Saturday, March 20, 2004

Get Snoopy 

In case it hasn't already reached you—it's popping up all over—check this out: you can see who your neighbors are making political donations to right here. All you really need to get started is a zip code.

(You can also dig up a lot of stuff on your own at the official FEC website, "PoliticalMoneyLine". You can even look up candidates' outstanding debts!)

China Syndrome 

China claims its image has been blackened by a Norwegian computer game, "Project IGI2: Covert Strike," and has subsequently banned the game from the 1.2 billion consumers within its borders.

The State Press and Publication Administration said the game, "Project IGI2: Covert Strike," violates Chinese regulations prohibiting games that hurt China's national dignity and interests, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. [...] All domestic copies of the game will be confiscated and the game's publishers, producers and sellers within China will be punished according to law, said Xinhua.

What's going to "blacken your image" and "hurt your dignity" more—a computer game in which you're represented as a totalitarian regime, or the implementation of actual totalitarian policy?

You don't have to be a Machiavelli to figure that one out, do you?

Friday, March 19, 2004

Week 19 

I forgot to mention, the weekend Almanac is up.

Mr. Terrorism! 

It's almost impossible to do political satire in Europe this days. Case in point:

PARIS, March 18 (Xinhuanet) -- French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin Thursday expressed his support for installing an anti-terrorism coordinator on behalf of the European Union (EU).


Referring to EU foreign affairs chief Javier Solana's proposal to nominate an expert in charge of EU coordination in fighting terrorism De Villepin told Radio France International he considered the proposal "a good idea."


EU officials close to Solana say the proposed "Mr.Terrorism" would be an expert with intimate knowledge of the issues, rather than a politician, who would work under the direction of the EU diplomatic chief. This would dispel any comparisons with Tom Ridge, director of the department of US Homeland Security.

Good thing there won't be any comparisons to Tom Ridge!

Coupled with the Spanish election, the Polish back-pedaling, and Joschka Fischer using Kosovo as a justification to keep U.N. "peacekeepers" out of Iraq and Afganistan, you've got the European approach to the world in a nutshell: withdraw from confrontation, appoint a committee, and applaud yourself for being brilliant and sophisticated. If the approach fails in a given situation, pin the blame on America and appoint another committee.

Way too political the past couple of days. My apologies. But when the world's handing out lemons, I can't very well make orange juice...

Thursday, March 18, 2004

The N-Word 

The following post is partly about language and partly about politics. Persons not interested in either are welcome to ignore it.

Over at National Review's "The Corner," Jonah Goldberg has posted an email from a Massachusetts voter who's become exasperated with his junior senator's ceaseless use of the adjective "nuanced" as a modifier for his foreign policy preferences.

The writer observes that he and his friends have, in response, begun to use the word as a synonym for ordure. For example, "You're full of nuance," "That's bull-nuance," and the like.

I'd been meaning to address the abuse of this term for some time, and I'll take this as my cue.

From the American Heritage Dictionary over at Dictionary.com, we get this definition of nuance:

A subtle or slight degree of difference, as in meaning, feeling, or tone; a gradation.

The definition for "nuanced" (as adjective) notes that it and its synonyms "denote a slight variation or differentiation between nearly identical entities."

And this is precisely what's been driving me crazy for the past couple of years: criticisms of the Bush administration's lack of "nuance" in its foreign policy. It's become a mantra for the American left, and is tossed off routinely in EuroCNN analysis of back-channel and sub-rosa diplomacy. We're always hearing how old Europe would like to take a more "nuanced approach" to the war on terror, or how the Bush administration flubbed a certain tricky negotiation with its "lack of nuance." The word is repeated so often that it's become the kind of thing people say when they need to say something without actually thinking.

"The U.N. would have supported a more nuanced approach to Iraq."

"John Kerry will bring a more nuanced approach to American foreign policy."

"Cowboy Bush keeps alienating Old Europe with his lack of nuance."

Let's swap the n-word out with its definition and see how those sentences fare:

"The U.N. would have supported a slight variation or differentiation between nearly identical approaches to Iraq."

"John Kerry will bring a slight variation or differentiation between nearly identical approaches to American foreign policy."

"Cowboy Bush keeps alienating Old Europe with his lack of slight variations or differentiations between nearly identical entities."

It means less than nothing: it's nonsense.

The U.N. wouldn't have supported a "slight variation" of America's proposed military action in Iraq after Saddam Hussein had trampled the terms of Security Council Resolution 1441. We know this because France promised to wield its veto power on any resolution proposing the use of force. Does anyone believe they would have changed their mind if Colin Powell had returned to the U.N. with a "slight variation" on America's original proposal for the so-called "second" Resolution?

Alas for nuance!

Candidate John Kerry promises, or is said by his supporters to promise, a more nuanced approach to foreign policy. Meaning exactly what? That he'll be mostly just like Bush, except that he'll be a tiny bit different? Or that he'll be very different from Bush overall, and will have tiny little gradations of difference in his foreign policy objectives and tactics? But what does this mean? I don't deny there may be something substantive there (for example, maybe Kerry would say, "You're either with us, or you're with the terrorists, or you're somewhere in the middle,") but you've got to agree the premise of "gradated foreign policy" is so ambiguous that even the most ardent Kerry supporter would be hard pressed to come up with a concrete example of what "more nuanced policy" would actually look like. It's an empty sound bite.

As for President Bush offending old Europe with his lack of nuance—his lack of subtle gradations—I don't even understand the premise. I gather the Socialists of Spain aren't especially worried about nuance, either: consider this gem from the incoming Socialist leader of Spain (on Monday): "I will listen to Mr. Bush but my position is very clear and very firm."

He's bragging about his own lack of nuance!

How "nuanced" was Chirac being when he made the following remarks in February 2003:

These countries have been not very well behaved and rather reckless of the danger of aligning themselves too rapidly with the American position... It is not really responsible behavior. It is not well brought-up behavior. They missed a good opportunity to keep quiet... I felt they acted frivolously because entry into the European Union implies a minimum of understanding for the others... They missed a great opportunity to shut up.

"These countries" were Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, EU-aspirants who had made the mistake of joining Britain, Spain, Italy, Denmark and Portugal in signing a letter of support for America's stance on Iraq.

Being more nuanced implies telling smaller countries to shut up? Is that the ticket?

There are very obvious differences between the approaches to the current world crisis coming from the Anglosphere and old Europe, and history will be the final arbiter of who was right and who was wrong. If you don't like Bush's foreign policy, however, have the cojones to speak plainly. You don't like his policy because you disagree with it, not because it doesn't offer enough degrees of difference between nearly identical entities. Maybe you don't think the War on Terror's being well-executed. Maybe you don't even think it's necessary. Maybe you think Iraq was the worst foreign policy blunder in American history. Then say so. It doesn't make you more or less nuanced than anyone else, but at least people will understand what you're talking about.

If you like John Kerry because he speaks more evasively, because he doesn't tie himself down in declarative sentences, or because he seems genetically incapable of answering a yes-or-no question with less than a few hundred words of ambiguity, then by all means stand by your man—just don't call it "nuance." (Besides, would a "nuanced" man refer to half the American electorate as a crooked group of liars?)

If you like Jacques Chirac because he's made the bitch-slapping of America the centerpiece of French foreign policy, fair enough. But don't kid yourself that there's a subtle bone in the man's body. Nor Schroeder's, nor Zap's.

Like it or not, the world is at war—a war declared, instigated, and perpetuated by an ideology of pure hatred and totalitarianism. This is not a time for sophisticated wordplay or parlor games: it's a time for plain speaking and resolute action. Say what you support. Say what you oppose. Be clear.

Clarity, not nuance... It ought to be a goddam bumper-sticker.

Cold Turkey 

Today's Almanac is up, and focuses on my nuanced approach to the term "cold turkey," especially as compared to the DMG's fundamentalist definition.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Up in Smoke 

If you're one of those people that's always dreamed of visiting Copenhagen to hang out and smoke pot in Christiania, your pipe dream has just gone up in smoke.

From an article in today's Copenhagen Post:

A major police sweep of Christiania's notorious Pusher Street resulted in the arrest early Tuesday of 53 drug dealers and virtual shutdown of Christiania's main drug drag

"An era in Christiania's history is over. The open marijuana trade is over. Pusher Street is gone, and it won't be back," said Copenhagen Police chief inspector Kai Vittrup, after yesterday's high-profile raid.

At 5.00 Tuesday morning, police forces stormed 58 Copenhagen-area addresses and hauled in 53 individuals on drug charges. 31 were arrested in Christiania, 21 in Greater Copenhagen, while a single arrest was made in Køge. The sting was directed at 48 known Christiania drug dealers and their associates, and 44 were formally arraigned on drug trafficking charges in Copenhagen Municipal Court.

The aim of the mass arrests was pull out the rug from under Christiania's open drug market, Pusher Street: no pushers, no sales. The street value of the Pusher Street drug trade has been estimated in the hundreds of millions of kroner, and it is believed that some 50 kilos of marijuana are moved daily.

After yesterday's mass arrests and raids on several Christiania squatter hoses, police began physically dismantling several famous Pusher Street "hash booths," declaring an end to the open free-state drug trade once and for all.

"Any attempt to resume these activities will be stopped. It will be very difficult, not to say impossible, for drug pushers to survive out there," said Vittrup.

I made my own first venture into Christiania about a month ago ("Manifest Destiny on Pusher Street"). I was hoping I could get out there again this summer, when the weather was nicer. I probably will, but it sounds like it's going to be a different place.

Without sounding too square, one of the things I wrote in that bloggish about Christiania was that "the air of Christiania is thick with not only the fragrant smell of wood-burning stoves and pot and hash smoke, but also the sour stink of hypocrisy." Well, okay, so much for not sounding too square. Take a look at the last two lines of the Copenhagen Post article:

During yesterday's raids, police seized a number of effects tied to the area's marijuana trade, including high-end luxury goods such as stereo systems, computers, art pieces, and furniture. Police plan to press the defendants to explain how they were able to afford these items whilst drawing welfare.

Well, duh. They were drug dealers. Which is fine. I mean, it's not fine, it's illegal, but there was an unspoken, unwritten, sometimes unacknowledged understanding that you could deal hash or pot on Pusher Street without attracting excessive police attention. Fair enough. What bothers me was the hypocrisy of these drug dealers drawing welfare. Christiania partisans will always tell you that their experimental city-within-a-city is about more than the drugs. It was a self-governing community of righteous hipsters, yadda yadda yadda.

But your drug-dealer "citizens" are collecting welfare? Are getting paid by those dowdy old Danes who aren't cool enough to live out with you in your experimental wonderland? Hey, man, don't bogart that paycheck... If you're an experimental, self-governing community of progressive uberpeople, get off the damn dole already.

Mind Games 

Today I went to the gym for the first time since my birthday. I hadn't gone on my birthday because it was my birthday, and I didn't go yesterday because it was the day after my birthday (which is a euphemestic way of saying I had bad case of the tømmermænd, or "timber men," the meaning of which would be clear if you had read today's Almanac). I also hadn't gone on Saturday or Sunday because gyms on the weekend are like most American bars right now: overcrowded with people who have no idea what they're doing and just end up hurting themselves.

If I were an editor, I'd make myself reduce the preceding paragraph to the following simple declarative sentence: "I hadn't been to the gym in five days." I'm not an editor, however, as regular readers need hardly be told. Nor do I like the kitschy "editorial comment" device used parenthetically by some bloggers (Does he mean Mickey Kaus? -Ed.). So if I find myself opposed to myself in the course of a post, I'm just going to have to work it out on my own, like this, through-line be damned.

Today I went to the gym for the first time in five days. I began with twenty minutes on the seated bike, which is not unusual. I try to do 35-50 minutes of cardio at every workout, splitting it up between the seated bike, the StepRacer, and one of the elliptical machines. Today, however, when the twenty minutes expired, I reset the timer and did another ten.

"That's enough," I told myself when it was over. Thirty minutes of biking at hard resistance seemed adequate to ease myself back into my routine. Maybe I'd do forty minutes on the StepRacer tomorrow. Sure.

So I moved on to my resistance training without giving it another thought. In retrospect, however, I'm astonished at my brain's power to pervert itself to make me feel better about myself.

I've had this habit of splitting my cardio work among a variety of machines for about two years. It's how I work out. It was a radical move for me to have done all my cardio on a single machine, and yet I never even questioned myself at the time.

Why not? Because I didn't see anything unusual in what I was doing.

Why not? Because my brain didn't want me to.

Why not? Because it was trying to make my life a little easier.

How? By not making me get on that StepRacer.

Why was my brain giving me a pass on the StepRacer?

Because the StepRacer asks you your age.

My contentedness on the seated bike had nothing to do with "easing myself back in to my routine," and everything to do with my not wanting to type "39" into the StepRacer. The thing is, I didn't even know that I didn't want to do it. My brain knew, however, and not only tried to spare me the indignity—it tried to do it without letting me know it was doing it.

I only realized what my brain had done a little while ago, while I was out on the patio having one of my cold turkey cigarettes. It was a little after 8:00pm. The gym closes at 8:00pm. My brain not only kept me off the StepRacer without my wondering why I hadn't used the StepRacer—it embargoed reflection on that decision until it was too late to do anything about it!

If my brain is willing to go to such lengths to protect me from having to deal with the fact that I'm no longer 38, but 39, can you imagine what it's going to do to me last year?

That's funny, I meant to type last year, but my fingers typed "last year" instead.

And I did it again! Weird...

But what am I worried about? 39 + 1 = 39, right?

* * *

One of the reasons I allowed myself to go hog wild on my birthday in terms of drinking and smoking was that I intended to go cold turkey the day after—yesterday.

It's going fairly well. I don't smoke anywhere near as much when I quit cold turkey as I do when I just plain quit. I think this might finally be the time I quit for good.

(More about cold turkey in tomorrow's Almanac.)

* * *

I added Adda in Reykjavik to my blogroll a few days ago, and want to offer a big amen on this:

My one year anniversary of living in Reykjavik was on March 3rd. I didn't spread it around because I am ashamed of the fact that I haven't learned to speak Icelandic yet.

Let me clarify. I can read it out loud fairly convincingly. I can watch tv and read Icelandic subtitles and think "that was not what Rachel just said to Ross". I can order food in restaurants and know what I am getting. But don't, you know, just wander up and ask me a question without laying out some context first, because words that I know perfectly well suddenly sound like Sims chatter when coming unwarranted from a total stranger.

My one-year anniversary in Denmark comes at the end of this month, and that's exactly how I feel about my Danish.

(Except I don't know what Sims chatter actually sounds like... I'm more of a First-Person-Shooter-type guy, myself.)

Feeling Green 

Today's (abbreviated) Almanac is up.

Saint Patrick's Day doesn't appear to be much of a holiday in Denmark. I haven't seen any giant four-leaf clovers or "Erin Go Bragh" signs in pub windows. I don't anticipate seeing any canals or fjords dyed green. Not only haven't I seen a corned beef at our grocery store this week, I haven't seen one since I moved here. And I think it would take persuasion skills beyond those at my disposal to induce a Dane to drink green beer.

So, strangely, enough, I've never been closer to or farther from Ireland on Saint Patrick's Day.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004


No post in 24 hours? Has the moron fallen off the face of the earth? No. I was just enjoying myself way too much, and way too late, last night and consequently had a hell of a time with my actual work all day today.

On a brighter note, however, the DMG had her first midwife visit this morning and we got to hear the Bean's heart beating. Unbelievable. I never get over the weirdness of there being an entire person living in the middle of the DMG. Maybe I ought to call her the DMH—Danish Moronic Habitat.

Maybe not.

I'll be back in usual moronic form tomorrow.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Peace In Our Time! 

From the New York Times:

Rodriguez Zapatero started his victory speech by remembering those killed in the railway bombings. "At this moment I think of the lives that were broken by terror on Thursday,'' he said, then asked the crowd to join him in a minute of silence.

"My most immediate priority will be to fight terrorism,'' he said.

Very good. And how do you plan to do that?

Spain's incoming prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, has pledged to bring home the 1,300 Spanish troops in Iraq when their tour of duty ends in July.

Why will that help end terrorism? Presumably because the terrorists responsible for Thursday's awful bloodbath in Madrid were only lashing out because of Spain's presence in Iraq, and will leave Spain alone as soon as they withdraw.

Let's follow the logic of Zapatero and his supporters to its logical conclusion. Let's imagine every democratic government in the world follows their example. The United States, Italy, Australia, Great Britain, Poland, Denmark, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic... one after another, we vote ourselves out of Iraq and abandon the recently liberated nation to its fate. The Islamofascists are happy now, right? We're all out of Iraq! No more suicide bombs! Hooray!

Oh, but wait... let's have another look at Osama Bin Laden's 1998 Fatwa (written almost exactly five years before the war on Iraq was launched):

The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies—civilians and military—is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim. This is in accordance with the words of Almighty God, "and fight the pagans all together as they fight you all together," and "fight them until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in God."

This is in addition to the words of Almighty God "And why should ye not fight in the cause of God and of those who, being weak, are ill-treated and oppressed—women and children, whose cry is 'Our Lord, rescue us from this town, whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from thee one who will help!'"

We — with God's help — call on every Muslim who believes in God and wishes to be rewarded to comply with God's order to kill the Americans and plunder their money wherever and whenever they find it. We also call on Muslim ulema, leaders, youths, and soldiers to launch the raid on Satan's U.S. troops and the devil's supporters allying with them, and to displace those who are behind them so that they may learn a lesson.

So pulling out of Iraq clearly won't be enough. We'll also have to wipe Israel off the map and withdraw American and allied troops from every Muslim nation on the earth. That's not too bitter a pill, though, is it? I mean, really, all those troublesome Jews—do they really have to have their own country? And who wants our troops in places like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, anyway?

We're also accused in the fatwa of an "endeavor to fragment all the states of the region such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Sudan into paper statelets." So let's knock off all the foreign aid to Muslim nations. They obviously don't really want it, anyway—remember Iran's rejection of American aid after the earthquake in Bam?

But even that may not be enough. After all, in a further 1998 statement, entitled "The Nuclear Bomb of Islam," Osama Bin Laden reminded his followers that "it is the duty of Muslims to prepare as much force as possible to terrorize the enemies of God."

Since Bin Laden's version of Islam suggests that every non-Muslim is an enemy of God, we'll all have to convert to Islam before we've fully satisfied his demands. This will require some Constitutional adjustments, to accommodate Sharia into western law, but shouldn't be too difficult at first. Western women may object, but once we strip them of the right to vote their objections won't matter much.

And we may as well let homosexuals marry one another all the want for the time being, since their marriage licenses will make it easier to identify, find, and kill them later on.

And then, at last, no more terror! Thank you, Spain, for showing us the path to peace!

Sunday, March 14, 2004

How to Avoid Terror 

The Socialist victory in Spain, almost universally interpreted as an electoral rejection of the current government's support for the War on Terror and participation in the Iraq War, may, on reflection, be a positive development. By demonstrating their contempt for a government willing to fight terrorists such as those that struck Spain on Thursday, Spanish voters may very well have won themselves a reprieve from the wrath of Al Qaeda.

In doing so they've established a valuable precedent, but they haven't gone anywhere near far enough.

If we really, really, really want to protect ourselves from Al Qaeda, we don't want them blowing us up every time they need to influence an election. Solution? No elections!

That'll show 'em!


We went to Casino Copenhagen last night. It's the city's only casino. It consists of two large rooms off the Radisson Hotel in Christianshavn: one for slot machines, one for table gaming.

It's a dressy casino and they charge admission. I chronicled our experiences with the Casino Copenhagen dress-code (scroll down) last September.

The DMG and I share a passion for craps. There are no dice games at Casino Copenhagen. That's why we don't go there more often.

Our first blackjack dealer last night had a simple explanation for the absence: "Craps is too confusing for Danes."

The Danes at the table nodded in their good-humored, self-deprecating way.

"That's pretty horrifying," the DMG said, "if you consider the people standing around craps tables in America."

I nodded in my own good-humored, self-deprecating way.

Here's why I think they don't have a craps table: because the frantic energy and manic behavior elicited by a single craps table would overwhelm the entire casino. It wouldn't be hygge.

* * *

I tried to learn and master the entire Danish vocabulary for blackjack.

I learned, for example, that Danes don't say "hit me" when they want another card. They say "kort," which means "card."

"How do I ask for change?" I asked at one point.

The dealer told me the word. I had a hell of a time pronouncing it and I've already forgotten it.

"Or you can just shove the chip at me without saying anything. That's what all the Chinese do."

* * *

I played blackjack for about 90 minutes while the DMG burned through 250 kroner at the slots. When she came over to the table to tell me she wasn't feeling well and wanted to go home, I calculated that I was about 200 kroner down on the evening. I bet 200 kroner on the next hand and was dealt a queen and a two. The dealer was showing a three.

I stood on my twelve. I was sitting to the right of the dealer, so her first card was the card that would have been dealt to me if I had taken a card. She flipped an eight and I groaned. It would have given me twenty. Surely she'd flip a face card now and beat us all with 21.

Instead she flipped a two—and then a jack. My 200-kroner winnings put me even on the night. I felt pretty damn good about that until the ride home, when I calculated that we'd spent about 330 kroner in admission and on drinks, just for the privilege of having the opportunity to piss my money away.

In the states we would have done more than break even: we actually would have profited, since we would have had two hours of free drinks to show for our time. (Not very valuable for the DMG, who only drank tonic water, but a veritable bonanza for me.)

But I suppose it's too much to expect a socialist nation to grasp the fundamentals of casino management. I'm actually surprised they run their games by the same rules as American casinos.

You'd think a Danish casino would be a little more like this:

Congratulations, sir, you have just won ten-thousand kroner! Unfortunately, that is a violation of Danish tax law. We will have to confiscate your winnings, divide the money among less fortunate gamblers, and fine you one-thousand kroner for your presumption.

We will, however, give you a free blood-pressure screening on your way out...

Thank You 

On March 2, I wrote the following over on the JustMorons site:

So that's my goal. I want to be the number one hit for searches like "expectant american writer in denmark" or "pregnant expatriate writer" or "expectant expat" or "expectant father abroad." Especially if the words "funny" or "stupid" or "moron" happen to be sprinkled into the mix.

I'm in the top ten on all of those searches now, even without the moronic modifiers.

I've said it before and I'll say it again (and again and again): you guys rock.

Or, as they say here in the land of herring, Tusind tak!

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