Instapun*** Archive Listing

Archive Listing
January 19, 2007 - January 12, 2007

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Bloody Brits.

Noam Chomski.

ROMANTIC HANGOVER. If Drudge is to be believed, the Brits have picked Noam Chomsky for a singular honor:

Noam Chomsky, the American linguistics expert and US foreign policy critic, was named the world's top public intellectual, according to a new British magazine poll released.

Best known for his loud and consistent criticism of the Vietnam War and US foreign policy over the last 40 years, Chomsky, 76, decisively beat Italian novelist and academic Umberto Eco and third-placed Oxford University professor Richard Dawkins to top the poll.

Now an emeritus professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Chomsky first became known for his theory of grammar developed at MIT in the 1950s, which held that the ability to form structured language is innate in the human mind.

He later became known for his political activism. He published his first collection of political writings in 1969, and has penned over 40 books.

Of 20,000 voters in the Prospect/Foreign Policy poll published this week in Prospect magazine, 4,800 voted for Chomsky to Eco's 2,500.

Vaclav Havel, the playwright and former Czech president who led Czechoslovakia's 1989 "Velvet Revolution" that toppled communism, came fourth.

Perhaps more surprising than Chomsky's victory was the dearth of young and female names at the top of the list. Only two of the top 10, pro-Iraq war British journalist Christopher Hitchens and British novelist Salman Rushdie, were born after World War II, and the highest-placed female intellectual was Canadian journalist and activist Naomi Klein.

Voters mainly came from Britain and the United States.

Chomsky was unimpressed with the honour, telling The Guardian newspaper that polls were something "I don't pay a lot of attention to," adding that "it was probably padded by some friends of mine."

Finally, something we can agree with Chomsky about. We're unimpressed too.

Monday, October 17, 2005

The Liberal Mind

CERTAINTY. It's no wonder liberals hate Rush Limbaugh so much. Today in the WSJ he performed a feat his enemies on the left cannot seem to do: state the basic principles and positions that unify his party in a few short declarative sentences:

Unlike our liberal friends, who are constantly looking for new words to conceal their true beliefs and are in a perpetual state of reinvention, we conservatives are unapologetic about our ideals. We are confident in our principles and energetic about openly advancing them. We believe in individual liberty, limited government, capitalism, the rule of law, faith, a color-blind society and national security. We support school choice, enterprise zones, tax cuts, welfare reform, faith-based initiatives, political speech, homeowner rights and the war on terrorism.

What Limbaugh doesn't say is that liberals could articulate their own views almost as clearly if they weren't so at odds with the pesky national consensus that determines election outcomes. They could say: "We believe in group entitlements, expanding government, government-managed socialist economies, a judiciary empowered to act as an elitest super-legislature, rigid public secularism, government redistribution of assets, opportunities, and rights based on race and sex, and subordination of the national interest to the rulings of international bodies. We support government schooling under the absolute control of teacher unions, urban-centric government make-work programs, tax increases and increasing progressivity of tax rates, dynamic expansion of welfare into the middle class (a la France and Germany), exclusion of all religious institutions from public life, government controls on political speech we dislike, subordination of property rights to government-based social engineering initiatives, and a swift end to all military and unilateral aspects of the war on terror."

But they will not say such things out loud because they know a slender majority of Americans are too stupid to understand the superior wisdom of their ideology. Therefore, they are limited in their public communications to only two forms of expression: 1) demonization of Republicans generally and conservatives specifically; and 2) misrepresentation, up to and including active sabotage, of the motives, policies, actions, and outcomes of the Bush administration. The degree of emotional fury and vitriol which underpins such communications is a product of the fact that they must remain silent about their own real objectives. This must be immensely frustrating, especially for people who possess an almost fanatic conviction about their intellectual and moral superiority over the rest of us. Small surprise that when challenged, they cannot swallow the bile and obscenities that spring to their otherwise sealed lips.

The enforced silence has had another highly destructive effect. Liberal beliefs which cannot be debated aloud have become ossified on the closet shelf where they are hidden. Because they have not been subject to criticism and refinement through public discourse they are no longer thought about even by the liberals who harbor them. It has been so long since they owned the majority control they feel to be their birthright that they have lost the ability to envision the real consequences of the policies they still believe they believe in. Actual ideas have slipped out of their grasp. What they are left with is an exponentially increasing emotional investment in the simple fact of their opposition to the party in power. The two forms of communication identified above have, in fact, become the compleat substitute for thinking.

Limbaugh closes his piece with the following adroit summary:

The American left is stuck trying to repeat the history of its presumed glory years. They hope people will see Iraq as Vietnam, the entirety of the Bush administration as Watergate and Hurricane Katrina as the Great Depression. Beyond looking to the past for their salvation, the problem is that they continue to deceive even themselves. None of their comparisons are true.

The key words here are "hope people will see." This is a communications objective, more precisely a propaganda objective. It is achieved not by thinking but by saying the same things again and again and again, regardless of facts or matters of national interest. It depends on, and therefore explains, the crucial role played by the legacy media in transforming every story into a comic book fantasy of conservative fecklessness, corruption, and failure. That's why conservatives find it so easy to know in advance how the New York Times, the major television networks, and the liberal pundits will respond to any event. The utter dreariness and inevitability of their abusive pessimism is the ipso facto proof that no thought is occurring. It just couldn't be that dull if any creativity or intelligence were involved in the equation.

When I read Limbaugh's essay, I immediately flashed on a television image from the weekend, a late Saturday afternoon "fill-up-some-airtime" interview segment on Fox News. One of the countless FNC anchorfoxes was lobbing softball questions at a pair of female guests, one of whom was Eleanor Clift. When asked if the increasingly likely Iraqi confirmation of the Constitution would be received positively by the American people, Clift set her mouth in that hard, extra-wide line which makes her look as if she laughed once years ago, and just like the old old joke, the strain cracked her face in two. As she droned out her dead predictable response -- "of course not," or many words to that effect -- I couldn't take my eyes off that mouth. It reminded me of -- what? Then it came to me.

On South Park, the heads of Canadians are always shown in two pieces. When they talk, the upper half dances disconnectedly over the lower half. Their heads have no insides, there is no content to their utterances but high-speed jibber-jabber, and the black dots of their eyes are continuous blanks. Clift may refer to current events and topical names and places but the message is a monotonously continuous mantra: "Bush-sucks-Bush-sucks-Bush-sucks-Bush-sucks-Bush-sucks-Bush-sucks..." This is the only idea that Democrats and their allies in the mass media are capable of thinking, and it reduces all their responses to a one-note unanimity that is far simpler than the genuine thinkers of the right can usually comprehend. If your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Wherever they look, Democrats see a Bush-headed nail begging for a blow from their hate hammer. Wherever they look, conservatives see a bewildering profusion of contradictory Democrat positions they must struggle mightily to decode.

There are several excellent examples in today's opinion pieces of conservatives trying to apply reason to liberal positions and responses that are, in fact, devoid of thought, so much so that the conservative analysis is destined to seem wrong to the liberals involved because their recent instincts don't rise to the level of analysis.

At TechCentralStation, Steven Schwartz takes aim at the Iraq question:

(H)ow long will the Western media get the post-9/11 story wrong before they understand that they, the MSM, are a major part of the problem?

For many months, the MSM and their assorted political allies have indoctrinated the world in despicable lies:

That the Wahhabi terror in Iraq, financed by and recruited among radical Saudis, was an "insurgency" or "resistance" caused by the actions of President Bush.

That the Sunni Arabs in Iraq backed the alleged insurgency, were uniformly opposed to the constitutional process, and would prevent its completion.

That anti-Shia blandishments by Saudi and other Sunni rulers would seal Sunni opposition to the new reality in Iraq.

In recent weeks heightened discussion in Washington, and in centers of Islamic debate I visited, such as Jakarta, focused on these claims. Muslims knew the Sunnis would prefer to take advantage of their new right to vote, and would favor a constitutional order in Iraq rather than continued violence. The meddling of the Saudis was considered gross and embarrassing. Muslim leaders I met were more interested in the future of the "Shia-con" phenomenon, i.e. of Iraqi Shias aligned with the U.S. neoconservatives....

(M)oderate Sunni Muslims who tried to tell Western media and government the facts about the probable outcome in the Iraqi constitutional election were ignored. Instead, numerous MSM reporters applied the practice they have pursued since the Sandinista era in Nicaragua: they found radicals and marginal, anonymous grumblers, and presented their clichés as the voice of all Iraqi Sunnis.

Egregious, incorrigible examples of the Stalinist dialectic in the MSM continue even after the Iraq vote. The London Guardian, on Sunday, October 16, published a "news salad," tossed and retossed with vinegar and oil: a sequence of paragraphs seeking to perpetuate the Sunni issue as the sole topic of interest in Iraq. It tried to portray the Sunni vote for the constitution as contributing to further violence in Iraq. The argument, as convoluted as a tantric Yoga exercise, went like this: Sunnis voted, but against the constitution (actually, only some of them voted that way); although they voted in a process to accept the constitution they will not accept it; supposedly, all Sunnis are aggrieved about the share-out of petroleum revenues… blah, blah, blah

Mr. Schwartz is understandably baffled by the indefensible nature of such reporting. He asks:

To put it more bluntly, how long will the devotion to disinformation of the MSM continue? Will MSM "journalists" ever be called to account for their consistent misrepresentations?

The answer is, "No. They won't be called to account." No one of liberal mind in the MSM is thinking about it at all. Mr. Schwartz's whole analysis is wasted if it is aimed at liberals. Iraq is Vietnam. Now and forever.

Mark Tapscott at takes on the question of the MSM's Katrina Reporting:

Remember all those politicians and reporters warning folks to avoid at all costs the deadly mixture of chemicals, gasoline, human and animal waste and decaying bodies floating through New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina?

Guess what? Katrina left town Aug. 30, but it was not until Oct. 13 that The Washington Post got around to reporting that the “toxic soup” never showed up...

Remember New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagins’ uncritically reported prediction that 10,000 people were dead? Not even close. Remember the snipers supposedly firing at rescue helicopters trying to save people from rooftops and hospitals? Didn’t happen. Remember the little babies being raped. No. The well-armed gangs pillaging block after block while dueling with hopelessly out-gunned cops? More myth...

Here’s something else that’s frightening: In the first few weeks after Katrina, we witnessed an orgy of self-congratulation among mainstream media journalists who allegedly discovered in the storm’s aftermath a new courage to challenge President Bush and the White House for being so slow to respond to the desperate plight of the mostly Black, mostly poor victims of New Orleans.

Where are the wise professors from the hallowed schools of journalism at places like Columbia University and the University of Missouri intoning about the decline of standards and honesty that allowed so much rumor and outright falsehood to be reported as fact in the midst of the greatest natural disaster in American history?...

No, I’m not holding my breath waiting for those things to happen either....

Mr. Tapscott thinks the problem is a lack of intellectual diversity:

At Columbia, the ratio of registered Democrats among the faculty to registered Republicans is 15-1. At Southern Cal, the ratio is 13-1. At Berkeley, it’s 10-1.

Even in the conservative South at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill the ratio of Democrats to Republicans is 5-1...

What this imbalance means is aspiring journalists rarely hear a vigorous presentation of well-thought-out conflicting perspectives in the classroom or the campus newsroom. No wonder survey after survey has found over-whelming majorities of journalists vote Democrat and support liberal positions on major issues.

The only problem is that journalists would get to hear opposing views if they cared at all about facts or truth. It's not that their intellects are never challenged. It's that they're just not working anymore.

Mark Steyn thinks he detects a sort of conspiracy with regard to reporting on the war on terror. He lists numerous examples of recent attacks by Islamic terrorists that are attributed by press organizations around the world to unnamed "insurgents," "militants," and "rebels." Then he starts analyzing the situation:

Islamic "militants" are the new Voldemort, the enemy whose name it's best never to utter. In fairness to the New York Times, they did use the I-word in paragraph seven. And Agence France Presse got around to mentioning Islam in paragraph 22. And NPR's "All Things Considered" had one of those bland interviews between one of its unperturbable anchorettes and some Russian geopolitical academic type in which they chitchatted through every conceivable aspect of the situation and finally got around to kinda sorta revealing the identity of the perpetrators in the very last word of the geopolitical expert's very last sentence.

When the NPR report started, I was driving on the vast open plains of I-91 in Vermont and reckoned, just to make things interesting, I'll add another five miles to the speed for every minute that goes by without mentioning Islam. But I couldn't get the needle to go above 130, and the vibrations caused the passenger-side wing-mirror to drop off. And then, right at the end, having conducted a perfect interview that managed to go into great depth about everything except who these guys were and what they were fighting over, the Russian academic dude had to go and spoil it all by saying somethin' stupid like "republics which are mostly . . . Muslim." He mumbled the last word, but nevertheless the NPR gal leapt in to thank him and move smoothly on to some poll showing that the Dems are going to sweep the 2006 midterms because Bush has the worst numbers since numbers were invented.

Steyn is brilliant, of course. Too brilliant. He sees deeply into the liberal mind:

I underestimated multiculturalism. After 9/11, I assumed the internal contradictions of the rainbow coalition would be made plain: that a cult of "tolerance" would in the end founder against a demographic so cheerfully upfront in their intolerance. Instead, Islamic "militants" have become the highest repository of multicultural pieties. So you're nice about gays and Native Americans? Big deal. Anyone can be tolerant of the tolerant, but tolerance of intolerance gives an even more intense frisson of pleasure to the multiculti- masochists. And so Islamists who murder non-Muslims in pursuit of explicitly Islamic goals are airbrushed into vague, generic "rebel forces." You can't tell the players without a scorecard, and that's just the way the Western media intend to keep it. If you wake up one morning and switch on the TV to see the Empire State Building crumbling to dust, don't be surprised if the announcer goes, "Insurging rebel militant forces today attacked key targets in New York. In other news, the president's annual Ramadan banquet saw celebrities dancing into the small hours to Mullah Omar And His All-Girl Orchestra"...

I'm aware the very concept of "the enemy" is alien to the non-judgment multicultural mind: There are no enemies, just friends whose grievances we haven't yet accommodated. But the media's sensitivity police apparently want this to be the first war we lose without even knowing who it is we've lost to.

Sadly, he sees too deeply. It isn't about multiculturalism, clever and funny as Steyn's formulation is. It's about "Bush-sucks-Bush-sucks-Bush-sucks-Bush-sucks..." Emotionally the enlightened journalists of the world see themselves as insurgents, militants, and rebels in the great anti-Bush jihad, and it is therefore impossible for them NOT to feel some sympathy for their half-brothers in arms. In this instance, Islam is entirely beside the point. Too simple? Sorry, but no.

Think about the not thinking angle. It may help you in future conversations with liberals even if you never read a word of Ann Coulter's book. And it offers a solution to the one problem that has baffled intelligent observers for years: If Bush is as much an idiot as the libs say he is, then how come he keeps beating the pants off them politically?

Because, as should be clear by now, they aren't thinking at all. That makes them pretty easy to beat, even if you're the dumbass so many Republicans have suddenly decided Bush is. Should that give the Miers Marauders pause as well? Of course not. Not thinking is its own reward. Ask Terence and Philip.

Friday, October 14, 2005

The Birds.


First, the Bad News...

Charles Krauthammer, who in addition to being a conservative coumnist is a medical doctor, is fired up this morning. It seems that the scientific community has managed to resurrect the influenza virus that rampaged around the world in 1918:

This is big. Very big.

First, it is a scientific achievement of staggering proportions. The Spanish flu has not been seen on this blue planet for 85 years. Its re-creation is a story of enterprise, ingenuity, serendipity, hard work and sheer brilliance. It involves finding deep in the bowels of a military hospital in Washington a couple of tissue samples from the lungs of soldiers who died in 1918... and the disinterment of an Alaskan Eskimo who died of the flu and whose remains had been preserved by the permafrost. Then, using slicing and dicing techniques only Michael Crichton could imagine, they pulled off a microbiological Jurassic Park: the first ever resurrection of an ancient pathogen.

And that's not all they've done. They've also published their findings and are mailing samples to researchers who ask for them. Why would they do such a thing?

There is a bird flu epidemic right now in Asia that has infected 117 people and killed 60. It has already developed a few of the genomic changes that permit transmission to humans. Therefore, you want to put out the knowledge of the structure of the 1918 flu, which made the full jump from birds to humans, so that every researcher in the world can immediately start looking for ways to anticipate, monitor, prevent and counteract similar changes in today's bird flu.

We are essentially in a life-and-death race with the bird flu. Can we figure out how to pre-empt it before it figures out how to evolve into a transmittable form with 1918 lethality that will decimate humanity? To run that race we need the genetic sequence universally known -- not just to inform and guide but to galvanize new research.

The smarter kids in the class will already have detected that there's a risk associated with this strategy:

(R)esurrection of the virus and publication of its structure opens the gates of hell. Anybody, bad guys included, can now create it. Biological knowledge is far easier to acquire for Osama and friends than nuclear knowledge. And if you can't make this stuff yourself, you can simply order up DNA sequences from commercial laboratories around the world that will make it and ship it to you on demand...

One batch of 1918 flu has the capacity for mass destruction that no Bond villain could ever dream of. Why try to steal loose nukes in Russia? A nuke can only destroy a city. The flu virus, properly evolved, is potentially a destroyer of civilizations.

We might have just given it to our enemies.

Have a nice day.

Thank you, Dr. Krauthammer. It took some doing, but we did find an item that might comfort the more enlightened members of our audience.

The Good News...

Nature is a balancing act. Every so often a new species is added to the "endangered" list, as Charles Krauthammer appears to have done today. But then, just when you thought everything was awful and hopeless, a species comes off the endangered list. Take a look at this:

During the last week of April, an e-mail zinging through the bird-watcher community spilled the beans on one of the biggest and best-kept secrets in ornithology. It proclaimed that North America's famed ivory-billed woodpecker was not extinct after all...

Cornell ornithologists and their collaborators...announced that the journal Science had accepted their paper arguing that seven sightings and a 4-second video—the result of some 7,000 hours of observation—confirmed that at least one ivory-billed woodpecker survives in the swamps of Arkansas. The ivory-billed has been on the endangered species list since March 1967.

Is that cool or what?

The ivory-billed woodpecker

Just kidding. Now we'll give the real (sort of) Good News. One warning, though. It won't much seem like good news at first. It consists of more information than most people probably know about the 1918 Influenza epidemic.

A shift in perspective is required.  Scientists  -- i.e., doctors and CDC bureaucrats -- tend to toss the word epidemic around whenever there's a disease that kills a significant number of people. Perhaps they've changed the standard recently, but it used to be that an epidemic existed only when a disease spread so rapidly that each infected person caused at least one other person to be infected. AIDS and SARS have been called epidemics, but they do not meet this standard. Here's what a real epidemic looks like,  here's how it unfolds in time, and here's a brutal description of what the 1918 influenza did to the U.S. and the world:

In the two years that this scourge ravaged the earth, a fifth of the world's population was infected. The flu was most deadly for people ages 20 to 40. This pattern of morbidity was unusual for influenza which is usually a killer of the elderly and young children. It infected 28% of all Americans (Tice). An estimated 675,000 Americans died of influenza during the pandemic, ten times as many as in the world war....

The effect of the influenza epidemic was so severe that the average life span in the US was depressed by 10 years. The influenza virus had a profound virulence, with a mortality rate at 2.5% compared to the previous influenza epidemics, which were less than 0.1%. The death rate for 15 to 34-year-olds of influenza and pneumonia were 20 times higher in 1918 than in previous years (Taubenberger). People were struck with illness on the street and died rapid deaths. One anectode shared of 1918 was of four women playing bridge together late into the night. Overnight, three of the women died from influenza (Hoagg). Others told stories of people on their way to work suddenly developing the flu and dying within hours (Henig). One physician writes that patients with seemingly ordinary influenza would rapidly "develop the most viscous type of pneumonia that has ever been seen" and later when cyanosis appeared in the patients, "it is simply a struggle for air until they suffocate," (Grist, 1979). Another physician recalls that the influenza patients "died struggling to clear their airways of a blood-tinged froth that sometimes gushed from their nose and mouth," (Starr, 1976). The physicians of the time were helpless against this powerful agent of influenza. In 1918 children would skip rope to the rhyme (Crawford):

I had a little bird,
Its name was Enza.
I opened the window,
And in-flu-enza.

The influenza pandemic circled the globe. Most of humanity felt the effects of this strain of the influenza virus. It spread following the path of its human carriers, along trade routes and shipping lines. Outbreaks swept through North America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Brazil and the South Pacific. In India the mortality rate was extremely high at around 50 deaths from influenza per 1,000 people.

It is in these grim statistics that we can glimpse the hint of a silver lining inside Krauthammer's storm clouds. Though 675,000 Americans died in the influenza epidemic, the worldwide toll was 25 million, with the heaviest burden falling on underdeveloped nations like India, which were even more powerless against the disease than the industrial nations. If Islamofascists should decide to use influenza as a weapon, they would have to face two realities. First, they could not hope to confine the disease to whatever country in which it was initially unleashed. The nature of the pathogen is that it spreads relentlessly across borders, oceans, and populations, and much more quickly today than a century ago.

Second, the impact of an epidemic like this would be far more devastating to the impoverished regions in which most of the world's muslims live. There would be far more victims in the U.S. than our medical infrastructure could reach, but even so, our ability to fight back with antibiotics and other treatments is much superior to what it was in 1918. The same is not true of the muslim world; they could very well lose the population advantage that constitutes the Islamofascists' only edge in the insane jihad they are conducting. Even if they were willing to slay two or three of their own for every one of the enemy they killed, they would gain nothing from such a pitiless calculation. They would forfeit any popular support or forebearance they presently retain among mainstream muslims, and the only regimes that provide cover and resources for their activities would be among the first toppled as civil order crumbles into the desperate chaos of day-to-day survival.

There is no winning strategy in the use of such a weapon. And, yes, the Islamofascists ARE insane, but only up to a point. Note that the terrorist leaders seem remarkably, consistently determined to stay alive themselves, whatever sacrifices they extort from their gullible subordinates. It doesn't take a genius to understand that loosing influenza in Manhattan today might very well kill you in Afghanistan or Tehran six weeks from now.

 How's that for good news? It's the best we could do.

Honorary Punk Award


PUNK'D. We don't give out this award very often. It goes only to those who write pieces that need no elaboration or injections of attitude to make their point. Bloggledydook has done exactly that in disassembling Ted Rall as a thinker, a satirist, and an internet force. Well done. We especially like the logic of constructing the following verbiage as a means of attracting Rall's attention to an opposing view:

Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted Rall Ted

You'll have to read the rest of the brilliant argumentation for yourself.

Congratulations from all of us here at InstaPunk.

(Our own past ruminations about Ted Rall.)

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Changing the subject.

The Finns aren't ruled by an evil fascist idiot. Cool.

A BASH-FREE ZONE. Is anybody else tired of hearing about everything the President has done wrong? We thought we'd go find a slice of life that doesn't have anything to do with the stupidity of George W. Bush. After hours and hours on the internet, we finally found something. Apparently, the President of the United States is not directly responsible for the various pro's and con's of everyday life in Finland. His name didn't turn up in any of the text on this page. Hooray. We immediately assumed that Finland must be an absolute paradise, and we whipped through this list of unique Finnish lifestyle items with soaring hope. But then we ran into a few entries that gave us pause.

You Know You Have Been In Finland Too Long, When...

6. Silence is fun.

The national characteristic of polite reserve, currently being remodelled as people talk energetically into their Nokias and run up huge phone bills on mobile internet or TV chat-channels. The old stereotype of "talkative as a Finn" is becoming endangered as the country grows increasingly urbanised and people have to communicate. On a related note, Midsummer, a very liquid festival held at or around the Summer Solstice, contains one element that proves Finns do have a voice. As the evening wears on, robust and inebriated males of the species engage in good-humoured shouting across lakes at one another, thus: "Pekkaaaaaa, Pekkaaaa", "Arskaaaaa, Arskaaa". The conversation does not usually get much further than bellowed first names, I'm afraid. In such cases, a bit of silence would be fun.

13. Your notion of street life is reduced to the few teenagers hanging out in front of the railway station on Friday nights.

Again... it's not quite that bad...there are lots of teenagers.

21. You have undergone a transformation:
a. you accept mustamakkara (Black blood sausage) as food
b. you accept alcohol as food
c. you accept.

The sausage in question is found mostly in Tampere. Fortunately, it does not travel widely, as it has no known natural predators, and if it got loose it could destroy the digestive system of the entire country. As it remains in Tampere, nobody really cares.

22. You understand why the Finnish language has no future tense.

No, I don't think I ever will understand that one... Finns are quite future-oriented at two particular times of the year. On the day after Midsummer (see above), they say "Well, it's all downhill from now on" and prepare feverishly for winter, and similarly after December 21st they perk up and start thinking about Midsummer - ignoring the fact that they still have to get through January, February and March before the place becomes inhabitable again...

26. You've come to expect Sunday morning sidewalk vomit dodging.

The writer seems to have signally failed to grasp the cultural importance of this northern variant of hopscotch or "not walking on the lines", as made famous by A.A. Milne.

28. You enjoy salmiakki.

Salmiakki is - hmm, how can I break this to you gently? - salmiakki is sal ammoniac, and according to Chambers Dictionary of Science and Technology (a venerable edition from 1974), it is: "chloride of ammonia, which crystallizes in the cubic system. It is found as a white encrustation around volcanoes, as at Etna and Vesuvius. It is used in chemical analysis, in medicine, in dry batteries, as a soldering flux, and in textile printing". Salmiakki is also the name given to a salty licorice candy containing this strange stuff, and is immensely popular among Finns, particularly when they are not in the country and therefore cannot get it. It even became a drinks fad almost as threatening to the nation as absinthe was to France, when mixed with vodka to make "salmiakkikossu". Along with hard rye crispbreads and other delicacies, it is a staple of web-sites advertising Finnish goods for the poor souls who are no longer resident here. I have also heard that salmiakki is a by-product of one of the nastier bits of the pulp and paper industry, but this myth, delightful though it may be, is probably no worse than the thought that Finns of all ages are stuffing themselves silly with something that might better be used in a dry cell battery. You will never know until you have tried it.

29. You know that "Gents" is another term for sidewalk.

The City of Helsinki is somewhat concerned about two aspects of urban life at present, to wit the presence of "ladies of the night" in some districts, and the weakness of the Finnish bladder. A few years ago the old draconian rules about public alcohol consumption were relaxed, with the result that major street festivals - May Eve and the Helsinki Festival's "Night of the Arts" are two that come to mind - became very liquid indeed, to the point of public urination in places where people shouldn't. The city fathers have since then tried to curb both the hookers and the piss-artists, and the government introduced nationwide legislation on the subject of public drinking not so long ago. Even so, if you plan to be in Helsinki on May Eve, pack rubber boots.

Somehow we don't feel quite as cheered up as we expected. We'll keep looking. The Bush-less paradise has got to be out there somewhere.

Back to Archive Index

Amazon Honor System Contribute to Learn More