Friday, June 27, 2003

The Supreme Court just decided that gay people can have sex. All of them. As much as they want. Here are the snicker-quotes:

Tom Minnery, vice president of the conservative group Focus on the Family, disagreed. ''While it may feel good to some that a stigma is lifted from a particular group, something else has been lifted: the boundaries that prevent sexual chaos in our culture.''
Oh yeah! Sexual chaos, here we come! Why if men can have sex with other men, who knows where that could lead?

Justice Antonin Scalia delivered a fierce dissent from the bench, saying the ruling was "the product of a law-profession culture that has largely signed on to the homosexual agenda." Joined in written dissent by Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justice Clarence Thomas, who with Scalia are the court's most conservative members, Scalia warned that the ruling could lead to legal gay marriages in America.
LOOOO - sers! Snicker snicker snicker snicker chortle chortle guffaw.

Can't say really why I find this story so amusing. Prince William pissed off Lord Bathurst with his bad driving after a polo match on Lord Bathurst's own estate in Cirencester, Gloucestershire.

"Lord Bathurst hit his horn and gave chase. He wanted to overtake the police car but it stopped him. Prince William drove on but the police officer had strong words with Lord Bathurst."

Lord Bathurst said Prince Charles had apologised to his son, Lord Apsley.
I'm looking for an online generator of Jane Austen umbrage-taking retorts in which to insert these names. Alas, no luck.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Is it just me, or has Christopher Hitchens, regardless of his politics, simply forgotten how to write well? Every piece of his -- at least the ones on Slate -- has that same wandering, pointless quality, with entire paragraphs of paranthetical non-sequitors. Take this lead story on John Kerry's purported gullibility because he actually believed the president about WMB. After a funny opening paragraph in which he suggests Kerry made his campaign slogan "Duped by a Dope," he goes off on a tangent about that manages to cram Ho Chin Min, Thomas Jefferson, Saddam Hussein, LBJ, JFK, FDR and Stalin all into two sentences. He then comes back to the "point" with, "Returning to the banality of Kerry and the simplistic yes/no argument about weaponry..."

Earlier this month, in a piece on the pernicious mispronunciation of Wolfowitz (which I have to admit, I never quite knew how to say) Hitch actually ends with "Coming back to where I began..." which for my money is almost as bad -- no, worse -- than Thomas Friedman's starting a paragraph with "Let me explain." Lazy, lazy, lazy.

Soon he'll be inserting belches and "Where was I? Oh yeah..."

As for the content of that John Kerry piece, I actually find it rather appaling in its implications. "Stupid fool. Smart people knew the weapons stuff was just for the punters." If Hitchens thinks it so pointless having a public discussion about whether, why and when we should have gone to war, why does he even bother writing?

I found the reader comments at the bottom much more interesting.
There's lots of good stuff on the CTK press review today about possible repeal of the Czech "lustration laws," those old laws banning high-ranking commies, secret service agents, and other baddies from state positions.

It's long been speculated -- by some, not by many -- that the best way to deal with the continued popularity of the Communist Party (which never said sorry for that whole pre-1989 thing) is via detente, i.e. treating them like any other party to de-radicalize them. That's what Jan Jandourek of MfD seems to say, also pointing out that the authors of the law wanted it to be in place only until "the democratic process is complete." Is the democratic process complete? Maybe yes, maybe no (I lean toward yes), but the problem is that there's no empirical test of completion.* Sort of like Bush's never-ending War on Evil, which also will always seem to require some extraordinary permanantly temporary measures.

Petruska Sustrova in Lidove noviny (LN) says the KSCM has recently started to come out from its isolation and more and more people are calling for the party's "rehabilitation."
(Hmmm. Wonder who we have to thank for that. Could it be the president, Faust himself?)

Patricie Polanska writes in Hospodarske noviny (HN),"It cannot be ignored, however, that for many thinking about the lustration laws means to touch one of the few tangible 'punishments' for communist officials for their crimes, harassment and degradation of human dignity," she says.
Good point, but I'm not 100% sure about that logic. You call forcing somebody to work in the private sector "punishment"?

* I just realized that's the second time I used that phrase in as many days. Whatever.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

I had no idea that Bloopy from ThatNotSoFreshFeeling.com (he of the pointless hilarious travelog) lived on my street!
OK, so it had to happen sooner or later: the Ali G online translator. Off the top of my head I can't decide whether me be likin' da PragueBlog:

Whun people ask me Uncle Jamal if me Uncle Jamal were a collaborator or agent fer da communist secret police back in da old days, do me Uncle Jamal check yourself answering, "Senator, me do not recall at dis time". Is it coz I is black? Now, wif da Interior Ministry's recently re-released list hof mates hof da STB, me Uncle Jamal can jog your memory. Boyakasha! Download hand browse da long list hof names in da convenience hof your own home, away from da pryin television cameras recordin da faces hof those old techno-phobes who showed up at da distribution office fer da dead tree version.
Or da NicMoc:

If da European Union's dole hand social affairs directorate has any say in da matter, we could soon check out. Anna Diamantopolou, whose name I'd dig to see in print in da house wif an 'ova' ending, wants to ban advertisements dat is 'an affont to human dignity'. We'll assume maximam frontals fall unda dis dragnet.
So it looks like the EU's draft constitution was accepted in Greece over the weekend, with very little fanfare -- muted probably because the damn thing isn't even done yet, with many of the most important questions still up in the air (like individual nations' veto power over things like foreign policy, security and taxation).

Sunday before last, an essay of mine was published in the Boston Globe about the new constitution. Unfortunately I've waited too long to post this to my blog, so you can't read it without paying, but I'll send it to you if you like.

The piece was supposed to be sort of a primer on the intellectual history of European federalism, or at least, on federalism in its most recent incarnation, since you could go all the way back to Charlemagne on that one. Most people don’t know, for instance, that Vaclav Havel was arguably the first major European politician to openly call for a European government structured along federal, bi-cameral lines (i.e. two legislative houses, like the U.S. Congress). Under the new constitution, which doesn’t really change the complicated structure of the EU, the role of the “Senate” or upper chamber is actually played by the Council of Ministers, the meeting of ministers of EU governments.

Some people told me this part was confusing:

Anti-federalists say the "nation" -- in the sense of a "people" -- is the only legitimate source of European political power. According to this view, the legitimacy of the European Union derives from the national parliaments, whose legitimacy in turn derive from electorates that must communicate directly with itself via a common language, in a common media, with a common historical experience.
Not very well stated. Think of the peasant Dennis, the harvester of filth in Monty Python and the Holy Grail who starts railing against King Arthur to his face. Off the top of my head, I think he said something like this: “Now look. Strange women lying on their backs in ponds is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power is derived from a mandate from masses, not some farcical aquatic ceremony!”

According to the “intergovernmentalists” or anti-federalists, supreme executive power in Europe lies with the national parliaments, i.e. the House of Commons in the British case. This is simply a case of "legitimacy." The European Parliament is the “farcical aquatic ceremony” according to this point of view -- even though it, too, is directly elected. The reason is that there is no European “nation,” only a collection of nations – Britons, French, Danes, Germans (although that’s a rather recent invention), Italians (ditto), Spanish (ditto). Any body of officials that doesn’t represent a nation-state is somehow an artificial contrivance lacking in legitimacy, even if those officials are directly elected.

There’s a lot of ink spilled about how to define a “nation,” with various criteria proposed, such as common language, common media and common historical experience, but there always seems to be a catch or an exception (Switzerland, Belgium) that messes up the equation. (I think the German philosopher Jurgen Habermas is lurking somewhere near here, but I can’t say where, exactly.) The problem is, there’s no empirical test of whether a nation exists. I asked one Danish euro-skeptic MEP who’s also a delegate to the convention how he will know if there’s one day a European “nation.” He said he will know it when he walks around the streets of Paris or Frankfurt and people stop him on the street and talk to him about issues, the way they do in Copenhagen. (I felt like asking if he thinks thinks that happens to a U.S. Senator from Wyoming on the streets of Miami.) Basically, it’s sort of like the judge’s definition of pornography: It’s a nation if it feels like one.

And then there’s the vexing concept of “subsidiarity."

At the core of the constitution's ambiguity lies its allusions to "subsidiarity," a lofty term with echoes of Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle lifted from a 1931 papal encyclical. Pope Pius XI defined subsidiarity as the principle that governing powers should solve social problems at the most local level possible. On paper, the mention of subsidiarity in the EU constitution seems to be a nod toward decentralized power. But even a defender of the doctrine like Phil Syrpis, who teaches European law at the University of Bristol, concedes that subsidiarity "is known as a bit of a weasel word that doesn't really mean anything." In practice, when a disagreement arises over the scope of federal power, it is the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg that has the final say -- and so far, it has never ruled that the Commission has come close to infringing on the subsidiarity principle, says Syrpis.

"We're left with the crumbs," says Jeffrey Titford, an anti-EU British member of the European Parliament. "All the big decisions are made elsewhere. We think the only thing they're going to leave [to national parliaments] is our education and our health service."
It’s an irony that the EU Constitution stole the word from the Catholic church, while at the same time Valery Giscard d’Estiang, the writer of the constitution, refuses to mention Christian values in the preamble -- even though he was keen to cite the ancient Greeks and Romans and the Enlightenment, references removed in the most recent version. (That said, I don’t think God has any business in government at all. People usually forgot that the Western usage of the word "God" denotes quite a specific figure, the one who said "Let there be light" and whose real name in the Old Testament was actually Yahweh. Frankly I think "One nation under Yahweh," which is basically the same thing as "One Nation Under God," sounds creeeeee-py.)

Anyway, the big question is, is subsidiarity really such a fantastic doctrine? In the U.S., states-rights people often use the same principle to argue that states are better capable than the federal U.S. government to decide most things, simply because they’re closer to the citizen. I’ve never really bought it completely. There are a number of things which the federal government has handled much better than the states – most civil rights issues, to begin with.

Monday, June 23, 2003

Sometimes I wonder what's the point of even discussing politics when you have the calm, measured outrage of Josh Marshall. Here's more from Talking Points Memo on why Bush is a bad, bad man.

If you simply insist on believing white is black, even when you can see it's white, then when you tell people it's black then, well, maybe you're sort of not really lying, right? ... Maybe we're not talking about lying but only saying things you have no reason to believe are true, which I guess is not really a lie, right? Or saying things you have good reasons to believe are false but don't know for a fact to be false?
In other words, is there any convincing evidence Saddam had WMD? I supposed that depends on what the definition of the word "is" is.

I got into a big argument before the war with some Czech friends -- I was leaning in favor -- and one of the many things we disagreed about was Powell's UN presentation. I thought it was pretty damning. One of them called it "silly." When Rumsfeld said, "Any country on the face of the earth with an active intelligence programme knows that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction," I remember thinking to myself, "Yeah he's a creep, but who you gonna believe, him, or friggin' Saddam Hussein?" Now I honestly feel like a bit of a sucker.

Slate published a great lead piece on this topic ("Liar or Moron?") by Timothy Noah, who links to two articles he says he wishes he'd never written.
I have posted my own "one final comment" on the Romany evictions to PragueBlog's comment.

Steve's found a hilarious link, meanwhile.

While I'm plugging my own responses to other people's blogs (actually, just Steve's) here are my loosely formed opinions on Britain and the euro (in response to this post.) Round and round we go.
If you want to fix your Blogger archives (this means you Peter), click on comments. If you have no idea what I'm talking about or don't care, ignore this post.

And is it me, or is there some sort of Prague sandstorm out there?
It’s time for weekend blogging, everybody.

Two weekend ago I had my first proper nude beach experience. I’d been meaning to blog this one for a while. About 30 minutes out of Prague there’s a reservoir (in Lhota near Stara Boleslav) with a sandy shore covered in naked Czech people during the summer. We’re not talking topless sunbathing, which sort of what I was expecting when my friends said "nude beach." We’re talking full-on buck naked, with at least 60% of the people strolling around, socializing, drinking beer and eating sausages in nothing but their birthday suits.

I myself left my bathing trunks on, but the three attractive women I’d come with bared all. I had a number of good excuses -- not wanting get a sunburn in an uncomfortable place, good old fashioned cultural inhibition, and the fact that I feared embarassment at being the only circumcised male in sight.

There are few stranger sights than a bloated, completely naked Czech man with a beer belly walking around with two klobasa sausages in his hands. One of those is his bombshell blonde, completely naked Czech girlfriend with a perfect figure walking next to him, also with two klobasa sausages in her hands. Or the long line of nudes at the beer kiosk itself. I also saw one guy wearing nothing at all except a fanny pack.


Weekend before last, we rented a car a drove up to eastern Germany on a quest to find Sorbs. The Sorbs (or Wends) are probably Europe’s smallest state-less people, with 60,000 remaining in the region of Cottbus, eastern Germany. They speak a language somewhere between Czech and Polish. I didn’t find any actually Sorbs as far as I could tell -- that is, I didn’t hear it spoken -- but at the Sorb Museum in Cottbus (an otherwise dull affair with folk costumes and pottery and a few books) I did pick up a Wendish-German newspaper. I was surprised by how far it was from Czech -- I don’t know much Polish to speak of, but as far as I could tell, it looked just like Polish. Then again we were in the Lower Sorb stronghold, where the dialect is closer to Polish, rather than the Upper Sorb area further south where it’s closer to Czech. (Yes, that’s right, there are actually two dialects.)

I was secretly hoping to find an account in Wendish of the Czech EU vote to mention, for a gratuitious touch of the exotic, in my latest International Papers column for Slate. After all, this is the only Slavic "nation" that currently belongs to the EU. But that just didn't happen.

Not to despair, we drove to Dresden and spent the night there. Dresden is really fantastic, once the so-called "Florence of the North," with loads of art museums and something that you could only find in Germany -- the Hygiene Museum. Although the Old Masters’ gallery was unfortunately closed because it was a Monday, we saw some good modern stuff at the New Masters' gallery by Otto Dix (what a crazy man) and others.

I had no idea they were completely rebuilding the Fraukirche, which was destroyed along with much of the city in the Allied bombing of 1945. So it goes. They’re also excavating the area beneath the central Neumarkt, which was a forlorn cattle grazing meadow for a good part of the 1950s, to reveal the cellars of the medieval marketplace. When the whole project is done in 2005, it should be quite something.

Driving time from Prague to Dresden: About 2.5 hours. If you know where you’re going, don’t make any wrong turns and they're not fixing up the single lane road from the Czech border to Dresden (as they are now, perhaps due to last year’s floods) you could do it in two hours. Great day trip, and it's embarassing that it's the first time in six years I made the trip.


This past weekend, we entertained a 19-year-old backpacker named Arthur. Arthur is the "little brother" of one of my best friends in high school, Adam. We lived near each other on the north shore of Long Island, where I spent years 10 through 17. When I knew Arthur, he was six or seven. Now he's big and brainy and thoughtful. We laughed and talked of memories past, and we both learned interesting stuff about matters long forgotten, none of which are worth writing.

The sad part was that I learned that Adam's and Arthur's mom, unbeknownst to me, had passed away last year of thyroid cancer. (I haven't been in touch with Adam since he visited on his honeymoon in 2001.) That was a shocker and a mind trip, partly because at the back of my mind, I'd thought that putting up Arthur in our pad, showing him around town and entertaining him would score major brownie points with his mom, who was always a kind, soft-spoken soul (with a rather troubled life) who'd always exuded intense amounts of mom-like pride and joy in her children and their friends. It's a funny psychological thing -- why was I trying to impress this woman, someone that I'd likely never see nor speak to again, even if she were still alive? And if that was my conscious motivation, even if only in part, why was that motivation totally unaffected by the unfortunate fact that she's no longer around to be impressed?