3 April 2018: Denkmal
“So, how was Vienna?” asked my Dutch physiotherapist the day after my long Easter Weekend in the city.
A tough question. I explained to him that my wife and I were constantly reminded of Bonn and Berlin. It was easy to forget we were in Austria, not Germany. Little wonder that prior to German Confederation in 1871, debate raged about whether Austria should be included (Bismarck and the Prussians categorically saying “nein” to a unified Germany under Austrian Habsburg rule). In any case, I explained we were both expecting more of a baroque fairytale land with old narrow streets that you could imagine a champagne and snuff addled Mozart staggering along. I think, though, because we are living in Paris surrounded by block after block of creamy beaux-arts architectural grandeur, little else seems too impressive in comparison.
On top of that, I told him the usual blah blah about gorging on schnitzel, goulash, bratwurst, etc., while swilling Austrian beer, which also may as well have been German. Also, that I had neither seen so many horse drawn carriages in one city (I liked the little black bowler hats the drivers wore but small wonder the streets are not ankle-deep in horseshit) nor such stratospheric ceilings as found in the famous Coffee Houses. I blathered a bit about Klimt, Schiele, and Kokoschka at the Leopold Museum and Hunderdwasser. I admitted my ignorance about the Danube River starting in the Black Forest and draining into the Black Sea after flowing eastwards through ten countries. But what I got heated about was stumbling across the Soviet War Memorial, a 12-meter high figure of a Red Army soldier constructed by the Russians in 1945 in the Schwarzenbergplatz to commemorate the 17,000 Soviet soldiers killed in the Vienna Offensive.
I was appalled. “Why haven’t they torn that down!” I almost shouted at my wife. It’s no secret the soldiers of the Red Army, marauding under direct instruction from Stalin, committed atrocities and war crimes of such an epic nature in their rampage westwards across Europe, Reinhard Heydrich himself might have squirmed. Okay, maybe not. But still.
“It doesn’t matter. They were helping defeat the Nazis,” my wife said dryly with a resigned shrug. “There’s one in Berlin too. It’s Deutsche Schuld [German guilt].” Spluttering in disbelief, I reached for my phone and Wikipedia verified that in Berlin’s Tiergarten there is also a grand monument commemorating the 80,000 Red Army soldiers who died in the Battle of Berlin.
“… so that’s why,” I said, as I concluded my rant to my physiotherapist two days later, “if it’s too politically volatile to dismantle these monuments, they should at least put up ones right next to them commemorating the innocent citizenry raped, tortured, and murdered by the Soviet forces who were allegedly liberating them. I understand it was deep revenge, and God knows they had reason, but do you really commemorate that shit and let it still stand?! It’s fucking 2018!”
My physiotherapist stared at me blankly and continued massaging my aching knee as if soothing a toddler who had just thrown a tantrum.
I’m not sure if I’ll ever be really European. Just as I never really felt North American when I was living there. I’m so mid-Atlantically ripped in half, I may as well move to Iceland.
5 April 2018: How far would you go?
I wanted to believe that my left knee was getting better after the half-knee replacement 11 January. It’s not. It has been suffering painful complications and now there is a real possibility it will have to be replaced again in whole. My quality of life is deteriorating, not to mention progress on my book which is, in turn, depressing me. What I didn’t tell my physiotherapist about Vienna was how much I almost dreaded leaving the hotel to go out exploring because of the pain. As I lurched along the dimly lit Donaukanal (“Danube Canal”), through the long cold shadows, each evening to go to dinner with my wife in the Innere Stadt, wincing with each step, I honestly entertained the notion of what it must have been like to endure a death march.
I mean, I kept telling myself after each agonizing step, “don’t worry, in just a few more minutes, you’ll be sitting down in a warm cozy place, eating delicious Austrian cuisine.” Fine, delicious Austrian cuisine, which clocks in at about 4 billion calories per mouthful, is arguably more lethal than a death march, but I still shuddered at the idea of being marched across some frozen foreign hellscape to nowhere. In rags. Cold. Hungry. Injured. Marched under pain of death, or at least a beating, for so much as dawdling. Hour after hour. I wondered how long I would last, with my broken knee, before I would just collapse and be grateful for death. Hours? Days? Weeks? Then I wondered how long I would last if it wasn’t my life at stake if I didn’t keep marching. What if it was the life of someone I loved who would die if I didn’t keep going? How much further would I be able to push the limits of my endurance? Do I even have any endurance? Adrenalin? Sheer balls?
Or would I cave even faster under that pressure? What if the death march commandant said, “You can eat your schnitzel right now in a cozy little pub with a roaring fire, but friend X or family member Y will die.”
What would I do?
I hope the answer wouldn’t be: nom, nom, nom… pass the salt…
6 April 2018: Trade war, what is it good for?
“Trade wars are good, and easy to win,” proclaimed the Tweeter-in-Chief in a 6 March tweet. This is tantamount to a child saying, “oh, look at that boiling cauldron of water, I’m going to make believe it’s a cookie jar and go ahead and stick my hand in there.” It is well established that trade wars are never good for anyone and impossible to win. Unfortunately, The T-in-C steadfastly clings to the facile notion that trade deficits automatically mean your country is getting gang raped by its trading partners. Any pimply high school student who has taken an introductory course in economics will tell you that a trade deficit does not necessarily equal economic disadvantage. It often simply means that your trading partner needs fewer goods and services from you than you need from it. There is no inherent problem in that.
However, sometimes a trade deficit is a symptom of having entered into a “terrible deal” and there is no doubt that the U.S. has a legitimate bone to pick with China, especially in regard to China’s shameless poaching of intellectual property (i.e. technological know-how) as the price of admission to its leviathan markets. But instead of storming away from the TPP in a huff, forever threatening to replace the rolls of toilet paper in the White House with the NAFTA agreement, and lacing up the gloves for an unwinnable bout with China, why doesn’t the T-in-C establish a board of inquiry to identify, country-by-country, where trade imbalances are genuinely unfair and afterwards commence, bilaterally (as he forever bleats for), surgically re-negotiating the disadvantageous clauses in faulty and/or outdated deals?
Presumably because, as the mid-terms approach, the T-in-C’s ungovernable impulses are urging him to feed extra rations of red meat to his blue-collar, white-skinned, aging, angry-as-fuck, red-state base. Hence his renewed peal of hysteria, ludicrously demanding construction of a border wall with Mexico and rafts of so-called “protectionist” tariffs, ostensibly to protect good and pure heartland Americans from both physical and economic invasion by godless foreigners. In terms of the latter, it is already backfiring on him. This morning, he is clearly shocked that China has “unfairly” retaliated with tariffs of its own directly targeting the very base he seeks to protect, in particular the farm belt (soybeans anyone?) and manufactured products. He shouldn’t be but, with all of the irrational outrage of a spoiled brat having had his unearned cookie taken away, he is now hollering for an additional $100 billion in tariffs on Chinese products, impending stock market implosion, alienation of long-standing allies, and economic contraction be damned.
All I can say to the T-in-C is this: get your crooked little fingers out of that cookie jar! It’s not a cookie jar! It’s a cauldron of boiling hot water, you fool! And, for Christ’s sake, stop communicating with Steve Bannon – we know that dark lunatic-whisperer still has your ear!