Category Archives: Personal Diary

Cadillacs, Yugos and Van Moofs

Being a member of Generation X, I’m old enough to remember the 1980s and the Sarajevo Olympics.

“Where is Sarajevo?” I asked my father.

(I knew perfectly well where Sarajevo was. I just wanted to hear my father explain it.)

“It’s in Yugoslavia,” he answered.

“Yugoslavia?” I said.

“It’s kind of like Switzerland,” he said, “only with Polacks, Turks and Greeks instead of Frogs, Germans and Italians.”

To translate from my father to English, “Polacks” meant “Slavs,” all Slavs. “Turks” meant “Muslims” and “Greeks” meant “Orthodox Christians.” So he was basically accurate. Yugoslavia was a multicultural Slavic state full of Muslims and Orthodox Christians.

“How is it like Switzerland?” I asked.

“It’s got mountains,” he said, “and it’s neutral.”

“Neutral?” I said. “Isn’t it communist?”

“Yes,” he said. “But they’re neutral commies, not like the Russians. That’s why we let them have the Olympics and didn’t boycott them. Unlike the East Germans or Polacks, they can also travel. That’s why there are so many of them here.”

In addition to being an expert on Yugoslavia and Southeastern Europe, my father was also a devotee of big American cars. In fact, he didn’t consider anything else a real car, just a toy. For years, our primary vehicle was a gigantic 1967 Cadillac Fleetwood. While comfortable on long trips, the 1967 Cadillac Fleetwood wasn’t particularly fuel efficient. Like like a Leopard II or Abrams Tank, you measured fuel consumption in gallons per mile, not miles per gallon.

In other words, the 1967 Cadillac Fleetwood was capitalism before neoliberalism and neoliberal austerity, capitalism at the height of its power, capitalism before the gas lines and the 1973 recession. That a member of the lower-middle-class (well upper-lower-middle-class) like my father could buy and maintain one was a testament to New Deal America, to the enfranchisement of the working class, to freedom and democracy. Who needed communism when anybody in America could afford to keep a 1967 Cadillac Fleetwood? Franklin Roosevelt had already won the Cold War. Marx and Stalin weren’t evil. They were just besides the point.

But what about Joseph Broz Tito? While long dead by 1984, Joseph Broz Tito was the guiding spirit behind the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. Long before the bloody civil wars of the 1990s, or the Clinton Administration’s and the ghoulish Madeleine Albright’s use of Al Qaeda and the Kosovo Liberation Army to break up greater Serbia, Sarajevo was the secular capital of a Muslim country, a exotically beautiful “Oriental” city in a communist country which had good relations with the west, a place where people who looked like white Americans bowed towards Mecca five times a day. Not far away was Mostar, home of the famous Ottoman Bridge, that also, according to the nostalgic memories of the Bosnian Serb filmmaker Emir Kusturica, made supersonic jets and Yugoslavia a major power. Yugoslavia might not have been as wealthy as Switzerland. But it was a far more interesting place.

Nobody, however, would confuse the Yugo, the sub-compact communist clunker Yugoslavia attempted to export to the United States with a 1967 Cadillac Fleetwood. The Yugoslavian government’s logic was perfectly sound. By 1984, New Deal American capitalism had given way to neoliberal American capitalism and neoliberal austerity. Gas was now prohibitively expensive. No longer could lower-middle-class (or even upper-lower-middle-class) Americans afford to buy Cadillacs. So the idea of exporting a tiny sub-compact that only cost $3000 was not as ridiculous as a lot of people thought it was at the time. People also forget just how bad the compact cars (that cost at least 3 times as much) coming out of Detroit (incompetently made knockoffs of Japanese made cars) were.

It’s too bad the Simpsons never had the insight to make fun of the 1990 Ford Aspire, which started out at $9860 dollars.

Does anybody in the United States even remember, let along remember fondly, the 1990 Ford Aspire? Unlike the Ford Aspire, the Yugo is in fact remembered fondly by some people, including a Dutch guy named “Ralph” who founded a company dedicated to giving people tours of the monuments of the former Yugoslavia in its most famous, or infamous, export.

YUGO TOUR is a car ride in a vintage Yugoslav Zastava car that gives you a taste of everyday life in Yugoslavia. By driving through the remains of the Yugoslav urban space in Belgrade and Sarajevo, we try to keep everything as authentic as possible and help you experience a day in the life of a typical Yugoslav person. We will play the music from that period, drink “Yugoslav Coca Cola” and tell you about the ideals, architecture, and history of a nation that no longer exists. There is no better way to learn the history of one country than to immerse yourself in it on one of our tours. Experience Belgrade as the booming capital of Yugoslavia in a ride along impressive brutalist architecture, bombed buildings, a concentration camp and Tito’s grave. Or return to the days that Sarajevo was the beating heart of Yugoslav rock music and the host of the 1984 Winter Olympics. Dear comrade, don’t hesitate; book a YUGO TOUR before it’s too late!

Note: According to a Serbian acquaintance of vast knowledge of the history of Yugoslavia, Yugotours is a silly concept ridiculed with historical inaccuracies.

The interesting thing about the Dutch is that they’re not only the best looking people in the world. They’re the tallest. It’s a land of literal giants. Indeed, the Netherlands is just about the only place where I, being about 6 feet tall, or 183cm, would feel short. The idea of the Dutch driving around in subcompact seems just as hilarious as the idea of Kevin McHale and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar flying coach, and NBA teams did indeed fly commercial until 1990. In fact, just about the only other place in the world, where the average height is more or less the same as the Dutch is the former Yugoslavia, where people in Bosnia and Montenegro clock in at an average height of 184cm, just a hair below the Dutch average of 185cm. A Yugo, while perfectly adequate for an American, average height 5’9″ or 175cm, was probably ridiculously small for the descendants of Petar II Petrović-Njegoš.

In addition to being good-looking giants, the Dutch are also avid cyclists. Indeed, Amsterdam is probably the most bike friendly city in the world.

Nowadays the Netherlands boasts 22,000 miles of cycle paths. More than a quarter of all trips are made by bicycle, compared with 2% in the UK – and this rises to 38% in Amsterdam and 59% in the university city of Groningen. All major Dutch cities have designated “bicycle civil servants”, tasked to maintain and improve the network. And the popularity of the bike is still growing, thanks partly to the development of electric bicycles.The Cyclists’ Union has long ceased to be a group of random activists; it is now a respectable organisation with 34,000 paying members whose expertise is in worldwide demand.

Dutch bicycles are famous for being cheap, simple durable, and easy to repair. It was with great dismay, therefore, that I found out about how the Dutch, those giants with bicycles, have not only fallen for the E-bike craze. They’ve purchased large numbers of Van Moofs, a high-end E-bike starting at $2000 but averaging closer to $3000, about the same price as a Yugo, not accounting for inflation. Sadly for the Dutch, the company has gone bankrupt. Good luck getting your $3000 luxury E-bike repaired if it breaks down, or even starting it.

If the 1967 Cadillac Fleetwood represented American capitalism at its height, it’s most egalitarian and prosperous and if the Yugo represented old-school East European communism, then surely the Van Moof represents neoliberal capitalism. I’m of course an old school cyclist who can go over 500 miles on a cheap aluminum road bike. Something about the very concept of an E-bike offends me. But in general it’s not a bad idea for weaker riders. Put a motor powered by a battery on the front wheel and it will help you get up the hill that you can’t quite handle on your own.

But the Van Moof was more than just a bicycle with a motor assist. It was a status symbol for tech bros, a cheap hybrid that you needed an app to start. Like those ubiquitous pepper grinders you find on yuppie tables in Park Slope it was a simple concept with a lot of extra crap added on that did absolutely nothing worth the trouble of the improvement. The Van Moof was above all about making money from suckers who have too much money. It was the essence of neoliberalism. Steal from the poor to give to the rich so you could then steal from the rich.

VanMoof, the Dutch e-bike maker that gained a zealous following, tripled its sales in the pandemic and raised more than $180 million in funding, declared bankruptcy last month, leaving riders in limbo. That’s because the eye-catching e-bikes, which start around $2,000, are built from proprietary parts that only the company makes, available mostly at company-run service centers. And many of the bikes’ functions are linked to VanMoof’s smartphone app.“If I break it, or something else happens, I don’t know where to go,” said Gideon Sutaman, 28, who lives in Amsterdam and has been riding his VanMoof e-bike since December.

At least the 1967 Cadillac Fleetwood gave you something for your extravagance.

Sometimes it doesn’t pay to be right

Sinéad O’Conner died today at the age of 56.

O’Conner first became famous in 1990 for her cover of Prince’s song Nothing Compares 2 U

But that’s not why she’s remembered.

Two years later in 1992, she became infamous when she ripped up a photo of Pope John Paul II on Saturday Night Live and said “fight the real enemy.” The intention was to protest the Catholic Church’s abuse of children, but honestly — and I saw it live — the message didn’t really come across. It came off more like a generic act of adolescent rebellion, which I, being very young at the time, approved of.

The backlash, even in “liberal” New York City, was intense. She quickly became a hated laughing stock. Just about the only famous person who really stood up for her was Kris Kristofferson, an actor and a song writer who starred in Michael Cimino’s bomb Heaven’s Gate and wrote the song Me and Bobby Magee for Janis Joplin. Kristofferson consciously acts like a mountain man from the old west, but don’t let that fool you. He was actually a Rhodes Scholar.

I’m not quite as anti-Catholic as I used to be. In fact, ever since the American left turned pro-war during the dirty war in Syria and now fully supports the proxy war in Ukraine, I’ve started thinking of myself as a conservative, or at least as an apolitical moderate. But in 1992, Sinéad O’Conner was right. The Catholic Church was covering up sexual abuse of boys by priests. What’s more, John Paul II was a terrible Pope, one of the most destructive figures of the late 20th Century. He was the “real enemy.”

I’m quite sure, if there’s a God, Sinéad O’Conner is in heaven, and John Paul II is rotting in hell along with his buddies Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and Augusto Pinochet.

On censoring racial slurs in classic movies

The remarkable thing about the censored scene is how ordinary it feels if you’ve watched a police procedural made before, say, 2010. It’s in William Friedkin’s “The French Connection,” from 1971. Two narcotics cops — Jimmy (Popeye) Doyle, played by Gene Hackman, and Buddy (Cloudy) Russo, played by Roy Scheider — are at the precinct, following an undercover operation during which a drug dealer ended up slashing Russo with a knife. The injury has left Russo struggling to put on his coat. “Need a little help there?” Doyle chuckles, then adds an ethnic jab: “You dumb guinea.” Russo: “How the hell did I know he had a knife?” Here Doyle points a slur at the Black dealer: “Never trust a nigger.” Russo: “He could have been white.” Doyle: “Never trust anyone.” Then he invites Russo out for a drink, and they trade masturbation jokes as they head through the door.

Interestingly enough, Gene Hackman didn’t want to use the racial slur and almost quit the film. But William Friedkin bullied him into it, for which in retrospect Hackman is grateful since it was the movie that made him a star. Hackman also did his own stunt driving, something that surprised me when I heard about it. And one of the car crashes was real.

I can’t speak to whether or not black people should be offended by the racial slur in The French Connection since I’m not black. But I will speak from personal experience about racial slurs against Polish Americans. To this day I hear them all the time, especially from woke liberals, who seem to assume that since Polish Americans look like Anglo Saxon Americans they’re fully white and shouldn’t be offended. And to be fair, I sometimes tell Polish jokes myself, especially in regards to the insane amount of Russophobia in Poland and the destructive behavior of elite Polish Americans like Zbigniew Brzezinski, who admits to “creating the Taliban” to get back at the Russians and ooops killing 3000 Americans on 9/11.

When it comes to their foreign policy and subservience to American neoconservatism, the current Polish government are a bunch of dumb Polacks.

As a child I was never offended by Archie Bunker’s use of ethnic slurs for Polish Americans. That’s who he was. You can’t portray a racist without racial slurs. Ironically Rob Reiner’s pompous leftist turned out to be so unlikeable that he wound up making Archie almost sympathetic.

What I was offended by in the 1970s was the portrayal of Stanley Wojciehowicz the Polish American detective in Barney Miller as dim but likeable. It seemed to imply that Polish Americans were objectively as stupid as they were portrayed in the jokes. There was one particular scene, which is retrospect is really funny. Wojo couldn’t understand fellow detective Ron Harris’s distress after he was harassed by some racist fellow police officers. So Barney Miller tells him a Polish joke hoping to provoke some empathy. But it doesn’t work. Wojo was too dumb to understand. As an adult, of course, I recognize that a Polish American too dumb to understand a Polish joke was a hilarious jab at Polish jokes. But as a child, it upset me.

The death of twitter and the process of enshittification in the tech world

Only a month after Twitter’s primitive AI content moderation locked my account for a sarcastic tweet attacking supporters of George W. Bush , Twitter is dying. Elon Musk seems to have fired too many necessary tech people along with all of the deadweight in content moderation and censorship.

Good riddance. It’s a miserable, and highly addictive, social media network that only brings out the worst in people. Even worse, it no longer works the way it originally did. Before 2014 or so, you followed x number of people. You got their tweets in your timeline. Now you have to sift through an endless parade of people you don’t follow and never intend to follow but who the algorithm thinks you should follow. In this sense, Musk changed very little. Last year when the Democrats controlled Twitter you were spammed with Tweets by Molly Jong Fast. Now you’re spammed with tweets by Ben Shapiro. Privileged liberals and privileged conservatives are equally annoying.

The whole process (bait you with something good and then switch it out with crap after you’re locked in) has become so normal in the tech world that Cory Doctorow has coined a term that fits so well it’s worth reading the whole article .

R.I.P. Daniel Ellsberg

There’s a lot I don’t understand about Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. Even though I’m old as dirt, Vietnam was still a bit before my time. So I’m not really sure exactly what impact the Pentagon Papers had on the general public when they were first released.

My guess would be that when it comes to the working class “not much.” Working class opposition to the Vietnam War was mostly about the draft. Why do the children of the elite stay home, smoking pot and getting laid when our kids have to go to Vietnam?

On the other hand, when it comes to the elites, I’d probably guess “a lot.” Even though the elites had already turned against the war in Vietnam, the Pentagon papers were a good excuse to finally go public about it. “

“Johnson lied. People died.”

Interestingly enough Daniel Ellsberg was a speaker at the first, and still perhaps the best, antiwar protest I ever went to. It pretty much shut down the Pentagon for most of the day and it’s still the reason why no protest since 1988 has ever been allowed to get that close again.

You can see me very briefly up in the right hand corner at minute 13:58 as a very, very young man. Ellsberg speaks at minute 25:30. I had absolutely no idea who he was and when I asked mostly got the response “you’re kidding right? That’s Daniel Ellsberg.” Sadly “OK Boomer” hadn’t been invented at the time so I just felt stupid.

My Second Twitter Ban

It was of course inevitable. Getting banned from Twitter is one of the few certainties in life. But this time it was for attacking the followers of George W. Bush.

My guess as to what happened.

A short time before my account was suspended Glenn Greenwald retweeted one of my tweets criticizing the hypocrisy of the media for asking Russian athletes to condemn Vladimir Putin when there were no such requirement in the 2000s to condemn George W. Bush after the invasion of Iraq.

Basically I was collateral damage.

My account was suddenly high profile and I was mass reported by Greenwald’s haters and banned for two weeks for a sarcastic comment I made about Bush supporters using the absurd cliché “freedom isn’t free.” So essentially I was banned for hate speech against Iraqis for attacking George W. Bush.

Since there was no guarantee my account would ever be restored I just deleted it so as not to have so much stray content floating around.

Happy 100th Birthday Victor Lundy

This was a building in my hometown. They demolished it 32 years ago and replaced it with a dull office building. The architect turns 100 years old today.

The architect’s name is Victor Lundy.

He was born in NYC in 1923. But his parents took the family to the Soviet Union for most of the 1930s. They returned to the USA just before World War II started and he served in the US Army at Normandy.

He’s probably one of the last Americans alive who voluntarily emigrated to the Soviet Union during the Stalin era. So far he’s outlived the Soviet Union by three decades. He was 5 years old when Eisenstein filmed October.

Waist Deep in the Big Muddy

Rahway New Jersey the Morning After the Big Storm

Last week in New Jersey we experienced the kind of natural disaster most of us have only heard about. While my home state may be the butt of a lot of jokes, we also tend to be free from horrible things like earthquakes, tornados, mass shootings and Republicans. Nevertheless, after a hot rainy summer (which is far from over) the remnants of Hurricane Ida dumped over 10 inches of rain on the already water logged ground. Twenty three people died in the floods. Some people died through no fault of their own. Four people in Elizabeth drowned in their basement apartment after a river overflowed its banks and made escape impossible. Other people died out of sheer stupidity. For some odd reason an 83-year-old man in Union felt he needed to get in his car and drive and another man in Maplewood felt it necessary to clear the debris out of a culvert near his house.

As for me, I was doing my best to get a Darwin Award. I live on the second floor of a very well-built house on top of a hill. I could have easily slept through the storm and not even realized it happened. As soon as the storm was done, however, I jumped on my bike to explore the area, because, well, why not? Not far from my house, at the bottom of two steep hills, there was a small body of water where, only the day before there had only been the street in front of the local topless bar. There were also dozens of abandoned cars, their electronics shorted out when they tried to make it through what turned out to be at least two feet of water. I road through without a hitch, my feet soaked, but my pride swollen. My bike has no electronics, and it turned out I was stronger than 2 tons of Detroit metal (well these days fiberglass) powered by a V-6. I wound up riding through three large bodies of water, each more deep than the other, the last one lapping over the side view mirrors of cars parked on the street, a couch that had formerly decorated someone’s back porch floating by as I chugged through the brackish muck.

When I got home I couldn’t help but turn on Pete Seeger performing his now all but forgotten song Waist Deep in the Big Muddy.

Pete Seeger

For Seeger, the song, which tells the tale of an infantry officer who drowned on a training exercise while foolishly trying to bully his platoon to ford a tributary of the flooded Mississippi (a stream that turned out to be the Mississippi itself), was a metaphor for the Vietnam War. The same military industrial media complex that recently attacked President Biden for his surprisingly courageous decision to end the American Occupation couldn’t admit they had made a mistake intervening in the Vietnamese Civil War. Like the idiot platoon commander in Seeger’s song, they were determined to drag the American people down with them. But Seeger’s platoon was smart enough to turn back and barely make it to dry land. The American people in the 1960s were smart enough to protest the occupation of Vietnam and demand we leave.

In 2021, I wish the “big muddy” were the war in Afghanistan. But it’s not. It’s something much more dangerous, to be specific, global warming, the weather patterns that have turned the Northeast into the Southeast, complete with deadly tornados, hurricanes, and floods. And the foolish platoon commander is not the American ruling class. It’s all of us, every ordinary citizen who just has to get into his car every day to run the rat race that’s killing the planet. Will we make it out? Or will we condemn our grandchildren to a dead, flooded planet. One can only hope for the best .