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I Can Hear The Rats Laughing In My Rafters

Normally I get an average of around thirty visits a day, half of them, lately, coming from my latest post (almost a month old) at Moving to Canada, eh?. (Seems like there are lots of visitors to that site!) Imagine my surprise when I checked my stats before breakfast and saw more than 250 hits. Now add an order of magnitude to my surprise when I discovered that half of these hits were to one of my very first posts, from back in May, about how I felt seeing iPod's urban ad campaign!

I expected quite a few hits upon the publication of Andrew Buncombe's article at The Independent, and another surge once David Hesse's article at the Neue Zurcher Zeitung is published, but to discover so many hits from such an old article was something of a sucker punch to me.

But I'm getting ahead of myself...

There's been a lot of unintended silence here...certainly no one is sorrier than I about that.

There's an expession that goes something to the effect that "If you want a job done, give it to a busy person." I had a week off recently. Somehow I had the notion that I'd be able to do even more blogging during my vacation. Foolish Lohmann! For a variety of reasons (many painfully stupid) I just could not get to it. Now that I'm back at work I can start blogging again. (Though I must say that I am under the impression that I need to be vigilant since someone at work is making veiled threats by discussing instances of bloggers getting fired from their jobs 'cause of their blogs — but that's another story for another time).

Before my vacation began I was contacted by David Hesse, a journalist for the Neue Zurcher Zeitung, the largest (conservative) political daily in Switzerland. He was on assignment to do a story about Murkans abandoning ship for Canada. He discovered me via my first post at Moving to Canada, eh? and contacted me for an interview.

Within two minutes of finalizing my plans to meet with him at a local pub I received an email from Andrew Buncombe, a DC-based reporter for the excellent British paper The Independent, wanting to interview me for the very same reason.

I guess Europeans are curious about us Murkans desperate to leave their homeland for a better life in Canada. I suppose they wanted to ascertain the depth and extent of the veracity behind the myth of Murkans flooding over the border after the recent "election." As well they should be — it's no wonder that Europeans would be curious about the phenomenon, given, as one example amongst countless, the results of a recent global poll that reveals a very anti-Bush world. As animals fleeing an area portend some geophysical catalcysm like earthquakes or tsunamis, I suppose getting a guage on the degree to which Murkans are emmigrating can serve a similar function. Personally I can't help but wonder what a similar poll taken after Germany's Reichstag elections of 1933 would conclude, as well as emmigration rates after that election.

I can understand the allure for reporters (and potential emigres) to want to talk with people like me, so I'm happy to help out.

I cautioned both reporters that I'm far more articulate with my fingers than with my mouth: I'm the sort who forms my thoughts in writing, and am not so good thinking on my feet — which often have a tendency to find their way to my mouth. This may make for good copy for them in direct proportion to my embarrassment, and this was a source of legitimate concern to me. Thus I was very hesistant to speak with either of them, but I (naively?) placed myself at their good graces with the hope they would hear the thoughts behind the sentences I would most likely misspeak.

I also mentioned that I would prefer to be known by my blog name rather than my real one. Neither reporter was happy to hear this, of course, but that's just the way it was going to be if they wanted to talk with me.

Just before getting together with David, the Swiss reporter, he happened to mention that he was bringing along a photographer — a nice surprise at the last moment. He assured me that they'd only take a picture if I was comfortable with that (I wasn't), but I knew I'd be nagged for a picture throughout the night (I was).

We all punctually arrived at the appointed time. They looked very euro-trendy in their black leather jackets and black pants and David's black turtleneck. I was definitely a little nervous since I'd never done anything like this before, but they were both very gracious.

The pub was surprisingly noisy — I wanted our meeting to occur in a quiet, nice little pub, which this place generally was. However there was some big hockey game that night and the place was packed. Every so often the entire pub would explode in deafening shouts and applause.

I think it only took two sentences before I was chewing my toes: I said something to the effect of "Well I'm just another paranoid American" — (scribble scribble scribble) "I'm using that," says he. Great — barely begun and I've already pulled the rug out from under myself.

At some point he asked if I really meant to compare BushCo with Hitler and the Nazis. This was very dangerous ground, especially coming from a European. If I could have answered in writing I would be confident I could steer clear of the mines. But now I was on the spot — do I dare make any comparison between them? I answered carefully that one cannot claim they are comparable by the mere fact that BushCo doesn't use brown-shirts to beat up people, doesn't use storm troopers to invade homes, etc. — generally BushCo doesn't employ overt violence against its enemies and targets at home, and they generally take care with their language to sound reasonable and inoffensive. Then I very carefully tried to explain that they are of a kind though of a vastly different degree.

He did come to the table with an interesting point of view. At one point he asked me if I saw the war on terror in any way as a cultural war, specifically one to protect Western Culture against the incursions of Islamic ideologies. This gave me a hint that he was approaching the matter from a certain perspective, so I queried him on the topic. As a European, closer to the theatre of conflict, this question of protecting Western Culture against Islamic Culture has more meaning to him than it would to an American. I had the impression that he does indeed consider there to be a cultural conflict between these two societies and that the west does have a legitimate concern in protecting itself from cultural incursions. I referred him to Paul Kennedy's excellent book Preparing for the Twenty First Century which discusses what are, to me, the real (ie, ecological, economic, and political) reasons behind some of his concerns for the causes behind mass migrations from the poorer middle-eastern countries to the wealthier western ones.

At one point I compared 911 to the Burning of the Reichstag. He asked me if I really wanted to make that comparison. This time I felt comfortable answering in the affirmative.

I also sensed that part of his curiosity about the phenomenon of Murkans leaving Murka to go to Canada was kinda silly — after all, aren't they really practically the same culture? What's the big deal, I felt from him, since it's like a giant step sideways? I tried to convince him that Canada and America are, in fact, two very different countries from a cultural as well as historical perspective. Though there are many obvious social similarities, they are, indeed, two very different cultures with two very different cultural worldviews. I referred him to another book that explains these differences exceedingly well: Michael Adam's book Fire and Ice. He already knew the book, and he seemed surprised that I would agree with the author's assertions. Indeed, he seemed surprised, generally, that every American who'd come to Canada that he'd spoken with while researching his article expressed the same viewpoint. He either couldn't, or didn't want to, believe that the two so outwardly similar countries really are, fundamentally, all that different. (Unless, of course, he was pulling that Henry James European bullshit on me.)

It finally turned out to be a long (though short-seeming) and most pleasant evening filled with copious libation and lively and fascinating conversation — even if David constantly prodded and mocked me so as to divulge my "real" name; yet though he played on my guilt like a violin I held steadfast in my refusal.

However he did succeed in guilting me into providing him with a photograph a week later ("my boss is obviously killing me for not having a pic of you"). I just couldn't refuse such a nice, manipulative guy. I ultimately gave him an almost cliched picture of me in a long dark coat, a one-quarter profile looking out from my balcony over my new snow-covered country.

I'm curious to know what he writes — he seemed to make scribbles when I didn't think it was warranted, and didn't scribble when I thought it was. I must admit to a bit of fear as to how I'll come across: I have a tiny inkling of what it must feel like to people habitually in the public eye who must fear being quoted out of context, being misunderstood, and made to look foolish. It's no wonder people in the public eye are trained to speak in soundbytes and ambiguities.

But what's done is done, and I had a very nice evening with two very interesting and intelligent people.

I offered Andrew, the reporter for The Independent, the chance for a phone conversation since he wasn't going to be in town. Ultimately he was too busy to put me through that wringer and ended up writing an article that included stuff on my blog and answers to a couple of email questions. Hindsight being 20/20 I would have spent more time coming up with something more elegantly worded, clever and specific than what he included, but that's the way it goes. We had a very nice email exchange, and it was a prod from him that finally got me to break my silence and make this post. Andrew's very good article can be found here.

It's hard "returning to the fray" after an absence — it's like re-entering a cold pond after having gotten dried and warmed-up. But I expect soon I'll be back in the swing of things.

And "Thank You!" to Harry, Jon, et alia, Andrew, and David for your interest and support.