Where the aquavit flows like vodka

Al Kamen
Columnist August 7, 2013

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

President Obama, not feeling too kindly these days toward Soviet — oops, Russian — former KGB operative Vladimir Putin, said Wednesday that he’s going to Stockholm instead of Moscow for a couple of days before the annual Group of 20 summit next month in St. Petersburg.

The two cities are a bit different. For one thing, Stockholm lacks Moscow’s nightlife, hookers and mobsters — so the Secret Service detail might be a bit bored.

But there’s plenty to do in Stockholm. First, August is crayfish season, which is celebrated with lots of parties. (Surely they’ll party into early September.)

There’s the Vasa Museum, housing what they say is the only almost fully intact 17th-century warship ever salvaged. The fearsome 64-gun ship sank on its maiden voyage (sounds like a design flaw somewhere) in Stockholm in 1628 and was salvaged in 1961.

There’s also the Nobel Museum in the old city, where Obama might stop by to see whether they have an exhibit on his getting the prize — back in pre-drone days.

For dinner, there’s Gastrologik, a very fine restaurant where Hillary Clinton dined on one trip there last year. It boasts “highly refined Nordic food.”

But the one thing not to miss is the spectacular Swedish delicacy that is fermented herring. It’s pretty potent — apparently some apartment buildings forbid opening a can of it indoors because of the stench. It’s eaten on flatbread with lots of chopped onion to mask the odor. Then you swig some aquavit to wash it down and sing Swedish drinking songs. Absolutely not to be missed.

On the other hand, if Obama really wants to stick it to President Putin, he might head over to one of the Baltic nations long oppressed by the Soviets or, better yet, head to Tbilisi, Georgia, where they truly despise Putin.

Off target at the Pentagon

The Pentagon knows a lot about timing — it’s required for missile defense and the like — but such skills weren’t on display Tuesday as the Defense Department folks misfired on a media briefing on a topic one would think they’d want lots of ink on: reducing the number of civilian furloughs.

Reporters covering the Pentagon received an afternoon e-mail alerting them to a background briefing on the matter. Trouble was, the event was starting a mere eight minutes after the missive landed in the scribes’ inboxes.

For reporters in the Pentagon press gallery, it wasn’t too hard to hustle to get there. But those outside the building were out of luck — unless they were as fast as one of the military’s nifty jets.

Strangely, the announcement instructed reporters without a Pentagon building pass “to arrive no later than 45 minutes prior to the event,” a feat that would have necessitated a time machine.

Making things even odder, the news the officials were announcing would actually constitute good press for the department: It’s saving enough money through other belt-tightening means that it is reducing the number of furlough days for its civilian workers from the previously announced 11 to six.

“You would have thought it was the kind of news the Pentagon would want to spread to as many news organization as possible not just to those reporters who happened to be inside the building a few minutes before the briefing,” groused one scribe.

The bobbled announcement meant only a handful of reporters actually made it, we hear. “Awkward,” noted a veteran journo.

A Defense Department representative did not immediately return the Loop’s call.

Government media handlers have long used such tactics to minimize coverage of more embarrassing developments. But it seems they’re burying even the good news now.

Schumer, glomming on

Sen. Chuck Schumer told CNN on Wednesday that if the House passes a number of smaller im­migration bills, “they’ll all get ­agglomerated as we go to conference at some point.”

News value of his comments aside, the word sounded familiar, but we thought it might be that the New York Democrat was coining a word, much like President George W. Bush’s famous invention of the lovely — and quite useful — “misunderestimate.” And with portmanteaus like “cronut” and “Sharknado” all the rage, we’re particularly on the lookout for fresh phrasing.

But our trusty Merriam-Webster dictionary reassured us that, yes, it’s a real word, meaning “to gather into a ball, mass, or cluster.”

Still, Schumer appears to be an innovator, applying to the world of lawmaking a word most often used in the context of industrial science. According to a quick Nexis search, newspapers have used the word and its variants only 66 times in the past two years. Almost all of the references are quite technical, such as “cork agglomerate” (used for wine bottles) or something called an “urban agglomerate,” a term often used in India to describe a city and its outgrowth.

We found but one legislative application of the word, and even that seems to be a reference to industry: The Kalgoorlie Miner, a paper in Western Australia, quoted the official conducting an inquiry into health and safety in the mining industry describing current mining law as “an untidy and unclear legislative agglomerate.”

So kudos to Schumer for using a fresh word, which we will promptly agglomerate.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop
. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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