Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Taking Stock: My Semester Abroad

I spent one semester, one autumn, and one hundred twenty-one days in Europe during which I completed six courses for thirteen hours of credit.

When I moved in to my twenty-four square meter studio, I bought one fork, one spoon, one knife, one bowl, and one mug. I “requisitioned” several more from the trash.

During my stay, I visited twenty-five cities in eleven countries, accumulated thirty-eight postcards, and sent none of them.

In addition, I personally snapped one thousand, five hundred twenty pictures. At least half of them are garbage.

To get around, I took seventeen flights covering sixteen thousand, one hundred twenty-seven miles, none of which qualified for my frequent flyer program.

I also boarded over sixty different trains going to various cities, airports, and bus stations, only five of which were of the high-speed sort, and I missed five others.

Between planes and trains, I rode eighteen buses.

Border control stamped my passport fifteen times; all but four stamps are boring, EU rectangles.

I read only three books, and I never got a hair cut.

In lieu of reading, I watched four movies one time each, listened to twenty-six episodes of PTI, downloaded five weekly airings of CPR’s This American Life from iTunes, and posted sixty-nine blog entries.

I had a lot of free time.

My mom sent, and I duly consumed, two jars of peanut butter, one jar of jelly, five boxes of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese (The Cheesiest), one box of Club crackers, one tube of original Pringles, and two bags of Pepperidge Farm Goldfish (Cheddar).

My diet was supplemented by over seventy waffles and a sampling of roughly sixty different types of beer shared with students from twenty-two different countries on four continents.

I drank two bottles of Hungarian wine I bought for friends back home. Sorry.

But I worked out a little, too. In twenty-nine short-sided soccer games, I scored one goal.

A total of five people came to visit me on two occasions over two different weeks. I spent one fantastic week with my parents.

At the end of my stay, I waited through two canceled flights and booked eight separate reservations on three different airlines before I could find a flight home for the holidays.

I cannot count the memories.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Six Bucks and My Right Nut Says We're Not Landing in Chicago

Yes, I was supposed to be in Chicago by now. No, I never made it. But two canceled flights and eight different reservations later, I think I've found a way back home tomorrow. At least I'm not stuck in Wichita.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Random Thoughts While Studying for Law School Exams

Remember Spacely's Sprokets? I probably wouldn't want to work there - Spacely was a dick - but I bet he paid pretty well. They always did better than Cogswell Cogs.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Six Steps for an A? Or Seven?

Two exams down, three to go. I had my second oral exam today. This time it lasted about 15 minutes. If my grades transferred back to U of I, I'd be annoyed with the administration of these exams. There's just no way a ten or fifteen minute conversation can accurately reflect an entire semester's worth of nuanced analysis and synthesis, especially when most of the questions start with "what do you think of..." or "how do you feel about... ." If all you want is my opinion, then I'm going to stop studying altogether. I take pride in my bullshitting skills, and if bullshit is all you want, I'll be happy to oblige. As it is, my grades don't transfer, so it doesn't matter. All I have to do is pass, and pass I did.

Speaking of grades, I can't resist linking to this. It won't be funny to non-law students and/or normal people, but I find it hilarious. I can't even tell you how many conversations I had with fellow 1L's my first year about grading and how it's done. And we definitely had long debates over whether the "bottom-up" approach is superior to the "top-down" approach.

In case you're curious, I'm personally a fan of the bottom-up approach, as the thickest and longest exams should fall to the bottom. While many dismiss long-winded exams as nothing more than mere vomit-on-a-page, I disagree. All exams are garbage, and verbal diarrhea is clearly better than no shit at all.

Regardless, it's good to see another professor injecting a little life and humor into the legal academy. While the venerable BW&V may think otherwise, there are at least some things funny about law school.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Revolutie / Revolution

The NY Times ran a story today about a fake broadcast aired last night in Belgium and claiming that Flanders had declared its independence from Wallonia. I thought you might find it interesting. I don't have time right now to expound on the issue, but perhaps later I'll throw in my own commentary. For now, take a look. It can be found here (free registration may be required).

Bear in mind, I live just north of the dividing line between Dutch (or Flemish) speaking Flanders and Francophone (French speaking) Wallonia. Since I'm in Flanders, I've been exposed to much of the tension between the two regions and the separatist sentiment of many in the north of the country. It's one thing to read about it; it's entire different to be living right on the front line!

Examination Nation

Lest you get angry at the sparsity of posts in the upcoming days, I thought I'd list my schedule for the next week.

Friday: 10 page Law & Anthropology response paper, Information Technology Law Exam
Monday: European Economic Law Exam
Tuesday: Law & Anthropology Exam
Wednesday: The Court of Justice and the Emerging Common Law of Europe Exam
Thursday: Home, assearly in the morning

My exam on Monday will be the most difficult, Wednesday the most interesting. Monday is purely written while Friday, Tuesday, and Wednesday are either partly or entirely oral. I already had my Church and State in Europe exam on Tuesday. It was oral and lasted 10 minutes. And I will write my last exam, International Human Rights, in January and then fax it back to Leuven.

Sometimes I wonder why I love law school so much...

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

All I Want for Christmas

Speaking of lists, here's a modest review of what you should all get me for x-mas:

1. The Complete New Yorker on DVD-ROM or hard drive for hours and hours of endless procrastination material;
2. A 2007 even half as awesome as 2006;
3. Super Powers;
4. The Chicago Manual of Style, hard bound, for reference when I write the Great American Novel;
6. Common Sense;
7. Really. Good. Red. Wine.;
8. Starbucks Gift Cards;
9. A seat at the 2007 World Series of Poker Main Event;
10. Entourage Season 2 on DVD;
11. Spoils;
12. Movie rights to Litvinenko's story;
13. Books and DVD's that don't suck;
14. Common Sense;
15. World Domination;
16. Midget Porn;
17. Mob Ties.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Lists and Lasts

I returned this afternoon from the last trip of my Trip, and what a phenomenal trip it was; Rome is spectacular. The ruins. The history. The faith. The food. The wine. THE WINE. The scooters. The people. The history. The ruins. It must be good to be an Italian these days, except for the whole being short thing. My travels, for now, shall pause.

This is my last week in Leuven: my last lecture; last lunchtime waffle; train ride; soccer game; trip to the laundromat and grocery store; dinnertime waffle; breakfast waffle; snacktime waffle. You get it.

Lately, I've been making a lot of lists: Christmas lists; to-do lists; lists of things I'll miss and those I won't; lists of places I've been and yet to go; books to read, movies to watch, music to hear, food to eat. I think when I get bored from studying I'll post some of my lists.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Traveling Part (I lost count)

As you all know by now, I will be in Rome until Tuesday morning. While it doesn't look like the weather will cooperate, I'm still looking forward to the Colosseum, Vatican, Saint Peter's, Spanish Steps, Villa Borghese, etc. Today's a national holiday in Italy, and I'm not sure how it will affect tourism. If every thing's closed, I'll be more than happy to just eat and drink all day long. I can think of worse trips.

On the down side, I return to Leuven around noon on Tuesday only to drop my bags, pick up my notes, and run to my Church and State exam at 4:30. Good thing it's pass/fail. Wish me luck, and enjoy your respective weekends!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

As I mentioned earlier, I recently spent one last evening in Brussels. They're hardcore about their decorations here. It's way more festive than cities back in the States. In addition to the requisite tree in the Grand Place, the city also set up a nativity scene replete with live sheep. It's weird to see such blatant endorsement of Christianity in public displays. That kind of thing would never happen in Chicago. I'm a bit ambivalent toward nativity scenes myself, but it was still kinda cool. They also had several streets blocked off for a Christmas market and all the other standard accoutrements of the holiday season: Salvation Army musicians with red buckets, wreaths on lamp posts, hot chocolate, etc.

The best part came after dark with a music and light show in the Grand Place. Several multi-colored spot lights were choreographed together with ambient remixes of traditional Christmas songs. With the Hotel de Ville and the other gilded buildings as a backdrop, the effect was awesome. It was the best light show I can remember. Later in the night, a Belgian singer held a concert on the square and sang a bunch of Christmas carols. Given how much fun I had, I might go back just one last time before I leave.

Got Nino?

Despite the rain, wind, and cold, I'm not bitter or angry anymore, mostly because I'll be in Rome this weekend. Somehow, I'll also be on plane back to Chicago two weeks from today. Since I have no motivation to study, I've spent my day catching up on past episodes of PTI podcasts and trolling the web for anything new or different. In my virtual travels, I finally found a recording of the joint Federalist Society/American Constitution Society symposium on constitutional interpretation. The event featured a rather lengthy (and rare) discussion between Justice Breyer and Justice Scalia.

For those that don't know, the Federalist Society is group of conservative legal practitioners, students, and professors, while the ACS is it's liberal counterpart. While Justice Scalia gets a bit more face time in the press than Breyer for his sometimes abrasive, conservative commentary, they're both brilliant and manage to succinctly describe their opposing theories of constitutional interpretation. It's good stuff.

I don't expect any of you to watch it, but I think you should. The American public should know more about the Court so they can understand its primary function and role in government. Without this knowledge, we're left to the devices of mass media that reports only the outcome and not the substance of big cases. The video is long - nearly ninety minutes - but you don't have to watch it all. If you even catch the first ten minutes, you'll learn some good stuff. I've watched it twice. The video can be found here.

Enjoy. Or don't. Just thought perhaps one of you might be bored enough to check it out.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Blame TV for Your Fat, Drunk 11-Year-Old's STD

With exams around the corner (my first is a week from today), I have much less time to post. For the next three weeks, blogging will be lighter than usual. Since studying all day isn't my favorite thing to do, there's a good chance I'm a bit more testy than usual. So when I caught this article on CNN.com the other day, I about tossed my laptop out the window. I'll share my favorite parts along with a little commentary of my own.

"Inappropriate advertising contributes to many kids' ills, from obesity to anorexia, to drinking booze and having sex too soon, and Congress should crack down on it, the American Academy of Pediatrics says."

Bullshit, but whatever. I wanna know how television can cause both anorexia AND obesity? And what's the problem with anorexia anyway?

"Advertising examples cited in the statement include TV commercials for sugary breakfast cereals and ... ads for Viagra and other erectile dysfunction drugs shown during televised sports games"

I'm pretty sure kids aged 2-6 aren't the NFL's target audience, but explain to me how ED drug advertisements affect children. First off, a five year old can't even pronounce "erectile dysfunction", let alone figure out what it is. Second, those commercials don't ever advocate promiscuity among young people. Have you even seen a young person in a Viagra commercial? And third, I'm pretty sure kids do the opposite of what their parents do anyway.

"These pervasive ads influence kids to demand poor food choices, and to think drinking is cool, sex is a recreational activity and anorexia is fashionable, the academy says."

Drinking, recreational sex, and anorexia ARE cool and fashionable. So really these ads are just educational. You don't really wanna lie to your kids, do you?

"In response, the academy says doctors should ask Congress and federal agencies to:

• ban junk-food ads during shows geared toward young children;

It's definitely your kids' fault for eating junk food and not your fault for buying it for them.

• limit commercial advertising to no more than 6 minutes per hour, a decrease of 50 percent;

Interesting concept. I'm all for less commercials. That way, kids can watch even more of their favorite G.I Joe or Power Ranger or whatever the hell they watch these days brutally shoot, kill, maim, and generally beat the shit out of other cartoon characters.

• restrict alcohol ads to showing only the product, not cartoon characters or

attractive young women

Yes. It all comes down to attractive young women - those little devils with great bodies and short skirts. If only they had watched all these vile advertisements when they were younger, they'd be obese, too, and we wouldn't have this problem.

ENOUGH! Now you've crossed the line. Blame anything else for all that's wrong with you. Hell, blame me. But don't blame attractive young women. They're the only material objects that are any good in this sad, superficial world.

I grew up on G.I. Joe, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Tom and Jerry, and all the other sweet shows that existed before everything got pussified into Barney. And I turned out okay for the most part. I rarely get the urge to impale Shredder with a dagger or two anymore (Raphael was cool, but rude!). Plus, without G.I. Joe, I wouldn't know so much valuable shit (and knowing is half the battle). Like, for years I cut up the rings on plastic six-pack holders so little fishes wouldn't get their stinky heads stuck in them and die. Hell, my parents threw law darts and shot rifles when they were kids.

So my question is this: how is it possible that we shelter and censor more and more each year and yet we manage to find more and more wrong with America's youth? How many more things are we going to find to blame before someone steps up and starts telling YOU it's YOUR fault your kid is fat, drunk, and diseased by age 11? It's more than a little ironic that parents are supposed to teach children how to take responsibility for their actions yet can't do so themselves. It's hypocritical and grossly irresponsible.

Geeez... okay I'm done ranting now. Just leave me alone with my cool beer and fashionable anorexic chick.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

As You Like It

I thought green tea was supposed to make you feel better. I wanted to feel really good, so I drank eleven cups of it in two hours. Now I don't feel so good at all.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Most Wonderful Time

Alright. So I got drunk, stayed out too late, and missed my train to Paris. Way to go me.

Despite my little miscue this morning, things are lookin’ up. Waffles are great for hangovers, and Leuven just hung a bunch more Christmas lights. But best of all, it’s a snow day in Chicago. Schools are closed, plows are out. I seriously can’t wait to throw snowballs at my dogs. It’s been mild here way too long. I want feet of the fluffy white stuff, and I want it NOW! While I'm waiting, I’ll sip my mulled cider and cue the Christmas music. Good enough.


[UPDATE: My Dad took a picture of our house sans snow-blow and sent it to me yesterday. Love it. Miss it. And it's much better than the winter picture I originally posted here.]

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Weekend's Prelude

It's been a long week, O my brothers. In addition to the standard grind, I'm now gearing up for exams, the first of which I write in less than two weeks. We also ended up playing a boat load of indoor soccer last night, so I'm sore as hell. You'd think I'd take the night off and sleep, but Cafe Wink is calling my name once again (Damn you, Wink! Damn you!).

Not to worry - it won't affect my travel. I'll be in Paris tomorrow, Brussels on Saturday, Rome next weekend. Love it.

I gotta run now - Stella's waitin' for me - but don't worry; I'll return with more pictures in a few days. In the mean time, I'll leave you with two of Jeff's photos from his visit back in September. Oktoberfest 2007 should be even better.

The four of us, three Finnish dudes, and one very lucky Bavarian chick. 7:1 - that's how we roll.

Lindsey, you've taught me well.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Stockholm Archipelago

Before I talk about the islands we visited, I have to mention the coolest thing I saw the entire trip. You have to understand, I’ve long had a fetish for trimarans, especially of the racing sort. Given Stockholm’s location on the Baltic Sea, you can imagine the number and variety of boats on the water. While cruising out of the harbor one morning, we came across one such trimaran. Later, we found it docked at the same island we visited. Check it out.

Pure Menace.

Sweetest. Boat. Ever. One day, I'll own one, and I'm not even joking.

On the way back from the island, we saw it sailing again. In the picture below, you can see it listing to one side. Moments before I snapped the photo, the boat turned and in doing so tilted at least 35 degrees. One of the coolest things ever. The boat was also, by far, the fastest thing on the water. Bear in mind it was moving under sail while everything else in the harbor was under full throttle. I can’t express how impressive I find really fast sailboats and how much I love to watch them.

One last boat note. We came across this military ship thingie during another trip. I didn’t see it until it was almost on top of us. Who knew camouflage actually worked so well?

Ok, enough of boats. The first islands in the archipelago we visited were Vaxholm and Grinda. Vaxholm, which supports a small community, notwithstanding, the islands are mostly uninhabited and serve primarily as camping and hiking sites. During the summer, they’d be a great place to visit. In October, however, when it’s cold and wet, the situation gets a bit more complicated. On the upside, however, is that the leaves were changing. All things considered, the first day of hiking was very pleasant. The clouds even broke briefly for about twenty minutes.


Robert Frost, eat your heart out.

Given that the island only has a few permanent residents, I was convinced something foul was afoot. During our hike, I found evidence. The Swedish government, or perhaps some rogue organization of international bandits, is clearly performing sick and twisted genetic experiments on animals. If you don’t believe me, I present the hybrid goat, ram, sheep, thing below:

I didn’t find any lasers coming out their eyes, but you never know. Watch out.

More pics from the Grinda...

The sum total of civilization on Grinda was a small lodge (or evil lair?).

Our second excursion was a bit less successful than our first. While Vaxholm and Grinda took a little over an hour to reach by boat, Finnhamn, our destination the second day, took three hours. Still, all would have been okay but for the unrelenting, torrential rains. When we finally arrived at the island, we actually found a small hostel not too far inland. Hoping they might have a place to grab some food and warm up (it was only about 40 degrees), we stopped in. Luckily, someone was there, but they had nothing to eat. Instead, she directed us to a small store about a five kilometers from the hostel that sold vegetables and vinegars from a local farmer. Giver her description, we thought it sounded promising, so we headed out in the pouring rain. Below is what we found:

Now, don’t get me wrong. It was a cool, little place. There was no attendant, so you just took what you wanted and left your money on the table. And the vegetables were HUGE. Trouble was, we took a six-hour round-trip boat ride to a nearly uninhabited island in the middle of the Baltic Sea, and then hiked 10 kilometers round-trip through pouring rain, standing water, and thick mud, and this was our reward. I was a little bitter. Nonetheless, I’ll always remember it. Good or bad, it was an unforgettable experience. And that, I suppose, is the point of traveling.


I was messing around with Google Earth, and I thought I'd pinpoint my precise location for all my geographically challenged readers out there. I'm the little, yellow push pin. If you can't really see it, click on the image for a larger map. I'm not sure why, but looking up places on this thing gets addictive.

Stockholm City

It’s been so long I had to check my calendar. Stockholm came and went for me a little more than a month ago. This post is a long time comin’.

The weather, much like the new layout and writing quality of this blog, was shit. With more or less constant rain, it and I were cold the entire time. But I was also, after all, in Stockholm. Life could have been worse.

A quick rundown of the essential: Stockholm is built on 14 islands, most of which sit in the Baltic Sea. Extending further out from the coast is the Stockholm archipelago, a series of over 24,000 islands (more on these in the next post). Though we stayed on Norrmalm, the modern center, the city was first built on the historic Old Town of Gamla Stan. We also spent time on Djurgarden, home to several museums and parks, and Sodermalm, the city’s funky, bohemian area.

As usual, I spent the first day walking the city. We also took a combination bus and boat tour through the main areas, and I must say Stockholm would be among the most picturesque cities I’ve yet seen (perhaps second only to Edinburgh) but for the low, dark, and omnipresent clouds. Even so, a few of my photos hint at what awaits those who visit during sunnier days.

Gamla Stan up close. Love the architecture.

The whole of Gamla Stan from our boat as we left the harbor.

The second day brought more rain, so we headed for cover inside Stockholm’s Vasa Museum. The Vasa is an old Man-of-War that at one time was the largest ship in Sweden’s navy. Unfortunately, it sank on its maiden voyage a bunch of years ago in 1628. Despite the best efforts of our patriotic tour guide to explain otherwise, it basically sank because it was a shitty design. The King personally ordered that a second row of canons be placed above the first, thus throwing off its proportions and causing it to be way too tall and narrow for its own good.

Just how unstable was it? Before each ship was put out to sea, the crew did a stability test which consisted of thirty men standing on one side of the ship and then running to the other. This was repeated several times. The purpose was to get the boat rocking side-to-side and make sure it wouldn’t tip over. When this test was performed on the Vasa, the commanding officer had to stop the men after they made only three runs across the ship because a fourth would have caused it to tip. And yet, because the King really wanted his precious two-gun-deck ship, they sent it off. It didn’t even get out of the harbor before a stiff wind broadsided the vessel, tipped it to one side, and sent it to the deep blue depths below.

Anyway, the Vasa sank in really cold water, which prevented most of the rot and decay. It was recently raised, restored, and put on display. If it sounds boring, you’re wrong. I thought it would be, too, but somehow we ended up spending like four hours in the museum. It was super cool. Unfortunately, to preserve the wood it was also very dark inside, so the pictures are difficult to see.

This is a mock-up of the Vasa. The actual ship stands in the background.

The Vasa, standing at the back and looking toward the front.

Our last day was spent back on Gamla Stan at the Nobel Museum. It's very new, opened only a few years ago, and it’s also very small. Nonetheless, there are few museum experiences I’ve enjoyed more. As someone who plans on winning a Peace Prize one day, I was a huge fan.

Nobel Museum. Look for my picture in here in about forty years.

Before we left, I meandered around Gamla Stan a bit more. A few minutes of people-watching and it’s clear that the legend of a nation full of tall, blonde, blue-eyed, gorgeous women is absolutely true. The other thing I noticed was a bit less exciting. In addition to the ubiquitous McDonalds, Pizza Huts, T.G.I. Fridays, and Burger Kings that infest most every city, Stockholm has a ton of 7-Elevens. Go figure. The irony here is that the aforementioned beautiful blonde behind the counter speaks better English than any 7-Eleven attendant you’ll find back in the States.

Narrow street on Gamla Stan with another 7-Eleven.

A few other randoms...

Sunset over Norrmalm.

A rare peak at blue skies over the water.

In case you missed my ugly mug, here's me freezing on a boat in the archipelago.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Makin' the Most of It

I went to the waffle store today. It's about 8 minutes from my apartment. I bought two waffles; one for lunch, and one for later. By the time I got home, it was later. I had to lie down afterward because it made me sick, but that didn't make the second waffle any less delicious.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Always Low Prices

Ah yes, Black Friday. The day after we celebrate the most American of holidays, we celebrate the most American of past times: consumerism. While I can't be there to share in the revelry (or endless, checkout counter queues), I wish you all the best of luck in your respective shopping endeavors.

And while you all walk off (or polish off) that Turkey Day feast, Europe continues to march on, oblivious to the joy of the best holiday weekend ever. Though most everyone here missed the point, my Thanksgiving dinner wasn't all that bad. Turkey was decent; mashed potatoes yummy; apple pie delicious. The company was good and even the football games were fun to watch. True, I missed my family (and my mom's mandarin orange jello salad - a staple at the Delaney family Thanksgiving dinner table), but I can't complain too much. I enjoyed myself. I hope you did, too.

Unfortunately, it's back to work for me. I'm not traveling this weekend, so with luck I'll catch up on the little things I've put aside lately. These include several blog posts on several cities. Between bites of the turkey sandwiches you'll have for the next week, check back and look for new material.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Turkey Day!

Today is my busy day (8 hours of class followed by another two of indoor soccer games), so I unfortunately don't have time to say much. But a few quick notes nonetheless:

Budapest was fantastic. Unlike Krakow, the struggle for democracy (and the presence of Communism) remains palpable. I gained an excellent understanding of what life was like under Communist rule. And the thermal baths... oh, the thermal baths. By far my favorite "cultural experience" I've had in my short but growing career as a traveler. I promise to expound later.

Unrelated, but more important: in the event I don't post tomorrow, I want to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving. For my part, I'll join 14 or so other Americans for my first expat Turkey Day. The (Aussie) owners of an expat bar here have graciously offered to cook up a proper meal for us, and as an added bonus we'll be able to hang out and watch football while all that tryptophan and alcohol does its best to pass us out. A near-complete Thanksgiving feast, we'll only be short a too-drunk relative or two and a little family drama. So, my American friends, wherever you find yourself tomorrow - from Samoa to Irvine, L.A., San Fransisco, Denver, Chicago, Pittsburgh, D.C., London, Leuven, and back to Cambodia (sorry if missed anyone!) - HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

One Month from Today

... and I'll be home for Christmas.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Traveling Part VI

...in Budapest 'til Monday.

I'm a little worried. I'd like try out the thermal baths, but if they're filled with old, pruney, junk-baring men, I'll pass, cultural experience or not.

I'm also looking forward to wine tasting in Eger, a two-hour day-trip from Budapest. The weather looks clear, so maybe we can catch a few solid hours of sunshine. My fingers are crossed. Enjoy your respective weekends!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Nutty Professor

[EDIT: The original version of this post included my professor's name. After thinking twice, I have now replaced it with "Prof. A". Seems silly, but slowly my blog is starting to climb in relevance on Google searches, and I'd rather not have someone important stumble across a post and get me in trouble. Though my name never appears on this blog, a few clicks can easily unveil its creator.]

I’m enrolled in a course called Church and State in Europe. It’s something of a seminar meant to discuss contemporary legal issues that lie at the intersection between state and canon law. This is, without a doubt, my favorite class this semester for one simple reason: [Prof. A].

[Prof. A] is my professor, but he’s as much Belgian pop culture personality as academic. Talk about a renaissance man, this guy’s does it all. Between frequent appearances as a commentator on television and radio shows, he writes regular columns for De Standaard, one of the biggest newspapers in Belgium. This year he was a guest judge for the Miss Belgian Beauty 2006 competition. No joke!

In addition to his dabbles in Flemish pop culture, he’s taught in Belgium, Holland, France, and South Africa, but he’s called K.U. Leuven home for most of his academic career. Last year he ran (but unfortunately lost by a mere 20 votes) for University headmaster. Bear in mind K.U. Leuven is one of the most prestigious universities in Europe and is known for its outstanding faculties in law and canon law, to both of which [Prof. A] is connected. So basically he’s somehow managed to become a pop culture figure as well as a top-tier academic. Plus, he’s only like five feet tall.

But all that aside, it’s his jokes that make lecture so much fun. True, the subject matter is challenging and rigorous and all that stuff, but this guy’s a riot. Driest sense of humor ever. For example:

First off, he is always at least 20 minutes late (sometimes 30!), and he often ends lecture early after giving a solid 20 minute break in the middle (lecture is only scheduled for two hours to begin with).

Second, he prepared a reader for the course (which is taught entirely in English) filled with all his own, un-translated articles regardless of whether he wrote them in English, Flemish, or French.

Third, he scheduled our final, oral exam for a 15 minute slot (yes, the entire final exam is 15 minutes!) before the end of the last lecture and suggested that if we couldn’t make it he was just too busy to reschedule so he’d be happy to meet with us at the airport while he waits for a flight.

He refers to his lectures as his “classy performances” as in “I’ll have to end my classy performance a little early today.”

When I asked what we should read and prepare ahead of class: “Nothing. I don’t really know what I’m going to talk about, so there’s no use preparing for it. You can read if you want. (Referring to his classy performances…) This is all improv anyway.”

When asked what material we should present for the oral exam: “Whatever. Just make it interesting. I don’t want to be bored. Don’t come in and talk about religious freedom in Vatican City.”

Later, answering the same question: “You can prepare whatever you want. But you can’t just answer the question as it pertains to your home country. It’s no fun for me if you know more about it than I do.”

Speaking on a law meant to prevent people from wearing religious symbols: “This is meant to prevent headscarves. This is not meant to prevent little, tiny crosses… on necklaces… that little girls wear to school… underneath their dresses (with a creepy smile). Maybe if the crosses were as big as their heads then they would be banned, but I don't really know anything.”

Discussing a case in which the Italian High Court essentially refused to reverse a ruling of the Catholic Church despite the fact it was a severe violation of European human rights law: “Can you blame the justices? It’s only fundamental human rights at stake here. The defendant is the Holy Roman Catholic Church. Would you rule against the will of Jesus Christ?”

Sunday, November 12, 2006

New Threads

As you can see, Semantic Chicanery got its very own Extreme Makeover. It's definitely a work in progress, so feel free to share your insights by either posting in the comments or emailing me. Cheers!

New Hard Drive, New Format, New Lover

I’ll spare you the details, but I’m up and running again thanks to a clutch (though bootlegged) copy of Windows and a Dutch version of Office provided by a friend of mine. I now have a new hard drive and a fully-operational laptop, so keep the emails coming!

Also, in case you need added incentive to check back and keep reading, I’ll be updating my blog’s format and structure in the next few days. Prepare to have your mind blown.

And while I have your attention, I would just like to tell all of you that I am truly, madly, deeply in love.

My lover is everything a man could ever ask for: she picks me up when I’m down, get’s my blood flowing like nothing else (get your mind outta the gutter I didn’t mean it like that), sharpens my mind, always puts me in a good mood, and is always there when I need her. When she’s not around, I can hardly function. I literally ache. My body feels disconnected. Only a strong dose of my lover picks me up again.

We actually have a long history together. I first got to know her in high school, but we kinda fell apart during my undergraduate years. My first year of law school found us reunited and closer than ever, and she’s been my best friend ever since. I think it’s about time in this relationship to tell the world how much she means to me. And so I proudly pronounce:

Dearest Caffeine, you complete me.

Friday, November 10, 2006

My Tested Patience

My Dell laptop has crashed. Again.

This time, I do not have the software to fix it. I'm trying to secure what I need from other exchange students. I have no idea when, or even if, I'll be able to solve the problem. Until then, blogging will be light, as typing on the French keyboards they have in the computer lab is a huge pain in the ass.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Sea Change and Cautious Optimism

I won’t hide my extreme satisfaction with last night’s election (various state ballot initiatives notwithstanding), but I am even more happy with the approach each party’s leadership has taken in the immediate hours after what Bush himself called a political “thumpin’”.

Pelosi announced a “First Hundred Hours” plan that addresses several issues, the Democratic position of which is relatively easy to define. True, harder problems like immigration, Medicare reform, Iraq, and stem cell research funding will require debate and compromise, but minimum wage increases, student loan support, and 9/11 Commission report implementation should be easy to push through. More important, however, is Pelosi’s tone toward the White House. It’s clear the new House majority has no desire to continue the political hacking and partisanship that can paralyze a divided government.

For his part, Bush’s tone also gives reason for optimism. Less than 24 hours after the election, he has already replaced Rumsfeld with a non-neocon, non-idealogue from Bush I’s days. More importantly, he did it against the advice of Cheney and Rove. Perhaps Bush is finally his own man? With a conciliatory tone, he also extended an olive branch to the new Democratic leadership and expressed his desire to work across the aisle on Iraq and immigration.

Look, I’m not entirely na├»ve here. I know at the end of the day we’re still dealing with Washington, and one night doesn’t change the fact that this country is still incredibly divided. But I think both Pelosi and Bush are taking a far more pragmatic approach to the upcoming two years. Let’s just hope this isn’t mere political puffery. Let’s hope it continues for 24 more months.

Finally, bear in mind what happened in 1994. Hate Clinton for his scandal if you want, but you can’t deny his policies worked. During his presidency, the country’s economy expanded at historically unparalleled rates, unemployment was down, trade was up, poverty rates were low, our budget deficit was turned to a surplus, and the world didn’t hate us. True, he didn’t get Osama and like almost everyone else (including Bush II) misjudged the threat of Al Qaeda (a mistake which he says he deeply regrets), but that may be his only major policy black mark. I mention this because in 1994, when the GOP took over Congress in a similar manner, Clinton was horribly unpopular and arguably ineffective to that point. All he achieved later in his presidency was done so on a bipartisan basis with a Republican controlled Congress. A divided government tightens the ship, keeps everyone on their toes, and provides a check on any one party’s political agenda. Perhaps our new government can find similar success.

And Tucker Carlson is still wearing a tie!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


How do you keep a Polak in suspense?

Krakow came and went awhile ago, but I’m only posting on it now. It was my first foray into a former Communist state. I imagined a heavy atmosphere still dripping with the effects of the now-thawed Cold War (smelted iron curtain?). In some ways, I was right – they’re still working on this whole “capitalism” thing – but in other ways I was pleasantly surprised.

After arriving on a Friday afternoon, we went out that night in Kazimierz, an ethnically Jewish quarter near the main Old Town center. The “night life” there, or its equivalent, was A LOT different from anything I’d seen before. Most every bar was a quiet, dim, candle-lit enclave. Everyone sat close in hushed conversation while classical or traditional Jewish music played overhead. There were probably 15 bars like this in the center of the neighborhood. It was kinda cool, actually, and maybe if I was there with a girlfriend it would have been great. As it was, I wasn’t, so it wasn’t the most exciting night of my trip. But it was also low-key and laid back and provided a nice closure to a travel day.

Saturday morning came, and our first stop was Wawel (pronounced “Vavel”) Castle. At this point, the layout of all these European cities should be clear – big castle somewhere near a big center square, usually with an old church somewhere nearby. Krakow is no different. The castle is impressive. Inside, there are ruins of older buildings at the foot of a massive cathedral and state rooms.

Wawel Castle

Inside Wawel Castle - ruins in the foreground, cathedral in the center

View of Krakow from Wawel Castle

For the hell of it, we strolled through the state rooms which are only about as interesting as they sound. Poland was once a super rich nation in Europe (who knew?), and at the time they built and fitted these apartments with all the finest meats and cheeses in ALL the land furniture and whatnot. Everything’s Italian, which is ironic I think, but ultimately not that interesting.

On to the main square and, shockingly, the requisite old church. The center is actually dominated by an old cloth hall which has now been converted to a large market for all things amber. Krakow (and the Baltic region generally) is the main source of amber in the world, and you can find all sorts of jewelry and other crap made from it. Personally, I don’t much care for it (tacky), so if you were hoping I bought you something, too bad.

Old cloth hall on the right, clock tower on the left

Next to the cloth hall is the clock tower you see on the left in the photo above. The 70 meter tall Town Hall Tower was originally constructed in the late 13th century. It currently leans 55 cm to one side due to a very strong wind in 1703.

For its part, the unremarkable exterior of the aforementioned old church (St. Mary’s Basilica, below) belies its ornate interior. This is not, however, Pope John Paul II’s old stomping grounds. We unfortunately didn’t make there. The Basilica is Poland’s most famous church and has been around for 1.8 million years I think. Every hour on the hour (even in the middle of the night), a trumpeter plays a truncated tune broken off mid-bar in remembrance of his 13th century counterpart who was shot in the throat while sounding an alarm to warn of a Mongol invasion. Rumor has it this guy sits around and watches TV for the other 59 minutes every hour. Great job.

St. Mary’s Basilica

Overall, the Old Town’s main square is both vibrant and beautiful. There are lots of cafes and shops and street performers, including a group of hilarious young break-dancers no older than 12 who plied and perfected their trade to the tune of their buddies’ crazy beat box skills. Awesome.

The second night we were there, we ditched the scene in Kazimierz for something more lively. After pregaming at the hostel bar with a bunch of Aussies, New Zealanders, and Irishmen, we all headed out to the bars. On our way, we came across a tiny, rusted-out, purple, Communist-era “car” that seriously looked almost exactly like the one below parked along the side of the road.

Not the actual car, but damn close to it

The obvious question all popped into our heads at the same time: how many Polaks does it take to lift and carry a Communist-era go-kart? (Trust me - you’d ask the same if you were wandering wasted through the streets of Old Krakow) Well, I can’t say exactly, but I can tell you that it takes three Aussies, an Irishman, and a Lithuanian to lift and rotate the car 90 degrees. Good fun. We all laughed and they went into another bar across the street while some new friends and I stood outside a little longer.

Trouble was, while we were still standing outside, the cops came by and accused us of moving the car. To make a long story short, it took about ten minutes and a clutch knowledge of French by Danielle, one of my new friends, to get us out of the situation. We quickly left the area and headed to a club called Prozac which was way too much fun.

Later that night we learned the cops pulled the other Aussies out of the bar and interrogated them for about twenty minutes outside. Eventually, they fined one guy 200 Zlotys (about $60), which he paid in cash, before letting everyone go. Crazy Aussies. Crazy times in Krakow.

So why do I say they’re still working on the whole “capitalism” thing? There aren’t too many specific instances I can tell you about, but it’s clear that some things are grossly over-priced, and many more things are just the opposite. Also, entrance to many sites such as Wawel Castle is free, despite the fact that a fee-based system would surely be successful given its popularity. In another case, two street vendors stood selling the same pretzels not more than 30 meters apart, yet one guy was charging twice what the other one was. And both were selling out!! Maybe the lower priced guy didn’t like money, or maybe the customers of the higher priced guy were feeling rather charitable that day. I don't even know. There were seriously no differences in product. How this happened is beyond me.

All in all, Krakow was fantastic, and like pretty much every other place I’ve been, I highly recommend it. It’s a great destination for someone looking to ease into Eastern Europe. As one of the “new Pragues”, it’s still very cheap and still has a “charming” touch of Communist influence, but it’s probably a bit more developed than some other places further to the south.


While I stream live coverage of the election (!) on msnbc.com, there are two CRAZY stories I have to post. You heard them here last:

First, Tucker Carlson is actually wearing a tie. Is this the apocolypse? No, no it's not. Because...

Britney Spears if finally getting divorced!! Poor, poor K-Fed. That's what you get for changing the "Ferrari" logo on the brake calipers of your 360 Modena to "Federline". What a douche.

Election Day!

First, I am finally back in Leuven after a fantastic week with my parents followed by a phenomenal trip to London. I think the past ten days have been my best here yet. More on that in subsequent posts, but first a few words on ELECTION DAY!

Yes, election day is one of my favorite days of the year (I don't wanna hear it... you're all nerds in your own way, too). Given the current climate, this year is even more exciting than elections of the recent past. Yet, at least for the Illinois governor's race, I feel a bit of creeping apathy toward my choice.

You see, Rod Blagojevich is a douche bag. And a corrupt one at that. I'm a Chicagoan. I don't expect my politicians to be honest and transparent. In my book, however, you can be either corrupt or a douche bag, but not both. Plus, Blago's corruption isn't of the Chicago machine sort. He was carried to Springfield on the back of the downstate vote. And of top of that, his hair really bothers me.

Unfortunately, Judy Baar Topinka is also a douche bag. I can't imagine how the Republican party couldn't find ONE person better than her to run. Talk about playing down to your opponent's ability. Maybe they thought they should try to match the Democrats douche for douche. I dunno.

So I've been pretty ambivalent about the race, assuming Blago would win, and hoping he wouldn't completely ruin the entire state during his next four years. But then J.Bar did something unforgivable. She ripped on the Cubs and then referred to Wrigley Field as "Cubs Park". What the f*ck?

Now, I know lots of women think it's unfair to call her a bitch because it's sexist and all that. Since I'm a nice guy, I won't. But she's definitely a whore. I mean, seriously... I won't rant on asininity of this genius political move, because I won't insult your intelligence. All I'll say is that no one rips on the Cubs and still gets my vote. I might vote for a douche bag (especially one that defends the Cubs), but I definitely won't vote for a whore. I have to have some standards here.

Anyway, I should be governor. I'm not joking. I totally could have won this race.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Traveling (sort of) Part V

If you're wondering whether I'm actively trying to destroy my very limited readership by posting nothing of substance for long periods of time, your thoughts are not unreasonable. I suck, I know. But it's not going to get any better soon because... my parents are coming! They arrive tomorrow morning and will stay the week. We'll mostly hang out in Belgium, taking day trips to various cities and sites here. After they leave, I'll spend three days in London trolling about and contemplating a life in the Old Country.

As such, I'll have much better things to do than post for you mugs. Sorry. But I implore, don't leave! Or at least come back when I do. After all, I'm still here for two more months, so you best keep reading so you don't miss out.

I Love Chicago...

... and I'll be home for the holidays!!

I just bumped up my flight to December 21st. I have no idea how I'll take my exams before then, but I'll make it work. As much as I'd love to travel more, I want to spend Christmas with my family and friends (here's your shout out, LJ!) in the city I love and call home, Chicago.


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Be The Change

On a side (and personal) note:

Back At It

I'm back in Leuven now after five good days in Stockholm City and the Stockholm Archipelago. Had a great time, but the weather blew - a risk, I suppose, of visiting any sub-artic, maritime climate in October. In a few days, I'll post a few more unremarkable pictures.

Also, as promised, I'll get back to posting on my other travels tomorrow. I still have Krakow, Leuven, and a few others to note up. Check back manana.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Traveling Part IV

After several days of solid posting, I'll take another hiatus while traveling. I'm in Stockholm until Tuesday evening, so check back Thursday at the latest for more updates (I have eight hours of class on Wednesdays, so I don't do much else).

I'm stoked for Stockholm, but it looks like its going to rain the entire time we're there. Among other things, I'm sure I'll stop by the Nobel Prize museum since I plan on winning one someday.

In the mean time, go watch football and eat Potbelly for me (turkey, wheat, american). I have serious cravings. True, the Bears have a bye week, but on the upside Grossman can turn the ball over if he doesn't step on the field. Six turnovers over two weeks sounds a lot better than six turnovers in one (nevermind the fact they aren't playing).

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Munich Part III – Championship Drinking

Story time.

So remember the Italians I mentioned below? There were about six of them, they were from Florence, and they loved us. When we said we were from Chicago, their immediate response was “Chicago Bulls!! Michael Jordan!!” (this was not the only time, by the way, that Europeans connected Chicago with Michael Jordan). We all chanted “JOR-DAN JOR-DAN” several times until one guys, not a Bulls fan but instead a fanatic of San Antonio, started naming players on the Spurs. He threw out names like Tony Parker and Tim Duncan, and then he came to Robert Horry and the fun began.

For an Italian, this guy knew way too much about the NBA – more than many Americans. In fact, my guess is that most Americans don’t know this, but Robert Horry’s nickname is “Big Shot Bob” for his penchant for hitting, well, big shots at the end of games. Our little Italian friend was apparently a huge fan, and so to counter our Jordan chant, he started up with “BIG SHOT BOB!! BIG SHOT BOB!!”

For the next five minutes, we all joined in. So half way around the world from San Antonio, standing in the middle of a beer tent at Oktoberfest, four Americans and six kids from Florence chanted, in union, “BIG SHOT BOB.” Traveling is great.

The same night, we thought it would be awesome to do chest bumps down the street after Oktoberfest closed (the tents shut down around midnight, and everyone goes to bars or clubs afterward). Tino met one guy from somewhere (not the US, maybe Germany?) who saw the awesomeness of the chest bump and wanted to do one, too. This guy was like 5’10”, 250 – huge – and piss drunk. He had half a beer on the front of his shirt. But when he chest bumped Tino, who is probably half his size, he fell flat on his ass backward. Best chest bump ever. The guy stood up, high-fived Tino, and went back to dancing like nothing ever happened.

Along the lines of messing with Europeans, we also taught a few fellow Oktoberfesters a new English word. As you can imagine, there is a lot of toasting during the Beer Fest. Pretty much every five minutes at least, someone gets the bright idea to have a toast and clank the giant, glass mugs together really hard. Sometimes they break and shatter. Sometimes they slice someone open and they start gushing blood. Championship drinking is a contact sport, after all.

Anyway, “cheers” in German is “prost”. Not many people knew “cheers”, which is good because it’s not that cool. So instead, whenever someone else taught us the equivalent in their language, we taught them to shout “SEXYTIME!” Let me tell you, there are few things funnier than watching two guys from Helsinki shout “sexytime” at the top of their lungs and have no idea what the hell they’re saying. No wonder no one likes Americans.

Oktoberfest is great.

And I’m obviously not the only one that thinks so. Several other friends of mine trekked out to Munich independently of Jeff, Mark, Tino, and me. I really had no expectation of seeing them, and I wasn’t even sure when they’d be there. But despite the other six million people, I managed to run into not one, but two different groups of friends unexpectedly. I saw one friend, George, who is currently studying in Hamburg, at the train station. And I also ran into four girls (and I might add, four of the coolest ones you’ll ever meet) with whom I spent much of my first year of law school studying (they were graduate accounting students studying for the CPA at the same time), and with whom I unfortunately haven’t spoken very often in the past two years. So to Sue, Val, Liz, and Jessica – it was great seeing you guys.

All in all, I honestly haven’t had that much fun in a very long time. We stayed for four nights, and by the end our bodies couldn’t take much more. I’m not sure we could have handled one more night. On Saturday, I returned home to Leuven and the guys caught a flight back to Chicago. I spent the next three days exhausted, sick, fatigued, and generally feeling like shit. Yet, each night all I really wanted to do was head back to a beer tent, stand on a bench, drink German beer, and sing awesome music. Even though I felt like crap, I was definitely rejuvenated in a way only friends can do. We met a couple people that were on their third or fourth visit to Oktoberfest, and I honestly hope that I make my second trip back next year. If you like partying, having fun, and meeting random people from all over the world, I *highly* recommend the experience. Start saving your pennies now for next September – it’s way more than worth it.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Munchen Part II – Beer Fest Primer

Let’s be serious. This was the main reason for the entire Brussels/Amsterdam/Munich trip. I don’t have too much to say, except that it was one of the best times I’ve ever had.

For the uninitiated, a primer: Munich takes pride in their beer as much as Belgium does (if not more so), but they also take pride in how much of it they drink. I think I read somewhere that Bavarian citizens (Bavaria is the region in which Munich is located) average over half a liter of beer per day.

Bavaria is to Germany like Texas is to the US; culture there is entirely different from the rest of the country. When I told a German guy I met in Leuven I was going to Munich, he cringed and made me promise not to judge the entire country by it. People there actually wear lederhosen for the hell of it. I thought it was just a costume thing or something that Germans wore a long time ago. But these people wake up in the morning and think, “hmm, what should I wear today… my brown lederhosen? or perhaps my brown lederhosen? It’s awesome.

So they drink a lot and they dress funny, and Oktoberfest (locally known as “The Beer Fest”) is basically just an excuse to party, drink even more, and still dress funny, but this time for the world to see. And it is a world affair. We met fewer Germans than internationals, including Italians (more on them in a minute), Finns, Swedes, Japanese, and the omnipresent Aussies. Of the six million people that descend upon Munich every September, one million are Australian. To put this in context, Australia is a nation of only 20 million people, so fully one twentieth of the entire continent treks to Munich every year. That would be like the entire state of Illinois going, plus another 3 million. Crazy.

Anyway, so Oktoberfest, at its heart, is a simply a festival, but Barry Bonds style – everything here is bigger than it should be. There are all your staples: rides that spin you around, slides, food stands, places to buy overpriced souvenirs, etc., but the best part is obviously the beer tents.

Now, to be clear, these aren’t your typical tents. They’re completely enclosed and heated, and have kitchens and bathrooms and everything else. The biggest, the Hofbrau tent, officially holds 10,000 people, but it gets so packed I’m sure there are even more. The tents are filled with picnic benches, but no one sits down. Everyone stands on the tables. And of course, everyone drinks a ton of beer. For the low, low price of only 8 Euro, they serve up a one liter "mas" (huge ass mug) full of yummy goodness. They’re huge. My arms got a workout just holding those things for four nights.

One of the smaller tents.

Inside the Hofbrau tent.

But in case drinking copious amounts of beer and partying with crazy internationals isn’t enough for you, each tent has a traditional Bavarian brass band. And while they play the occasional traditional Bavarian song, they mostly rock out to American music from the 70’s and 80’s. We’re talking Satisfaction, Sweet Home Alabama, Sweet Caroline, Take Me Home, etc. The amazing thing is that the Germans knew more of the lyrics and we did. Everyone sings. Loud. And dances. And falls off benches. And cuts themselves on broken glass. And laughs at people who fall off benches and cut themselves on broken glass. In short, BEST. TIME. EVER.

Band at the Hofbrau tent.

This guy's face says it all. He probably had a beer or two.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Munchen Part I - The City

I’ll dispense with the non-Oktoberfest related first, because it’s not quite as fun. During the occasional sober moment, we toured the city two or three afternoons. Believe it or not, Munich has more to offer than just one, great Beer Fest. I actually really enjoyed what I saw. It’s perhaps the first city I’ve walked this semester where I felt like perhaps I’d enjoy living there.

As with every other European city, it has its share of old churches near the city center. I’m a big fan of the one below, Frauenkirche, and it dates to the fifteenth century. Inside can hold about 20,000 people. The square in front, which you see the foreground of the picture, has a cool water fountain and place to hang out.

And also like most other European cities, it has a city center that makes for a tourist trap. In Munich, it's called Marienplatz, and on one side is its famous glockenspiel. At various times throughout the day, the little wooden sculptures at the top dance around and joust. I guess it’s cool, mostly because jousting is awesome.

The glockenspiel is in the central tower inside the corroded-green brass facade. The building in which it resides is the old city hall.

One afternoon, we took a brewery tour around the city and stopped at a few of the major beer houses and breweries. Beer houses are much like beer tents, just more permanent: big open spaces with picnic tables, food, and of course a ton of beer. One of the houses we stopped at was the famous Hofbrauhaus. It’s one of many beer houses owned by the major brewers in Munich, but it’s also both the largest and most notorious. It holds over 3,000 people, and it was here in February of 1920 that Hitler gave one of his first and most important speeches. "The First Hofbrauhaus Speech”, as its known, laid out a 25-point plan that formed the basis for his new party, the National Socialist German Workers Party (or Nazi, for short). Thus, the Nazi party was born right here. On a lighter note, it's freakin' sweet to drink at.

And of course, no city center would be complete without its share of street performers, but I thought this guy was rather inventive. Apparently he’s been around for awhile, because I saw postcards of him in souvenir shops. Somehow he wires himself up with tubes to form something of a fountain, and every once in awhile he sprays people with water. He also made robot noises when he moved, which was awesome.

Street artist on Marienplatz.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Amsterdam Part III - Tomfoolery

When we arrived in Amsterdam, we picked up the usual smattering of tourist brochures and maps. One advertisement said the city’s biggest problem was public urination, and it warned not to partake in this cultural experience. And since much of the city does indeed smell like urine, we thought it was funny.

Monday night rolled around (our second night in Amsterdam), and we found ourselves in a small bar on the outskirts of the red-light district. This was just a straight-up pub – nothing “red light” about it – and the bartender was freakin’ awesome. I think his name was Rick, but that’s probably wrong so we’ll just pretend. We got there early, stayed ‘til it closed, and rocked out to sweet American music from the 70’s and 80’s the entire time. Lots of beer. Lots of new random “friends”. And even more fist pounds with Rick. Don’t ask.

Anyway, it was a great time, but the bar had to close at some point. I think we were kicked out around 3:00 or 3:30 AM, after which we slowly started to wind our way back to the hotel. That’s when things got interesting.

At one point on the way home, Tino and I turned around to find Jeff and Mark walking down a small alley in the wrong direction. It was a long way home, and we were walking slow, so we just figured they wanted to partake in the aforementioned Amsterdam tradition (after all, when in Rome…). So they’re down the alley peeing, and all of the sudden two guys on bikes (GOBs) go flying past Tino and I down the alley. Jeff and Mark are probably 40 meters away, so we can’t really hear what’s going on, but we see the GOBs surround them so they can’t walk away. We also see a third guy on foot, also not in a uniform, standing near them.

So Jeff and Mark finish their study in Amsterdam culture, and the GOBs herd them into a small, unmarked door – the only door in the entire alley. Now things are getting messed up. Two GOBs, who may or may not be cops, just surrounded our friends and took them into a seedy, unmarked door down a dark alley in the middle of the red-light district of Amsterdam.

Now, at this point I should say Tino and I were pretty confident these were police officers. It’s not like we just let two random thugs kidnap our friends. Another girl we were with thought she saw a uniform on the GOBs, and Jeff and Mark went willing into the door. It’s not like they were alarmed or anything. Nonetheless, we all thought it was pretty shady. So while Tino stood at the top of the street to wait and see if they appeared somewhere else, this other girl and I went down and pounded on the unmarked door. Eventually we were buzzed in and found ourselves in the holding room of the only freaking police station in the entire red-light district! I could hear Jeff and Mark talking on the other side of the door, and eventually some other cop told us they were being fined. About 20 minutes later, the two came out, each 75 euros poorer. oops.

Walking home, we got the whole story and a funny epilogue. Remember the third guy on foot standing around them as they were led into the police station? He was a drug dealer who offered to sell them cocaine while they were peeing. But he didn’t get fined or arrested. He just walked away. So Jeff and Mark pissed in an alley, something so many others do (albeit not on a police station), and got fined 75 euros and berated by the cops at 4 AM while the guy dealing cocaine just walked off looking for more customers. Go figure. Only in Amsterdam…

Anyway, good times.

Blog Apathy

As you have all noticed, blog posts are light these days. I am behind.

At the outset, I promised to make a concerted effort to maintain and publish as often as possible - ideally once per day - to keep in contact with everyone back home. A bored readership is a dwindling readership, and an empty blog cheats us both.

Of course, I can give you several reasons for my absence - my forced reintroduction to the vampire set (bars literally stay open "until the last person leaves"), my preoccupation with classes (ha!), or my preoccupation with other important writing projects (which would be valid if true, but I've been ignoring those, too) - but none of them excuse my slacking.

So, what to do? A new initiative: at least one quality blog post per non-travel day until I'm caught up on everything I want to say. With luck, I'll be all caught up in two weeks, despite an intervening five-day trip to Stockholm next weekend. Keep checking back.

I'll keep you "posted". Get it?? I'm such a dork.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Fuck Jurisprudence

No, I'm not angry at jurisprudence. Instead, I refer to Fuck, a working paper by Ohio State University Professor Christopher Fairman, which explores (in a convincingly scholarly manner) the history, use, and legal ramifications of the word "fuck" (note: I link to the article abstract, but you can download it for free from the same page). As with everything I post here, only read it if you're REALLY bored. But since you're on my blog in the first place, I can safely assume you are.

This is clearly not the first long, trivial article to which I've posted on my blog with the disclaimer that it's only for procrastinating law nerds. If you're wondering, yes, I am one such person. And sadly I do read all this crap. It's amazing I get anything productive done at all.

In other news, I have cravings for mashed potatoes and hot dogs, but not at the same time.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Unfortunately, I Do More than Just Travel

[My posts for the past several weeks have been almost exclusively travel-related, and while I suppose this dovetails with most of my readers' interests (all 2 of them - my mom and my brother), I like my little forum to be broader in scope. If I ever find the time (my classes these days are severely interfering with my travel schedule), I'll post more on random thoughts and musings in addition to travel stories. Along those lines, the following:]

Came across a solid op-ed in the Chicago Tribune by University of Chicago law prof Geof Stone entitled "What it means to be liberal", a label that has lacked definition for some time. I agree in principal with several of his propositions, though my faith in the power of free markets (and thus my libertarian bent) causes disagreement with a few others. Anyway, it's good reading (and very apropos to the current political climate) for those on either side of the aisle, but perhaps even more so for those who fear the stigma of the "liberal" label.

And, if you're really bored and have way too much time on your hands, check out the Daily Kos' dissertation "The Case for the Liberterian Democrat", and the Ilya Somin's excellent response over at Volokh Conspiracy. I agree with a few of the the Kos piece's underlying ideas if not the finer details. Somin, blogging for the (more conservative) libertarian VC, provides persuasive commentary.

Monday, October 09, 2006

On a Side Note...

North Korea now has nukes. Happy Columbus Day!

Amsterdam Part II – Daylight

Amsterdam is a study in dichotomy. Daytime is polarized from the city at night by more than the presence of light. The entire character changes. In day light, Amsterdam is a beautiful city.

With only one full day there, we had to prioritize our activities. There just wasn’t enough time to see everything I would have wanted. Instead, we settled on a visit to the Anne Frank House and museum, followed by a boat tour of the city’s canals in the afternoon. This meant we never made it to the Van Gogh and Rembrandt museums.

The Anne Frank House is very well done. Tourists are granted access to the entire hideout, all of which is preserved incredibly well. For instance, many of the magazine pictures Anne Frank pasted to the walls of her room as decoration are still hanging. I read her diaries a long time ago for school, but walking through each room of the annex quickly refreshed my memory. It’s a great experience, even if it’s not the easiest thing to get through, and it was my favorite part of the city.

Anne Frank Huis is the building to the right of the red and white awning with dark green trim. At first glance, it looks like any other building on the street.

Before we hopped on the boat tour, we did a little more walking. Amsterdam consists more or less of several concentric canals that surround an inland harbor. Because the city sits below sea level, a series of locks was built to prevent flooding. As the city expanded, its residents would simply build another, wider canal around the harbor, much like a tree adds a ring to its trunk as it grows outward. The locks prevent tidal changes in sea level, thereby making the canals very easy to navigate. Countless arched bridges make walking around even easier.

Once on the boat, I was able to snap better photos of the row houses. The buildings you see below are representative of pretty much all of the structures that line the canals. In addition, over 2,000 house boats are tied up along the canals. It’s really great architecture. I’ve definitely never been anywhere like it.