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In the Loop: A Cruise in the Right Direction

Up for a European cruise with America's top conservative thinkers? Look no further than Holland America's Noordam.
Up for a European cruise with America's top conservative thinkers? Look no further than Holland America's Noordam. (Courtesy Of Holland America Line)

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By Al Kamen
Friday, May 29, 2009

Republicans are said to be experiencing their winter of discontent, aimlessly adrift and trying to get their bearings after a couple of tough campaign cycles. So why not join like-minded folks and be literally adrift, on a luxury cruise ship meandering for 10 days in the Mediterranean and the Adriatic?

You'll be able to commiserate with and enjoy the grand company of luminaries from the conservative National Review -- Rich Lowry, Jonah Goldberg, Kathryn Lopez, Kate O'Beirne and others.

The luxurious Holland America Noordam sets out from Rome to Dubrovnik to the Greek Isles, then to Sicily and back to Rome. The 2009 Mediterranean Cruise has a "sunny itinerary" perfect to brighten an otherwise gloomy time, the magazine's ad says. There are "exclusive cocktail receptions and smokers (featuring H. Upmann cigars), scintillating seminars and intimate dining with guest speakers."

Some of the guest speakers include Karl ("Permanent Majority") Rove, author Michael Novak, former U.N. ambassador John Bolton and ace political analyst Dick Morris, who appears fully recovered from that toe-sucking incident. Also on board will be columnists Tony Blankley, Cal Thomas and George Gilder.

For those tired of the cigar cloud, the political blather and the conga lines with Blankley, the ship has a fine casino, which appears to have the standard array of craps, roulette and blackjack tables and boasts "an extensive array of slot machines."

The cruise is conservatively priced as these things go, with 185-square-foot cabins for $5,000 a couple ($6,000 if you want a window, which you do). But the fiscally prudent will have to chance a waiting list for those rooms. The pricey suites, up to $14,000 per couple for one with a veranda, are still available. In times past, the plush accommodations went first. Must be the economy.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience," the ad says, "why not experience it yourself?" You won't forget it.

WISH YOU WERE HERE

Be the first in your favela, barrio or arrondissement to get your very own set of six lovely postcards of President and Mrs. Obama and the kids! These are not sold in stores. In fact, they can't be bought anywhere. They are headed for embassies and other U.S. facilities to use as giveaways to local folks.

Yes, it's the latest State Department public diplomacy initiative, taking advantage of the insanely high popularity of the U.S. president among the foreigners. Embassies traditionally give out biographical books of presidents and "selected speeches" and such. And they have given out postcards for Earth Day and commemorative events. But these are the first-ever presidential postcards.

The internal announcement from the International Information Programs/Publications Office says that these are available in "sets of six, each bearing a separate image and bound with a wrapper paper." The publications office "envisions a wide array of uses including giveaways, correspondence and invitations." These are not some cheapo cards, even though they'll cost the embassies only 45 cents per set. "They are in full color, printed on sturdy stock."

They feature: a portrait of Obama with his signature at the bottom; Obama and the first lady at the swearing-in; the first couple at an inaugural ball; Obama signing a bill with Vice President Biden "looking on"; a "collage of the Obamas with their children; and another collage of Obama "golfing and playing basketball." There are caption translations available in French, Spanish, Arabic, Russian, Chinese and other languages.

So has the State Department succumbed to Obamamania? Will there be an Obama Hall of Diplomatic Glory in Foggy Bottom? Wasn't Bill Clinton, very popular overseas, passed over? None of the above, a department spokeswoman said. This is driven by requests from embassies that have seen such a "high demand for Obama-related materials," she said.

Of course, that may not last long, so embassies had best move quickly if they don't want to get stuck with thousands of sturdy stock postcards. "The deadline for ordering this new product is June 5," the announcement said.

A fine yarn floating around the Web these days purports to be from someone who claimed to have flown with "a guy who overheard this conversation on the VHF Guard (emergency) frequency 121.5 MHz while flying from Europe to Dubai."

The story first explains by way of introduction that, in addition to communicating with local air traffic control, all aircraft in the Persian Gulf area are required to give the Iranian Air Defense Radar a 10-minute heads-up if they will be transiting Iranian airspace.

This is a common procedure for commercial aircraft and involves giving information about your call sign, transponder code, type of aircraft, and points of origin and destination.

"The conversation went like this," the e-mail says.

"Iranian Air Defense Radar: 'Unknown aircraft you are in Iranian airspace. Identify yourself.'

"Aircraft: 'This is a United States aircraft. I am in Iraqi airspace.'

"Air Defense Radar: 'You are in Iranian airspace. If you do not depart our airspace we will launch interceptor aircraft!'

"Aircraft: 'This is a United States Marine Corps FA-18 fighter. Send 'em up, I'll wait!'

"Air Defense Radar: (no response . . . total silence)."

The e-mailer said this was "too good to check." We agree. We also doubt it's true, but . . .


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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