>Fun With The Language

>New York Times op-ed columnist Frank Rich writes about Sarah Palin this week, and in doing so has coined the perfect word to describe her new reality show, and in turn the perfect word to describe the image she presents to the world:

Palin fires a couple of Annie Oakley-style shots before we’re even out of the opening credits. The whole package is a calculated paean to her down-home, self-reliant frontiersiness — an extravagant high-def remake of Bush’s photo ops clearing brush at his “ranch” in Crawford, which in turn were an homage to Ronald Reagan’s old horseback photo ops in his lush cowpoke digs in Santa Barbara.

She’s not really a frontier woman, she’s “frontier-sy”, and as you can see from her political predecessors, it definitely has its appeal in America. Palin, like Bush II and Reagan, works the masses with her image as one of the “just plain folks” (which she most certainly is not) who don’t care too much for that high-fallutin’ fancy-pants higher education.

There’s been lots written over the years about the “dumbing down of America”; I haven’t read too much on the subject* but suspect it springs from a mistrust of “educated folks” that started perhaps in the beginning of the last century already. It’s something that I don’t see much here in Europe, not in this quantity, not as part of the fabric of the popular culture. There is no fitting translation of the English words “nerd” or “geek”; I hear “Eierkopf” — egghead — once in a while but there doesn’t seem to be any massive stigma in being an intellectual (not that I’d know for sure, not being able to call myself one**.) This might be because European intellectuals suffered their own actual pogroms in the past, as they never did in America. There is also the term “Fachidiot” which is, I’m guessing, someone who knows all about one subject and nothing else.

* Charles Pierce’s “Idiot America” is good, but doesn’t get down to why it’s been like this for so long in America, and not so in other countries (in my unlearned opinion.)

** And anyway I feel that for the most part I am treated well here, but any treatment, either preferential or discriminatory, that one receives would have to be viewed through several lenses — gender, age, foreignness, looks, German proficiency perhaps above all — before intellect was even considered. I think.


>The 6th of December is St. Nicholas’ Day, and that means Krampus is out and about. The Krampus is actually a devil who accompanies the good saint on his rounds — good children get a nice present from Nicholas, and naughty children just might get a switching from the devil (which is the Alpine equivalent of a lump of coal in your stocking, and probably occurs just as often, meaning never.) On the evening of the 5th, some regions have a Krampuslauf, a sort of “running of the devils”, where at least a dozen of them show up with their giant cowbells, drums and smoke, and do a sort of pagan dance for the kids.
It is traditional that the Krampus figure wear some sort of animal pelts or straw, and carved wooden masks with real animal horns. Many of these masks have been passed down through generations, although these days one occasionally sees rubber store-bought masks, especially on the teenage devils who roam the streets looking for juvenile victims and pretty girls to bother. Although, in those suits with those oversized cowbells on their butts, it’s impossible to sneak up on anyone.

>May Day

>In villages across Austria, May Day is the day when the Maibaum (a tall smoothed tree trunk with the branches left on only at the very top) is, um, erected (think big phallic symbol being planted into Mother Earth), marking the unofficial beginning of summer and cause for traditional folk music and grillparties with beer.

But that’s in the villages.

In Innsbruck, however, it’s THE RED SCARE!! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!!!! No, not really, but the assorted left-leaning parties celebrate International Workers’ Day with small parades and outdoor events.
This is the Democratic Ecology Party (Ökologisch-Demokratische Partei), which was founded, I recently learned, by a former member of Germany’s CDU (Christian Democrats, the party of Helmut Kohl et al) who had broken away to help found the Greens, and then broke away from them as well.
Marching with them are members of the Federation of Democratic Workers (DIDF), which is made up mainly of workers with Turkish and Kurdish backgrounds.
Above: a brigade of young marchers about to join up with the Kommunisten, who had gathered in front of the museum before their own parade.
And yes, they had The Banner, which never ceases to amaze me.(I’ll give them a pass for Marx and Engels. Lenin, not so much, and Stalin and Mao, jeesh, what can one say? There’s really no excuse for it.) But everyone was friendly, no one objected to my photographing them, and even the police, lounging nearby around their van, were laid-back and cool with the whole thing — no alpha-cop tension or aggression anywhere.
I can’t imagine anything like this in the States. Even if the marchers were Grandmothers For Peace, the mere presence of police would, I feel, add a level of unneeded tension to the event. Not that Austrian police are angels, far from it (as we learned from the Marcus Omafuma case) but perhaps the lack of rampant violent crime keeps their stress levels lower. Aggression and fear, which seem to reflect and feed on each other, were not visibly present today.