Thursday, November 20, 2003

"Once open, the debate is surprisingly winnable." So says William Saletan on Slate about the forthcoming gay marriage controversy.

And here's what my mom, a lifelong Republican from Massachusetts, has to say about the matter:

I'm torn about gay marriage. I certainly think gay couples should be able to get health insurance for one another. And in order to do that, there has to be some deciding point, as to when it's going to be a lasting relationship, in order to define when the benefits would start. They can't just move in together and say "ok, now I get his/her benefits." I'm even thinking probably the married filing joint tax benefits should be appropriate. So the only thing really against it is the "feeling" that it just isn't "natural."
If I'd asked her the question ten years ago, I doubt the conversation would have moved past the "feeling" part.
I should have posted this two days ago, but EuroSavant has an excellent round-up of what the press is saying about the ongoing rise of the Czech Communists.

It's rather negligent, come to think of it, that Tim Sebastian didn't pound Klaus on the Communist Question during his HardTalk interview.
Rehabilitating Howard Dean... ?

As I've said, nearly everything I know about the U.S. presidential candidates is filtered through the perspective of independent commentary, which I like to think gives me a truly unique perspective. (Ha ha.)

So is it me, or are people cautiously starting to take Dean seriously? Not just as a Democratic candidate, but as a potential president. And not just the people you'd expect. I called it a "bombshell" a few weeks ago when the pro-war liberal hawk Michael Totten said he might actually vote for for the virulently anti-war Dean.

Now read Andrew Sullivan's post today. Jesus, if Howard Dean can pick up Sullivan's vote -- and if he can pick up my dad's anti-liberal, anti-war vote, which I consider unlikely -- then he stands more than a good chance of becoming president.

Of course, he's gotta be likable, too. For the record, if the election were held today, I'd still vote for Wesley Clark in a snap, despite his plasticman appearance.
If you click on "comments" expecting to see some comments and nothing shows up, trying clicking on "Check master server comments (vs216)" in the pop-up window.
I have funny feeling that the war has gotten a whole lot closer. I mean the Ottomans made it as far as Bratislava, right?

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

So I've been commissioned to pen the "Prague Today" section of the next Time Out Prague Guide (with a sidebar on Praguebloggers, by the way).

For whatever it's worth, I think Time Out publishes the best tourist guide to Prague -- head and shoulders above the rest, and a good six feet above the god-awful Lonely Planet. This isn't just because it's written by my friend Will Tizard. It's because the Time Out standards are simply higher than those of almost all other guidebooks. For one thing, they actually demand an insiders' view as opposed to the travelers' view. (If I want a travelers' view, why buy a guidebook at all? Duh.) If I'm visiting a city, I almost always purchase the Time Out guide; and I own a few Time Out guides for cities that I've never even visited. (OK, I just checked -- only one, Amsterdam).

Anyway, the "Prague Today" essay is supposed to be a sort of snapshot of the life of a city at a particular moment in time. I'm still not sure which direction I'm going to go with this, but I have a vague idea, and any comments dropped into the comments bin would be greatly appreciated.

This might have more to do with my personal situation, but I feel like the summer of 2002 marked a high point of some sort in terms of the city's overall social pulse. I can't quite define what it was though. For one thing, the economy was doing well -- indeed, it was one of the few economies that was doing well. The Old Town cocktail bar scene was booming and you could still go to frou-frou parties thrown by weird and interesting people you'd never imagine hanging out with during down time. Life was good. (Compare: The other night I was actually turned away by a bouncer -- yes, a bouncer! --at the bar/club Celnice off Nam. Republiky. What's become of this world?)

Then the August 2002 floods came, and after that, the global economy actually started taking its toll on the local one. The mounting excitement over Czech EU entry stopped mounting. Havel left office and the ensuing circus to find a replacement was embarassing for everybody involved. It sort gradually started to dawn on people that pretty soon, Prague would no longer be the fabled "Prague" of lore -- neither the lore of '90s expats, nor the lore of philosopher-king Havel, nor the lore of a heady post-communist society in transition -- but just another small European capital of a small European nation. Like Amsterdam, actually.

It's true that visitors to Prague can still get away with a lot more than they can elsewhere, and there's still a bit of an anything-goes atmosphere, for better and for worse. You can still see stuff that's seems a bit anachronistic -- the classic grotty Czech pub, for instance, if you know where to look for it; booze that's still incredibly cheap by Western standards; a party-all-night atmosphere that drives the locals mad, except when they're the ones doing it; beer-soaked nights in the park during the summer, and beat-soaked nights at clubs during the cold winter; your local potraviny that's stayed in business way past its expected shelf life; the "Death Meinl" staffed by the undead at Olsanske Namesti. That sort of thing. And speaking of Amsterdam -- in the last few years Prague has become one of the pot capitals of Europe. Let's not even mention the brothels. In other words, the patina of grimy charm is still there, but with every new shopping mall that goes up, it becomes a little more burnished. (Do long-term residents mind? I, for one, will not cry for the obnoxious lady behind the country of the local potraviny. Carrefour? Bring it on!)

By the time this guidebook comes out, I expect the Czech Republic will be an actual member of the EU, at least in name. And although we've been expecting it for over a deacde, that still just seems a little weird to me.

Anyway, just thinking out loud. Thoughts welcome.
Here's that thing Edward Epstein was working on about the "Prague Connection." Pretty amazing, actually, that it ended up on Slate, a publication I write for occasionally. (I never did write to Jakub Hladik, Havel's secretary, like I said I would.... Actually I did, but it was about tennis. Never mind.)

Woah, so I just read the piece and... there's nothing I can say that George Cerny hasn't beaten me to.

Really, the guy's main source is Jan Kavan? Indeed it would appear the only source is Jan Kavan....

Color me just a wee bit disappointed.
It's the constitution, stupid,a> says Iraq Today:
Few if any Iraqis greeted American tanks with open arms, but many relished the arrival of real American values into the country. Those values are not the clichés of westernization-jeans, McDonald's and Starbucks-but the set of inalienable rights the West takes for granted: representative government, the right to due process, the promise of transparency in government, and the chance for redress.

But some eight months since the fall of the former regime, it is the violation of those basic American values that has turned off Iraqis once willing to give the Coalition a chance and given the resistance a leg up.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

I know I'm a little bit late to this argument, but I sort of appreciated Tom Tomorrow's "Chicken Hawk Down" cartoon. Tom Tomorrow has done some hilarious stuff, and while this certainly isn't his funniest cartoon (I still think that honor goes to the "crazy moon lover" toon from the olden days), it's certainly not offensive.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, go ahead and read it. It's only take a second of your time.

Roger L. Simon writes, "Actually he was trying, perhaps without knowing it, to do precisely what the anti-war faction is frequently accusing the other side of doing--stifling their opinion."

Come now. Look, I don't buy the "chicken hawk" argument. Never have. (The argument goes that if you're not in the military and you've never served, you have no right to support the war.) The argument is hollow, and worse, it goes against the ever-important principle of civilian control of the military.

But people, people.... It's a cartoon. One that takes a fair shot at the arrogance of people who proclaim themselves standard-bearers for a lofty movement just because they have a web log.

That's all. Nothing more. No stifling of opinion here. Move along, people.

Here's my big-picture take, which I think I've expressed before: Political speech, by its very nature, is coercive. That means that when you speak, you're usually, in essence, trying to prevent another person from speaking. You're trying to drown out other voices. You're trying to get people you don't agree with to shut up. This is just human nature and there's no getting around it.

Now that's all very theoretical, and in the real world, in the world of men and women and laws and whatnot, you need certain limits on what can be done to prevent others from expressing their view. That's called free speech.

But for chrissake, don't accuse somebody of trying to stifle your opinion just because he made fun of your opinion, called your a blowhard or told you to shut up.
Wow, the general really went apeshit.

Via Josh Marshall, and connected with my previous post about the difficulty following a political campaign from abroad -- here's Wesley Clark having a conniption during a Fox News interview. The anchor tried to take a cheap shot, asking Clark what I suppose passes in Fox's mind for a "tough" question. ("While our men and women are dying in Iraq, is it proper to call it sideshow [to the war on terror]?") And Clark laid into him like nobody's business.

I'm not saying I'm totally blown away by Clark's ideas (a joint Saudi-American-Newsweek force?) but Fox deserved a sharp kick in the groin for that one. At the same time, it seems Clark must have made a calculated decision, ahead of time, to get pissed off if the moment presented itself. You can sort of tell by the way he jumps the gun. He probably got a bit more emotional than he'd intended, but the message was pretty clear in the end: I meant what I said, and don't fuck with me. This is stuff you could never tell from reading a transcript. Worth downloading. Here's the direct link.
Prague Monitor leads with three stories about two Slovak guys arrested in Brno while counting the $700,000 they made by selling low-grade uranium to -- duh -- undercover Czech cops. It wasn't enough (or good enough) for an actual nuke, but it could have made a massive dirty bomb.

Question not answered, and oddly not even approached, by any of the coverage: Why? What for? (Why were they trying to sell it and who did they think the buyer was, not why were they arrested.)
Some Czechs are about to start a TV station in Iraq, says Lidove Noviny (via Radio Prague):
The TV station's provisional name is the 'Voice of the South' and it is expected to start broadcasting three hours daily in a trial run in February. The 'Voice of the South' is expected to broadcast mainly news and current affairs programmes but also children's cartoons. According to LIDOVE NOVINY, the channel should gradually start broadcasting films, including Czech ones.
Goddamn cultural imperialists.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Woah. What am I missing here? The neoconservative Weekly Standard gets ahold of top secret U.S. government memorandum that reveals once and for all that

I'm sorry, it's just so bizarre on the face of it that I'm having difficulty completing that sentence.

The neoconservative Weekly Standard gets ahold of top secret U.S. government memorandum that

Cough, cough, cough. OK, one more time.

The neoconservative Weekly Standard gets ahold of top secret U.S. government memorandum that reveals once and for all that Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda were in cahoots.

Oh my god! Thank heavens for investigative journalism, otherwise the public would have never known the truth! I'm sure the administration is panicking now that somebody's got ahold of these top secret documents.

Really, I've got to be missing something. Somebody help?
OpinionJournal - Featured Article: "The silver bullet offered by some on the right, meanwhile, is more U.S. troops. Senator John McCain is the leader of this camp, and unlike the left he is rooting for American victory. "

That's right, all of us on the left are hoping the Baathists win.
Happy Velvet Revolution Day.

Three relevant articles from Radio Prague:

1. 14th anniversary of Velvet Revolution

On Friday, November 17th 1989 a brutal attack on a peaceful student march triggered six short weeks of protest demonstrations that led to the definite end of Communist control in Czechoslovakia. Vaclav Bartuska, was a student leader at the time:

"Well, with every passing year, November 17 looks more and more like a fairy tale because the change which happened here in this country in 1989 was so quick, fast and so unexpected by most of us that it's just unbelievable. The country was so stable, so rigid, so boring before '89....
2. Communist Party consolidates position as country's second strongest force. "The Communists are the only ones who really show very stable opinions as well as a stable structure within the party, unlike the rest of the parties, for example the Social Democrats."

Vaclav Klaus and Milos Zeman always wanted a two-party system. I'm not sure ODS vs. the Communists is what they had in mind. Is this really happening?

3. Amnesty International declares former president Vaclav Havel as Ambassador of Conscience