Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Culture that is Germany VII

Reuters Berlin, how I love you. You give me what I need:

"German tourists can now reserve their poolside recliners before they have even left home.

The German arm of Thomas Cook, Europe's second largest travel company, has been deluged with inquiries since announcing that holidaymakers at nine hotels in Turkey, Egypt and the Canary Islands can book recliners in advance for a fee.

Germans are famous around Europe for rising early to reserve recliners near the pool with their towels, and then going back to bed or eating a lengthy breakfast.

This often annoys tourists from other nations, but they will be unable to take advantage of the new service -- it is valid only for tourists booking their trips from Germany, Mathias Brandes, head of communications at Thomas Cook in Germany, said."

To quote Mungowitz's students: "ooh, nein!"

I guess I lead a sheltered life but, who in the world goes on holiday to camp out at the hotel pool all day? That said, given that one really wanted to camp out at the hotel pool, who in the world would let an obviously unattended towel deter them from doing so? People, just take Franz's towel, put it in the towel hamper, move "his" chair to a different area of the pool and enjoy the good life!!

Friday, July 24, 2009


1. Hillary Clinton, by North Korea: “We cannot but regard Mrs. Clinton as a funny lady, as she likes to utter such rhetoric, unaware of the elementary etiquette in the international community,” the North Korean statement said. “Sometimes she looks like a primary schoolgirl and sometimes a pensioner going shopping.”

2. Lance Armstrong by Alberto Contador: First he smoked Lance in the mountains, then he dusted him in the individual time trial. Alberto has the tour locked up and Lance is struggling to get onto the podium. Alberto also has the great advantage that he could be doping like crazy but the Frenchies had Lance so much they'd never bust him for it.

3. The Tampa Bay Rays by Mark Buehrle: A perfect game!

4. President O by his party's congressional delegations: No health care bill vote before the recess. Don't you all think "recess" is a perfect term for Congressional breaks?

Party, and the Fußball Jersey

So, we finally had the "American BBQ" party, tuesday night. Weather was great, we cooked a ton of hot dogs and chicken, had potato salad, some really first rate salsa (thanks to der Geist!), and two big and quite tasty wassermelon. Oh, and we had 30 liters of Steinbachbrau in a big wooden keg, and a lot of bottles. Plenty to do. Party lasted until 1:15 am, and then I had to set my alarm for 5:00 am to come back and clean up, before the owners of the property saw all the cigarette butts and beer bottles. On the way home at 1:15 am, I realized that one does not know how much beer one has had until one tries to ride home in total darkness at 1:15 am. (I had torn off my bike generator somehow, trying to set it against the wheel).

The kids in my classes had put in (thanks, especially, to Tim G and Sebastian F) for an official German jersey. It is quite a nice jersey, and personalized, as you see.
I noticed the guys were giggling and punching each other, in that, "You tell him." "No, YOU tell him!" way that guys have.

Then, they told me: The number on the jersey has special significance. It is "09" in honor of the year I taught at Erlangen. But it is also what they imagined was the usual answer I got when *I* was in college, when I asked a girl to dance at a party. That is, she said, "OHHHH....nein."

What ever happened to respect for the professoriate?

(Credit to Robert U for the fotos)

Thursday, July 23, 2009


1. Best.Meal.Ever.

2. Happy days are here again?

3. Bears are better than beards!

4. When did Tyler become a behavioral economist?

What I've been reading

1. American Shaolin. I really enjoyed this book, as did Mrs. Angus. A first person account of a skinny Princeton religion major going to China and training with the Monks of Shaolin Temple. Funny and insightful.

2. 1491. Terrific book about revisionist history of the Americas pre - "contact". This is a must read if you've not yet done so. Dense but way good.

3. The Book of Dave. I have to admit that despite his many faults, I am in the tank for Will Self. Parts of this novel are excellent, and parts really bite the big one. All in all I'm glad I read it, but I can't say "drop everything and read this book" like I can about #s 1 and 2 (However I can say that about "The Quantity Theory of Insanity" and "My Idea of Fun" by Self).

Hurry up and wait

I have been avoiding posting on anything serious lately because I promised Mrs. A after seeing all the jaguars we did in Brazil that I would be in a good mood for 6 months!

One thing that I do find interesting is the clash between the supposed urgency of political action and the implementation of policy that is contained inside the action plan.

Consider first the stimulus bill. President O insisted in fast action using semi-apocalyptic rhetoric to help insure very quick passage. Later, as unemployment rose faster than original no-stimulus projections, and people were either labeling the bill a failure or calling for a second stimulus, President O pointed out, correctly, that it was way too early to judge the bill, because the main chunk of spending wouldn't hit the economy until the second quarter of 2010!

Does anyone beside me think that is funny? By then, according to most forecasts, we should be into a recovery. Hey, maybe that's why fiscal policy is often pro-cyclical? So it will seem like it's working?

It seems like the same course is being taken with health care reform. The cause is urgent, action must be taken now, but I am pretty sure that many of the proposals in the bills under consideration do not take effect until years after passage!

It will be interesting to see if "hurry up and wait" works again.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Robert DeNiro's waiting

One great new trend this summer is the celebrity life coach.

1. Consider how Denzel Washington has apparently convinced Chad Johnson to turn his frown upside down!

2. I believe supermodel Joanna Krupa was so effective at motivating TO that the Buffalo Bills are thinking of hiring her as their receivers coach .

Trade That Americans Want

Wow. This guy is either a crazed, protectionist demagogue,or an idiot.

And I don't think he is an idiot.

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - The United States wants a robust trade policy that is in the interest of its people and the "Buy American" campaign will not violate World Trade Organization commitments, Trade Representative Ron Kirk said on Wednesday.

Kirk was speaking after Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) countries agreed in a two-day trade discussion in Singapore to shun protectionist measures, saying it would be a setback for the global economy.

"We would like a robust trade policy that is one that American people believe operates fairly in their favor as opposed to just the interest of one well as protecting the rights of workers that helps us to implement the president's number one objective that is to put Americans back to work," he said.


Hardees Ad: New Breakfast Food

Why, as a child, I dreaded Sundays

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Culture that is Germany VI

I am having a hard time believing that this one is real:

"German police said on Monday that they have arrested one of two British men suspected of selling bags that they said held laptops and mobile phones but which in reality contained potatoes.

Authorities believe the pair tricked around 40 people in two German states driving around in a car with British number plates, convincing them to hand over cash for the electronic hardware but giving them spuds instead.

A shopowner in Hildesheim near Hanover telephoned the police on Friday after becoming suspicious -- he had read in the paper about swindlers in a right-hand-drive car -- but the two men left the scene.

Later the same day in the same town the two men were attempting to sell laptops to a group of people that included, unfortunately for them, someone who had come across them before and who then also rang the police.

"The police were quickly at the scene but the two suspected con men fled ... They sped down Kaiserstrasse in their metallic green Opel, going through several red lights and endangering other road users," police said.

The 32-year-old man was arrested after the chase ended but the second man, aged 20 and whom the police have since identified, was able to flee on foot despite being trailed by a police helicopter. They believe he may be armed."

All this seems impossible but the article says "around 40 people" were tricked. Which leads me to wonder: Do laptops in Germany usually come in bags? Are they ovoid and lumpy? Are German mobile phones 4-5 inches thick and do they smell like dirt? Who buys a "bag of mobile phones" without looking in the bag first? What about a reverse scam, where you sell people "bags of potatoes" that actually only contain mobile phones?

"phone call for Dr. Pangloss!"

Yeah, there's an app for that!

Charges Dropped on "Friend"

The story continues to develop. The one about the prison therapist and the guy that she shot, I mean. Her name is Rider; his is Friend.

Rider shot Friend near his heart on April 21 after an altercation in front of his grandmother's house. She has not been charged.

On May 1, she asked for and received a domestic violence protective order. Friend said the couple soon reunited, however. He was then arrested in June for violating the order.

Carrie Randa, the assistant district attorney handling the case, said Rider had admitted to prosecutors that she invited Friend to live with her, even though she had earlier requested the restraining order.

"He had been staying with her for quite a few weeks before the charges came up," Randa said. "It's a difficult sell to a judge when the victim invites the person into the home to live there and to stay with them."

Yes, it is difficult. Psychiatrist, heal thyself. As I said, my sympathies are with her, but still. The guy may be a manipulative, abusive snake. If so, then stop asking him to come live with you.

On the other hand, she shot him in the back. I think he needs to get away from her.

The Books of Summer

So, I do get some chances to read. Quite a few, in fact. The last five books I have read are kind of a mixed group, no theme I can think of. In alpha order of last name of author:

Milton Friedman and Anna Schwartz, A MONETARY HISTORY OF THE US, 1867-1960, Princeton. I picked it up just to glance through it again, having read it years ago. But I found myself reading it closely. The history of the Great Depression, as opposed to the crap mythology of the Great Roosevelt pandered by Krugman, et al., is worth looking at again.

Hartmut Kliemt, PHILOSOPHY AND ECONOMICS I: METHODS AND MODELS, Oldenbourg-Verlag. Not a light summer read, but a very fine introduction to a lot of difficult literature. Dr. Kliemt is one of my favorite people, and this is quite a useful book. It is a nice companion, I think to Jerry Gaus's book from two years ago, ON PHILOSOPHY, POLITICS, AND ECONOMICS.

Paul Levinson, THE PLOT TO SAVE SOCRATES, Tor Books. A nice premise, one that I have actually always wondered about (and given to undergrads as an assignment): What if Crito had not been a fat drunk bozo? Wasn't there a way to save Socrates? Now, this book is about time travel, and raises some interesting questions about same. But if you are a fan of the classics, this might be a summer sci-fi bon-bon for you. Certainly not a timeless classic, however.

Simon Majumdar, EAT MY GLOBE, Free Press. "One Year to Go Everywhere and Eat Everything." This guy has exactly my sense of humor, and a real desire to eat strange things. And his stories of world travel in search of strange things to eat make mine seem tame and easy. Terrific book.

Mary Roach. BONK: THE CURIOUS COUPLING OF SCIENCE AND SEX. Norton. Mary is a great author, combining sextensive serious research* and the sense of humor of a 17 year old boy in a locker room. The details here are just the best. Consider this footnote, from p. 60:
"In 1998, a woman from Saline, Michigan received a patent for a Decorative Penile Wrap intended to "heighten sexual arousal of a male and female prior to intercourse." The patent includes three pages of drawings, including a penis wearing a ghost outfit, another in the robes of the Grim Reaper, and one dressed up to look like a snowman. I tried to call the examiner listed on the patent, Michael A. Brown, but he has left the US Patent and Trade Office. And who can blame him?"
For days after reading this, I could not stop myself from humming: "Penis, the Snowman, was a jolly happy soul. Thumpety thump thump. Thumpety thump thump." To be fair, there is also a lot of quite serious review of the history and meaning of sex research in the book, some of it remarkable, and some of it bordering on clearly insane.

LAGNIAPPE: I am about 1/3 of the way through rereading Paul Johnson's HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE. Opinionated, and pretty tough on a lot of established dear-to-the-left conceptions of the Founding. But full of terrific observations, large and small. One of the great things about being old is that you can reread a book, and it's like it is brand new. 'Cause I do not remember a lot of this, at all.

*This was actually a real typo. I just left it, because it amused me.

Monday, July 20, 2009

It just gets people in NC

So, the story gets betters. I mentioned before that the prison psychiatrist, after taking an inmate as a lover, ended up shooting him.

Some new interesting facts:

1. She shot him in the BACK, as he was getting out of the car, at his grandmother's house. Yeah, they were arguing, and he may have threatened her. But she shot him in the back.

2. She had a restraining order against the guy. Fair enough. Except that she decided she liked him, and drove him to the beach for a little swimming and recreation. Ladies, a hint: Restraining orders and little romantic trips to the beach, in the same week, constitute sending mixed signals. We men are just not that bright. So we can't figure out just what it is that you are telling us.

My sympathies pretty much always reside with the woman, in these cases. But how crazy must this woman be?


Two thumbs up, way up, for Wien.

We went on a six hour bike ride yesterday, around the city, on rented bikes. Now, 1 hour and 45 minutes of that time was spent at an outdoor "beach" beside the Danube canal, having a nicely chilled Gruner Weltliner, and soaking up the sun in a nice breeze. So it was not THAT arduous. And since you can turn in the rental bikes at one of many drop-off sites, and then get new bikes when you are ready to continue, that's all good. Very, very good.

On Saturday, it was a special day. It has been very warm here in Austria. So, I arrive, and the temperature drops from 28 to 14 for the high, with 40+ km/hr winds. We hid out in museums. Fortunately, Vienna has one or two museums to choose from, and so this was not unpleasant.

At breakfast yesterday, on Sunday, GameBill and I met the real life Bruno. Or not Bruno, actually. This young man was extremely fit, extremely well dressed (he was a waiter), and had the most beautifully applied eye and face make-up I have ever seen. You know how some women wear too much make-up, and it looks bad? Well, this fellow had on too much make-up, I suppose, except that it was so beautifully applied that it looked really good. I found him very attractive, and I'm not gay. So, Bruno, eat your heart out: The real thing is alive and well in Vienna, and hotter than you are.

I should note, in terms of contrast, that GameBill and I had just come from a mass at the St. Stephans Dom, where a large choir had performed Mozart's Missa Brevis (I think it was Missa Brevis in G, but will have to look it up). It's short, and rather pretty. To hear it as part of a mass at the Dom....a fine way to start your Sonntag.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Culture that is Germany V

I was thinking about callin this post either, "I'm in love with you honey, but not that much!", or "Susanne Klatten is my ATM!". Here is the story from Reuters, and it's a good 'un.

"German police arrested three men suspected of attempting to blackmail Susanne Klatten, the country's wealthiest woman, by claiming they had a secret video of her affair with a Swiss gigolo, prosecutors said Friday.

Munich state prosecutor Thomas Steinkraus-Koch said the trio had been arrested last week by police in the northern town of Duisburg on suspicion of trying to extort 800,000 euros and a BMW luxury SUV from Klatten, heiress to the BMW empire.

"They sent a letter to her threatening to give the sex video they claimed to have to Italian media if she did not give them 800,000 euros and a BMW," Steinkraus-Koch told Reuters, adding that Klatten immediately forwarded the letter to police.

"We assume the story about the video was contrived. At least we have found no evidence of any such video after searching their apartments and computers. There is nothing to suggest they ever were in possession of such a sex video."

The three men aged 33 to 46 -- including one German and one Serb -- were contacted by a police officer posing as an acquaintance of Klatten, he said. They set up a contact phone number for the blackmailers and that led to their arrest.

Klatten, a member of the Quandt family -- the leading shareholders in carmaker BMW -- went public last year with the story of how her Swiss lover secretly shot intimate footage and later demanded tens of million of euros not to reveal it.

Helg Sgarbi, a former Swiss investment banker, was sentenced to six years in jail by a Munich court after he admitted he had seduced Klatten and three other wealthy women. He persuaded them to pay him nearly 10 million euros under various false pretexts.

Sgarbi, a Swiss army lieutenant, won over Klatten, a 46-year-old married mother of three, at a health centre.

She later handed him a cardboard box containing 7 million euros in 500 euro notes, believing he had paralysed a child in a traffic accident in America and was in need of the money.

Klatten ended the relationship after Sgarbi, 44, demanded more money. He responded by threatening to send photos and tapes of their hotel-room rendezvous to colleagues, family and media unless she gave him 49 million euros. She then went to police.

Klatten's wealth is estimated by Forbes magazine at almost $10 billion (6.1 billion pounds), making her the 68th richest person in the world.

The Quandt dynasty had close ties to the Nazi party and built its fortune supplying German army and railway worker uniforms. The first wife of Klatten's grandfather went on to marry Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels.

In March, a truck driver from Bochum tried to blackmail Klatten with a similar claim. He was seeking 75,000 euros and is now on trial in Munich for attempted blackmail."

So the actual sex tape dude ends up going to prison for extorting more money from Ms. Klatten and this inspires multiple other people to also try and extort money from her? I think they somehow took the wrong moral from the original story!

Does this oboe make me look fat?

“It’s annoying when people complain about the money,” the Vermont-based counselor Dr. Michele Hernandez, said. “I’m at the top of my field. Do people economize when they have a brain tumor and are looking for a neurosurgeon? If you want to go with someone cheaper, or chance it, don’t hire me.”

And what field is that you ask? Well it's college admissions counseling, for lack of a better term:

"Dr. Hernandez, a former Dartmouth admissions officer, says she counsels as many as 25 students in each high school grade each year. She also offers four-day “boot camps” every August in a Boston hotel, charging 40 incoming high school seniors as much as $14,000 each."

This is from an uproariously funny NYT article on the independent college counselor market, where people can pay "upwards of $40,000" for advice on how to get their kids into the college of their dreams.

There are three things I think are really funny here.

The first is that there is actually a market for this. College admissions involves filling out forms! These people are I guess life coaches (another occupation that astounds me by its existence) for 14 - 17 year olds, telling them exactly what to do so they will be able to write the proper magical things on the admissions forms.

The second thing funny thing to me is how bent out of shape people get about what college their kids go to. While it is true that certain colleges give one a leg up in the "real world", it is actually possible to go to almost any college and do well for oneself. I went to Cedarville College in rural Ohio, ended up at Washington University in St. Louis for grad school (by way of Miami of Ohio, my grandparents could never figure out what state I was actually living in) and have a career and life far beyond anything I'd imagined as a kid. And I am no big deal in any sense of the word.

Mungowitz went to Davidson in rural NC, then Wash U and is now Chair of Duke's polysci dept. John List went to Wisconsin Stevens-Point, got his PhD from the University of Wyoming, took his first job at Central Florida and became a full professor in Chicago's economics department within 10 years of getting his doctorate. Nathan Nunn went to Simon Fraser, then grad school at the University of Toronto, first job at the University of British Columbia and is now an assistant professor at Harvard!

If you raise your kids to think independently and love learning, where they go to college just isn't such a big deal.

The third funny thing to me is people who insist on being called "Doctor". In the opening quote it's always Dr. Hernandez. Angus' law of titles is "the more bogus the degree, the more people insist on being addressed by the title", so I assumed hers was either honorary or in education (which is kind of a distinction without a difference). Sure enough, I looked her up and she has a "doctorate in education from Nova Southeastern University". Sweet!!!!