G. A. Cerny
Tuesday, September 30, 2003
  Some people really have a shaky grasp on history. Like the guy who planned the"Visions of World War II" half-time showstopper:

A high school band director has apologized for a halftime performance that included "Deutschland Uber Alles," the anthem closely associated with Adolf Hitler, and a student running across the field with a Nazi flag.

Charles Grissom, Paris High School's band director, said his intention was to have a historical performance featuring the flags and music of the nations that fought during World War II.

This man works for a school. Around children. The mind boggles.



 
  "Happy is the nation without a history"

The summer of 1938 was passing with the usual news of holiday crowds and cricket matches, but by August the difficult-looking word ‘Czechoslovakia’ had begun to appear daily in the newspaper columns. Little was known of this place except as a country which apparently exported cheap gloves, glassware, and boots. Newspaper readers now learned with interest that it was a democratic country near Austria which had come into being as a result of the Peace at Versailles…Soon they learned more: the Sudeten German minority, encouraged by the Nazis, was claiming autonomy from the Czechoslovakian government, the Hungarians were rumoured to be pressing their claims for frontier revision, and the Slovaks were proving far from loyal to their composite state.
So serious had the situation become that the British government sent Lord Runciman…to appease, if possible, both the Czechs and the Sudeten Germans and somehow prevent a European conflagration.


from The Long Weekend, by Robert Graves

Today is the 65th anniversary of the Munich Pact. The areas of Czechoslovakia that were traditionally German- speaking were ceded to the Nazis under the pressure of the allies who had sworn to defend the peace they had created after the last war.

Neville Chamberlain said a few days before:

How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is, that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas masks here because of a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing.

From Graves again:

Nobody except the extreme Left felt quite sure why Britain should go to war, if at all. ‘Who are them Sizzeks, anyway?’ as the country people asked. What right had ‘Sizzeks’ to rule over Germans (it was overlooked that the Sudetens had never formed part of Germany), and why should they not make concessions?

They almost didn’t. Radomir Luza, the historian and son of the General Vojtech Luza, recounts in his recent memoir, The Hitler Kiss, that

…the commanding generals of the four Czechoslovak armies, including Father, met in Moravia and deliberated whether to fight an invasion. The generals believed they could hold out against Hitler for three months, provided that Poland would pledge not to join Germany in an attack. After three months they hoped the allies could be shamed into honoring their treaties. They decided further that if President Benes refused to fight, they would replace the president with a military government and go ahead with defense measures.

Then the army representatives went to Prague on September 29, faced their supreme commander, and demanded that he reject capitulation. ‘They entreated, threatened, begged, some wept,” according to Benes’ own account. I don’t know if my emotional and flammable father was one of the weepers or the threateners, but as a son and a historian, I wish I could have witnessed that scene. Benes, in an agony of uncertainty, finally prevailed over the generals. According to General Hasal, who later described the meeting to me, the president said that war against Hitler would come anyway, and he could not accede to what might be a slaughter of the country.


The generals relented, and Czechoslovakia, crippled and alone, soon vanished. The Third Reich, without fear of the other states of Europe, was triumphant and expanding. Exactly eleven months later, Germany invaded Poland.

There are six essential days in Czech history. Three of those days were catastrophic: Bila Hora, in November, 1620, when the Czechs came under Austrian rule; August, 1968, when the Russians crushed the Prague Spring; and, of course, September 30, 1938.

Three were triumphs: October 28, 1918, the creation of the First Republic (and the first time that Czechoslovakia existed as a nation); May 8, 1945, the liberation; and sweetest of all, the Velvet Revolution, 11/17/89. (Does anyone else still carry on their key-chains the little commemorative keys that were given out on the ten-year anniversary?)

“Culture” means the scars that a people have in common because they got them together. Europeans often say that Americans have no culture; they are correct. I thank God for that. (Though individual groups in this country, African Americans for instance, do have a culture, in the European sense.)

The Czechs are thought to be a melancholy people. While I do not tolerate national stereotypes-- there is no "true Cesky" any more than there is a true Scotsman- the basic truth of this can't be denied. It is the culture. Perhaps it is the knowledge that every good day in Czech history has been followed by a horrific one. What will happen on the seventh day?

In 1989 the Czech nation finally awoke from the “nightmare of history”. The fear of the terrors that may come when they sleep again will be with them for a very long time.
 
  Did Schwarzenegger inhale?

There are all sorts of reasons to dislike Arnold Schwarzenegger, and even more reasons to not want him to be the next governor of California. Salon has managed, through sheer force of will, to pass over those reasons to focus on speculation and gossip.

Today they do steroids.

If you make it through the three pages to get to the conclusion (after the ad for Salon Premium, of course) you will find that there isn't a conclusion:

Anabolic steroids may or may not have affected Schwarzenegger's health or his suitability to be an elected official. But it's not too much of a stretch to say that he is still experiencing their effects. Look no further than his newfound political muscle.

Thanks for clearing that up.


 
  Good news: we have opinions again, in two languages. 
Monday, September 29, 2003
  Well you wanted convention biz, didn't you?

Plans for a convention in Ocean City promoting sadism, masochism, bondage and other sexual fetishes have sparked a furor and threats of protests from business, religious and community activists in the Atlantic resort.  
  I didn't mean to dis the NY Times when I called it dull in an earlier post. It frequently isn't dull, for one thing, as anyone who read Bearak from Afghanistan knows.

Moreover, it is, with its reach and resources, perhaps the best-- and certainly the most essential-- newspaper in the world. But this power often makes it a little, well, ponderous. This is especially true when the Times decides that it wants to be "hip" and "edgy". It is like a man in ski boots trying to tap dance, or Richard Nixon trying to be jocular.

The worst example of this is in their Sunday Style section. I won't go so far as the chap who called it a "a cesspool of reeking nihilism," such that "only a large dose of the NFL prevents me from hanging myself, relishing my own slow strangulation," after reading it. Not quite that far.

The Sunday Styles section is what happens when the Grey Lady decides to put on a mini-skirt and go dancing, preferably at a charity ball that you and I couldn't afford to attend even if we somehow made the invite list. The Grey Lady will, whether society matron or society debutante, will always be society in the Thorstein Veblen/ Paris Hilton sense of the term.

Every aspect of the Style Section is devoted to the doings and attitudes of wealthy cosmopolitans, from their weddings to their affairs.
(Actual line from the second link: "Mr. Trescher's familiarity with the sleeping arrangements of New York society was just one weapon in his sophisticated arsenal as a fund-raiser par excellence.") What is remarkable about the Sunday Styles is how it manages to cover the ridiculous but have no sense of fun, to be leadenly serious yet have no real insight.

Yesterday's main feature in Styles, on Vice, a magazine/ clothing store, was as horrible as anything that the section has ever done. Vice is attempting to build a media empire of sorts on what the Times calls "the apex of hipsterdom 2003."

The article continues:

What that has meant this year is a trailer-park sensibility, embraced with and without irony, that has taken hold among postcollegiate society in the Silver Lake district of Los Angeles, in Brooklyn and on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

Vice shuns the Nirvana generation's wounded sense of responsibility, instead embracing a frat-boy crudity and ethnic stereotypes. Think of it as a lad magazine for the Williamsburg set.

The story goes on to profile one of the Vice founders, Gavin McInnes:

Few of Vice's fans or customers seem to realize just how deeply hostile Mr. McInnes is to the liberal live-and-let-live ethos of traditional bohemian culture.

He actually leans much further to the right than the Republican Party. His views are closer to a white supremacist's. "I love being white and I think it's something to be very proud of," he said. "I don't want our culture diluted. We need to close the borders now and let everyone assimilate to a Western, white, English-speaking way of life."


Andrew Sullivan, evidently having forgotten to heed both his WWJD bracelet and his What Would George Orwell Do? screen saver, approvingly links to the piece and then dissolves into blather:

Is all this hopelessly condescending? Maybe. But part of the refreshing nature of these trends is exactly their unconcern with whether they're forms of condescension or not, or even whether they're ironic or not. They're just cool and insensitive.

I have read Sullivan for a long time. I have sometimes agreed with him; more often I have not. But I have never before seen anything so damned stupid appear under his name. (Perhaps others have a better memory.)

If, Sully, insensitive condescension is cool and refreshing, then would you mind very much if I told you to go back where you came from, you limey bitch?

Ana Marie Cox does not tilt at windmills; she launches nuclear strikes on them. Her take on Vice-men and their ilk (and the Times journalists who cover them) is both witty and blunt in precisely the way that the Times never is when it writes about pop culture:

The New York Times has also done its part to make McInnes tolerable: Grigoriadis's "on the one hand/on the other hand" approach to the story -- along with her concern centering on the magazine's ability to stay cool -- makes even talking about McInnes's politics seem like you're not getting it, man. Imagine writing a story about David Duke from the same perspective. Would it help if he was wearing a Fischerspooner t-shirt?

But the best line comes from her husband who told her

that even hearing about this article "makes me want to burn all my ironic t-shirts right now."

Trust me when I tell you to read the whole thing.

Johnny Apple, noted food critic, was reported to have called his editors "a goiter on the body of journalism."

The NYT Styles section is just that. To hell with it.

And Escapes sucks too.


Update: There is more. The Antic Muse is awesome and terrible in her wrath, even when she is "devolving into incoherent rage."
 
  I would like to write more about Czech politics on this site, but I often find that the news is so ridiculous that commentary is impossible. Jak je to mozne?

Update: Arellanes has more on this, including questions about who bought him the drinks. 
  Drudge gets desperate

The absurdly wealthy annoyance, Matt Drudge put out this news flash to reveal that:

President Bush's senior advisers describe the Democratic field as unusually weak heading in to the coming election year, Monday's NEW YORK TIMES is planning to report in a Page One splash.


The Democrats don't have an obvious world-beater to run. One party talks shit about another party's candidates. Which sentence should surprise anyone?

But wait, there's more:

"We expect it to be a hard-fought, close election in a country narrowly divided," Karl Rove tells the TIMES. "When a Democratic nominee is finally selected, our expectation is that it could be a close and hard-fought race

You can find any high-school football coach to say the same thing. "Could be a close and hard fought game against Central High. We're gonna be prepared."

The actual story is just the typical BGO filler that we will read in American newspapers until the election. It gets front page in the Times because it is the first real story they have done on the Bush re-election effort. There is even some new, if hardly earth-shaking information in it. Nothing wrong with that.

But is this a "splash"? Only to Drudge.

Matt Drudge came to prominence during the Lewinsky scandal, largely by printing rumours that the newspapers had but were reluctant to run. For instance, pretty much everyone in the press knew about the cigar thing; they just didn't know if it was legitimate news or not, or how to go about writing about the clinical details of the President's sex life.

Drudge didn't hesitate, and in this manner he became a repository for tips that others didn't know what to do with.

On a real story, like the White House giving up the identity of a CIA officer, all Drudge can do is link to the WaPo.

Just like any blogger.

So, when he somehow obtained an advance copy of a NY Times story- any NY Times story- it was, for him, a flash. After all he had it at "19:57:47 ET" on Sunday, simply hours before the full, dull text would appear on the NYT site.

His claim of its significance is proof of his own insignificance.

Developing... 
Saturday, September 27, 2003
  Beer is vindicated, as Ananova reports that "science explodes beer belly myth."

...the study of Czech drinkers...found that women who enjoy ale actually weighed less...

The study in the latest edition of the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that "it is unlikely that beer intake is associated with a largely increased waist-hip ratio and body mass index."

Led by Dr Martin Bobak, of the University of London's Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, the research team took a random sample of 1,141 men and 1,212 women aged 25-64 in the Czech Republic and surveyed the amount of beer, wine and spirits they drank in a week.


I would comment, but I am still recovering from last night's uh...ab work.

Some alcoholic beverages, however, need to be watched. At least the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency seems to think so. 
  $20B to Rebuild Iraq: Loan or Grant?

Does anyone believe that peace and stability in Iraq can be had on the cheap? Read this:

Big and small, the specifics caused much unease among lawmakers, particularly fiscal conservatives, who questioned whether it was as urgently needed as L. Paul Bremer, the top U.S. administrator in Iraq, told lawmakers this week. Democrats charged that Bush was proposing to spend more money on domestic services in Iraq than at home.

Appearing on Capitol Hill this week, Bremer resisted appeals that the money be structured as a loan. He said Iraq already faces $200 billion in foreign debt and is in no position to assume more burdens.

But Scott McClellan, White House spokesman, on Friday moved away from that position and declined to say the president would oppose a spending bill that structured the reconstruction funds as a loan rather than a grant.


This might be a stupid question, but since there is not yet an independent Iraqi government, who would accept the "loan"? One of the biggest challenges the U.S. faces is convincing the Iraqi people that this is not an imperialist oil-grab. I don't think that it is, but some in Iraq do, and not without reason.

I rarely agree with Sullivan, but he gets it:

Penny-pinching in that context is about as counter-productive and self-defeating a policy as can be imagined. You want to ensure costly military spending for decades in the Middle East? Then short-change the Marshall Plan in Iraq.  
Friday, September 26, 2003
  Usually, I'm the one making tasteless metaphors

These days, the signature California style is flashy and in-your-face—"hedonistic fruit bombs," in the Parker vernacular. Though these wines tend to flow across the palate with all the subtlety and grace of the Soviet Army rolling into Prague, they do have a certain burlesque appeal...

From a Slate piece that shows that people who like wine should shut up and drink
  Maryland welcomes soldiers on leave from Iraq for two weeks of R&R. But don't try to have too much of a good time or nothing. 
Thursday, September 25, 2003
  Mike Kinsley has just posted a new essay at Slate on Iraq joining OPEC. I'm having more than a little trouble following his reasoning.

Many opponents of Gulf War II have thought all along that President Bush's motives must involve oil in some way. It would be silly to suggest that the war has been a secret plot to get Iraq back into OPEC. But it is so insane for the U.S. government to regard this development as an American triumph that paranoid speculation is hard to resist.

...OPEC is a conspiracy to fix prices. It is a textbook example of how to violate the Sherman Antitrust Act. As sovereign nations meeting in far-away luxury hotels, rather than American business executives exchanging furtive messages across state lines, OPEC's members probably can't be prosecuted. But we shouldn't forget the true nature of the organization. And we certainly shouldn't be legitimizing and strengthening it by nominating members.

There has been much discussion of what our mission in Iraq is, and on what it
should be. But this is the first time that I have heard anyone state that our goal ought to have been to further the Sherman Antitrust Act.

One of the constant charges against the U.S. is that we are pursuing our own economic and military interests at the expense of Iraq and its people. In a word, imperialism. Kinsley appears to be upset that we aren't being imperialist enough.

If Iraq is to be autonomous, as is our stated goal, then, surely, it must be able to
join regional or economic alliances that will benefit it. If it is in Iraq's interests to do so, and Kinsley never argues that Iraq would be hurt at all, then it can only be a denial of Iraqi sovereignty to keep them out.

I don't see how we could do that and retain a shred of legitimacy with the international community, or, most importantly, with the Iraqi people. I do not believe that we came to Iraq to plunder it, though I am afraid that we might take the opportunity to do so while we are there. But convincing the Iraqi people of our sincerity might be a little harder than convincing ourselves.

To claim that the Bush administration is ignoring our national interest because we might have to pay more for oil is laughable.
 
  Fierce argument ends first part of debate on confidence vote

Read the whole thing. More fun in Czech politics. 
  Starbucks to Open First Store in France

"It is with the utmost respect and admiration for the cafe society in France that we announce our entry into the market," Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz said in a statement.

"Historically, French cafes have served as the 'third place' to authors, philosophers and artists," he said, adding that he believed Starbucks "will fit well into the French cafe tradition."






 
  Do NOT read this story if you are planning to eat soup today. Do not view this picture if you are planning to eat ever again.

To je neni pravda. 
  Don't hate the player, hate the game

Beating Bush has moved from the realm of the impossible to that of the merely unlikely. The President’s approval ratings are down, some say in free-fall, as Iraq and the economy both resist solution. While Bush still invokes 9/11 whenever possible, it becomes more strained with each repetition, and it is fair to wonder if he can do it for the next thirteen months without tiring even his most sympathetic audiences.

Bush is vulnerable.

But don't make any bets on it just yet. Bush has a lot going for him: money, no primary opposition, and, most important, the deep affection, even love, that the American people have for their presidents.

Any person who sets out to be elected "the leader of the free world", or "the most powerful man on earth," seems, no matter his qualities or qualifications, at least a little ridiculous. On the other hand, once he has held that office, a man, no matter how dubious his achievements, can never seem completely ridiculous to the American people. It is the aura that comes from being the President. As a nation, we respect the office, and respect it so much that we will admire the man who holds it, no matter his defects.

Does this mean that an incumbent is unbeatable? Not at all. But it does mean that a sitting President cannot be beaten by hammering on his failures in office, no matter how manifest those failures might be.

David Brooks has an interesting piece in the most recent Atlantic. I take issue with some of what he says, but this section is, I think, substantially correct:

Never display loathing. Anti-political voters are quick to loathe the system, but they are slow to loathe individual leaders, especially ones who seem basically decent. During the 1990s Republicans tried to get these voters to hate Bill Clinton, and failed. Today Democrats are trying to get them to hate Bush. That effort will fail too, for although these voters may dislike some of Bush's policies, there is no evidence that they are offended by Bush himself. People who hate come across as more unattractive than the targets of their hatred.

This fact poses a dilemma for Democrats in particular. The Democratic Party is in a highly emotional state, which puts it starkly at odds with the detachment of anti-political voters. Most engaged liberals are enraged by the policies and behavior of the Republicans. Many congressional Democrats believe that the people leading the Republican Party do not care about the common good but just want to grab what they can for themselves. They regard leading Republicans as liars, thugs, and worse. And they cannot restrain their fury.


Every candidate must realize a few simple truths: the American electorate does not, ever, vote to punish Presidents for past mistakes. It always decides on future payoffs. (This is actually rational behaviour, according to the concept of sunk costs.)

Second, no one has won the office by attacking a President for moral or personal failings. The voters who believe that the President should be in jail will already vote for you. You have to convince at least some of the people who voted for him last time, and they may well percieve criticisms of him as attacks on themselves. They will resent this.

Focus on policies, not the man, and preferably on policy failures where you have a reasonable claim to have a better plan.

There are any number of people who will tell you, if you care to listen, why they think the Democrats should win in 2004 in terms such as this:

"Bush is incompetent. He is an idiot. He is a liar. Wasn't elected in the first place and is letting his rich friends plunder the country. There are no WMD. Enron! And Halliburton..."

Now, some of that might be true. I agree with some parts of it, at least to an extent. But it is no way to run a campaign, anymore than one would seduce a woman by ridiculing her boyfriend. You need to make her want you, not hate him, to have a shot.

Reagan and Clinton understood this. They rarely concentrated on the flaws of their opponents in the White House, but let those flaws speak for themselves. They never suggested punishing the incumbents for their mistakes, but focused on what they would do in the future.

But consider some failures. When McGovern ran against Nixon in 1972, his supporters thought the incumbent to be arrogant, corrupt, without grace or charm, and a liar. History would vindicate them, but the polls didn't.

In 1988, many Democrats wanted payback for eight years of Reagan, and focused their anger on Bush I, his preppy cohort. They may have been right, but attempting to make the election a referendum on Iran-Contra and the defecit brought them nothing but defeat in what should have been a very winnable election.

After the defeats, you could hear the sense of betrayal in their voices: "How could they vote for (Nixon, Bush, Clinton, Bush II)? How could they?"
echoing, perhaps unconsciously, Mo Udall's memorable line in a concession speech, "The people have spoken. The bastards."

I worry that the Democrats will repeat themselves Howard Dean had a very bad day Tuesday; the sad thing is that he thinks it was a success.

Campaigning in Boston, Dean delivered, according to the Boston Globe, "a speech threaded with anti-President Bush one-liners."

Dean's website quotes him:

“We’re here today to talk about what’s at stake in this election. Ten months from today, we’ll be coming back to Boston, not just to decide who will be the Democratic nominee, but to determine the future of our democracy.

“230 years ago, right here in Boston, 50 dedicated patriots known as the Sons of Liberty boarded three ships in Boston Harbor to protest a government more concerned with moneyed interests than its own people. Those 50 patriots believed that they had the power and the duty to change their government.

“What they did that night became known as the Boston Tea Party. It marked the beginning of the first great grassroots campaign in our history. Their action -- which they took together -- set this country on the path to freedom and democracy. And a King named George -- who had forgotten his own people in favor of special interests -- was replaced by a government of, by and for the people."


Obviously, comparing himself, even by implication, to the Founding Fathers is not going to comfort those of us who think that the former governor of Vermont might, just might, have a bit of an ego problem. But the real mistake is his direct attack on "King George." It plays well to people who read Salon, perhaps, but how will it play among the vast majority of American citizens who don't think that Bush is a scumbag?

The Globe story has this gem:

"Anything but Bush!" said Elisabeth Taylor, 56, a performance artist who lives in Boston. "I want anybody who gets in to get the regime changed."

So, I guess the Democratic candidate, whoever it turns out to be, will score the Massachusetts performance artist vote. It's the rest of the country that I think we need to worry about.
 
Wednesday, September 24, 2003
  Court blocks Do Not Call Registry

I am sure that a higher court will reverse, but this still burns. The single most popular act of the federal government in memory, taken to protect the privacy of everyone with a phone against intrusions by the most reviled industry in the Republic, and a court still halts it.

If it takes so long, and is so difficult for the government to achieve an end that is so manifestly popular, how can we tackle issues- from the war to the debt- that will require unpopular sacrifices? 
  Good summary by Kurtz on the different debates over Iraq just went up on WaPo
  How bad was the Bush's address to the UN yesterday? I agree with Slate's Kaplan that

The speech seemed cobbled from the catchphrases of last year's playbook, as if Bush were trying to replicate the success of his previous appearance before the General Assembly—his September 2002 speech, which roused the Security Council to warn Saddam Hussein of "serious consequences"—without showing the slightest recognition that the old words have grown stale and sour.

Actually, it was worse than that. So bad, in fact, that at least one prominent Bush defender decided to not mention it at all. Andrew Sullivan finds time to wonder about Arnold's height, continue his Wesley Clark fixation, dis Rhodes scholars again ("they suck upwards and kick downwards"), and take a stand against those that

think it's more important for the U.S. to get a bloody nose than that the Iraqi people get a successful transition to democracy.

How brave of him to fight those strawmen off! But not a word about Bush's speech to the UN.

Just as revealing is Instapundit, who does have a post on the speech, sort of:

HERE'S SOMETHING FROM BUSH'S U.N. SPEECH that doesn't seem to be getting that much attention:

There's another humanitarian crisis spreading, yet hidden from view. Each year, an estimated 800,000 to 900,000 human beings are bought, sold or forced across the world's borders. . . .

We must show new energy in fighting back an old evil. Nearly two centuries after the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, and more than a century after slavery was officially ended in its last strongholds, the trade in human beings for any purpose must not be allowed to thrive in our time.


Bush, and Glenn Reynolds are opposed to slavery. Well, that is nice. But about the bulk of the oration? Nada.

 
  Microsoft is shutting down its chat rooms on October 14, because it says, they are being used by child molestors and other unsavory types. Others suspect less altruistic reasons.  
  Vaclav Klaus has wrapped up his unofficial trip to the United States. He spoke in Chatanooga to a conference of the Mont Pelerin Society, and then in Dallas to an outfit called the National Center for Policy Analysis. The NCPA awarded him its "Crystal Eagle" which sounds like something that you would pick up in the Old Town to take back to Dallas (and then try to sell on E-bay).

Both the NCPA and the Mont Pelerin Society are libertarian non-profits; so is Washington's Cato Institute, which, as Nicmoc brought up, Klause will visit for a conference in November.

We know why Klaus is doing these trips: he has a growing ego to feed. Where else can he get awards, banquets, applause, and get called a statesmen. (To be fair, Havel enjoyed getting out of the Castle for these events abroad, too.) But why do tax-exempt libertarian organizations keep praising Klaus? Why, outside of the pleasure of his society and the chance to bask in the glow of his charm, do they keep him on their A-list?

It dates back to the early attempts- or schemes- to privatize the Czech economy. Libertarians and conservatives loved "coupon privatization," tak, they loved Klaus. He played the role of charismatic reformer for all that he was worth. Read this interview with Klaus that Reason published:

Reason: Dr. Klaus, what is the message you want to bring Americans about the new Czechoslovakia?

Klaus: The message is the same for whatever group. We want a market economy without any adjectives. Any compromises with that will only fuzzy up the problems we have. To pursue a so-called Third Way is foolish. We had our experience with this in the 1960s when we looked for a socialism with a human face. It did not work, and we must be explicit that we are not aiming for a more efficient version of a system that has failed. The market is indivisible; it cannot be an instrument the hands of central planners.


(Way to hit 'em with tough questions, Fund.)

Klaus seemed even better to these groups when he came out as a Thatcher supporter. Or the Thatcher supporter.

Like most romances, this one has been sustained by ignorance. Cato has never done a conference on "tunneling." I doubt that the introduction he got in Dallas mentioned the opposition agreement. Certainly, the support of the Communist Party that got him to the Castle isn't something that Klaus will bring up himself.

Matt Welch who certainly knows Klaus better than his colleagues do, wrote

And no, it doesn’t matter how many times you can convince gullible young “classical liberals,” despite all evidence to the contrary, that you’re a Friedman-loving Thatcherite. Truth is, he obstructed the same economic reforms he swore by, blocked attempt after attempt to introduce transparency and decentralize government power, and clung to power like the raccoon guards his avocado.

How about something on Hit & Run for those classical liberals, Matt? 
Monday, September 22, 2003
  Right wing blogger smack down?

Andrew Sullivan writes:

To my mind, the most important thing about Clark is that he was a Rhodes Scholar. Almost to a man and woman, they are mega-losers, curriculum-vitae fetishists, with huge ambition and no concept of what to do with it.

Guys, are you going to let this go without a response? 
Saturday, September 20, 2003
  Michael Barone has a column calling for "historical perspective" on Iraq. I'm always in favor of a little historical perspective myself, but Barone is, to be kind, selective in the lessons he draws from the past. Read this portion (which Petr's friend Glenn quotes with approval):

Cries are heard that we are in a Vietnam-like quagmire. Those inclined to make straight-line extrapolations from the events of a few news cycles should read some history. Margaret Mac- Millan's Paris 1919 shows how the Allied leaders who gathered at the peace conference in Paris were largely clueless about how to reconstruct the defeated nations after World War I. Jean Edward Smith's biography of Gen. Lucius Clay reveals that the first time he read the government's plans for post-World War II Germany was on the flight over there to take charge. William Manchester's American Caesar shows that Douglas MacArthur, however knowledgeable about the Far East, did not have clear ideas on how to rule postwar Japan. Clay and MacArthur improvised, learned from experience, made mistakes, and corrected them, adjusted to circumstances. It took time: West Germany did not have federal elections until 1949, four years after surrender; the peace treaty with Japan was not signed until 1951.

Don't ask Barone why we gain historical perspective by studying the World Wars, but, he implies, not from pondering another historical event, the Vietnam War. Evidently, he believes, that there are no lessons there.

Uh, yeah, the allies were clueless after WWI, which is perhaps one of the reasons that it was followed so closely by World War II. The punishment of Germany led not to a lasting peace, but to bitter resentment against the victors, the dysfunctional Weimar government , and, eventually, Hitler. The example of Versailles should serve as a warning to us of how high the stakes are after we have won a war, and how terrible the cost of failure can be.

The examples Barone gives after World War II are not as flat-out ridiculous as his tribute to Versailles, but they are inapplicable, and more than a little misleading. To be sure, the occupations of Germany and Japan were, especially at the beginning, improvised and chaotic. Leave aside for a moment the obvious fact that the current administration has no excuse for repeating these mistakes, and that a failure to learn from history is not a virtue in a president or his staff. Forget that.

Barone writes:

Today's media have a zero-defect standard: the Bush administration should have anticipated every eventuality and made detailed plans for every contingency. This is silly.

Silly to expect Bush to have had some historical perspective? Perhaps.


And don't get hung up on the fact that in 1945, we had the entire world on our side, with the Russians and French occupying parts of Germany. Those were large areas that we did not have to control. In Iraq, it is basically us and the Brits. But, leave that aside.

The key phrase that Barone slips in is "after surrender." When, exactly, did the Iraqi government surrender? The Japanese emperor ordered his people to stop fighting, without which we could not have taken control of the main islands with such relative ease. The German government, or what was left of it, surrendred unconditionally after Hitler's suicide. In both cases, it would have been a violation of orders, a breach of duty, to fight the occupation forces.

In Iraq, the government did not surrender, Hussein has eluded capture, and more fighters, perhaps sent by Al-Qaeda, are entering the country to oppose us. The war is not over.

If, as Barone implies, occupying a foreign country is inherently difficult even in a peacetime (no argument there), then it must be still more perilous to occupy a country, to rebuild it in fact, while we are fighting a war there.

There are even those who would claim that it is, or should be, our goal to increase the fighting. The "Flypaper" strategy has been championed by Andrew Sullivan, among others, and gotten respectful plugs from Instapundit.
The Flypaper strategy is to lure terrorists into Iraq so that we can fight them there, as opposed to have them fight us in our own country. Better to have suicide bombers in Baghdad than in Baltimore. Sullivan gave this analysis of one of Bush's more memorable statements:

What else did president Bush mean when he challenged the terror-masters to "bring 'em on," in Iraq? Those are not the words of a man seeking merely to pacify a country, but to continue waging war against terrorism.

Can an army act as a peace keeping force while it wages war? How can we rebuild Iraq while we keep it a battleground?

The Flypaper strategy is most popular with those who deny that our war in Iraq is anything like Vietnam. But this strategy of drawing the enemy out so that we can fight them and deplete their ranks is very close, perhaps identical, to our most misguided strategy in Southeast Asia: attrition.

Clearly, some historical perspective is needed.



 
Friday, September 19, 2003
  What is wrong with this proofreader's ad? He forgot to include a way that he could be reached. He should have had somebody proof his post.










 
Thursday, September 18, 2003
  Vaclav Klaus to Tennessee? So says Radio Prague. Can't find any mention of a Klaus visit on University of Tennessee website, but perhaps there is another sponsoring organization. Or maybe he just wants to visit Graceland.

Odd timing, considering that, as Nicmoc reports, he will be in the U.S. in November, at a Cato event . I am going to attend, if I can figure out a way in the door. 
  Hurricane Isabel is bearing down on the East Coast. In the Baltimore/Washington area, there has been the usual reaction to predictions of bad weather: panic. There is not a bottle of water to be found in a Baltimore supermarket, and batteries are scarce.

I grew up in Galveston, Texas, where we know a thing or two about hurricanes. My high school's football team was the Tornados. I am not going to worry about a sad, droopy, category two excuse for a hurricane that is going to hit land clear in another state.

He said as he tempted fate... 
Wednesday, September 17, 2003
  Earlier this month, Doug Arellanes posted several ads from the time of communism in Czechoslovakia. I don't have the words to describe them. They must be seen to be believed. Except that I still don't believe them, and I've seen them several times.

Of course, if we had seen them back in the day, after an episode of Major Zeman, we would likely not have thought those ads funny or remarkable. We would have been exposed to them too often, and have had too little to compare them to, to have seen them as odd.

There are, I think, some ads that will help give insight into our times, even though we do not usually recognize that.

I have in mind a specific ad from Hewlett Packard called "Digital Crime Fighters"
that was shown a lot during football season last year. (The ad is on the HP web site, scroll down to it)

As a melancholy violin tune plays, a group of men sit around a table, talking. We don't know what they are saying, or even what language it is (or at least I can't make it out). A computer screen arrow appears, just like the one you are using now, and one of the men is, quite literally, "clicked and dragged", as though by the mouse of God-almighty, out of the room. His friends, speechless, are helpless to intervene. Nor can a couple on the street outside do anything but stare in shock as the arrow drags the man to a police van and we know-not-what fate. A voice-over describes how Hewlett Packard is creating technology to help police departments around the world.

I have seen this ad many times, and something has always troubled me about it, but I couldn't say what. Then it hit me: what is the chap being arrested for? He certainly doesn't appear to be doing anyone any harm when he gets busted by the HP-enabled coppers. We would have no reason, in fact, to suspect him of being a criminal at all, if it were not for the voice-over.

This vague unease became something more when I paid some attention to the setting. This arrest could be taking place anywhere, of course, but the scene and the charactors have a decided Eastern European flavor. In fact, the ad could have been filmed ouside almost any pasaz in Stare Mesto, and given how much filming is done in Prague, it would not surprise me if that was the case.

Twenty years ago, if I had seen an advertisement on the television about a man being dragged out of a tavern in Eastern Europe, without a word of explanation, with the purpose of the ad being to show us how grateful we should be for the advanced technology that made it possible, I wouldn't have believed it.

I dearly hope that twenty years from now, the "war on terror" will be won, and this ad will seem ridiculous and dated. 
  Complex taste

From a NY Times beer tasting panel:

Mr. Asimov said the Smith Imperial had a winey quality, meaning complex, almost fruity flavors. Mr. Scholz, too, picked up the winey element and called it sweet and chocolaty. Ms. Hesser likened it to sake. I, too, found it fruity, with an intriguing floral component.

So, to sum up, Sam Smith Imperial is fruity and chocolaty, like sake. With a floral component. You know, winey.  
  David Blaine, magician, celebrity hanger-on, and hunger artist, appears to be bringing to the surface a long repressed national memory the British have of an uncle who did card tricks.

"Is this your card? Is this your card?"

(or, in the authentic Cockney: "Awright geeezzaa! is dis yaaahr card? Sorted mate.")

...people were today still trying to launch their own protests against the New Yorker who is now on his 11th day of his 44-day endurance test without food near Tower Bridge.

An hour earlier, Lynn Staff, 41, sneaked past security through the first set of fences around Blaine's box, pulled her jeans down and performed a semi-naked dance...

Mrs Staff, originally from Great Yarmouth, had come to see Blaine with her husband Mark, 34. She said: "It was a spur of the moment thing, me taking my trousers down. It's absolutely ridiculous to have this man dangling down in a box like this."



This continues the Ameri-trash trend of obnoxious Manhattan exiles in London that Madonna pioneered. Think of it as payback for Anthony Haden-Guest.



 
Tuesday, September 16, 2003
  Ex-Gen. Wesley Clark to Seek White House

The campaign season has now begun.

update:
Josh Marshall has a new post on Clark's bid. It seems to me to be sound
analysis, though I think he might be a little over optimistic:

All my experience of conventional, real-world politics tells me that political outsiders and late-entrants end up not winning. And that experience says that Clark doesn't win. But this is already far from a normal or conventional political moment.

I can't help think but that this would have had a much better shot if the General had committed 3 months ago.

(sidepoint: I stand in solidarity with Steve's criticism of Marshall's anti-Czech slur, but I couldn't resist linking to talkingpoints anyway. But if Marshall should ever write "Czechoslovakia", then to hell with him.) 
  PBJ has a nice piece on Vysehrad. The old cemetery is certainly worth visiting. It is the best tourist destination in Prague that has no actual tourists, and a lovely place to take a walk in the Fall. 
Friday, September 12, 2003
  Johnny Cash is dead. Ususally when a singer in his seventies dies, the pain of loss is reduced by the fact that their best work was done some time ago. As saddened as I was when Frank died a few years back (I drove to Atlantic City to pay my respects) I took some comfort from the fact that there would never be another Duets album.

Johnny Cash, on the other hand, did some of his best work in the last ten years of his life. Even people who can't stand most country, who would gladly burn Garth Brooks albums at Comiskey Park, had to respect his later work. He didn't become a parody of himself, playing the same set list over and over, or becoming a rich, irrelevant fossil in Branson. His cover of "Hurt" was as personal, as vital, as his version of "Ring of Fire" had been. He put his craft and his weathered voice behind many songs, and produced definitive versions of work by Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Tom Petty, Dylan, and many others. Hell, he made Danzig sound good.

It is sad day for people who love American music, not just because we lost a giant, but because we were looking forward to his next album.

Well, I'm tired and so weary but I must go along,
Till the Lord comes and calls, calls me away, oh, yes,
And the mornin's so bright and the lamb is the light,
And the night, night is as black as the sea, oh, yes.


The bear will be gentle and the wolf will be tame,
And the lion shall lie down with the lamb, that's what it says,
And the beasts from the wild will be led by a child,
And I will be changed, changed from this creature that I am, oh, yes.


There will be peace in the valley for me, some day,
There will be peace in the valley for me, dear Lord, I pray.
There'll be no sadness, no sorrow, no trouble I see,
There will be peace in the valley for me.



One of the sad, or infuriating, things about American radio is that there is little airplay for classic counry musicians like Waylon, Willie, or Cash. Readers in the Czech Republic, can spin their dials over to 89.5

I don't know that they have ever gone a full day without playing some Johnny Cash, or, at least that Czech cover of "I'm Going to Jackson." 
  GIs Mistakenly Kill 11 Iraqi Policemen

Incidents such as these are inevitable. Fog of war, and all that. But how long can we sustain this? 
  Four Ravens' Homes Are Burglarized

What kind of fool makes a living robbing the homes of 290 lb. NFL players?
 
  A nice, handsome boy

Interview with Arnost Lustig in the Prague Tribune that is worth a look. (via Prague Monitor)  
  General Clark Sketches Plan for Presidential Run says Nagourney in the NY Times. Clark is quoted ("sounding very much like a candidate"):

"I've gone around this country again in the last two weeks. There is a tremendous hunger for leadership out there. People are very concerned about the direction the country is headed."

The Times story also mentions that Clark and Dean had an hour long sit-down last week- their fourth meeting.

The WaPo headline: Clark Stays Noncommittal on White House Run , but gives no reason to doubt that he is going in.

Given the candidates involved, I'd have to agree that Clark totally kicks ass. Totally.

Clark is taking a page from Dean's book and arranging meet ups starting next week. Shouldn't the draft movement have tried to get them together a little earlier than four days before his expected announcement? Interesting to see how many people actually show up, especially in some of the odd places listed.



 
  General Clark Sketches Plan for Presidential Run says Nagourney in the NY Times. Clark is quoted ("sounding very much like a candidate"):

"I've gone around this country again in the last two weeks. There is a tremendous hunger for leadership out there. People are very concerned about the direction the country is headed."

The Times story also mentions that Clark and Dean had an hour long sit-down last week- their fourth meeting.

The WaPo headline: Clark Stays Noncommittal on White House Run , but gives no reason to doubt that he is going in.

Given the candidates involved, I'd have to agree that Clark totally kicks ass. Totally.

Clark is taking a page from Dean's book and arranging meet ups starting next week. Shouldn't the draft movement have tried to get them together a little earlier than four days before his expected announcement? Interesting to see how many people actually show up, especially in some of the odd places listed.



 
Thursday, September 11, 2003
  9/11, Moral Crusades, and the War on Terror

I won't record my memories of 9/11 here, mainly because they are so unoriginal. Like everyone else in the U.S., I got a phone call, switched on the television, and...well, you know the rest. The confusion, the terror, the frantic phone calls to friends in lower Manhattan and the Pentagon. Everyone went through the same things, had the same thoughts on 9/11, and in the numb days and weeks that followed; there is no need to record my own particular example.

The coverage of the second anniversary has been rather subdued; very different from the wall-to-wall coverage last year. There are other stories, other concerns, and so little new that can be said. One of the stories that got more attention than it would have received last year is the 30th anniversary of the American supported military coup in Chile that deposed the democratically elected Salvador Allende.

Several papers were explicit in linking the "two 9/11's". The NY Times' editorial today used a classic bait-and-switch lead:

Death came from the skies. A building — a symbol of the nation — collapsed in flames in an act of terror that would lead to the deaths of 3,000 people. It was Sept. 11.

But the year was 1973, the building Chile's White House, La Moneda, and the event a coup staged by Gen. Augusto Pinochet.


The point of the comparison is made explicit:

In the United States, Sept. 11 will forever be a day to remember our victims of terrorism. Yet our nation's hands have not always been clean, and it is important to recall Chile's Sept. 11, too.

The Guardian used a similar lead, bet went further:

These two September 11s are related in many ways, and both help us understand why George Bush has led the US into a quagmire in Iraq.

Today, we see the consequences of the Bush administration's refusal to learn from the past. Instead of ending transgressions against other nations, the US has spread carnage and war, violating civil liberties and human rights.

The failure of the US to bring stability to Iraq and Afghanistan, along with stepped up terrorist activities around the world, demonstrates that the US war against terror is a failure.


This is, at the very least, an exaggeration, but there is truth in it. The Cold War was, in the view of many on the right, a great moral crusade. By crusade, they meant that all other goals were irrelevant compared to victory, and that any crime committed on behalf of the crusade was forgiven.

Charles Mackay, in his wonderful Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, describes the Medeival Crusades:

EVERY AGE has its peculiar folly; some scheme, project, or phantasy into which it plunges, spurred on either by the love of gain, the necessity of excitement, or the mere force of imitation. Failing in these, it has some madness, to which it is goaded by political or religious causes, or both combined. Every one of these causes influenced the Crusades, and conspired to render them the most extraordinary instance upon record of the extent to which popular enthusiasm can be carried.

Pope Urban II and his successors promised the crusaders forgiveness for all sins. It is in this spirit that anti-communists have defended every nefarious practice and evil side-effect of the Cold War- from McCarthyism to the Salvadoran death squads, as acceptable, under the circumstances.

Thus, Jeane Kirkpatrick made tortured distinctions between totalitarian regimes murdering their citizens, and the some how more acceptable crimes of regimes that were merely "authoritarian." Vaclav Benda, a heroic opponent of communism in Czechoslovakia, for instance, spent the last years of his life defending Pinochet.

Shortly after 9/11 Bush described what is now called the "war on terror" as a "crusade." The White House quickly became aware of the negative connotations that Bush's poorly chosen word carried outside America, and retracted it. "Crusade" was, however, the completely accurate term, though its use was a classic example of a political gaffe.

The problem with crusades is that anything can be justified. The term "moral crusade" is actually a meaningless construction. Since everything done for the crusade is moral, than there is nothing that is immoral.

And so, we have ignored international opinion, violated the sovereignty of other nations, collaborated with dictators, turned a blind eye to oppression, endorsed torture, abridged our own liberties, and promised resources that we have not delivered to people who desperately need them.

Were some of these neccessary? Certainly. This war must be fought, and wars are brutal affairs that always involve suffering and sacrifice. (And, I should add, I am very thankful that the Cold War turned out the way that it did.) But we cannot allow ourselves to justify anything and everything we may do, now matter how cruel or hare-brained, as being justified by this crusade, this war on terror. Perhaps God or history will eventually forgive our sins, but I am certain that the urgent realities of the present day will not endorse our excuses and "popular enthusiasms."

 
  Will eventually go back and edit these posts when I am no lnger taking hydrocodone. TIll then, excuse typos, rambling, etc. Cest Prace.

 
  "Acts of Sacrifice"

Have just learned of the suicide of an anti-globalization protestor at the WTO talks in Cancun, Mexico. Lee Kyung-hae, a middle-aged South Korean farmer stabbed himself in the chest, Reuters quoted an unidentified friend, in "act of sacrifice" in opposition to the WTO.

A post on the Baltimore Indymedia site describes the incident in some detail:

The march (in my estimate) drew 10,000 – 15,000 demonstrators, all of whom marched to the first police baracade of the hotel zone and challenged it. First in line was the 180 member delegation of Korean farmers and tade unionists. In celebration of what was described to me as the Korean day of the dead, they carried with them a casket, which they planned to deliver to the convention center but in the meantime were using to batter the fence constructed by the police. With the fence standing, the president of an association of Korean farmers scaled the fence. The man wore a sign saying “The WTO kills farmers� and while sitting on the top of the fence he called out a few words about the WTO and then stabbed himself in the chest with a knife. Apparently, the delegation wanted to symbolize the death that the WTO’s policies carry to the world. When it was clear that the delegation wouldn’t be able to deliver the casket, the gentleman decided to carry that message to the wrold by offering his life to represent the death brought on by neoliberalism. Many didn’t notice that he had stabbed himself and thought that he was either suffering a heart attack or that the police had injured him. We held the area for several more hours, destroying the greater part of the fence. As people started to leave, the news arrived that our Korean comrade had died in the hospital from the self inflicted wound. A commemoration was held in the street in front of the general hospital in which songs were sung and prayers and words were offered up in honor of the deceased. There will be wakes celebrated all night tonight and then actions in his honor tomorrow. At one point in the commemoration ceremony held in the street, representatives from the Black Bloc presented the Korean delegation with a black banner with the words “Love, Respect, Solidarity Forever� and the circled A painted on in red. After the Koreans were presented with the banner, they announced that they would join the anarchist youth in the streets tomorrow.


It is not too difficult to write this off as exemplary of the worst excesses of the anti-globalization movement. Anyone who has been around these protests, and I've been to too many, knows their self-righteousness. Because they are absolurely right about everthing, they are absolutely justified in anything they do on behalf of "justice." This sad waste of a life is nothing other than a waste, but fanatics will see it as a sacrifice by a martyr. Indeed, to them, such sacrifices prove the justice of their cause. They are perhaps unfamiliar with Wilde's remark that, "A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it."

Which brings me to Jan Palach. I had thought him a hero, when I was a teenager, perhaps because death is romantic to the young, and certainly because he was a hero of the Czech nation, (and I was self-conciously Czech in the way that only the children of emigres can be).

Palach's death was, I thought, the brave refusal to participate in a corrupt society, and perhaps the only way that a man could avoid being corrupted.


As Czech Radio put it:

To die in the name of truth and freedom is the ultimate sacrifice a man can make in his life. It is even more poignant if the decision is made by a young person, with the whole life ahead of him. Throughout history, there was hardly any time when Czechs didn`t have to fight for their freedom. And throughout history, there were always those who didn`t hesitate to sacrifice their lives in order to encourage and unite the intimidated and resigned nation. Although their death didn`t always solve the problem there and then, they became the nation`s living conscience and inspired a great many not to give in to oppression, violence and lies, but stand up against them. For Czechs, three names will always symbolise truth, freedom and democracy...

When I thought about Jan Palach, it was in these terms. A few years ago, I was walking through Vaclavska Namesti with a friend of mine, when he asked me who Palach was. After I told him, he said, without hesitation, "That was stupid of him."

I got angry. I called my friend a spoiled American who knew nothing about suffering or history or sacrifice. I explained to him the terrible lack of hope in 1969. I compared Palach to Christ, and even made the (possibly blasphemous) suggestion that Palach was more successful than Christ, since the Russian tanks had left Czechoslovakia 20 years after his self-immolation, but the Sermon on the Mount seemed less than realised 2,000 years after the crucifixion.

I didn't convince him, except to change the subject. Thinking it over later, I realized that also I hadn't convinced myself.

Joyce wrote that, "History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake." The sentiment resonates with the Czechs as much as with the Irish, and perhaps that explains a similar taste for martyrdom. Palach intended his death to wake up his fellow citizens. Many dissidents were inspired by the memory of his sacrifice.

Jan Kavan (yes, that Jan Kavan) was outside Palach's hospital room as he lay dying from the burns that covered 80% of his body. Years later, Kavan told Lawrence Weschler that he felt almost anointed by Palach's testament: "The fact that out of the whole society he picked the students, and the radical students in our group in particular, gave me a great feeling of responsibility."

But was Palach rousing the Czechs from an apathetic acceptance of history, or was he avoiding the struggle through self-destruction. His dying words to Lubos Holocek were, "tell them to join you in a living fight." He urged that no one follow his course of action.

If the "living fight" was so important, why did Palach abandon it? And if his protest was so neccessary, why dissuade others from the path he chose?

At any rate, others did follow his example. "After Palach, 26 people attempted suicide between January 20, 1969 and the end of April that year, 7 of whom died."

His legacy surfaced in the Czech Republic again this year when his heirs with less obvious reasons but perhaps the same desire to opt out of a society they thought corrupt, began a new wave of burnings.

I have no time anymore for martyrs, or at least not for those who choose their end voluntarily. It is just a waste, and waste should never be romanticized.  
  Recovering from some minor, but painful surgery the last two days. Kept me from regularly blogging, and, worse, from attending last night’s debate of the candidates for the Democratic Party nomination for president, held last night in Baltimore by the Congressional Black Caucus. It is always better to see these things live, but I watched the Fox News broadcast through a post-surgical haze, and have a few observations.

First, this was not a real debate. There are never real debates in the primaries. In a real debate, opposing sides clash, argument against argument, position against position. One side presents a position, and the other side attacks it.

Last night’s program was not a debate; it was a group interview. A panel of reporters questioned the nine candidates. Except in rare instances, the candidates did not address each other, and so were reduced to sniping about the policies of their opponents when they could fit that into the answer that they were giving to the panel’s question.

Because the panel rarely got to ask follow-up questions, the candidates would frequently avoid answering the questions. There was no one to keep them on topic.

It’s like a beauty contest. Miss California vows to use the Miss America title to promote world peace, but Miss New York never gets to ask the girl from Cali how, exactly, she will achieve that. As a result, you have a group of nervous and ambitious office-seekers who try to be attractive and make a good impression by talking a lot of non-specific, soothing blather about supporting education, jobs, a strong America, motherhood, apple pie, etc…

That said, the primary “debates” do have some value. After all, if a man cannot make a good impression at a public event where the sole purpose is to make a good impression, then he is unlikely to last long in a presidential race. The goal is to find somebody who can win. (Though, in my lifetime, the Democratic Party has nominated Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, George McGovern, and Al Gore, which suggests that there might be a few bugs in the system.)

Different candidates have different things they need to prove at these dog-and pony shows. Howard Dean, now the front-runner, needed to prove that he can conduct himself like a front-runner. Doctor Dean also needed to show that he will not display the arrogance so often associated with the medical profession, and with him in particular. Because he is the leading candidate, he was also the inevitable target of the barbs of the candidates trying to claw their way back into the race. He did an admirable job. Shouted less than in his fiery stump speeches.

John Edwards, as a lawyer, and Al Sharpton, as a preacher and activist (or demagogue), are the only two candidates who have made livings through the ability to captivate an audience. They came across well, in control of themselves and their messages.

The other speakers were a chore to listen to. The nature of the Congress is that its members give long speeches, but speeches to captive audiences only. Or to those who watch C-Span. Perhaps because they expect to bore their audiences, they always do.

I have heard Dick Gephardt give several speeches over the years, all of them with the same cadence: his voice rises, his cadence quickens, as though he is building to something urgent, but all that he is leading to is another sentence, never to a memorable conclusion. John Kerry, looking like a lost member of some in-bred royal family, was incapable of presenting an idea of an complexity with any precision. When he tried to explain why he voted to authorize force in Iraq, his tortured answer explained why his campaign is adrift. Bob Graham could put flies to sleep.
Joe Lieberman took a shot at Dean over what he claimed was the former governor's failure to support Israel. The charge, absurd on its face, was a desperate attempt to make some kind of impression. He seemed spent after Dean smoothly disposed of it. Carol Moseley Braun should be a high school principal somewhere. Kucinich kept himself in good position for the Green Party nomination, if Ralph Nader should get hit by a Corvair.

Because the event was sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus, the panel of three journalists asking the questions was all black. Lest anyone complain about “reverse racism”, Fox News had an all-white group of its regular commentators to give grades after the broadcast. The panel asked pointed and original questions. Brit Hume was solidly professional as the moderator.

The candidates tried to emphasize the reasons, if any, that blacks should vote for them. Bob Graham noted, pretty much out of nowhere, that when he had been governor of Florida a decade ago, “African-American businesses doubled.” Joe Lieberman stated, often, that he had marched with Martin Luther King. These rather obvious, and desperate, attempts by two very white Senators to establish some credibility on racial issues didn’t seem to get a lot of applause from the audience at Morgan State. It is difficult to imagine how they would get much of a favorable response from any crowd, anywhere.

The best response of the night came when Dean was asked if he would have a problem relating to minority voters because he came from Vermont, a state with little ethnic diversity. By that logic, he shot back, “Trent Lott would be Martin Luther King.”

The most striking trend was the anger displayed at Bush. Gephardt repeated his “miserable failure” line, Lieberman tried “abomination,” and all others made clear their disdain for the president. I don’t know how well this will play in the general election. Bush is personally popular, even as doubts about his administration grow. The voters who think Bush is incompetent, or a war criminal, won’t vote Republican anyway. There is no point in preaching to the choir, except the satisfaction of hearing partisan cheers.

The bulk of the American electorate likes Bush, and, most important, wants to trust him. The way to convince these voters is to convince them that the Democratic nominee has a plausible plan, that he knows what he is doing. That Bush doesn’t know what he is doing will be apparent enough in contrast.




 
Tuesday, September 09, 2003
  Hitler's Filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl Dies

Finally. 
  Pets, owners really do tend to resemble each other 
Monday, September 08, 2003
  Warren Zevon dies of lung cancer

There are so many people I'd rather see dead than Zevon. Damnit. 
Saturday, September 06, 2003
  Czech "Jack the Ripper"?

Have recently come across a story that I had never heard before. According to a memoir, The Judge in a Communist State, by Otto Ulc, a Czech judge who fled to the west in 1959, a proloific serial killer was at large in Czechoslovakia in the 1950’s.

“Probably the greatest, longest, and most expensive manhunt any single criminal in Czechoslovak history took place under the code name ‘Action Bronislava’- the first name of the first victim. In the early fifties, over half a dozen women were murdered in the Chomutov-Jirikov area of the northwestern borderland. The criminal pattern developed: a bicyclist, a pistol shot, sexual abuse of the corpse. Besides these murders it was widely- and correctly, as it turned out- believed that the culprit was also responsible for numerous robberies and sexually motivated assaults.

“The main reason for the government’s concern with the activities of this Czech Jack the Ripper was, believe it or not, the fulfillment of the Five Year Plan, The industrialized area of Chomutov…depended to a large extent on female work force. After the first murders, the weaker sex, fearing for their safety, did not turn up for the afternoon and night shifts. Production was in jeopardy, and the state had to act. A special police force was set up and dispatched to Chomutov. Despite their efforts, similar murders continued for three or four years. The investigators were able to decipher from the traces of the sperm of the attacker his blood group, and from his footprints, his approximate height and weight. With the help of the police residence registry, a list of about twenty thousand suspects was painstakingly compiled. The next steps required the assistance of the reserve draft boards. Its district offices summoned under various pretexts all the suspects for a blood test, thus reducing the list of potential murderers accordingly. While the police search continued, Mr. X’s death toll also grew. Actually, it only emerged after the apprehension of the culprit that, though his name had been included on the original list of suspects, it had later been dropped, for reasons no one was able to explain.

“The initial ineptitude of the police was exculpated by a luck break and the praiseworthy imagination of one investigator. About three years after the last Chomutov murder, in the Kladno district…a miner…spotted a maintenance man breaking into the locker of a co-worker. The thief’s name was Mrazek. The miner reported the case, the police picked up Mrazek and went to search his home. It was during this search that the enterprising investigator came up with his highly improbable idea. Among Mrazek’s possessions he noticed an old-fashioned barber’s hair clipper. A similar tool, the policeman recalled, was missing from a house where, several years before, a woman had been raped and murdered in front of a four-year-old child, who in turn had been sexually molested. Though this case differed from the Chomutov killings both in location and in criminal pattern, it was decided to investigate the possibility of a link. A more thorough search of Mrazek’s home was ordered. In the cellar under the heap of coal a pistol was found; it was sent to Prague for ballistic examination. The impatiently awaited news finally arrived. ‘This is the weapon that killed all the victims…in the Chomutov region.’
Mrazek was told nothing of this, and the police chief ordered a sumptuous dinner for two in Mrazek’s cell. During the feast, the host asked quite casually, ‘Did you kill those girls in Chomutov?’ and Mrazek, gnawing a bone nodded.

“Mrazek was a slightly built laborer in his early thirties, a taciturn, unassuming loner who, as often happens in such cases, enjoyed a good reputation in the community
.”

Ulc goes on to say that Mrazek was tried and executed, and that the case was only briefly mentioned in the press at the time.

Fascinating story, if it is true. Ulc is frustratingly vague on details, especially on dates. It all happens sometimes in the 50’s, God knows when exactly. He doesn’t give the number of victims, or their names. (Though, to be fair to Ulc, he doesn’t claim to have first-hand knowledge of the case.)

Does anyone know more about this?
 
Thursday, September 04, 2003
  Fox attacks girl in her bedroom

When I saw the hed, I just assumed that Bill O'Reilly had continued his descent into madness. Turns out it was just a...fox. Forest creature.
Lower-case important.  
  The NY TImes has a piece today on drunk Brits in the Golden City. Nothing in it will be news to anyone who reads the Czech press, of course, but one thing is remarkable. It is an entire story, in the Times, from Prague, that does not feature a single quote from Jiri Pehe. 
  Amish car-jacking:

- It's an annual prank in this tranquil Amish community, where men wear straw hats and women bonnets and plain dresses: Youngsters hide in cornfields and hurl tomatoes at passing cars.

This year, the mischief turned deadly.

A motorist who had been pelted several times on Labor Day got out of his car and fired three to five rounds into the 7-foot-high corn, killing 23-year-old Steven L. Keim.


Alright, a prank, not a car-jacking. Still, a useful reminder that in the States there is no shortage of ways to get shot. Watch your back. 
Tuesday, September 02, 2003
  For those of you who went through an Ayn Rand phase in school:
The 25 Most Inappropriate Things An Objectivist Can Say During Sex 
  The NY Times has a front-page piece today on Baltimore's continuing drug violence. Forgive me if I go into it at some length.

Last October, Angela Dawson, her husband, Carnell, and their five children were killed in East Baltimore when her house was torched in retalliation for calling the police on area drug dealers. The young man, Darrel Brooks, who kicked in their door and splashed gasoline on the front hall, was sentenced to life without parole.

Jeffrey Gettleman, of the Times, covers the details, all too familiar to anyone from Baltimore, of the sad end of the Dawson family, and the equally wasted life of their twenty-two year-old killer. He is certainly correct when he calls it "a crime that seared the heart of this city and blasted a signal that things in Baltimore were still out of control."

I walked past that burned out wreck on Preston Street several times, and I know many other people who felt drawn there. Gettleman notes that one of them is the mayor, Martin O'Malley,
"[s]ometimes...finds himself in front of the Dawson house. 'That was our Alamo,' he says."

The story also describes the in some detail, the Baltimore Believe campaign. "Believe" is an elaborate advertising campaign designed to...uh...I'm not sure. From the Believe website:

In this society, we solve a problem when we decide that solving that problem is a priority.

When we decided that polio was a priority, we cured it. When we decided that putting a man on the moon was a priority, we launched the Apollo program. When we decided that new sports stadiums were priorities, we found a way to get them built.

Now - Baltimore's priority is to ensure that our most vulnerable children and youth have the opportunities to grow up safe and healthy in families that thrive.

We have made the decision.
And you are one more reason to believe that we will succeed.


Thanks, Obi-Wan.

The NY Times is not more specific or helpful in its description:

[O'Malley] hired a team of image consultants to come up with a catchy phrase to recruit police officers. John Linder, a focus group guru who helped burnish the image of New York City subways, seized upon "Believe."

"There is a religious or spiritual quality to that word," Mr. Linder said. "A certain transcendentalism."

The mayor liked the sound of Believe. Believe commercials were broadcast discouraging street crime. A Believe hot line was set up for drug addicts. A Believe machine began to crank out merchandise to scatter across the inner city like Army leaflets in a war. To date: 234,500 bumper stickers, 75,000 trash cans, 15,154 T-shirts and forests of pencils and placards and pamphlets.

Believe. Its vagueness was its power. Believe in yourself, in the city, in God.


"Its vagueness was its power." Nothing like a New-Age twist to add zest to an Orwellian favorite.

Gettlesman goes out of his way to glamorize O'Malley. He is a capable mayor, certainly a charismatic one, and I expect to vote for him again. But the Times' story today is full of shameless puffery. O'Malley is described as "a mayor with a swagger", "broad-shouldered", who keeps a picture of the Dawson children on his desk, and "spends his days driving around in a Ford Expedition, intense, distracted, attacking the Blackberry electronic planner in his hands, plugging in the coordinates of a broken bench or drug-plagued corner."

Why, he might be almost...Kennedy-esque!

As a matter of fact:

The product of a Roman Catholic, Kennedy-loving clan, Mr. O'Malley was a former city councilman, prosecutor and cut-off-T-shirt-wearing guitar player.

While there is much to admire in Baltimore's mayor, a bit of skepticism might be in order.

Perhaps this type of thing is inevitable when the NYT decides to parachute somebody in. Gettleman got the street where the Dawsons lived and died wrong (Preston, not Eden). Very oddly in such a long story that dwells so much on O'Malley, he doesn't mention that the Democratic primary, where O'Malley has opposition, is next week. Either he needs a stringer to do his leg-work, or he needs to fire the stringer and do his own leg-work.

And certainly, he should remember the old dictum that the only way that a reporter should look at a politician is down.







 
  School openings were delayed in the Czech Republic yesterday by a token one day walk-out by teachers' unions. Petr at the Daily Czech has some comments:

"I think that only a person who likes children can become/WANTS to become a teacher. If it's a job you love for other reason than money than you can't complain, right?"

Er...no. There is no contradiction in loving your job and wanting a decent wage for doing it.

We can expect to see more strikes and walk-outs in the Czech Republic, and in all the new EU countries. Especially among government workers. Joining the EU will likely raise the costs of some goods and services. Some workers will be able to take advantage of EU enlargement and make more, but teachers and civil servants, paid by the government, won't see raises any time soon. They can expect to lose ground to rising prices, at least in the short-term, and they will certainly see a relative decline in income against other professions that will gain in the EU. There not being a huge market for Czech history teachers in Portugal, the only option that the unions will have is the brinksmanship of walk-outs, sick-outs, and slow-downs. 
  "It always makes me melancholy to see the boys going to school. During the half hour before 9 o'clock they stagger through the square in front of my house in Baltimore with the despondent air of New Yorkers coming up from the ferries to work. It happens to be uphill, but I believe they'd lag as much if they were going down."

From H.L. Mencken's essay "Travail," published in his Chrestomathy. I often think of it at this time of year, when the school terms begin. Mencken had a lot of faults, and it is easy to over-rate him, but when it came to the frontal assault, he was without equal in American journalism.

From the same essay:

"The notion that schoolboys are generally content with their lot seems to me to be a sad delusion. They are, in the main, able to bear it, but they like it no more than a soldier enjoys life in a foxhole."

"School-days, I believe, are the unhappiest in the whole span of human existence. They are full of dull, unintelligible tasks, new and unpleasant ordinances, brutal violations of common sense and common decency...
"It would be hard enough for a grown man, with alcohol and cynicism aiding him, to endure such society. To a growing boy, it is torture."


Remember, he wrote this for a daily newspaper. It is unimaginable that the Baltimore Sun could print such a thing now. 
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