no, Fat Mike decided to salute the cult of self, glamorizing the pursuit of pleasure and the annihilation of brain cells.

It's not all bad, though.  Besides a kick-ass soundtrack title, Home Street Home (take that, Mötley Crüe!) has a few half-decent tracks.  "Three String Guitar" has witty wordplay, especially admirable given it's only 93 seconds long.  "Missing Child" is a beautiful ballad told from the perspective of a mother missing her runaway daughter (more songs in that vein would've been nice).  "Because I Want To" has splendid synthesizers straight out of an Epoxies outtake.  And while the last track, "The Agony of Victory", is a little too saccharine for my ears with its cliche "na-na-na" ending, it gives an excellent excuse to pull out NOFX's last great album, Coaster, which featured a far superior version.  Ah, to a better time, before a great American songwriter jumped the shark. . . .

Friday, February 24, 2012

Maybe I'm Still a Socialist

I just took down a few books on eBay that had views and watchers in the low single digits. I figure if nobody's really interested, might as well give 'em way. Literacy's like herpes -- it's best to pass it on.

Illiterate America

Further proof that the average American hates to read: I had a bunch of books on eBay but just took most of 'em down 'cause they had hardly any views. Each one was $5, which included free shipping, and a lot were in mint condition from fairly popular authors, like Robert B. Parker. Sad, sad, sad.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

best headline of the day

Actually was in Tuesday's New York Times: "A Banker Who Unwinds by Photographing Prostitutes". If the link still works, you'll probably see a different headline. Ah, search engine optimization. . . .


Since I'm moving and downsizing, I found this in one of my trunks. Postmarked April 8, 1994, it came from my college roommate (I graduated in '93). I thought it was witty:

Dear Friends,

It is time once again to gather together in a frenzy of food, booze and debauchery. On Saturday April 30th, there will be a mass gathering at the home of my birth. Festivities will begin at or about 3 p.m. Saturday and will continue through Sunday May 1st, culminating with an eventing with 7 Seconds at City Gardens in beautiful Downtown Trenton. Saturday's festivities will consist of a massive barbecue running the length of the day. Sunday Brunch will consist of fruit juice and aspirin. If you want to attend the 7 Second show, please send $8.00 and your name care of: [[my friend's address]]

Please remember to reserve your weekend for this event for without you, my loyal friends, my like is meaningless.

Fondling Yours,

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Fishtown bound

Kinda jazzed. Looks like I'm moving to Philly's Fishtown borough (one subway stop from Center City). I checked out an apartment this morning and put some money down; haven't signed the lease yet. Glad to get out of the suburbs -- it's boring me to drink.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


We all know Obama is a coward
He's a wuss like Moe Howard
Once again no selection
Let's #OCCUPY the election!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Class Actress

Friday night in Philly in Fishtown, corner of Frankford and Girard Aves., around 9:30. A middle-aged white male yelled, "Same to you, asshole!" in one of those voices that send goose bumps up and down your spine -- the type of voice that's not only loud but also filled with unadulterated rage, the kind that leads to unpremeditated murder. The white male, who had the haggard look of someone who's borderline homeless, had said those words to a cab, which peeled right onto Frankford Ave. The white male stalked down Girard Ave. past a car or two to another cab. He got in, one foot in the street, and told the driver that the other cabbie was "a faggot". The white male closed the door behind him and yelled out the window, "He likes dick. DICK!!!"

And that's what I witnessed as I went into the bar/club Johnny Brenda's. I'd been there before with uneventful trips to and from my car. Maybe the 40-degree weather was what set that crazy cab passenger off.

I walked through the downstairs bar and went upstairs to the club. Johnny Brenda's website earlier in the day said the opening act, Prussia, were supposed to go on at 9:30. They walked on stage at 9:45. They must've already done a sound-check 'cause they picked up their instruments and got right into their half-hour set. I wasn't really into it; though, to be fair, I wasn't there to see them. These Detroit-ers had this synth-rock sound going on. Impressive how most of them were multi-instrumentalists.

After they finished up, the headliners took about 30 minutes to set up. While waiting, I did a little people-watching. I felt like an out-of-towner -- kinda true since I live at the tip of Northeast Philly, and even though it's only about 10 miles away, it's world's apart in the modern sense. My neighbourhood is full of sports-loving, functionally-illiterate, middle-class morons who rarely venture out of their row homes. The sold-out Johnny Brenda's was packed with 20-something hipsters; when they weren't murmuring in their low single-digit cabals, they were flicking through their iPhones, Apple lighting up their faces in the dark room so they could get their mobile fix, satisfying them until their technology-addicted brain craved more instant-gratification wireless activity.

Coincidence that I'm judgmental about technology while I do a blog post on Google?

Class Actress hit the stage at 10:45. (Hey, just like the Johnny Brenda's site said they would!) And they were amazing, thanks to the venue's sound system; one of the best for a place that size . . . about 300, in case you're wondering.

Class Actress have gotten pigeonholed with the label 80s synth revival. A bit unfair, I think. While synthesizers dominate their sound, singer Elizabeth Harper's voice sounds nothing like what came out of the Reagan decade. It's throaty with the allure of a siren, while at other times angelic, promoting Victorian values. And as far as the music goes, the two guys on keyboards play more like what you'll hear in a 2012 dance club.

The four piece (there was a drummer, too -- not sure why since it sounded like a drum machine drowned him out) started with "All the Saints". A wise choice with that catchy riff at the beginning. Still perplexes me why it's in the middle of their debut album, Rapprocher. Should be up near the front.

Their second song, I think, was "Keep You", which seems to be their big hit. A couple songs later came "Weekend", another danceable ditty popular with the kids.

They played for about 45 minutes with a one-song encore. "Limousine", I believe. It's about what to expect, since they only have an EP and album in their samplers, and the ticket was an unbelievable $12.53 (I bought it the Monday before the show after I downloaded Rapprocher from Amazon).

Now with all that boring music-geek shit out of the way, let's get down to the sultry stuff: Harper's stage presence. Jesus Christ! What a beauty, as The Tubes used to say. Not supermodel beauty, but the beauty of a performer whose sex appeal increases with audience adulation.

Unfortunately, winter weather prevented Harper from dressing salaciously. She wore black shoes, pants, jacket, and a white, long-sleeve dress shirt -- the kind with undone cuffs sported by knockout women and homosexual men. About halfway through the set, she lost the jacket. Yes! Gave her more wiggle room so she could run her hands through her lush dark hair and over her body, sans erogenous zones. Sexy performer she is, her shirt was undone two or three buttons, giving perverts like me in the crowd a peek every once in a while at her black bra. Good goddamn!

With visions of that class act, I skipped out of Johnny Brenda's to my Civic a couple blocks away. Plenty of cabs, no psycho white males. Lovely. . . .

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

creative wit

So I'm walking around the other during my break at work, running some errands. A group of kids are sitting at the bus stop having a conversation. In the middle of it, a girl says, "I'm not that very creative." This boy says, without missing a beat, "That's not true. I've seen how you dress." I laughed out loud. Couldn't help it.

Moscow companionship

Got my Moscow travel book in the mail today from Frommer's. Interesting little bit on page 64: "...foreign men traveling alone may be surprised by a late-night phone call to their rooms offering 'female company' for the night. If you make it clear you're not interested -- it can't hurt to mention it to the reception desk -- the solicitation will stop."

Um, yeah, I think I'll mention to the front desk not to allow those calls through.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Burr Tebow

I've been enjoying this Bill Burr video recently where he talks about Tim Tebow and salivates after some young laaaaadies. Funny stuff:

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Moscow, bitch!

I was only going to do Paris this summer while vacationing, but I figure since I'm over in Europe I might as well make a meal of it, so I'm gonna hit Warsaw, Poland and Moscow. Crazy thing with Russia is that their visa crazy. You need to fill out more paperwork than for a college's financial aid -- ya have to first to get a tourist invitation then a tourist voucher. One of these involves getting a sponsor, which a hotel can vouch for. It's going to be an interesting process. . . .

Stephen King's influence

Started listening to Stephen King's Insomnia the other night. Ever since then, I've had trouble sleeping. Coincidence? ;)

Saturday, January 7, 2012


Living up to my Boring Bachelor moniker, I thought I would blog about what I had for dinner. Picked up a T-bone-shaped swordfish steak at Whole Foods. I could've went to Pathmark or Acme, which are closer, but Whole Foods' high prices are warranted -- you do get what you pay for.

I don't think I've ever eaten swordfish, but it was amazing! Back in my thirties I used to eat seafood on Saturday nights (nothing fancy: like Mrs. Paul's and Gordon's frozen food doohickeys). I'm trying to get back into that habit, but having fresh seafood, along with vegetables, a small red potato and a mug of milk. Now them's good eating!!!

best birthday playlist ever!

My 16 years of Catholic brainwashing tells me I shouldn't brag, but I'm damn proud of this mix I came up with -- flows quite nicely:
Beatles: "Birthday" (1968)
Rocket From The Crypt: "Born in '69" (1995)
Police: "Born in the 50's" (1978)
Supersuckers: "Born with a Tail" (1995)
INXS: "Born to Be Wild" (1993)
Choking Victim: "Born to Die" (1997)
Vandals: "Happy Birthday to Me" (1995)
NOFX: "New Happy Birthday Song?" (2007)
Cure: "Happy Birthday, Simon" (1981)
Atom & His Package: "Happy Birthday, Ralph" (1997)
Models: "Happy Birthday, IBM" (1980)
Sugarcubes: "Birthday" (1988)
J Church: "Birthday" (1995)
Smiths: "Unhappy Birthday" (1987)
Replacements: "Birthday Gal" (1987)
Crazy Alice: "Birthday Card" (1996)
Mountain Goats: "Quetzalcoatl Is Born" (1994)
Insane Clown Posse: "Birthday Bitches" (2002)
Luke Campbell: "It's Your Birthday" (1994)
Cibo Matto: "Birthday Cake" (1996)
Underworld: "Born Slippery (Nuxx)" (1996)
"Weird Al" Yankovic: "Happy Birthday" (1981)
Altered Images: "Happy Birthday" (1981)
Steve Kilbey: "My Birthday, The Moon Festival (1986)
Kitaro: "Earth Born" (1975)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

To Joke Or Not to Joke, That Is This Blog Post

I don't hear the word reputed too much anymore. Think I'm gonna go around and describe myself -- since I work in publishing -- as a reputed editor. No?

Friday, December 30, 2011

Star Trek: First Contact

Just re-watched via a Netflix DVD, first time since it was in theatres. Goddamn, what a flick! Not one bad scene. Perfect on every level. To put it succinctly: simply awesome!!!

Friday, October 28, 2011

gym ancedote

Crazy story I heard in the gym this morning. After I did my 30 minutes of cardio, I was in the locker room, getting reading for the early brutal early cold, and I eavesdropped (like a lame Three's Company episode) on these two other cats in the locker room. The story went like this: the one guy said that when he was back in grad school he knew this couple. They had been going out for about two years. The man decided he really loved this woman. He wanted to spend the rest of his life with this Fly Girl. So he proposed. She said, "That's cool, baby." But there was a catch: they wouldn't have sex until their wedding night. Did I mention that since both were in grad school they couldn't marry for another two years? Obviously, this condition hit the guy like James Patterson having a good idea (FYI: he hasn't written a decent novel in at least 10 years). Like any homeboy with a reasonable libido, he talks to his girl's friends. They try talking to his fiancee (or is it fiance?). No luck. So after a week he tells his girl "see ya". That's what cracked me up! He wrestled for that shit all week. Guys contemplating sex for seven days is like an eternity. Funny stuff. . . .

Lapsed Catholic

Here's part of the reason why I have nothing to do with Christianity these days: a week or so ago, on this message board I communicate with my college crew, a former housemate said I misspelled an R.A.'s name, though he typed it in a mean way. At first I was gonna ignore it, but this former housemate had a tendency back in the day to bully me around in a verbal way, so I wrote that it was strong words from somebody who didn't include in his post the apostrophe in "hes" and he dropped the comma in a sentence where the last word was "right". Crazy thing was that other college peeps on the site congratulated me for striking back. THAT'S WHAT'S FUCKED UP ABOUT THE HUMAN RACE!!! You can never be pacifist! People -- women especially -- encourage aggressiveness. Wouldn't the world be a better place if we weren't always whipping out our swords (heh-heh, "whipping out")? That's what I loved about the New Testament as a young 'un. Turning the cheek. But I've learned over the years that turning the cheek means they'll slap the other cheek, then rip down your pants, slap both of those cheeks, then fuck you with ratchet wrench. Oh, is that too harsh for you? Guess it's time for you to move to Collingswood, NJ and pretend the tragedy a mile away in Camden is fine cuz it's out of sight, out of mind.

Saturday, August 6, 2011


For some odd reason, I've been thinking about my formative years lately. One thing that's popped in my head recently is something that happened around '86. Back then, my dad's alcoholism was really bad. He was drinking about four cases of Meister Brau a week (in the kitchen by himself). Somehow, my mom dragged him and my two younger sisters to a therapist. I didn't go because of my cross country / track commitments. After the one and only shrink session, my mom relayed what happened in there. Apparently, the doctor put a cube on the desk, which represented the future, and asked my dad what he saw in there, and my dad said, "Nothing." Nowadays, I can relate.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Copenhagen, Denmark

It's Saturday, July 9 at 10:30 AM, Denmark time. I'm in the Copenhagen airport. The first of my two-leg flight home doesn't leave till 2 PM, so I got nothing but time. I took the train here to the airport instead of a taxi because the train station was only a 10-minute walk from my hotel. On Wednesday, the taxi ride took about a half-hour. The train ride was only two stops: half that time. Weird.

Anyway, let's hop into the WABAC machine and go to Wednesday.

The two flights from Nuuk, Greenland to Copenhagen, Denmark were uneventful. The first part was on a small plane, while the second part was on a 747 -- both Greenland Air.

I got to the hotel in Copenhagen around 9 PM. I wanted to get a bite to eat before everything closed, and the area I was staying in didn't seem to have a lot going for it. All I could see were expressways, train tracks, office buildings and chain hotels (Radisson Blu skyscraper, for example).

Reception said around the corner was a partner hotel with a restaurant. They only had about four things on their menu, since it was way past normal dinner time. The one thing looked interesting, but it was like a five-course meal and seemed to heavy, so I opted for a bacon cheeseburger and fries. It was really good. Had some orange sauce on there and radishes (and obviously lettuce; also, a cherry tomato on top speared with a toothpick). With it I drank a bottle of Carlsburg beer. Very tasty: not too much of a lager, and not too watered down.

I went to bed around midnight, even though my body was in Greenland time (8 PM). Surprisingly, I fell asleep without too much problem.

On Thursday, I purchased a breakfast ticket from reception for 60 kroner, then headed to the restaurant on the second floor. They only had bread, lunchmeat and cereal. I opted for some grainy cereal with nuts and dried bananas. I washed it down with orange juice.

After freshening up, I walked about less than a kilometer to the main tourist office, Wonderful Copenhagen.

My original impression on Wednesday was wrong (aren't first impressions almost always erroneous?). I wasn't in a desolate area. It was pretty close to the city centre. Everything seems so spread out because bicycle strips and pedestrian paths get generous swaths of concrete, not as wide as the street but big enough. They actually need the plentiful bike paths. I would say there's almost as many bikes on the road as cars. And like in Stockholm, pedestrians need to watch where they're walking, or speeding bicyclists will clip them.

Wonderful Copenhagen was ultra-modern, with lighted floors and walls, glass panels with information every few feet, and more than enough booklets of stuff to do. And they were adequately staffed; like Nuuk, you had to take a number.

With a city map in hand, I went to the adjoining store, a bakery, and got a dessert I forget the name of. It had whipped cream and cherries (with stem) on top; on the bottom was a crumb-like concoction. Yummy. I followed it up with a bottle of Coke I got from a nearby hotdog stand.

Because it was supposed to rain Friday, I decided to do as much today, Thursday, outside. First stop was across the street from Wonderful Copenhagen: Tivoli.

It's an amusement park first erected around 1860. Lots of rides in there and cool crazy architecture, like a clown's head on a pillar, busts of Roman emperors, a Ming Dynasty temple, and an 18th-century ship in a lake with oversized electronic mosquitoes, a real live white duck, and koi fish.

After spending about two hours in there, I walked up Hans Christian Anderson Boulevard, named after the Danish author of such stories as "The Ugly Duckling" and "The Little Mermaid". At one intersection, I stumbled across a sandwich shop that named their treats after American celebrities, such as Marilyn Monroe, Hillary Clinton, Oprah, and Katherine Hepburn. You don't need too many brain cells to guess which one I got. That's right, Jane Fonda! Seriously though, I mainly got it 'cause it didn't have any meat; I was in the mood for something vegetarian. The sandwich had lettuce, tomato, and the white stuff vegetarians eat -- I think it's some type of cheese. And with my cold pretty much kicked, I had a Carlsburg orange juice with green tea. I ate while walking to my next destination. When I went to open my drink, I saw that you needed a bottle opener. Crap. Fortunately, I called up my college partying past and used the top edge of an electric box to open it. Got it on the second try!

Next up was a Botanical Garden. About the same type of stuff I had seen last year in Glasgow, though they did have they supersized lily pads -- at least three feet across, and in one of the greenhouses they had two white-painted, metal, spiral staircases so you could get a bird's-eye view. Oh, it was hot up there. Had to be in the nineties, compared to outside where it was no more than 69 degrees.

Around the block and across the street was Rosenborg Castle. My-oh-my, what a sight. It used to a vacation home for some king and storing place for their prized possessions. The place was huge and ornate. I couldn't believe the opulence in there. Fresco ceilings, ginormous oil paintings, royal crowns. And on the third floor were the king and queen's thrones. Really impressive with the three life-sized lions in front of the thrones; not sure what the lions were made out of, but they were shiny (sliver, maybe?).

In back of the castle was the King's Garden, which is now a public park. It's basically nine blocks of flat grass that stretch about 100 yards. Very tranquil. Unfortunately, that's when my camera's battery died. Bummer.

I walked back to my hotel. I took a different route to experience something new, but I did a bit of a roundabout because the train tracks (two dozen tracks, perhaps) were in the way, so I had to walk a kilometer around until the next bridge appeared. Needless to say, I was glad to put my feet up in my hotel room. I must've walked at least five miles total.

For dinner, I walked to a restaurant about six blocks past Wonderful Copenhagen. My travel book recommended it, though they failed to mention that it was in the red-light district. I'm assuming that, but it did have all the tell-tale signs: a couple hourly hotels per block; vagrants lounging on stoops, spitting on the sidewalk; and a tattoo parlor every block. Anyway, the restaurant had some weird deal where you had to reserve and pay online; sounded like they were only interested in large parties not loner tourists like myself. It worked out 'cause an Italian place was on the next block. They had a special for a four-course meal. When I entered, I was the only one there besides two women finishing up in the corner.

The meal was superb. For a starter, the owner (I'm guessing) brought over micro shrimp in a bowl with red sauce and some other stuff in there. Next up were six cheese ravioli in a white thick sauce. The main course was veal. Dessert was something called Symphony Dessert. Loved all of it!

Amusement ride at Tivoli that you could see for miles. (Copehangen, Denmark; July 7, 2001)

Friday I had breakfast at the hotel again. Sixty kroner equals about $12 US. May sound like a lot for cereal and OJ, but I didn't mind paying for the convenience.

Once I finally left my hotel, it was raining. I contemplated calling for a taxi but decided to hoof it. I went next store to Wonderful Copenhagen to a souvenir shop so I could buy postcards for my family. Next store to that was a football shop. I bought a Denmark soccer jersey for 499 kroner. I'd only used my credit card twice in Denmark: for the cab and dinner Wednesday night. I had a lot of kroners left over from Greenland.

I then purchased a ticket for the Hop On Hop Off bus tour. It lasted an hour and a half, drove by the main tourist sites. I took some pics, but the rain hurt the quality.

For lunch I ducked into a meat place on the corner next to Nationalmuseet (National Museum). On the tour they mentioned a Danish specialty is
smørrebrød aka an open-faced sandwich, so I got that: pork. It's basically a meal with two slices of bread. I really enjoyed it, since I rarely eat pork at home. I liked how they had fried onions and mushrooms on top of the meat. And the salad included nuts and cold (cream-tasting) corn. For a beverage I had a Carlsburg lager. Not as good as the regular Carlsburg I had Wednesday night.

By now it was 2:30 PM. Not a lot of time with most touristy places closing at 4 or 5 PM. I had wanted to go to
Nationalmuseet, the Christianborg Palace, and Amalienborg Palace, the winter residence of Denmark's royal family. But I only had time for one site, so I went to Christianborg Palace, where the queen entertains guests, which was two blocks away from the restaurant.

I got there in just enough time for the three o'clock tour. They wouldn't let you take your umbrella on the tour, but they did offer free lockers, which I thought was nice.

The tour was fascinating. Sadly I couldn't take pictures, but its opulence nearly matched the Rosenborg Castle. All the rooms and history there. Fascinating!

Afterwards, I took a different way back to the hotel (without getting lost). I did stop in to see if any museums low on my to-do list were open till 6 PM, since it was now 4:30, but they all closed at 5. Damn, wish I had an extra day here.

I chilled at the hotel for a bit. The sky cleared up, and around 7 PM I headed back out towards an area called Tallink that I had seen on the bus tour. Lovely area -- has a canal running through it.

I had dinner at some fancy corner cafe/restaurant called Europa. I ate something I don't think I've ever had: monkfish. Tasted like your typical fillet, though it was two inches high on the ends. It also had asparagus wrapped in bacon. Awesome. For dessert I ate a chocolate souffle with vanilla ice cream. Ah!

I ambled through a shopping district, Stroget, to get back to the hotel. It was cobblestoned and had several street performers, such as mimes and musicians. Very nice.

Back at the hotel, I packed up for the flight home. Lovely vacation. Glad I came. It was an eye-opening experience. I used to put Scandinavia on a pedestal because of their strong safety net but besides that they're very similar to America.

For future vacations, I don't think I'm going to do a bunch of cities in a couple weeks. I'll just go to a city for five days or a week. Maybe Paris next summer. . . .

Little Mermaid statue. Pretty interesting: the head is a popular ballerina from around 1911, and the body is the sculptor's wife. The entire thing was supposed to be the ballerina, but once she found out about the nudity she almost backed out. (Copenhagen, Denmark; July 8, 2011)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Nuuk, Greenland

It's now Wednesday, July 6, 5:45 AM, Greenland time. I'm in the Nuuk airport. My flight leaves at 7:35 for the hour travel time to Kangerlussuaq. Then the plane for Copenhagen leaves at 11:40 AM. I'm supposed to arrive in Denmark at 8 PM. The day's not as long as it sounds because Copenhagen is four hours ahead, so I'll be in Denmark at 4 PM Greenland time.

Anyway, back on Monday, in Reykjavík, I got up at 7 AM for my noon flight to Nuuk, Greenland. On Sunday afternoon, the owner of the inn called the shuttle, which was supposed to come at 8 AM, so I stood on the corner where the Flybus dropped me off on Friday (a half block from the inn). About 8:10 one of those Iceland Expedition vans pulled up in front of a hotel two houses from the Alfhouse Guesthouse. I asked the driver if he was going to the BSI Bus Terminal. He said no. So I returned to standing on the corner in front of the Icelandic Salvation Army.

Around 8:30, still no Flybus. I went back to the guesthouse and saw that the shuttle was actually Iceland Expedition not Flybus, and it didn't go to the bus terminal but the airport. Damn, I should've read the fine print!

I headed into town, a two-minute walk. A short row of taxis usually were parked in front of the main tourist center. I had the cabbie drive me to the bus terminal. I could've walked the kilometer to it -- God knows I had enough time -- but walking in light rain with luggage in tow isn't my idea of a good time.

At the bus terminal, I bought a ticket for the first Flybus shuttle to the airport: 9:30 AM.

The shuttle made it to the airport in better time than the one on Friday. Maybe it helped that this driver wasn't squinting into the horizon like Friday's driver (put those bifocals on mate!). Got to the airport around 10:10 AM.

In the terminal, I didn't see my flight on any of the boards. A woman at the one of check-in desks informed me that my flight is at the other airport. WHAT!?! A small city like Reykjavík has two airports? By now it was 10:30. The airport employee suggested I take a shuttle. I opted for a cab, which cost me almost a $100 US. That's what I get for not reading the fine print twice (once on the shuttle service and once on the airport code on my plane ticket).

The correct airport was coincidentally across the road from the bus terminal. Real small. They had one gates and one runway, and I couldn't check in until a half-hour before takeoff.

The plane was only half-full. Not a lot of people going to Greenland, I guess. Kinda nice to have a window view with the seat next to me empty so I could throw my jacket.

The Air Iceland plane landed in Nuuk around 1:15 PM; it was a three hour-plus flight (Greenland is two hours behind Iceland).

The Nuuk airport is about as small as the one in Reykjavík. The baggage claim has a conveyor belt that's only about four feet inside the building; you could see outside through the vertical plastic flaps as they loaded the luggage from the truck, with the plane only 10 feet away.

Outside it was 45 degrees with 15-to-25-mile winds. I grabbed a taxi that drove me five kilometers to my hotel apartment. When I went to pay the cabbie, neither of my credit cards would take because apparently in Greenland you need to type in PIN codes. Reluctantly, I paid with my debit card, which has a PIN.

Checking in turned out to be another nightmare. Neither of my credit cards would work without a PIN (I don't know it) and they could run my debit card through but because it's a MasterCard they would charge me 4% extra.

I headed into town, which is only about two blocks away and went to the bank. I could only withdraw $2,000 Danish kroner (about $400 US), so I went back to my room and grabbed a bunch of Euros I had left over from Finland. I traded these in at the bank for kroner along with about $240 US; that gave me an extra 2,000 kroner. Oh, and I tried to call my VISA credit card company, but I had trouble getting through from the room in my hotel, and the kid at reception wasn't too helpful, mainly due to language barriers (more on that later).

With enough kroner to get me by, I wandered around. I was a little under-dressed with those wicked winds. My pants, short-sleeve T-shirt, mock turtleneck and Australia cotton/polyester barely kept me warm, but I could've used another layer. I took as many pictures as possible because the next day the BBC weather website said to expect heavy rain.

Across the street from the bank was the big hotel in Nuuk, sandwiched between a convenience store and a sports store, with construction going on out front. I headed up to the fifth floor to their restaurant.

Great dinner! Service was top-notch. With my cold still going, I got hot tea. For a starter, I had scallops. Main course was rack of lamb. All outstanding. And I went a little crazy with the bread, so no room for dessert.

Afterwards, I headed back to the hotel apartment and lied low. There were tons of public housing around me. I wasn't sure what to expect, especially since the inside of my door jamb was carved up, as if somebody had tried to break in with a crowbar.

A few blocks from my hotel. (Nuuk, Greenland; July 4, 2011)

On Tuesday, I woke up before my alarm went off at 7 AM. It hadn't started raining yet. I headed two blocks to the downtown area where there's a supermarket, which I had visited a few times on Monday. Attached to it is a bakery that opened at 6:30. I got a square-shaped pastry about an inch thick and sugary in some parts. Yum.

Back in my room, I planned the day's itinerary. I wanted to start things right then and there at 8 AM, but most of Nuuk's few tourist spots don't open till 10.

Since I had time to kill, I headed to reception, which was only open from 8 AM to 4 PM, to pay my bill. It came out to 1,600 krona (about $300 US), which I paid in cash.

Real quick: it doesn't seem a lot of people here speak English. Presented a problem in some instances. And when they did speak, there was trouble communicating. For example, on Monday, the kid at reception said in order to pay my bill in cash I needed to go to the bank and make a "deposit". I thought I had to deposit the money in the hotel's account, but I found out on Tuesday he meant "withdraw". From what I read, Greenlandic is the primary language, followed by Danish (since Greenland is a republic of Denmark), then English.

Around 9:30 it started to rain. Lovely.

Around 10:30 or so, I called a cab to take me to the Nuuk Tourism office. It was only a 10-to-15-minute walk but I didn't feel like getting soaked, even though the wind wasn't as fierce as on Monday.

Nuuk Tourism didn't have any stamps for the postcards I had picked up the day before in what I believe is the city's only bookstore. Though I wished I had waited to buy the postcards at Nuuk Tourism because they had a better selection. Oh, well.

What was cool about Nuuk Tourism was in the back they had a little Santa workshop. Cute.

Then it was off in another taxi for downtown.

I withdrew another 2,000 kroner from the bank. Glad it took. I had feared it wouldn't let me do so because less than 24 hours had elapsed. Now I had plenty of money. No need to worry about using my credit cards. And my next (and last) stop will be Copenhagen, which uses kroner too.

I also hit the post office to get postage for the postcards. What's interesting about retail outlets is they make you take a number and you wait to be called. It happened here at the post office, the supermarket, the bank and the bakery. Oh, and what also caught my attention at the post office was all the electronics they sold. iPads, iPods, cameras, headphones, etc.

I then visited that sports store next to the hotel where I had dinner Monday night. Unfortunately, they didn't have any football jerseys.

By now it was 11:30 AM. I crossed the street to hit a cafe that recommended. It was over top a bar. Though the cafe was more like a restaurant. I ordered penne with chopped-up chicken in an Alfredo-like sauce. The hot green tea kept my cold in check, which is lingering.

I then realized I wanted to visit the Greenland National Museum; it's 50 yards from Nuuk Tourism. I'm so stupid! Should've went there before. Grrrr. . . .

The museum consisted of about five different buildings. Some interesting stuff in there, like a family of mummies from 500 to 1,000 years ago, and an exhibit on Norse farms, the latter which settled around 1,300 AD but eventually left because (it's assumed) either because of the weather or their goods weren't valued anymore by Europe. Fascinating stuff.

I then tried to walk back to the hotel. On the way, I took pictures of Nuuk's main church and some statues. But I got a little lost -- couldn't find the artery that led to my lodgings, so I hailed a cab.

When I got back to my room, I realized my camera was AWOL. Beautiful. I called the taxi company. About two hours later the driver returned with it. I couldn't believe I'd lost it because when I got out of the cab I remember making sure it was in my jacket pocket. Must've slipped out at the last second, and my last glance in the backseat didn't see it because the upholstery was black like my camera.

With that little piece of stupidity and drama behind me, I walked to Nuuk Art Museum, next store to my hotel. It didn't look like much from the outside but they have numerous rooms to display mostly modern artwork. Some of it blew me away. I especially liked these little white figures (should've asked what they're made out of). Some were quite horrific. They merged faces you might find on totem poles with bodies of seals or sharks.

I was really lucky to visit that museum. Apparently they're only open on Saturday and Sundays, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the summer.

Back at my hotel, I figured out how to download pictures from my camera to my computer. It's been so long since I've done so that it took awhile to figure it out. I had pictures on there going all the way back to August 2010. Downside of having a mega memory card -- I get lazy.

For dinner, I wanted to go to a restaurant down by Nuuk Tourism, but the Lonely Planet website said reservations were a must and I called several times. No dice. The phone rang and rang; one time it was busy. Around 6:30 I gave up. If it hadn't been raining I would've hiked a kilometer down the road to a cafe I saw on Monday, so instead I went to a pizzeria around the corner. Once again, language barriers prevented me from understanding the menu. Would've liked to gotten something different but the cashiers and I had a "failure to communicate", so I just pointed at the first thing on the menu, which turned out to be a plain pizza. Surprisingly, it was good, thanks to a soft crust and copious oregano cooked in the cheese.

I turned in around 9:30 PM, since I had to get up at 5 AM on Wednesday for my flight.

Before I go, one thing I noticed in Nuuk is the major Inuit population. That may not even be the proper term, since they've been Westernized. From what I read, about 10% of the population is Danish. I guess most of the Danes are here for work, since there's construction everywhere. Crazy.

Around the corner from my hotel apartment, a little after 7 AM. (Nuuk, Greenland; July 5, 2011)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Scandivavian vacay update

I just went back and added a photo for each day. Enjoy!

Reykjavík, Iceland

It's currently 12:30 PM, Iceland time, on Monday, July 4th. I'm on an Air Iceland plane bound for Nuuk, Greenland, the next-to-last stop on my Scandinavian summer vacation (yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, Greenland isn't technically part of Scandinavia, but it's close enough).

Back on Friday, I arrived in Iceland's capital, Reykjavík, to rainy weather. I hopped in a Flybus for about $20 US to take me into town -- a 45-minute/hour ride. The bus pulled into BSI Terminal. From there, I hopped on a smaller bus for a 5-to-10-minute ride to my lodgings. The bus dropped me off at the corner. I walked a half a block to Alf Guesthouse, whose theme is elves.

I saw no reception desk or anything, but a lodger told me on the second floor, room 5 had a Post It with "John". I threw my luggage in there and grabbed the skeleton key that was on the inside keyhole.

By this point, it was late afternoon. I wandered into town. As I had expected, Reykjavík is a sleepy city. It's about what you'd imagine a city with 120,000 residents; 200,000 if you include the surrounding six suburbs. The city centre has enough going on, but it definitely doesn't have the hustle and bustle of big Scandinavian cities I had already visited.

Since Reykjavík is a small city, the streets are easier to navigate. I found the main tourist office with little problem. I got a printout (the size of a receipt) of currency exchanges. One US dollar equals 114 Iceland Krona. And I asked an unsmiling girl behind the tourism desk where I could pick up some cold medicine, because on the flight I sensed a cold forming in my throat. She directed me to a pharmacy, but it was closing in 10 minutes at 6 PM.

I tried running to the pharmacy but I couldn't find out. I headed back towards the tourism office and cruised down one of Reykjavík's main commercial strips, Austurstraeti. I stopped at an ATM and got out 40,000 krona (about $350 US). I then got a little snack at a 24-hour convenience store.

Back at the guesthouse, or inn, I ran into the owner, Kristjan. I think he was expecting me to ring him when I arrived but I told I saw no reception desk or anything. On my last night there, I did see a black bell before the staircase. If that was how to contact him, it's interesting he didn't say anything.

Anyway, with my Lonely Planet travel book in hand, around 7 o'clock, I trekked in search of a recommended restaurant. I kinda took the long way. When I did find it, it was close to 8 PM, and there was at least a half-hour wait -- real small place.

I walked towards Austurstraeti and wound up on a touristy street called Skolavordustigur. Since I was staying in a city by the sea, I slid into a place that served seafood. As soon my feet crossed the threshold, I knew I was in the right place. ABBA played from the speakers.

I got a seat by the window and overheard that this restaurant just opened in April or May.

For an appetizer, the waitress brought over what looked like a two-ounce flower pot. Inside was some stuff that looked like soil (colored clay like the pot) with a small leafy thing jutting out. The waitress said to sink the spoon to the bottom. I did and there was some white, creamy stuff down there. It was good. Tasted like a dessert, but not too sweet.

For the main course, I got pasta and seafood. From the description on the menu, I thought it was going to be like linguine on a plate with some seafood. It turned out to be a salad served in a big brown bowl, which reminded me of something from Gilligan's Island. The salad didn't fill the whole bowl, just the bottom. The seafood was shrimp and, I think, lobster meat, covered by penne and lettuce. All of that sat in a sauce that looked like diluted Alfredo. Good stuff. And because the exchange rate is in America's favor, it only cost about $23 US or so.

Street I stayed on in Reykjavík. (Reykjavík, Iceland; July 1, 2011)

Saturday morning, I got up at 8 AM and headed down to the kitchen for the free breakfast, which lasted until 10 AM. I had cornflakes and a glass of orange juice. Afterwards, I paid my bill. The night before, Kristjan told me he preferred cash, so I gave him 33,00 krona (about $300 US for three nights) from my ATM withdrawal the night previous. I would have liked to charge it, but since I kinda got off on the wrong foot by not ringing him when I arrived, I figured I'd do cash. That left me with almost 700, so I'd have to count my kronas.

After breakfast, I finished doing my blog detailing my Oslo visit. And the inn had free wireless, which was nice.

Then, like on Friday night, I visited some souvenir shops. This time I did it on a new street, Laugavegur. My window-shopping had another purpose: I was killing time until the pharmacy opened at 11 AM.

After picking up some stuff at the pharmacy, I eventually found a store for the postcards to send home. Then it was off to another store where I got a football jersey and gift for my (now) six-year-old nephew. His birthday was on June 29. I got him a piece of cloth that you can use as a headband, scarf, cap, and a few other uses. Hopefully, he'll like it. The brand is Buff, which is his nickname.

Real quick: one thing I found interesting was how some of Reykjavík's one-way streets have no curbs. The sidewalks pretty much merge into the streets; you can see where they shift by the coloring and direction of the grey bricks, but it's easy to miss if you're not paying attention. Weird.

Anyway, for lunch, I picked up a sandwich and OJ at the 24-hour convenience store. I then bought a ticket from the tourism office for a Hop-On-Hop-Off bus ride.

Around 2:30, I stood under the blood-red Hop-On-Hop-Off bus shelter because it was drizzling. The tour, which goes in an 60-minute loop and departs at the top of the hour, passed me by at 3 PM because the stop was across the street. I thought the bus was going to U-turn and pick me wrong. My mistake. Kinda weird how they have a bus shelter but no buses stop at it. Guess it's just an advertisement.

So I took the 4 PM tour, last one for the day. It was nice. Took some pictures. Since Reykjavík isn't all that big, there were only about six stops or so.

For dinner, I stopped in the Laundromat Cafe on Austurstraeti. They have a sign out front that says something like: "Feel free to breastfeed here. We like boobs and babies!"

To take a break from the seafood scene, I got a veggie burger, which came with deep-fried steak fries. And since my cold was starting to kick in overdrive, I drank Camellia tea.

Afterwards, I hit a cafe about a half a kilometer away down by this lake. Oddly enough, there were a lot of Americans there. I didn't contribute much to the conversation because my cold deposited a deafening hum in my head. I hung out for about an hour, until 8 PM.

Back at the guesthouse, I heated up a small cup of water for the medicine I had picked up at the pharmacy. It was supposed to be good for the throat and was a sedative. I drank it and went to bed a little after 9 PM. I slept soundlessly for a solid five hours before it was time for a bladder break. The complete opposite of Friday night, when I tossed and turned. Maybe it was all the light spilling in the room thanks to the thin white curtains. The sun only sets from 11 PM to 3 AM in July, and from what I heard, it doesn't go completely dark during those four hours.

Me getting arty with a pic of the lake about a kilometer from my lodgings. (Reykjavík, Iceland; July 2, 2011)

On Sunday, after breakfast, I headed down to the dock where they have whale-watching tours. Unlike Saturday, when it was cloudy, Sunday it was raining. My umbrella wasn't much help, thanks to the 20-mph winds. Originally, I had wanted to do a volcano-viewing tour, but you need to take a bus that takes three hours to get there. Not my idea of fun, besides they left at 9 AM, and it was now 9:30.

Before I could go whale watching, I would at least need a wool hat (or as the McKenzie Brothers call it, a tuque). Had to buy one first, and maybe later it would warm a little.

Here's the thing about Reykjavík. It never gets warm. My whole time there, the temperature never went above 59 degrees. And it looks like in the winter it's usually no colder than 30 degrees. Not too bad, but it looks like it's frequently drizzling. The locals seem use to it, 'cause hardly any carry umbrellas. Rain slickers seem to be mandatory if you're gonna live there.

One more thing: for a city of 100,000, I didn't see a lot of locals on the streets. Tons of tourists, but not a lot of Reykjavík residents. I mean, there were some, but for their population size I thought there'd be more people out on the weekend. Maybe they spend a lot of time indoors. Then again, the city is pretty spread out.

Anyway, I had brought only about a week's worth of clothes, so it was time to do laundry. Reykjavík only has two laundromats. One is at the City Hostel, where it's drop-off service only. The other one is -- you saw it coming -- the Laundromat Cafe. I got there at 10 AM, when they supposedly opened, but the top floor, the cafe, was half-full. I headed downstairs to the laundromat, and that's when the fun began ;)

They only have three washers and three dyers. Only two washers and one dryer worked. Glad I got there early, because a good number of tourists had laundry to do. I had two loads to do, and didn't get out of there until 3 PM. On the plus side, I spoke with some cool blokes. One was an engineer, I think, who'd been in Reykjavík for eight weeks. He grew up in Rochester, New York, was now based in Atlanta, and his wife lived in the Middle East. He said he was applying for a permanent visa to live in Iceland. Once he hands in the paperwork, he has to leave the country, so he'll vacation with one of his two 20-something sons in France or Germany. He voiced his perplexity over having to leave while they review his application -- no other country he's lived in is like that. Later, I thought that it made sense. Having you leave is smart because if they reject your application, you can't go into hiding. Although, they'd probably find you in a country of 300,000, where about half lives in the capital region.

After dropping my laundry off in my room, I headed to Laugavegur, where I had seen a store on Saturday boasting that they were members of The Handknitting Association of Iceland. Funny stuff. What wasn't funny that now they were closed. Bummer. I wanted to buy a hat for a whale-watching tour.

By now, it was raining, so I wasn't in the mood to be on boat for three hours, so I chilled back at the guesthouse. Around seven I headed back to Laugavegur, where a restaurant had caught my eye, Hereford Steakhouse. They had two specials going on: one with whale, the other with puffin. Guess which one I went with? That's right, if you can't watch whales, you might as well eat 'em!

The place was really nice. Very spacious, dim lighting, plentiful servers, and it's on top of a boutique.

The starter was lobster soup with cognac. Main meal featured whale pepper steak -- colored violet on the inside, and very fatty in some parts, but good. Dessert was Icelandic Skyr Herefordstyle -- lots of creaming stuff with small strawberries and a blueberry, and a scoop of pink ice cream (sherbert?).

I spent the remainder of the evening back at the guesthouse, gearing up for my flight to Greenland on Monday. Oh, and Murphy's Law was in full effect for that trip. Details in the next blog post.

Trees need to keep warm too during those cool Iceland summers! (Reykjavík, Iceland; July 3, 2011)