Friday, December 30, 2005

Is Speech not Free in Europe?

I wish this guy had mentioned the case of Oriana Fallaci as well, which is a disgrace and blemish on any democractic country's free speech record but especially for a former facsist state like Italy. He does make a good point about what free speech includes:

Freedom of speech, as its name suggests, does not mean freedom for views
that go down well in polite society but not for views that stink: it means
freedom for all speech, the freedom to think, say and write what we please
and the freedom of everyone else to challenge or ridicule our

More politicians, pundits, and media elite should perk their ears to that last sentence. Their ideas have every right to be challenged and ridiculed especially if they're illogical and unintelligent. Unfortunately, many in these catagories only resort to ad hominem attacks when their ideas get challenged. What happened to reasoned and intelligent discussion in which the actual argument or idea was debated? Perhaps I'm naive and that never happened. But then I think about the Lincoln-Douglas debates and they certainly laid out arguments and tore each other's ideas apart or attempted to. Of course ad hominem barbs were thrown in but at least it wasn't the substance of the argument. Of course the deteriorating American attention span is to blame as well. If TV is any indication, American's can only handle 30 second sound bites which doesn't lend itself to reasoned debate, but awfully well to personal attacks. I don't really believe the American mind is that mushy, but our media elites like to believe so because it gives them the excuse they want to push pap.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Christmas Fun

I had a lovely Christmas! There were no intense moments of joy or wonder, but a general feeling of happiness and well-being pervaded my experience. Christmas day my church had a potluck after the service, which turned out to be a brilliant idea. Many people don't have family living in LA or have no place to go this day because everyone else has family to visit; although there were many who brought their families so they didn't have to spend all day in the kitchen preparing a feast. We all feasted together and it was great fun. I think we've started a tradition!

That evening we went to visit my in-laws staying with Steve's sister and during the evening meal I sat between TWO World War II vets. On my left was Ed, 81 years old and wry as ever. He was stationed out of England for about 18 months as a gunner. He'd sit in the nose of the plane and gun down the enemy. I can't imagine having that kind of bird's eye view of all the mayhem happening. He went on 56 missions before the Navy redeployed him back to the U.S. No one from his team was killed in battle (one died from yellow jaundice and another from something else unrelated to fighting). Not only that, but he was part of the Normandy Invasion! I was sitting next to a HERO of WWII who fought on D-Day! To say I was honored was an understatement. I think my jaw dropped every time he shared another story. They just don't make them like that anymore.

To my right was Helen, another octogenarian. She was recruited by the Navy to fix their instrument panels and other related equipment. During this time, she met and worked with Charles Lindbergh. THE Charles Lindbergh of the famous kidnapped and murdered son and the first non-stop flight between New York and Paris. The Lindbergh that helped launch the areonautics industry in America and Helen is talking about him in an offhand way as if he were just her next door neighbor that she borrowed sugar from. A true character that Helen!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Traveling Bits and Pieces

We're baaaaaack from ten glorious albeit frozen days in Berlin and Prague. We needed what this trip provided--a bigger perspective. We'd become so trapped by our petty worries and daily struggles that we'd lost sight of the joy and wonder of life that travel provides. Steve and I made a pact that this trip would NOT be like our honeymoon, which went horribly wrong from the moment we arrived in Paris. No matter what happened we wouldn't stress about it...I have a harder time doing this than Steve. Travel tends to bring out the little dictator in me (just ask Steve). I never get so serious about time as when I'm in a foreign country trying to make sense of public transit systems. Nothing frustrates me more than when I want us to get to the platform to determine that the train is indeed on time to have either my husband or my sister (who is notorious for doing this) say they want to buy water first or go to the bathroom. What if we miss the train?! Egads people, you can pee on the train and you can go an hour without water, but I DO NOT want to wait another interminable stretch of time before getting the next train, bus, or tram. I do fear the unknown in foreign travel. It takes me at least a day or two before I can relax and enjoy the change of scenery and pace. Almost all of my foreign travels begin with me staying awake the first night out worrying about all the travel plans, which is why I always start our travel adventures exhausted.

We did have a fabulous time in both cities even though both Steve and I are horrible tourists. We never visit the proper museums or see the proper sites. We may pay to do a couple of them, but mostly we just walk...a lot. Usually we spend about six to eight hours a day just walking around and exploring the neighborhoods. At the end we feel like we've really experienced the city since we've mirrored the local activity..walking, eating, relaxing at cafes.

The residents of both Berlin and Prague have excellent taste in dogs since everywhere we went I saw West Highland White terriers. Seriously, every day I saw at least one if not two people walking Westies. They go perfectly with winter!

Did you know The Czech Republic (or Czechia as they want to be called) is the number ONE beer drinking country in the world? Ireland is second and Germany is third! They drink beer with breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and just for fun. They do have one of the BEST dark beers I've ever tasted: Kozel cerzny. I generally do not like beer. I rarely choose to drink the stuff. But Kozel I could drink every day it's that good. In fact I'm dreaming about it now the smooth, creamy body with no harsh aftertaste....mmmmmmm. And in Prague it was cheap about 55 cents for a large bottle. I'm so obsessed with this beer that I came home and started researching on the web to figure out how to get it. None of our local shops carry it and in fact I don't think it can be bought in the USA! The horror! I found out on google that a shop in San Antonio may have sold it at one time so I'll be calling them to see if they still do sell it and if they can ship it to me. I must have my Kozel! So, if you're in Prague make sure you try this beer or maybe you shouldn't so you won't be disappointed when you can't get it back home.

Some gear tips: I bought the 3-in-1 Squall jacket from Lands End because it was waterproof, warm to -10 degrees (with layers), came with a hood, and was lightweight. I LOVE this jacket. It kept me toasty (and I get cold easily) and dry in the freezing cold, the driving rains and aggressive winds in Prague, and then the blustery snow of Berlin. It was large enough to accommodate all the layers I wore, but not bulky so I didn't look like the kid from The Christmas Story. I highly recommend this jacket for your all purpose winter needs. Besides it was a steal at $79!

The Lonely Planet Guide to Prague was ok. Their history section was pretty good and their guide to restaurants and cafes was also good. However, their language guide sucked eggs. They gave a pronunciation guide to each letter of the alphabet, then they gave the english sentence with the Czech underneath. But they did NOT sound out the words for you. Apparently they thought their pronunciation guide was adequate. It was not. Czech is a very difficult language to speak. I could barely pronounce the word for Thank You after three days and I have an ear for languages. Forget asking for anything else. We took a walking tour our first day and our guide said that children before entering school often get speech therapists to help them with their pronunciation since it's that difficult! And yet, Lonely Planet thought the average tourist could do better than the native children. Thanks for nothing!