Thursday, November 27, 2014

Quote of the Day

Marriage is like a cage; one sees the birds outside desperate to get in, and those inside equally desperate to get out.
- Michel De Montaigne

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Quote of the Day

When humor goes, there goes civilization.
- Erna Bombeck

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Quote of the Day

History is a vast early warning system.
- Norman Cousins

Monday, November 24, 2014

Quote of the Day

I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.
- Robert A. Heinlein

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Quote of the Day

Theology is but the ignorance of natural causes reduced to a system.
- Baron Paul Henri T. d'Holbach

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Quote of the Day

Restlessness and discontent are the first necessities of progress.
- Thomas Alva Edison

Friday, November 21, 2014

Quote of the Day

The same prudence which in private life would forbid our paying our own money for unexplained projects, forbids it in the dispensation of the public monies.
- Thomas Jefferson

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Quote of the Day

I generally avoid temptation unless I can't resist it.
- Mae West

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Quote of the Day

To think too long about doing a thing often becomes its undoing.
- Eva Young

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Quote of the Day

Formerly a public man needed a private secretary for a barrier between himself and the public. Nowadays he has a press secretary to keep him properly in the public eye.
- Daniel J. Boorstin

Monday, November 17, 2014

Quote of the Day

A man is as good as he has to be, and a woman as bad as she dares.
- Elbert Hubbard

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Quote of the Day

The declaration which says that God visits the sins of the fathers upon the children is contrary to every principle of moral justice.
- Thomas Paine

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Quote of the Day

If you're hanging around with nothing to do and the zoo is closed, come over to the Senate. You'll get the same kind of feeling and you won't have to pay.
- Bob Dole

Friday, November 14, 2014

Quote of the Day

No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.
- H.L. Mencken

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Quote of the Day

Law and justice are not always the same. When they aren't, destroying the law may be the first step toward changing it.
- Gloria Steinem

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Quote of the Day

Expecting something for nothing is the most popular form of hope.
- Arnold Glasow

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Quote of the Day

Laus est facere quod decet, non quod licet
[It is commendable to do what is right, not what is legal]
- Cicero

Last odds and ends from Vienna

Downtown Vienna is full of horse carriages which will take you anywhere, no doubt for twice the price and thrice the time it takes to get a taxi to drive you there.
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Strange woman greeting guests at the Böhmenwald.
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Here we have a contemporary image of the composer Brahms, drunk out of his thick, Germanic skull, with his local groupie of the day... some floozy in a state of undress and not a small degree of inebriation if I'm any judge. Not that I am.
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I just love this: It is not permitted to "drink excessive amounts of alcohol" on the subway/underground. But a little refreshener is ok.
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From the City Museum - one of three (as far as I could tell) miniature models of the city.
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This is a painting of some royal prince and his siblings. If I'd seen something as hideous as this crawling my way I would have hacked them all to death with a shovel, screaming the whole time, till they were all dead... and then some.
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Monday, November 10, 2014

Quote of the Day

Originality is the art of concealing your source.
- Franklin P. Jones

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Quote of the Day

Heathen: A benighted creature who has the folly to worship something that he can see and feel.
- Ambrose Bierce

Foooooood

Some assorted pics from meals we had.

From the first cafe, near Stefansplatz. Notice the teetotaler and his Almdudler. And notice his drunkard colleagues and their glasses of liquid sin.
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This is from the window of a chocolatier. The Viennese are big on cake and chocolate.
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The cakes on display at the Kahlenberg cafe. I was torn between apple cake and strawberry and had just enough shame in me not to get both (meaning there were witnesses). Now I shall always wonder how their apple cake tastes.
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The pheasant I had in Grinzing. Yummylicious.
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My last meal in Vienna was at a restaurant called Böhmerwald. I chose the Czech national dish "Sviszkove ne smetana e knedliky" (I may have the spelling wrong). A slab of meat in a sweet and sour sauce, a dollop of jam and cream and potato dumplings. I must be one of the few non-Czechs to love this. The waitress' face lit up when I ordered it and when I said "djakojem" (= thanks in Czech) she answered back in Czech. It wasn't just a lovely meal; the taste reminded me of Prague and all the lovely times I've had in that beautiful, beautiful city.
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The interior of the Böhmerwald. I heartily recommend the place.
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Saturday, November 8, 2014

Quote of the Day

It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys of London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.
- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, "The Copper Beeches"

Excursion to Kahlenberg and Grinzing

Friday, I decided to get adventurous and go up north to the very edge of town, to Kahlenberg, whence there was supposed to be a grand view of the city. I casually mentioned this at breakfast, and suddenly I had half a dozen people who wanted to join. We first went by underground, then the city tram and finally a local bus up to Kahlenberg. There's an old church there, a very pricey hotel and a nice cafe, where we stuffed face - I went for hot chocolate and strawberry cake myself. We then took the bus down to the cozy little town of Grinzing and walked around a little bit before stuffing ourselves mightily in the local restaurant "Brandl". I chose pheasant and I chose well. Others had wild boar sausage and all pronounced their food good.

The views from Kahlenberg were indeed grand, but the weather wasn't the best. The hill itself is outside the city limits, while Grinzing is inside.
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The great river Danube aka Donau flows through Vienna. The Austrians dug out a second arm to alleviate the periodic flooding and they also have a Donau Canal that runs through the town center.
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Grinzing was full of really cozy, old buildings.
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I think this building was possibly the whitest I've ever seen, it was almost radiant.
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Cozy, narrow, one-way street.
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This grand old house, from 1527, was the residence of the Namibian ambassador. We saw lots of houses along the way up to Kahlenberg that looked like they came from old money.
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Strange looking straw bunny at the Brandl. Not sure if it's cute or eerie.
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Friday, November 7, 2014

Quote of the Day

All men are equal; it is not birth, but virtue alone, that makes the difference.
- Voltaire

More from Vienna

I've mentioned that Vienna is a grand city with lots of monumental buildings. Here's a small selection of stuff I found picworthy.

This is the remains of a Roman structure, almost 2,000 years old. The fortress of Vindobona was built to guard against the northern Celts.
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Cool detail on one of the umpteen fountains of the city.
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Very cool detail on one of the city's academic institutions.
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One of the many shopping streets in the old city center, or the "Inner Stadt".
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On a large square in the historically Jewish parts of town stands this memorial to the more than 65,000 Jews killed during WW2.
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The central synagogue in Vienna, with the Israeli embassy next door. Our guide told us one is not allowed to stop for too long outside, and armed police are patrolling the street 24/7. Almost 70 years after the end of WW2, this is how it is. Meshuga.
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Old church just outside the Inner Stadt.
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Thursday, November 6, 2014

Quote of the Day

What is ominous is the ease with which some people go from saying that they don't like something to saying that the government should forbid it. When you go down that road, don't expect freedom to survive very long.
- Thomas Sowell

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Quote of the Day

The avoidance of taxes is the only intellectual pursuit that carries any reward.
- John Maynard Keynes

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Quote of the Day

An election is nothing more than an advance auction of stolen goods.
- Ambrose Bierce

Monday, November 3, 2014

Quote of the Day

Practical politics consists in ignoring facts.
- Henry Brooks Adams

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Quote of the Day

Evangelist: A bearer of good tidings, particularly (in a religious sense) such as assure us of our own salvation and the damnation of our neighbours.
- Ambrose Bierce

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Quote of the Day

My mind says "Get up and get active." Then my body begins to laugh.
- Jim Davis, "Garfield"

Friday, October 31, 2014

Quote of the Day

A gossip is someone who talks to you about others, a bore is someone who talks to you about himself, an excellent conversationalist is someone who talks to you about you.
- Lisa Kirk

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Quote of the Day

I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.
- Thomas Watson, Chairman of IBM, 1943

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Quote of the Day

Happiness: a good bank account, a good cook and a good digestion.
- Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Quick update from Vienna

So I went to Vienna last week. From Wednesday to Sunday I painted the town red, along with around 50 colleagues from my high school. We left the pupils to fend for themselves as best they could and if there were fewer of them when we got back, then, hey! Fewer papers to grade!

Wednesday I walked on my own two wobbly, neuropathy-stricken feet from the hotel, which was just north of the new central station, into town, accompanied by about half a dozen others. Just a few blocks from the very center of Vienna, the Stefansplatz, we found a small watering hole which subsequently became my regular haunts.

When I left after appx. four hours, I'd had exactly one sandwich and one large glass of Almdudler, an Austrian soda with a surprisingly good flavor. My colleagues had had six pints of beer and four shots of liquor... each. I believe there was some white wine in there as well.

The next day I got up bright and early and after a hearty breakfast I again walked downtown to attend a guided city walk. I was in the group where the focus was to be on relatively modern Austrian history, but more than half the time was still spent on old stuff. I knew most of what was told to me on an intellectual level, but seeing the places and hearing a native talk about these things, gave the information a whole other dimension.

It's difficult when you're from a tiny, insignificant nation on the edge of Europe to fathom the cosmopolitan nature of Vienna; the history and culture and degree of sophistication (and perhaps a tough of arrogance) of the population and how all this came crashing down around their ears.

First, one of the major powerbrokers of Europe and the personal domain of the ruling Habsburg family, The Holy Roman Empire (which, just to add some confusion, was mainly German) came to an end in 1806, as more and more of Europe wanted independence from the late 1700s on and the Austrians got bitchslapped by Napoleon at Austerlitz.

Its successor, the Austrian Empire (later the Austrian-Hungarian Empire) reasserted itself as a major power until the whole thing came crashing down after the First World War, which began after a Serbian eejit murdered the Empire's crown prince and the even worse eejits, the Russians, had to stick their greedy little noses into other people's affairs with disastrous results (for a recent example, see Putin, Vladimir). Anyways, the borders from that little event still haven't settled and it can be argued that both the 2nd Word War and most of the more recent shit going down in the Balkans can be traced back to the Empire and the way it was dissolved.

Vienna was dirt poor and full of refugees after World War I, and most of the city was bombed to pieces during WW2. The Imperial capital that once was the fifth most populous city in Europe, the place from which large parts of the continent and for a while even South America, was run, was now a mid-sized town in a rather smallish and utterly insignificant country on the edge of civilized Europe. Vast tracts of the old empire lay behind the iron curtain, under the crushing burden of Communism for almost 50 years.

In short, I'm not sure that I'm intellectually and emotionally equipped to understand the mentality and the self-image of the population in a country and a city that went from a contender for the title of capital of Europe, to basically a museum in a generation or two. Hitler, an Austrian by birth, walked the streets of Vienna while trying to make it as painter, and he grew to hate the Habsburgs and the international flavor of the empire and of course the wealth and power he saw on display while he himelf lived the cliche of the starving artist. Nothing good came of that experience.

Still, let me say something about the present state of Vienna. While not (at least to my mind) quite up to the standards of Prague, which is still the most beautiful city in the world (TM), Vienna is very, very beautiful. There are literally tons upon tons of old, momumental buildings, and of monuments to long forgotten wars, battles, kings and generals, and just walking around downtown you definitely get a feel for what it must have been back in the day - and I didn't even get around to seeing some of the most famous castles, such as the Schönbrunn. I've also seldom been to a place of size where I so immediately got a feel for the outlay of the city and how to get from A to B. I can heartily recommend a trip here, and I'm definitely going back to explore further.

The Viennese themselves are a mix of Austrians and people from all over the old Empire. There are lots of people with Czech, Polish or Hungarian background, it still has an important Jewish congregation and in addition they've recently gotten a lot of people from the former Yugoslavia and Arabs too. I still can't quite understand why they've collectively decided that all the grocery shops need to close at 8PM on weekdays and 6:30 on Saturdays, but that's their loss.

It is a fairly relaxed city with very little crime for its size. The Austrians don't believe in public health fascism, so smoking is still allowed in pubs and cafes and stuffing face with cake is a popular pastime there... as is the pan-Germanic tradition of beer guzzling. I'll post more text later, including more pics.

This monumental building is the Staatsoper, the national opera house of Vienna. It was bombed to smithereens during WW2, but quickly rebuilt, as the local population (or at least their benevolent politicians) couldn't go for long without culture.
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War monument just behind the opera house.
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In the 30s, Jews were made to scrub the streets. Often, onlookers would cheer and throw stuff at them. I never said the Viennese were delightful people.
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The headquarters of the Spanish riding school, where the famous Lipizzan horses can be found. I believe the stables are just across the road.
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From this relatively modest building, an empire was run.
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The residence of the current President of Austria.
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This enormous building is the Austrian National Library. Never let it be said they don't appreciate culture down there.
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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Quote of the Day

The world is content with setting right the surface of things.
- John Henry Newman