Blanketing opinions that I'll probably regret soon.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

My Home Bar

A while back, Modern Drunkard Magazine had an article listing 50 things every drunkard needs to do during his lifetime; one of those things was building a home bar.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the unimproved bar in my new basement -->

Note the SWEET knotty pine walls and mirror on the front of the bar. And yes, that IS a seven foot blue marlin resting silently on the bar top (I just moved in Friday, gimme a break).

Anyway, suggestions for improvement of this beauty-in-the-rough are welcome. I'm thinking of buying a thick piece of cherry for the top, a new sink, vintage ice maker, ditching that mirrored front, tiling the floors black and yellow, and adding a drop-down wooden ceiling over the bar with hanging glasses.

Anything I'm missing?

I may never go to a public bar again. You're all welcome to join me at "Chez Bruner" once it's done.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

USA: STFU About Gas Prices Already

Americans are so god damn spoiled rich that they think the world is collapsing because they can't drive to the movies every single weekend. Check out today's NYT article about how $100-per-barrel gas prices will devastate this "ordinary American" family:
For ordinary Americans like Phyllis Berry, a 31-year-old factory worker for General Motors in Cleveland, gasoline costs are starting to hurt.

“I used to fill it up pretty regularly, but now I drive it until the tank is almost empty, looking for the cheapest place to buy gas,” said Ms. Berry, who drives a beat-up Dodge Caravan.

She said that she used to take her four children to the movies four or five times a month. But with the cost of gas, tickets, popcorn and soda adding up to $70, they now go only once a month.
Awww ... poor baby. Can only go to the movies with her over-sized family once a month now. That's the scariest issue with gas at over $100 per barrel? Dude, I was just in Germany and it costs over $8.00 a gallon. You don't hear Germans acting like it's some fucking human rights violation.

The US is so used to being fed caviar from a golden spoon that the slightest inconvenience is perceived as a disaster in lifestyle change. Let's be honest: it would take gas prices at over $400/barrel and a decade-long recession to put us close to the way 2/3 of the world lives.

Man, I sound like a leftist again, bashing the USA. I think I'm back, people. I'm back.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Three Things I Learned the Hard Way

I got "blog-tagged" by my friend Jeff. The theme is to write three things I learned the hard way. Here goes ...

#1. Don't allow people who're tripping balls onto my sailboat.

In 1999, I had no clue how to sail. At the time, I thought sailors were hoity-toity, blue-blooded, blazer-wearing stiffs, but I was wrong. Real wrong.

My friends from the Anarchist Soccer League (ASL) got a bug in their heads to obtain an old sailboat and conquer the Chesapeake Bay ... and global capitalism, if it came to that.

Through good luck or good charm, we scored a free 1972 sailboat once owned by Charlie Byrd.

Knowing nothing about the rules of the sea, we loaded the boat with my LSD-buzzed ASL pals on a blustery day. There was no declared skipper, no one onboard who knew how to make a wind-powered vehicle move forward correctly, bottled beer, and mind-altering drugs that made the chaos really whirl.

People tripping balls are useless on a sailboat. I'd rather have a rat in a cage nailed to the bulkhead than someone on psychedelics; at least a rat knows when to move to windward during a blow. And tripping people are klutzes; there was broken glass everywhere (everyone's barefooted), we're risking a broach, and have hardly an idea which lines to pull --- salt water spraying in our faces. I was the only sober person onboard.

Never again.

#2. Don't eat wild mushrooms raw.

I was in Warsaw in 2001 visiting a friend. Mushroom hunting in the woods has a long tradition over there so you'll often see people from the country selling 'shrooms on city streets.

We bought a batch of yellowish mushrooms picked fresh from the forests of Poland and I was too excited to wait to cook them. I popped a few cold fungi in my mouth on the walk home and an hour later, I got a stomachache that felt like a demon was inside me, pissed off, and head-butting my intestinal lining for 48 hours.

Couldn't leave the bed.

#3. Punching bags are harder than they look.

When I was a teenager, I was visiting a friend who lived on a farm. His older brother Tommy had rigged a massive punching bag from the ceiling of the barn.

How can there be a punching bag hanging around teenaged boys without them socking it? I nailed that big bag with my closed fist as hard as my 120-pound body could manage. With a sharp thwack, my knuckle met leather and sand, resulting in immediate and prolonged pain.

That god damn bag broke my hand, and it was my own stupid fault. I had to go the doctor's and get a cast. Apparently, the break is called a "boxer's fracture" --- more like "idiot's fracture".

So now I'm blog-tagging:







Let's see who takes my offer ...

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Obama is the type of leader that comes along every 100 years or so.

If Barack Obama wins the presidency of the United States, I will display an American flag on my boat every single sailing day he is in office. I promise.

I've been having a crisis of my own leftism for several years now, but Obama is so inspiring that I feel like volunteering for a non-profit organization or something.

I told my wife that Obama made me feel patriotic again, but then I realized that the word "again" implies that I have EVER felt patriotic. So I'll rephrase that: Obama makes me feel truly patriotic for the first time in my life.

Several months ago I visited the Maritime Museum in Norfolk, Virginia where they had an excellent display on Lord Nelson. One part of the display talks about how very few leaders in history have unique leadership qualities that persuade others to do things they normally would not do, and take risks they normally would not take. The exhibit listed ten people in the last 1,000 years.

I think Obama may be one of those people one day.

His speeches make me emotional and want to get up and DO something. Not sure what, but it's a strange, new feeling.

If anyone has doubts about Obama, I'd recommend this music video, this victory speech (watch 'til the END) or this ppt presentation. If those don't move you, you may not have a soul.

Monday, February 18, 2008

"What's the deal with eastern European females??" (said in a Seinfeld voice)

The insanity of eastern European women has a storied history but I finally experienced it first hand.

Met up with my Polish friend (right) in the Kazimierz neighborhood at a bar lighted only by candles on each thick wooden table, low ceilings, and enough cigarette smoke to make Christopher Hitchens choke.

I show up in full tourist regalia, after a day of haggling over art deco Polish hanging lamps and the aforementioned posters. I was feeling good, lugging bags, and thirsting after a drink.

My Polish pal Szymon was chatting softly with his group of artist friends at a corner table, all chain smoking and looking serious. This was my final night in Poland, so I didn't give a fuck --- sporting a bright orange Detroit Tigers t-shirt.

As an aside, I'll tell you I have no shame about being a tourist. Got over that at age 26. My lack of pretense, and feeling of happiness after my successful day in Krakow may have contributed to what happened next. But who knows.

Seated at the table were Szymon and his friends: one guy who writes Raymond Chandler-esque novels, a dude who's a published poet and about to join the band Morphine, a guy who owns a vinyl-only record store, and an assortment of brooding, hip ladies seated at the far end of the table. Imagine me --- artsily, irrelevant. Ha!

But it seemed normal enough. Fine conversation, drinks flowing.

We drank for about three hours at this bar. I didn't exchange a single word with the females --- assume they didn't speak English. As the night went on, people broke off from our group periodically, heading home. The last bus was leaving soon, so the final four of us departed the bar for the 30-minute walk --- just me, Szymon, his friend Pietr and a woman named Anka.

I stepped one foot out of that fucking bar, and without warning, that bitch Anka lays into me with a verbal assault of unprecedented proportions. I grew up in a good suburban family, so I'm never ready to defend myself quickly against angry people. Anka's verbal assault was in Polish so the only things I understood were the curse words: "kurwa" (pronounced "coorvah") means "bitch"; and "spierdalaj" (pronounced "speerDAleye") means "fuck off".

"Kurwa" and "spierdalaj" were in every third one of Anka's sentences at me.

I was trying to get an English translation out of Szymon and Pietr, but Anka's words were coming too fast. In response to Anka's insults at me, the guys could hardly get out words other than the Polish equivalent of "Oh snap!" here and there. The things they managed to translate went like this: "You fucking asshole American. You think you can come here and not speak Polish?? What fucking language do you think we speak, you piece of shit. Go to hell." That sort of crap. Mind you, I had never spoken to Anka before her attack on me.

After about eight minutes of this abuse, I decided not to take it any longer. So, we're all walking drunkenly toward the bus station, and she's ranting at me in Polish, while I pretend I understand her and respond in English, thinking of any insult that would most offend the average artsy-leftie-European type.

Anka: "Ja nienawidzić ty! Mówisz po angielsku?? Spierdalaj, kurwa!"

Me: "Hmm. That's interesting, but you see, George Bush told me that your mother prefers cock up her ass, not down her throat. Maybe I heard the other way around."

I'm a hardcore Obama supporter, and I'd been pushed to utter the above comment to this woman. You see how far it had degenerated.

Things went on like this for about 15 minutes of our walk, until it became plain ridiculous. I actually started giving her compliments because I just couldn't believe it was real. Still, almost no help on the translation front from Szymon.

Then, as an abrupt plot twist, her intent became clear when Szymon decided to explain to me about the flirting tactics of eastern European women.

According to Szymon (who's Polish), this is what women of that ethnicity do when they're hitting on a man. At first when he explained this --- between Anka's continuing insults --- I didn't believe him. Then, as the walk went on, it became apparent, judging by Anka's changing body language --- accidentally/on purpose bumping into me while walking, her come-hither eye contact, the way she touched my shoulder. Yikes!

Crazy ass bitch. But apparently normal in this part of the world.

I'm a married man so nothing went further. We departed ways and I went to the bus station back to Szymon's village.

This is a warning to all the single guys out there who pursue eastern European women: they may be totally nuts --- way more so than all the hot American ladies in singles' land.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Communist European Film Posters from the 60s, 70s & 80s

While in Krakow, Poland, my friend told me to check out a "secret" second-floor antique shop. I'm lucky I did because I found a treasure trove of old movie posters from eastern Europe from the 1960s to the 1980s.

There were two 1.5-foot high piles of posters that would have taken me five hours to go through entirely. Only about 1% were worth putting on my walls at home; most were fucking scary, disgusting, or just plain daaaark.

Below, I've posted the seven posters I bought. My Polish friend had never heard of any of these, nor 95% of the ones at this antique shop --- which is strange, because he's sort of a film connoisseur.

With the help of an online Polish-English translator, I've managed to figure out some semblance of each film's name, along with the country of origin and year. Each poster is about three-feet high by two-feet wide.

Like Poison, Czechoslovakia, 1985:

The Girl Who Likes Dreams, East Germany (GDR), 1974:

Spirit of a Man, Czechoslovakia, 1973:

At the Quiet Station, Hungary, 1978:

Nine Months, Hungary, 1977:

Resurrection, Russia, 1961 (this is based on a Tolstoy book):

Tanker in Flames, Russia, 1982:

If anyone can help with the history of these films, translation of titles, or poster artwork, please let me know.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Pictures from Krakow, Poland

This is the main square in central Krakow:

Clock tower in the main square:

There are little to zero cars in a huge chunk of downtown Krakow --- so few, that most people just walk in the middle of the streets. It's surprising how god damn loud you realize cars are when there's an absence of them and all you hear are footsteps for blocks on end:

This is the neighborhood where I proposed marriage to my wife back in 2001:

I proposed to her on one of these benches --- I forget which, but it's one of those closest to me. Back in 2001, it was July so it was MUCH greener. But wow, even in winter, it looks like a decent choice for such an act:

This was the one day when the sun was out:

Lots of venders selling flowers in the central square:

These are horse carriages for tourists in the central square:

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Polish Cuisine: Would you like a bowl of lard with that cigarette?

(Above photo in the circular cup: lard to smear on bread).

I've now been in Krakow, Poland since last Thursday, eating my way through pickles wrapped with oily herring, hearty bread, Żywiec beer, eastern European stews, plenty of cigarettes, and cups of lard. Yes, cups of LARD.

Many Polish meals are begun with a serving of bread and a cup of lard, which the eater smears on bread, sprinkles with salt, and chases with a Żywiec and a drag from a smoke. As a health-obsessed American, you're likely horrified, but I have actually not seen one fat person under the age of 60 since I've been here.

And let me be completely honest; you know me to be one who sometimes exaggerates, so I will try my damnedest not to with this next statement: There are ZERO ugly females under the age of 50 in the entire country of Poland. You probably don't believe me, but hopefully one of my readers has been to Poland and can back me up in the comments section.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Yesterday I Visited the Nazi Death Camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Not Kidding.

I’m in Poland visiting an old friend who lives in Brodla, which is 40 minutes from the concentration camps that murdered 1.1 million people during World War II. In case you’ve never picked up a history book, the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau murdered more people than any other single concentration camp during the war.

How can I say anything about my experience yesterday without sounding trite and cliché? Below, I’ll try my best not to.

My Polish friends did not want to join me, so I took a solo bus trip from Brodla to Auschwitz. My friend Kashka said she’ll never go; her husband Szymon went once with one of his sailor buddies and isn’t going back. Once is enough. I did not come to Poland with a plan to visit, but being so close, I felt something drawing me there --- perhaps to further my understanding of the Holocaust.

Below are my thoughts and pictures.

Auschwitz-Birkenau is HUGE --- like a city --- and built in an attempt to murder people by the multiple millions, nearly succeeding. I took a History of the Holocaust class in college and it did not prepare me for the sheer size of this mass-murder city. You can stand at the barb-wire fence on one side of Auschwitz-Birkenau and the people standing on the other side appear as distant specks on the horizon --- barely recognizable as people. It took me nearly 15 minutes to walk from one side to the other.

Imagine yourself what that’s like, walking for 15 minutes. If you live in DC, begin your journey walking from the intersection of U Street and 16th until you almost reach the White House. Then square that distance and fill it with prisoner barracks and two underground gas chambers and crematoria, surrounded by barbed wire with a train station going through the middle. That’s Auschwitz-Birkenau --- one part of three far-flung concentration camps --- including a complex of 40 other sub-camps --- taking up something the size of a DC suburb. A city built to kill people.

Despite that college class back in the 90s, and my corresponding trip to the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, I realize that I had not truly understood the scale of the Nazi production of death until now. When you see it, it hits hard, and gave me terrible nightmares last night of smokestakes billowing out human ash-flesh.

And I’d like to give my personal FUCK YOU to those who commonly say, “it’s happened again after World War II”. It has not --- not like this, for certain. Mao's Great Leap Forward, the post-WWII Gulag, Srebrenica --- very different phenomena.

I’m not suggesting we stack the human corpses from all of history’s blood-and-guts piles onto a figurative scale and examine which one hangs lower, but when you see Auschwitz-Birkenau with your own eyes, you’ll never utter such verbal diarrhea again.

And FUCK people who make cursory, lazy comparisons nowadays to any right-wing government to the Nazis. Visit Auschwitz-Birkenau and you’ll be offended by yourself, you worthless piece of uninformed garbage. I went to the “Killing Fields” in Cambodia back in 2004 --- not to downplay Pol Pot’s regime --- and despite what the movies tell you, it’s a fraction of Auschwitz-Birkenau --- especially taking into account the calculated industrial production of murder, and the collective human effort it took to accomplish.

I'm feeling emotional right now.

I had not prepared myself for standing in a former gas chamber. Walking around the grounds of Auschwitz I, you become a bit numb to its meaning, and the depth of it creeps up on you. Tour groups of giggling British teenagers add annoying levity to the gravity. The only gas chamber you can walk inside is in “Auschwitz I” --- much smaller than Auschwitz-Birkenau. It was abandoned by the Nazis early on because it could only murder 350 Jews per day; then they moved their operations to the massive murder city I described above.

When I stepped into the concrete room --- no bigger than your basement --- my eyes welled and I pushed to breathe outward. I hadn’t expected that would happen, the literal physical change that came over me. Rather than breathe, I tried to swallow. It was hard to look forward around at the concrete walls, and then I just left --- back into the cold, gray Polish winter afternoon, my eyes full of liquid.

Below are my pictures. I couldn’t bring myself to take pictures of the ruins of the main gas chambers.

This is the fence at Auschwitz I. This was once electrified barb-wire:

This is the space between the fences at Auschwitz I where guards and dogs can patrol:

This is Auschwitz-Birkenau ("II"). Those ruins are the chimneys from the barracks which the Nazis burned in 1944. This pictures doesn't really do justice to how big it really is:

This if the first gas chamber/crematorium at Auschwitz I --- the one that proved insufficient for Nazi standards of processing. It's eerie when you walk in: a sign says not to take pictures and to keep silent because "you are entering a room where thousands of people were murdered.":

This is the spookiest one. The Nazis built the railroad to run right up and end at the main two gas chambers/crematoria. This view is with my back to the gas chambers facing the front gates there in the distance:

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Fuck Pennies (Part Two)

I hate pennies with a passion (here's my "Fuck Pennies Part One"). If I get them as change, I throw them in the trash.

But today I found even more reason to hate them: a penny costs more than one cent to manufacture.

According to the respected urban legends debunking website,, "... had pennies been manufactured using component metals bought on 28 April 2006, one could fairly say each of those coins cost 1.4 cents to mint. However, if you averaged out the cost of those metals over the whole of 2006, you could say that year's pennies each cost about 1.23 cents to manufacture. Rises in metal prices, particularly of zinc, pushed the per-unit cost up to 1.7 cents in 2007."

( link).

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

A Year's Training Course in Hunting is Unfree

"There is more freedom in the United States than other countries."

That statement actually means something real --- really not understood. Usually, it's something you beat your chest and shout about, or a pretext for jingoism to be suspicious of.

I'll try and be modest about this next pronouncement, but it's going to be difficult: people who haven't spent time outside the USA in multiple countries have an imprecise understanding of the nuances of American liberty.

The differences in Europe's civil liberties and the US's have been well-publicized, but today in Hamburg, my German business partner told me that in Germany, if you want a hunter's license, you have to take a year's worth of adult education classes, can only hunt certain animals with certain guns, and abide by a huge list of other silly and expensive regulations.

I'm not even a hunter and this hits me at spine-level as fundamentally anti-freedom, adding to the restrictions on liberty I see time and again in countries from Thailand to Korea to Vietnam to Germany --- coups, cultural restrictions, Ho's Leninism, and post-Communist squeamish PC Leftism.

My grandfather was obsessed with hunting. I didn't know this 'til recently, but he hunted around the clock on weekends. He'd hitch-hike three hours home from the foundry in Dallas where he worked all week and would head into the countryside Friday night with a shotgun and his dogs --- not returning 'til 10AM the next morning.

My cousin Mike used to hunt with him and said the experience was the most taxing physical activity he's ever done: grand dad would walk non-stop for eight hour stints without stopping, chasing his dogs with a loaded weapon. When he'd stop to sleep on the forest floor, he wouldn't even start a campfire or set up a tent; if it rained, he'd wrap a tarp around himself, sleeping bag style.

The year-long-hunting-course-legal-obligation in Germany makes me sad. The more civilized a country becomes, the more it saps the last remnants or reminders that humans are still animals --- free, vicious, and on occasion, wild-eyed and unstoppable.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

I like Fall Out Boy: I'm either a huge douche, a 15-year-old deep inside, or music is just no longer part of my identity.

You ever feel embarrassed for someone for the shit they're saying out loud about music? The worst is when someone over the age of 30 trots out that old nag of, "I liked them before they got big". Good lord. Aren't there better things to be childish about? That's a solid sign of insecurity.

At this point in my life, I could listen to nearly anything (ok, not Nelly McKay) from Spin Doctors to Dave Matthews Band to Descendants to Bad Brains and like it all about the same --- depending on my mood.

Proof: I rocked Fall Out Boy on the iPod almost the entire eight-hour trip from DC to Hamburg, Germany today.

That's something I wouldn't have admitted at age 23. I feel embarrassed for myself that I ever took something as shallow as music so seriously.

The more I listen to Fall Out Boy, the more I wish I had a 15-year-old daughter to take to one of their concerts. Makes me feel good to look ahead to the rest of my life rather than back toward my shallower days.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

I Won "The Sam Elliot Award"

It was hard work with all the toilet gasket wax (for the side curls) and my tiny comb, but I won one of the four awards offered by my wife's company for best mustache 2008. Sadly, I did not win the Best in Show; that was won by a guy who had a dragon shaved into his face.

As you can see at right, my mustache pose was the classic "fisticuffs". My old timey bicycle with the six-foot tall front wheel was locked up outside.

Below is the actual award and a rendering of what my great great grandfather may have looked like.

Here's Jim's photoset of the entire department at the awards party.

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