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Posts from the ‘Open Letter’ Category

IT GETS BETTER – PAPAGENO WILL TELL YOU

“Stop! …Be Smart! You only live once!” – Mozart, The Magic Flute.

In September 2010, a teenage boy who was bullied at school for being homosexual took his own life. Amidst inconceivably cruel messages of continued bullying and belated outreaches of sorrow and understanding, a stranger wrote on his memorable page, “I wish I would have known you so I could have told you: It gets better, RIP.” Struck by the obvious desperation of this young man, US advice columnist, podcaster and gay rights activist, Dan Savage, started the It Gets Better Project with his partner, Terry Miller, to bring messages of encouragement directly to the youth at risk through internet videos of those who have gone through similar situations while growing up but persevered.

Yesterday evening, the US embassy, It Gets Better Austria (Es wird Besser, Österreich) along with the Vienna Anti-discrimination for Same Sex and Transgender People held a panel discussion at the Vienna Amerikahaus entitled, “Building Bridges to Make it Better.” Dan and Terry sat on the panel and shared their own experiences working as activists to help young people at risk.

Dr. Thomas Niederkrotenthaler, of the University of Vienna Medical School, and an expert on suicide, talked extensively about the challenges of the media in dealing with these heartbreaking incidents. Contrary to reports about other diseases such as heart disease,  sensational reporting on teen suicides can actually cause an increase in suicides and suicidality. Professionals have dubbed this phenomena the Werther Effect, after the lovelorn protagonist in Goethe’s 1774 novel, “The Sorrows of Young Werther.”

Werther loves Lotte but she is committed to Albert. Unable to bear the pain of such all-consuming passion unrealized, the young man commits suicide.  The book is believed to have caused young men throughout Europe to not only emulate Werther in they way they dressed but also his desperate end. The book is believed to have triggered a chain of the first recorded “copycat” suicides.

To combat this negative trend, the author Christoph Nicolai published a satiric version of the novel, in which Albert gets wind of the young man’s intentions and fills Werther’s pistol with chicken blood. The hero’s suicide attempt fails and he ends up getting over Lotte and living a happy and productive life. Goethe, was not amused, but for literary reasons, not social. Due to the seemingly contagious effect of suicides, medical professionals work together with press organizations to draft media recommendations on best practice standards for suicide reporting. Studies suggest that there is a right way to approach the subject to achieve the “Papageno Effect.”

In Mozart’s opera, “The Magic Flute”, the bird catcher, Papageno, in utter despair from losing his love, Papagena, decides to hang himself. He chooses his tree and bids the deceitful world farewell. But then he sings, “If anyone wants to love or pity me before I hang myself, just call out to me, yes or no.” Silence. Nevertheless, he looks and waits, and then decides to count to three, just in case. One. Looks around. Two. Looks around. Three. Looks around. Then so be it. And at that moment, three youths rush onto stage calling, “Stop, Papageno. Be smart! You only live once …” But he argues and they tell him to ring his bell. Lo and Behold, his lady appears and happiness ensues. In other words, sometimes it just takes an interruption to the darkness – a sign of hope — encouraging words that things will get better. And eventually, they do.

Terry Miller and Dan Savage of It Gets Better

Terry Miller and Dan Savage in Vienna, Austria, May 2015 talking about their initiative, “It Gets Better”

Dan and Terry’s heart-felt talk was incredibly sincere. Terry talked about his return to his old high school – a place he associated with painful memories of bullying and torment. But his school had evolved and during the return visit, he received a public apology from the director for how he had been treated so many years before.

Nothing can undo the pain and scars that bullying can inflict on a young person, but it’s good to know that there’s hope. And people who’ve also ventured through the dark tunnel to discover that there is light on the opposite side. Too many young people in this world are denied the unconditional love they deserve and it’s good to know there’s a place they can go to get the encouragement to Stop! and Be smart! Because it gets better.

The It Gets Better Project website has more than 50,000 user-created videos which have been viewed more than 50 millions times. Check it out. It’s a great initiative.

Read more:

Austrian newspaper, der Standard, article entitled, “Journalisten können helfen, Suizide zu verhindern,” Oliver, Mark, 19 December 2011, about how journalist can help prevent suicide.

Links to the Austrian initiatives:
Es wird Besser, Österreich

Wiener Antidiskriminierungsstelle für gleichgeschlechtliche und transgender Lebensweisen (WASt)

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The Not-so-Quiet American

Be vewy vewy quiet, I’m hunting wabbits…
– Elmer Fudd

Speak softly and carry a great guide.
– KC Blau

My first residence in Vienna, not including my dorm room in the 3rd district, was a small apartment on the first floor of a four-story building in the second district. The apartment boasted high ceilings, a shower in the kitchen, and a shared toilet in the hallway (shared with the next door neighbor who liked to chain smoke while using it). I am not sure whether Remaxx would have listed the place as a 2 or 3-room apartment since the kitchen was nothing more than a galley connecting the bedroom and the living room. The apartment had no central heating – just two wood and coal burning stoves that forced me to lug more coal bricks and scrub more soot off of more tall double windows than I care to recall. The bedroom was long and narrow and the best thing about it was the towering oak tree outside the double window.

The tree was multi-functional. First, it served as a home for a woodpecker that liked to peck peck peck at ungodly hours of the morning. Second, and more importantly (in my humble opinion, not Woody’s), its blanketing green leaves served as a screen to the neighbors across the courtyard who liked to hang out on their little balcony in their off-white granny pants while huffing and puffing on their cigarettes. (Austria had a lot of smokers back then). Third, the tree provided shade and kept the bedroom cool all summer. But best of all, the tree absorbed most of the noise that ricocheted throughout the courtyard during the summer months when everyone had their windows open and children liked to play.

But just one floor up lived a Chinese couple who were dear friends and neighbors and Wei did not agree that the tree provided ample sound-buffering. He dreaded the noise from the sandbox play, soccer ball bounces and name calling in not-so-indoor voices. He was a student at the University of Vienna who greatly valued his afternoon naps. Sometimes when very annoyed, he would open his window and yell down and tell them to stop being so loud.

But otherwise, I have to say that Viennese kids, and Europeans tend to speak softly.

And we Americans? It’s not like we’ve never been taught the virtues of being quiet.

You remember, don’t you? The bell rang and the teachers stood holding the doors, ushering the students in from recess or break. Never failed. Amongst the centennials, there was always that one teacher who thought it her God-given duty to lean into the passing students and remind each and everyone of them that it was “Time to use your indoor voices.” How syrupy over-cheerful and very annoying her own sing-song voice chimed out those reminders. And yes, it was always a female teacher doing the dirty work, never the guys.

The Indoor Voice. We all learned about the indoor voice but then– Maybe we were too busy using our outdoor voices to hear the teacher demanding the indoor voices?

"The Quiet American" book jacket

British writer, Graham Greene, wrote a book entitled “The Quiet American.” The American abroad was quiet, and therefore rather suspicious.

Unfortunately, I must concede with the Europeans, we Americans do tend to rarely use our indoor voices –regardless if we are in- or outdoors. And invariably, when I am on the subway and a group of people are being rather loud, the group is almost always a bunch of my fellow countrymen – students or tourists. Or maybe a bunch of Canadians well disguised. The others – like Swedes when they are drunk and visiting Vienna for a soccer match or Russians when they are just drunk, can also be loud but we Americans beat all other nations hands down with our ability to ignore the general tone level of our environment. Even when my fellow Americans are sitting across from one another having a “normal conversation,” unter sich they tend to be loud enough for the rest of the subway car to listen in. Why can’t we just tone it down a bit?

I once spent a whole train ride from Wien Mitte to the airport (about 30 minutes) listening to an American woman and man discuss why a person in their department had to be fired. If you are interested in knowing too, drop me a line, I know every gory detail.

I didn’t write the, “World Citizens Guide, Practical Advice for Americans traveling abroad” but I wish I had. I have kept a copy of it for years because whoever made it was 110% on the money. See the last passage, page three, with the words Be quiet in bold green font. It states, “Less is more. In conversation match your voice level to the environment and other speakers. A loud voice is often perceived as a bragging voice.”

The next edition should be less syrupy overly cheerful and sing-song and simply tell it like it is — that a loud voice is always perceived as an obnoxious voice so keep it down. No innocent bystanders are interested in the turbulance of your plane ride or your encounters with the locals who have the audacity not to speak proper English. Please do me, yourself, your fellow Americans and your host country a great big juicy favor –when traveling abroad, do as the natives do and speak softly, tread gently, and carry a good guide (like my website on your iPad).

Thank you!

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Some must-read literature:

 World Citizens Guide: Some Practical Advice for Americans Traveling Abroad

World Citizens Website with a wealth of valuable information for world travelers

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Facebook, the Austrian, and the Matchmaker

“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
   – Benjamin Franklin (1775)

Dear Facebook,

I am writing to let you know I’ve decided not to join Austrian crusader, Max Schrems, in his law suit against you.

Monday Guy likes corny heart clip arts

Monday Guy likes corny heart clip arts

Though I admit, there’s something to be said for a guy who has decided to take on Goliath using Goliath’s tools to sign up and organize recruits, (see Facebook page “Europe v. Facebook”). Frankly, I have neither the time nor energy to show up for Vienna Commercial Court hearings come December. Not that I’d have to testify but you never know.

But don’t get me wrong — your clinginess is not okay. When it’s over, it’s over and there comes a time when you have to cut yourself loose and let things go. All those old photos, stories, exchanges – they’re nothing but clutter, Facebook. Trust me. Free yourself from the burden of earthly attachments and paradise will be yours. Who knows. You might even save yourself a couple hundred thousand dollars in storage space and finally be able to afford that Reddit app you must be eying by now.

FB Guys from Wednesday

FB Guys from Wednesdays – they could schlepp a few cases of mineral water for me

And stop blabbing everything about everyone to anyone who shows an interest. Goodness, gracious, if someone shares something with you, that’s an honor. Be honorable with it. This isn’t middle school.

Guy who appears Sundays of FB

Guy who appears Sundays of FB – you would think given his good looks that he’d have a GF by now – can he lug Billa bags?

Going after you would be quite a hassle since frankly, I’ve no idea where the two of us got hitched. Did we Erin-go-Bragh it or tie the knot in the US? Feels like at times that it could have been a Vegas number. According to Team Schrems, though, this matters. You would think all people, Austrian or American, would have the same rights to self-determination about what in their past remains public and what doesn’t but I guess that’s just not so. But I still don’t quite get it. Holding onto things…for decades.

But I guess I’ve grown to accept you for what you are. Though I keep hoping that if we stick together, maybe I can change you. You’ll recognize your unsavory ways and try to better yourself. I keep telling myself, as controlling as you are, your heart is in the right place and you’ll never do anything to intentionally harm me. I like to see the good and remain optimistic but I can’t deny a nagging sinking doubt lurks on.

Facebook Man Max

Facebook Man Max lives 5 km away and supposedly leaves me messages

In any case, given your unwillingness to compromise, I think you owe me one. And that’s why I demand you stop trying to hook me up. I don’t know if it is something I said or did but it’s a grave misunderstanding. I definitely don’t need you to find me a man no matter how perfect the match. Every single day of the week you come up with someone new and it’s got to stop already. You got really creepy when you started including hearts and distance info. I expected my doorbell to ring in the next minute and FB Man Max to be on the other end, gasping for air after the 5 km run he undertook to bridge our distance and meet up.

Stop doing this.

It’s creepy.

If you really want to help me, Facebook, give me some assistance in schlepping home my Billa bags. Or better yet, get one of thosedream-mates to lug them home for me.

Tuesday guy doesn't strike me as a emoticon type

Tuesday guy doesn’t strike me as a emoticon type but he has a heart and a message

I’m not suing you but I can’t say I’m disappointed that there is an Austrian who is.

All my best, KC

Background: Austrian privacy activist, Max Schrems has filed several complaints with European courts against Facebook in cases concerning privacy infringements. One of his cases has been forwarded to the European Court of Justice and another case is being filed this month in the Vienna Commercial Court.

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Irish Times Article on Facebook Case

http://wirtschaftsblatt.at/home/life/techzone/3849443/Schon-12000-wollen-Facebook-klagen

http://www.csmonitor.com/Business/2014/0801/Facebook-sued-by-law-student-Max-Schrems-for-privacy-violations

Take the Christian Science Monitor Quiz to see how savvy you are about social networks: http://www.csmonitor.com/Innovation/Tech-Culture/2013/0702/Are-you-savvy-about-social-networks-Take-our-quiz-to-find-out/Zuckerberg-pre-Facebook

PDF with Information about case and contact information to become involved: http://www.europe-v-facebook.org/sk/pa_en.pdf

 Facebook – the modern Yenta

 

 

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Soccer Bashing: Ann Coulter and our Nation’s Moral Decay

Following is my 942-word response to Ann Coulter’s 943-word nonsense

Dear Ms. Coulter,

As a US citizen living abroad, I have been spared your opinion pieces. However, this changed recently when a friend, no doubt upset by his inability to attend the public viewing of the US-Germany game at a Vienna beach bar, forwarded your piece entitled, “America’s Favorite National Pastime: Hating Soccer.”

He was surprised (and maybe concerned) when it failed to provoke the highly anticipated “pithy” response. Until now.

Forgive the delay but on the evening of June 26, I was too busy to read your article. The beach bar showing the game was so full that we had to go to the next. And then the next. And the next. All the bars Thursday night, the entire length of the Danube canal, were overflowing with Americans caped in Stars and Stripes and Germans decked out in everything German. All in a country that didn’t even make it to the World Cup.

Spring 2014 - all of Panama City stops to watch the Real Madrid - Barcelona soccer game

Spring 2014 – all of Panama City stops to watch the Real Madrid – Barcelona soccer game

Today, together with a room full of people from three continents and four nations, I anxiously held my breath as five individual players from Brazil and Chile each faced off the other team’s goalie in a penalty shootout that would determine who would move into the quarter finals.

Never seen a penalty shootout, Ms. Coulter? Imagine if not just New York City, or New York State, but the entire United States of America sat in anticipation as you alone tried to angle a ball just right so that it would soar 11 meters past a goalie and into a net as hundreds of millions (maybe even billions?) around the world looked on. (FYI: eleven meters is about eleven times the distance from the floor to a doorknob). Your ear drums vibrate to the beat of “USA! USA!”

No individual achievement? But what if you don’t? What if you miss? You’re not just playing for New York, you’re playing for the entire country.

That’s exactly what happened to Gonzalo Jara today. The entire hopes of Chile rested on his shoulders as he swung his leg and kicked the ball. And what happened? It bounced against the right post and flew back across the goal, missing the net. His teammates collapsed and Mineirão Stadium — all of Brazil — exploded in a blaze of yellow and blue. “BRAZIL WINS!!!!!”

Don’t think Jara left the field with a ribbon and a juice box.

And soccer’s heroes? Pelé, Messi, Ronaldo. Ever heard of them? Well, I’d venture they’ve never heard of Coulter either. But soccer’s most legendary kickers are recognized the world over. Soccer unites. The world knows it but we Americans are unfortunately slow in “getting it.”

You seriously believe that the increasing popularity of a universally beloved sport is evidence of our nation’s “moral decay”? Well if that’s the case, can you clarify some points for me since I read and re-read your article and still don’t quite get how soccer = moral decay. I’ve noted your concerns and posed some comments/questions

(1)    team spirit = moral decay? The US Constitution also seems rather group-oriented though, don’t you think? “We the People….. more perfect Union, … common defence, … general Welfare”

(2)    gender equality = moral decay? Let’s skip this since I read somewhere that your relationship “with the feminine is complicated”

(3)    soccer has scoreless ties (sometimes but not always — the knock out portion of the World Cup allows no ties – see penalty shootout above)

(4)    lack of humiliation / “warfare”: Because humiliation and warfare are always moral – is that your point?

(5)    lack of hands: Hand activities are moral activities? And the goalie? And hockey?

(6)    popularity amongst a US minority: Because majority rules and minority should be squashed?

(7)    it’s “foreign”: so are Irish last names

(8)  it uses the metric system: like NASA. BTW, the CDC (http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/body-measurements.htm), shows the average waist circumference for a man in the last 20 years is 39.7 inches, not 32 (meaning your recommended yard “guesstimates” are nearly 20% off). And this leads me back to your fifth point: if you desperately want to distinguish yourself from lesser beasts by using your hands, why don’t you just give a thumbs-up to a sport that can combat larger waists by offering yet another physical alternative to the wildly popular one involving couch-fridge-couch laps.

(9)    that it might be “catching on” in the US

I grew up in a small town outside of Pittsburgh, PA that lived for sports. When the family dog had puppies, we named them Franco Harris, Rocky Bleier, Lynn Swan and Mean Joe Greene. I cheered one for the thumb in 81 and learned the Pittsburgh Steelers Polka at school. I love “American” football.

My passion for the game has remained undeterred by the less enlightened I’ve encountered over the years who criticize the slowness of a game that includes a mini Kaffeeklatsch after every down. When the Steelers made it to Super XLV in 2011, I secured tickets to the Vienna Marriot Super Bowl party where I madly waved my Terrible Towel above a sea of Green Bay Packer Cheeseheads. The Steelers may have lost but I went home in the wee hours of the morning a happy camper. American football was “finally catching on” abroad.

I promise you, Ms. Coulter, that my great-grandfather’s great-grandfather was born in the US and I love soccer AND football. One can only hope that, in addition to some genuine interest in the real threats to our “nation’s moral decay,” the less enlightened of my fellow countrymen (and women) will stop spreading their closed-minded nonsense and embrace our role on the world’s athletic stage.

And the next time the urge strikes you to write about soccer? Please don’t.

Warm regards from beautiful Vienna,

KC

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For readers fortunate enough to have missed it — Ann Coulter’s article about soccer: http://www.anncoulter.com/columns/2014-06-25.html

Forbe magazine’s Maury Brown gives an admirable response to Ms. Coulter entitled, “How Miss Coulter Lost Her Mind Over World Cup Soccer”: http://www.forbes.com/sites/maurybrown/2014/06/26/how-ann-coulter-lost-her-mind-over-world-cup-soccer/

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