Friday, November 04, 2005

All right, somebody wrote to Sullivan. Who was it. Fess up.

As an ex-pat Yank living in Prague I was shocked to learn that the CIA had set up a 'center' in the former Eastern Bloc. Happily, it doesn't appear to be in the Czech Republic.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Turns out you can use the word literally for emphasis after all (c.f. Joyce, Twain, Fitzgerald, Louisa May Alcott). I never knew.

By the way, can you really "forge a path"? I mean try to think about it, literally.

(See "Would the BBC please stop using the word "literally" for emphasis.")
Wrote the Japanese schoolgirl: "It took rather a long time to dispose of the lumps of dead flesh." You can't make this stuff up.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

How much tunafish is too much to eat at one time? If you take an entire can and mix it with mayonaisse in a bowl, add some tomato and fresh basil, use it to make a tuna salad sandwich with fresh lettuce leaves, eat the sandwich, and then eat the rest of the stuff in the bowl, is that too much tunafish?
Now there's a headline.

Pro-American government takes over in Poland

Antarctica braces for cold weather.
Meanwhile, I'm still writing about Central and Eastern Europe.

The website of Polish daily Rzeczpospolita has
an illuminating map of district-by-district results in Poland's recent presidential election, which pitted an economic liberal (in the European sense; that is, a free-marketeer) against an anti-gay, staunchly Catholic social conservative who believes strongly in the welfare state.

The east-west divide on the map looks positively Ukrainian to me. Marek Kohn, a writer and journalist, notes how Tusk, the neo-lib, did well in "formerly German territories of the west, where the communists rebuilt a society on razed ground after the war."

Kohn concludes:

In the past, both Poles and outsiders have been tempted to depict Poland as singular, even peculiar, among the nations of Europe. Now that one European Union citizen in twelve is Polish, it is time to start looking at Poland as an illustration of what matters across the continent as a whole. That means looking at the Poland of solidarity.
OK, yes: But I would say we still learn more by looking at the ways Poland is unique among Europe's major nations. Granted, the social conservatives won out in the end, but where else in Europe has such a staunchly neo-liberal party done so well, coming close to winning both the presidency and the parliament? (Compare Germany's Free Democrats, which scored less than 10% in the recent German election. And this was considered a good result for them.)

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

I'm back in Cairo...

"While protestors took to the streets in Damascus..."

BBC World was reporting today on the Syrian crisis, and showed a bit of footage of a pro-Syria rally where people waved Syrian flags at cars driving by. The average educated viewer would easily be fooled into thinking that this was one of those government-engineered pro-regime rallies and that there was chaos on the streets.

Actually, I was at the demonstration pictured. And it really wasn't like that. At all. It was pro-Syrian, but explicitly not pro-regime, and as far as I could tell it was completely spontaneous, not organized by the government. And it was tiny.

I made a few friends there. I'll writing about it for Slate shortly, so I don't want to say much more.

Coverage of the unfolding series of outrageous statements and counter-statements was on just about every TV in every hotel lobby and cafe the entire time I was in Syria. That said, nobody once gave me a dirty look when they found out I was American. Quite to the contrary.

The closest I came to having an "issue" with American-ness, I believe, was last Tuesday when I was looking for a microbus that could take me to Qardaha, birthplace and burialplace of former president Hafez al-Assad.

"Excuse me, how do I get to Qardaha," I said to a random man at the crowded microbus lot. It's about the only Arabic I know.

He replied, saying something I didn't understand.

"Qardaha," I repeated.

He kept talking in a language I didn't understand. He gestured for me to follow him. On the way he made he hands into the shape of a gun and began shooting.

"I'll be shot there?" I said, incredulously. (This was before he found out I was American.) To this moment I have no idea what I was trying to say.

Finally he managed to convey to me that to get to Qardaha, I had to take one of these little buses that were all over the microbus lot.

No shit, dude. I'm trying to figure out which one.

After a few other people got involved, I finally discerned that I was supposed to wait in this one place and they would tell me when the correct bus came along.

Meanwhile a friend of the first guy began speaking some English to me.

"When you get to Qardaha," he said, "don't tell anybody that you're from America!"

"OK, from now on I'm from Czechoslovakia. My name is Vladan and I'm from Czechoslovakia."

"Yes!!!" They all got a kick out of that.

When the correct van came along, the first guy went up to the driver and yelled out (so that everybody inside could here, and it was packed) what I could only assume was, "Hey, this guy's from America and he wants to go to Qardaha!"

Thanks, buddy.

Qardaha's a little village up in the mountains. Nobody there could care that you're from America. In the end, onyl one person asked where I was from: I paused awkwardly and said I was Vladan from Czechoslovakia, but I had a great deal of difficulty keeping a straight face. It was totally not necessary.

By the way, about that pro-Syria rally -- I was told by one of the students there that if I took off my glasses and brushed my hair down, I'd look just like Eminem. No, really, he told me that.