By Jefferson Flanders

With a tip of the Loden Hut to Jimmy Cannon, New York newspaperman who popularized the phrase: Nobody asked me, but…

IT HAS BEEN A WARM WINTER in Northern Europe, so much so that our taxi driver called it a “second summer for Bavaria,” an observation offered as we zoom-zoom-zoomed (at 180 kilometers per hour) along the autobahn outside Munich earlier this week. Perhaps Al Gore should consider his political prospects in the European Union. (Some cited a major winter storm that hit the day after we left as an example of the weather extremes that climate change has provoked.)

Speaking of European attitudes, while it may be true that opinion polls show a consistent rejection of the Bush Doctrine and the Administration’s decision to wage the Iraq War, the Dutch and Germans we encountered in our brief trip were decidedly not anti-American.

Fears of any long-term divide between the EU and the United States on significant security issues are overblown: while debate over tactics and approach will continue, there’s no denying the challenge of what Christopher Hitchens (among others) has dubbed “Islamofascism,” or the potential for damage by Iranian muscle-flexing in the Middle East.

INTERNATIONAL TRAVELERS IN EUROPE ARE GREETED BY THE “THEATER OF SECURITY,” although the measures employed are meant as much to assuage anxiety as to actually prevent terrorist attacks.

Case in point: our erstwhile Homeland Security watchdogs insist on shoes being x-rayed before boarding one’s plane—not so in the two European airports I passed through this week. So are EU security types less worried about shoe bombs?

At Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, tardy passengers are chastised with the following sort of public announcement in several languages: “Mr. Anderson and Mr. Bergstrom traveling to Copenhagen, Flight 123. You are delaying the flight. Immediately board, please. We will proceed to offload your luggage.” Of course if Mr. A and Mr. B are terrorists who scoff at death they will happily board the plane even if their checked-in luggage—which most likely has not been scanned—contains an explosive.

DUTCH DIRECTOR PAUL VERHOEVEN’S LATEST FILM, ZWARTBOEK (BLACK BOOK) offers a darkly mature look at the Dutch resistance against Nazi occupation during World War II. The Oscar-nominated film drops the heroic frame of Verhoeven’s earlier treatment of the War, Soldier of Orange.

Verhoeven, best known in the U.S. for Stormship Troopers, Basic Instinct, Total Recall (and the execrable Showgirls) plumbs the hard moral choices those confronting totalitarianism are forced to make.
Through the story of Rachel Steinn, a fictional Dutch-Jewish singer who becomes an underground resistance fighter (played by Carice van Houten), we see that some survive by resisting, others by collaborating, some by betrayal, and some by hedging their bets. What Vorhoeven captures so well are those sudden moments of moral decision-making when lives hang in the balance—and the deep emotions these moments provoke.

IF YOU WANT TO ASSESS THE RELATIVE SECURITY of an embattled place, sadly there may be no better measure than the market price of an AK-47, the Russian-designed assault weapon. According to press reports from Baghdad the price has risen in concert with the level of sectarian strife. In Mogadishu, the price of the weapon has risen as residents worry that the recent defeat of the Islamists may herald the return of warlordism.

I’d wager that the “Kalashnikov Index” could prove to be the most accurate gauge of the success of peacekeeping efforts in any hot-spot. (There’s an economics dissertation about this tragic phenomenon begging to be written).

MANY TRADITIONAL MEDIA TYPES will watching with heightened interest Politico.com (www.politico.com), the new narrow-cast website focused on American politics, due to launch January 23rd.

The site, which is funded by Robert L. Allbritton and staffed by some mainstream journalists (including Jim Vandehei and John Harris of the Washington Post) drawn by the prospects of reinventing their craft in the Internet Age, may become a test case for journalistic entrepreneurship.

Will the economics of this non-partisan effort work? Will the site draw enough eyeballs to attract advertisers? Could it be a way to finance quality journalism in the future?

A RIVETING STORY OF BRITISH MILITARY HEROISM in Afghanistan, vividly portrayed in The Guardian (of all publications, one not one known for cheerleading for the lads in uniform): British marines strapped to the wings of an Apache helicopter, recovering the body of a downed comrade despite heavy fire from a Taliban stronghold.

WHAT HAPPENS THE FIRST TIME a dogged, but not particularly skilled, Major League Soccer defender (say, a journeyman like Rusty Pierce) clobbers the league’s new multi-million dollar Golden Boy, David Beckham? Bet that referees will look to protect Beckham at all costs. (Never thought it would be possible to mention Rusty Pierce and David Beckham in the same sentence.)

Count me among those doubtful that importing Beckham, or other big-name foreign stars, represents the way for MLS to grow and prosper—it’s a strategy the North American Soccer League tried with the Cosmos, and the cost of those aging stars never paid off in TV contracts.

The previous MLS patient approach of internally developing American players (think Clint Dempsey, Brian Ching, Landon Donovan), building cozy soccer-only stadiums, and avoiding huge payrolls seemed to be working, albeit more gradually than some in executive suites would prefer. But for the long haul, it’s a better ticket than importing long-in-the-tooth talent.

WILL SENATOR HILLARY CLINTON’S OPERATIVES now try to cast the 2008 Democratic presidential campaign as “Snow White and the (many) dwarves” as candidates continue to announce? So far, the announced or close-to-announced “dwarves” include Iowa’s Tom Vilsack, Sen. Joe Biden, Dennis Kucinich, Sen. Christopher Dodd, and—Clinton supporters would argue—John Kerry, John Edwards, and Barack Obama.

Come to think of it, besides Mrs. Clinton that would be seven other candidates…and Al Gore would make eight.

THIS WEEK’S QUOTE comes from German theologian and Resistance figure Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.”

Reprinted from Neither Red nor Blue

Copyright © 2006 Jefferson Flanders
All rights reserved

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