Friday, April 18, 2003

When I submitted my last Slate piece, my editor and I got into a discussion about the translation of the Czech word národ in this sentence (from Mlada Fronta): Pro lidstvo, které se potýká s dopady válek, nenávistí a masových zloèinù, je rozšíøení EU o Èechy, Slováky a jiné národy jen malou zmìnou.

I asked a Czech friend to render an accurate translation, and here’s what he said: "For humanity, which is struggling with the implications of wars, hatred, and massive criminality, the expansion of the EU to include Czechs, Slovaks, and other nations is only a small change." It’s definitely “nations” (národy), not “nationalities” (národnosti), meaning "nation" in the sense of "a people." I think Jews and Roma are probably národ to the Czechs, just as Isreal is "a nation" in the Old Testament even when it's just a bunch of tribes wandering around in the wilderness.

In the Czech Republic and perhaps most of Europe, nation means something other than state or country, just as "nationality" is a different category than "citizenship." I believe there's actually a space on the Czech passport for “nationality,” as though having a Czech passport doesn't by definition make you Czech.

All this sounds really bizarre and old-fashioned and vaguely creepy to me, which is another way of saying that deep down inside, my narod must be American. And so the title of this post should be nous sommes tous Américains. (OK, and Canadians and Australians.)

We ended up changing it to “people” because to the average American reader, it otherwise wouldn’t make much sense.
Sex Tips from Donald Rumsfeld. This is sorta old, but it's really quite funny.
Weird Czech movie trivia. What do movie ticket prices say about a society's culturo-economic development? The 10th most popular film of all time in the Czech Republic is -- get this -- The Bodyguard with Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner. With 689,159 admissions, it grossed just under CzK 14 million in 1993 (don't know the 1993 exchange rate, but today's that'd be in the vicinity of half a million bucks.) Last year, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone just barely beat it on the admissions ranking, clocking in at #9 with 768,373 admissions. It made -- hold on -- CzK 60,892,380, making it the second-most lucrative movie in the country ever (the first is Jan Svìrak's Dark Blue World).
By far the thing that most made me go "Hm!" in today's paper was the fact that the U.S. has "quietly" bombed the hell out of the Iranian opposition group based in Iraq. Today's Papers quotes The Wall Street Journal (sorry, not available for free) quoting unnamed U.S. officials saying this was indeed part of a "private U.S. assurance conveyed to Iranian officials before the start of hostilities that the group would be targeted by British and American forces if Iran stayed out of the fight." But who cares what they say, when Iranian Girl comments.

I think this was probably a good thing, on the whole. I like Iran even though it's run by evil people. I don't understand why Powell can go to Syria and "have very candid and straightforward discussions" with Bashar Assad about, oh, being a terrorist state and what-not, and not extend the same courtesy to Iran -- which is at least a quasi-democracy and where rapprochement would do a lot more to further the reform effort.

That reminds me. The first news item I remember from the television was the Iranian hostage crisis. I don't remember them being captured, but I remember them being there, and I sure as hell remember when they came out. Part of the problem, I guess, is that a lot of people older than I am are still pretty sore about that.
Gotta new article up now on Slate, covering European papers' responses to the EU summit in Athens. Hacks and news hounds round these parts are speculating that the Czech referendum on EU entry might be a closer call than most people expect. The Czech party that's best at getting out the vote is the Communist Party, which has about 20% of the vote and is already mobilizing their voters to vote "No." In Hungary, only 46% of the population voted. You do the math. If the weather's nice on Friday, June 13th, the entire country might just forget about voting and head out to the cottage. One of my closest Czech friends already told me he's probably not even going to bother voting because he's thinks a "Yes" is a forgone conclusion. The Foreign Ministry official in charge of the "Yes" campaign even told Radio Prague that she would rather the vote were on Sunday and Monday, rather than Friday and Saturday, for exactly this reason.

This BBC article says there's also concern that not enough people will turn out to vote in Poland, which votes in June as well. It also says support is weakest in Estonia and Latvia -- hovering around 50%. Both those countries vote in September. None of this means that expansion is in danger, but it wouldn't be terribly surprising if one of the countries gave the system a jolt with a "No" or even a close call. And it could be the Czechs.

Oh my god. "South Park" is on Viva dubbed in German.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

Background on sectarian tensions in Syria. Interesting that many people don't even consider Bashar Assad (the evil moron who's running Syria) a Muslim; he's an Alawite.
Here's a little story I wrote today on this year's Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, the first details of which just came out. In the hottest days of July, I usually cover the fest from the windowless confines of Karlovy Vary's Hotel Thermal, a classic of Communist architecture, where I work for the English pages of the Festival Daily in addition to scribbling dispatches for Screen.

Jan Hrebejk's Pupendo, a film set in the Czech '80s (there's an English press kit here in PDF) is supposed to be quite good, though I haven't seen it yet; and I'm eager to see Joseph Strick's Ulysses. After starting the book ten years ago, I finally finished it this year. "The heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit." How anybody managed to make a 140-minute film of that is beyond me.
I'm going to try to avoid the blog completely today, as I have an important deadline in six hours, during which time I have to learn Czech. Wish me luck, and forgive my typos.

In the meantime, enjoy the lovely view (via Pragueblog): Charles Bridge webcam.

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Dude! I just received my first unsolicited blog-related email from somebody I don't even know.* Peter Lowe writes:

Please can you change the encoding on your weblog to Windows-1250? It's set to -1252 at the moment, which is a Western charset (setting my browser to -1250 manually lets me see diacritics properly but it would be nice if it could happen automatically).
And I figgered out how to do this all by myself!

* At least I don't think I know him. If I know you, Peter, I apologize. Tonight I was accosted by a stranger (so I thought) at the Prague Business Journal business mixer, a lovely but somewhat stifling little affair at the foot of Charles Bridge, which featured, among other things, a woman wearing white, semi-transparent pants and a thong beneath them. Anyway, this stranger not only greeted me by my first name, but knew I was an owner of Tulip Cafe. (We attended the same business meeting three of four years ago, it turns out.) He then proceeded to slam the coffee and the food in a rather unnecessary manner. After he was gone, I came up with a witty cut-down involving the ugly bruise on his schnozz. Something about the guy not punching him hard enough. Wanker.
This blog is almost reaching the point where I need both hands to count my readers! Steve Hercher weighs in here on the over-drawn Iraq-is-like-Eastern-Europe analogy (see my earlier comments).

About the only similarity I can find is the pace with which the respective regimes fell when finally pushed - in the same way a big old tree, rotted out and empty from the inside, goes over surprisingly easy.... [But] Rumsfeld may been more right than he knows in suggesting that looting occurred here too.... This country has undergone a 13-year long cycle of systematic looting of former state owned enterprises, banks, shell-game construction projects, investment funds, pension funds, and the outright theft of foreign investors' assets, and it's still going on strong.
Funny thing is, I actually did a Google search for "Eastern Europe 1989 looting" and all that came up were references to corruption.

If you're too lazy to click on that "strong," it's an article by Hana Lesenarova, one of my oldest and closest friends in Prague and arguably one of the best journalists in the country. (Note I said one of the best. I'm the best.) As head of the business section at Mlada Fronta Dnes, Hana's focus is systematic looting of former state owned enterprises, banks, shell-game construction projects, investment funds, pension funds, and outright theft of foreign investors' assets.

Old local joke from the swinging '90s: Why are so many Czech bankers taking up squash? Because you can play it in a jail cell.
New York City has eliminated subway tokens. Who knew? OK, lots of people, but not me.
Dan Butler submits this story about the Saddam family's hideaways. Quote:

As soldiers toured Odai's bombed house Monday, they found a bed that was painted in gold trim, and a bathroom that featured a sink and tub fitted with fixtures in a swan motif. They found naked pictures of women downloaded from the Internet. They also found and confiscated pictures of one of President Bush's daughters fully clothed in evening wear.
Interesting usage of the verb "confiscated."
I just spent some time on a park bench, basking in the sun and reading today's IHT. Two groups of Americans walked by. It always surprises me how many Americans pass through Zizkov. What are they doing here? And don't you know this is MY turf?

The rose bushes on our balcony are showing little green and red sprouts. It's very sunny and warm, but not too windy. In fact, today would be a perfect day if it weren't for the following: a) I have a hangover and I feel awful. b) It's a weekday and I should be hard at work.

Makes me wonder what I was doing a year ago today. Let me check... It says today was the deadline for an article on Czech castles. And I was working on the second issue of the late Prague Insider.
Sucks to be this guy:

After several minutes of struggling and stone-throwing, the mob knocked me to the ground and kicked me repeatedly in the head and back before stabbing me in the buttocks.
Could be worse.
Last night Alex and I got drunk at Pizzeria Rugatino with a local stringer. a classic old-school British hack whose been all over the world. Funny story: He befriended the BBC World's Lyce Doucet, one of our favorite on-air personalities, while they were both posted to South Asia. Apparently that strange accent of hers -- she's from New Brunswick -- used to be a whole lot worse. The Beeb actually had to send her to elocution camp so that people could understand what the hell she was saying.

Said stringer asked that I not mention his name. "I've seen the South Park movie. I know Canadians can be violent."
One of the best expat blogs, Uzbekistan Diary, has been silenced, or at least password protected, due to complaints from the powers that be. I don't want to go into too many details because this person's job is at stake, but it's truly an outrage. The irony is that this person went to Uzbekistan to teach teach local journalists about freedom of the press. I hope this blows up in somebody's face. (The "powers that be" in this case were American, not Uzbekistani.)

This was a real blog (still is, but you can't read it). Like blogs should be in my opinion -- slice-of-life local details mixed with informed opinion rather than straight, cookie-cutter political rants. While I was shopping around for that new blogroll on the left, I found way too much of this: "Ha! Look at them Iraqis celebrating! I bet those granola eating commie bastards are hating it!" Yuck yuck.

Here's a sampling from Uzbekistan Diary:

There is a group of American women here [in Tashkent] who are known for being sexual predators. (In the opinion of some expats.) I can't say which organization they work for, but it is highly respected in the states. These women are all attractive, smart, and in their 30s. They have standing bootie call nights along with a rotating schedule. Very funny. It's as if they have decided that any sexual barriers they had in America were going to come down while on the opposite side of the planet. They don't care. It will be fun to watch them in action over the course of the coming year. Me? While I love Samantha on "Sex in the City" and admire her chutzpah, I couldn't walk her walk. (Actually, I think Samantha is a gay man, but I digress.)
Was there widespread looting in Eastern Europe in 1989?
Dan Butler, former Belgrader, writes (in response to this): "Looting happened in Serbia when Milosevic was removed although that was not technically a communist nation. But I do believe looting happened in Belarus, Ukraine and parts of Russia. C'mon, there MUST have been some looting."

Yes, maybe, but the fact is, I simply don't know. I was talking specifically about looting of hospitals and museums. And I don't think Don Rumsfeld knows whether than happened, either; he was just hoping nobody would call him on it. My point was, there's only so far you can stretch the fall-of-the-Berlin-Wall analogy without insulting our intelligence.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Check out my Four Corners Blogroll!
David Remnick's Lenin's Tomb describes how Chernobyl, and Moscow's hush-hushing of the disaster, was the spark that lit the fuse of popular outrage that eventually led to the implosion of the Soviet Empire.

Makes you wonder: Is SARS China's Chernobyl?

Quote: "Morgan Stanley's Steven Roach calls SARS the 'nail in the coffin' ensuring a global recession." Yikes.
Turning point: I just flipped on CNN, and there was no war. Only the 12 Monkeys disease. Ditto for Google News this morning.
Slate's Today's Papers and In Other Magazines are excellent round-ups of what the press is saying, usually without further comment. But assistant editor Julia Turner doesn't shy away from calling attention to supreme idiocies like this one:

The Most Counterproductive Argument Award goes this month to the following paragraph in Fortune: "We're not saying this is a war for oil, as the tired antiwar slogans would have it. Trust us: There are easier and cheaper ways to get all the crude we need without touching a hair on Saddam's mustache. But the future of Iraq's oil reserves and their impact on world prices and U.S. economic expansion are among the most crucial elements of the present conflict." Wait, so we're not fighting to control oil, we're just fighting to lower oil prices? In Other Magazines generally finds the no-war-for-oil slogan less than convincing, too, but this semantic shuffle-ball-change makes her wonder.
OK, to be fair, they didn't write that the war was about lower oil prices... But I could swear there were a host of real reasons that we fought this war, and "U.S. economic expansion" was not one of them.

UPDATE: I'm flattered that anybody at Slate would read my blog on a daily basis... let alone feel slighted that I failed to mention another excellent column called (drum roll please...) International Papers, a round-up of what the non-U.S. press is saying. It's usually written by June Thomas, Slate's managing editor, with occasion contributions by Michael Young of Beirut Calling surveying the Arab press. (I've written it twice, but news from these parts is a tough sell, as I've been learning the hard way.)

Monday, April 14, 2003

Rummy on Meet the Press, via Tom Tomorrow:
TIM RUSSERT, NBC: The head of the museum said, "Our heritage is finished." What happened there? How did we allow that museum to be looted?
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: "How did we allow?" Now, that's really a wonderful, amazing statement.... But we didn’t allow it. It happened. ...
I didn't break it. It fell.
MR. RUSSERT: The Red Cross said hospitals were also looted. Does that surprise you? I mean, it’s one thing for the Iraqis to ransack, loot Saddam’s palaces, and steal his faucets, it’s quite another to loot their own museum and their own hospitals. Did that surprise you?
SEC’Y RUMSFELD: Surprise me? I don’t know. Disorder happens every time there’s a transition. We saw it in Eastern European countries when they moved from the Communist system to a free system....
Hey, shit happens, dude. (In fact, looting of hospitals and museums did not happen here in Prague, nor in most Communist capitals, and I'd be surprised if it happened anywhere in Eastern Europe in 1989.)

Really, when is some reporter going to raise his hand and say, "Mr. Secretary, when did you become such a arrogant bastard? And why are you so full of shit?"
Holy smokes!

A brawny bouncer at a trendy East Village nightspot was stabbed to death yesterday after he confronted a man who lit up a cigarette in defiance of the city's tough new anti-smoking law, police said.
And this was supposed to be a "quality of life" improvement? To protect bar employees from the side effects of cigarette smoke?
Hee, hee, hee....

Unlucky date chosen for Czech EU poll
The Czech government is so confident about a 'yes' vote for EU membership from its people, that it has gone ahead with plans to conduct the poll beginning on Friday, 13 June.
Yesterday we went to Troja Chateau and looked at the art. Today the trams were all messed up. I spent about an hour and a half trying to get to Andìl. It's definitely the hottest day of the year so far here in Prague. I tried to find something good to eat at the Nový Smíchov mall and couldn't find anything. Pretty amazing they built a huge mall with no restaurant in it, actually. The new Palác Flora mall is amazing -- as I expected it would be, since it's in my hood. It has at least two really good eateries. Last week I went to see the (dubbed) T-Rex IMAX movie in 3-D there. Today I gotta write my restaurant review, which is quite late.

I need to post some links along the side of this page to make it look like a proper blog.