David Horvitz

As a frequent reader of this blog (LOL!) you have probably come to appreciate my fascination with the whimsical, the obscure, the unnecessary.

As such, I am delighted to introduce to you Mr. David Horvitz, who posts a creative project for people to participate in every day. He posts a bite-size task, and you are welcome to use it as a little inspiration. Every day needs a good meal, some exercise, a little art appreciation, and a quantum of personal creativity.

Some excerpts, try one:

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This one also makes a fine birthday present:

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This one obviously appeals to me a lot, and I’ve done a number of these. Cell phone cameras are great for this kind of project:

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Art world rebellion:

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..and I already completed one task:

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Go check out his site, I really like it a lot.

Sign on a Building

Just a quicky, but this one made me laugh!

I’m going to have one of these made up for the new house. Very funny, and really appeals to my sense of humor.

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Joe Jackson and his smoking diatribe

I couldn’t sleep last night, so around midnight I snuck to my computer for a little late-night browsing. I ended up at The Local, an English-language news site covering Berlin.

Imagine my pleasure when I found an editorial written by one of my favorite musicians, Joe Jackson!

Imagine my excitement when I read that he’s been living in Berlin for several years!

Imagine my disappointment when I realized the man is an idiot!

First off, allow me to quote his editorial in full. You can always click over to The Local, and read the article embedded in its home page… but it’s not going to make it any less crazy.

Steppin’ Out for a Smoke

Having lived in Berlin for the better part of three years, I’ve been asked to write something about my ‘right’ to smoke here. But I’m not sure I have one. The real question, I think, is: who has the right to forbid me to smoke, and on what grounds? Consider the following:

(1) Tobacco is legal in Germany.
(2) Smokers are adults.
(3) Smokers contribute enormous amounts of tax revenue.
(4) Pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants are private property.
(5) If some people don’t like smoke, this is a matter of taste and therefore for the free market to sort out, not the government.
(6) A decent modern ventilation system can render smoke virtually unnoticeable.
(7) ‘Second-hand,’ or ‘passive’ smoke hurts no one anyway.

This all seems pretty obvious to me, but the last point may need some explanation. Seven years of research has convinced me that the potential risks involved in smoking are currently hugely exaggerated, for reasons which have more to do with politics than health.

In the case of ‘second-hand’ smoke, though, anyone who really looks at the evidence – how the studies are done, who pays for them, what the statistics really mean – is soon reminded of the old story of The Emperor’s New Clothes.

You remember the one: the Emperor thinks he’s wearing a fabulous invisible costume, and no one has the nerve to tell him he’s naked because, well, he’s the Emperor! We’re not so impressed by emperors these days, or by priests or popes or politicians. But we seem to practically swoon at the sight of a doctor’s white coat. That’s why, more and more, it’s the uniform of choice for anyone in authority who wants to nag you, bully you, raise your taxes and generally push you around.

In Germany, the ‘official’ figure for yearly deaths from ‘passive smoke’ has been, for the last four years, exactly 3,301 – two-thirds of whom, incidentally, are supposedly over 75 years old and one-third over 85. This comes from a cancer research centre in Heidelberg. How do they know? Well, they don’t. They have just cherry-picked a few dubious statistics from a few trashy studies, and done computer projections from them. They can’t actually prove even one death.

I’m happy to say there seems to be a bit more (healthy!) skepticism about this sort of thing in Germany than, say, the UK. I’m delighted, too, that in the face of court rulings, fierce resistance, and half-hearted enforcement, smoking bans are unravelling in Berlin and the rest of the country.

Very few people, it seems, wanted them in the first place, and even most non-smokers favour some kind of freedom of choice. After all, a Berlin Eckkneipe, or corner pub, is typically a place where the owner, the bartenders, and most of the customers smoke. How far are authorities willing to go to stop them? The Nazis were fierce anti-smokers, but even they did not ban smoking in pubs.

There are bigger things bothering me than some nebulous ‘right to smoke.’ Basic democratic principles (freedom of choice, property rights, free enterprise, tolerance) are increasingly regarded, by politicians and lobby groups acting in the name of ‘health,’ as nothing more than obstacles to be scornfully swept aside.

People need to look beyond their personal prejudices and wake up. The phenomenal recent success of the anti-smoking movement is evidence not of the ascendancy of a noble cause, but of phenomenal infusions of cash. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been extorted out of the US tobacco industry in behind-the-scenes deals like the Master Settlement Agreement. Add to that punitive taxation and especially, the enthusiastic support of the pharmaceutical industry – which wants to sell nicotine products and antidepressants to the world’s 1.2 billion smokers. This is how a fairly small network of prohibitionist fanatics grows into a juggernaut which simply intimidates any opposition into silence.

Anti-tobacco in Europe is driven to a large extent by the World Health Organization – in an explicit partnership with three of the world’s biggest drug companies. AIDS, typhoid and dysentery are rampant in developing countries, and two million children a year die just from lack of clean water. Yet the WHO now prefers to bully the generally healthy citizens of prosperous countries over ‘lifestyle’ issues such as tobacco, alcohol, diet, obesity, and road safety.

Every aspect of our personal lives is being dictated, more and more, by unelected and unaccountable bodies like the WHO or various bit of the EU bureaucracy. If you don’t smoke, you may think it’s none of your business. But don’t kid yourself. If you’re a few pounds ‘overweight,’ or drink more than two government-defined ‘units’ of alcohol per day, or eat ‘unhealthy’ foods, then you’re next in line to be scapegoated and stigmatized, denied health care or insurance, denied jobs or housing, forbidden to adopt children . . . the list is growing daily.

These things are already happening in nanny states like the UK, Canada and Australia, and Germany can’t be so far behind. Nevertheless there is some cause for cautious optimism here. Germany, at least, won’t be the first country to sleep-walk into a joyless, squeaky-clean, socially-engineered future. So light a cigarette, raise a glass, and drink to that healthy disrespect for authority which is still alive and well in the bars of Berlin.

This man borders on the paranoid. A grand collusion of the pharma industry to outlaw smoking… so they can sell nicotine gum? Die he actually use the phrase Nanny State? His juvenile Me-and-Mine approach to rights is reminiscent of the most primitive wing-nut Fox News watchers.

The Germans have a lovely Neu-Deutsch phrase called Fremdscham – it’s New German for being ashamed on behalf of someone else… like when you see someone make a complete ass out of himself without realizing it. This is a version of empathy I’m feeling for a former larger-than-life star in my personal pantheon of 1980s hipsters.

I’m a smoker. Occasional smoker in any case. I don’t mind people smoking in my house. I don’t even mind it in most restaurants, but after the ban came into effect I noticed the air got better. I like it, but I’m not militant about it. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s a hard habit to kick. But with all the real problems in the world, Joe Jackson makes his grand stand on the barricades of the pro-smoking struggle. Cigarettes are a product marketed to 14-year olds, most of whom figure out relatively quickly that personal insecurity can be compensated through more effective ways than posing in the school yard like a member of the Sharks or the Jets. Grow up, and quit smoking. Don’t sell it back to us as an infringement of your rights and a conspiracy of NGOs.

Joe, unclench.

Why NOT steroids?

A couple of days ago Manny Ramirez got busted for taking steroids, and was promptly suspended from Major League Baseball for fifty games. A lot of fans were extremely disappointed. In this day and age, when all the supervising sports organizations are checking for these kinds of infractions – especially amongst its high-performing stars – it must enrage fans to know that a player would be stupid enough to take drugs.

But why are we so enraged by these performance enhancing drugs? Why is this such a big deal? Because we believe that athletes should be role-models for the younger fans? That’s ridiculous. Most professional athletes behave like the worst kind of hip-hop and rock stars, who curse, lie, and cheat while spending every penny they earn on flashy cars, poorly-made jewelry and augmentation surgery for the most current wife.

The athletes taking steroids are not a bunch of loafers who are laying around on the couch all day, then pop a pill prior to game time and win big. No, these players are extremely competitive. They work out, they practice, they hone their craft every day, and will seek out an edge any way they can.

In the automotive industry it has long been accepted that racing improves the brand. Tricks and equipment that are developed on the track often makes its way into regular cars, and the average person benefits from the lessons learned. Why not do the same with these kinds of drugs? Level the playing field, and let athletes take whatever they want. The armsrace amongst the pharmboys will benefit the rest of us in some way – either by discovering something positive or being able to rule it out due to long-term and side effects.

Two weeks ago the New Yorker had an extremely interesting article called Brain Gain about neuro-enhancers that function as performance drugs for the brain. Starting to get a little forgetful? Need to focus on certain kinds of work for longer periods than is comfortable? Well, there are a number of drugs out there that are gaining substantial traction. They’re being used Off Label at this point, which means many were originally developed for other users. Drugs that have been successful for children with A.D.H.D. are quite effective amongst Ivy League students as well. The article raises a lot of good questions. Why wouldn’t we want find ways for the brain to function at higher levels? Would you give it to your child in the years prior to college if you know the other kids in your competitive school are also taking them? What if your younger colleague is cranking out better, more detailed work – and doing so more frequently? What if it’s illegal, so the company moves a lot of the heavy brain work to Singapore where there are no such limits?

I have to admit it’s tempting. I looked into these drugs a few years ago. I don’t focus well, especially on tasks that aren’t that interesting… but I have an addictive personality, and ultimately concluded that my life is sufficiently moderated by some additional self-discipline. Still, a pill that fixes a shortcoming is a nice idea. We accept medical solutions for a number of ailments. You can bet that should the need ever arise, I will be the first in line for some E.D. treatments like Viagra.

So I wish everyone would just let the athletes take whatever they want. I really don’t care, and I have no misconceptions of them as priests and rabbis of phyisical purity and perfection. Sports is entertainment, and if eeking out an extra couple of hits or seconds can be gained from some drug cocktail, so be it. Maybe we can even learn through them.

And the only fitting image I could find is this shot of mine. It’s a discarded prescription bottle I found on the sand in Venice near the body builder’s beach.

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Dutch bikes

It’s another lovely spring day in Holland. I’m here for my weekly business meetings in Amsterdam, and after the regular walk-through of the hotel I went across to the street to one of Amsterdam’s better bike shops. Those who know me are familiar with my growing affection toward Dutch bicycles. I finally got my Bakfiets, a black 996 with a wooden loading bin. It’s a particularly elegant version from De Fietsfabriek, and was a gift from my business partner.

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The plan was to take the boys to school in the morning with it, but they took one look at the thing and decided they might be safer in the bowels of the minivan. The cold damp weather probably didn’t help my cause.

I own two other bikes, a high-performance road bike for a high-speed cardio work-out, and an older, heavier mountain bike that lets me exercise in the forests around Berlin. I use both several times a week, but they are pretty specialized – one for going fast, the other for grinding up earthy hills. These bikes are great for sports, but they really don’t lend themselves for riding into town. Neither of them have a luggage rack for a briefcase, and both are extremely bad for clothing. The absence of chain guards and mudflaps means my pantleg gets caught in the gears and sprockets, and any moisture on the road gets sprayed into my face and up the front of my clothes. Worse, their respective riding positions are perfect for achieving maximum downforce when pedaling… but having your wrists at butt-level is awkward in street clothes, to put it mildly.

So I’ve decided I’m going to get a solid Dutch men’s bike. I’m not going to pretend this is about being “green” though I must admit it appeals to me… at least as a possible justification to my wife for getting yet another bicycle. The simple truth is that it’s actually liberating. I don’t need to look for parking, for one thing… I can just pull up wherever I’m going. It takes just as long to ride to most of the places I usually travel to by car, but I can be less concentrated than I would have to be when maneuvering several thousand pounds of steel through traffic. And the mild amount of exercise is really good. It may not burn a lot of calories, but it helps settle a meal or to get a little fresh air instead of sitting in a car.

The New York Times has a nice little Fashion & Lifestyle multimedia piece that does a good job of explaining what I mean. The article ultimately leaves out how easy the handling becomes on a bike with upright seating and good posture. It becomes easy to respond to elements on the road, and even a novice rider feels confident in city traffic.

Pictured below is the object of my desire: a Fietsfabriek men’s bike in black, with a nice leather saddle and an awesomely big handlebar bell. It may have to be a father’s day gift to myself.

Men Fiets

But back to the Dutch bike store. I really like their emphasis on elegance. If you look at bikes in Berlin, you really wonder sometimes whether people have any fashion sense at all – designers or consumers! But in Amsterdam, at least the Arriveste district of Oud Zuid, the consultation by the bike man is as much about functionality as it is matching your look and lifestyle. The man actually recommended handlebars on how the jacket falls across the chest. Pretty smart actually, because the wrong position will just blow a bunch of cold air down the neck. What remains to be seen is whether I’ll still ride my bike once the fall goes from pretty to harsh, or whether I will be safely ensconced in my heated car seat.