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Posts from the ‘Open Letter’ Category

SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC CITY CROWNED WITH TOP QUALITY OF LIFE 7th (!!) YEAR IN A ROW

Seriously America? We didn’t manage one city in the top 10?!

For the 7th consecutive year in the row, Vienna has been voted number one city in a quality of life survey of folks who work and live abroad. It doesn’t surprise me. I’ve written many a post about Vienna and her virtues and even one about her selection to this supreme place of honor but given the current climate in the US primaries, I think now is the perfect opportunity to delve a bit deeper.

Why? Because the city voted world’s most livable is the capital of a…wait for it…wait for it… social democratic country. Yep. There’s that word again.

Austria 101 in three paragraphs

First a bit of a background so that you don’t get any wrong ideas. John Oliver can attest to the fact that many of my fellow Americans are woefully ignorant in geography. In fact John Oliver might say something like, “Austria, that country in the Alps somewhere with raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and Terminator.”

Following WWII Austria found itself geopolitically situated as a neutral nation wedged between the countries of NATO and the Warsaw Pact. For decades Austria negotiated its precarious stance between two highly belligerent neighbors with diplomatic grace and finesse. Unlike Germany, after WWII Austria was spared a division of the country into east and west. It also managed to escape, unlike its neighbors to the north and east, decades of occupation by foreign powers. Unlike Switzerland, its likewise neutral neighbor to the west, Austria has become an active member of the European Union. Austria is a place where Russians, Americans, Israelis and Saudi Arabians can bump elbows at the Park Plaza buffet table and politely engage in chit chat. (http://www.kcblau.com/spy-capital/)

Austria is not capitalist, communist, socialist or corporatist (shops here are still closed on Sundays and I have come to believe that that’s something positive). It is a social democracy and has been since the end of WWII (that’s over 70 years).

Social democrats and social democracy have become buzz words lately and since I currently live in a place organized under these principles, I thought I would share some firsthand, frontline thoughts about what that means exactly.

Yes, taxes in Austria are high but…quality of life is too.

Life in the USA as Harry and Louise 

I don’t know about you but my name isn’t Walton, Koch, Goldman, Rothschild or Bush. I wasn’t born with a silver spoon dangling from pouty lips and though I loved my high school green and gold, the sports fields were baseball and football, not rugby and tennis.

My father grew up in a part of Pittsburgh where every man either worked for the steel mill or joined the military to escape it. Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel and John Cougar Melloncamp – those were the guys who sang from the soul of my roots – roots that could be like those of Harry and Louise.

Life in a Social Democracy as Harry and Louise

So what will you, Harry and Louise, find in a social democratic city?

Universal public health insurance – this means that you are not one cancer diagnosis away from personal bankruptcy or uninsurability. People search for jobs based on salary and job satisfaction, not benefits. No deductible payments for treatment and no exorbitant fees for medications (I think I pay a flat fee of about 5 bucks per prescription here).

Private health insurance: Don’t like sharing a hospital room with a snoring neighbor who has fifty relatives visit a day? Want to have a posh hospital with display cases of swords donated by former patients who happened to be sheikhs? No worries, Harry and Louise. You can get that here too. No one is going to forbid you from buying private insurance coverage.

Sick leave: Austrian law forbids firing an employee because of illness – a novel idea – you get sick or have an accident and don’t have to worry that it could also be a financial death sentence for you and your loved ones.

Maternity Leave: a year or more of paid maternity leave and what is becoming more and more common is that mom and dad split the “time off” so both get the joys of diaper changes and “Mein Pipihendl” rounds. And what does that look like back home in the US? John Oliver on Paid Family Leave.

Five weeks paid vacation by law for everyone: I swear it’s true, even for the “wage slaves” (more details here: http://www.kcblau.com/five-weeks/).

Affordable housing so well planned that there are no ghettos because

Hundertwasser housing in Vienna's 3rd district

Hundertwasser housing in Vienna’s 3rd district

subsidized housing complexes have been strategically spread throughout the city in all districts – some have even been designed by some of the city’s most famous architects – functional and livable – check out Hundertwasser’s housing for example.

Public transportation for less than a dollar a day (365 Euros a year!) that will allow you to ride all of the city’s public transportation (buses, subways, trams) and will get you anywhere you want to go in a timely and reliable manner. Like to party on the weekends? No worries about drinking and driving because the Wiener Linien always picks the short straw and will happily play designated driver and see you home safe and sound. Public transit is so popular that in 2015, 700,000 annual tickets were sold. In fact people are so in love with public transportation here that a woman from Manchester, England wrote the Vienna Public Transit a love letter when she moved away from Vienna complaining about the overpriced and unreliable transit system back in her hometown in England: Thank you for a fantastic, affordable public transport system. I miss you every day and I know someday we’ll meet again.

Free Higher Education: Can you imagine graduating from college with absolutely no debt? None? Zip? Zero? Or changing your major without having to consider the financial consequences? Vienna might not be completely made of milk and honey but this really, truly exists here. Seriously. But hey! If you want to pay and ensure that special one-on-one professor mentoring time – there are Private Universities here too. Don’t believe Harry and Louise if they try to tell you otherwise.

Pedestrian Shopping Zones: no cars and in the warm months – outdoor cafes, dining areas and plenty of room for street artists to do their thing. Because there is more to quality of life than money.

Karmeliter Market

Every Saturday you will find young and old shopping at the second district open air market, Karmeliter Market.

Parks, green areas, flowers, trees: Yes, all here. Vienna is a very “green” city.

Museums free for those 18 and under: culture and education for the kids – something we could only wish for with our 9/11 Memorial Museum.

(http://www.kcblau.com/nyc-national-september-11-museum/)

Minimum Assistance

(Mindestsicherung) – people who don’t have more than about 4000 USD to their name and can’t work because they are disabled or too old are automatically insured and entitled to financial help from the government – about 800 USD a month total. The idea is to catch disadvantaged members of society in a social net before they fall into extreme poverty. It’s called brotherly (or sisterly) love, Harry and Louise, so deal with it.

Required civil or military service: giving back to Uncle Sam (or Onkel Franz?) 6 months military or 9 months civil service. Young, able men serve their country after graduating from high school. It’s a few months in which all male members of society are equalized – regardless of the pedigree of your background. Where and when do we have that in the US? And let’s face it, many 18-year-olds could benefit from a year of figuring out what they really want to do with their futures before diving head first into the next (often expensive in the US) chapters of their lives.

Services for the elderly and disabled: transportation to the hospital for treatment, food delivery, as well as care and workshops for the mentally disabled.

Humane prisons with lower prison terms and strict regulations regarding length of solitary confinement and conditions of cells and fewer prisoners. Prisons here are not privatized because let’s face it – should someone be increasing his or her wealth based on the number of people we lock up and how long they are kept there? Kind of a scary, Orwellian idea that a rational person may have been tempted to believe would have ended with the “Cash for Kids” scandal in 2009. And one last question on this – are we truly, seriously convinced that we have the most misbehaved, criminal human beings in the entire world who would justify us having the highest number of our own citizens locked up behind bars (followed by China and Russia)? Or is $omething $eriously amiss? And don’t just take my word for it, check out the World Prison Brief numbers for the extremely depressingly, dismal reality.

High life expectancy (higher than US) (http://www.kcblau.com/usprogress/)

Water so Good it’s Constitutionally Protected

Private property – you can certainly own land, houses and apartments here but many folks choose to rent because rent prices are highly regulated and therefore renting is an affordable option.

Private businesses – your can found and run your own business here too

Life in a Social Democracy as a Property Mogul

Karmelitermarkt

High quality of life doesn’t have to be about money

I am not going to lie to you. I don’t know whether or not a Donald Trump could have made his billions here (though Richard Lugner apparently managed). At the same time, and I’m going to quote The Guardian for this: “In the mid-90s the property mogul hoped eminent domain would help move out a widow who stood in the way of a planned limousine parking lot.” Said property mogul would have not  harbored such hopes in a country where the rights of the so-called “little people” carry equal weight as their wealthier fellow countrymen.

Worth here is not based on wealth. And who of us normal mortals really believes it should be?  It would be like saying Ebenezer Scrooge in the beginning of the Christmas Carol is a far more worthy individual than Bob and Timothy Cratchit.

Worth based on honest values is a sentiment I could swear would appeal to all my freedom-loving, flag-carrying American compatriots who’ve heard the story of Abraham Lincoln’s humble beginnings since the time they could pledge allegiance to the flag. It’s what is preached in the churches that are still overflowing in the small towns every Sunday from sea to shining sea.

Glock sign

You can get a Glock in the land that makes them but you will have to undergo a psychological test first and store it under lock and key. So I can’t lie that it boggles my mind that in the US, we as a people can nod and hail “hallelujahs” as our preachers, ministers, and priests instruct us to love-our-fellow-man while we don our WWJD bracelets with the same hand clutching the 45 special under the pew, just in case that brotherly love takes a temporary hiatus.

There was a time in history when only the off-spring of the privileged elite could afford tutors and thus receive an education; a time when we packed up our undesirables and shipped them to distant shores and unknown futures; a time when where you sat on the bus or at a coffee shop depended on the color of your skin; a time when your right to vote was determined by the M or F on your birth certificate. Thank God those days are behind us.

We’ve moved to a better place since then and ensured more rights for more people. Let’s not stop now.

Part of the reason so many people fear “social democracy” is that they don’t understand what it means in day-to-day life. Fear-mongering media outlets funded by companies holding big-billed self-interests inundate the public with opinion-swaying “Harry and Louise” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_and_Louise) ads that skew the real issues. It’s simple. Should health care be a profit-oriented business? Are profit-oriented businesses the ultimate means to create a civil, socially humane nation? Do we want to live in a society where money just doesn’t talk, it talks the loudest and mutes all others from even having a voice? Is that the kind of democracy we think of when we proudly wave the stars and stripes?

As Americans isn’t it time we pause long enough from the selfies to soul-search and ask ourselves: why are so many others in the world living such a high quality of life and none of our cities have even managed the top 10 (despite our bagels, pulled porks and reubens)? Yes, let’s come together (and stop bickering) and make America great again. But let’s not do it based on hot air and empty promises. Let’s start by seeing how others have obviously managed it elsewhere.

And one last thing: Dear Harry and Louise, When you go to vote, vote based on what’s best for you and Larry and Marlene next door and your parents, and your kids and your kids’ kids, not the property moguls, bankers and opportunistic politicians whose greatest objective is to park their limos in what used to be the sweet-old-widow-down-the-street’s living room.

What the US could Learn from a Place like Austria: http://www.kcblau.com/usprogress/

Mercer Website with Survey Results: https://www.imercer.com/content/mobility/quality-of-living-city-rankings.html

Wiener Linien (Vienna Public Transportation): http://www.wienerlinien.at/eportal3/ep/contentView.do/pageTypeId/66526/programId/74577/contentTypeId/1001/channelId/-47186/contentId/82733

The Guardian article about Donald Trump’s Eminent Domain Battle:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/aug/19/donald-trumps-eminent-domain-nearly-cost-widow-house

Forbes list of America’s Richest Families:

http://www.forbes.com/families/

Super Pacs undressed: New York Times article (“The Families Funding the 2016 Presidential Elections”) on the 158 families who are funding half of the US political campaigns in the early stages: “They are overwhelmingly white, rich, older and male.” Read it and weep for our American “democratic” system: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/10/11/us/politics/2016-presidential-election-super-pac-donors.html

Article from the New York Times in Oct 2001 about Bin Ladens liquidating their holdings in the Carlyle Group (where Pres Bush worked as an adviser and former Sec of State James Baker as a partner) so as not to give the appearance that they would be profiting from the War on Terrorism that would ensue after 9/11: http://www.nytimes.com/2001/10/26/business/bin-laden-family-liquidates-holdings-with-carlyle-group.html

In case you missed the link above: Economist article from 2003 (!) about the Bush family and their link to the Carlyle Group http://www.economist.com/node/1875084 – “At a time when America is aggressively promoting democracy and capitalism abroad, including by military means, it would be helpful if its politicians and businesses were regarded as cleaner than clean. Shrouded in secrecy, Carlyle calls capitalism into question.”

Private vs. Public – what is good for the general population is not always good for private industry – let us not forget history and why many US cities no longer have the public transportation options that a city like Vienna does:
Documentary Taken for a Ride Part 1, Taken for a Ride Part 2

Schoenbrunn Park in Vienna

Schönbrunn Park in Vienna

 

 

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HOW TO FAN A FLIRT AND PIN DOWN A STINGING MESSAGE – ACCESSORIES WITH MEANING

“Women are armed with fans as men with swords, and sometimes do more execution with them.” – Joseph Addison was a publisher and ran an academy in the 1700s that taught ladies the language of fans

For hundreds of years, women have used accessories as tools for secret communication.

Brooching Diplomacy

Evidenced by recent events, Madeline Albright has never been one to keep her opinions to herself. In former times, however, she expressed her ideas with a bit more subtlety and charm. As US Ambassador to the United Nations, Madeline Albright was in charge of monitoring the sanctions against the Iraqis at the end of the first Gulf War. Saddam Hussein did not take kindly to her tough stance. A meeting between her and her Iraqi counterparts was followed up with the publication of poem in the government-controlled Iraqi press entitled “To Madeleine Albright, Without Greetings.” The poem included the line: “Albright, Albright, all right, all right, you are the worst in this night” and ended with a reference to her as an “unparalled serpent.” Ms. Albright’s attire for her next get-together with her Iraqi counterparts included a golden snake brooch.

Kaffeesiederball Fan 2016

Kaffeesiederball Fan 2016

In 1997, when Ms. Albright was appointed as US Secretary of States and thus became the highest ranking female civil servant in US history, she continued using her brooches as an essential part of her “personal diplomatic arsenal.” While balloons, butterflies and flowers signified optimism during diplomatic talks, crabs and turtles indicated frustration. After the Russians were caught tapping the State Department, and even listening in on Ms. Albright’s office, she engaged in the next round of talks with the Russian officials wearing pin with a gigantic bug on it. Stinging message on its way? Ms. Albright donned a wasp pin. Time and again, she accentuated her polite talk with no-nonsense pin speak.

In the same manner, women over the centuries have used ornate fans as both a fashion accessory and a communication tool. Fluttering signals could indicate that the lady in question considers you infatuating or a flop.

Fanning the Flame

Fan from Kaffeesiederball 2011

Fan from Kaffeesiederball 2011

Fan held high at the chest, spread open and pointing downwards: Better luck next time, this girl’s taken.

Fan spread open and the top is lightly pressed against the lips: Shut up, get over here and kiss me.

Fan spread open at shoulder height with pinky finger extended outwards: Take a hike. You’re a total bore.

Fanning self slowly: Nothing to see here, keep moving, I’m hitched.

Fanning self quickly: Engaged. Catch the glint of the rock on my finger as I vigorously bat this fan back and forth.

Fan spread open, pointed upwards and pressed against the heart: I love you.

Campari Fan

Campari Fan

Placing the fan on the right check: Why yes!

Placing the fan on the left check: No way!

Fan closed and pressed against the ear straight up and down (not angled like a telephone!): Call me, maybe. Definitely.

Opening and shutting the fan: You are cruel.

Twirling the fan in the left hand means: We are watched.

Fan closed and pressed against the lips: Get over here and whisper sweet nothings in my ear.

Fan closed and pressed against a coffee cup (or wine glass, beer mug, whiskey flask…): I’m thirsty, sweetcakes, and you look like the perfect man to buy me a drink.

Kaffeesiederball Fan 2014

Kaffeesiederball Fan 2014

But the thing about communication is that it is a two-way street and only effective if the person on the receiving end understands the message being sent. While the press and even Vladimir Putin became quite skilled in recognizing Ms. Albright’s “Read-My-Pin,” codes, it is easy to imagine the young men throughout the ages have had quite a time at making heads and tails of the slow, rapid, hand-switching, waving, fluttering signals of fans to the point where there must have been some Cassanovas-in-waiting who got so frustrated that they simply surrendered and walked away. But take heart. It is equally important to recognize that sometimes, a fan is simply just a fan.

Interested in learning more? Check out these sites:

Wikipedia page of Jean-Pierre Duvelleroy – a fan manufacturer from 1827 from Paris: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duvelleroy

Exhibition of 200 pins used by Ms. Albright during her service as US Secretary of State:

Black Wooden Fan

Black Wooden Fan

http://www.bellevuearts.org/exhibitions/read_my_pins.html

 

 

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BOOK RELEASE – WOMEN AND WILD SAVAGES

Women and Wild Savages

Women and Wild Savages is the first book in the Vienna Muses series and currently available on amazon.com as ebook

No woman knows, or ever has known, or ever will know, what she does when she enters into association with a man.

Women and Wild Savages is out! Very excited to share some big news for me personally – a book I have been working on for several years was released this past week on amazon.com. The print version will follow soon and all versions will be available at other outlets by February. The book is the first in a series entitled “The Vienna Muses” which takes place in Vienna at the beginning of the 1900s.

Writing has always been a part of me and with the publication of this book, a lifelong dream has come true. I am grateful to a great many people – obvious and not so apparent – who have supported this dream and this particular project along the way.

I have spent so many years with the characters in this book that they have – in a strange way – become a part of my life. I have held their postcards in the Vienna City archives, their letters of desperation — perhaps their very last letters – in the Austrian National Archives. I have studied their poetry, their books, the book of those they loved and those that loved them and tried my best, over 100 years after the events, to recreate a story that conveys not only the characters, and the city, but an entire Zeitgeist. I can only humbly hope that those who read Women and Wild Savages will hear the clings of silver spoons on porcelain and smell the tantalizing scent of freshly roasted coffee beans while they delve into the private salons, grand cathedrals, buzzing coffeehouses and cobble-stoned lanes of Vienna of the early 1900s.

Maybe It's Time for A Catnap

Two not-so-obvious supporters of my writing

Research and writing can be frustrating at times, but every now and then fate seems to throw you a bone. While working on the book, through some miracle of miracles after hours of google procrastination, at about 2 am one morning, I came across a 1904 newspaper clipping from a New Zealand online archive with a copy of a tragic last letter from one of the characters to another. What are the chances?

After years of work on the manuscript, I had finished nearly everything, had spent days painstakingly going through all the final edits from my copy editor and just as the finish line appeared upon the horizon, I found myself faced with evil incarnate. I logged into my computer to find all my files locked. A window popped up demanding that I pay an ungodly amount in Bitcoins or I’d never see my files again.  Do hackers from the darkside have any idea what writers earn? Back your character up against a wall and see how they react – a demand of writers to up the tension in their books. Was someone in the book of life playing a bad joke and testing me?

A friend once wrote when his book was published that he had expected the joy that would come on release day but not the sorrow. After spending so many years alone together with these characters, I can definitely relate to this. Publication feels like a time to say good-bye and I nervously stand by the door as I release my version of my characters, my words, my work into the world.

As I watch Lina Loos, Adolf Loos, Peter Altenberg, Karl Kraus, Marie Lang and all the others waltz from my safe-keeping to yours, I can only hope that I have been true to them, to Vienna, the Zeitgeist, and that you, dear readers, will find as much pleasure in your time together with them as I have over the years.

Women and Wild Savages at Amazon for Kindle

Women and Wild Savages at Barnes and Noble for Nook

Women and Wild Savages for Kobo

Women and Wild Savages Readers Guide

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A MINUTE OF SILENCE – SCHWEIGEMINUTE – CUM TACENT, CLAMANT

“ I don’t think–”
“Then you shouldn’t talk,” said the Hatter.
– Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

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Twenty kilometers south of Vienna is a 900-year-old town of about 18,000 residents named Traiskirchen. The name Traiskirchen, if you would translate it into English, would mean “Trais Church” and evokes images of a quaint lazy existence amongst the vineyards that have been cultivated there since the 12th Century.

There’s a town museum open on Sundays and holidays from 8:30 – 12:30, an observatory, a landmark castle that now houses a kindergarten and, of course, some churches. But it’s the old barracks that have been drawing the most attention in recent months. These serve as Austria’s initial entry point for the thousands of desperate but hopeful asylum seekers currently flooding into Austria and the rest of Europe from Northern Africa and Syria. The amount of migrants who have traveled to Italy and Greece by sea alone who be like the entire population of Madison, Wisconsin picking up their things and making their way, through the greed, grace or underhandedness of smugglers to get to Corpus Christi, Texas with only that which they can carry and their toddlers and babies in tow.

As someone who, for decades, has leaned positively towards the idea of a more united Europe, I have been sorely disappointed by the woefully ineffective response of countries touting their “unity” to this humanitarian crisis. Unfortunately, Austria’s politicians have also been caught with their incompetency showing. While talking heads on ORF concerned about upcoming national elections battle out ad nauseam who is responsible and what should have been and should be done, families that have journeyed thousands of miles to flee the worst atrocities of war and hunger, are left to sleep on the pavement in record-breaking heat and merciless rain.

Seriously? This is the best we can do?

Fortunately, the citizens of Austria think not and have started their own efforts to counter the failings of those they elected to deal with exactly such issues. One of these commendable initiatives is from the Austrian artist, Raoul Haspel, who has posted a 60-second “Minute of Silence” (Schweigeminute Traiskirchen) on iTunes and Amazon. Users who pay .99 cents are buying more than 60 seconds of silence, their expressing their dissatisfaction of the current handling of the crisis and donating to the initiative to help the asylum seekers. According to news reports, in addition, Haspel is donating out-of-pocket the part of the purchase price collected by Amazon and iTunes. One would hope that some clever Amazon and iTunes executive would recognize the PR opportunity to step up to plate and donate the fees back again.

Haspel’s desire to bring worldwide attention to this tragedy and show solidarity with those who have gone to such great lengths to safely exist is sure to be heard.

Cum tacent, clamant.

Europe’s politicians would be wise to follow Raoul Haspel’s lead and the not-so-Mad Hatter’s advice. If you don’t think, you shouldn’t talk. Listen to the silence and act.

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Austrian Artist Raoul Haspel’s website

Very good BBC report on the current crisis: Why is EU struggling with migrants and asylum? http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-24583286

Cum tacent, clamant. (Cicero: With their silence, they cry out).

#1schweigeminute #1minuteofsilence

www.schweigeminute.com

 

 

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