PERIPATETIC BRIEFING
Summer's End

Aug. 22 - I've accomplished most of what I wanted to get done over these past seven weeks, so I can resume blogging and almanacking without always feeling like I ought to be doing something more productive, profitable, or outdoorsy. (Although it is a gorgeous day in Copenhagen...)

A lot has happened since I went off the grid in early July. From the 7/7 bombings in London to the constitutional wrangle in Iraq to the ongoing Gaza pullout, there's been plenty of Big News this summer—and no shortage of the usual seasonal fluff.

As a proud father, however, I've been less interested in the developments in the world around me than those occurring in my now nearly 14-month old daughter. Just look at her:

She took her first real steps on or around July 11 and has only been speeding up ever since. She's been a wild and mostly gleeful bundle of energy since the day she was born, and walking has only amplified that. For a few days in August nothing made her happier than popping a mixing bowl on her head and racing around the apartment. The bowl would inevitably fall over her eyes, but that only made the adventure that much more hilarious to her—she would laugh hysterically and stumble merrily about, crashing into chairs and walls and tables with glee.

Sensitive adults who haven't yet been afflicted with children of their own might think it cruel that we allowed her to engage in such a stupid and dangerous activity. But she herself enjoyed it, and the only time she cried was when we tried to remove the bowl. See for yourself in this 10MB video (WMV) if you don't believe me. (But if the sight of a kid happily stumbling around and bumping into furniture to a rousing Wagnerian score doesn't strike you as funny, don't bother.)

Sorry for my own annoying laughter—I could have edited it out, but then I would have had to edit out her laughter, and there was just no way.

I could obviously go on and on about Molli Malou, but there'll be time enough for that in the months ahead.

BONFIRE OF MOM

One of the most-covered and most-discussed stories of the past few weeks has been that of Cindy Sheehan, a woman whose son lost his life while on duty in Iraq. (Don't even pretend you don't know what I'm talking about.) I was mystified at first by the draw. Over 1800 American servicemen and -women have given their lives in Iraq, presumably all of them with mothers of their own. Even allowing for soldiers whose mothers have already died, and for the possible (and unthinkably tragic) statistical redundancy presented by siblings killed in combat, there are probably at least 1500 living mothers of fallen American soldiers. Cindy Sheehan is the only one of them I'm aware of to have become a global household name. Why? Because she camped out in Crawford, Texas, demanding a second meeting with the President in order to rip him a new one. Fair enough: I could see that meriting a one-time mention as a human-interest story.

But it quickly escalated into a Bonfire of the Vanities so grotesquely overplayed that Tom Wolfe himself appears to have suffered from a failure of imagination. Who do you like in this one? Who comes out of this looking good? Who held on to some dignity?

I think the best revenge would be to force everyone who's been a party to this circus of the grotesques to provide the same amount of attention and publicity to every other grieving mother out there. Two weeks of non-stop coverage of every single one of them. Each of them becomes the authoritative moral authority on the war for two weeks.

With 1500 mothers getting 2 weeks each, that's 3000 weeks. If we start now we can get through this thing in about 58 years. Let's get cracking!

Meanwhile, back in Denmark...

HEADS THEY SCREWED HIM, TAILS THEY SCREWED HIM SO BADLY HE'S PRETENDING NOT TO HAVE BEEN SCREWED

I've talked in the past (links follow) about Slimane Hadj Abderrahmane, the happy Danish Al Qaeda warrior and former guest of Gitmo. He achieved a little notoriety earlier this year for declaring that Danish elected officials were legitimate targets for Jihadists, and for his plans to sue the U.S. government for wrongful imprisonment.

He was briefly back in the news in late July. First he decided not to sue the U.S. after all—then it was revealed by experts that this was exactly the kind of behavior to be expected of torture victims!

(When he was threatening to sue the U.S., why didn't these experts go public with the important information that his behavior was consistent with that of someone who hadn't been tortured?)

I remind you, this was after the homegrown-nature of Britain's bombers had become well-known. Anyone remember what it said in Slimane's Danish yearbook?

Classmates' description of him in the school's 1997 yearbook almost prophesied his eventual arrest... Listed under the Danish detainee's motto, the yearbook reads: "I'll set a bomb, I will." Under "Future Goals," the caption under the Danish detainee's photo states: "To be a terrorist. It doesn't matter where—just a terrorist."

Noble goals! Even the twits who excuse terrorism usually only do so in defense of some larger political or social goal, or an absence of conventional weapons. No lofty ends or fancy justifications for Slimane—he just wants in on the means. So you take a guy like this, a battlefield detainee from Afghanistan who's just burning to get over to Chechnya, popping off about the legitimacy of armed insurrection against the popularly elected government—and what do you do with him?

I'm serious. That's the problem Europe's been having, and which post-bombing Britain seems to be trying to solve: what do you do with such people?

AFTER ALL, THEY'VE GOT RIGHTS

Don't they? From TIME Europe Magazine:

Unlike the Madrid train bombers — who blew themselves up in April of last year rather than be captured — Ibrahim Muktar Said, suspected of trying to bomb a No. 26 bus, and Ramzi Mohammed, thought to have tried to bomb a train at Oval station, showed no inclination for suicide. "I've got rights!" one of them shouted to police, before finally giving himself up.

TIME isn't the only major media outlet reporting the anecdote, so I'm assuming it's true.

But I wonder. Not emotionally—emotionally I feel the west ought to make damn sure that every terror operation ends up as a martyrdom operation. But intellectually I wonder if people at war with a given civilization ought to be granted the rights accorded to members of that civilization through the social contract—the very first principle of which is acceptance of the sacrifice of certain "natural" liberties (the right to have sex wherever you want, for example, or beat up someone you don't like) in exchange for the protections and benefits of a larger social organization. Shouldn't any attack on that larger social organization be construed as a voluntary waiver of the social contract? Sort of an opt-out?

What should the penalty for a violation of the Social Contract be, anyway? What does Rousseau say?

THE question is often asked how individuals, having no right to dispose of their own lives, can transfer to the Sovereign a right which they do not possess. The difficulty of answering this question seems to me to lie in its being wrongly stated. Every man has a right to risk his own life in order to preserve it. Has it ever been said that a man who throws himself out of the window to escape from a fire is guilty of suicide? Has such a crime ever been laid to the charge of him who perishes in a storm because, when he went on board, he knew of the danger?

The social treaty has for its end the preservation of the contracting parties. He who wills the end wills the means also, and the means must involve some risks, and even some losses. He who wishes to preserve his life at others' expense should also, when it is necessary, be ready to give it up for their sake. Furthermore, the citizen is no longer the judge of the dangers to which the law-desires him to expose himself; and when the prince says to him: "It is expedient for the State that you should die," he ought to die, because it is only on that condition that he has been living in security up to the present, and because his life is no longer a mere bounty of nature, but a gift made conditionally by the State.

(The Social Contract, II, 5)

So according to the Bad Boy of Geneva himself, if Ibrahim and Ramzi want to insist on their rights, and are therefore clinging desperately to their membership in the larger social structure, they are by definition surrendering their very right to life, since the preservation of the state requires their elimination.

That's probably why one of the other failed bombers tried a different tack—the storied "Just Kidding" defense:

Grilled by two of Italy's top anti-terrorism prosecutors, Hussain said his chief — whom he identified as "Muktar" — taught him how to assemble explosives using fertilizers and how to stuff explosives and timers into backpacks, the Rome daily La Repubblica said.

Hussain was referring to Muktar Said Ibrahim, 27, another bombing suspect captured in a Friday raid in London, the newspaper said. He is suspected of planting explosives on a London bus July 21.

"Muktar urged us to be careful," La Repubblica quoted Hussain as telling his interrogators. "We didn't want to kill, just to sow terror."

Just kidding! Ha ha ha! You lousy infidels got no sense of humor...

HERE'S A THOUGHT

There's a little Muslim radio station that used to broadcast a couple of times a week in Copenhagen. It broadcast a lot of the militant Islamist garbage we're all used to hearing, but that's just the price we pay for freedom of speech.

A few weeks ago one of the Islamists said—more or less as Slimane had said before him—that certain Danes would have to be killed to make Denmark safe for Muslims.

This was after 7/7, so of course the idiot who said all these things was shut down completely. His sporadically broadcasting station was delicensed as the government slapped down on him with the full force of its powers. There was none of that namby-pamby handwringing over worries that such a move might alienate moderate Muslims or erode free speech rights in Denmark.

Nice to see a little stiffening of the spine, isn't it?

But that may just be because it wasn't actually a militant Islamist, it was an extreme right-wing "ethnic Dane" whack-job. (Danmark for danskerne! — Denmark for the Danes!) And instead of calling for Jihad against Anders Fogh Rasmussen & Co., he was suggesting that the Islamist "fanatics" in Denmark should be "exterminated."

There's no doubt in my mind the government did the right thing by slapping this spewer of lethal hatred upside the head. I only hope they can sustain that resolve against all spewers of lethal hatred—and I'm actually starting to think that after 7/7 they will.

Hear that giant rustling sound? Maybe it's the sound of kid gloves being peeled off...

A CREEPY DEVELOPMENT

There doesn't seem to be anything anyone can do... the filthy cockroaches from Germany keep coming.

Let me be the first to call for their rapid extermination.

OUR BEER, v1.0

A group of enterprising Copenhagen technology students made headlines in early August for having produced the world's first "open source" beer: Vores Øl ("Our Beer"), version 1.0.

It's a fun story but I don't really get the big deal. A Google search on "beer recipes" generates about 1.7 million hits, and even assuming that a few thousand of those trace back to Vores Øl, there doesn't seem to be a shortage of publicly available beer recipes out there.

The Vores Øl Group says their product is "an experiment in applying modern open source ideas and methods on a traditional real-world product (beer)."

Fair enough. Here's my own experiment, using a different traditional real-world product that happens to go very well with beer, especially now that the American football season is approaching: it's This Moron's Open Source Mushroom Chili, and I officially declare it an open-source recipe.

It's healthy, filling, and delicious—although it may contribute to excessive methane levels.

THIS MORON'S OPEN SOURCE MUSHROOM CHILI

1 Red Pepper
1 1/2 Medium yellow onions
2 1/2 Medium Portobello mushrooms
4-5 Shiitake mushrooms (or whatever)
4-5 clovers garlic
2 tbsp (good) olive oil
2 (seeded) jalapeno peppers (I used pickled)
2 15 oz cans Kidney or Chili Beans in Sauce
2 8 oz cans tomato sauce
little squirt of tomato paste
Chili powder and salt to taste

Makes about 9-10 cups (4-5 servings), 135 calories per cup.

Notes: All uncanned veggies and the garlic should be diced. Don't dice the mushrooms too small, because they're nice and meaty if you leave them in chunks about 3/4 the size of dice. If you don't seed the jalapenos, the chili may be too spicy to actually eat. If you use green chiles instead of jalapenos you can probably have a less spicy chile with an equally rich flavor. If you can't find kidney beans in sauce, you might want to try draining the bean water before you add them to the soup, then compensating by adding a little more tomato sauce and maybe a drop or two of Tabasco. In North America, Goya Kidney Beans with Sauce work really, really well for this recipe. In Europe, use that brand of "Chili Beans in Sauce" with the Union Jack on the label. You can use any kind of mushrooms, but I think the "meatier" quality of the Portobello and Shiitake is important. Sometimes you can find "variety packs" of exotic mushrooms—one of these with a couple of Portobellos will do fine.

It's this easy:

Heat the oil in a big pot.

Once the oil is going, sautee the onions, red pepper, and garlic at medium high heat.

Once they're softened up (5-6 minutes), add the mushrooms. Sautee until everything is soft and almost carmelized—another 5-6 minutes. You don't want to kill the mushrooms: they should still be a little spongey. That's the only reason I don't throw them right in at the outset.

Add all the other ingredients and stir it up well. Lower the heat and simmer about 15 minutes or until you think it tastes good. (Remember, there's no fear of E. Coli or anything since there's no meat.) Two cups of chili in a bowl topped with 1/4 cup of shredded sharp cheddar will run about 380 calories and be unbelievably tasty AND healthy. And filling.

WARNING: This is not a good recipe for consumption in a confined eating space. For some reason this recipe seems to produce more gas than even ordinary chili. If some enterprising open-source enthusiast can come up with "A LESS GASSY VERSION OF THIS MORON'S MUSHROOM CHILI," I'd certainly be grateful.

A STREET BY ANY OTHER NAME...

For all their love of tolerance and multiculturalism, Danes can be little prickly about having it shoved down their throat. At least, that seems to be the intended theme of this story from the Times of India:

The Danish capital of Copenhagen, which was, [sic] supposed to name one of the city roads as Pakistan is now embroiled in a tussle with the residents, who do not want any part of the city to be associated with the name — Pakistan. [...] The mayor of the Copenhagen Municipal Corporation made the decision two years ago during a Pakistani fair held in front of Town Hall. At that time, the city’s Pakistani community and other foreigners gladly accepted the decision, though locals were worried as to which road would be renamed Pakistan.

Here's a reasonable story about the issue from Jyllands-Posten ("Citizens Protest Against Pakistan Street"). The first article I linked to is less reasonable, and includes these bizarre bits of text:

And the only reason, post 7/7 anyone wearing a traditional salwar kameez and sporting a beard is seen with suspicion by the locals. [...] But now, concern has changed to protests, with the locals vociferously objecting to decision. And the tension has risen to such an extent that quarrels and scuffles are regularly taking place each day between the locals and foreigners.

This story, with all its dark implications about rising intolerance in Copenhagen, appears to have gone out as some kind of wire service copy back in early August. I haven't seen anything in the Danish media, or my own daily life, suggesting that there's any truth to these claims, although I do recall reading that ridership of the Danish subway fell about 25% in the week after 7/7. I suppose anyone looking like a Muslim and toting a backpack was getting a pretty wide berth on the subways that week... but whose fault is that? Denmark and Italy had just been warned that they were "next." Nerves were a little raw.

What about this implication that it's somehow racist or xenophobic to oppose having your street renamed "Pakistan Street?" Is it? I suppose it would be if you wanted instead to name it "Aryan Street" or "The Great White Way." But the residents in question just want a standard Danish street name: Fortbovej, for example, or Ved Kastrupfortet. On the other hand, there are apparently other Asian nations being used as street names in the area: such as Koreavej (Korea Street), Iranvej (Iran Street), and Kinavej (China Street), so maybe there is something to this particular exception.

It says something about the sensitivities of our times that a little tussle over a street name in a little kolonihave should generate international interest. I don't have a dog in this fight, I just thought it was worth noting.

WIRED — WITHOUT WIRES

How cool is this? Copenhagen's going wireless in a couple of months.

4-1

No, it's not the odds of the Defending Two-Time Champion New England Patriots defending their title this season... it's the score of a World Cup friendly match between Denmark and England the other night here in Copenhagen. It was a devastating blow for England, and a great moment for Denmark. Not exactly payback for 1807, but Danes'll take what they can get...

SUICIDE IS A HASSLE

Dorothy Parker was born on August 22, 1893. You can hear her readiing one of her own poems here.

Here's another:

Guns aren't lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.

Dorothy Parker attempted suicide four times herself before succumbing to a heart attack in 1967.

FØDSELSDAGENE

Today is the birthday of River Phoenix (1970), Shelley Long (1949), Rick Springfield (1949), Barbara Eden (1934), Mark Russell (1932), Gene Kelly (1912), and Louis XVI (1754).

Happy Monday!

© 2005, The Moron's Almanac™

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