Monday, September 22, 2003

I'm back. I know you've been missing me. Come on, admit it.

Prior to my departure for ten days in Scotland, my internet provider (UPC) switched off my internet connection due to [sheepish grimace] non-payment of invoice. Jesus, they at least could have sent me a warning message. So I didn't have a chance bid my blog a proper farewell. Sorry, blog.

Ten days in Scotland with the parents, and then another weekend with them here in Prague (partly to attend the board meeting of Tulip Cafe, of which Mom's a shareholder).

My mom and dad have gotten way, way into this genealogical thing, so I spent an awful lot of time listening to my dad spinning theories about how and why my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather Lachlin MacMillan got on that damned boat to Canada in Tobermory, Mull, in 1806. And an awful lot of time talking to grizzled old historians in small towns on the Inner Hebrides. And an awful lot of time reminding my dad to swerve left, not right, when he sees an oncoming car. I didn't envy him. Last time I rented a car with my parents, I crashed into the side of an Austrian Alp. Not trying that again, especially not with the gear shift on the left.

They left Monday morning, and I immediately began suffering from a serious parentijuana hangover. I must have the flu. Blame weekend wedding partying at Tulip.

For whatever it's worth, my first serious web visits were the old Pragueblogosphere stalwarts: Pragueblog, Arellanes, NicMoc, and Daily Czech, in that order. Guys, we rule! If some greenie like Sam Beckwith thinks he can just start up his own blog and call himself a Pragueblogger, well then... well... um... Welcome to the pahty.

Sam works with Prague.TV. I'm going to begin writing a few things for Prague.TV myself starting this week, as part of a publicity-for-content swap with Tulip.

As for news and current events, I've been totally out of touch. Something about a hurricane? Oh yeah, and stuff keeps blowing up in the Middle East? Holiday in Cancun? What, you say the Americans and the French are at each others' throats? Zzzzzz...

Here's my most interesting political observation of the past two weeks. My dad is a right-leaning business executive who blames "the liberals" and "the unions" for everything that's wrong in the world. He says "these people" in the Middle East are never going to stop blowing themselves up in the name of God. He thinks Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh are a hoot. And get this: he was against the war in Iraq and thinks Bush is going to lose next year due to the war, despite otherwise "doing a good job."

Actually, I read two things today that sparked a modicum of reflection. The first was Tom Friedman's "Our War With France," recommended by Steve at Pragueblog. The second was Jacques Chirac's response of sorts, a NYTimes interview published on the front page of the IHT today. (Actually, more humorous is the full text of the interview itself: "Dear lady, you have got it absolutely wrong...")

Now about those French. In American, there are two types of jokes that never stop being funny: Anything involving cops in donut shops, and anything involving French people. But beyond that I'm really missing something here. Why, why, why are American pundits still spilling so much ink over the French? Because annoying croissant-squeezers you meet in bars and cafes named Jean-Luc and Pierre and Pascal are, well, annoying croissant-squeezers? And? The only real answer I've even gotten is that, "We're talking about France because they want to be talked about." I couldn't make up a dumber reason.

The French position on Iraq (and the position of the French on Iraq, if one cares to distinguish) has rarely differed from that of the German (and the Germans), the Indian (and the Indians), the Russian (and the Russians) and Chinese (they don't vote, so who knows what they think). But you can't blame everybody, so you've got to blame somebody. What, the entire world doesn't agree with us? It must be the work of treacherous French! Please, please, make it stop. Something is seriously wrong here. This is freedom-fry territory. Irrational. Hysterical. Yes, paranoid. And unfortunately, deeply rooted on both sides, and unstoppable. When a diplomatic tussle turns into a cultural war between two societies, there's no stemming the tide. The French are the enemy, up is down, black is white, and there's nothing I can do about it except rant.

Let's get some terminology straight. If France is the "enemy," what exactly does that make Egypt, where most people think its $2 billion-a-year sugar daddy, the United States, actually deserved 9/11? What does that make Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein? In the immortal words of Inigo Montoya in "The Princess Bride": "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

Tom Friedman says the French proposal calling for America to high-tail it out of Iraq is worth less than the paper it's written on. As unmeasured outrage goes, this is pretty well-placed anger. I can't think of a dumber or more worthless idea than transferring sovereignty to Iraqis immediately, unless of course you're on the payroll of Ahmed Chalabi. What were they were thinking? I know this doesn't make for good blogging, but political events usually have a number of intersecting causes and motivations, stated and unstated, sometimes even self-contradicting ones -- as the war itself did, as European opposition to the war did. And to say that France suggested this only "because they hate America" is about as accurate as saying George Bush only invaded Iraq "because of the oil."

Certainly, due to the undeniable prevalence of annoying croissant-squeezing America-bashers named Jean-Luc and Pierre and Pascal, taking on the big bad USA must be politically popular in France. That's undoubtedly a factor, and if you ask me, a malicious one, and I'll be glad to tell that to those three aforementioned dweebs to their faces, whoever they are. But do they really have their hands on the levers of power as they do in Washington? Let's pause to consider some other possible motivations for opposing the American occupation of Iraq, such as, oh, say, the French really don't think Americans should be running Iraq. In other words, maybe they're principled and wrong. And stupid. No, no, no. That's not French. The French are lots of things, but they're not stupid. They're snooty. They're cunning. They're treacherous. Stupid? Don't even play that game.

Perhaps it's just a negotiating position, intended to signal that the American should not expect blank-check approval of the coalition authority. Chirac's professed flexibility (and his outright rejection of the veto option) certainly points in that directly. Or a European anti-colonial reaction that says Westerners shouldn't meddle in the affairs of Arabs, ever. Chirac's discussion of his Algerian experience certainly suggests that as well. Or maybe Chirac is just corrupt and was hoping to keep those oil contracts. I don't think any of these are very good reasons, to be sure, but they do suggest something less than "war," a word I like to reserve for, well, war. Most likely, it's a combination of all these reasons and more.

The Germans have their own baggage; they can be "ignored"; the Russians are always drunk; they can be "forgiven." But France must be "punished." (The words of Condi Rice.) Again, I'm missing something here.

Speaking of Chalabi, a friend and I at the wedding party on Saturday discovered a delightful new expression for use in daily conversation: "Where's Chalabi?" (Example of usage: "This restaurant sucks. Who's idea was it to come here? Where's Chalabi? What? He's off somewhere else? With his own private army and a golf course? That was never part of the plan!")


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