Friday, May 23, 2003

These a some beautiful photographs taken by the sister of Alex, the person with whom I share many things. Alex and both her grandmothers are pictured in the "Portraits" section.

Thursday, May 22, 2003

This guy in Seattle strangled his friend's sister when he was 14, and then carted the body away in a box. Though he was seen "pushing a hand truck and a large box down a street the night before [the] body was found," police couldn't find enough evidence to prosecute. That was 21 years ago. Last year police were finally able to get a DNA sample from an item found on the body, and proceeded to send the guy (now living in New Jersey) a fake letter asking him to fill out a form and send it back. He complied, and the cops nabbed by getting the DNA from the envelope.

I'm missing the telling details that make me feel like I'm there, such as: What did the form say? (Note that this could never happen in the Czech Republic, where most envelopes have little plastic strips that you peel away to reveal the sticky part.)

Details.... Like in this totally unrelated story, we learn that Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas, during a "businesslike and useful" meeting, feasted on "pita bread, tahini, fruit and coffee." Mòam. What strikes me as really odd here is that, in an ironic reversal, the Palestinians and the Isrealis are at an impasse because both sides claims they'll make the first concrete steps provided the other simply makes an announcement. If you don't believe me, read the story.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

There's a good piece in the Boston Globe's Ideas section on the mentor of people like Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, the late foreign policy strategy guru Albert Wohlstetter -- who, it turns out, was not a neoconservative, but just a rigorous analytical thinker.

''Many of the people who populate this administration are Albert's intellectual children, but I'm not sure the father would approve of the great risk they're taking,'' says Augustus Richard Norton, a former Wohlstetter student and current Middle East scholar at Boston University.
I admit, I should tire more easily than I do of writerly ruminations on expatriation, but I liked this article in, of all places, Travel & Leisure magazine. Skim Michael Gorra's flowerly desciption of Gianbattista Tiepolo's fresco in the Residenz in Würzburg, the stuff of travel magazine writing, and head for the literary bits -- the changing Europe of Henry James, James Baldwin, and Patricia Highsmith.

[I]t struck me that the books that today use a foreign land to probe our [Americans'] peculiar fate tend to choose a different setting and to belong to a different genre.... Perhaps Patricia Highsmith's Ripley books marked the moment of change.
I must say I was disappointed at the conclusion, since I was hoping for a grand literary affirmation of my hunch that somehow the Old World allure (what James called "a superstitious valuation of Europe") is no longer alluring. Then again, maybe that's because I've lived in Europe for six years.

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

There is an excellent dispatch from the Arab communities of Dearborn, Michican posted on Oxblog right now. I found it quite fascinating.

Monday, May 19, 2003

Once again, faraway "opinion makers" making stuff up in op-ed pages -- and presumably getting paid for it. Here's a bit pro-Klaus propaganda that popped up in Australia (again, courtesy of Prague Monitor).

[Czech president Vaclav] Klaus is subject to vociferous criticism in the Czech press, though he enjoys strong support in the electorate. This is partly because of the hangover of former communists (these days calling themselves social democrats) and centralist Christian Democrats who try to claim the wholesale successful privatisation of the economy has not been a success - a view at odds with that of the OECD, which sees the republic as one of the bright spots of central Europe.
Hm. Where to begin? Funny that the author fails to mention that Vaclav Klaus hasn't been Czech prime minister since 1997, nor that the "wholesale successful privatization of the economy" only took place after he left office. Also strange that the author doesn't mention the substantial number of "former communists" in the Czech Republic calling themselves "the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia." Those, by the way, are the people that gave Klaus his presidency, not his "strong support in the electorate."
Slovakia votes "yes" on the EU question.

Strange things have happened out in Slovakia over the years. As late as the mid-1990s, the country was a political backwater led by nationalist strongman Vladimir Meciar. The recent EU vote saw 92% of voters effectively take an anti-nationalist line. Even Meciar now supports EU accession. It almost makes you wonder why they wanted to leave Czechoslovakia to begin with. (The answer, of course, is that they didn't; the Velvet Divorce was an contrivance of Meciar and Vaclav Klaus, unsupported by majorities of both populations.)

But the important graphs are buried:

No one doubted that the overwhelming majority of Slovaks would support EU entry but the success of the referendum was uncertain as the participation of an absolute majority of eligible voters was needed for it to be valid.

The limit was narrowly crossed, although the pre-referendum polls predicted the participation of about 60 or 70 percent of voters.
The lower-than-expected turnout does not bode well for the Czech vote. As I understand it, a 50% minimum turn-out is not necessary here. But although a clear majority of the Czech population supports EU accession, the "yes" campaign in the Czech Republic has been lackluster, to say the least. Count on 20-30% of eligible voters, maybe more -- the hard-core Communist voters, plus if a fair chunk of ODS (Klaus) voters who decide to throw caution to the wind -- to say "no" outright. These are the ones who will bother to vote. (Historically, the Communists Party has been the best at "getting out the vote.")

It's been said before, but should be said again: If the weather's nice on the auspicious date of Friday, June 13, all bets are off. Count on most city dwellers skipping the vote to retreat to the countryside for the weekend. You could easily see a turn-out of less than 50%. You do the math.

Side note: If you're interested in Czech news, you should subscribe to Prague Monitor, an excellent (and free) new online news digest put together my my friends Bryn Perkins (of Shakespeare and Sons bookshop; see new Flash website!) and Theo Schwinke.

Sunday, May 18, 2003

Al Barger of the Culpepper Log makes essentially the same points about the Salam Pax flap that I make below (even making the same comparison to the New York Times's wholesale fabrication of "facts") only does a much better job than I did.