G. A. Cerny
Saturday, October 16, 2004
  A minor error, pointed out and corrected:
Czech Republic never posed threat to Muslims
We are referring to "Security Council seat would be a blessing" by MF Mahamed (Letters, October 8).
The following reference is made in connection with the positive role the UN has played in world peace: (The UN) lead(ing) the ceasefire agreement in Bosnia that prevented the massacre of Muslims by the Czech Republic.
Representing an extremely peace-loving country, the Embassy of the Czech Republic would like to point out the following:
The Czech Republic has never been involved in any of the events in Bosnia and has never posed any threat to any group of Muslims. We therefore assume that the writer must have had a different country or nation in mind.

Rather than posing a threat to any other nation, the Czech Republic has often been the victim of aggression, for instance when it was occupied by Nazi Germany in 1939 and by Soviet Russia in 1948 and 1968.
Soviet rule was overthrown in 1989 under the leadership of our former president, Vaclav Havel, during the so-called Velvet Revolution. What distinguished this revolution from many other revolutions throughout the history of mankind, is the fact that not a single person was killed.
The Embassy of the Czech Republic objects to the picture of aggression painted by Mahamed, and would appreciate a correction or apology for what was hopefully nothing but an unfortunate mistake.

Miroslav Pisa
Counsellor: Embassy of the Czech Republic
Arcadia, Pretoria

I acknowledge the letter of Dr Jan Svoboda correcting my mistake of naming the Czech Republic as responsible for the massacre of Muslims in Bosnia.
I would therefore like to apologise to Svoboda and all other Czechs for my mistake and for any offense I might have caused.

MF Mahamed
Mayfair, Johannesburg
Thursday, August 19, 2004
  Cabaniss Speaks:
If anyone should wonder why Americans should care about the Czech Republic, Bill Cabaniss can give them some reasons.
The former state legislator and Birmingham industrialist has been U.S. ambassador to the landlocked central European nation for the past seven months.

We have over $3.5-$4 billion (that) American businesses and investors have in the Czech Republic, have a lot of Americans living in the Czech Republic," Cabaniss said Wednesday after sharing some thoughts on the country with the Birmingham Rotary Club.

No doubt his next speech to the Kiwanis will be even better. 
  Ogden Nash, Baltimore's own master of verse, was born 102 years ago today.
A sample:
Some people's money is merited,
And other people's is inherited,
But wherever it comes from,
They talk about it as if it were something you got pink gums from.
Perhaps indeed the possession of wealth is constantly distressing,
But I should be quite willing to assume every curse of wealth if I could at the same time assume every blessing.
The only incurable troubles of the rich are the troubles that money can't cure,
Which is a kind of trouble that is even more troublesome if you are poor.
Certainly there are lots of things in life that money won't buy, but it's very funny --
Have you ever tried to buy them without money?

From "The Terrible People."

Or his "Samson Agonistes":
I test my bath before I sit,
And I'm always moved to wonderment
That what chills the finger not a bit
Is so frigid upon the fundament.

And who could forget "The Purist"?
I give you now Professor Twist,
A conscientious scientist,
Trustees exclaimed, "He never bungles!"
And sent him off to distant jungles.
Camped on a tropic riverside,
One day he missed his loving bride.
She had, the guide informed him later,
Been eaten by an alligator.
Professor Twist could not but smile.
"You mean," he said, "a crocodile."
Thursday, August 05, 2004
  Light blogging this week, as though you didn't already know from the lack of posts. I'm starting a new job, celebrating my girlfriend's birthday, and working on a few long, but hopefully not dull, posts.
In a side point, for some reason, far beyond my grasp, I haven't been able to post in my own comments section. Other people can, and are encouraged to do so, but I can't until I figure out what the problem is and fix it. Tips welcome. But, anyway, I'm not ignoring comments, just unable to respond, at least in that section.
Tuesday, August 03, 2004
  A whole new level of desperation
The Republicans, in need of a Senate candidate in Illinois to oppose rising star Barack Obama after their nominee was forced to withdraw over a sex scandal, are meeting today in Chicago to make their pick.
Among the possibles is Maryland's own Alan Keyes.

As Josh Marshall puts it:
It certainly doesn't seem like there's much time to make a drama out of the Illinois senate race. But comedy, it seems, is still a possibility.

Keyes' great innovation in politics was to pay himself a salary from campaign funds for serving as the candidate when he ran for the Senate in Maryland. He should have fired himself. Mikulski slaughtered him.

His descent into something very close to insanity became clear in his run for the Republican presidential nomination. But that's just my take. Keyes, excuse me, Ambassador Keyes, has a website (via TPM) where he claims that he is, in fact, the Messiah. Keyes:
Is capable of leading our country to widespread moral and political renewal, once all of America has a chance to see and hear, first-hand, his self-evident brilliance.

I can't believe that the Republicans are stupid enough to run Keyes, though the entertainment value would be considerable. If they actually do it, then it becomes impossible to even imagine a scenario where Obama doesn't pick up. The old saw about getting caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy wouldn't do it. Obama could state that it was really him in the R. Kelly video and Keyes still wouldn't crack 40%.

It gets better and better. Here's the first few graphs of the AP story by Maura Kelly Lanan:
One GOP Senate hopeful wears a white wig and lives in his car-- "Air Ford One." Three got interviewed just by showing up. One isn't even a Republican.
In all Tuesday, 13 people made their cases to a committee of the state's Republican leaders in 15-minute interviews, each explaining why they would be the best choice to replace Jack Ryan atop the GOP ballot this fall.
After three and half hours of interviews and two hours of deliberations, Illinois GOP spokesman Jason Gerwig said the committee had the list down to three and hadn't ruled out two-time presidential hopeful Alan Keyes, who lives in Maryland and didn't interview because of a scheduling conflict

He said the committee members planned to keep working through the night until they had their choice, a process that could include interviewing Keyes by phone.
It's been a long five weeks for the party since Ryan dropped his Senate campaign over sex club allegations.

  Dear Mrs. Rowling,
Thank you for your interest in these problems and for your contribution to our domestic discussion on this topic.
Yours Sincerely,
Vaclav Klaus
Nothing says "fuck off" like the very sincere thanks of President Klaus.

Best line:
I agree with you that protection of seriously handicapped patients, especially children, has to be a priority, because they cannot defend themselves. I can assure you that I and other institutions of the Czech Republic take this duty of ours very seriously.

(my emphasis)

I'd been following the story, including Klaus' anger at Rowling's "interference," but I'd somehow missed reading the full text until now.

A great read in today's Washington Post by David Segal, "The Shortwave And the Calling." It tells the story of Akin Fernandez who became obsessed by the mysterious shortwave transmissions from "numbers stations" when he began to pick up these bizarre signals one night while fooling around with his own shortwave set:
No context, no comment, no station identification. Nothing but numbers, over and over, for minutes on end. Then the signals disappear, as if somebody pulled the plug in the studio. And it's not just one station. The more he listens, the more number monologues he hears.
"Five four zero," goes a typical broadcast, this time in the soulless voice of a woman with a British accent. "Zero nine zero. One four. Zero nine zero one four."
Numbers in Spanish, in German, Russian, Czech; some voices male, others female. When Fernandez lucks into hearing the start of a broadcast, he's treated to the sound of electronic beeps, or a few bars of calliope music, or words like "message message message." Then come the numbers. A few stations spring to life the same time each night, others pop up at random and cannot be found again.

While the rest of London slept, Fernandez chased these voices all over the dial, never sure when or where he'd find one. He wrote down the results in a green book bound with fake leather. A typical entry looked like this:
Sept 6 '93
Freq Time Signal
6.201 USB 12:30 am BIZARRE German Children's Voice
Station starts with beeps, then
From 1 to 10 then ACHTUNG!
And message!! [expletive] Hell!!

It seems that transmissions are codes to give direction to spies. Fernandez eventually released a long compilation of recordings of the eerie chatter under the title, "The Conet Project." The word comes from the Czech konec for "end" frequently used as a sign-off.

Very spooky stuff, and, as I said, a great read. See also this concise explanation of the phenomenon. 
Monday, August 02, 2004
  Andrew Sullivan linked Friday, before retiring to his hammock, to a piece that, in Sullivan's words, "decries the assertion by the Kerry campaign that somehow having been in combat makes you better suited to be a war-president."

The usual points-- look at FDR!-- are made, but a key concept is overlooked. Paul Fussell, in his famous and controversial essay, "Thank God for the Atom Bomb," wrote of Harry Truman:
He was as close to a genuine egalitarian as anyone we've seen in high office for a long time. He is the only President in my lifetime who ever had experience in a small unit of ground troops whose mission it was to kill people. That sort of experience of actual war seems useful to presidents especially, helping to inform them about lifein general and restraining them from making fools of themselves needlessly-- the way Ronald Reagan did in 1985 when he visited the German military cemetery at Bitburg containing the SS graves.
Truman was a different piece of goods entirely. He knew war, and he knew better than some of his critics then and now what he was doing and why he was doing it.

This was written in 1988, before the current incumbent provided an even clearer example of the value of experience than even Reagan could.

(I should add that I'm not entirely convinced by all of the arguments in Fussell's essay, which seeks to justify the nuclear bombing of Japan, but his case has merit and shouldn't be dismissed out of hand.)
Friday, July 30, 2004
  Let them eat Prozac.` 
  If you can resist the temptation to click on the link to a story headlined "Seattle's own "Czech Karaoke King" booty-slaps his way to world championships," you're a better man than I am. 
A red-letter day for Czech feminists. So to speak.
  Dignity, always dignity
That's a maxim that the Bush team has a hard time grasping. You might recall the minor story of a New York fundraiser for John Kerry last month. Celebs cracked jokes, some a bit ribald, at Bush's expense, Kerry called the assembly "the heart and soul of America," Whoopi Goldberg got fired by Slimfast, and so on.

It was, as I said, a month ago. Yesterday I got this email:
Dear George,
As I write, there are 96 days until an historic election, and the campaigns are hitting full-swing. In recent days, I've been in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Iowa and Missouri. Everywhere I go, the crowds are big, the enthusiasm is high, the signs are good -- we are on our way to victory.
My opponent has been spending some time with his base as well -- most recently, he attended a gala with his Hollywood friends. Evidently, things got a little out of hand. My name came up a few times. And now the Senator refuses to release a tape of that whole enchanted evening. Could be that his friends, whom he said conveyed the "heart and soul of America," actually embarrassed themselves and the candidate.
I'm glad to count you -- the real "Heart and Soul of America" -- among my friends. I'm hoping you'll help me out again in these final days with a contribution of $1000, $500, $250, $100, or even $50.

Emphasis in the original. The President of the United States parroting such a stale talking point, instead of leaving it to his grubbier surrogates. It's not the cheapness of the shot, campaigns are full of those; it's that he's using it himself after all this time.

He really doesn't have a lot to say for himself.

This just in: "Bush Criticizes Kerry's Achievements."
Wednesday, July 28, 2004
  Shorter Will Saletan (on Barack Obama's keynote)
Barack Obama isn't really black.
If you don't uncritically support free trade, you're a racist.
If you point out that your opponents are being divisive to the detriment of the country, you're being divisive.
  "The prince of Prague"
That's the headline to a story posted on Salon (and, I gather, in tomorrow's Guardian) about the rise of Gross.  It gets worse:
A new breed of dynamic young leader is on the rise in Eastern Europe, and youngest of all is the new premier of the Czech Republic, a 34-year-old former train driver.
The former high-speed train driver on the fast track to the top is renowned for his charm, his persuasiveness, and his talent for being all things to all people. The abuse of his police powers to get the reporter off his tail [the Audi incident] also offered a rare glimpse of the steel and the ruthlessness that has propelled the boyish working-class lawyer into the office of prime minister of the Czech Republic.

A stunningly uncritical article, though there are some negative comments later in the piece from (guess who?) Jiri Pehe.

It's worth comparing it to this critical, but by no means unfair, evaluation from Dinah Spritzer in the Prague Post.
  Czech police collar 10 drunk bus drivers:
A police crackdown on bus traffic in the Czech capital caught 10 drunk bus drivers in a single day, police said Wednesday.
The action Tuesday - the first of its kind here - targeted public transportation, tourist and long-distance buses. Besides catching the 10 drunk drivers, police fined 256 bus drivers for speeding and nine who were unable to present a valid driver's license.
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