Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Danish Life, I

My living situation here in Copenhagen is completely alien to what I am used to. I live in a very new apartment building that looks like a Lego creation (coincidence?). It is part of a cluster of new apartments that seem like they were dropped out of the sky into this huge empty field south of the city. When you look for my building on Google Maps satellite imagery, you can only see the foundation and some cranes. There is literally almost nothing but apartments in my immediate area, and then miles of what I can only describe as some kind of wetlands/nature preserve. But with cows. Denmark is a strange place.

Anyway, the only remotely interesting thing about my little neighborhood is that across the street is the largest mall in Scandinavia. The fastest way to walk home from the local metro stop involves cutting straight through this mall, weaving around way-too-stylish-for-their-age Danish teenyboppers. In most ways it is like any mall I have been to in America, but it's the little differences that grab you. For instance, there is a massive store called Bilka on the ground floor of the mall. The only thing I can compare it to is a Wal-Mart, but that should be taken with a grain of salt because I have never stepped foot in a Wal-Mart. They aren't allowed in Los Angeles. At Bilka you can buy anything. Groceries, plasma TVs, bicycles, candy, video games, movies, clothing, etc etc etc. If some kind of natural disaster goes down while I'm here, you know where to find me. The presence of this superstore means one thing: shopping carts. Picture a mall filled with shopping carts. It may not seem crazy to you, but trust me, it is.

The people of Denmark are pretty interesting, albeit a bit strange. One thing that struck me pretty early on was their street etiquette. I don't think I have ever seen a Dane jaywalk. I would love to follow a group of them around Manhattan sometime and see how they behave. When I first moved into my apartment, the behavior of my three Danish roommates really got to me. In an small apartment shared by 4 university students, everyone has their own drawer for utensils. Plates, cups, and cookware are not shared. In fact, when my roommates cook they generally take the food back into their rooms, close the door, and sometimes lock it (click!). Mind you, our apartment has a nice big couch, loveseat, two tables, and 4 chairs. Rarely has anyone taken advantage of any of this furniture except for me.

I was told (warned?) by my study abroad department that Danes are known to be "reserved." I guess that was a euphemism for shy. Don't get me wrong, the few Danish people I have gotten to know have been great friends to me, but getting to know them in the first place was a total chore. I can't say that I make any kind of special effort to meet international students when I am home, but then again none of my neighbors have ever been international students. Meeting the other internationals here in Copenhagen has been a breeze, which is probably to be expected considering how new everything is for everyone. However, I have been pretty disappointed because I was looking forward to making a bunch of Danish friends. It simply wasn't meant to be. That being said, I have made great German, Irish, Dutch, English, French, Australian, and even Canadian (!) friends since I've been here. Couchsurfing, here I come!

Denmark is a great place, and I think everyone should visit it if they are going to visit Europe. For a city the size of Copenhagen, the amount of culture is really impressive. The people are very polite, it is very clean, and they speak better english than most Americans. That being said, it has begun to feel small to me. I come from a city whose regional population is several times that of the whole of Denmark. The sun has been going down really early these days (we turn the lights on around 4), and the weather is getting less agreeable by the week. Luckily for me, I have a lot of travel planned in places south of here over the next month. Tomorrow, I head to Amsterdam for a week. In mid-December, myself and two of my good friends from home are going on a grand adventure through Spain, Morocco, Portugal, and France. I'm sure there will be a lot to talk about afterward, assuming I remain a free man throughout the trip.

I'm crossing my fingers.

Thursday, November 06, 2008


As confident as I have been over the last few months, there was always a part of me that was unsure. It was a nagging feeling that if I built my hopes up too high the pain of defeat would be devastating. Well, in hindsight I am really glad I was so hopeful. The faith I had in Obama as a candidate and in my fellow citizens to vote the right way has paid off in spades. The money I donated to the campaign was the best money I have ever spent. I have been walking in the clouds since the wee hours of Wednesday morning here in Copenhagen.

I will never forget the scene from TV. CNN had just called Ohio for Obama, giving him over 220. The west coast states were going to close in less than two minutes. Out of some sense of electoral etiquette, they would only call a state once the polls had officially closed. Blitzer stood there kind of awkwardly, trying to fill the time with meaningless comments. Anybody watching who knew anything about the electoral college knew it was over, but there he was saying things like, "We might be able to make a big announcement soon..." Sometimes being politically correct and overtly non-partisan makes you look foolish and ignorant. But the counter finally hit zero, the canned CNN PROJECTION graphic went up, and the world exploded. We were going to have a black president. By all accounts, people poured into the streets worldwide. Newscasters likened it to the millennium celebrations. I cried.

This was the first presidential election I was allowed to vote in, and I have been following it for two years. I remember in late 2006 when rumors were swirling about Obama. Then in January of 2007 Bill Richardson announced his candidacy, and I thought he would be the one to win the nomination. He had incredible experience both domestically and internationally, as Secretary of Energy, Ambassador to the UN, and as a Congressman. He had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and was serving as Governor of New Mexico. Then Obama announced, and I thought to myself that he would be the perfect VP for someone like Richardson. I remember seeing Obama speak in Oakland, Calif. on St. Patrick's Day in 2007. I was impressed with his oratorical skills and by the incredible size of the crowd he drew. As time went on and it became clear Obama was more of a heavyweight than anyone originally gave him credit for, I jumped camps. Until that point I believed Obama would make a better president than Richardson, but that America wasn't ready for a black president yet. I have never been so proud to have been wrong.

The next few weeks will be especially interesting. The backbiting among the McCain campaign will spill out completely, and we will get to watch Obama assemble the team that will lead our nation out of the sordid state it is currently in. Rahm Emanuel will make an outstanding Chief of Staff, if he takes the job, because someone is needed to stand up to congressional Democrats who want to take it too far. The massive majorities Democrats enjoy will have to be wielded delicately. Bad things can happen with so much power, but good things can too. The Dems in 1993 went too far and got smacked down in 1996. Same thing to the Republicans in 2006. Even though we don't need GOP support for legislation, for the most part, we should seek it so we can maintain control for years to come.

Some juicy stuff is already out about the McCain campaign. Now that the election is over, things that were off the record are now allowed to be reported. My favorite so far is from Fox News concerning Sarah "I can see Russia from my house" Palin:

1- She didn't know which countries were in NAFTA.
2- She didn't know that Africa is a continent instead of a country.
3- She threw temper tantrums over her press coverage.

And we thought she was unqualified before. We are told that over the next few days there will be many more stories about Palin. Please let her be the next candidate for the GOP. Please.

Excuse me, I'm still not done dancing in the streets.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

New American Renaissance

The last week has been relatively mild in terms of election news. Obama's campaign, exuding measured confidence, has stayed as consistent and strong as they have for weeks now. The McCain campaign settled on taxes as their final theme as the Senator scrambled through Bush states he should have had in his back pocket, but he has had a smile on. Having worked too hard and come too far to get complacent at the end, the Obama camp has really turned up the burners on their already-superior ground game. Armed with many more volunteers, field offices, and cash, their get out the vote effort is likely to go down as the largest in the history of the world. On Wednesday we will see if it was the most successful. Some of the numbers are absolutely mind boggling. Ben Smith writes that Obama's Ohio communications director, Issac Baker, reported that the campaign knocked on one million doors in that state alone. Yesterday. One has to imagine that similar things are going on in other key states like Pennsylvania, Florida, and maybe Virginia.

In most of the recent presidential elections in this country, the polls tighten in the last couple weeks. Nate Silver's statistical models that are used on his site,, account for this phenomenon. The funny thing is, this year they haven't really tightened. Where there has been some tightening, it has been largely insignificant. In Pennsylvania, pretty much a must-win for McCain, Obama's lead has fallen out of the low double digits he had a couple weeks ago, but has remained stable in the high single digits. If polls are to be believed, and all other things being equal, this is impossible for McCain to make up for on his own. But it's the only chance he has. With few hours left, there is almost no room for an external event to influence anything. There was no "October surprise," no Osama video, and nothing to distract voters from the economic meltdown that coincided with Obama's rise in the polls. Everything looks strong for my guy, with many paths to victory plausible. I have never been so excited.

In my view, things are probably better than polls indicate. There are a few reasons why I think the polls under represent Obama's support. First of all, nobody I know my age or even up to 5 years older has a landline. I know that pollsters are calling cell phones too, but there is no way they are covering that demographic properly. Young people are abandoning landlines, and young people are more excited about Obama than they have been for a candidate for decades, maybe more. Maybe ever. Secondly, most every pollster has some proprietary method of determining who is a likely voter. This usually involves peripheral questions about past voting habits, enthusiasm about the election, etc. The problem this time around is that every indicator points to 2008 obliterating turnout records all over the country. Basing the definition of a likely voter on past voting, to any degree, will probably under represent the number of voters this year. Given that this explosion of enthusiasm can only really be traced to Obama, it is safe to say that many more first-time voters of any age will for him than McCain. Add to this the power of the minority vote, the nearly flawless organization of the campaign, and the bank account that would make many countries look silly in comparison, and it looks like a landslide is in the making.

Keith Olbermann did an excellent campaign comment on his show yesterday. He asked the audience to consider if the tables had been turned and Obama had done some of the gaffes and missteps that have plagued McCain this election. What if Obama had sung a song about bombing Iran? Spent the last three weeks talking about Joe the Plumber? Picked a totally unqualified person to be his VP? Said that the fundamentals of the economy were strong on one of the worst days in American financial history? Said "my fellow prisoners" at a rally? Etc etc etc. He would have been toast. Obama had to run a nearly flawless campaign and then some to have a fighting chance, and that's exactly what he did. There were gaffes along the way, and there were mistakes. The most notable was probably his comment about people clinging to guns and religion. But for the most part it was picture perfect. It will be studied for a long time to come. David Axelrod deserves a nice long vacation, somewhere with white sandy beaches and drinks with little umbrellas in them.

I freely admit that had it not been for the financial crisis, this would be a much closer race. If and when McCain loses tonight, many on the right wing will scream about this fact on TV. I don't personally see it as a negative though. Obama wasn't lucky that the public trusted him more on the economy. He worked for it. He was lucky in that McCain had little opportunity to set the conversation to play to his strengths, like national security, amid such a gargantuan financial meltdown. That being said, nobody forced McCain to repeatedly call the economy fundamentally strong, a move that I think was the major tipping point for the campaign. I still don't know what he was trying to accomplish with that. Perhaps he was hoping that it actually was strong and he could make look Obama look like the boy who cried wolf, hammering home the naiveté argument. Cunning, but risky.

Write it off as hyperbole, but I think Obama's election will be the start of a completely new era for America. Here in Europe, people I have met are excited by the prospect of new American leadership. Bush has badly damaged our reputation abroad, but I think most people recognize that he does not represent our country very well. News of his plummeting approval ratings is well known here. I have no explanations for people who want to know why he was voted in twice, except that fear is a very powerful force. We still lead the free world, and having someone with strong intellectual curiosity and a steady hand at the helm will do everyone a lot of good. Obama has a lot to clean up, and he has a massive weight on his shoulders, but I have supreme confidence in the man. Things are going to get uglier before they get prettier, but I am incredibly optimistic about the future. Under Obama, we will get out of this economic mess, get out of Iraq, and get serious about universal healthcare and the environment. He has the chance to set the tone for the rest of the century, something Bush totally squandered.