Friday, July 14, 2006

A little bit of humor

It is often said that the best way to survive living in dictatorship is jokes. The black humour that results from these conditions makes live tolerable goes the argument. Last May I was lucky enough to see Hammer and Tickle at the Tribeca Film Festival (here is one positive review). The film traced the humour that evolved as a response to socialism in Eastern Europe and was directed by Ben Lewis. I thought the film was amazing. It was funny, informative, and not over bearing – a trait that is often lacking in documentaries. In short: I recommend it.

After seeing the movie I had an opportunity to chat with the director. Back then he wasn’t sure that the movie would be released on DVD or video, which is too bad because I’d definitely buy it if it was. In any case, he has recently published an article in the UK which crossed my eyes – and I wanted to share a joke:

A man dies and goes to hell. There he discovers that he has a choice: he can go to capitalist hell or to communist hell. Naturally, he wants to compare the two, so he goes over to capitalist hell. There outside the door is the devil, who looks a bit like Ronald Reagan. "What's it like in there?" asks the visitor. "Well," the devil replies, "in capitalist hell, they flay you alive, then they boil you in oil and then they cut you up into small pieces with sharp knives.""That's terrible!" he gasps. "I'm going to check out communist hell!" He goes over to communist hell, where he discovers a huge queue of people waiting to get in. He waits in line. Eventually he gets to the front and there at the door to communist hell is a little old man who looks a bit like Karl Marx. "I'm still in the free world, Karl," he says, "and before I come in, I want to know what it's like in there." "In communist hell," says Marx impatiently, "they flay you alive, then they boil you in oil, and then they cut you up into small pieces with sharp knives.""But… but that's the same as capitalist hell!" protests the visitor, "Why such a long queue?"

"Well," sighs Marx, "Sometimes we're out of oil, sometimes we don't have knives, sometimes no hot water"
Meanwhile, I can't help thinking that perhaps Holland is merely a bit like socialist hell...cause everything always seems to be closed.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The Goat’s Cigarettes

So apparently the UK doesn’t have enough things to keep it busy. Those deployments in Iraq, Afghanistan and Balkans are clearly not enough to occupy the Queen’s merry men. So in an effort to keep busy it seems some UK military units are spending times discussing the proper punishment for a regimental pet that walked out of line during a parade. You can read more about this here.

My two favourite highlights:

- Now that Billy the Goat has been demoted, soldiers no longer have to salute him. To me this implies that we had a unit of the UK military going around and saluting a goat. I can just imagine foreign visitors walking around seeing this and thinking: “this explains why the empire fell apart.”
- Billy the Goat apparently has a cigarette addiction. However, he prefers chewing tobacco not smoking it, as he eats the two cigarettes provided to him daily.

For your trivia buffs out there. Apparently the goat has been a Mascot of the 1st Battalion, Royal Welsh for over 150 years since it was adopted during the Crimean War when the UK, and others beat the shit out of the Russian Army after Russia thought to influence European politics a bit too adventurously.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

A Polite Thief

This week I was introduced to a creature that I believe to be unique to the Netherlands: the Polite Thief. You may be asking what is this creature. Well, let me tell you.

This week I finally procured a bike from my landlord. Despite the fact that my first attempt to use the bike was a bit adventurous (I will write more on this later, but let me assure you no one was hurt in the accident) I actually became quite attached to this bike. It is an old bike. It is rusting, the seat is torn, the breaks don't work, the light doesn't work, the gear shifts don't work. Not exactly a prized possession. Still, I was fond of it and having heard about the Dutch penchant for stealing bikes I locked my bike outside of my apartment and went to watch England in the World Cup at a nearby pub. I come back 2 hours later and no bike. I was actually quite upset, called my landlord (who had donated to me his bike) and let him know.

24 hours later: I come back from work to find my bike where I had left it, minus the lock of course. On it is a note in Dutch. I call my landlord who comes over and translates the note which says: "sorry, it was an emergency."

Realizing that the bike was "borrowed" not stolen the landlord informs me - you were a victim of the polite thief. Wonderful little country, the Netherlands.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Clubbing in Amsterdam

Yesterday a few friends and I decided to take a night trip into Amsterdam. We were going with the intention of catching a comedy show at Boom Chicago and going clubbing. All in all – it was a crazy amount of fun (didn’t get home till 6:20 in the morning) – totally a flashback to the old college days (at least the dancing).

First of all, Boom Chicago is totally worth it. It is obviously a tourist trap – I mean it’s a comedy show in English in Amsterdam – but it’s a fun one. The troupe was pretty good, the beer was pretty cheap, and the food (once you got over that you can’t take bacon of a bacon cheeseburger – the cook simply could not get his mind around the request (sat – this place is made for you) – was pretty damn good. The show was half improv half comedy – and it offered a nice balance.

Boom Chicago is located in the middle of a little social area of Amsterdam. The area is crowded, but it has a shit load of awesome bars and restaurants. After getting out of Boom Chicago we had to kill a few hours - it was still too early to go clubbing - so we went to a bar next door. The bar turned out to be a bit of a dive bar, with live bands playing covers of rock/pop starts – and was awesome. First of all, there were three pool tables and you did not have to fight to keep them (when was the last time that happened in New York). Second of all, the main band called Red Hot Chili Bastards (yah, the name is silly, poster is worse(think abbey road record cover - except naked with clogs covering the male genatalia) was pretty good. One girl in our group even wound up on stage dancing and singing with them at some point.

Then we went clubbing. The first thing about clubbing in Amsterdam is that there are “allowed drugs” and “not-allowed drugs,” and they are quite serious in checking for the not allowed variety. I’ve been patted down before, but this was something else. I’ve never been groped so much in my life. They even checked every pocket of my wallet. The second thing is that unlike New York where you can’t smoke in clubs, in Amsterdam everyone smokes. I didn’t realize how much I am no longer used to smoky environs, as my eyes burned for the first two hours with all the smoke in the air. On the other hand, the Club is more civilized in that water is free – and not in small wimpy glasses but in big mugs.

Other highlights of the night: the music was good, got hit on by some guy who was both rather forward, quite annoying, and smelled like piss cologne, and the paid dancers were worth the price of admission on their own. Now if my legs would only stop hurting so I could go study….

Friday, June 02, 2006

Waiting for the Phone to Ring

Waiting for the phone to ring sucks…. You keep looking at it…waiting for it to ring, and yet it doesn’t. I’ve spent the better part of the day waiting for it to wring (first my boss, then a friend from overseas) and it gets tiring. On the positive side – it gives one a chance to blog.

I’m getting increasingly used to the Hague. And finding pleasant things about it. For example, I’ve recently had one of the best fajitas I’ve ever had. They had just the right amount of scallions. Yum.

On the other hand, I’ve noticed two disturbing things. First, this is a place designed for Sat. Buying meat that is not pork in the supermarket is a challenge, and to be perfectly safe stick to chicken.

Second, the TV here sucks. Three different channels all showing American Pie, at the same time. You’d have to work to plan that. Plus, I still don’t speak Dutch, so even when I do find something I like, I can’t find the channel again.

Oh, well, Clubbing in Amsterdam tomorrow – that should be fun.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

European Sillines

When one is trying to save money one will sometimes buy Japanese noodles flavored in different ways. Also known as Ramen. the States this is a common form of cheap food and a package may run about 30 cents or so. Maybe 50 if you're really an extravagant shopper.

Went to store to buy food, and was trying to find a way to save money. Makes sense. Nothing special. Thought I'd pick up a few packages of Ramen while I was at it. It simple to make, I (unlike my roommates) like the taste, so why not. 3.50 Euro/package – that’s why not. Who the hell charges what amounts to 5 bucks for a bag of ROMMEN???? I realize
Europe is further from Japan than the States, but come one, this is simply ridiculous. On the bright side however – all the sugar based coke one can want.

The Hague: Week One

To the two of you who read this blog, I apologize for my extended absence. Partially this has been my fault, as I got distracted with such things as papers and exams, and partially it has been the fault of my computer which had a difficult time getting back online over the past week. In any case, I am back – and intend to start posting regularly now that I have both the time and the high speed connection.

Having recently moved to the Hague, Netherlands I’ve spent the last week moving into my new apartment, starting a new job, and doing the like. This has had a few adventures of its own. For example it took me almost a week (and far too much money) just to convert my computer to the European electric grid. Lot of fun let me tell you. So after a week here my three biggest observations:

3. The Dutch do not like people from the Middle East. In fact, this was one of my first observations once I arrived at the airport. In and of itself, this is not surprising. Given the recent controversies over the cartoons, Theo Van Gough, and the murder of a rising politician the animosity is not surprising. But it shocked me to the extent that it has penetrated the local culture. This isn’t a matter of different political opinions, it is straight up racism. You know the one, Europeans often accuse American’s off. One of the first things I heard out of my landlord’s mouth after he picked me up from the airport was a suggestion that the Turkish driver in front of him go drive a camel which is all that he is capable off. At first I dismissed this as a random person. Having taken the tram twice in recent days however, I found that when Muslims (think girls with headscarfs) get on a tram and sit down, the Dutch sitting in the area will simply get up and move. Just odd. At least to me.
2. This city closes far too early. Most stores are closed by 5:30, maybe 6:30 if you are absolutely lucky. This has made getting objects like electricity converters, phone cards, and the like almost impossible as most people *gasp* work until 5:30 and it takes a while to walk/bike (which is how almost everyone gets around the Hague) anywhere. This has resulted in odd situations like me having to eat at a Burger King the first night I was here, because nothing else was open after 8pm. Which at least to me seems odd, but that’s just the way it is. The Hague is a beautiful city – but simply put it closes early. Not much to be done about that.

1. God does not want this city here. How is that you ask. Well, see, the Dutch have spent generations building dykes, damns and other barriers in an effort to keep their cities (Amsterdam too has this problem) above water. God, however, seem to have other ideas, which is why every day the water comes into the city not from the sea but from the heavens. IT RAINS ALL THE TIME. Most of the time this place is so grey, cloudy, windy, and cold that it begins to remind me of Chicago. (AS this city is not for you – it makes New York seem tropical by comparison. Even my dad, who hates heat, was “looking forward to Detroit and the 80 degree temperatures). Maybe this weather wouldn’t be that bad – if one was properly prepared for it. Me? Of course not. I assumed that living in Europe was going to be all about being hot and muggy and actively focused on brining close for a tropical climate. Hell, I wouldn’t have even brought a jacket had a friend of mine not told me to at next to last second (thanks AJD). Then again – if I can figure out how to turn the heat on in the apartment on – perhaps I’ll be less bitter.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Heroes in Academia

Sorry for being gone so long. Been crazy busy, but this has actually forced me to take time out of my schedule.

Over my career in college and later law school I have been truly blessed to have an opportunity to study with intellectual giants. Most of my professors were quite smart as demanded by their posts, but a select few have become people worthy not only of academic appreciation, but of admiration, respect and a desire to emulate. First, was Professor Gitelman at the University of Michigan. Dr. Gitelman was one of many who has inspired me to go into academia, but who also showed how one's role as an academic can also be used to play a role in the cultural community to which one belongs. To me, and many others of my background, Dr. Gitelman played an important role and I hope that if I have the opportunity to become a professor I will play a similar role in the eyes of others.

I bring this up because of this article which appears in the Washington Post today. The article is yet another response to the, now largely discredited, study published by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. It is published by Eliot Cohen, a professor at John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, one of the best graduate programs in the country. In particular what motivated me out of my dull drums is not that Cohen, once again skewers the study. That I've seen done by many. What impressed me was Cohen's willingness to attack the slightly less covered aspect of Mersheime and Walt's writting - namely that Jews somehow can't be loyal to America if they support Israel. An argument that is historically patently untrue - just ask Henry Kissinger - and which I find offensive. So its nice to read this in the Washington Post:

If this sounds personal, it is, although I am only a footnote target for Mearsheimer and Walt. I am a public intellectual and a proud Jew; sympathetic to Israel and extensively engaged in our nation's military affairs; vaguely conservative and ocasionally hawkish. In a week my family will celebrate Passover with my oldest son -- the third generation to serve as an officer in the United States Army. He will be home on leave from the bomb-strewn streets of Baghdad. The patch on his shoulder is the same flag that flies on my porch.

Other supposed members of "The Lobby" also have children in military service. Impugning their patriotism or mine is not scholarship or policy advocacy. It is merely, and unforgivably, bigotry.

Puts a smile on my face.

I didn't have a chance to study with Prof. Cohen, but I wish there were more people like him and Dr. Gitelman - renowned academicians who are also a credit to their community. Additionally, I couldn't help posting about Cohen's article, after all seems like its something Ilya would do.