Friday, October 31, 2003

More on this Izzy guy:
In Washington, a senior defense official told reporters Wednesday that a link had been found between Saddam supporters and foreign fighters.

The official said on condition of anonymity that two members of the Islamic extremist group Ansar al-Islam told interrogators that Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri ... was coordinating attacks with foreigners.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

So this guy, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, is apparently behind the attacks in Baghdad, according to an unnamed Pentagon source (who himself simply says "there are reports.")

If true, it begs the question: Why isn't Saddam himself calling the shots? And who's this guy in league with? Not that I know that first thing about anything, but I suspect he's calling on foreign jihadists who would never answer to the apostate Saddam.

So to waste some time and better myself, I decided to do some research on Al-Douri. Turns out:

a) his daughter was married ("briefly") to Uday -- how'd that relationship turn out?

b) He's really not a very pleasant person.

c) He was getting medical treatment in Vienna as little as four years ago. (Note the odd quotation marks around "war crimes.")

d) He was supposed to be in charge of the defense of northern Iraq, but in May, a source told the Independent that he'd run away to Syria, where that country's Republican Guards were sheltering him.

e) When the bombs starting dropping, he allegedly placed his office in a graveyard that contained a holy man's remains, presumably thinking the aura of holiness would act as a sort of force field to protect him.

d) Bush buddy Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia was seen embracing and kissing Al Douri at a March 2002 Arab conference in Qatar. Small world. (From the same article.)

e) In the early days of the war, there were rumors he'd split with Saddam and was willing to make a deal with the Americans. (Also from the same article.)

f) He was supposedly killed in the same "decapitation strike" that, it turns out, didn't actually kill Chemical Ali.

g) Doh!! Yep, there he is, kissing Prince Abdullah. Ew.

The Internet is so great.
So the woman and I are dressing up as Antony and Cleopatra for Halloween. (She's Cleopatra...) Today we checked out the costume rental shop at Barrandov Studios for the first time. Not easy to get to -- even when you get to the Studios' main gate, you have to walk nearly all the way across the lot to find the costumes building -- but once you get there, prepare to be impressed with the 100,000+ get-ups they're ready to lend you. Downside: Whopping cash deposit. Barrandov is now sitting on Kc 17,500 of my dough. (That's about $650.) But the costumes themselves only cost Kc 1905 for seven days, and that's including a very life-like black wig (which came from a separate wig department and incurred its own Kc 5000 deposit), an ancient Egyptian crown, a Cleopatra-like dress, that colorful metal thingie that goes around the necks of people in hieroglyphs, a Roman tunic-type doo-dad and a big manly looking leather belt.

You'll get personalized service, and English is spoken by at least one of the costume people, but don't expect to browse. There's just too stuff for that. Go there with a specific idea in mine, and let them find it. Indeed, try to stump them. We decided we wanted to be Antony and Cleopatro over a number of beers at a pub ther other night. Runner-up: Chicken and egg. ("After you." "No, after you." "No, after you."...)

And they close at 3pm every day.

Seems like a ton of stuff is happening in Prague for Halloween, which is funny, because ten years ago, I'm sure virtually nobody celebrated it. I'd recommend Prague.TV's Monster Ball at Zizkov's Ponec theatre, co-catered by Tulip.

Steve Forbes, the billionaire U.S. publisher, former presidential candidate, and flat-tax advocate, wrote on his website on 11 August that Slovakia's far-sighted tax policies will propel it into becoming the next Ireland or Hong Kong -- in other words, an area of sustained economic growth.
Story via RFE.

I wonder if Steve Forbes knows the first thing about Slovakia.

UPDATE: Apparently they're refering to this column, which isn't just a brief mention, but a whole piece on how great Slovakia is.

I must take issue with this map, however:

This is really only useful if you know where those other countries are located.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

I just read Josh Marshall's post about the rising fear that Bush might pull a Somalia on Iraq.

The concern is that the politicals at the White House will dictate a hasty and potentially disastrous withdrawal from Iraq --- one engineered not to create a long-term good outcome in the country, but to create a very specific short-term benefit, to eliminate or reduce the president's political vulnerability on the issue in the fall of 2004.

The neocons seem to share that anxiety in spades.
For whatever it's worth -- not much, since it's just little old me, and there's about a zero percent chance I'd vote for Bush anyway -- I figured I might as well go on the record saying this would be a terrible thing. And so should you, dear reader, whoever you are. Right? RIGHT?

UPDATE: Some commentary on this exact subject here on The Belgravia Dispatch blog. You may disagree, as I do, with the implicit claim that Bush was playing diplomatic nice guy all along. But there's some excellent commentary here about the danger of "Iraqification" alluded to in my comments section.
Hate to say it, but for once, Andrew Sullivan makes sense. A lot of sense.

This is something that can and should transcend any of our internal debates and divisions - right, left, Democrat, Republican, gay, lesbian, white, black, transgendered, bisexual.

Yes, it's the Federal Marriage Amendment, and it's bad. Very, very bad. Probably worse than you thought.

I try not to get worked up about politics, but it's really hard to underestimate the personal importance that such a blatantly homophobic amendment to the Constitution would have. In America, the Constitution is pretty much everything. Far right to far left, nearly every American citizen falls back on the U.S. Constitution, whether knowingly or not, to define his or her Americanness.

Yet what could an unprejudiced American possibly say if this passed? Could you really look a foreigner in the eye and say you're still proud to be an American? I cringe to think.

This won't pass, because this can't pass.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

"Prices of more than Kc 100,000 per square meter were once a rarity on the Prague market, but thanks to the increasing number of wealthy Czechs, this is no longer the case...."

An article I wrote about posh flats in Prague.
Happy Czech National Holiday. Actually, I have a confession to make. After living in this country for over seven years, I still can't get the holidays straight. Can you imagine if somebody was living in the U.S. for seven years and still didn't know why July 4 is a day off? I'd want to punch them. To be fair, I was about 99% sure this was the anniversary of Czechoslovak independence (not the least because there's a street named October 28 in the center of Prague) but I did require absolute confirmation from Doug Arellanes's blog.

I had an interesting thought. Does it strike anybody as odd that more ink hasn't been spilled about the attack on Deputy Defense Secretary and neo-con kingpin Paul Wolfowitz's Baghdad hotel? Stop for a second and imagine that he'd actually been killed. (It could have happened; one U.S. Army colonel was, after all.) The news these days presents many opportunities to use the word "tragic." But Wolfowitz's death at the hands of an Iraqi insurgent would not only have been tragic; it would have been Tragic, in the grand Sophoclean sense.

When I read that Wolfowitz was in the hotel, I didn't think, "Wow." I thought, "Hm." And my own lacklustre response got me thinking some more. What happened to the debates about American hegemony, the liberation of Iraq and the re-making of the Middle East that saturated the venues of professional (and unprofessional) tongue-wagging this past year? Wolfowitz had ambitious plans for the Middle East; still does. You can criticize neo-conservative hawkishness as misplaced or overzealous, but you could never accuse them (or Wolfowitz) of lacking vision. Or guts, for that matter.

Alas, what's happened is this: The U.S. invaded Iraq. Back when we hadn't invaded Iraq, there was plenty to get worked up about. There was passion flying in all directions. Promising friendships came to an abrupt end, fierce invective was exchanged, and spilled drinks probably stained more than a few carpets. All over a war that hadn't happened yet.

Today? Let's face it. The passion's gone. I think what we have on our hands is a dead shark, that and a Third World country where the average person can't even afford proper flip-flops.

I have no other point I'm trying to make. That's it.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

It happened again. A million people (or, so maybe three or four) from all walks of my previous lives said they'd come and visit me this summer in Prague. And of course, they all flaked in the end. This happens year after year after year.

Yesterday, however, I did get a call from an old acquintance who became a pilot at British Airways earlier this year, doing routes to various European cities and swinging through Prague at the moment. He's my old college roomate from freshman year, and while we never really got along all that well in school, it was quite nice to see him now that we're all grown up. (Actually, he hasn't changed much, so the fact that we got along leads me to believe I was more of a prick in my youth).

I've actually never spoken at length with somebody who flies large commercial jetliners for a living. Oddly, he said the weirdest part of his job is making the passenger announcements and standing at the doorway saying, "Thank you, goodbye, thank you, goodbye...." It's times like these -- not during take-off, landing, or staring out the cockpit window at 30,000 feet -- that he really thinks, "Wait, this is my life?"


Lately I've been at a loss for words about stuff to blog about. Nothing really hot going on around the blogosphere as far as I can tell. Indeed, is it me or did all the blogs suddenly becoming boring? This thingie about Gregg Easterbrook was a real snooze. I mean sure, I have something to say about it (OK, in a nutshell: what he said was neither anti-Semitic nor smart, and I've always been ticked off at people who think think religion and morality have anything to do with one another and 2 Samuel is a helluva lot more violent than Kill Bill, and I only have that argument ready because I talked about it with my girlfriend over dinner last night). But I just don't see why I should spend much time announcing my own thoughts on the matter to the world at large.

Oh, speaking of the Bible. As friends and readers of this blog know, I've been slogging ("slog," according to Rumsfeld, means " to hit or strike hard ... to assail violently") through the Old Testament for several months now. My problem right now is that I've gotten to Psalms, and while the language and imagenry sure is nice, it doesn't exactly have, hm, shall we say, a suspenseful plotline pulling you through it -- unlike most other books of the Bible. In other words, I don't really look forward to coming home so I can curl up with the Good Book and find out in what new and multifarious ways the LORD is great.


I lost a bet about some Pixies lyrics, so I cleaned the bathroom today.


Oh, and if you've come to this site looking for a photo (or a picture of a photograph) of Valerie Plame Wilson, click here. At a private party for high-powered media and Washington diplomatic types...

The buzz ... focused on a shy and attractive blonde who sat nibbling finger sandwiches and discreetly introduced herself only as "Valerie."
She's pretty mean with a AK-47, too, or so we hear.

Note that Leon Wieseltier, The New Republic's literary editor and subject of my post on Monday, was eating from the same buffet table. And I thought Prague was a village...