Saturday, May 03, 2003

Apparently CNN's pre-prepared obituaries for people that are still alive (like Dick Cheney, Ronald Reagan and Bob Hope) accidentally became available to the general public in April. Scroll down to check out Dick Cheney's.

Friday, May 02, 2003

I hope I never have to amputate my own arm like this guy. (Courtesy of David Kim.)

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Two new stories of mine on Screen Daily today: First, yet another movie comes to shoot in Prague, this one a sappy sounding romantic comedy with Julia Stiles about a college freshman falling in love with a prince, imaginatively entitled The Prince and the Freshman. La-dee-dah, except this means 2003 will probably be the busiest year ever for the Prague film industry.

The second story is more interesting, and cribs an interview with director Jan Svìrák from Saturday's Mlada Fronta about his forthcoming film called Returnable Bottles. Svìrák is the most popular Czech filmmaker, and deservedly so, in my opinion. He has a knack for making convincing historico-political metaphors out of catchy material, as in the cutesy Oscar winner Kolja and the far superior Elementary School(Obecná škola). His next movie, Returnable Bottles, will be the first of his major films to take place in the present day -- and appropriately, it takes place in a Czech supermarket. A step back to reality from Dark Blue World, which I heard was an aesthetic (if not a commercial) disaster. I'm looking forward to Returnable Bottles.

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Spare a moment to read this Forbes article about Iraqi debt (sent to me by my friend and Tulip partner Dan Butler, who knows more about these things than I). It's estimated that Iraq owes a whopping $120 billion to various lenders. A relatively "small" amount -- that is, about $2.6 billion -- of that is traded. (People buy and sell debt, sort of like this: My broke friend Bob owes me $5; I don't think I'm ever going to see any of it, but my other friend Sinbad thinks he can convince Broke Bob to pay, so I'm willing to sell the debt to Sinbad for $3.50. I'm happy getting $3.50 rather than nothing. Sinbad goes to Bob and says, "Bob, remember that $5 you owed Scott? You now owe it to me. But I know you're broke, so if you just give me $4, we'll forget about the whole thing." Bob agrees. Voila. Sinbad made a 50 cents.)

In this case, J.P. Morgan, Bank of New York, BNP Paribas, and a bunch of their Middle Eastern friend all got together and lent Saddam Hussein $500 million in 1983. The banks have written the debt off, assuming they're never going to get the money, but the debt is now traded, by people who enjoy exotic financial risks, at around 18 to 20 cents for every original dollar loaned; that's how little faith people have that it will ever be paid back. But compare what is was trading at between 1997 and 2000 -- about half that. So in the last 3-6 years, the market's optimism that somebody's gonna back that debt back will has doubled! Now markets are usually, though not always, pretty smart; they represent the collective thinking of a large bunch of people who think real hard about stuff that few people bother to think about.

But think about this for a second. Why should anybody assume that the new rulers of Iraq will pay off Saddam Hussein's debt, which he used to oppress his own people, finance two disasterous wars and buy gold-plated AK-47's? Morally, why should these banks see any of that money? If you ask me, they shouldn't. They didn't lend that money to Iraq. They lent it to a ruthless dictator, and they (like most Western governments, and Russia, who supported Saddam) should be ashamed of themselves.

To be sure, the banks have already written off that debt, so they're not expecting to get anything back. It would go to whomever's holding these promissory notes today. But imagine what kind of effect it would have if the new Iraqi government simply declared that the previous government was illegitimate, so forget about those loans. (I believe Czechoslovakia did that after 1948, and it didn't go over too well.) In this extraordinary case, investors would probably buy the argument; it's unlikely, for instance, that new lenders would be scared away simply because the new government reneged on Saddam's debts. In fact, the overall effect would probably be to make the cost of borrowing skyrocket for dictators -- and that's a good thing. Is anybody's going to lend Robert Mugabe money at a decent interest rate if they know that if and when Zimbabwe has a truly democratic government, they can kiss the money goodbye? Doubt it.
Wow. Slate makes money. Faith unexpectedly restored in capitalism (for now), Microsoft (begrudgingly), journalism (or at least opinion journalism) and the Internet. (Via Matt Welch, who's quoted in the Times article.)

Monday, April 28, 2003

Here's this week's Economist cover.

Here's my post from April 15. Freaky, huh? I swear on the Boston Red Sox I had not seen the comparison elsewhere at that time. Shameless of me to ask, but why don't more people know about me?
Iranian Girl had been blogging about the arrest of Iranian journalist Sina Motallebi, one of the first journalists in Iran to start a blog (in Farsi, and now taken offline) using his own name.

Pedram Moallemian, a human rights activist based in Southern California, has started an online petition to release Sina. Read more here:

This is however part of a new offensive with new targets. It is not the political activists or human rights advocates that are being targeted this time. It's not even the so called "reformers" or those mildly critical of regime's tactics or approach. This time it is the youth and the ones who have found new ways of expressing their dissatisfaction with the ruling class that are the new enemy. In particular, freedom of expression via the internet is now being targeted.... They went after the highest profile "internet personality" of the new generation and Sina was it.

In other news, over the weekend I got the name and number of a Farsi teacher in Prague. I'm going to start taking lessons -- soon, really soon.

Now for the really strange news. The New York Sun reported (I learned via Oxblog) of a July 9 general strike being organized by student groups in Tehran, a strike which "they hope will expand to topple the government there and bring freedom and democracy to the Iranian people."

Thing is, Iranian Girl knows nothing about this: "I had some mails asking me about the general strike of July 9 in Iran!!! Actually I don't know haven't heard anything about it...so what is it that people outside Iran know about it sooner that Iranians inside?"

So we're left with a Sun article (chock full of quotes from Reza Pahlavi, son of the late Shah) reporting: "The optimism of the Iranian opposition movement is palpable, despite a lack of attention in the Western press."

Hm. Do you think they maybe got that the wrong way around?

Click here to find out what happened to the last July 9 demonstration in Iran.

And here is the weblog of Pedram Moallemian, the guy organizing the petition. Among other things, he reports that the famous and laughable Nigerian bank transfer scam has moved to Iraq...
Hey, come to Tulip tomorrow night for the second installment of Jazz Tuesdays. Cool gin cocktail included with the 70 Kè admission price, and trust me, you'll enjoy yourself -- even if you're not a jazz fiend.

Some readers of this blog (OK, one) did not know that I am an owner of Tulip. Everybody: I'm an owner of Tulip. So come.

Who: Jazz guitar maestro Pavel Obermajer, bass groovester Adam Havlin and keyboards fussbudget Vasek Snydr. Word has it a songbird or two will be larking in for spring as well, and I think I saw a snare drum making its way into the cafe yesterday.
Where: Tulip downstairs, Opatovicka 3, Prague 1 (just down the block from
The Globe)
When: 8pm every Tuesday
What: Live jazz, Beefeater gin cocktail included with admission
Damage: 70 Kc