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22 February 2010

Netherlands government collapses / troop withdrawal from Afghanistan war likely / NATO Euro ally stampede feared

The New York Times (USA)
Sunday 21 February 2010


Dutch government collapses;
signals troop withdrawal
from Afghanistan war


by Nicholas Kulish

BERLIN -— A day after his government collapsed, Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said Sunday that he expected Dutch troops to come home from Afghanistan before the end of the year.

A last-ditch effort by Mr. Balkenende to keep Dutch soldiers in the dangerous southern Afghan province of Oruzgan instead saw the Labor Party quit the government in the Netherlands early Saturday, immediately raising fears that the Western military coalition fighting the war was increasingly at risk.

Even as the allied offensive in the Taliban stronghold of Marja continued, it appeared almost certain that most of the 2,000 Dutch troops would be gone from Afghanistan by the end of the year. The question plaguing military planners was whether a Dutch departure would embolden the war’s critics in other allied countries, where debate over deployment is continuing, and hasten the withdrawal of their troops as well.

“The moment the Netherlands says as sole and first country we will no longer have activities at the end of 2010, it will raise questions in other countries and this really pains me,” Mr. Balkenende told the Dutch television program “Buitenhof” in an interview on Sunday, according to Reuters.

The collapse of the Dutch government comes as the Obama administration continues to struggle to get European allies to commit more troops to Afghanistan to bolster its attempts to win back the country from a resurgent Taliban. President Obama has made the Afghan war a cornerstone of his foreign policy and, after months of debate, committed tens of thousands more American troops to the effort.

“If the Dutch go, which is the implication of all this, that could open the floodgates for other Europeans to say, ‘The Dutch are going, we can go, too,’ ” said Julian Lindley-French, professor of defense strategy at the Netherlands Defense Academy in Breda. “The implications are that the U.S. and the British are going to take on more of the load.”

Dutch leaders had promised voters to bring most of the country’s troops home this year. But after entreaties from the United States, Mr. Balkenende tried to find a compromise to extend the Dutch presence, at least on a scaled-back basis. Instead, the Labor Party pulled out of the government after an acrimonious 16-hour cabinet meeting that ran into the early hours of Saturday.

Mr. Balkenende told Dutch television on Sunday that he now expected Dutch troops to leave Afghanistan as planned. "If nothing else will take its place, then it ends," he said, according to Reuters.

The Dutch troops have been important to the war effort, despite their small numbers, because about 1,500 of them were posted in Oruzgan.

Analysts said that new elections in the Netherlands, as well as the departure of the Dutch troops, now appeared inevitable.

The war in Afghanistan has been increasingly unpopular among voters in the Netherlands, as in many other parts of Europe, creating strains between governments trying to please the United States and their own people.

But the tension in the Netherlands also reveals how deep the fissures over the war have grown within the NATO alliance.

As the number of Dutch military casualties has increased — 21 soldiers have diedthe public back home has grown increasingly resentful at the refusal of some other allies, in particular the Germans, to join the intense fighting in the south.

The probable loss of the Dutch contingent and the continuing resistance to significant increases in manpower by other allies demonstrate the extent to which the dividend expected from the departure of President George W. Bush, who was so unpopular in capitals across the Atlantic, has not materialized, despite Mr. Obama’s popularity in Europe.

“The support for Obama was always double-faced,” said Stefan Kornelius, foreign editor of the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. “It was never really heartfelt. People loved what they heard, but they never felt obliged to support Obama beyond what they were already doing.”

Since taking office, Mr. Obama has been pressing the non-American members of the coalition to increase their contribution, seeking up to 10,000 additional troops. While NATO has pledged around 7,000 troops, critics of the alliance’s efforts accuse it of fuzzy math: counting up to 2,000 soldiers who were already in Afghanistan but had been scheduled to leave after the recent election.

And even the 7,000 figure was notional; NATO is holding a “force generation conference” this week at which time official pledges will be made, and there are questions about whether it will reach that number.

The Dutch contingent is part of the roughly 40,000 troops from 43 countries who are aiding the United States in Afghanistan, most of those from NATO. The United States is fielding about 75,000 troops, but that number is expected to rise to about 98,000 by the end of the summer.

The Dutch troops were deployed to Oruzgan in 2006 and were originally supposed to stay for two years; that mandate already had been extended another two years to August 2010.

Analysts in the Netherlands said they expected the Dutch troops to leave on time because any deal to keep them there appeared all but impossible in the tumult following the government’s collapse.

“I don’t think there’s room, with a government falling and waiting for elections, for there to be a decision,” said Edwin Bakker, who runs the security and conflict program at the Netherlands Institute of International Relations.

Although American officials are concerned that an exodus by the Dutch could prompt other allies to follow suit, a sudden rush to exit seemed unlikely.

“There is a groundswell of distress in Europe, of feeling this isn’t working, but does that translate into electorates saying we’re going to vote you down? I don’t see that,” said Constanze Stelzenmüller, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund in Berlin.

But the collapse of the Dutch government reinforced the difficulty of holding together an alliance made up of a multitude of countries, each with its own fractious domestic politics.

On Saturday, Mr. Balkenende informed Queen Beatrix, the country’s head of state, of the government’s resignation. According to the Dutch media, she was vacationing in Austria, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs said a decision about whether to hold new elections would probably be made in the next several days. By law the election would have to be held within 83 days of the queen’s decision.

The question of retaining troops in Afghanistan was far from the only issue pulling apart the parties in the governing coalition in the Netherlands; the parties were also divided over a controversial decision to increase the retirement age and the impending need for deep budget cuts. But the dispute over the troops brought relations to the breaking point.

“The majority of the Dutch people say, ‘Go, we’ve done enough. Let other countries do it now.’ That’s a big majority and also the majority in the Parliament,” said Nicoline van den Broek-Laman Trip, a former senator from the Liberal Party, who said she supported the Dutch mission but also believed that it was time to pull back most of the troops, leaving F-16s and perhaps trainers for local Afghan troops.

“They’ve got a small military,” said Mr. Lindley-French of the Netherlands Defense Academy. “The force has suffered a great deal of wear and tear. The Dutch have hung in there.

“The real failing is the ability of NATO partners and allies to rotate through the south and the east of the country, where the real center of the struggle exists.”

Dexter Filkins contributed reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan, Scott Sayare from Paris, and Thom Shanker from Washington.

- 30 -

20 February 2010

PIZZAQ: wtf? Identify this ... uhhh ... thing

Click image, maybe gets bigger.

4 Slices of Pizza, unpasteurized French soft cheese.

09 February 2010

I've lived a life that's full / I traveled each and ev'ry highway / and more, much more than this, I died it my way!

The New York Times (USA)
Sunday 7 February 2010


Sinatra Song
Often Strikes
Deadly Chord


by Norimitsu Onishi

GENERAL SANTOS, Philippines -- After a day of barbering, Rodolfo Gregorio went to his neighborhood karaoke bar still smelling of talcum powder. Putting aside his glass of Red Horse Extra Strong beer, he grasped a microphone with a habitué’s self-assuredness and briefly stilled the room with the Platters’ “My Prayer.”

Next, he belted out crowd-pleasers by Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck. But Mr. Gregorio, 63, a witness to countless fistfights and occasional stabbings erupting from disputes over karaoke singing, did not dare choose one beloved classic: Frank Sinatra’s version of “My Way.”

“I used to like ‘My Way,’ but after all the trouble, I stopped singing it,” he said. “You can get killed.”

The authorities do not know exactly how many people have been killed warbling “My Way” in karaoke bars over the years in the Philippines, or how many fatal fights it has fueled. But the news media have recorded at least half a dozen victims in the past decade and includes them in a subcategory of crime dubbed the “My Way Killings.”

The killings have produced urban legends about the song and left Filipinos groping for answers. Are the killings the natural byproduct of the country’s culture of violence, drinking and machismo? Or is there something inherently sinister in the song?

Whatever the reason, many karaoke bars have removed the song from their playbooks. And the country’s many Sinatra lovers, like Mr. Gregorio here in this city in the southernmost Philippines, are practicing self-censorship out of perceived self-preservation.

Karaoke-related killings are not limited to the Philippines. In the past two years alone, a Malaysian man was fatally stabbed for hogging the microphone at a bar and a Thai man killed 8 of his neighbors in a rage after they sang John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” Karaoke-related assaults have also occurred in the United States, including at a Seattle bar where a woman punched a man for singing Coldplay’s “Yellow” after criticizing his version.

Still, the odds of getting killed during karaoke may be higher in the Philippines, if only because of the ubiquity of the pastime. Social get-togethers invariably involve karaoke. Stand-alone karaoke machines can be found in the unlikeliest settings, including outdoors in rural areas where men can sometimes be seen singing early in the morning. And Filipinos, who pride themselves on their singing, may have a lower tolerance for bad singers.

Indeed, most of the “My Way” killings have reportedly occurred after the singer sang out of tune, causing other patrons to laugh or jeer.

“The trouble with ‘My Way,’ ” said Mr. Gregorio, “is that everyone knows it and everyone has an opinion.”

Others, noting that other equally popular tunes have not provoked killings, point to the song itself. The lyrics, written by Paul Anka for Mr. Sinatra as an unapologetic summing up of his career, are about a tough guy who “when there was doubt,” simply “ate it up and spit it out.” Butch Albarracin, the owner of Center for Pop, a Manila-based singing school that has propelled the careers of many famous singers, was partial to what he called the “existential explanation.”

“ ‘I did it my way’ — it’s so arrogant,” Mr. Albarracin said. “The lyrics evoke feelings of pride and arrogance in the singer, as if you’re somebody when you’re really nobody. It covers up your failures. That’s why it leads to fights.”

Defenders of “My Way” say it is a victim of its own popularity. Because it is sung more often than most songs, the thinking goes, karaoke-related violence is more likely to occur while people are singing it. The real reasons behind the violence are breaches of karaoke etiquette, like hogging the microphone, laughing at someone’s singing or choosing a song that has already been sung.

“The Philippines is a very violent society, so karaoke only triggers what already exists here when certain social rules are broken,” said Roland B. Tolentino, a pop culture expert at the University of the Philippines. But even he hedged, noting that the song’s “triumphalist” nature might contribute to the violence.

Some karaoke lovers are not taking chances, not even at family gatherings.

In Manila, Alisa Escanlar, 33, and her relatives invariably gather before a karaoke machine, but they banned “My Way” after an uncle, listening to a friend sing the song at a bar, became enraged at the laughter coming from the next table. The uncle, who was a police officer, pulled out his revolver, after which the customers at the next table quietly paid their bill and left.

Awash in more than 1,000,000 illegal guns, the Philippines has long suffered from all manner of violence, from the political to the private. Wary middle-class patrons gravitate to karaoke clubs with cubicles that isolate them from strangers.

But in karaoke bars where one song costs 5 pesos, or a tenth of a dollar, strangers often rub shoulders, sometimes uneasily. A subset of karaoke bars with G.R.O.’s — short for guest relations officers, a euphemism for female prostitutes — often employ gay men, who are seen as neutral, to defuse the undercurrent of tension among the male patrons. Since the gay men are not considered rivals for the women’s attention — or rivals in singing, which karaoke machines score and rank — they can use humor to forestall macho face-offs among the patrons.

In one such bar in Quezon City, next to Manila, patrons sing karaoke at tables on the first floor and can accompany a G.R.O. upstairs. Fights often break out when customers at one table look at another table “the wrong way,” said Mark Lanada, 20, the manager.

“That’s the biggest source of tension,” Mr. Lanada said. “That’s why every place like this has a gay man like me.”

Ordinary karaoke bars, like the Nelson Carenderia here, a single room with bare plywood walls, mandate that a singer give up the microphone after three consecutive songs.

On one recent evening, at the table closest to the karaoke machine, Edwin Lancaderas, 62, crooned a Tagalog song, “Fight Temptation” — about a married man forgoing an affair with a woman while taking delight in their “stolen moments.” His friend Dindo Auxlero, 42, took the mike next, bawling songs by the Scorpions and Dire Straits. Several empty bottles of Red Horse crowded their table.

“In the Philippines, life is difficult,” said Mr. Auxlero, who repairs watches from a street kiosk, as he railed about government corruption and a weak economy that has driven so many Filipinos to work overseas, including his wife, who is a maid in Lebanon. “But, you know, we have a saying: ‘Don’t worry about your problems. Let your problems worry about you.’ ”

The two men roared with laughter.

“That’s why we come here every night — to clear the excesses from our heads,” Mr. Lancaderas said, adding, however, that the two always adhered to karaoke etiquette and, of course, refrained from singing “My Way.”

“Misunderstanding and jealousy,” in his view, were behind the “My Way” killings. “I just hope it doesn’t happen here,” he said.

- 30 -

==============

My Way

English lyrics by Paul Anka
original song by Jacques Revaux, Gilles Thibaut, Claude Francois


And now the end is near
And so I face the final curtain
My friend I'll say it clear
I'll state my case of which I'm certain

I've lived a life that's full
I traveled each and every highway
And more, much more than this
I did it my way

Regrets I've had a few
But then again too few to mention
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption

I planned each charted course
Each careful step along the byway
And more, much more than this
I did it my way

Yes there were times I'm sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew
But through it all when there was doubt
I ate it up and spit it out, I faced it all
And I stood tall and did it my way

I've loved, I've laughed and cried
I've had my fill, my share of losing
And now as tears subside
I find it all so amusing

To think I did all that
And may I say not in a shy way
Oh no, oh no, not me
I did it my way

For what is a man what has he got
If not himself then he has not
To say the things he truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows
And did it my way

Yes it was my way


© CHRYSALIS STANDARDS, INC

COMMENTS:

ChasA 02/02/10,00:49
A great song and a man truly the epitome of the word charisma.

betO91 01/06/10,03:25
Beautiful song! Im gonna play it when im ready to kick the bucket while I have flashbacks of my life with a amiling grin and tears running down my face...(gasp)

vitaly 12/28/09,02:22
Frank Senatra is more better than the text of this song.

Rita 12/25/09,10:32
This is my favourite song which has so much meaning. Wherever an ochestra plays I always request for MY WAY. And of course I think of Frank Sinatra who made it a hit

ABL 12/09/09,08:39
I love Sinatra and love his music...He is the beast of the last 100 years and sings the soundtrack of our lives..

endy 11/30/09,22:26
i love this song. Its inspire my life toward future.

shosho 11/15/09,10:10
i hate this old man

A.S.Thilakaratna 11/01/09,02:46
One of my favourite songs

07 February 2010

How did Neill Shrimpton know it was my birthday????

Hello,

This is a personal email directed to you and I request that it be treated as such. I must solicit your confidentiality and assure you that I am contacting you in good faith and this proposal will be of mutual benefit. I am Neill Shrimpton, a solicitor at law. I am the personal attorney/sole executor to my late client who worked as an independent oil magnate in my country, who died in a car crash with his immediate family in East London on the 5th of November

My late client, a formal contractor working with Chevron Texaco Oil here in the United Kingdom Left behind a deposit of Five Million Eight Hundred Thousand British Pounds Sterling only (£5.8 Million Pounds Sterling )

UK£ 5,800,000 = U$ 9,070,039.87

[today's quote]

with a bank. After the death of my client, the finance company contacted me being his attorney to provide his Next of kin who should inherit his fortune this according to corporate banking laws.

Since the death of my client, i have been unable to locate any of his extended relatives whom shall be claimants/beneficiaries of his abandoned personal estate but thus far the findings have been to no avail and i communicated same to the financial institution.

Sitting directors of the board of the financial institution has adopted a resolution and I was mandated to provide his next of kin within the next 14 official working days or all legal claims to the funds would be forfeited within that time. The financial house would invoke the abandoned property decree of the company to confiscate the funds after the expiration of the period given me. Official letters have been sent to my office in the last couple of days suggesting a likely proceeding for confiscation of his abandoned personal assets in line with the provisions of such laws.

My contacting you is base on reasons, very professional as well as to use legal means to present you as next of kin of my deceased client. This indeed is legally possible and would be done within the confines of the British laws. I thought to contact you, that I may, with your consent, present you to the financial house as close relative of my late client as only family members can put up a claim to the bank in that capacity as a next of kin of my client.

I have all vital documents that would confer you the legal right to make this claim and would make them available to you so that the proceeds of this bank account valued at £5.8 million Pounds Sterling can be paid to you before it gets confiscated or declared unserviceable by the bank.

I do sincerely sympathize with the death of my client but think it is unprofitable for his funds to be submitted to the government of this country or some financial institution. My aim is to retrieve these funds and let it be claimed by the deceased family Lineage, etc. for this I seek your assistance since I have been unable to locate the relatives for the past 8 years now.

I seek your consent to present you as the next of kin of the deceased so that the proceeds of this account can be paid to you. In the aftermath of this, the sharing formula would be 45% for me and 55% to you. Can I trust you on this? I shall assemble all the necessary documents that will be used to back up your claim.

I will not fail to bring to your notice that this proposal is hitch-free and that you should not entertain any fears as the required arrangements have been made for the completion of this transfer. I guarantee that this will be executed under a legitimate arrangement that will protect you from any breach of law.

Like I said, I require only a solemn confidentiality on this. Please get in touch with me by my alternative email: ( n.shrimp@live.co.uk ) for strict confidentiality purpose and send to me your telephone and fax numbers to enable us discuss further on this transaction. My contact number is +44 704 578 8886..

If this proposal is acceptable to you, do not take undue advantage of the trust I have bestowed in you, Thanks for your understanding while awaiting your immediate response.

Regard,
Neill Shrimpton.

06 February 2010

Abraham Lincoln and Euclid / Euclid teaches Lincoln to slay his political rivals / the World is Provable (with liberal doses of aspirin and hard work)

Click to enlarge, maybe.

Euclid's diagram accompanying his proof of Pythagoras' right-triangle theorem: In any right triangle, the sum of the squares of the two shorter sides equals the square of the longest side.

* * *

Hey hey hi Mumfacolyte --

Here's the story I remember about Lincoln and Euclid, and I suspect I got it from Sandburg's bio (super-recommended),

When Lincoln first began dabbling in politics, he helped a winning candidate, and was rewarded with an Illinois state job as a surveyor -- a job for which he had no previous experience. He was given a theodolite and a crude book of instructions, and went about surveying farms and roads.

In his crude surveying primer, he kept encountering footnotes that said "qv. Euclid," was curious to know who this Euclid guy was, inquired, and was loaned a copy of The Elements. Lincoln and Euclid clicked instantly, and he dove into it like a starving man at a banquet.

Late in his life Lincoln claimed to have proven every demonstration in Euclid, and described it as the singlemost influential event of his intellectual life. As so many other geniuses before and after, he was astonished at the fundamental concept -- that things about the World could actually be PROVEN, known with absolute certainty; and that this huge volume of Proofs were interconnected, each new proof resting with perfect certainty on the proofs that had come before.

We don't normally think of Lincoln as math-minded, but in fact, if his memoir is true, he could blow just about anyone out of the water with his adoring mastery of Euclid.

The utterances from the mouths of politicians are such cotton-candy, ill-defined, evasive crap (e.g., what, exactly, do American politicians mean by "freedom" as they goose applause from unsophisticated audiences?) ... I'm convinced Euclid's demands of clear, precise definitions and ironclad logical step-by-step demonstrations evolved into the core of Lincoln's political and debating skills. More than any of his political rivals and contemporaries, he could instantly spot the flaws and lies in any political argument, and could illuminate the holes and gaffs so that audiences quickly saw which speaker was spewing fluff, and which speaker was on solid "Euclidean" ground.

The Lincoln-Douglas Debates are particularly interesting to read in detail from this perspective. Though Lincoln lost the Senate race to Douglas, the debates, widely published, launched Lincoln from backwoods obscurity to national attention. He was making sense about and illuminating very important national matters -- and Douglas, the far more florid and celebrated orator, wasn't.

I don't want to overplay the importance of Euclid to Lincoln's political success. He also had a personality that can only be described as Magic, people couldn't help but love and admire him, he was a wildly funny raconteur, and these skills made juries his adoring slaves and made Lincoln one America's most successful trial lawyers.

Two memoirs about first encountering Euclid as children (these are paraphrases from memory):

Bertrand Russell: "I never imagined anything could be so delicious."

John Stuart Mill read the first few pages of The Elements and screamed: "This is preposterous!" (That, of course, wasn't his final verdict, he kept reading every preposterous word.)

It's all aesthetics, but my absolute favorite is Euclid's proof (Book IX, Proposition 20) that there is an infinity of prime numbers; there is no greatest prime number.

And he does it all with unmarked straightedge, dividers, and line segments. (Today we'd go straight to the algebra and arithmetic of the argument.)

I think it's enough for every intelligent, civilized person just to be "touched" -- well, maybe punched and clobbered a few times -- by Euclid, to have thoroughly mastered just a half-dozen of the proofs. Mastering Euclid's proof of Pythagoras' right-triangle theorem -- that earns every woman, man and child the right to say forevermore that they truly understand the World, and how Reality is truly constructed.

Two particularly fascinating works based entirely on Euclid's example:

Spinoza's "Ethics" -- right, wrong, good, evil, in human behavior, all defined and proven precisely in the Euclid way.

Newton's "Principia" -- though he'd already invented the calculus secretly to quickly grasp the System of the World, Newton published his results entirely in the traditional Euclidean method of "The Elements," without the slightest hint that any other method could match the precision and perfection of Euclid.

My reading of the extensive Dover notes regarding the Parallel Postulate seems to make it clear that even Euclid thought there was something very fishy -- and "un-Euclidean" -- about this particular foundation of his geometry. I'm certain Euclid would have embraced the modern discoveries of non-Euclidean geometry with instant understanding and great pleasure.

05 February 2010

Birthday Bob / Why does a fireman wear red suspenders? / Euclid for my birthday! / Fish for my birthday! / Zoe's reopens!


Click all you want.

Birthday greetings from my Army buddy Ron who lives in the USA state shaped like a right-hand mitten. My guess is Ron is verrrrry close to my age, 'cause we both got hosed up by The Draft = Universal Military Conscription. Actually, I'm probably older 'cause I dicked around from college to college, and when I finally got drafted, all the other draftees in my training company called me Old Man. I was 22.

I've already opened two birthday presents from S.W.M.B.O. -- a really nifty set of heavy-duty red suspenders (to keep my pants up), and a new set of the entire Euclid's Elements of Geometry (English translation of course, my ancient Greek ain't that hot). Also some books on the history of Greek math by Heath.

Small birthday dinner party tonight, me and some pals, at the just-reopened Zoe's Fish and Chop House in Hadley, Massachusetts USA. Hooray! Zoe's delicious food and wonderfully pleasant hospitality is back!


02 February 2010

Fernweh Moment / "Marauding & Pillaging Northern Seas by Heated Public Ferry" / Kindertrain / Harwich (not Harwitch!) / Bob's Birthday: 5 February

Click image, which will almost certainly get larger and more detailed and informative.

northWEST corner of France -- the train from NL to Calais. Embarrassed that I got my compass mixed up, it was the middle of the night, and I was ... all doped up on Diazepam.
One train trip south to Calais, somewhere in Belgium a sleeper coach caught fire, and ensued the Mother Of All Chinese Fire Drills, with fire trucks, ambulances, and a ceaseless choir of the comings and goings of those Euro-sirens. On the platform of a station no one has ever purposely stopped at, police and railroad personnel herded us toward (what AMTRAK euphemistically calls) Alternative Ground Transportation (a bus).
On the platform a uniformed conductor was distraught, wandering around in circles, and kept muttering, to no one in particular:
i have been with the railroad for twenty-five years nothing like this has ever happened to me i have been with the railroad for twenty-five years nothing like this has ever happened to me i have been with the railroad for twenty-five years nothing like this has ever happened to me i have been with the
I went up to the poor man and asked: "Was anyone hurt?"
Other than a little smoke inhalation, nobody was hurt in the slightest.
I stared at him very seriously: "Then you did your job perfectly. You are a hero. Thank you very much."
It startled him and seemed to bring him back to the Land Of Consciousness. He quickly became an effective Conductor again, and helped herd the passengers toward their Alternative Ground Transportation awaiting in the parking lot, and I even thought I caught a tiny smile of professional pride on his face.
Please do not tell Europe this, but since I first set foot on it, I regard the continent as my private personal Toy Train and Ferry and Subway system. Buying a train or a ferry ticket in Yerp to get Somewhere Else in Yerp is probably the happiest and most thrilling thing in my whole life. (Sex is okay, but can't measure up to buying a train or ferry ticket in Europe.)
I am being extremely evasive about The Dark Times (CH, as always, chose to just skip them entirely), and the confusion -- that can't possibly be the correct word -- it had infected in my mind before ever I set foot in Europe. To the attention-grabbing percussion of two atomic bombs, The Dark Times ended two years before I was born.
btw wish me a

Happy Birthday
on 5 February,

I am Aquarius -- the restaurant placemat says I am idealistic, Utopian, a dreamer, loveth all humankind, hath big troubles focusing on Just One Human At A Time, impractical, bordering on Useless. This sounds more like a psychiatric diagnosis than a horoscope, but that's what the placemat says about Aquarius.
I recently cranked up a very interesting correspondence with a quite amazing young woman -- I ain't tryin' to pull nothin' nasty here like all other Pig Men, it's just transatlantic chatty -- but it had to do with her very important part, a half-century after all the trouble ended, in The Dark Times.
For starters, she exists and can send e-mails back and forth because one specially-chartered Euro-train took about 200 doomed children from Prague to England weeks or days before The Shit Hit The Fan, and one of those children was, or subsequently became, her father.
The last leg of the Kindertrain was the ferry from Rotterdam to Harwich. I love that ferry, anyone who crosses the Channel / la Manche on an airplane is a Foole. But I'd never wondered about its past, about its history and importance, it seems so out-of-the-way and unimportant a ferry -- and passenger ferries themselves have declined in importance -- which goes back and forth between Rotterdam and Nowhere UK. I certainly never imagined that anything of startling importance had ever occurred at the Harwich ferry terminal.
In one of my e-mails I mentioned Harwitch, and how much I loved the ferry. The other night on TV I was rudely upbraided -- of course it's not witch, it's wich -- Anglo-Saxon for a sea salt industry on the coast. I don't know if they still make sea salt there or not.
Not too long ago the secret part of the Kindertrain -- and almost all of it had remained secret, confined to whispers of family lore -- became public, and Very Big News. For the 50th Anniversary, they re-assembled a train nearly identical to the stock of the Kindertrain, packed it full of survivors and children and grandchildren of survivors, and it pulled out of Prague and crossed Europe for Rotterdam. Then they all transferred to the Harwich ferry.
Here in Smileytown, Indiana, it is very difficult to imagine, to see a mental image of the Slaughter of the Innocents. Do you know The Coventry Carol? It's the oldest Christmas Carol still sung in English. It's not about snowmen or the reindeer.
I have trouble getting a mental image of the Slaughter of Mature Adults or Young Adults, even if the slaughtering is largely consentual. I'm an Army vet from one of those verkakte wars, drafted, I served with The Remington Rangers -- barracks slang for Typists. Often in air-conditioning.
Perhaps CH should consider changing its motto to: "Suppose They Gave A War, And Nobody Came." Nobody's using that in recent years, they could probably buy the copyright cheap. I've seen worse bumper stickers.
I recently read that Finland and Albania hold the unique distinction of being the only willing allies of the Third Reich whose Jewish communities grew, rather than shrank. Neat trick! I've been to Helsinki, sort of by accident, highly recommend it, friendly people, completely incomprehensible language, quite startling architecture (check out The Train Station by Eero Saarinen's dad). Next stop: Tirana!
Anyway this woman grew up to tire of university and fly instead into the skies as the world's most accomplished ultralight / microlight / parasail / etc. yadda pilot. Sometimes she stands around an egg clutch while migrating geese hatch, they imprint on mom, and a month later she takes them for their first practice formation flight, they follow mom's ultralight everywhere, and a backwards-pointing camera films them.
So now I must apologize for butchering the spelling of the magical town of Harwich.
I have a dream that someday I'll have talked and trained and ferried around enough to make good sense and comprehension of The Dark Times.
Nah. Not going to happen. Nobody figures this out, or if someone does, nobody believes him/her. One of the leading and most impressive hers was Hannah Arendt, and I don't think she really thought she had a lock on TDT either. But she had a lot of great gossip and insight.

I am having a bigtime Wanderlust event -- which Wikipedia informs me is better rendered as Fernweh (literally "an ache for the distance"). So I am having a Fernweh Moment. Specifically I dream or lust for a strange voyage -- a Viking Voyage, but with central heating and heavy drinking in the bar -- across the North Atlantic, island-hopping on public ferries from Denmark or Scotland to the east (wrong) coast of Iceland, thence by 9-hours of Alternative Ground Transportation around the Ring Road to Reykjavik.
I want to hit the Orkney Islands, the Faroe Islands, and if such links exist, the Shetlands, the Hebrides. I've wanted this trip for a decade, it kept getting postponed, and in the interim many of the North Atlantic ferries have gone kaput, ca n'existe pas no more.

This is constricting my Fantasy badly, but probably if I get to go at all, One Heavy Drinking Dry Heated Viking Voyage from Cold Wet Rock to Cold Wet Rock closely resembles them all. Even with this constricted voyage, I will get to hear people rapping in Faroese. Faroese are the only people on Earth who can eavesdrop on Icelanders and grok what they're talking about.
There is a way to start with the Rotterdam-Harwich ferry; Schiphol is my fave whomp-ass airport, and if I have to take a nasty terrifying flying cigar tube to get to Yerp, it's always a pleasure to kiss it at Schiphol. From Amsterdam to Rotterdam, to Harwich, fun trains to a dot in Scotland called Thurso, stagger a mile to the ferry port at Scrabster, short ferry to some place in Orkney, whence everything dead-ends and I must retrace lots of steps to keep getting to Iceland.

This should be lots of fun, if I don't drown or plummet off a missing railroad bridge, or careen off the Ring Road in my Alternative Ground Transportation.
Now I have to try to lure some pals out for my Birthday Party, which I shall design as a Loud, Bright, Fattening & Unhealthy Celebration to give the middle finger to Winter.
Bob the Viking

"Marauding & Pillaging Northern Seas by Heated Public Ferry"