Please come to lovely Palos Verdes Peninsula!

June 7, 2018 § 7 Comments

The latest volley of race hatred on the peninsula was lobbed by the Rancho Palos Verdes city council as it voted to stop advertising certain Recreation and Parks events on the city’s Facebook page. Earlier, the city council did its best to erect another “Keep Out!” sign on the peninsula by trying to curb “meet-up groups” and ban alcohol in public places, but that wasn’t enough to inhibit the us v. them mentality that has driven all peninsula communities since their inception.

Whiny assholes like residents Herb Stark and Donald Bell lent their lamentations to the general critique that the peninsula is becoming the “playground of the area” and that when the city publicizes events it can “overwhelm residents’ ability to fully enjoy those events.”

Code for “black and brown people stay out”

Rancho Palos Verdes has long suffered from being the poor cousin to Palos Verdes Estates, with the PVE’ers looking their nose down at the poverty stricken RPV’ers, and the RPV’ers looking down their noses at Torrance. (FYI, Torrance looks down its nose at Gardena.)

Unfortunately city manager Doug Willmore dumped a bucket of warm spit on the complainers when he pointed out that refraining from posting events on social media will not prevent people from coming to the city’s preserves and parks. He didn’t add that the parks are public, as is the coastline, and any person in California has the right to enjoy them.

Flunky council member Ken Dyda knows an election issue when he sees one, so he added his incredibly bright observation that “When it starts preventing our people from really enjoying what they pay taxes for, I think it’s time we do scale it back significantly.”

Did you hear the dog whistle?

“Our people” = White people.

“Pay taxes” = White people.

“Scale it back” = Obstruct public usage by non-resident, i.e. black and brown people.

How you can help the good denizens of RPV, and the peninsula in general

  1. Get in your car and drive to the peninsula. THERE ARE UNTOLD MILES OF FREE STREETSIDE PARKING EVERYWHERE. Put your bike in the back, unload it, and spend the day pedaling along the PUBLIC streets. Perhaps you are even legally parking your rusted out Buick LeSabre in front of Ken’s house so he can appreciate the styling of Detroit steel from the 90’s.
  2. Ride your bike to the peninsula. Stop by Malaga Cove Plaza, where you can pop in and say hi to local NextDoor whiner Frank Ponce. Offer to take him on a ride and watch him mutter excuses under his breath.
  3. Tell all your friends that the best parks, best views, best hiking, best surfing, and best cycling in LA are on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, and if they haven’t experienced it, they should. Encourage people to take their families to regular outings all along the peninsula. If you have extra seats in your car, invite a friend.
  4. Post your beautiful pictures on Instabrag and Facebrag, with location information about all of the peninsula’s beautiful PUBLIC parks and PUBLIC coastline access. Encourage people to beat global warming and spend their weekend in lovely RPV, with frequent sashays over to Bluff Cove in PVE where they can take in views of the scenic bay.
  5. Get the word out that the peninsula is a “secret” and a “hidden gem,” and post it all over travel web sites like Trip Advisor and ChinaBusTours.com. Add information about the friendly residents, welcoming law enforcement, and surf kooks in Lunada Bay who are dying to show beginners how to surf.
  6. Use Google Translate to make sure your posts are read in a dozen languages so that a good portion of the several million tourists who fly into LAX each year will know to rent their Dodge Neon and head straight for Bluff Cove, Golden Cove, Del Cerro, Ladera Park, the Switchbacks, Lunada Bay, and Indicators.

Ready?

Set?

GO!!!!

END

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Dream bike vacation

May 16, 2018 § 1 Comment

When you take a dream bike vacation, you pretty much have to take your bike. And you have to ride it. Having a dream bike vacation and not riding the crap out of your bike = flail.

Except, not.

The last few dream bike vacations I’ve had have been dreamy. Two have involved bike cartage and all the fun that entails, and one involved bike rentage and all the disappointment that entails. “Could you get this bike with 50,000 miles on it since January to ride like brand new? No? Oh, okay.”

Still, no amount of first-world bike problems can much detract from going somewhere strange and riding strangely with strangers, or alone.

It’s quite frequently not about the bike

Especially when family is involved, it’s not only not about the bike, it’s often adamantly not about the bike. Like, “If you take off at 5:00 AM again and don’t get back until four, we’re dumping your stuff on the street and flying to Nice. Or Baghdad. Without you.”

Not that I would ever abandon my family in order to go ride strange roads strangely with strangers, but that’s certainly how they have seen it. So with a big chunk of July open and beckoning, it seemed like a perfect time to take at least part of my family on a dream bicycle vacation. But it was gonna take planning and deception. One of those I excel at.

Does anyone here like German grammar?

Since we were going to Austria again, and since we’ve already seen the sights, or at least those you can see on five euros a day, which basically means the lounge at the youth hostel, I figured I would spice it up to get people excited about the trip. Instead of saying, “Gosh, it’s going to be fun waiting for me all day to come home from a bike ride!” I came up with this #winner: “Wouldn’t it be fun to take an intensive course in German grammar for a vacation?”

The thought was that the other two members of my entourage would say “No, thank you,” and then I could shrug and say “Well, I TRIED,” and then huffily add, “I guess I’ll just take my bike since our interests OBVIOUSLY don’t align.”

Seemed like a sure thing.

Unfortunately, Entourage Member No. 1 said “That would be great! I can’t imagine anything more fun!”

More unfortunately, Entourage Member No. 2 said “That would be awesome! I’ve always wanted to learn German!”

So, now what?

You’re going to be Institut shionalized

In Vienna they have a branch of the Goethe Institut, which is the global educational propaganda arm of all things Germanic. They also have two-week intensive courses split into different levels so that no matter how badly you mangle your cases, there’s a nurturing environment appropriate to your level in which you can sound like an idiot and be subject to only mild ridicule.

I signed us all up for the two-week course, which is from nine to one every day, and includes several cultural events, by which I suspect means huge quantities of salty food and beer. My comprehension of slurred German should improve drastically.

On the surface, two weeks of intensive study sounds like a terrible idea until you think about it. What’s the most fun thing about travel? Being able to talk in the local language. What’s the worst thing about travel? Getting murdered. But after that, it’s getting a bad case of flesh-eating bacteria, followed by trying to speak the local language only to have everyone answer you in English.

Of course at the Goethe Institut they speak at you in German from start to finish and make you feel like you learned something at the end, or at the very least like you failed a competency exam. And when you’re stuck in a class with a bunch of other foreigners all of whom want to sound ridiculous, good things are bound to happen.

Protecting those you love

For us, however, the single most important aspect to being in class all day is that it spares our son and daughter-in-law the utter hell of having parents/siblings/in-laws descend on them for three weeks. Instead of having to come up with plausible excuses for not being together breakfast-lunch-tea time-dinner-dessert, everyone can shrug and say “Gotta go to class” or “Gotta review the genitive.” No one’s feelings get hurt, which is much better than them having to say “Could you guys go somewhere far away, like home?”

Back to the dream bicycling thing

Instead of making each day an assault on some awesome new cycling route, the Grammar Class Vacation allows us to rent an apartment far from the school so that we can all commute daily on rental city bikes. Nothing like getting to class drenched in sweat and stinking like old cheese to make quick friends!

And on the weekends, I’ve arranged through a buddy to have a genuine 58cm road bike ready for me. Mon-Thu I’ll be an obedient slave to German grammar. But Fri-Sat-Sun? I’ll be practicing it. On the bike.

END

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Japan bike travel tips

March 18, 2018 § 3 Comments

A non-cycling friend sent me an email the other day asking for Japan travel tips. I’ve also had people, cyclists, ask for similar advice, and I understand why. I lived there for ten years, I speak Japanese, I follow the Japanese news, my wife of thirty years is Japanese, and I’ve traveled there a bunch, not to mention having logged tens of thousands of miles in Tochigi, Ibaraki, Gunma, Fukushima, and Tokyo.

Unfortunately, I’m a terrible trip adviser. My data is, sadly, way out of date in a country that changes more quickly than any other. The last time I visited, in 2016, I barely recognized the city I’d lived in for a decade. And of course places to see, things to do, joints to eat at can be found with astounding accuracy on the Internet.

However, there are some aspects of Japan travel, whether on a bike or otherwise, that are immutable. They don’t have so much to do with logistics as they do with the essence of visiting Japan and, to some extent anywhere else. I can’t think of a more interesting country to visit, and here’s why.

Wanky’s Japan Travel Tips

  1. The difference between an adventure and a tragedy is the outcome. Travel to Japan, if you let it, can be a great adventure by which I mean a place where you can sally forth on various expeditions and have no idea of the outcome. The corollary is that you can plot out every step, research every restaurant, and simply spend your time there seeing and doing what you thought you would see and do. I’m not judging, but if you want an adventure you can’t know the ending.
  2. Dispense with fear for your physical safety. Although you could probably get mugged or murdered if you put together a really thorough plan, people in Japan are simply not going to fuck with you. You’re safe. Relax.
  3. Dispense with your fear of getting ripped off. They won’t steal your wallet, give you change in fake currency, jack up the price because you aren’t Japanese, or cheat you on the exchange rate. In general, prices are reasonable for the good/service provided, and no one is going to bargain with you about it.
  4. Observe first, judge later … if ever. Things in Japan are different. That’s why you’re going there, remember? I know that you don’t put mayonnaise and pineapple on your pizza back in Des Moines, but you know what? They don’t put strawberries on their sushi, either.
  5. Embrace the confusion. At home you’re in command, in charge, in control. In Japan you may still be in command, but of what? Instead of treating a wrong train as an obstacle, use it as a chance to get off and learn about the place you’re now in that you didn’t intend to be. Do you really HAVE to be anywhere? If so, maybe you’re doing it wrong.
  6. Ask. Many people may be frightened by you or ignore, but many will not. Your best memories will be the people you meet and your interactions with them. I will never forget the kind man who, on January 15, 1987, as I stood lost and bewildered in Tokyo Station, bought my train ticket for me on the Chuo Line and gave me patient instructions on how to find Kichijoji.
  7. It should only go to about 5. Even though your U.S.A. voice goes to 11, however loud you’re talking, it’s too loud. Speak softly, carry no stick, and then speak even more softly.
  8. Count to ten. You know all that time you’ve spent on the Internet searching out flights and accommodations, and reconnoitering the lay of the land? Take an hour out of your life and learn to count to ten in Japanese. Then tack on ten expressions and swear on pain of death that you will use them no matter how stupid, awkward, and inept you sound. “Thank you,” “Please,” “I’m sorry,” “Excuse me,” “You’re welcome,” “Good morning,” “Good afternoon,” “Good evening,” “I like it,” and “Yes, it’s okay,” sound beautiful no matter how awful your pronunciation. And when you bring that handful of phrases with you to Japan, you’re bringing something else as well: Respect.
  9. Location, location, location. Travel is all about movement, which is all about direction, which is ultimately about knowing where you are. Understand three things about Japan and your trip will be so much better: 1) Where Japan is relative to other Asian nations. 2) Where your city is relative to other Japanese cities. 3) Where your accommodations are relative to the city/town you’re staying in.
  10. Ride yer fuggin’ bike. Japan is bike friendly, motorists are respectful, and some cities offer bike share rentals that can be rented through your smartphone. So … enjoy!

END

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Sunbeams in winter

March 13, 2018 § 5 Comments

It’s easy to get bummed out about the various obstacles life throws in our way. Even when it comes to riding a bike, an activity/lifestyle that’s supposed to be an antidote to the blues, sometimes it seems like everything’s conspiring against you. The weather, a sore tendon, a creaky back, and of course inadequate quantities of things that are 100% carbon and made of full carbon, exclusively carbon, that is.

I was kind of falling into that funk a couple of weeks ago. It was 5:00 AM and I was standing on the subway platform in Vienna, angsting about the flight that was going to be a very close call, dreading the all-day travel back home, the cramped economy seat, the jet lag, the crappy food, the bad coffee, the drooling seatmate, you know, the hard things in life.

It was subzero Fahrenheit even underground, and I’d had all I could take of the brutal Central European winter, all seven days of it. In a handful of days it had cracked me like a windshield behind a gravel truck.

Unusually, I’d overpacked and was schlepping back a couple of things that had served no purpose at all. One of those things was a super thin knit cap that had proven worse than useless against the bitter temperatures and blowing winds. I’d replaced it with a thick ski cap and was wearing it pulled as far down over my ears as it would go. My ears still stung.

The platform was mostly empty except for a handful of equally cold riders waiting for the train and a beggar in a wheelchair. He rolled from person to person, about half of whom reached into their pockets and handed him a couple of coins. Each time they doled out a 20-cent or 50-cent piece, he smiled broadly and said thank you.

Eventually he made his way over to me. “Sorry, man, I don’t have any small change,” I said, but before he rolled away I realized that I did in fact have a couple of small bills left. “Hang on a sec,” I said, fishing out my wallet. The smallest bill was five euros, about seven bucks. I handed him the blue note.

He looked up at me from down in his wheelchair as he took the money. “That’s incredibly generous of you,” he said. He was a young guy in his late 20’s. His teeth were brown, broken, and missing, and his face looked weathered, which, in this weather, was easy to understand. His legs were about twelve inches long each, shriveled little stubs.

“No problem,” I said. “Where are you going?”

“I’m down here early begging a bit. Thanks so much for the fiver; I’m good for a solid pack of smokes now. Maybe even head home, thanks to you.”

“You live near here?”

He laughed. “Not too far, about thirty minutes by train, then I have to roll for another ten minutes. Where are you from?”

“USA,” I said.

“Ah, yeah, right, I’d love to visit there someday. Whereabouts?”

“California.”

“Oh, that’s cool. That’s the coolest! What do you do?”

“I’m a lawyer.”

“Too cool!” he said. “You look like an ordinary guy with that shopping bag you’re carrying, but you must be a rich American lawyer, handing out fivers like that.”

“I am pretty rich, just not in money.”

“Oh, I know all about that,” he said. “Money can’t buy most things. But it can buy smokes!” Then he added, “Of all the places I’d like to go, I’d like to go to California most. Los Angeles, palm trees, beaches, pretty girls. It must be the coolest.”

He was dressed warmly, with thick pants, a heavy jacket, and a hood that covered his head. “It’s nice there,” I agreed, “but it’s nice here, too. Hey, you want a knit cap? It’s a surfer brand, not much use here in winter but maybe okay in spring or fall.” I dug into my shopping bag and pulled out the light green cap that my buddy Michael had given me a couple of years ago.

“Super cool!” he said, pushing back his hood and stretching the cap over his skull. “Do I look like a surfer now?” He was laughing.

“Yeah, about as much as I do.” He sat there for a minute, very satisfied, in no rush to go anywhere, and there was a comfortable silence between us. Finally I broke it. “What happened to your legs?” I asked.

“I got a cyst on my spine when I was tiny and when they cut it out my legs quit growing.”

“Man, that is tough,” I said.

He looked up at me and threw his sunbeam of a broken-toothed smile onto that cold Sunday morning train platform. “It’s not too bad,” he said. “There are so many people in this world who have it so much worse. I love Austria,” he said. “I think it’s the best country in the world.” Then he paused and looked at me, satisfied. “I consider myself a pretty lucky guy.”

END

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Down and dirty Vienna coffee review: Cafe Hawelka

March 5, 2018 § 2 Comments

This place suffers from being famous, but without fame, and a lot of it, there’s no way it could afford to exist in Vienna’s crazy toney First District, just a few footsteps away from the grand space that is Stephansplatz, sharing addresses with huge, disgusting multinationals like Nestle, Armani, et al.

Cafe Hawelka keeps alive and well the feeling of the old coffeehouse, its worn and smelly interior, its marbletop tables, its atrociously uncomfortable chairs, its fully attired waiters, and its casual flaunting, shoulders shrugged, of the thing that money can’t buy, which is history.

The clientele change throughout the day, some are regulars with tables reserved, the great many are tourists, and a handful are locals who were in the neighborhood and wanted to grab a cup and a cake. The cake at Cafe Hawelka is dreadful, hard, particle-board construction, designed to show you the middle finger for having ordered cake in a coffeehouse. The coffee is nondescript, which is as it should be, definitely good enough to drink, certainly not good enough to write a poem about.

Yesterday evening I closed Cafe Hawelka down, sliding into my chair at about six and leaving at midnight. During that time I had four coffees and a cake, and I tipped the Ober handsomely for letting me hog his table, though in truth that was my guilt, not his disapproval at my presence. In fact, the wholesale tourism business of Cafe Hawelka makes them, it seems, rather appreciate the literary posers who show up with nothing but a book and a bunch of time.

As you scan through the crowd of people checking their phones, talking about the opera or the symphony, gabbing about the beauty of the city, it is calming and even a bit respectable to see one or two somewhat rundown people with their noses buried in a book. It’s the bit of authenticity that reminds everyone else of the place’s noble origins, never mind that the literati are tourists, too.

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Down and dirty Vienna coffee review: Bakery Tak

March 4, 2018 Comments Off on Down and dirty Vienna coffee review: Bakery Tak

Tak is the Turkish bakery/grab-n-go right down the street from the hostile youth hostel. The coffee sucks. It is made from a big espresso machine with Illy coffee, but it still sucks. I would describe the taste as somewhere between bitter, sour, and irrelevant. If you are looking for a deep personal connection with your coffee, keep walking.

But what if you aren’t?

What if you are there because the hostile hostel’s coffee is even worse? What if you are there because you are en route to Westbahnhof, the wind is blowing through your coat, sweater, and skin, directly piercing your liver? What if you really need something fiery hot to warm you up inside?

Because warm insides on cold days count for a lot more than fancy brews and snobby baristas. In fact, a hundred steps into my frozen wasteland odyssey I was ready to fall down on my knees in gratitude for any coffee at all, much less coffee with a smile.

Vienna is coffee rich but smile poor. It’s bad form to smile at strangers. No one understands why you are happy or why you are happy at them. Keep your fuggin’ happiness to yourself, mister. I was advised by a Vienna native not to smile at people because it is the mark of an insane person, so to test it out one morning I was sitting in the Cafe Ritter and a woman walked by. We made eye contact. I didn’t exactly smile, but I slightly turned up the corners of my mouth to express something more positive than loathing. She jerked her eyes away and strode brusquely by.

The coffee at Bakery Tak doesn’t come with a smile automatically, you have to ask for it. The Turkish people who run the place know well the rules of Austria, that smiling is forbidden, but within their own world they smile aplenty. The first cup of coffee I got, I was treated to a stony look, stony service. I didn’t care because it only cost two euros and it was so cold. At the end of the transaction, though, the part where the lady wanted to know whether I wanted sugar in my cappuccino, I smiled. “No, thank you,” I said.

She flashed a big smile back as if to say “Aha, he’s not one of them.”

The coffee was hot and it warmed me up, toasting my innards and my hands as I pushed out onto the street. But the Turkish lady’d smile left me even warmer.

END

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Arab Spring, Neo-fascist Fall

March 3, 2018 § 6 Comments

I have been falling asleep at odd times. I woke up at 4:00 AM, went back to bed around 7:00, then slept until 3:00 PM. I slept through a huge blizzard and awoke to white everything, only to learn that sneakers don’t work in snow. I was the only person in Vienna wearing them. They slip, they are cold, the cold air knifes right through them. But the snow has its upsides. It is fresh, clean, at least before the foot traffic slushes it all up. The frozen nightscape of St. Stephen’s cathedral is worth all the slipping and uncertain purchase.

Reading US news from afar is weird. Trump is insane, but distance makes the insanity grow louder. However you voted, once you set foot on foreign territory, this is your president, scrambled brains and all. Keep your head down and try to look local, that’s all I can advise. Of course if anyone has been paying attention, and I’m not sure why they would, Austria has elected Eric Trump as its chancellor in the guise of a clown named Sebastian Kurz.

In addition to chumming with Putin, forming a coalition with the thinly disguised Neo Nazi Party, and promising to make Austria great again (think “Anschluss”), the big political news since I’ve arrived has been the government’s decision to go back on legislation that would have banned smoking in restaurants. In the scheme of Trump Trade Wars, Russia’s Big New Dickweapon, and indiscriminate bombing and gassing of civilians in Syria, you might think … so?

The problem with smoking in Austria

Austria is the ashtray of the EU, or something not far from it. Thirty-eight percent of all Austrians smoke. Lagging far behind other EU countries, to say nothing of nation-states like California, in 2015 Austria’s parliament voted to phase out smoking in restaurants, clubs, and bars. It was a hot-button issue, as addictions and the multinational corporations that profit from them always are, but with the phase-out, the health minister confidently predicted that in 2018, when the ban was to become total, “Three years from now this will not be an emotional issue.”

Note to self: Don’t hire that dude to pick my Lotto numbers.

In Austria today no issue is hotter, or more of a protruding button, than the smoking ban. For three years food-service establishments have had a system of joke partitions that separate patrons, and they work about as well as you would expect, marginally for customers, not at all for employees. Now that there’s a new right-wing sheriff in town, the government is refusing to enact the final phase of the ban. Does this sound like Trump refusing to enforce the healthcare or environmental protection laws?

What’s fascinating is not that a bunch of race-baiting, immigrant-bashing, swastika-honoring politicians want to give the “people” the “right to smoke.” It’s that the tools, language, tropes, bugaboos, and arguments they use are identical with those used by the right-wing populist governments that have spread like syphilis in the world’s Neo-fascist Fall, from the Philippines to Poland to Hungary to the good ole U.S.A.

Can’t see the forest for the demagogues

Demagoguery works best when clothed in freedom and patriotism, and the Austrian smoking ban is dressed in its Sunday patriotic best because flags and national pride have proven, time and time again, to sway people more than facts. And smoking bans are nothing if not fact-based. There is simply no public health problem that kills more people and is more easily managed than smoking.

By raising prices, changing advertising laws, raising the smoking age, and especially by limiting the places that you can smoke, people live longer. This is no more controversial factually than stating that the sun, 100% of the time, rises in the east and sets in the west.

But there are simple and powerful forces that oppose simple public health solutions. The first is the tobacco lobby, the second are the politicians willing to carry their water, and by far the most important are the smoking addicts. In Austria an overwhelming number of white, middle-aged men smoke, and these are precisely the constituents of the right wing VPO and the extreme-right FPO (“People’s Party” and “Freedom Party,” natch.)

Neo-fascism is based on the principle that the many owe the few. Contrasted with social democracy, which orients to “enough for everyone” neo-fascism and its U.S. Republican counterparts orient to “everything for me, nothing for you.” These neo-fascist forces are what underlie all of the right-tilt political movements that have overrun run Eastern Europe, Russia, Venezuela, and of course the U.S.A.

And the way the power grab is orchestrated here in Austria is a sad textbook case on a small and simple issue that shows how a committed band of thieves can always outfox a disorganized, lazy, and arrogant majority.

The words they carried

The FPO rose to power ostensibly on its call for more “direct democracy” and the insinuation that the true will of the people was being ignored by corrupt politicians. This is of course an absurd complaint in a representative democracy. If your voice is not being heard, it is because you are not voting. Like Trump, who peppered his campaign with insinuations that the polls were corrupt, neo-fascism comes to power using the very levers it claims are corrupt.

The insincerity of the FPO’s claims regarding a corrupt democracy became immediately evident when almost 400,000 Austrians signed a petition urging the government to enact the smoking ban. When presented with the petition, the FPO was no longer interested in direct democracy or the will of the people, and self-righteously announced that the ruling coalition had reached an agreement, as iƒf such a thing were sacrosanct and immune from revision.

The next and most powerful call to action for neo-fascism is of course freedom. In this case, the right to poison other people thanks to your addiction is couched as a truly fundamental issue of human rights: The freedom of customers to patronize where they want, the freedom of businesses to cater to the customers they want, the freedom of employees to work where they want, and crucially, the freedom of every red-blooded Austrian to decide for himself how healthy he wants to be. Throw in a few barbs denigrating political correctness, that is, justice and equality, and the recipe is perfect.

Never mind that the freedom to be addicted in public impinges on the freedom of non-addicts exposed to secondhand smoke to stay alive. If this sounds familiar, “My freedoms are paramount!” it’s because we just went through another round of freedoms at the Parkland High School Shooting in Florida, where the neo-fascists proved once again that freedom trumps all, except of course Trump.

But the lexicon and imagery hardly run dry once the freedom dog has been trotted out and shown off at halftime. The next dog in the show is patriotism and culture, which in the Austrian smoking war has been pithily described by the flacks for the FPO as a battle agains the “Nicotine Taliban.” No slogan works better than one that invokes Muslim terrorists, never mind that Afghanistan has one of the highest smoking rates on earth.

As with neo-fascists from Duterte to Erdogan to Orban to Trump to Kurz, this sick sellout of young people, secondhand smoke victims, smoking addicts, and ordinary people who want to go grab a bite and not have to take a shower afterwards, when you can’t overcome facts or rational thought, hit ’em with arguments so bizarre and patently patriotic that the opposition is overwhelmed by what it thinks is the stupidity of the argument, when in fact it’s being battered by a sophisticated, intelligent, well-executed attack.

In this case the broadside came from the newly installed neo-fascist Health Minister herself, who defended killing off the ban by saying that “A smoking ban will wreck Austria’s tradition of being welcoming to guests.” While normal people wondered if she thinks she is the head of the tourism department rather than the health ministry, or whether they’re waiting for someone to point out that smoking kills about 143 people per week in Austria and the health minister should care about that, or whether they’re astonished at the abortion of an idea that Austria’s tourism industry thrives because it caters to smokers, well, you’ve missed the point.

Because those who are listening on key heard all they needed to hear when they heard “Austrian tradition.” Combined with the imagery of the Nicotine Taliban, the troops are hereby officially rallied. This isn’t about a health minister protecting health, it’s about a high level government official defending the traditions–dare we say the purity?–of the Austrian race.

Freedom. Patriotism. The will of the people.

What could be simpler?

END

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