Saturday, September 27, 2003

How does he do it? I'm talking about EuroSavant, the international man of mystery with the initials MAO (I know his real name and I could tell you, but...) who does this web site. Here's an excellent "wrap-up" (more like an in-depth analysis) of the barbs traded by the German and Polish press over the issue of post-WWII expellees.
Interview with Robert Kagan in Spain's La Vanguardia translated on Europundits. I'm really not sure what to make of this guy. His is an idiosyncratic point of view to be sure. He's obviously an idealist, yet he disdains idealism. And while I don't disagree with too much of what he says, I'm put off by his stridency. A quote from this NY Times op-ed by David Brooks comes to mind: "Conservatives are people who teach the value of prudence but are incapable of exercising any." Except that Kagan doesn't preach the value of prudence and, it appears, doesn't even bother calling himself a conservative.

Friday, September 26, 2003

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Highly recommended reading: Matthew Parris, "The Iraq blunder will make Americans say, 'Never again!' And that's a pity" (via Pragueblog).

In Iraq, the neocons got it wrong. There was nothing wrong in principle with an argument for pre-emptive action to forestall danger, but everything wrong with its application in this case. The risk now is that next time America may shrink from intervening when she should....

And the awful danger is that failure in this instance has discredited a noble argument: the general case for American internationalism. US isolationalism has been the long-term beneficiary, and we may all live to regret it.
That was the danger from the beginning, and my fear is that it's already coming to pass. I've long called myself a liberal interventionist. I think that Western powers can and should, at appropriate times, intervene in other nations' affairs on the grounds of human rights. I supported NATO intervention in Kosovo and Bosnia. I didn't even hesitate with Afghanistan, because the case was simply overwhelming: Not only was there provocation, but the Taliban were the worst scum to rule a swath of territory on this planet since Pol Pot.

But what's happening in Iraq right now is making even me think, in fleeting moments, that maybe we should just mind our own damn business next time. Something comes to mind about good intentions being used as paving stones.

I fear the damage George Bush has done is irreparable. Not to Iraq; they'll turn out fine in the end. But to American's credibility in the world and its stomach for foreign intervention. Indeed, if he were the slightest bit cunning, I might suspect George Bush launched this war to bring about his touted "humble foreign policy," much the way Reagan enacted his program of "small government" by spending the government into the ground.
Addendum to below:G. A. Cerny on Klaus's gassy American tour.
Missing word replaced.

A poll of the Czech public shows right-wing ODS is the most popular political party with 28.5% support, versus 16.5% for the ruling Social Dems and 14% for the Commies. The once-upon-a-time promising Freedom Union is down to 3%. No big surprise with any of these numbers.

I've never really understood the broad appeal of ODS; that is, while I understand why a Czech person would favor a strong, right-of-center party, I've never been able to discern much of a pattern in who supports ODS and who doesn't. In the U.S., you can generally guess a lot of non-political things about somebody -- with a decent amount of accuracy -- if they tell you they vote Republican. It probably means they're white, they don't smoke pot, they don't listen to the Rolling Stones, and they're on the management side of whatever business they're in. (Don't try to shoot this down by mentioning your gay black drug-addicted union leader Republican uncle. I meant as a very, very broad rule of thumb.) Not so in the Czech Republic. What's the general caricature of the ODS voter? I've never received a decent answer to that question.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Jonathan Ledgard's Stormpetrel website had been updated from Afghanistan. You gotta click to "Journalism" and then to "Asia" to see his most recent Economist articles
I just found this oh-so-handy site offering "the straight scoop on successful long-term living in the Czech Repubilc." I don't know about anybody else, but almost nothing on this site rings true. See, for instance, the "10 Ways to Wreck Your Plans in the Czech Republic":

Home phone lines are still rare in the Czech Republic... Renting an apartment is never-ending maze in the Czech Republic..... Air-conditioning. Laundromats. Ice machines. Your favorite toothpaste. All things that with small exception don't exist in the Czech Republic.... Political correctness, feminism and concern for child welfare haven't reached Europe or the Czech Republic yet like they have in the USA.... There is no ventilation or air-conditioning nearly everywhere.... Foods, including dairy and meat, are not wrapped or refrigerated properly.... Need to run to the bank for a last minute deposit? Don't be surprised if they closed half an hour early.
Sheesh! Hey, for the record, my bank closes at 4:30 p.m. every day, on the dot. And yeah, we got Colgate, too. As for the rest, well, that's why this blog has a comments feature.

I wonder how many people are scared away by stuff like this? Worse, I wonder how many people read this crap and think, "Wow! How exotic!"
I can't emphasize how glad I am that Tom Tomorrow has revisted William Safire's awful, panic-inducing distribution of the White House's lie that the Secret Service had received a message on the morning of 9/11 saying, "Air Force One is next." As Safire told the tale, the message contained code words that indicated intimate knowledge of the president's procedures and whereabouts. In Safire's words, they had "the code-word information and transponder know-how that established their mala fides." In other words, there was a Al Qaeda mole in the White House.

This was confirmed by Karl Rove himself, who told Safire:

"When the president said 'I don't want some tinhorn terrorists keeping me out of Washington,' the Secret Service informed him that the threat contained language that was evidence that the terrorists had knowledge of his procedures and whereabouts. In light of the specific and credible threat, it was decided to get airborne with a fighter escort."
An Al Qaeda mole in the White House. I remember reading this article, and I remember freaking out about it.

Fortunately, like much that comes out of the Bush administration, this tale turned out to be complete bollocks, intended merely to quell any grumblings (including Safire's) that the president hadn't addressed the nation soon enough.

Unfortunately, William Safire still has his job. And as Tom Tomorrow points out, he appears never to have corrected this unbelievable gaffe.

Off the top of my head, I know of two other mistruths Safire has reported in his columns, relatively recently, though none nearly as serious at his uncorrected 9/11 scare story. One has local significance: When James Risen reported in The New York Times, quoting Czech officials, that the story about Mohammed Atta meeting an Iraqi agent in Prague turned out to be false, Risen wrote that ex-Czech President Vaclav Havel had "discretely" placed a phone call to the White House informing it that the story was bogus. In response to that story, Havel's office came out with a statement that no such phone call had taken place. Havel's office did not, as Safire later reported in the same paper, "deny the denial." Phone call or no phone call, the report of Atta's meeting was refuted by Czech intelligence. As far as I know, that has never been called into question, despite what Dick Cheney says today.

(Read this blog for a slightly alternative view on this.)

After the Washington sniper was caught last year, Safire congratulated himself on his previous hunch that the killer was an Al Qaeda sympthizer who "recently converted to Islam." Old man, John Allen Muhammed converted to Islam in 1985. Quick, somebody call the parents of Avril Lavigne and congratulate them on the "recent" addition to their family!

Put that guy out to pasture already.
Quote: "This process must unfold according to the needs of Iraqis -- neither hurried nor delayed by the wishes of other parties."

Is it me, or is he starting to sound like Polonius?

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Today I was standing out in front of my apartment on Borivojova waiting for a taxi. I guy with long scraggly black hair came up to me and said, "Dobry. Den. Prosim. Vas." At first I thought he was drunk. Then he handed me a slip of paper that read "Jiriho z Podebrad" and I realized he was just an American who didn't speak Czech. He just moved here and was meeting somebody in front of the Plecnik church to look at an apartment. Came to Prague to direct his own horror movies, he said. "There aren't that many Americans here anymore, are they?" he said. "What are you talking about?" I replied. "There are tons of Americans." I felt like adding, "Why do you think I'm not the least bit fazed that some freaky random American approached me on my doorstep in Zizkov for directions?" He really wanted to chat. I really didn't want to chat. Sorry, I'm just a bit anti-social these days.
Annan to Propose Overhaul of U.N.: "'We have come to a fork in the road. This may be a moment, no less decisive than 1945 itself, when the United Nations was founded,' reads an advance copy of his speech."

Annan's speech looks to be a far more interesting one than Bush's. I'm wondering how the process of reforming or expanding the UN Security Council would work, from a purely legal perspective. Would the charter have to re-ratified by every member country? Or does the charter actually have an in-built mechanism for change? Can the UN General Assembly decide on changes alone, and if so, by what kind of vote? Do permanent members of the Security Council have any say in the matter? Please don't tell me it didn't occur to anybody in 1945 that the balance of power in the world would someday change. Ideally the UNSC permanent members would be Europe, America, Russia, India, and China. Actually, ideally China would be left out until they decide to become a real democracy, but that's far fetched. It's also pretty far fetched to think that France or Britain would willingly cede their seats to a single European representative within the next, say, 30 years. (Britain has much less to lose in that regard than France, since it rarely takes a position independent of the United States.)

Just thinking out loud.
I was shocked, really, that none of the Praguebloggers picked up this NYTimes story by Ian Fisher published in the IHT's travel section last Thursday. It's all about the hip, up-and-coming Prague neighborhood of Zizkov. And it's about the laziest piece of travel journalism I've ever come across. (Scratch that -- I've probably seen worse without knowing it. Doesn't give you much faith in the medium.) Quote:

Trendy young Praguers who might have lived in nearby Vinohrady, an ever-costlier neighborhood now full of upmarket shops and restaurants, are turning to Zizkov, fueling the trendy bars along Borivojova Street.
Excuse me? I know Borivojova Street. I live on Borivojova Street! Do you mean Hapu, just about the only remotely trendy bar that might be on Borivojova Street? (It's actually on Orlicka.) Maybe you meant the Clown and Bard youth hostel? Um, that's not exactly "fueled by trendy young Praguers." Or that tiny pot-smoking hole in the wall down the street from me, formerly called Herba Cafe? Or Luis Cypher, the grottiest fussball joint in the country? Borivojova has historically been known (accurately? who knows) as the street with the highest concentration of pubs in Prague. But if anything, the gentrification of the district is pushing those dives out, not fueling them.

Of the two establishments the author actually mentions, one is Cafe Chef, a rinky-dink little place across from the TV tower that I've never stepped into, nor ever heard of anybody stepping into. Maybe it's a fine place to go, but it's not exactly Akropolis. (Natch, the cultural capital of Zizkov gets no mention.)

Ian Fisher is a globe-trotting correspondant for the Times who probably spent a holiday hear in Prague, and an afternoon walking around Zizkov. Somebody must have told him Zizkov was the hip hood, but forgot to tell him where to go to find the action. Mr. Fisher, if you're reading this, send me a line next time. I'll be happy to show you around.

UPDATE: An astute journo reader (Jaroslav Plesl of LN) informs us in the comments that Mr. Fisher actually lives in Prague.

Monday, September 22, 2003

I'm back. I know you've been missing me. Come on, admit it.

Prior to my departure for ten days in Scotland, my internet provider (UPC) switched off my internet connection due to [sheepish grimace] non-payment of invoice. Jesus, they at least could have sent me a warning message. So I didn't have a chance bid my blog a proper farewell. Sorry, blog.

Ten days in Scotland with the parents, and then another weekend with them here in Prague (partly to attend the board meeting of Tulip Cafe, of which Mom's a shareholder).

My mom and dad have gotten way, way into this genealogical thing, so I spent an awful lot of time listening to my dad spinning theories about how and why my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather Lachlin MacMillan got on that damned boat to Canada in Tobermory, Mull, in 1806. And an awful lot of time talking to grizzled old historians in small towns on the Inner Hebrides. And an awful lot of time reminding my dad to swerve left, not right, when he sees an oncoming car. I didn't envy him. Last time I rented a car with my parents, I crashed into the side of an Austrian Alp. Not trying that again, especially not with the gear shift on the left.

They left Monday morning, and I immediately began suffering from a serious parentijuana hangover. I must have the flu. Blame weekend wedding partying at Tulip.

For whatever it's worth, my first serious web visits were the old Pragueblogosphere stalwarts: Pragueblog, Arellanes, NicMoc, and Daily Czech, in that order. Guys, we rule! If some greenie like Sam Beckwith thinks he can just start up his own blog and call himself a Pragueblogger, well then... well... um... Welcome to the pahty.

Sam works with Prague.TV. I'm going to begin writing a few things for Prague.TV myself starting this week, as part of a publicity-for-content swap with Tulip.

As for news and current events, I've been totally out of touch. Something about a hurricane? Oh yeah, and stuff keeps blowing up in the Middle East? Holiday in Cancun? What, you say the Americans and the French are at each others' throats? Zzzzzz...

Here's my most interesting political observation of the past two weeks. My dad is a right-leaning business executive who blames "the liberals" and "the unions" for everything that's wrong in the world. He says "these people" in the Middle East are never going to stop blowing themselves up in the name of God. He thinks Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh are a hoot. And get this: he was against the war in Iraq and thinks Bush is going to lose next year due to the war, despite otherwise "doing a good job."

Actually, I read two things today that sparked a modicum of reflection. The first was Tom Friedman's "Our War With France," recommended by Steve at Pragueblog. The second was Jacques Chirac's response of sorts, a NYTimes interview published on the front page of the IHT today. (Actually, more humorous is the full text of the interview itself: "Dear lady, you have got it absolutely wrong...")

Now about those French. In American, there are two types of jokes that never stop being funny: Anything involving cops in donut shops, and anything involving French people. But beyond that I'm really missing something here. Why, why, why are American pundits still spilling so much ink over the French? Because annoying croissant-squeezers you meet in bars and cafes named Jean-Luc and Pierre and Pascal are, well, annoying croissant-squeezers? And? The only real answer I've even gotten is that, "We're talking about France because they want to be talked about." I couldn't make up a dumber reason.

The French position on Iraq (and the position of the French on Iraq, if one cares to distinguish) has rarely differed from that of the German (and the Germans), the Indian (and the Indians), the Russian (and the Russians) and Chinese (they don't vote, so who knows what they think). But you can't blame everybody, so you've got to blame somebody. What, the entire world doesn't agree with us? It must be the work of treacherous French! Please, please, make it stop. Something is seriously wrong here. This is freedom-fry territory. Irrational. Hysterical. Yes, paranoid. And unfortunately, deeply rooted on both sides, and unstoppable. When a diplomatic tussle turns into a cultural war between two societies, there's no stemming the tide. The French are the enemy, up is down, black is white, and there's nothing I can do about it except rant.

Let's get some terminology straight. If France is the "enemy," what exactly does that make Egypt, where most people think its $2 billion-a-year sugar daddy, the United States, actually deserved 9/11? What does that make Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein? In the immortal words of Inigo Montoya in "The Princess Bride": "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

Tom Friedman says the French proposal calling for America to high-tail it out of Iraq is worth less than the paper it's written on. As unmeasured outrage goes, this is pretty well-placed anger. I can't think of a dumber or more worthless idea than transferring sovereignty to Iraqis immediately, unless of course you're on the payroll of Ahmed Chalabi. What were they were thinking? I know this doesn't make for good blogging, but political events usually have a number of intersecting causes and motivations, stated and unstated, sometimes even self-contradicting ones -- as the war itself did, as European opposition to the war did. And to say that France suggested this only "because they hate America" is about as accurate as saying George Bush only invaded Iraq "because of the oil."

Certainly, due to the undeniable prevalence of annoying croissant-squeezing America-bashers named Jean-Luc and Pierre and Pascal, taking on the big bad USA must be politically popular in France. That's undoubtedly a factor, and if you ask me, a malicious one, and I'll be glad to tell that to those three aforementioned dweebs to their faces, whoever they are. But do they really have their hands on the levers of power as they do in Washington? Let's pause to consider some other possible motivations for opposing the American occupation of Iraq, such as, oh, say, the French really don't think Americans should be running Iraq. In other words, maybe they're principled and wrong. And stupid. No, no, no. That's not French. The French are lots of things, but they're not stupid. They're snooty. They're cunning. They're treacherous. Stupid? Don't even play that game.

Perhaps it's just a negotiating position, intended to signal that the American should not expect blank-check approval of the coalition authority. Chirac's professed flexibility (and his outright rejection of the veto option) certainly points in that directly. Or a European anti-colonial reaction that says Westerners shouldn't meddle in the affairs of Arabs, ever. Chirac's discussion of his Algerian experience certainly suggests that as well. Or maybe Chirac is just corrupt and was hoping to keep those oil contracts. I don't think any of these are very good reasons, to be sure, but they do suggest something less than "war," a word I like to reserve for, well, war. Most likely, it's a combination of all these reasons and more.

The Germans have their own baggage; they can be "ignored"; the Russians are always drunk; they can be "forgiven." But France must be "punished." (The words of Condi Rice.) Again, I'm missing something here.

Speaking of Chalabi, a friend and I at the wedding party on Saturday discovered a delightful new expression for use in daily conversation: "Where's Chalabi?" (Example of usage: "This restaurant sucks. Who's idea was it to come here? Where's Chalabi? What? He's off somewhere else? With his own private army and a golf course? That was never part of the plan!")