Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Shut Up and Play Yer Guitar

Tired of being lectured on politics by rock stars and celebrities in general? Take a look at this diatribe on TCS Daily.

Memo to Steve Earle: I still love you!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

How to Build a Laser Gun -- The Latest!

The laser-gun conspiracy I've written about before continues to spread. Every day I get more hits on this website from people around the world looking for information on how to build a laser gun.

Today, persons unknown in Iran, Turkey and Colorado all typed the words "build a laser gun" into Google and then linked to my site. I'm not sure which scares me the most.

Here's the proof, courtesy of Site Meter:

Domain Name (Unknown)
IP Address 85.185.64.# (Shabeke Gostar Company ,Internet Service Provider)
ISP Telecommunication Company of Iran (TCI)
Location Continent : Asia
Country : Iran, Islamic Republic of (Facts)
State/Region : Hamadan
City : Gostar
Lat/Long : 35.4667, 48.8833 (Map)

Language Farsi
Operating System Microsoft WinXP
Browser Internet Explorer 7.0
Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 7.0; Windows NT 5.1; .NET CLR 2.0.50727)
Javascript version 1.3
Monitor Resolution : 1024 x 768
Color Depth : 32 bits

Time of Visit Oct 18 2006 6:01:30 am
Last Page View Oct 18 2006 6:01:30 am
Visit Length 0 seconds
Page Views 1
Referring URL http://www.google.co...fa&q=build laser gun
Search Engine google.com
Search Words build laser gun
Visit Entry Page http://winneker.blog...build-laser-gun.html
Visit Exit Page http://winneker.blog...build-laser-gun.html
Out Click
Time Zone UTC+2:00
Visitor's Time Oct 18 2006 1:31:30 pm
Visit Number 4,114


Friday, October 13, 2006

Belgo-American Relations

The Bulletin, Brussels' expat weekly magazine, asked me to chart the history of US-Belgian relations, and try to figure out how one of Europe's most pro-American countries became decidedly less so. I took a stab at it.

A Special Relationship

By Craig Winneker

It wasn’t easy for an American eight-year-old to adjust to life in Belgium in the mid-1970s. For one thing, there was no peanut butter.

Not to mention no McDonald’s, few TV shows in English other than the occasional episode of “The Six Million Dollar Man”, schoolteachers with funny accents and disturbingly little sunshine. I thought I’d never survive the three years my father’s employer, a soon-to-be-vilified American multinational, had posted us here. But I did, and returned to the US with a decent adolescent command of French, an early passion for travel, and an understanding that the world was bigger than just America.

Twenty-five years later, when I moved back to Belgium, much had changed. American products were plentiful here, even if supermarkets still weren’t open long enough to make them obtainable outside work hours. The expat community had grown exponentially, along with EU enlargement and globalisation in general, but there seemed to be fewer Americans. The weather? Well, at least it’s getting warmer.

No one seems to know for sure how many of us Yanks now live in Belgium; estimates from the US embassy and the Belgian government range anywhere from 10,000 to 30,000. When I lived here in the 1970s, the number tossed around was 40,000. American businesses back then tended to parachute in mid-level managers. Nowadays they hire locals.

Jim Begg is one of many Americans who moved to Belgium in that earlier expat era and who’ve made it a permanent home. He first came to Brussels in 1962 as a trainee with Culligan, the water-softener company (as in, “Hey, Culligan man!”) He eventually started his own advertising agency, and recently retired after selling it to a big international firm. He shuttles between his homes in Brussels and the South of France.

“I’m an American européanisé,” he says. “But people still say to me, ‘You sound so American!’ And I say, ‘Well, I am American.’”

It’s true that with his flat Midwestern accent, you might mistake Begg for someone just off the proverbial boat. But he’s been in Europe long enough (and has a Dutch wife, and two French-speaking Dutch-American kids) to have experienced the various ups and downs in the Belgian-American relationship.

Like me, he sees two high points, if you will, in the chart-line of US-Belgian solidarity: the aftermath of World War II and the days immediately following 9/11. Like me, he’s watched Europe’s good will towards America waver since the start of the Iraq war. And, like me, he thinks that this anti-Americanism is really only skin deep, that Belgium is still a welcoming place for Americans.

“There’s still a deep feeling here about America and about its values,” he says. “But there’s also a concern about where America is going right now. I’m often the ‘token American’ at dinner parties, and people always start questioning me about what’s going on in the US. They really want to know what the Americans are thinking.”

The implication there, though Begg doesn’t spell it out, is that they want to know what the hell the American administration is thinking – or not thinking, as the case may be.

But he also gets to see another facet of the Belgian view of America. Through his work with the American Overseas Memorial Day Association, Begg is involved in organizing annual ceremonies honouring the 14,000 Americans who died on Belgian soil during World War II. It’s in this work that he still feels Belgians’ love and appreciation for the U.S.

“I spend a lot of time in these small Belgian villages,” he says, “and it’s an amazing feeling, how pro-American these people are. They will never forget what Americans did for them.” He says mayors in small Belgian towns are doing their best to involve young people in the commemorations, so that they learn the history of Belgian-American friendship. Every year on the U.S. Memorial Day a group of schoolchildren from Waregem sing the American national anthem.

Belgians of a certain generation agree with this sentiment, but also see obvious changes in how America is perceived here. “When we speak of Americans we always say we’ll never forget what they did in World War II,” says Marie-Louise Toisoul, who has lived in Brussels her whole life and was in high-school when Allied (mostly British) troops liberated the city in September 1944 and when American soldiers fought the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes throughout that winter. She points out that many in her country are also aware of the food aid given by the US after both world wars, when many Belgians were starving.

But she acknowledges that the goodwill Belgians have traditionally had for Americans – certainly after the world wars, but also after 9/11 – has waned. “Our attitude has changed somewhat,” Toisoul says. “But the so-called ‘anti-Americanism’ is always directed at George Bush – not at the American people. Of course, there are certain sectors of the population who feel that all Americans simply want to dominate the world.”

Her husband, Jean-Pierre Storrer, notes that not everyone in Belgium these days knows what they know about America. “There’s a difference between those who remember the war and those who came after,” he says.

Part of it may have to do with the lopsided balance of power in the world. As Toisoul points out, with the fall of the Soviet bloc, the US is the only so-called hyperpower on the planet, so it’s a big target for criticism and resentment.

This attitude manifests itself in ways that range from merely annoying to somewhat disturbing. Yes, it’s amusing to watch dreadlocked, bongo-beating ULB students staging some anti-American demo even as they swig Cokes and wear vintage Nikes. And who can really get too upset about the occasional condescending remark at a cocktail party or meathead comment from a rock performer who shouts a Bush-related obscenity from the stage as a cheap applause line?

Or there’s the kind of finely textured sentiment offered up by Flemish singer Raymond Van Het Groenewoed., whose “Weg Met Amerika” (“Down With America”), released last year, attacked Yanks as “the cause of the general decay/Short-sighted thinking, loud talking/Sticking to one-liners forever” and advocated sticking “a hot pick up their ass”. One pro-American Flemish commentator wondered why Van Het Groenewoed hadn’t been arrested, as it is illegal in Belgium to incite hatred against people based on their nationality. Instead, the song was played on Belgian state radio.

But one experience I had will always stand out as especially surprising – and even a bit embarrassing. Two colleagues from the US were visiting me in early 2003 and I wanted to take them to dinner at Aux Armes de Bruxelles. This required running the Ilot-Sacre gauntlet of mediocre restaurants and their infamous barkers, who lure unsuspecting tourists by feigning multilingual geniality.

One of them was giving us his spiel when he heard us speaking American English. He quickly became angry and started shouting, “Why don’t you go drop some bombs on Iraqi children?” I informed him that this was not a good way to attract business, and suggested that perhaps we start the bombing by targeting his bordel of a restaurant. We continued on our way to a pleasant dinner, but I had to explain to my guests that this was by no means an indicator of the town’s mood.

Or was it? One American consultant in town thinks the anti-Americanism is getting worse in Belgium – “worse that it was two years ago even. Brussels is a little out of touch with the rest of the country. A lot of people here just want to join in on anything that’s anti-American. People in Brussels are right in the middle of the propaganda machine. It’s not the Belgians, it’s the kind of people who work in Brussels. It’s the Europeans.”

Well, what about the Belgians? “I love the American people,” says Toisoul. “But it’s true that they often believe that America is the best at everything and nothing from anywhere else is any good.” True, I tell her, and isn’t that one of the ways we are so very like the French or the Italians?

American Michael Steinman is a relative newcomer in Belgium, having lived here for 18 months, but isn’t a part of the Brussels or Antwerp expat scene. He’s a sergeant in the US Army, based in Mons, where he is a trombonist in the SHAPE international band and NATO jazz orchestra. In addition to his military service, which takes him all over Europe, he plays a lot of music on the side, interacting often with jazz-loving Belgians.

“The musicians I meet are almost always enthusiastic and we have a great time on and off the bandstand,” he says. “I feel accepted by them, and as an American jazz player, they are really happy to play with what they consider to be the ‘real thing’. They have never brought up US policies or politics or the fact that I’m a service member in any negative way.”

Steinman does, however, confirm the common view among expats that it is hard to get close to the natives. Belgians are family oriented and not known for being especially warm to strangers – understandable for a country that has for centuries played unwilling (or at least reluctant) host to them. After a hard day at work speaking two or three languages that aren’t your mother tongue, you deserve some down-time.

“I barely know my neighbours,” says Steinman. “I’ve heard that in Belgium you can live 20 years in a house and never see the inside of your neighbour’s house. And I guess it’s kind of true. We say ‘bonjour’ to each other and chit-chat, but always outside in the street. They seemed taken aback when I invited a few in for beers once.”

Despite the well-known coolness to outsiders that its people exhibit, Belgium was once among the most pro-American countries in Europe. Belgians loved everything American – even things we shouldn’t be proud of introducing to them, like instant coffee. (“Oh, Nescafé, that was such a revelation!” gushes Toisoul.) They loved our hamburger meat so much they didn’t want to spoil it by cooking it. They bought our big Yankee cars – tailfin Chevys and stretch Cadillacs, even Buicks.

Toisoul remembers that in 1946 and ‘47 “we were all driving big American cars, Studebakers. Nobody wanted to have these little French cars. We wanted American. Nowadays you only see people riding in them for weddings.”

In fact, business is still fairly good for American marques not seen in similar numbers elsewhere in Europe, though an attempt last year by the Belgian government to restrict imports of American cars – by refusing to issue required safety certificates – held up shipments for months and nearly drove some Belgian specialty car dealers out of business. In the US media, the move was seen as another petty example of Belgian anti-Americanism, especially since Japanese imports weren’t getting the same treatment.

In fact, Belgians’ consumption of American products still seems pretty brisk. They still drink Coke, they still wear Nikes. There’s a restaurant on Place Brugmann called Le Balmoral, which is done up to look like a kitschy American diner of the 1950s, complete with Marilyn Monroe and James Dean figurines. You’d think it would be a real American hangout. The only time I’ve ever gone there – I hadn’t heard of it but a French TV journalist tricked me into taping an interview there because she figured it illustrated US politics – the place was full of Belgians.

Is Belgium slowly becoming more American? Is that where the resentment comes from, if it comes at all? The TV channels are now chock full of American entertainment, both good and bad.Yes, the supermarkets here now carry peanut butter, although you have to search pretty hard for it. They’ve got a hundred kinds of sugary breakfast cereal. And they’re even catching on to the brilliance of pre-packaged Tex-Mex fixins.

Maybe, but the Belgian-American bond works both ways. Not long after I left the U.S. to move to Brussels, America entered something of a Belgophile phase. A couple of frites stands set up shop in Manhattan. Neuhaus opened a store in DC, selling chocolates at even higher prices than they do here. And, a few steps from where I used to live in Washington, D.C., a new restaurant quickly became the trendiest eatery on Capitol Hill. It’s called Belga Cafe.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


Well, the Foley story gets weirder. But let me make one thing perfectly clear:

While I was at the party mentioned in this article, and was a journalist colleague of the author, I was not the focus of Rep. Foley's attentions...

But of course I know who was. And can confirm the story.


Friday, October 06, 2006

Fair and Balanced!

Oh, you've probably seen this already, but it' s just too good to resist. The fine folks at Fox News have figured out how to help Republicans handle the Foley scandal: turn him into a Democrat!

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Foley Fiasco

Oh dear. And I thought the Mel Reynolds transcript was about as creepy as it could get for a Congressman on the make. Now there's the Mark Foley fiasco -- you can read the lurid details here -- although despite ABC News' warning of READER DISCRETION!!!! SICK DISGUSTING CONTENT AHEAD, it's pretty tame stuff. Still, to think I used to go to cocktail parties at this guy's Capitol Hill bachelor pad...

Actually, for the most thoughtful comment on this story, see Andrew Sullivan's blog.