Saturday, January 31, 2004

I decided to start a series of posts about encounters with famous people, because that's sort of something everybody can relate to. Today in the shower I started singing "Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard" because I had it schtuck in my head. When I was a teenager, me and my dad and my sister went to see Paul Simon give a "Master Class" on songwriting. Basically, it was just a talk you had to buy tickets to go see. During the Q&A an audience member stood up and asked, "What were you and Julio doing down by the schoolyard?" He wouldn't tell us.

Friday, January 30, 2004

Oh, the pain of rejection:
At least five other people also saying they were willing to be killed and eaten went to his house in Rotenburg, near Kassel, but either backed down or were rejected as unappealing.
Late as usual -- here's what I did on New Year's 2004.

I'm going to skip the first part of the evening, which consisted of dinner at Tulip and watching cheap bottle rockets zip up and go *pow* on Opatovicka street. Afterwards I inhaled a particular substance that quickened the heart and made me feel dazed and confused -- especially during the following telephone conversation. Around 3 a.m., after everybody had turned in for the night, I got a call from V. (In the interest of protecting the not-so-innocent, I'm using initials, but if you know me, there's a good chance you know who V. is.)

V: Where are you?
Me: I'm at Tulip, but we're closing and I'm leaving.
V: What? I can't hear you. We're coming to Tulip.
Me: Um, no, cause Tulip is closed!
V: What? Where are you?
Me: Tulip!
V: You just said Tulip was closed!
Me; Yes it's closed!
V: Wait, you're at Tulip, but Tulip is closed?
Me: Yes!
V: Um... OK. So what you're saying is.... We should not come to Tulip?
Me: Right! Exactly!
V: OK. So, then...
Me: I'll call you back in a few minutes.

I found out later that he had just smoked a joint as well, which explains a lot.

V. was in town with his friend from California, J., an old Prognosite. She hadn't been back to Prague since the early '90s and remarked that everything seemed so shiny. And she wanted to party.

I met up with V. and J. at the oddest choice of an establishment -- the Cinzano Bar in that enclosed winter garden right at the Mustek interesection, next to that new glass building at the foot of Wenceslas Square. If you live in Prague, you've walked past this place a thousand times and never thought of going in. Here's the little nugget I took from the Cinzano Bar: All the furniture is bolted down. Want to pull up a third stool to the table? No can do. Want to scoot up a bit closer? Not happening. Moving along, we proceeded to M1. Tequila was procured, on which I wisely passed. From there we tried Tretter's -- nope, closing time -- and Ocean Drive, a newish Tretter's-like super-swank cocktail bar. There were men at Ocean Drive standing on the bar dancing in the underwear. We didn't belong and somebody prompty ejected us from the joint -- literally pushed us out, as I recall. Running thin on options, we headed back to M1 and had another drink. J. dropped out and went home. Chateau/Chapeau Rouge was closed (it was getting early at this point). The only place that was open was a weird place called Fat Joe's, that place next to Big Ben bookshop (across from Svaty Jakub Church) which has changed its name like 10 times in the past five years.

Fat Joe's was chock full of drunken Slovaks, saying Slovak stuff, talking about being Slovak, and singing songs about Slovakness. V., who's Czech, just shook his head. "Can you believe these people? There's still hung up on it! Now do you see why we're so glad to be rid of them?"

I believe he may have related the oft-told tale of New Year's 1993, the day Czechoslovakia broke up, which apparently saw V. running up and down Wenceslas Square yelling, "Fuck the Slovaks! Fuck 'em! Fuck 'em!" or something like that. Wasn't there, can't vouch for accuracy.

An older Spanish looking man, who wasn't Spanish at all but wore a red scarf in a pretentious "look-at-me-I'm-a-Spanish-writer-in-a-dive" sort of way, heard us speaking English. He walked up and started yelling at the two of us. "Both of you are so incredibly stupid! Both of you, stupid! You know nothing! You know nothing about this city! Nothing! Stupid! You know nothing!"

I think V. was too drunk to realize that he could quickly diffuse this line of argumentation by answering in Czech. Instead, he started yelling back at him in English. "What don't I know? What don't I know? WHAT! DON'T! I! KNOW!?"

"That church across the street..." said the man with the red scarf.

"Yes, they cut off a guy's arm and hung it up in the church, we know."

A look of momentary confusion crossed the man's face and then he laughed and patted V. on the side before going back to his beer and calling us stupid a few more times. The bit about the severed arm is true. Several centuries back, a thief broke into Svaty Jakub's and tried to steal the chalice from the altar or something. The statue of the Virgin came alive and grabbed his arm. When the priest got there in the morning, he found the thief in the grip of the statue. They could only set him free by chopping off his arm. As a testament to this miracle, they hung his arm from the wall about 20 feet up, and there it hangs today, looking a shriveled old Hungarian sausage.

Returning to the Slovaks... These guys were mostly friendly, but they were getting restless in their Slovakness. I recall at one point the words were actually uttered, out of the blue, "So you think you're better than us just because you're American?" (How do you respond to that? "No, that's actually not the reason..."?)

At some point V. declared that Slovaks were merely "Czechs who believe in God." He repeated the formula several times. Things sort of went downhill from there.

I recall a particularly large Slovak wearing one of those cab driver hats. He took an aggressive turn, to say the least. I don't know how we got onto this topic, but he tried to convince me that his mother was a Kurdish Iraqi (though he had very light skin), his dad was a Czech from Prague, but that he himself was Slovak, and apparently a Slovak nationalist at that. And he asked me if I found that somehow funny.

"Do you think that's funny? Do you think that's funny?"

I thought about what he had told me, considered the question carefully, and reponded that honestly, yes, I actually did find that a little bit funny.


It wasn't so much a punch, more like a very hard slap, but it definitely got the whole bar's attention. Needle slides across record; music stops. The bartender, who had the size and demeanor of Ron Perlman, rushed out from behind the bar to break things up. I didn't hit the guy back. Did I mention he was big? He was hustled off to the other corner of the bar, making more threatening noises while I removed my glasses so they wouldn't break if he came at me again.

The funny thing about this part is that a girl came over to me, just to make small talk and calm things down on my side and especially to get me to stop making eye contact with the guy who hit me. After about a minute, I realized I knew this girl. She used to work for a friend of mine. Odd.

The Slovaks eventually left, the one with the best sense of humor telling V., "Thank you and good night. We enjoyed your insults."

It was about 9 a.m. at this point, and as we tumbled out onto the street, we heard organ music. Yes, apparently Svaty Jakub was holding its New Year's Day service. So the two of us went into the church, walked past the severed arm, and took at seat on one of the pews in the back. I had a great deal of difficulty getting V. to shut up. "They're playing Christmas music! It's New Year's, why are the hell are they playing Christmas music?! (He begins singing:) Narodil se Kristus pane..." I mean, he was being loud and stuff during the service. And when all the regular church goers got up and stood in line in front of the priest, I had to physically block him from getting up to take the communion wafer. "Hey, we could have some more wine!"

A monkish looking guy approached us and gestured toward the door. I couldn't tell if the service was over or if we were getting thrown out, but I got us the hell out of there pretty quickly and we went home. That was it. That's the New Year's story, recorded for posterity. Sorry if you got this far and were disappointed. The only blood drawn, alas, was the blood of Christ Himself.
I personally tend to overdo the sarcasm thing sometimes, but this nifty rhetorcial device works quite well in measured doses, especially when Josh Marshall's doing it::
And in case there’s any unclarity, when I referred to September 11th, I was referring to the terrorist attacks that happened on that day. And in the previous sentence when I referred to 'terrorist attacks' I was referring to the hijacked airliners that were flown into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and the field in central Pennsylvania.
If I'm not mistaken, this is the second time this week Sullivan has indicated he has trouble reading. 'Supwiddat?

Thursday, January 29, 2004

The forgotten Arabs of Gallipoli

Gallipoli, the peninsula guarding the Dardanelles, is one of the most amazing historical sites I've ever visited. The hero of the battle, which saw the Ottoman army turn back an ill-advised British invasion cooked up by First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, was Colonel Mustafa Kemal. Later known as Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, Kemal famously told his troops, "I am not asking you to attack. I am ordering you to die. In the time it takes for you to die, reinforcements will arrive to hold the line." And off they went.

I only today learned that two-thirds of Mustafa Kemal's division were not Turks at all, by Syrian Arabs.

(Cerny points out Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty, not.... what I wrote before. Corrected.)
Indirectly via Dr. Frank, here's a handy list of great anagrams. Faves:

President Clinton of the USA = to copulate he finds interns
Princess Diana = end is a car spin
Ronald Wilson Reagan = Insane Anglo Warlord
Of course, they forgot:
Scott Douglas MacMillan = accommodating all lusts

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

"One of Prague's few remaining freaker-zones" is getting uprooted under cover of winter, says Buben Mafia.

It was almost like a Tom Waits song. Almost. Junkyard dogs, midgets, greasy kids with knives and the "mixer."
Are you talking about the Vystaviste carnival itself? Gone for good? Say it's not so! If so, I bid my final goodbye just a few months ago, and properly freaked out going up the rickety old ferris wheel. (Yes, I'm an acrophobe -- not because I'm afraid of falling, but because I'm afraid of jumping.)

In any case, the rabble wants more pictures, please.

I added stuff to a post below, by the way.
Beating Bush On Democrats' Minds: "'There's no question that electability seems to be the number one thought on people's minds back east,' says Professor Bruce Cain, University of California at Berkeley"

It's always "back east," as though everybody in California originally came from the East Coast. Likewise, it's always "out west." Why do you park on a driveway.
Calpundit: "In fact, the only thing I'm really worried about is that if he wins we'll be forced to listen to Kaus whining about his eyebrows or something for the next nine months. "

Actually, I'm more worried that the whining might end in nine months, rather than continuing for another four years.
[This was written late last night and posted this morning.]

I can’t sleep – old chronic insomnia problem, which I don’t blog about much, just like you don’t tell me about your eczema – so I’m watching CNN’s coverage of the New Hampshire primary. It’s coming up on 3 a.m. here in Prague, so the polls just closed in the Bienvenue-a-live-free-or-die Granite State.

Living abroad as I have for seven years and change, I’m occasionally struck by moments of weird New England homesickness. One of those moments came at the end of “Good Will Hunting,” an otherwise mawkish affair that ended nicely, as I recall, with Matt Damon heading out westward on the Massachusetts Turnpike. (I think the better movie “Rounders” may have ended similarly, although it wasn't the Turnpike.) Now, cue track of Jonathan Richmond and the Modern Lovers’ “Road Runner.”

Perhaps "homesickness" is not the right word; it’s more like nostalgia for a home I never properly called my own. Both sides of my family are from the Boston area. Although I lived from ages 10 to 18 on Long Island, I went back to school in Massachusetts and have always felt affinity for the region. Of course, in more worldly terms, it’s all just the Northeast U.S. But my parents still talk about the differences between New York and Massachusetsts (in New York, people behind you honk the horn as soon as the light turns green and the Chinese restaurants don't automatically include fried rice with every order) like it's some sort of enduring expat culture shock, even though they've lived on Long Island since 1985.


Watching CNN’s histrionic coverage of (here’s the logo) the NEW HAMPSHIRE PRIMARY -- I dig it, big time. As a child, when my parents weren’t vacationing at my grandparents’ log cabin in on Lake Nequasset in Maine, we often took some family trips to Franconia Notch, New Hampshire, home of the late Old Man of the Mountain.

Last summer, my Canadian-American g-fry and I drove from Bath, Maine (about an hour north of Portland) to Montreal. It’s a cross-wise New England trajectory I’d never made before, and I unwisely insisted on a late-night stop at a foggy cemetery in the out-of-the-way village of East Calais, Vermont, to make a grave rubbing of the tombstone of my great-great-great-grandfather, Loomis Pierce. That didn’t go over well. But I do recall a nice little bookstore and a breakfast diner in a place called Lyndonville that made me think that Vermont or New Hampshire wouldn’t be the worst place in the world to grow old and die. Live free and die, of course, with a big heating oil tank under the front porch.

Primary season also makes me nostalgic for high school, when I canvassed for Jerry Brown in 1992. You know a single moonbeam is worth a thousand points of light…

Larry King Live is on now, with each of the candidates taking turns. Wolf Blitzer and Bob Woodward are taking turns asking questions of Howard Dean, and you know what? Turns out Howard Dean looks like just a regular guy saying stuff on TV… calmly. And in fact he’ll make a great talking head one day. Talking neck, that is.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

HA!!! It's the single-slide Power Point version of Hamlet.
UPN network making a reality show about Amish youngsters trying modern world

Oh my...

There's a great film out there called "The Devil's Playground" about this amazingly fertile topic. I met the director, Lucy Walker, at Karlovy Vary a couple years ago and she gave me a compliment so big that I'm actually too modest to share it. No kidding, it was that good a compliment.

Here's the article I wrote about her.
I've already wasted too much time on the Internet today. Tomorrow, I promise, I'll tell the New Year's story about getting whacked by the besotted Slovak. I'm afraid after the long wait it's going to be a bit disappointing, although significantly, it ends in a church.
LA blogger Jim Treacher sent me an unexpected note informing me that he did provide a link to live stream of the new audio staple in the Borivojova household, Indie 103. I just didn't bother to click on it. Duh.

I think the question I get asked the most these days is, "Scott, which do you think is cooler? The fact that we can see photos of Mars that are basically show the exact same rocky surface we saw 30 years ago, or the fact that you can listen to an LA radio station -- which sounds like what your show at WAMH would have been like if not for the new music requirement -- plus the local ads for shiatsu massage courses -- from your apartment in Prague?"

And always, always, by the time they've finished asking the question, I'm already loaded.

OK, I have my first complaint about this station: Repetition. This is the second time in a few days I've heard (whilst typing, no less) "Ask Me" by the Smiths. Which is all well and good because if it's not Internet radio, then it's the Bomb that will bring us together.
A reader sends in this recent City Journal article rebutting the "creative class" theory promulgated by the article I cited below.

I didn't realize that the author of that article, Richard Florida, is THE guy pushing the whole "creative class" thesis -- the idea that cities should invest lots of money on arts programs and other stuff that makes them hip places to live, so that creative types move there and the economy booms. Very '90s, that.

Although Florida’s book bristles with charts and statistics showing how he constructed his various indexes and where cities rank on them, the professor, incredibly, doesn’t provide any data demonstrating that his creative cities actually have vibrant economies that perform well over time. A look at even the most simple economic indicators, in fact, shows that, far from being economic powerhouses, many of Florida’s favored cities are chronic underperformers.
Some off-the-cuff, totally ill-formed thoughts.... Isn't the whole argument a bit too either-or?

[Richard] Florida’s ideas are breathing new life into an old argument: that taxes, incentives, and business-friendly policies are less important in attracting jobs than social legislation and government-provided amenities.
That may be true. But it's not like ALL the initiatives that make cities so-called "creative centers" are Big Government budget items, so if there's a baby in the bathtub, drain that dirty water and let it wiggle around a bit. Domestic partnerships and moderate support for the arts come to mind, as do liberal drinking/smoking regulations (something never mentioned in this context, by the way: bohos like to get high). Wouldn't it be nice to live in a place that had all those things, plus clean sidewalks and low taxes.

Prague, for instance, is either the most uncool or the downright hippest place to live on the face of the planet, depending on who you ask. And taxes are relatively high compared to the U.S., and the economy is doing so-so. Which proves absolutely nothing. I just thought I'd throw in a Prague connection. Thank you, thank you...
Funny. Go to Google and type in "miserable failure". Then hit "I'm Feeling Lucky."
Apparently you still have the right to remain silent, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously. It would be nice if the article mentioned how common these 9-0 decisions are over at SCOTUS. Via Atrios.
Hard drugs are no longer sexy for young Czechs

One of the things I've noticed most since I moved here in 1996 is the huge rise in usage of, as Radio Prague puts it, "drugs derived from cannabis." This started maybe three or four years ago. To put it blunty, pot is everywhere now. At Kc 250-300 a gram, I haven't a clue how that compares to prices further west.

But what really grabbed me was this:

Since the phenomenon of ecstasy abuse is too strong to fight against, the state is at least trying to reduce the dangers of this drug by, for example funding the testing of the quality of ecstasy available in the clubs.
Aw yeah.
Bill Gates is in Prague.
Know what sucks? The other day I was washing up the kitchen sink, and the cover to the soap dish fell behind the fridge. So I moved the fridge out a bit from the wall, in order to get the soap dish cover. But when I did that, a glass pitcher fell from the top of the fridge and shattered into a million pieces. Then, when I reached for the broom to begin sweeping up the glass, I knocked over the garbage can, spilling the contents onto the carpet.

Monday, January 26, 2004

On Radio Prague:

Statistics released by the Czech Foreign Police earlier this week, suggest that the number of people attempting to cross the borders into Germany and Austria illegally has decreased, while the number of foreigners staying in the country without residence permits is on the rise.
Tulip was raided by the Foreigners' Police the other day. OK, "raided" is a bit strong, but this came as a surprise. Two officers just popped in unannounced, pointed at our Russian kitchen assistant who was smoking a cigarette just behind the counter, and demanded to see her papers. Thankfully, everything was in order.

This sort of falls into the category of, "It's OK, Anne, you can come out now -- the soldiers are gone." (A line from Igby Goes Down.)

Restaurants in Prague are commonly staffed in the kitchen by Russian and Ukrainian immigrants, many of them living and working here illegally. So after thinking about it, we decided that they must have been doing a spot check of restaurants in the area, hoping to nab somebody clearly in flagrant violation, rather than acting on a tip that only could have come from one certain disgruntled former employee (the disagreeable chef I mentioned once before who stormed out at 6pm on a Friday, never to return -- and later took a job at the restaurant next door).

After looking at Olga's papers, they left. Didn't even bother looking around the kitchen to see if any other easterners (or westerners, for that matter, like me -- my visa's waiting for me in Berlin) were lurking there.

Another reason they probably weren't acting on a tip: When they saw our Energizer bunny of a cleaning woman, one cop said to the waitress, "Tell that girl with the broom to hide because she probably doesn't have papers."

Actually, the Energizer bunny does have papers. Needless to say, everything upon everything at Tulip Cafe is super squeaky clean.
Vltava's frozen over. Not all the way across, but a friend claims he was walking on it yesterday. With his friend on the shore with a mobile phone at the ready in case he fell in.

Meanwhile, I forgot to turn off the water leading to the faucet on my balcony. The pipes appear to have broken and issued forth in a vodopad into the apartment below. The flow is now stanched, but perhaps only because it froze. Bad, bad, bad.
Stickfinger is absolutely right. It's outrageous that CBS refuses to air this utterly inoffensive and effective ad decrying the Bush deficit. If they paid for it, CBS should run it. Looks real bad otherwise. I signed the petition.
Another dumb Internet question for locals.

Tulip Cafe does not have one of those lines with ADSL capability via Czech Telecom. As far as I can tell, that excludes ADSL from any other operator, for the time being at least. Nor does the building have access to cabel Internet with UPC, which is what I use at home.

The best option I've come up with was kindly recommended by Geoff Goodfellow (profiled, by the way, in this week's Prague Post). It's a company called Omnet that offers wireless (i.e., they zap the signal to an antenna on your roof) for only Kc 950 a month (without VAT). The catch is, you gotta plop down Kc 15,000, and it's not 100% certain that the signal reaches the building. And of course, we have to make nice with the landlord to get that antenna on the roof.

I'm thinking that for light internet usage (no heavily downloads, streaming, just email and basic Internet access), the only other reasonable option for that location is just using a dial-up. Any comments more than welcome.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

CNN.com - Web journals a new fixture on campaign trail - Jan. 23, 2004: "Such journals, known as blogs, may not be doing much to sway undecided voters, but analysts say they strongly impact the media, campaign consultants and activists. "

Impact's not a verb, dude.
A reader sent me this link:

Creative Class War: How the GOP's anti-elitism could ruin America's economy.

It's a neat argument: Smart, creative people aren't moving to the United States any more, and it's mostly because of the Republicans' anti-science, anti-trade, anti-immigration and anti-cosmopolitain elite policies.

Interesting thesis, but I don't buy it. The author doesn't present a shred of non-anecdotal evidence to support his basic premise, other than the fact that visas issued by the U.S. government for immigrants to work in science and technology dropped 55% in 2002.
Wired News: Gay Marriage Poll Gets Annulled: "We're very concerned that the traditional state of marriage is under threat in our country by homosexual activists,' said AFA representative Buddy Smith. 'It just so happens that homosexual activist groups around the country got a hold of the poll -- it was forwarded to them -- and they decided to have a little fun, and turn their organizations around the country (onto) the poll to try to cause it to represent something other than what we wanted it to. And so far, they succeeded with that.' "

Oh my god, somebody leaked the Internet poll to gay people! How'd they get ahold of it?