Friday, August 08, 2003

I've changed the time settings on this blog, because people thought I was posting at 5 a.m. (Possible, but not lately.)
Read Salam's posts from yesterday and Tuesday and get to know Turningtables.
I have a lot of work today so I don't think I'll post anything to the blog. Have a nice weekend. If you're interested in following the blog conversation between me and Steve from PragueBlog, check out his site.

Oh yeah. Yesterday I was interviewed by another journalist. This time it was somebody from the Prague Post trying to dig up the inside scoop of the folding of the Prague Pill. I didn't want to be quoted mouthing off about something I don't know much about, so we just chatted for a bit and I made sure the majority of what I said was off the record. I did offer a few quotes in the end -- mainly because I felt bad they couldn't get anybody at all to speak on the record -- but I sort of doubt they'll use them since I don't really have any special knowledge about the subject. But let me say for the record right now, in case I am quoted and my comments come across in any way snarky or bitchy or petty, that I'm sad to see the Pill is gone and it's too bad those guys couldn't make it work.

And one last thing. I recently found this weird, nonsensical rant attached to my July 2 posting about the poet Seamus Heaney praising Eminem. It seems the author is mainly interested in writing the word "faggot" as many times as he can. I wonder if it's one of the former editors of the Prague Pill? (Ha ha! Just kidding!)

Thursday, August 07, 2003

The Guardian has a piece on the long, strange trip of Liberian President Charles Taylor. "Headline writers call it his endgame, but this is a man who once sawed his way through the bars of a Massachusetts prison cell and shimmied down a knotted bedsheet to freedom." I only wish the article was longer.
Wow, I completely missed this one. Gary Coleman on California ballot: "Gary Coleman, child star of the sitcom 'Diff'rent Strokes,' has placed his name among a host of other celebrities in the running for California governor."
That's gotta be a bummer. Suit filed over 1939 stuttering study: "For six months, Mary Nixon and 10 other orphans were relentlessly belittled for every little imperfection in their speech to test the theory that children become stutterers because of psychological pressure.

Sixty-four years later, the experience still stings."
Man Caught Driving Bus Drunk: "Police in the Czech town of Jihlava said they arrested a drunk bus driver after a suspicious motorist spotted him zig-zagging along his route with 16 passengers aboard." (Thanks to Theo Schwinke)

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Fred Kaplan of Slate has probably been my favorite writer on the war since it began. He writes non-nonsense military analysis, yet isn't afraid of expressing his opinions when he has grounds to do so. In his most recent article (He Saw It Coming: The former Bushie who knew Iraq would go to pot) he quotes Paul Wolfowitz, who said prior to the war:

It's hard to conceive that it would take more forces to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq than it would take to conduct the war itself and secure the surrender of Saddam's security forces and his army. Hard to imagine.
Um, why was that so hard to imagine?

Apparently Kaplan has read a new book called America's Role in Nation-Building: From Germany to Iraq by James Dobbins, the former Bushie refered to in the article's title. Dobbins was Bush's special envoy to post-Taliban Afghanistan and the guy who oversaw postwar reconstruction in Kosovo, Bosnia, Haiti, and Somalia. This book makes a lot of strong, serious points about nation building and how to do it right -- points well taken unless, like Bush, you don't care for any of this meddling nation-building stuff.

(Another surprising point that article makes is that, implausible as it may sound, history suggests that more troops almost always means fewer casualties all around. Seriously. Read the whole thing.)

Bush, like many Americans, is put off by the very idea of nation building. (So are a good many anti-interventionist liberals.) He and many fellow conservatives don't think the United States has any business escorting kids to school or handing out food rations. As a Republican friend of mine (I do have some) once put it: "The army should do two things: Kick other countries asses and train to kick other countries asses." This is a widespread view among Bush supporters.

During the 2000 campaign, Bush didn't just disparage the military's involvement in nation building. He even disparaged involvement in nation-building on the part of U.S. civilian agencies. During the second presidential debate against Al Gore in October 2000, Bush was specifically asked, "[I]s it time to consider a civil force of some kind, that comes in after the military, that builds nations?"

He answered: "I think what we need to do is convince people who live in the lands they live in to build the nations. Maybe I'm missing something here. I mean, we're going to have kind of a nation-building corps from America? Absolutely not." This answer dovetailed with his line about a "humble foreign policy." Ari Fleischser later tried to convince people that Bush was only aganist a military role in nation building, but that's not what Bush said at all. Click here for a comparison of what Bush said and what his spokesman said he said.

There's a widely held view -- supported by the very simple facts that we have troops in Afghanistan and troops in Iraq -- that Bush has flip-flopped on this issue, and that he's now a reluctant nation-builder following 9/11. I don't really believe it, and developments in Iraq right now don't exactly support the theory, either. Bush and Rumsfeld say we're getting out of Iraq as soon as humanly possible, despite the fact that, as Kaplan writes, "in every successful case [of nation building] troops are still based there today, including in Germany and Japan, nearly 60 years after war's end."

It seems there's a paralysis in high-level political talk about this subject, which I think is because Americans are split -- not only between liberals and convervatives, Democrats and Republicans, but also between interventionists and non-interventionists. And this split is down completely different lines than the traditional right-left divide, so nobody can speak about it honestly without alienating a good chunk of their supporters. Plenty of lefties, for instance, would agree with Bush's earlier suggestion that the U.S. should pursue a more "humble" foreign policy and not get involved in other countries' affairs. (I'm frankly not sure where Howard Dean stands on this, for instance.)

So who's going to stand up and demand we send more troops to Iraq? A Republican? A Democrat? Try nobody. It's the politically unsayable.

In an opinion piece that attacked the Democrats supposed fixation on the State of the Union, The Economist wrote last week (in the issue with "Dear Mr. Berlusconi..." on the front -- subscription only):

With the Democratic rank and file screaming for the troops to be brought home, greater involvement in Iraq would be a bold cause for any Democratic presidential candidate to embrace.
I don't exactly have my finger on the pulse of the Democratic rank and file, but there are two reasons you don't hear Democratic candidates pushing for more troops in Iraq (neither of them good ones, in my view): First, Bush might actually do it, which would be the right thing, but then it would become a non-issue. (Bush can't, on the other hand, take back his State of the Union.)

Second, plenty of Americans -- not just rank and file Democrats, but many Republicans as well -- understandably want us to get out of Iraq as soon as humanly possible. So it's best not to say anything for the time being.

Where's that betting parlor when you need it? How long are U.S. troops going to be in Iraq? Just long enough, we're told. Here's my prediction, based on nothing: Sometime in the next 12 months, Saddam Hussein will be captured or killed. That's the only good news. Then the U.S. will slap together some provisional government and high-tail it out of Iraq, just in time for the 2004 election. Then Iraq breaks out into civil war. And in one of those embarassingly honest moments, something will slip out of Bush's mouth along the lines of, "Hey, man, we did everything we could."

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Ondrej Stindl of the BBC Czech-language services interviewed me today about my blog. I'm not sure when the piece is going to run, but be on the listen-out for it.

UPDATE. OK, so here I was thinking I'd be the first to let anybody know. Apparently, not only have Doug and Steve both announced it on their blogs, but the story's aired already.

Monday, August 04, 2003

Robert Speirs has a site called Conundrum - the Cosmic Pilgrim which is worth looking at. (I mention this mainly because he took the time to comment on this site.)

Conundrum calls attention to a good bit of commentary in The Christian Science Monitor about the hoped-for revitalization of the marshlands at the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, home of the Marsh Arabs for millienia. Wilfred Thesiger's The Marsh Arabs, an account of eight years living among the tribes of the marshlands, is said to be a travel classic. I haven't read it, but it's on my list, and it just got bumped up several notches.

Whether the marshlands will heal themselves following Saddam Hussein's systematic destruction during the 1990s is one question; most likely, given enough time, the answer is yes. Whether the indigeneous tribes will return is something else altogether.

By the way, Conundrum comments on the fact that the Iraqi marshlands are commonly thought of as the location of the Garden of Eden:

No word on whether Cain's descendants will claim the "right of return" to their former "homeland" from which they were expelled by the Great Imperialist God of Zion. But wait a minute. That would be everyone. From one guy. And wait another minute. How did that happen, anyway?
Actually, it's a pretty common misconception that since Cain killed his brother Abel, he must therefore be the father of the rest of us. But even if you believe the Bible -- especially if you believe the Bible -- it's not true. Following that little incident out in the field (some prefer to call it a "misunderstanding"), Adam and Eve went on to have another kid named Seth. Seth was the father of Enosh, who was the father of Kenan, who was the father of Mahalalel (try saying that out loud), who was the father of Jared, who was the father of Methuselah, who was the father of Lamech, who was the father of Noah. Noah built an ark and God come along and wiped out everyone else on earth, which presumably included Cain's descendants, who were a bunch of troublesome punks to begin with.
ARGH. Yesterday I went to an ashtanga yoga workshop. Today I feel like Uday and Qusay combined.

Over the weekend I installed one of those Site Meters (found on PragueBlog and seen elsewhere), which is just a little traffic counter that you stick on your site to see who's a-comin' and a-goin'. Anybody can click on it and view my traffic, including such goodies as referring sites (i.e., which sites out there on the Internet are linking to me, and how many people are clicking to me from those sites).

Frankly, it's a very unsettling feeling knowing that people -- even if just a few -- are actually reading my blog. So go on then! Be off! Shoo!

Take Media Dragon, a blog with a vague Czech connection written by Jozef Imrich from, it appears, Australia. In today's post he refers to me as "Scott of Nota, Nota, Bene Fame." While I'm really grateful for the attention, I honestly haven't a clue as to what this means. Is he mixing me up with somebody else, or did I eat a brain tumor for breakfast?

For anybody who has a blog or a web site, this is all so very yesterday, but you lay people might want to check out this nifty map that shows where my many worldly-wise readers are located.

I also noticed that Geoff Goodfellow has begun posting a few personal reflections, rather than straight news articles, which is nice. I'm not sure I agree, for whatever it's worth, that American expats in Prague seem to mainly hang around other Americans. Of course there's a certain amount of expat aggregation, but it's rarely to the exclusion of locals -- and not nearly as bad as expat enclaves in other European cities I've visited, where all English-speakers tend to gravitate to the local Irish pub. In any case, I'm glad to see Mr. Goodfellow was listening to Thievery Corporation's Sounds From The Thievery Hi-Fi yesterday. That CD changed my life.

Almost forgot -- Saturday night I went to my friend Hana's apartment for some cheesecake (no, really, and it was really good cheesecake from Bakeshop Praha...) and came across, stuffed in her bookcase, an old New Yorker article called "The Velvet Purge: The Trials of Jan Kavan," the former Czech exile dissident who was accused of being a Communist secret service informer, then went on to become foreign minister and now heads the UN General Assembly. The text was ripped out of the magazine, and it was impossible to tell what the publication date was -- somewhere around 1993-5, I assume -- but the story was truly fascinating, not the least for its view of the origins of Klaus's right-wing ODS party (anti-dissident, anti-Communist, and that pretty much amounts to the same thing, doesn't it?).

The author, Lawrence Weschler, portrayed the anti-Communist lustration program as deeply flawed and the worst charges against Kavan as most likely unfounded; but regardless, Kavan came off as a liar and an extraordinarily neurotic creep. I've never really understood much about Kavan, as that whole drama was old news by the time of my 1996 arrival in the Czech Republic, so it was good to read about how things looked way back when, in the thick of things so to speak.
Click here and tell me if you laugh out loud. I did.