The vices of Amsterdam

About the coffee shops…well, they can certainly be a fun part of the experience. You cannot buy alcohol in the same place that you buy marijuana or hash. And, in general, you cannot smoke marijuana in a bar (but you can sure smoke cigarettes, ugh). The idea, I assume, is to protect all the holiday smokers from a nasty combination (and the other patrons from the stupid behavior of f*ed up weekend warriors). Folks – you just don’t want to go smoke an entire joint after drinking beer all night – you won’t have a good experience. But most of the shops we saw in the red light district generally had stupidly stoned tourists slumped in chairs. I won’t judge but its seems to me that experiencing your holiday half-asleep inside a bar is not the way to go. Yet we western tourists do it all the time (an not just in Amsterdam – on many of our holiday trips). On a related note, the Netherlands outlawed the sale of “magic mushrooms” while I was there (Oct 31 was the last day to buy in Smart Shops) – sadly one too many tourist jumped naked into a canal.

Anyway, the neighborhood coffee shops were very low-key, with people stopping in for a bit and socializing, then moving on. I was told – although I have no facts – that only 4% of Dutch-born residents actually use marijuana. It is true that people in coffee shops seemed to be tourists and expat-types, although I suspect a lot of residents just take it home. I found the whole thing to be very civilized and clearly the way to go. In the Netherlands, perfectly respectable and responsible adults can purchase small amounts of a soft drug for personal use. It’s monitored, it’s regulated, it’s taxed. I won’t dwell on this but our government is wasting our money by including soft drugs in the (losing) war on drugs.

World War III?

I have been keeping up on the situation in Turkey, so I’ve been reading news the past few days. This quote from President Bush on Iran caught my eye:

“So I’ve told people that if you’re interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon. I take the threat of Iran with a nuclear weapon very seriously. And we’ll continue to work with all nations about the seriousness of this threat.”

I cannot help but notice when I hear Bush saying things like that how cavalierly he throws around the term “world war”.  Do most of us really understand the concept of WORLD or WAR? The fighting in Iraq hardly affects most of us. Our wallets, yes. Our hearts, yes. But our every day lives?  Unless we’ve lost a loved one or know someone deployed…probably not. Most of us alive today have no concept of how a war in our backyard feels. 

I think all Americans should visit Europe, if at all possible. I was not expecting this from my visit, but I’ve learned more about the wars fought here by visiting than I ever did in a classroom. You can still feel and see the impact of the wars fought here everywhere, specifically for me the Spanish Civil War and World War II. Museums are full of art created about it, monuments were erected, pictures were taken to memorialize how places looked before and after being bombed or raided, tourists routinely tear up in bars telling you about their visit to Normandy. Itºs powerful and it’s sobering.

I know we’ve had wars on our soil, but our country was so young and little of the physical impact seems to remain. There are a few monuments (Gettysburg, Pearl Harbor – although that is hardly the backyard at 10 hours away in a modern jet) but Europe is just full of them. My fellow travelers tell me its the same in Cambodia, the former Yugoslav republics, etc. 

If there were to be this World War III Bush keeps talking about, do you wonder how would it be? Perhaps we should ask the 100K+ Iraqis who have lost their lives (or their livelihoods) as a result of this “war” how it feels. Would it play out on American soil? Would you and I be drafted to operate high-tech machinery? Would we have to ration our food and our gas? Would we plant victory gardens and turn in our cars and our irons for the metal? Or would it be over in an instant as we pursued “victory” by launching our own nukes?