G. A. Cerny
Saturday, August 30, 2003
  Russian Nuclear Submarine Sinks, Nine Killed

Aren't they supposed to sink? 
Friday, August 29, 2003
  Perhaps we should ask how the Post covered the demise of Prognosis, back in the day.

From the Prague Post, 8/03/95, byline Maggie Ledford Lawson
"Prognosis Died of Multiple Wounds"

Quickly finding its own irreverent voice and kowtowing to no idols, the paper found a ready audience among the young Westerners who flocked to Prague.
But times changed. After a spurt of youthful exuberance, the country sobered up, and those changes were reflected in the Prognosis readership, according to observers familiar with the paper‘s history. Competition emerged from other newspapers.

Note the use of the passive voice: "competition emerged." This is, at best, evasive. No mention of how, exactly, the "competition" came to "emerge." Matt Welch was,in his post-mortem of Prognosis, rather more specific:

Do not, under any circumstances, hire P. Kent Hawryluk. (co-founder of the Post- GAC)

Back when the staff was a handful of half-educated Californians and a couple of nutty young Czechs, we decided to let a buttoned-down Princeton grad into our tent, as business director. After five months of on-the-job training he steered a prospective investor in Prognosis away and started, along with the rest of our disgruntled business staff, the Prague Post.

Isn't this something that the story on the end of Prognosis should have mentioned? History, it is said, is written by the victor, but journalists should have some respect for the truth.

If newspapers will presume to cover governments and corporations, surely they must cover themselves as they would any other corporation. When the New York Times sacked its editor in the wake of the Jayson Blair scandal, the reporter doing the story for the Times got a statement from the Times' publisher, just as he would have gotten a statement from the CEO of any other company that he was assigned to cover.

The Prague Post is a solid, professional organization. It gets a lot of criticism because it is, for all practical purposes, the only English language publication in Prague that everybody reads. Because everybody reads it, everybody finds something to critique in it, even as they depend on it.

A modest proposal: Sell the children of the Irish poor for food- oops, sorry, I was thinking of something else.

No, a much more modest proposal. The Prague Post should hire an ombudsman, a reader's representative. It would be invaluable for the paper, lacking the harsh test of competion, to have an in-house critic to find ways to improve the paper, and help it better fulfill its mission. 
Thursday, August 28, 2003
  Bitter Pill

PragueBlog comments on Frank Kuznik's story about the demise of the Prague Pill.

A few comments of my own:

Was it correct to sum up Prognosis in this way:

After its demise, one of the founders of Prognosis, Matt Welch, described the paper this way: "The oldest owner was 24, everyone was drunk, and no one within vomiting distance of the place ever had a clue about running a business."

I wasn't there at the time, but looking at the later careers of Prognosis alums like John Allison, Amy Langfield, Kip Baursfeld, and too many others to name, Prognosis must have been more than the frat party of legend. (Though there probably was some truth to that legend.) Even Kuznik concedes its "inspired four year run."

What bothers me here is that Prognosis and, to a lesser extent, the Pill, were the Post's competitors. Did the Post do anything to hasten their ends? I doubt it very much with the Pill, but I have heard a story or two over the years that suggest that the rivalry between the Post and Prognosis was not a friendly one.

Shouldn't Kuznik have gotten a comment from someone, other than himself, speaking for the Post? Lisa Frankenberg, say. I am sure that she could give us all some insight into the subject.

One other point, just to see if anyone gets the reference:

There were no plans for the Summer Sell-out issue (number 35) to be the Pill's last. But when Caulkins picked it up, he saw some things that finally pushed him over the edge. He won't say specifically what they were, though many readers were struck by a particularly tasteless item in the restaurant review. One criteria for rating restaurants was, "Will taking a girl here get you laid?" The answer:

"Probably, but I would order an extra bottle of wine just to be on the safe side. And maybe something to slip in the wine."

Is that really worse than:

  Second prize was...

"From all the entries we receive we'll select one lucky winner to spend a day campaigning with John Kerry in Iowa or New Hampshire," his campaign announced. Those who make a $25 online contribution get an extra chance to "spend a day on the road to the White House."

From Dana Milbank in today's Washington Post
Wednesday, August 27, 2003
  We knew how hard this was going to be

...the day after a war ended, Iraq would become America's problem, for practical and political reasons. Because we would have destroyed the political order and done physical damage in the process, the claims on American resources and attention would be comparable to those of any U.S. state. Conquered Iraqis would turn to the U.S. government for emergency relief, civil order, economic reconstruction, and protection of their borders. They wouldn't be able to vote in U.S. elections, of course—although they might after they emigrated. (Every American war has created a refugee-and-immigrant stream.) But they would be part of us.

That was James Fallows writing in the Atlantic in November of last year. While the piece was widely read at the time, I thought now might be a good time to take a look back on it, and see how well it held up.

The whole thing is well worth reading. A few quotes I lifted:

From the U.S. perspective, it wouldn't really matter whether the war left Saddam dead, captured, or in exile. What would matter is that his whereabouts were known. The only outcome nearly as bad as leaving him in power would be having him at large, like Osama bin Laden and much of the al Qaeda leadership in the months after the September 11 attacks.

Simply manning a full occupation force would be a challenge...
In most of its military engagements since Vietnam the United States has enthusiastically passed many occupation duties to allied or United Nations forces. Ideally the designated occupiers of Iraq would be other Arabs—similar rather than alien to most Iraqis in language, religion, and ethnicity. But persuading other countries to clean up after a war they had opposed would be quite a trick.

In the short term the U.S. military would necessarily be the government of Iraq. In the absence of international allies or UN support, and the absence of an obvious Iraqi successor regime, American soldiers would have to make and administer political decisions on the fly.

Not too shabby, I'd say. The main thing Fallows gets wrong is his assumption that we would have to deal with the after effects of WMD on the civilian population. That, at least, we were spared. (Oddly, it is the claim of the government that this is a surprise.)

Nothing that has happened, or is happening, can come as a surprise. Perhaps we all lost sight of that in the "Democracy,Sexy, Whisky" days when we were rolling into Baghdad. It is too early to call our occupation a quagmire just because the work of having Iraq is harder than the task of taking Iraq.

But it is not too soon to say that the President failed to make clear the certain costs of his policy. That is a failure of leadership.

  From the "male stripper not dream job"department:

Aug. 26, 2003 | WHEELING, Ill. (AP -- A woman has pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery, admitting she attacked a stripper who failed to meet expectations during her daughter's bachelorette party.

Jacqueline McMahon, 52, was sentenced to 30 days of court supervision and ordered to pay $2,500 restitution to the victim in a plea deal reached Monday. Prosecutors also agreed to drop battery charges against McMahon's daughter, Carrie McMahon, 22, of Loveland, Colo., and bridesmaid Kelly Meyer, 33.

The 28-year-old man suffered head injuries, bruises and scratches when he was punched, kicked and hit over the head with a bottle after his July 2002 performance at a hotel in Crystal Lake.

(via Salon
Tuesday, August 26, 2003
  Hitler, Stalin, and Walter O'Malley

When Pete Hamilland Jack Newfieldtried to decide on the most evil men of the twentieth century, those were the three names they settled on.

Now, a conservative website has done a poll of right-wing bloggers' opinions on the "twenty worst figures of the twentieth century."

Thirty nine bloggers responded to their poll. The results, with the number of votes that each received:

20) Josef Mengele (6)
17) Hideki Tojo (8)
17) The Rosenbergs (8)
17) Adolf Eichmann (8)
14) Benito Mussolini (11)
14) Ayatollah Khomeini (11)
14) Emperor Hirohito (11)
13) Ho Chi Minh (13)
12) Kim Il-Sung (14)
10) Kim Jung Il (15)
10) Fidel Castro (15)
9) Osama Bin Laden (18)
8) Idi Amin (21)
6) Yasser Arafat (24)
6) Saddam Hussein (24)
5) Vladimir Lenin (28)
4) Pol Pot (31)
3) Chairman Mao (35)
1) Joseph Stalin (39)
1) Adolph Hitler (39)

Hitler, Stalin, yeah, obviously, no-brainers. Mao, Pol Pot- sure, got to go with that. And all of the people on this list were bad people. But the Rosenbergs? While I have no sympathy for communists, or for traitors to this country, the Rosenbergs were relatively minor figures who paid for their involvement in espionage with their lives. They're worse than Mengele?

Now look at the also rans:

Honorable Mentions: Kaiser Wilhelm II (4), General Suharto (4),
Richard Nixon (4), Slobodan Milosevic (4), Mengistu Haile Mariam (4),
Lyndon Johnson (4), Alger Hiss (4), Heinrich Himmler (4),
Hillary Clinton (4), Neville Chamberlain (4), Robert Mugabe (5),
Bill Clinton (5)

This does not require ridicule. It is beyond ridicule. A group of people that comes one vote shy of putting Clinton in a tie with Mengele, while it doesn't even produce one vote for Heydrich is clearly one that has a strong strain of moral imbecility in it. 
  The United Nations voted yesterday to increase protection to international aid workers and to clarify that attacks on them constitute war crimes. Which Security Council member could possibly object?

Despite the groundswell of support for the resolution, it was almost blocked by the United States, which objected to language that noted attacks on aid workers constitute a war crime under the statutes of the International Criminal Court, or ICC.

Washington does not recognise the court, and diplomats say US officials insisted on removing any part of the text which could lead to the possible prosecution of American citizens in front of the ICC.

It becomes clearer every day that we could use the help of our friends in Iraq. Hell, we could use friends. Yet we seem to go out of our way to antagonize the rest of the world. This just seems petty.

The BBC story concluded:

Some too have been disappointed that the Security Council once again struggled to unify around a subject that appeared so pressing and urgent in the aftermath of last week's attack on the UN.


  Virginia Postrel blames socialism for the heat wave deaths in France. Who does she blame for the deaths in the 1995 Chicago heat wave? 
  More killed in Iraq since May, 1, after the "end of major combat operations," than in the war. 
  Yes, Prime Minister on DVD

In much needed lighter news, Yes, Prime Minister, is being released today on DVD in the US. The 1980's BBC series and sequal to Yes, Minister followed Jim Hacker (Paul Eddington), the appropriately named Prime Minister, as he attempts to fight the British Civil Service, embodied in Sir Humphrey Appleby (Nigel Hawthorne).

The acting was superb and, though some of the material might be a little dated, a few things never change:

Jim Hacker: "Don't we ever get our own way with the French?"
Sir Humphrey: "Well, sometimes."
Jim Hacker: "When was the last time?"
Sir Humphrey: "Battle of Waterloo, 1815."
  Rice on the Werewolves

1945 through 1947 was an especially challenging period. Germany was not immediately stable or prosperous. SS officers -- called "werewolves" -- engaged in sabotage and attacked both coalition forces and those locals cooperating with them -- much like today's Baathist and Fedayeen remnants.

Condoleeza Rice in prepared remarks delivered yesterday.

There are very good reasons to compare the post-war occupation of Germany and the current situation in Iraq, but the "werewolves" aren't one of them.

As Germany's defeat became inevitable, special units, usually composed of the young and impressionable (all that were left in 1945), were trained to resist the approaching armies. They were to use sabotage and assasination, the irregular methods that the partisans had used against the Germans themselves. The werewolves had training, fake documents, weapons, and at least something of an organizational structure. In this, they were like Saddam's Fedayeen.

Unlike the Fedayeen, however, the werewolves were never effective terrorists. Most of them never fired a shot, and those stupid or fanatical enough to fight were killed or captured in very short order. Rice is certainly correct that 1945 to 1947 was "an especially challenging period," but not for the reason she implies. The "rubble years" were tough for economic reasons, especially shortages of food. Terrorism by the remants of the SS was not a problem for the occupation forces, and, I venture to say, not a problem at all within a short time of Hitler's death.

If anyone takes issue with this, please e-mail me where and when, exactly, the bombings in the Allied or Russian zones in August of 1945 took place. I would really like to know.

Just someone in the Bush administration playing fast and loose with facts. I think we have all become rather used to that.

But if Rice actually believes the analogy between Germany and Iraq, then let her go where it takes her. We need allies (France and Russia had their occupation zones, not just the U.S. and U.K.), a long-term commitment (HICOG, The Allied High Commission for German affairs didn't disband until 1955), and lots of money.

The economic chaos in Germany ended, I think most historians would agree, because of the massive aid the U.S. gave to Germany (and, I should stress, because of the 1948 currency reform). Some believe that we rebuilt Germany not out of altruism, but to get an ally against the USSR. Certainly, the beginning of the Cold War gave greater urgency to our efforts.

Apply this to Iraq. Surely it means that our best efforts, in men and money, need to start now, not two years from now. Wether this is because we have a moral obligation to the Iraqi people, or because we want them as allies in the "War on Terror," doesn't matter. It is a matter of the greatest urgency.
We also can't save on troop strength in Iraq, as the growing number of lethal attacks show. We have now lost as many men in trying to govern Iraq as we did in the war.

Josh Marshall wrote last week:

Despite what some people are saying, I really don't think the situation in Iraq is irretrievable. Frankly, we can't allow it to be irretrievable because the consequences of failure are too dark to imagine.

Too true. 
Monday, August 25, 2003
  Bocce ball is for "normal people"

At the San Gabriel fest in Little Italy, the organizers of the bocce tournament banned a team consisting of a dwarf and a man in a wheelchair. One of the tournament administrators said that the pair was, "never going to play with the normal people."

Joe Scalia, chairman of the Little Italy Bocce Rollers Association told the Baltimore Sun that "the tournament is not for handicapped. It's for normal people, because that's the way it has been all the time. Traditional. When we have the Special Olympics we don't mix with them, and they don't mix with us. I don't think they should impose on normal people."

It really warms my heart to know that, in what is supposed to be the age of political correctness, there are still so many un-reconstructed scum-bags.

Saturday, August 23, 2003
  The 40th anniversay of the March on Washington is being observed this weekend. A good time to read this
Friday, August 22, 2003
  Evil, talented bitch will not die 
  Gore Vidal on Idi Amin
Well, actually on the Caesars, but it applies to any tyrant:

"Yet what, finally, was the effect of absolute power on twelve representative men? Suetonius makes it quite plain: disastrous. Caligula was certifiably mad. Nero, who started well, became progressively irrational. Even the stern Tiberius's character became weakened. In fact, Tacitus, in covering the same period as Suetonius, observes: 'Even after his enormous experience of public affairs, Tiberius was ruined and transformed by the violence influence of absolute power.' Caligula gave the game away when he told a critic, 'Bear in mind that I can treat anyone exactly as I please.' And that cruelty which is innate in human beings, now give the opportunity to treat others as toys, flowered monstrously in the Caesars. Suetonius's case history (and it is precisely that) of Domitian is particularly fascinating. An intelligent man of some charm, trained to govern, Domitian when he first succeeded to the Principate contented himself with tearing the wings of flies, an infantile pastime which gradually palled until, inevitably, for flies he substituted men."

Of course, were Vidal writing about Amin he would blame American imperialism. He might,in fact, blame America for Caligula's failings.
But read the whole essay. How did such a capable writer and sober analyst become the un-dead hack that he is now? 
  Petr Bokuvka remembers the "Ivans" over at the Daily Czech
  Mideast ceasefire ends after killing of Hamas leader

Front page headline of the Financial Times this morning. Not to quibble, but didn't the ceasefire end earlier this week, when a bomber, identified in the FT story as being from Hamas, killed twenty people, including many children?

(The FT website goes with "Truce ends after killing of Hamas leader," as a sub-head) 
  BTCo is The Best Way to Go!

One of the unfortunate things about living in Baltimore- after the murder rate, a newspaper I wouldn't use to beat my dog, 10% of the city strung out on heroin, etc.- is Mobtown's abysmal public transportation. Getting between any two points by bus in the city is never easy and often impossible. The schedules are vague, the routes incomprehensible, and only the poor and desperate rely on its unreliable service. Yesterday, I was walking up Charles Street- Baltimore's main street- and in 25 minutes, not one bus passed me. This was at 5:30 in the evening on a road that is, at least theoretically, covered by three different bus routes.
And they just raised the fares, the bastards.

When I tell people that I don't own a car, they're awe struck. "How do you do it?" they ask as though I had told them that I avoid breathing. The system is so bad that much of the city's population won't even think about using it.

Which is why I take such pleasure in the Baltimore Transit Company Website. It is a fantasy, an alternate universe, where the city actually works, and where you can get from a to b without the patience of Job. A fantasy where people actually have the pride in their public transportation that you see in New York or Prague.

The BTC is the work of an obsessive "transit enthusiast" and city bus driver named Adam Paul. At times, the site is frighteningly detailed, as though it were the work of a mad-man from a Borges story, or a teenager playing D&D. Insane, but attractive. Compare BTC's downtown map with the actual one provided by the Maryland Transit Authority. Wouldn't you prefer the fantasy world? The alternate-universe, Bizarro Baltimore where public transportation was part of the city's essential fabric, and not a run-down after-thought?

Thursday, August 21, 2003
  August, 1968

Radio Praha has good stuff on the 35th anniversary of the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia. Prague-blogger Arellanes has a good set of links up at his site.

My brother, Jan, arrived two days after the Russians; he was born on August 23 in the apartment on Karlovo Namesti (just above the pekar) that my parents shared with my paternal grandmother, her second husband, and my Aunt Anna and Uncle Martin.

My mother, who has always had a bad reaction to soldiers and tanks, decided to get out of Prague. After a week in hospital, she and my infant brother went to
Kolin where her mother lived and which was thought to be safer than the capital.

As you may know, one of the ways that the Czechs tried to frustrate the invaders was to take down the street signs. Anyone who has gotten lost in Prague, which I think would include everyone who has ever been there, can understand how that would be effective. The Czechs also decided that the only possible answer to any question from a person they did not know was "nevim."Especially if the unknown person wanted directions.

Tak, my mother went out into Kolin with my brother in a stroller, and, without street signs, got lost. As she tells the story, every attempt to ask a passerby was met with suspicious glares, every stab at "Prosim, kde..." was answered,
"Nevim!" It took her hours before she finally convinced some kind soul that neither she nor her infant son were Russian infiltrators, and she made it back to her mother's.

My parents left Czechoslovakia later that year. Aunt Anna went to West Germany.
My grandparents died. Martin lives in the same apartment on Karlova Namesti, and he has more than enough rent-controlled room for himself in the apartment that once held seven.

Faulkner wrote somewhere that for every white southern boy, it is always two o'clock on July 3, 1863--the moment just before Pickett's charge at Gettysburg.
I don't regret being born in this country, four years after the invasion. I am glad to be an American citizen. But I can't help wonder what my life would have been, what it would be now, if I had been born and raised in Czechoslovakia instead of the U.S., Jiri instead of George. Who would I be if the Prague Spring hadn't been so brutally crushed at the end of the summer of 1968?

  Talks Could Push North Korea Forward or Back

The NY Times World Business section tries, again, to beat "Worthwhile Canadian Initiative," the Larry Bird of dull and uninformative headlines. 
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