Friday, August 29, 2003

In the U.S., arguments between civil libertarians and anti-extremists like the Anti-Defamation League are par for the course. I'm always inclined to side with the ACLU, even when they're defending the Klan. But America's one story. There's the touchier issue of promoting fascism in, say, Germany (where it's illegal); or even closer to home, advocating a communist revolution and "liquidation" of capitalists in the Czech Republic.

David Pecha, editor of far-left magazine Pochoden, is on trial for "spreading intolerance and hatred leading to the suppression of basic rights and freedoms," says Radio Prague. Radio Free Europe talks to human rights advocates both inside and outside the country who say the case is problematic. (One person from the Index on Censorship made an interesting comparison to Sinn Fein. The problem for the prosecution is that Pecha is not linked to any active, violent group -- even if you go so far as to include the "mainstream" Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia in that category.)

I'd probably take the civil liberatarian point of view even if it were a Nazi in the dock. The head of the Communist Youth Union, Zdenek Stefek, takes up a different line defending the use of the phrase "liquidation of capitalists":

A word can have different meanings and interpretations. Liquidation can have several meanings. The difference is that fascism isn't a point of view - it is a crime. Fascism is criminal at its root, whereas communism is a progressive vision of humanity. The fact that it was abused is one thing, but the ideas behind communism are something that would raise humanity to a much higher level than it is now. I don't see anything wrong with it.
Many would snicker at this, rightfully so. We know, we know... the wholesome idealogy of Lenin was usurped by the vicious bully Stalin, giving commies an eternal bad rap. It's one of the most tired debates of the 20th century: Who was worse, Hitler or Stalin? Yet part of me -- maybe the same part that still thinks I'm a socialist at heart-- agrees with the commies that it's simply the wrong question. (Who's worse, the Pope or Osama bin Laden? Hm, let me think about this one... I think it's Osama by a nose. Does that make Catholicism a superior religion to Islam? Uh, no.)

To be sure, there's plenty to laugh at in the quote above -- like the idea that fascism is a crime but socialism is merely a vision -- but if you're going to use the comparison, please don't pretend that fascism and communism are moral equivalents. They're not. Communism is an ideology opposed to private property rights. Fascism is an ideology opposed to basic human rights. How people use those visions of the world to shape their actions is a different matter.

I'd still probably defend the Nazi, in most cases.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Some of the noises come out of Alabama these days are almost too absurd to even comment on. Like this one: "This is a tragic day for religious liberty and the First Amendment." So says Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition.

I'd think that anybody with the most rudimentary knowledge of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution should see why this is just wrong on the face of it. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..." How this can be turned around to forbid the forbidding of exactly what it sets out to forbid...? If you're reading this, you probably already know what I'm getting at. To use an appropriate metaphor, I'm preaching to the choir.

Believe it or not, I actually bookmarked the passage in Exodus that first lists the Ten Commandments, because I wanted to look into Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore's statement that the Ten Commandments are are "the foundation of our law," presumably meaning Western law or American law. Now I can somehow believe that Moore has only a vague grasp of the Bill of Rights. But Jesus, has he read the Ten Commandments themselves lately? Because only three of them (stealing, killing, and perjury) are actually illegal. As for the historical influence of Judaic law, Alabama would probably be more justified enacting a monument to Hammurabi. You know, that Iraqi dude with the stuff written on the rock. His influence in codifying civil laws far exceeds that of Moses.

Again, some of these things that so plainly obvious that nobody wants to be the first to point them out. Thankfully, Christopher Hitchens exposes the Ten Commandments as a whole lotta malarkey in yesterday's Slate.

As with most of Hitchens' material, he tends to interlink his various arguments so that when one falls, they bring the others with it. For instance:

One is presuming (is one not?) that this is the same god who actually created the audience he was addressing. This leaves us with the insoluble mystery of why he would have molded ("in his own image," yet) a covetous, murderous, disrespectful, lying, and adulterous species. Create them sick, and then command them to be well? What a mad despot this is, and how fortunate we are that he exists only in the minds of his worshippers.
I couldn't agree more. God is by far the most creepy and neurotic character in all of the Old Testament. But you certainly don't have to be an atheist, or believe, as Hitchens does, that "religion is not just incongruent with morality but in essential ways incompatible with it" to see through the ridiculous statement that the Ten Commandments are "the foundation of our law." (Link via Reason's Hit & Run.)
Last night I had the following SMS conversation with a friend:

TS: "Check out the Post tomorrow. Mean article about the Pill"
SM: "Am I quoted?" [*]
TS: "No, but it refers to Prague Insider as short-lived"
SM: "Thank god. Well, that's pretty accurate. People have said worse"
TS: "As in 'the dick-smoking yuppie irish bakery the prague insider'?"

I cracked up.

I've already picked on Frank Kuznik of the Prague Post once in the past week, but I have to say, this article about the demise of the Prague Pill, the late local alt-weekly, was pretty mean. To wit: "In retro-spect it's hard to see how it could have gone any other way....The beautiful corpse bit didn't work out, either.... Launched in a feverish burst of energy and naivete.... If Prague is a fantasyland for young expats, then the Pill was a fantasy within a fantasy, a bubble of arrogance, self-indulgence and bad attitudes that was bound to burst..." Ah yes, it was all so inevitable. Except I don't think it was inevitable at all.

Then again, the author manages to talk to all the principle players and get the real story. Kudos to that. And then there's this:

Jeff Koyen, a foul-mouthed American with alternative-weekly experience who joined the Pill three months into its run, is still abusing the Post. "You got big and lazy, and you needed a snotty little brother to give you a good kick," he says. "I wish we had been there longer to kick your ass more."
Utterly priceless.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

I just noticed I made the Daily Czech's list of Top Ten Things Overheard During Rolling Stones Visit In Prague! Not only that, but Petr spelled my name right. Cool.

Over at PragueBlog, Steve remarks that "Wilfred Thesiger led an amazing life," citing an excerpt from the English travel writer's autobiography published in the Guardian. Thesiger died three days ago. (I referred to to Thesinger's book The Marsh Arabs just three weeks ago as being high on my things-to-read list.)

What jumped out from the autobiographical excerpt was this: "The surface of the globe, having now - thanks to the internal combustion engine - been thoroughly explored, no longer affords scope for the adventurous individual in search of the unknown."

I've always been turned off by curmudgeonly statements like this, not just because they're curmudgeonly, but because they're simply not true. The blaring pop music from the transistor radios in remote villages that Thesinger so despises are, in their own way, as "authentic" as any of the ritual castration practices so finely honed by the natives of Abyssinina (described in his obit.)

The intersection of cultures brought about by globalization can yield choice moments of their own. I once saw a rather pale-skinned (British? Australian? Kiwi?) bloke streaking at a disco in Canakkale, Turkey (not a remote village by any means). He stripped down to his birthday suit and trotted out onto the dance floor. The locals, needless to say, were not impressed. I've frankly never seen anybody so literally "thrown out" of an establishment as that guy. The party came to a crashing halt and the music didn't get turned back on, which maybe was okay because they just kept playing that song by Tarkan over and over again. What a turd. (The naked guy, not Tarkan.) I don't know why I thought of that story just now. I realize that certainly wouldn't make it high on a list of Thesigner adventures.

So, that said, if anybody was ever entitled to complain about the creep of technology, it's definitely Thesinger.

Speaking of amazing lives of English travel writers, when is Patrick Leigh Fermor going to come out with his third installment of his account of hoofing it from Holland to Istanbul prior to World War II? That guy had better hurry up. He's approaching 80, although I suppose anybody who's led a life like that is probably fit enough to get through nine decades. Fermor's first two books, A Time For Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, are simply amazing. Unfortunately the trip stops near the Iron Gates of the Danube, past Belgrade near the intersection of Romania, Bulgaria and ex-Yugoslavia. Between the Woods and the Water, published in 1986, ends, "To Be Concluded..." Get on with it, dude!

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Peter from Daily Czech has a nice poll: "Who caused the blackout in the U.S. and Canada?" a) U.S. Dept. of Energy. b) the Canadians. c) Homer Simpson. d) a/c users. e) the French. It's a pretty tight race. Go check it out. Cool thing is, you just click on the answer and it immediately adds your tally. And it doesn't let you vote twice. (Not that I tried...)
Josh Marshall has begun laying out the case for Wesley Clark. Sadly, the main thrust is seems to be that Clark is good because a) he's not as far left as Howard Dean and b) he's not John Kerry.

It would be nice to see more on what Clark is, rather than what he's not. Among the positive strengths Marshall mentions is "a thorough critique of the president" (more or less a pre-requisite for the job of Democratic candidate) and the ever-so-vague "impeccable national security credentials." (Yes, he ran NATO and carried out the orders to wreck Milosevic. That's good for a start, but...)
Jeff Buehler sent me a diary account published in the Guardian by someone who'd been blind since the age of three and then got his vision back. Author Mike May describes seeing his wife, his kids, trees, mountains, a movie, the view from an airplace and a flight attendant's blue eyes for the first time. Wow.

UPDATE: Matt Welch of Reason magazine picked this up for the mag's blog Hit & Run, sparking a discussion about stem-cell transplants. One reader points out that, "This story is simply not as miraculous as anyone is trying to make it. The stem cells were not the important part of the operation, the cornea transplant was." This brought to mind Doug Arellanes's recent post about the fact that some Czechs are opting out of the country's new organ donor system. I have to admit I initially found parts of the "To Remember Me" manifesto, posted on Arellanes.com, rather rather trite and mawkish -- as in, come on, nobody will ever want this rusty old cornea when I'm done with it! I hereby retract that thought. Take my corneas, take all of them.
There's a discussion going on over at Prague TV about the demise of the Pill. I especially liked two parts:

If I had the capital I would have bought Globopolis.
It was too ahead of its time, but once PDAs, Mobile Internet, and notebooks become even more widespread it would have raked in the dough.
That made me chuckle. (Chuckle as in, um, right...) As did this:

BTW, whoever was listing the English-language publishing graveyard forgot that noxious little weed, the Prague Insider. Who was that jerkoff who published it? I remember he wrote something snide in the Pill to Alex about "dropping all that nonsense and coming to write for him" - they folded a week later into deserved ignominy.

- CS

Tribe - [author profile] Mon 25th Aug
That (the Prague Insider) was published by the Prague Business Journal. I can't remember who wrote that letter though, some Irish guy I think...

[ anonymous ] - [author profile] Mon 25th Aug
The Prague Insider was run by Scott Macmillan who eventually submitted a few restaurant reviews to the Pill after that exchange with Alex. Guess the joke was on Scott, not Alex, aye?
That's M-A-C-capital-M....

(And no, I'm not Irish and I haven't the slightest clue why this person named Colin Shea is calling me a jerkoff. As far as I know, I've never met him and he's never met me.)

Monday, August 25, 2003

Don't look now, but there's still fighting in Liberia, according to Lagos paper This Day. But fear not. Bush says we'll be out of there by Oct. 1.
Kofi Annan (posted for Steve of PragueBlog): "That kind of decision should not be left to the protected.... I don't know if the United Nations did turn down an offer for protection. But if it did, it was not correct and they should not have been allowed to turn it down."
Victims React To Geoghan Murder: "Druce somehow jammed the cell door to keep guards out, bound and gagged Geoghan, punched him, and jumped on him several times from an upper bunk before strangling him."

Um, I guess the good Father won't be molesting anybody anymore.
VOANews.com: "Two powerful car bombs have killed at least 40 people and injured more than 100 others in Bombay."

Not good. Really, really not good.

Among the positive side-effects I figured people would start attributing to the American invasion of Iraq -- perhaps not unfairly, in the sense that all things are strangely and unpredictably connected -- was the detente between India and Pakistan. Maybe that was a little too hopeful. Somebody somewhere with a lot of explosives and the willingness to use them decided peace wasn't such a great idea after all.
I didn't notice that Matt Welch paged me a few days ago. Thank goodness for that handy list of referring documents posted to the right. I posted a long response to his query about bars and restaurants in Prague, if you're interested.
Speaking of the Prague Post, Dinah Spritzer subjects Prague Mayor Pavel Bem to a brutal interrogation this week, particularly about the "loud, drunken groups of British men who are here on stag-party holidays." Bem comes off as pretty open and honest in the end, although as the Post gently suggests, "Perhaps you are not aware of just how much of a nuisance these groups are."

Hizzoner also talks about legalizing prostitution, though he feigns ignorance about how brothels work ("Seventy-five dollars for what?").

UPDATE: Reader Theo tried to post this comment, but Enatation failed him, so he sent it emailem:

Brutal is right. Not that reporters shouldn't ask tough questions, of course, but ... The problem with the article is that it's hard not to come away from it feeling sorry for Bem (especially if you [like the mayor] haven't had any bad experiences with lager louts [not that bad (British) things don't happen to good people -- they certainly do sometimes -- fortunately not to me, however, so far. I only get attacked by local boys, but I digress]).

I also think it was fair for Bem to ask what the $75 was for, given the context. (If I 'buy' her, do I get to keep her?) Then again, I really don't know precisely how brothels work. No, the comment that made me scratch my head was Bem's 'Central Europe is so far away from Southeast Asia. ' Indeed.

Interesting to note that exchange offices are becoming more notorious than taxis, according to this article from the PBJ.
I really wish somebody at the Prague Post would edit out sentences such as these: "But obscenity issues have a life of their own, particularly in a country still shaking off 40 years of socialism. And particularly with a combustible mix of characters and sensibilities in the cauldron of a steamy summer in Prague. "

It's an article about an art show that raised some eyebrows and an Italian cafe manager who raised a stink. The venerable Vecernik Praha declared it skandal. The cops came and took some pictures before deciding the exhibition wasn't obscene.

It's not that this isn't a worthy subject for a story. But what's that connection between obscenity issues and socialism? It's not exactly clear, and fourteen years after the revolution, I'd like to think the connection's pretty minimal compared to other cultural factors. The guy that complained the most loudly was a foreigner, after all.

There's a tendency among foreigners (and among Czechs as well, perhaps) to blame all the country's idiosyncracies -- even things like this, which aren't all that idiosyncratic -- on the Communist experience. It's very shallow, and often completely inaccurate.

In the mixed metaphor department, things usually boil in cauldrons, but I suppose a mixture of lard, oil and gasoline would combust if you got it hot enough. Especially in the steamy summer. And at the end of the day, lest anybody get all touchy, I'm still pro-Post.