GEOPOLITICAL BRIEFING
Red Europe

Nov. 12 - A decade or two ago, "Red Europe" would have had a very definite meaning. It would have referred to that portion of the continent under the direct or indirect control of the Kremlin. It would have included everything behind the Iron Curtain and a few bits and pieces beyond it.

Red was the color of communism. "Better dead than red," they said—and sometimes the opposite. One spoke of the "Red Army," "Red China," and the "Red Menace." That's mostly behind us now. The new leading menace doesn't have its own special color, partly because we don't seem to have the moral courage to name the new leading menace.

(No, I'm not talking about poisonous snakes. Those are my own bete noir. They're not an international menace in any accepted usage of the phrase. I was referring to Islamofascism, or Islamism, or whatever you want to call the evil bastards bent on the destruction of Western Civ.)

So I'm going to speak of Red and Blue Europe the way everyone's been talking about Red and Blue America, and I'm not going to worry about anyone thinking I'm going off on a Cold War flashback.

Americans may be surprised to learn of the existence of separate Red and Blue Europes. After all, "Blue America" is supposed to be more "European" than Red America—a premise that makes no sense if there's a "Red Europe" for Red America to resemble.

Europeans, on the other hand, may be appalled at the notion of their own splendid geopolitical organization being broken down in the facile, senseless way that has proven so effective for exchanging misunderstandings about America. That alone makes the exercise irresistable.

I wrote about the state of gay marriage and civil unions around the world yesterday. Here's how that prose translates into a snazzy two-color map of Europe:

See how divided Europe is? France, Germany, and Scandinavia must feel like islands off the coast of Manhattan, surrounded as they are by the benighted prejudices of the Red Europeans. American Christians may feel pretty smug down there in the Bible Belt, but Red Europe has the actual Vatican!

Let's take an even more divisive issue: the war in Iraq. Here's a map of participation in the coalition of the willing, cribbed off of someone else's very hard work (I would have used his own map, with appropriate credits, but he used red and blue inappropriately):

You'll notice this map includes colors beside red and blue. That's unfortunate. After all, one can delineate anything in carefully nuanced shades and hues. The trick is to break analog (gradated) realities into digital (on-off) abstractions. Red or Blue, baby. Don't wanna hear about no yellow or gray.

Unfortunately, identifying divisive cultural issues on which each country in Europe can be assigned only one of two possible classifications becomes a tedious exercise more rapidly than you'd expect. Or maybe not—maybe you'd have found it entertaining for hours and hours. I didn't.

So I began mapping Europe in ways that were more personally relevant. Here, for example, is a map of countries where I'm literate enough in the local language to be able to read the local headlines:

And here's a map of countries I've actually set foot in—a map that will hopefully get a whole lot bluer next year.

I probably should have included Northern Ireland, since I've been to England and Ireland, but I only just now realized it wasn't already filled in. Fair enough: I've never been there. On the other hand, I've never been to Scotland, either, but that appears to have been relegated to part of England. Or does Great Britain count as a single country visited? The United Kingdom? What about the dominions? Since I've been to London, can I cross Australia off my list of places I've never been? What are the rules for this kind of thing? Do Europeans who've been to New York color in all fifty United States to show they've been to America?

As you can see, this is all going absolutely nowhere. That was my hypothesis all along. I feel vindicated. If you take an empty map of a geographical entity representing hundreds of millions of people and attempt to abstract each geopolitical subdivision into one of two categories, you're going to get exactly what you paid for (assuming you paid nothing).

Enough with the red and the blue.

Tunneling Dutchmen

New York's Holland Tunnel officially opened on November 12, 1927, ushering in a massive wave of Dutch immigration. Most of the Dutch returned to Holland after learning that New Amsterdam had become New York.

Junior High School Must Have Been Rough

King Cnut of England, Norway, Denmark, and Sweden died on November 12, 1035. (Cnut is better known to most Americans as King Canute, which offers fewer typographical hazards.)

Cnut was the son of Svein Forkbeard, son of Harald Bluetooth, son of Gorm. In 1013 Cnut's father conquered all of England from the Saxon King Aethelred but died anyway. This allowed Aethelred to take England back, which made it necessary for Cnut himself to reconquer England in 1016. He enjoyed this so much that he went on to conquer Scotland, Denmark, Norway, and part of Sweden, all of which came to be known collectively as Cnutland, perhaps explaining the region's subsequent popularity among European dyslexics.

* * *

On November 12, 1948, former Japanese Prime Minister Hikedi Tojo and seven others were sentenced to hang. (This was back in the quaint old days, when the world considered it legal not only to have enemies, but to kill them after they tried to kill you.)

Sex, Lies, and Canonization

"The students are beyond control and their behavior is disgraceful. They come blustering into the lecture-rooms like a troop of maniacs and upset the orderly arrangements which the master has made in the interest of his pupils. Their recklessness is unbelievable and they often commit outrages which ought to be punishable by law, were it not that custom protects them."

Readers concerned about the pace of change in human affairs can find solace in knowing that these familiar sentiments were expressed about sixteen centuries ago by St. Augustine, who was born on November 13, 354 AD.

Like many other theological luminaries, Augustine began life as a debauched young man who sought his pleasures in wine, women, and song. Eventually he became old and cranky and declared his youth wasted. The drunken orgies of his youth are recounted in his Confessions, which have at last been optioned by HBO and are expected to begin production later this year.

* * *

On November 14, 1851, that Herman Melville's most famous novel was first published. Called Moby Dick, the tale is teeming with seamen, spermaceti, and rigid harpoons. Scholars continue to debate its symbolism.

On November 14, 1908, Albert Einstein presented his quantum theory of light for the first time while future Senator Joseph McCarthy was being born, although not in the same room.

McCarthy's communist witch-hunts of the mid-twentieth century live in infamy despite the fact that they failed to uncover a single communist witch.

Einstein's quantum theory remains popular because people like the word quantum. In fact, Einstein's seldom-cited Law of Quantum Usage states that there is an inversely proportionate relationship between one's understanding of quantum theory and one's likelihood of discussing it.

Birthdays & Holidays

Al Michaels turns 60 on the 12th. He shares his birthday with Tonya Harding (1970), Sammy Sosa (1968), Nadia Comaneci (1961), Neil Young (1945), Wallace Shawn (1943), Grace Kelly (1929), and Auguste Rodin (1840).

The 12th is Sun Yat Sen's Birthday in China and Taiwan.

St. Augustine shares his November 13 birthday with Whoopi Goldberg (1949), Oskar Werner (1922), Eugene Ionesco (1912), Louis Brandeis (1856), Robert Louis Stevenson (1850), and King Edward III of England (1312).

Prince Charles turns 56 on the 14th. The Prince of Wales (and Senator Joe McCarthy) share their birthday with King Hussein of Jordan (1935), McLean Stevenson (1929), Brian Keith (1921), Veronica Lake (1919), Dick Powell (1904), Aaron Copland (1900), Jawaharlal Nehru (1889), Claude Monet (1840), Robert Fulton (1765), and King William III of England (1650).

Enjoy the weekend!

2004, The Moron's Almanac™

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