Monday, February 28, 2005

Europe is still Europe...

Dublin, Ireland, March 1: Dublin is a better place than I had imagined; most places outside of the United States tend to be that way, whereas most places in the United States tend to be like most places in the United States, and hence are what one would expect them to be; no more and no less.

But Dublin is like most foreign cities only in that one does not know what to expect. Still there are some things that are now much more prevalent and expected. On the Aer Lingus flight to Dublin from Chicago my Irish “single serving friends” seated next to me referred to the current president of the United States as “that fuckin’ White Anglo-Saxon Protestant,” with absolutely no prompting from me.

Never fly international out of Chicago, by the way; it is a dehumanizing degrading experience; a flake of Abu Ghraib brought to the discerning business traveler courtesy of the Department of Homeland Security. In Dublin I had a long discussion with an expert in computer network security. As engineers, our natural curiosity is to use our lengthy experiences in airport security lines to try to reverse engineer the system, and the conclusion we have is quite simple, and in line with the conventional wisdom of frequent flyers. By now, the fact that the Department of Homeland Security doesn’t really have security in mind as they search travelers in airports is common knowledge; witness the government’s stonewalling when asked (have to get the link) in response to someone actually having the temerity to ask, “Why do you have to scan my laptop?” It has long been clear that the purpose of these airport searches is not so much to ensure that weapons are not brought on board- anyone who’s seen anything about prison on TV knows this is not the point. Rather, the point seems to be to mildly terrorize and cow the airport travelers. As such, the whole enterprise is actually somewhat reprehensible- as I’ve noted, it’s more a flake of Abu Ghraib than anything else. We are all Iraqi detainees in a tiny way; not charged with anything, but in order to simply get on with our lives it is demanded that we become slightly naked, slightly humiliated, slightly exposed, and doubly so on international flights.

Dublin is undergoing major construction, partially funded by the EU, with resulting horrible traffic jams. My cab driver was exasperated trying to get me to the hotel from the airport in rush hour; some of his frustration was directed towards the English, who, in his view, had intervened everywhere and messed everything up. The ability of the Irish to let opinions like this freely rip is admirable- and their opinions, in my view, are largely correct. Ireland, perhaps more than any country, has seen the seamy underside of English colonialism, and remembers it, but without the seeming neurosis seen in European Jewry towards the Nazis, or the Palestinians towards the Israelis, or the Koreans towards the Japanese. Perhaps it’s the Guiness, but the Irish, it seems would rather remember their poets and writers and music and revolution than their potato famine genocide.

Ah, the Guiness- it really is better here; not bitter in the least. Despite the obvious boom, it is hard to tell what people actually do here, and why they’d be doing it in Dublin, but like many places in the EU, there is the feeling that people actually live well here. The quality of the food is superb. Not only the beer, but the dairy products, the meats, the fish, etc. are all top-notch. There is a peated single-malt whiskey, Connemara, that is the equal of Scottish single malts.

Yet the thing that is ever present in one’s mind, as an American, is the exchange rate. Dublin prices in dollars make the trip seem like 5th Avenue in Manhattan everywhere. A dinner of pizza and a glass of wine will set you back $24.


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