August 2006


Our residence in Stockholm was a hotel/boat, moored in the downtown tourist area. This is the masthead that guarded the entrance.

masthead

The hotel boat worked better as a concept than as an actual living place. We booked late, so we got smaller rooms, with bunk beds and permanently closed windows. I got the top bunk, and it was a little stuffy. If you do book these rooms, call early.

During our first (jet-lagged) night, we wandered around town.

street

The oddest thing we found was an American food store, with exotica like corn muffins and Doritos.

american food

This may be a popular spot for expat American students. When I was in Germany, I would have paid lots for the rare pleasure of spiced corn chips.

The next day we took a long boat tour of Stockholm’s archipelago, a place I wouldn’t have even known about if I hadn’t read Celia Farber’s post here. Thanks Celia.

The archipelago is a beautiful and fairly unspoiled vacation spot. Sailing a big or little boat is one of the most popular things to do there. The swimming was nice, not much colder than a lake in Maine.

We didn’t visit Celia’s favorite island, Runmaro, but we did get a chance to see the very remote and beautiful Bullero.

islandscene

(one cool fact – Bullero is renewable-energy powered)

red house

Our guide told us about how Peter the Great destroyed an ongoing “peace process” by burning down homes in the archipelago back in the early 1700’s. If we hadn’t already heard about the horrors of Swedish imperialism from the Finns and the Russians, we might have believed her. (Did they even have peace processes in those days?)

The next day we searched for, and found, lots of clothes that fit tall women. We also visited the Modern Art Museum, and found a disappointing display of ‘art’ done by performance artist Paul McCarthy. It was so full of pornographic images that it was ‘not recommended for children’. It was also unsuitable for adults. Creating props for porn shows must be this guy’s day job, and he should not quit it. Like most performance artists, he’s obsessed with pop images and fecal matter, projecting his personal faults and obsessions onto the whole of western civilization. It’s hard to be both disgusting and dully predictable, but McCarthy manages to do it.

The artists of our generation are so obsessed with shocking and/or horrifying the public, so obsessed with the past and the present, they never consider the future. Do they want museumgoers in 2050 to think that, say, McCarthy’s Spaghetti Man, a rabbit in a boy’s body with a 12-metre long, soft rubber penis that lies in coils on the floor, represents man’s hopes and dreams at the turn of the millennium? Do we want our descendants to think that this..

modernart

.. represents us?

While the artwork at the Museum was disappointing, the architecture displays were not. Like the Finns, the Swedes excel at design, at making modernism livable. I wonder if this focus on design, plus the influence of performance art, is making traditional forms of art irrelevant.

We only spent two days in Stockholm, and I wish we’d stayed longer. The food was better than I expected (but then again, I love pickled herring). The people were friendly – not the ‘Germans without a sense of humor’ our Danish friends had told us about. However, prices were very high. Next time, we’ll stay as long as we can afford to.

We were staying in a B and B with access to more than 1 station yesterday morning, so we decided to check the news on the BBC.

Bad idea. According to the BBC “World News” report the top story of the day was a major, major cricket row. Apparently, Pakistan was accused of cheating, Britons were outraged, Pakistan was humiliated (they didn’t show up for the post-tea match!) and the BBC put this at the top of their list of world news events. At least 3 announcers debated the results of this international incident.

Riding through Dublin today, we asked the taxi driver (always the best source of news) about the results of the cricket row.

“Cricket?” he said “Haven’t heard about it, can’t stand the game. I’d rather watch paint peel than see a cricket match”.

Taxi driver 1, BBC World News 0

We spent our first few days abroad in Stockholm, sleeping in a boat/hotel. The weather was mostly sunny, the wine was light but nice and there was all the pickled herring you could eat. I love pickled herring (yes, it’s an aquired taste). Swedes are a lot friendlier than they appear to be in the Bergman movies.

We were somewhere over the Atlantic when the terror scare gripped Britain, and we landed in Dublin airport, not Heathrow, so we missed the bag checks/liquid prohibitions. We’ll see how the return trip goes. So far, the greatest danger has been learning to drive on the other side of the road. It’s comparable to driving at high speeds, backwards. Any drive that we can walk away from is a good drive.

We’re off to Ireland for a couple of weeks, so I’ll be posting from the road..

Here are a few fun travelling blogs..

A chick and a pilot who just finished her flight-instructor training; like some people I know (congratulations Kyle)

My Diving Life, a collection of diving blogs, around the world, for my daughter, a chick and a diver.

Where in the Hell is Matt – Matt is from Connecticut, he travels around the world, he dances..and he doesn’t like Thailand? strange fellow.

target

If you thought guns were completely forbidden in New York City, you’d be wrong. There is a genuine pistol/gun range, the West Side Pistol Range in the Flatiron district, at 20 West 20th street. Yesterday, a few members of our Liberal Hawks group visited and learned how to load and shoot.

Alcibiades first suggested it, and she and fellow LH Steve arrived in time for our ‘New to Shooting’ class. Like most New Yorkers, our experience with guns and target practice was limited to arcade games, water pistols and, in my case, darts.

If you’re not a cop or in some such related field in the city you probably don’t have a permit, and the only gun you can fire at the range is a beginner’s rifle, a .22. Before you can shoot that, you need to learn how it’s done, through an NRA certified instructor.

The basement range looked like something out of Hill Street Blues, kind of city/gritty. Our teacher, John, was used to dealing with novices. He patiently explained the mechanics of guns “this is a magazine, this is how the safety works”, etc. We learned the three rules of gun safety:

  1. ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.
  2. ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.

  3. ALWAYS keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.

I’m not mechanically inclined, and I was a total feeb when it came to handloading bullets. Once we got to the range, I did manage to hit the bullseye a few times when the target was about 25 ft. away. When I rolled it back to 50 ft., it was hard to see where the shots landed on the target, and therefore hard to adjust my aim towards the center. At least I manged to get the target.

The fun comes from taking aim and hitting the thing you’re aiming at. It was a lot like darts, with a lot more noise and less (actually, no) drinking. Safety glasses and protective headphones were essential. When you fire the rifle, hot shells pop out and land in unexpected places. Alcibiades and I were enjoying it so much we bought another box of bullets, but Steve was happy with one round, so he headed home.

I guess we should have celebrated our newfound macho prowess with beers and some steak, but the first place we found, Punch, offered delicate wines and a wide selection of light salads. We were back to being blue staters, and the tuna was delicious.

floatingbed

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – A young Dutch architect has created a floating bed which hovers above the ground through magnetic force and comes with a price tag of 1.2 million euros ($1.54 million).

Janjaap Ruijssenaars took inspiration for the bed — a sleek black platform, which took six years to develop and can double as a dining table or a plinth — from the mysterious monolith in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 cult film “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Instapundit on Dive Tech

I don’t want to give away the article, but although I found the rebreather dive interesting — you don’t make bubbles, which means fish are less scared of you, and you can stay down for three or four hours — I don’t think I’m ready to take the, er, plunge and do the full certification course. But from comparing the unit I used (two years old) to one of the newest cutting-edge units, I can say that the technology in this area is on a steep learning curve, and that might well make it a lot easier, safer and more user-friendly in the near future. Right now, the need to continuously monitor your oxygen levels via triply-redundant analyzers (one of which had to be replaced during the gear-up because it wasn’t working right — see the gauges strapped to my arm in the photo below), and a variety of other necessary tasks makes this more trouble than I’m really willing to go to, especially with the cost of equipment running around ten grand. Happily, lots of tech-diving enthusiasts are driving the market here, and that should fix things.

I’m happy to swim around and look at fishies, but I’m glad the tech divers are early-adopting this too..

French author and philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy Ponders the War in Israel and Lebanon.

The problem, she explains, is not just the people killed: Israel is used to that. It’s not even the fact that here the enemy is aiming not at military objectives but deliberately at civilian targets — that, too, is no surprise. No, the problem, the real one, is that these incoming rockets make us see what will happen on the day — not necessarily far off — when the rockets are ones with new capabilities: first, they will become more accurate and be able to threaten, for example, the petrochemical facilities you see there, on the harbor, down below; second, they may come equipped with chemical weapons that can create a desolation compared with which Chernobyl and Sept. 11 together will seem like a mild prelude. For that, in fact, is the situation. As seen from Haifa, this is what is at stake in the operation in southern Lebanon. Israel did not go to war because its borders had been violated. It did not send its planes over southern Lebanon for the pleasure of punishing a country that permitted Hezbollah to construct its state-within-a-state. It reacted with such vigor because the Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s call for Israel to be wiped off the map and his drive for a nuclear weapon came simultaneously with the provocations of Hamas and Hezbollah. The conjunction, for the first time, of a clearly annihilating will with the weapons to go with it created a new situation. We should listen to the Israelis when they tell us they had no other choice anymore…

According to Dick Cheney, our war in Iraq was fought, not to fight terrorism or to bring democracy to the Middle East; it was fought to remove the destabilizing force represented by Saddam Hussein.

The Bush Administration hadn’t publicly raised the possibility of invading Iraq, but in August, 2002, seven months before the war started, Cheney warned that Saddam would be able to seize control of the world’s economic lifeline if he acquired weapons of mass destruction: “Armed with an arsenal of these weapons of terror, and seated atop ten per cent of the world’s oil reserves, Saddam Hussein could then be expected to seek domination of the entire Middle East, take control of a great portion of the world’s energy supplies, directly threaten America’s friends throughout the region, and subject the United States or any other nation to nuclear blackmail.”

We also relied on “America’s friends in the Region, our al-Qaeda supporting Saudi allies, to maintain stability in the Middle East.

We’re seeing the results of our “headless chicken” strategy now. Our Wahhabi allies were pretty good at fooling our government, pretty bad at winning the respect of Muslims. Ahmadinejad and his ilk are ascendant, making the dream of stability in the Middle East less possible every day.

Maybe it always was an impossible dream. Sometimes, a perfect storm of events causes a region, and the majority of a population, to demand war. It happened in Europe during the early half of the last century. It happened in America during the civil war. That’s what seems to be happening in the Middle East now. How can we inflict peace on a region when people don’t seem to want it? As one Egyptian blogger said:

..we- the majority of us anyway- don’t want peace with Israel, and are not interested in any real dialogue with them. We weren’t then and we are not now. The Entire peace process has always been about getting the land back, not establishing better relations. Even when we do get the land back, it’s not enough. People in Egypt lament daily the Camp David treaty that prevents us from fighting. In Gaza they never stopped trying to attack Israel. In Lebanon Hezbollah continued attacking even after the Israeli withdrawel. And the people- the majority of the arab population- support it. Very few of us are really interested in having any lasting Peace or co-existance. I mean, if our left is asking for war, what do you think the rest of the population is thinking?

I think that the Israeli want peace with us because they don’t want their lives disrupted. They don’t want to have the IDF soldiers fighting in Gaza, rockets coming into their towns from Hamas or having to go to wars against Hezbollah to get their soldiers back. I think they want peace because they want their peace of mind. They view us as if we were a headache. We view them as if they are a cancer.

Henri-Levy sees the humanity in the Israelis, so regularly hidden in the press, here:

…Up north again, near the Lebanese border, I travel from Avivim to Manara, where the Israelis have set up, in a crater 200 yards in diameter, an artillery field where two enormous batteries mounted on caterpillar treads bombard the command post and rocket launchers and arsenals in Marun al-Ras on the other side of the border. Three things here strike me. First, the extreme youth of the artillerymen: they are 20 years old, maybe 18. I notice their stunned look at each discharge, as if every time were the first time; their childlike teasing when their comrade hasn’t had time to block his ears and the detonation deafens him; and then at the same time their serious, earnest side, the sobriety of people who know they’re participating in an immense drama that surpasses them — and know, too, they may soon pay a steep price in blood and life. Second, I note the relaxed — I was about to say unrestrained and even carefree — aspect of the little troop. It reminds me of reading about the joyful scramble of those battalions of young republicans in Spain described, once again, by Malraux: an army that is more friendly than it is martial; more democratic than self-assured and dominating; an army that, here, in any case, in Manara, seems to me the exact opposite of those battalions of brutes or unprincipled pitiless terminators that are so often described in media portraits of Israel…

Media portraits haven’t been too accurate lately..

cool tech..

A bad idea from Chris Matthews: move the UN to the World Trade Center, so “if they hit us again, they’re hitting everybody.”

Let’s ignore, for the moment, the fact that hitting people who live in a city where English is rarely the primary language is already “hitting everyone”. Let’s also ignore the fact that most New Yorkers would love to see the old UN building made into condos – a condo association where residents pay for the privilege of being there; where they also pay for their parking tickets.

Karol of Alarming News says:

I don’t even want the UN in the same city, let alone on that site. Jayzussssss, way to work me up on a Wednesday afternoon, Chris Matthews, way to work me up.

Commenter Von Bek had a good suggestion:

If there is to be a UN, it should be in the world’s greatest nation, the US of A. But why have it in New York? We need to have it in a real American city like Des Moines or Birmingham or Boise. That way we can ask the UN delegates if they are saved, what they think the Bronocos will do this year, if they think the Commodore gets it in the next Pirates film and make them spend Friday nights at Chili’s and Walmart as opposed to tawdry Upper East Side restuarants and Lincoln Center. They’ll either be thrown into the cement mixer and become more pro-America or never want to spend time at the UN. Either way, we win!

Due to rural flight, towns in Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and South, North Dakota are offering free land to anyone who wants it.

greenacres2

Way to solve a lot of problems at once.

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