Saturday, December 31, 2005

No Case for War – unless you consider global empire, that is

On 28 December 2005, the Chicago Tribune published an article called “Judging the case for war”. The article summarises nine arguments that had been presented by the Bush administration in their case for war, and compares what was “known” then to what is “known” now. The Tribune concludes that invading Iraq had indeed been the right thing for the US to do. I am going to conclude differently.

1. Biological and chemical weapons

The Bush administration is guilty of telling total outright lies.

2. Iraq “rebuffs the world”

i.e. Saddam Hussein scoffed at UN resolutions and did not do as he was told. I say, So what? There are a lot of things I could say about the UN and probable corruption on that side, but let it suffice here to say that the UN had imposed sanctions on Iraq so Iraq had already been punished for its rebelliousness. But more to the point, if a sovereign nation does what it wants to do rather than what it is told to do, that is not a reason for other nations to invade its territory.

3. The quest for nuclear weapons

The Tribune admits that, “Claims that Iraq sought uranium and special tubes for processing nuclear material appear discredited,” yet the newspaper still concludes that real intelligence about Iraq possibly developing nuclear weapons was “menacing enough.” I question that. If the technology and materials for nuclear weapons are so within reach of a country like Iraq, why don’t more countries have them? There is something extremely suspect about these intelligence claims.

On the 29th of December, when discussing the Tribune article on Fox News, General Wesley Clark claimed that the nuclear threat was “hyped” by Bush and Condoleezza Rice, and he then further stated outright that the “nuclear argument was false.”

4. Hussein’s delaying tactics

The White House claimed that the longer we left Saddam Hussein alone, the more time he would have to share weapons with terrorists and to develop more and scarier weapons.

The Tribune states that, “the implications of this warning about Iraq’s intentions are treacherous to imagine.” I say “imagine” is an interesting word to use there. If “terrorists” refers to Al-Qaeda, we already know that there were no significant ties. I would also point out that big scary weapons are already in existence all over the place and “terrorists” would not have to wait specifically for Iraq to share them. This was a bullshit argument.

5. Waging war on terror

We already know there was no substance to the claim that invading Iraq was necessary to the “war on terror”. The Bush administration’s claims of Iraq “harbouring” or aiding terrorists were at best exaggerated, but more probably made up.

6. Reform in the Middle East

The Tribune claims that invading Iraq has “provoked political tremors in a region long ruled by despots,” and that US diplomacy “has advanced democracy and assisted freedom movements in the sclerotic Middle East.”

If for the sake of argument we accept these claims, I then ask, At what cost?

However, I still assert that democracy, by definition, cannot be imposed.

7. Iraq and Al-Qaeda

Another argument that everyone already knows was complete horseshit. General Wesley Clark confirmed on Fox News that there was no “causative link” between Al-Qaeda and Iraq, “only low level intelligence contacts, which most governments in the Middle East have.”

8. The Butcher of Baghdad

From the Tribune:

Human Rights Watch estimates that Hussein exterminated 300,000 people. Chemical weapons killed Iraqi Kurds and Iranians; Iraqi Shiites also were slaughtered. Tortures included amputation, rape, piercing hands with drills, burning some victims alive and lowering others into acid baths.

Indeed horrific stuff, and no one questions it. But why Iraq? There are atrocities going on all over the world. The Bush administration used this argument because it is the most compelling one, but I do not believe for a second that the Bush administration actually cares about the lives of those who were murdered or tortured by Saddam’s regime.

9. Iraqis liberated

From the Tribune:

Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.): “Every time the 27 million Iraqis have been given the chance since Saddam Hussein was overthrown, they have voted for self-government and hope over the violence and hatred the 10,000 terrorists offer them.”

…And while Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites have major differences to reconcile, a year's worth of predictions that Sunni disaffection could doom self-rule have, so far, proven wrong.

I personally do not think that the picture is really that rosy, but never mind. The question that again has to be asked is, At what cost? And then there is the question of whether it is fair to call an occupation ‘liberation’.

The Tribune’s conclusion

After reassessing the administration’s nine arguments for war, we do not see the conspiracy to mislead that many critics allege. Example: The accusation that Bush lied about Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs overlooks years of global intelligence warnings that, by February 2003, had convinced even French President Jacques Chirac of “the probable possession of weapons of mass destruction by an uncontrollable country, Iraq.” We also know that, as early as 1997, U.S. intel agencies began repeatedly warning the Clinton White House that Iraq, with fissile material from a foreign source, could have a crude nuclear bomb within a year.

Seventeen days before the war, this page reluctantly urged the president to launch it. We said that every earnest tool of diplomacy with Iraq had failed to improve the world's security, stop the butchery--or rationalize years of UN inaction. We contended that Saddam Hussein, not George W. Bush, had demanded this conflict.

Many people of patriotism and integrity disagreed with us and still do. But the totality of what we know now--what this matrix chronicles-- affirms for us our verdict of March 2, 2003.

Max’s response

We all know by now that most of the pre-war intelligence sucked and that Bush and his Neo-Con cronies made shit up. We also know that they never gave a rat’s arse what Jacques Chirac thought. The reasons to go to war that were presented to the American people and the world were just smoke and mirrors anyway, all in the interests of keeping us from figuring out the truth.

The real reason we invaded Iraq was to build up our global empire. It really is as simple as that. If you don’t believe me, please read about the Project for the New American Century at

You might also be interested at what PNAC have to say for themselves:

The Project for the New American Century is a non-profit educational organization dedicated to a few fundamental propositions: that American leadership is good both for America and for the world; and that such leadership requires military strength, diplomatic energy and commitment to moral principle.


Wesley Clark/Fox News clip:

Happy New Year 2006

Happy New Year, everyone.
Love & peace

Friday, December 30, 2005

The Kid's Story - Part I

The Kid had been hanging out in our local pub for about a month when Kitty Killer brought him home to AG’s for dinner on Christmas Eve. That was the first time that I had really talked to The Kid and I realised that there was a lot more depth to him than I had previously thought. We kept up our dialogue over the next few days.

Yesterday, just before 6 p.m., The Kid phoned me for the first time.

Kid: Max, do you have plans for tonight?
Max: No.
Kid: I’m having an emergency, will you come meet me?
Max: What?!! What kind of emergency?
Kid: I’ll tell you when you get here. Meet me at Andě
l in 30 minutes.

My plans had actually been to stay at home for a change, do some research and writing and then get a good night’s sleep, but I grabbed my coat and ran out the door and onto the tram. My thoughts as I rode through the city: What am I doing? I barely know The Kid; there is something very weird about this and I have always had a feeling that he is hiding something. Am I going willingly to my own rendition? (I knew that one was a bit ridiculous, but I thought it anyway.) And so on. My conclusions then were: I do trust him, although I am not sure that I should. He’s just a kid and he needs help. I’m now curious and I have no fear. I may have felt differently if he had called me out at 4 a.m. to meet him in a dark alley rather than at a busy tram stop in front of a busy shopping mall.

The Kid was waiting for me right at the tram stop. I could see that he was nervous.

Kid: I’ve got to move out of my flat right now. Will you help me?
Max: Yes, of course I’ll help you. But what is going on?

The Kid’s hands were shaking as he lit a cigarette. He started telling me his story, which I could not follow very well and did not really piece completely together until hours later when I listened to him tell it to AG. I had found myself inside a story from a pulp magazine.

The Kid had been having a normal day when he got a text message from The Dumb But Attractive Blonde, his childhood friend and onetime girlfriend who was currently shacking up with an ex-con 33 years her senior.

I must talk to you. Meet me at Café X in 30 minutes.

The Kid texted back that he would be there.

Once at the café, The Dumb But Attractive Blonde informed The Kid that Gleb (a Russian acquaintance) had told her and the ex-con that The Kid had told him that he (The Kid) was going into the drugs and arms trafficking business together with the ex-con and 2 others. The ex-con had believed Gleb and therefore The Kid was guilty of spreading a damaging rumour. The Kid was incredulous. He objected: Why would I say something like that? What could I possibly get out of it? Gleb had been coked out and drunk when The Kid had supposedly said this. The Kid then phoned Gleb and asked him if he had really made the accusation. Gleb denied saying anything and told The Kid that he knew The Kid had never said anything like that and that he would say as much to The Dumb But Attractive Blonde. The Kid handed the phone to The Dumb But Attractive Blonde, but Gleb did not retract his earlier statement. Instead he reaffirmed to The Dumb But Attractive Blonde that The Kid had indeed told him what he had said he had told him. They hung up the phone. The Dumb But Attractive Blonde told The Kid that it was Gleb’s word against his and that they were believing Gleb. She also told The Kid that the ex-con had told her to tell him that he would not go after The Kid, but if he saw him he would break both his legs and both of his arms. The Kid questioned why The Dumb But Attractive Blonde would believe Gleb over him, and The Dumb But Attractive Blonde answered that she had known Gleb for a long time. The Kid was again incredulous because The Dumb But Attractive Blonde had known Gleb for about 6 months. She had known The Kid for over 10 years.

That was when The Kid called me.

To be continued…

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

On the night tram

Last Friday night/Saturday morning, Monkey and I boarded a night tram only 4 stops away from our house. This is what it looked like.

The 2 people right behind us were the only ones not asleep. One of them had stripey hair.

Monkey took photographs somewhere between the stop where we had got on and 2 stops from our house. The man with the stripey hair thought that Monkey was very funny for taking photographs.

2 stops from our house: Monkey yelled “konečná”, which means “last”. Some of the sleeping people jumped and looked around, obviously disorientated. But they all went back to sleep.

1 stop from our house: Monkey again yelled “konečná” and this time the stripey haired man added “konečná zastávka” – last stop. Same reaction from the sleeping passengers as the first time, but more so. The two of them (Monkey and stripey hair) found themselves hilarious.

Stripey hair walked to the front of the tram and knocked on the driver’s door. He had a little chat with the driver.

At our stop: Monkey shouted “konečná”, stripey hair again piped in, and then the driver with the sense of humour played the tram’s authoritative sounding recorded message: “Konečná zastávka, prosíme, vystupte” – last stop, please get off. All of the sleepy people awoke this time, and some of them jumped to their feet.

Monkey and I got off and went home. I don’t know how many people were supposed to get off at our stop, or how many did but shouldn’t have, or anything like that. At first I thought that it was really mean to play that joke on those people, but then I thought that perhaps Monkey, stripey hair and the driver did them a favour because they had all already gone past their intended stops anyway.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

French people suck

I was looking at BBC News online and reading the story “France approves anti-terror bill”. I had just got to the part where internet café owners are going to have to hand records over to the police when a Meatmen song popped into my head. Perhaps you know it, it’s called “French people suck”. These are the lyrics:

French people suck
I just gotta say
Made the jet fighter pilots
Go out of their way
Hating Yankees too much
Those beret-headed nuts.
They can stick the Eiffel Tower
Straight up their butts.

Last time I flew Air France
Played a tune on my Uzi
And made the sissies dance.
Killed a hundred or more
And I had a ball.
Those freakin' frog suckers
Be the death of us all.

French people suck.
French people suck.
French people suck.
French people suck my...

* Disclaimer: I don’t really hate French people - it’s just a catchy tune. But I really do hate Air France for losing my luggage for weeks at a time.

Bird Flu Update

I have lifted the following “Action Points” from MedPage Today, which is the medical news service of The University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Office of Continuing Medical Education.

MedPage Today Action Points

· Advise patients who ask that the H5N1 strain of avian flu - while seen as having the potential to spark a human pandemic - is so far mostly confined to birds and shows little sign of being able to cause widespread disease in humans.

· Note that this study shows that the H5N1 virus, when it does infect humans, can develop resistance to the antiviral drug Tamiflu (oseltamivir) with fatal consequences.

· Advise patients that this study suggests stockpiling Tamiflu may not be appropriate, and inappropriate or inadequate use of the drug may lead to resistance; such improper use is likely without medical guidance.

· Note that accompanying editorials to this study suggest that the public health perspective clearly indicates that a physician has an obligation not to prescribe Tamiflu for stockpiling- a position that is tantamount to a prohibition against prescribing it.

For the whole story and details of the study, please see:

My interpretation of the above action points:

· There is no indication at all that there will be a bird flu pandemic.

So far, an avian flu pandemic remains hypothetical, and the H5N1 strain has not shown itself able to pass easily from human to human despite isolated cases. More commonly, people infected with the strain have acquired it from contact with infected birds.

As of Dec. 15, according to the World Health Organization, 139 people have been infected with the virus and 71 have died.

· Tamiflu can actually contribute to patient mortality, especially if not used optimally.

· If you are not a doctor, do not purchase Tamiflu “just in case…”

· If you are a doctor, do not prescribe Tamiflu unless your patient needs it to treat a regular old flu that s/he already has.

Hmm, maybe now Donald Rumsfeld will sell his shares in Gilead Sciences (the patent holder for Tamiflu).

* This post is a follow-up to my post of 2 November, “The 7.1 Billion Dollar Panic”.

Max becomes 'the Filth'

In my first corporate job I learned from a perpetually drunk marketing manager that the proper name for anyone working in HR is ‘the Filth’. In my current corporate job I have spent the last two weeks working in HR -- I have been entrusted to find a replacement for myself.

Step 1: I wrote a job advertisement and posted it on a local expatriate job board.

Step 2: I went through the approximately 2 dozen applications that came in. Easiest to weed out were those that were not native speakers of English and those who had no legal education or experience.

I sent e-mails to all of the rejections because I have always hated when an application is not even acknowledged.

Step 3: I interviewed 7 people over 4 days, and each of them completed an editing test. An additional candidate did the test in England, and Monkey took the test at home just for fun.

I used the same test that I had been given when I interviewed for this job. It was only 3 short e-mails, but they had been written by a Czech lawyer whose English was awful and they were full of technical legal language. It was more of a puzzle than anything else, the task being to break a complicated Czenglish legal code and then to rewrite the whole thing in real English. I had to impose a 90-minute limit after the first candidate took 105 minutes.

The interviews themselves were all right because everyone was pleasant, but I got bored explaining the same things over and over and asking some of the same questions. I was, however, proud of myself for asking intelligent questions and questions that were relevant to the individual, and not asking any of those horrible typical interview questions at all. I also made everyone laugh, but that only worked until they saw the test.

Step 4: Analyse the tests. Boring.

Step 5: Present leading candidates to the partners. 3 out of 4 partners: ‘We are not interested, you make the decision.’ 1 partner: ‘Why don’t we ask them to complete another test?’ Great. One of them is in New York for Christmas and the other has just left for Amsterdam.

I really did not want to do it, but I sent them part of an article on regulation of waste in the Czech Republic that had been written by one of our lawyers for a journal. This second task is a test of editing style rather than code-breaking ability. Their deadline is this afternoon.

Step 6: In the meantime, I have sent e-mails to the rejected interviewees, which made me feel bad because some of them seemed so bright-eyed and hopeful, and because I know how hard it is to find a decent-paying job in this town as a foreigner. “Have a happy Christmas.” I am sure they all hate me now. Hey ho.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Max goes Christmas shopping

Max hates crowds.
Max hates shopping.
Max thinks children are weird and kind of creepy.

My mission at lunchtime today was to buy a Christmas present for LG, who is a small child. My first stop was Sparky’s, Prague’s most crowded toy store. There I realised that I have no idea what little girls who are nearly 4 years old do for play. I looked at dolls – but do 4-year olds like cute little baby dolls or do they prefer sexy sophisticated Barbies? I looked at Lego sets – I figured LG would love the princess castle, but I thought it might later be hard to transport back to The America in that big giant box. And, at about $100, it was a bit more than I wanted to spend. I know LG likes to colour, but a box of 8 crayons seemed a bit miserly for a Christmas gift. I looked at books, but the selection in English was limited and the choices looked either too young or too old. Other people in the shop seemed to know what they were doing, which just made me angry. It was rather obvious that I did not belong in a toy store.

Fuck this, I finally thought, I am going to shop for something that I know something about – clothes. I went straight to Marks & Spencer on Wenceslas Square. The children’s department was blissfully empty and the little girls’ clothes were sweet. And, more importantly, they were all labelled by age so there was no mystery in choosing something. One quick phone call to find out if I should buy 3-4 or 4-5, and I was all set. I looked at a pink coat – LG’s favourite colour, but a bit too ordinary. I looked at a beautiful purple wool cardigan, which I was considering when I spotted the “bonded gilet”. The gilet is a little vest (in the American use of the word) that looks and feels like beautiful soft suede on the outside and is lined with plush fur, but it is all fake and machine washable (Max is not totally impractical). And it has little flowers embroidered on it. I absolutely love it. LG is going to love it. Mission accomplished.

All other gifts have been purchased over the internet.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Monkey at the Circus

It all started when Monkey was fired by the receptionist and then it got progressively more absurd.

The private language school industry in Prague is a joke. Your average teacher of “English for Business” is a backpacker who may stay for one year, has never taught English before and also knows nothing about business. S/he probably has a TEFL certificate, which s/he got by paying USD 1500 and going to school for 4 weeks. S/he is not interested in the local language and culture, but is probably interested in the local beer.

This is an ugly picture and by no means does it describe every English teacher. The problem is that it does describe how foreign English teachers are perceived by most Praguers, and it is part of the reason I don’t teach anymore.

I was a professional teacher with advanced qualifications; teaching for a private language school in Prague was one of the most frustrating experiences of my life, which is why I have not done it since 1995. Monkey is an extraordinary teacher with substantial experience, but in September he went to work amongst the amateurs in one of the private language circuses.

I am not going to name names because admittedly I have primarily heard Monkey’s side of the story. I also know that Monkey is not exactly an exemplary employee. I also wish to avoid being accused of defamation. But I will tell you a little bit about Monkey’s experience with the circus.

The Contract

Monkey worked without a contract for quite a while because the circus refused to negotiate with him. Their standard contract had ridiculous terms and weird conditions that were designed to take advantage of foreigners. Monkey and I agreed that he should not sign it. Monkey asked if he could sign the standard contract for Czech employees but the owner of the school would not let him. Finally Monkey signed their silly contract because he got bored playing the game.


Monkey’s pay was quoted by the hour. A standard language school hour is 45 minutes. As a teacher, I was always paid the quoted hourly rate for my academic hour - meaning, for example, that if I had been quoted $10/hour, I received $10 for each 45 minutes. On Monkey’s first pay day, he learned that he was only being paid ¾ of the quoted hourly rate, i.e. $7.50 instead of $10. I had never before heard of a school doing that. At best I would call the practice unfair and misleading; at worst I would call it theft by deception.


Monkey had to travel all over Prague by tram, metro, bus and train to teach his classes at client companies. He was told that if he travelled more than 40 hours in a calendar month, he would get paid something for his travel time. He was travelling in excess of 40 hours, but when he asked about it, he was told that, no, it was not 40 hours to and from, but 40 hours just to. He was at about 60 hours in total, and therefore only 30 one-way, which was too little to get any compensation at all.

Since being fired by the receptionist, Monkey has not been paid for the month of November. He has been asked to first return the materials owned by the circus, which he has of course agreed to do. But Monkey has also been asked to go back into the circus to do additional database entry. This Monkey has refused. From a Monkey e-mail to the circus’ director of studies:

Let me explain this in terms you can understand:

If employee A at McDonald's was fired by a cashier for not putting cheese on the Big Macs, even though the employee manual said that all Big Macs must have cheese, employee A would not be expected to go back and put cheese on the Big Macs after termination. However, employee A would definitely be paid for the hours spent working at McDonald's. Get it?

Negotiations have been going on for over a week, wasting Monkey’s time, the circus’ time and my time. This is where we are now: the circus has agreed to pay Monkey only 80% of his salary for November; the deducted 20% supposedly going for his incomplete database work because they will have to do it. The circus wants its teaching materials back in advance so they can make sure that Monkey has not vandalised anything. Monkey has counter-offered, asking for 95% of his salary and a simultaneous exchange, i.e. the materials for the cash. Please keep in mind that Monkey taught about 9 hours in December (before being fired by the receptionist), and he is not asking for those wages at all, despite the fact that he is entitled to them.

We have not actually gone so far as to threaten the circus, but perhaps they should bear in mind that Monkey is not a pushover transient backpacker, Monkey’s Max left education to become a lawyer (and hates private language circuses), and Monkey and Max both find it fun to bring injustice to the attention of the press and the public.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

A Weihnachts Outing

Weather wise, we probably could have picked a better day to make the 150 km trip to Dresden to go to the Christmas market. …or what should have been a trip of 150 km and just a couple of hours in ideal conditions.

Sunshine, Suz and I got started a little bit after 10 yesterday morning. It was not snowing at all in Prague, but the border between Czechia and Germany is all mountains and it was snowing up there. We drove through Teplice and were heading for the Cínovec/Altenberg crossing when we were diverted because of the snow. The cop told us we could go west and try the crossing at Moldava. When we got to the top of the mountain there, we drove right into a white-out and had to turn round and go back. The car got stuck and Suz and I had to push. While I was having visions of us losing our footing and the car rolling back over us, two lads suddenly appeared to help. We drove back down the snowy curvy mountain road and discussed our options. We figured the sensible thing would be to leave the mountains behind and stay inside the Czech Republic so of course we headed further west and back into the mountains to the next border crossing. Another near white-out and Sunshine being determined and fearless and loving his new very effective winter tires, and navigating by the poles marking the road…and finally we got to the crossing at Mníšek and made it into Deutschland. Things were even worse on that side but we did make it to Dresden by about 3 p.m.

We parked the car and walked towards the Altmarkt where the main Christmas market takes place. The Dresdner Striezelmarkt was established in the year 1434 and is the oldest Christmas market in Germany. Sunshine and I wanted to drink our way round it. We started with glühwein mit amaretto. The warmth and the alcohol were just what we needed. It was still snowing.

We walked further into the Altstadt, threw snowballs and looked at the Frauenkirche in the snow – absolutely breathtaking. Sunshine and I were thirsty again. We went to get some beer and lunch and it was wonderful to be inside and to eat something hot. Sunshine and I chose sauerbraten with cabbage and dumplings; Suz is a vegetarian so had to take what she could get.

We returned to the market fortified and Sunshine and I got back to drinking. We had blueberry glühwein, which was a bit strange, and then Hausgemachter Eierpunsch (homemade eggnog, TM – it was really good), and then things got weird. Sunshine went to the next drinks stall and came back with Feuerzangenbowle – I have got no idea what it was, but it was warm and I drank the cup that was given to me. Before I had even finished that, we spotted the seller that had received the market’s best glühwein award and so Sunshine pushed another cup into my hand. Suz, by the way, was being uncharacteristically sensible and not drinking much at all. She just kept buying more and more things to wear (e.g. socks, gloves) as she was trying to stay warm.

We made a second foray into the culture centre to use the toilets. We walked upstairs but the door to the first floor, where the toilets were, was locked. We walked back down to the ground floor and Sunshine decided we should try the lift. I thought there was no way they could be that stupid, to lock the door but not the lift, but I was wrong. We got off on the 1st floor. I went straight for the disabled toilet. When I came out, I got a talking to but spoke no German so the man would leave me alone. Suz was waiting back in the lift and filled me in. The doors to the other toilets had been locked and she and Sunshine had been apprehended. Suz had been trying to hide so she could use the disabled toilet after me, but that hadn’t worked. Sunshine had then gone to use the toilets by the restaurant on the 2nd floor. We went up there, Sunshine was just coming out of the men’s, and the queue for the women’s was just stupid. Sunshine took Suz into the men’s toilets; several other women followed.

We went back out to the market, and I think our next drink was Jagertee – again, no idea what it was, but it was warm and felt lovely in my veins. Eventually Sunshine said that it was time to go and see if the roads had got any better. We were worried about not being able to get to the border on that side. We would have happily stayed the night in Dresden, except that Sunshine had to work today. But the roads were fine, there was no traffic and we were able to cross at Altenberg/Cínovec and get back to Prague in about 2 hours.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Max has a niece

Finally, after 3 nephews, one of my sisters has got it right. Max's niece was born yesterday. No details will be posted here, but are available upon request by e-mail.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Der Stern: CIA has had a secret prison in Poland for 5 years

I found this article on this morning. As I did not immediately find anything similar in English, I translated it myself. I am not a great translator, but I hope the story is clear and that you find it interesting.

The CIA has been holding and interrogating people held under suspicion of terrorism, for five or six years already, in a special area of the Polish secret service’s training centre at Szymany airport. The German weekly Der Stern, in its current issue, attributes this information to an unnamed high ranking member of the Polish intelligence service.

15.12. 2005 07:11

- "Ordinary Polish agents do not have access to the zone, however Americans do,“ writes Der Stern. The camp area has a length of 3 and a width of 1.5 kilometres; the internal zone measures roughly 100 by 60 metres, and is enclosed by a barbed wire fence and a 3 metre high wall.

American planes have landed here

In the area they park cars with darkened windows and unreadable number plates – the same ones that were seen at the old Szymany military airport waiting for CIA planes. The centre lies about 10 kilometres from Szymany, near the village of Stare Kiejkuty.

In the years 2002-03, allegedly on five occasions, CIA planes landed here while transporting people suspected of terrorism. Only one was a Boeing 737, the others were small Gulfstream jets. According to the source from the Polish secret service, the Americans have been holding people here for the past five or six years, always for a period of several months.

The magazine’s eyewitness said that he saw one vehicle leave from the airport for the centre of Stare Kiejkuty accompanied by an ambulance. A day later a well-dressed man appeared at the airport and paid the landing fees – they were notably higher than was normal for a plane of that class. The airplane had not even refueled there.

Experts from the organisation Human Rights Watch came in consideration of the possibility of secret CIA prisons in Poland. The Polish Prime Minister on Monday announced that the investigation of the allegations should finish next week.

Amnesty International: The Union should not tolerate “disappearances” and torture

In an open letter addressed to the countries of the EU and in connection with Europe’s reaction to CIA flights and the alleged secret prisons, Amnesty International yesterday voiced criticism of the disrespect for certain basic human rights which has come with strategies being implemented in the fight against terrorism.

“The EU has a legal, political and moral responsibility to see that no member state is directly or indirectly involved in the disappearance of people or their torture,” stated Amnesty International. International law has already been infringed, according to the organisation, by any state that allows similar CIA flights to use their airports.

The letter challenges today’s EU summit in Brussels to unilaterally declare that they will not tolerate any law or practice that infringes the legal principles of the states and the protection of basic human freedoms.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


I received an e-mail today informing me of “Red Fridays”. Apparently the latest yellow ribbon trend is to wear red on Fridays, which is supposed to show support for our military overseas.

By word of mouth, press, TV -- let's make the United States on every Friday a sea of red much like a homecoming football game in the bleachers. If every one of us who loves this country will share this with acquaintances, co-workers, friends, and family. It will not be long before the USA is covered in RED and it will let our troops know the once "silent" majority is on their side more than ever…


But then I thought the whole thing must be a joke. Why red? That is the colour of Mao’s little book and the Soviet flag and communism itself. It has to be a joke. Otherwise what is the point? We already have yellow ribbons and “support our troops” bumper stickers. There is no way it can be anything other than a joke – every Friday would look like Young Pioneers’ parade day.

Can someone in The America please tell me that people have not fallen for this?!! Or, better yet, tell me that people have, and I will laugh my fat arse right off.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Tookie Williams

I did not want to have to write about the injustice of the death penalty again so soon, but here goes…

Stanley Tookie Williams III is a criminal. This fact no one denies, not even Tookie. Tookie was a co-founder of the Crips, in which role he helped to create the gang culture in Los Angeles and contributed to a horrible cycle of violent crime.

Tookie was convicted of 4 murders in 1981. Tookie, while admitting to many other crimes, denies guilt in those killings. Tookie may or may not be innocent of those particular acts, but perhaps that is not so important in the bigger picture because of his admitted guilt for committing other crimes.

Tookie has been imprisoned in San Quentin for the last 24 years. He has been on 100% good behaviour for the last 12 years, and it would appear that he has rehabilitated himself. Tookie’s voice is now one of the loudest in speaking out against gang violence; he has written children’s books which advocate non-violence and alternatives to gang culture. Tookie has apologised for the part he played in creating the Crips. In 2004 Tookie helped negotiate the Tookie Protocol for Peace, a treaty between the Crips and the Bloods which has helped to reduce violence in both California and Newark, New Jersey.

In 2002, a 3-judge panel on the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Tookie’s conviction, but then suggested to Governor Gray Davis that he consider commuting Tookie’s death sentence - an unusual thing for judges to do. The judges praised Tookie for his “laudable efforts opposing gang violence” and his “good works and accomplishments since incarceration”.

Tookie has, in fact, become an effective social worker because he has real street credibility and the respect of gang members. Tookie has done a lot of good work over the past 12 years and it is very likely that, if allowed to live, he will continue to do so. Yes, Tookie is a criminal, but no one is advocating his release from prison, only that his sentence be commuted from death to life.

Tookie is scheduled to be killed by lethal injection on Tuesday, 13 December at 12.01 a.m. unless Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger grants clemency, which he has thus far withheld. It will be a horrible waste of the life of a person who has been helping to fix the world.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Political Correctness is Still Boring

Why is there such a big debate in the US over “Merry Christmas” versus “Happy Holidays”? I can only speak for myself, but I am not offended when I receive a card that says “Merry Christmas.” In fact, I find “Happy Holidays” rather ignorant because the intention seems to be to put Chanukah, or now maybe even Kwanzaa, on an equal footing with Christmas. I don’t know much about Kwanzaa, but Chanukah is a minor holiday for Jews and there is no need to raise it to the level of Christmas.

In Europe, Christmas decorations are Christmas decorations and Christmas markets are Christmas markets. I don’t celebrate the birth of Jesus, but I do sort of celebrate the winter solstice because when the sun goes down at 3.30, it is reassuring to know that the days are starting to get longer. I like to walk around the Christmas markets in Prague and sometimes I go to Christmas markets in Germany or Austria. The atmosphere is good, the trees and lights and decorations are beautiful, and I am a big fan of mulled wine in a plastic cup and roasted chestnuts in a paper sack.

I go to someone’s house for Christmas dinner every year. I have had non-Jewish friends join me for Passover, and I see no reason why we can’t share each other’s holidays without trying to dilute them.

Perhaps my views are the way they are because I live in the Czech Republic where Christmas is almost exclusively secular and it’s hard to be offended by a holiday where no one is thinking about God and the main points are to go to lots of parties, have 3 days off work, be with family or friends, eat well, give and receive gifts and get drunk.

I like Christmas. Merry Christmas, everyone.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

the truth about 40

This is an actual e-mail exchange I had with a London friend today.

C: How is it being 40?

Max: Fantastic. I feel worldly and sophisticated at last.

C: One thing it does mean is that you can tell people to fuck off to their faces and they have to say thanks.

Max: Exactly. Respect and deference are now automatic.

C: I think also you're allowed to kill people by law, as long as it's quick.

Max: Good to know. I must have missed that bit in law school.

C: Yup, me too, but it's true. Someone told me.

Max: Okay. Anything else I should know about being 40?

C: Yeah. It has gotta be a WILD year, to mark the start of a new age decade for you. The year must begin with a messy party with some twat dj from London*, and get messier. At the same time, it is traditional to move to a better paid, more fulfilling job. Towards the end of the year it is custom to have a book published as a bestseller. And you get laid a lot.

Max: I suspected as much. It's funny though how the world conspires to keep the knowledge from you. Thanks, C.

* C is coming over to Prague tomorrow and will be dj-ing in a local club on Saturday night.

One Step Forward

The House of Lords (the highest court in the UK) today ruled that information obtained under torture cannot be used as evidence against terrorism suspects in UK courts, including secret terror tribunals. The ruling overturned a controversial Court of Appeal judgment that had been handed down in August of last year.

The Court of Appeal had decided that evidence obtained under torture by non-UK agents and with no UK involvement was admissible in a UK court of law, and that the government of the UK was under no obligation to investigate the origin of such evidence.

The House of Lords unanimously disagreed with the Court of Appeal.

Lord Bingham of Cornhill said that English law had regarded “torture and its fruits” with abhorrence for more than 500 years.

The principles of the common law, standing alone, in my opinion compel the exclusion of third-party torture evidence as unreliable, unfair, offensive to ordinary standards of humanity and decency and incompatible with the principles which should animate a tribunal seeking to administer justice.

The Law Lords’ ruling is clearly a step in the right direction. When evidence obtained through torture can no longer be used in courts, that evidence will lose its value and a reduction in the incidence of torture should eventually follow.

I wonder what Condi might have to say about all this.

Max’s Birthday Party Report

I had been told not to get to Chez Marcel before 7.30 so I knew that Suz was up to something. Sure enough, when I walked in I saw that she had decorated the area around our table with signs, balloons, sparklers, candles and laminated photographs of me. It was the same photograph over and over again: Max at the 2002 US Marine Ball in Prague – floor-length blue gown, dancing on top of a table, holding a glass of champagne and a cigar. The caption on the photo read: “Happy 40th Birthday, High Priestess” – the title being a reference to the cult Suz and I had established in 2002 with Jono and Ant.

Jono – Momo and Nasser were surprised you weren’t there for my birthday; they missed you too.

There was another table celebrating a 40th birthday – about 30 limeys already completely off their heads. They sang “Happy Birthday” to their celebrant and to me several times and gave us some of their birthday cake, which we had as our first course.

In early excitement, rtm started a fire on our table, but we managed to put it out without too much damage. Many drinks were consumed, we had dinner and then my birthday cake; the boys made some very creative balloon animals, including a dog and a kangaroo. Finally a round of birthday drinks a la maison and Monkey asked for the bill so we could move on to U Zpěváčků, where Mike was expecting us.

We ran into Kerry on the way; she has the same birthday as me (but she is only 29), and we had had no idea that she was coming over from England. We all would have walked right past each other as we were very involved in our conversations, but Kerry’s husband spotted us so we had our little random birthday reunion. Then we continued on to U Zpěv.

“Happy Birthday, Max!”
Mike: “Did you see the signs outside?”
Max: “Um, no.”

I went back outside to look at the chalkboards, which read:
Thanks, Mike, very special.

Birthday beers, vodka, slivovice and general exhausted hilarity until 2 a.m.

Needless to say, I am working from home this morning.

Thanks again to everyone who helped me celebrate. And thank you for the birthday calls and messages from The America, England, Australia, Canadia, Deutschland, Israel, Romania and wherever you were when you called, Jimmy.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

In Support of Bpeace

Kirsten’s cousin Kate is in Afghanistan again. Kirsten has asked me to post a message from Kate. Here it is:

Happy Holidays Everyone!

Bpeace leaves for Kabul on December 1st for our winter mission.

Why Now?
This trip comes at an important time, both for our program participants, as well as for the country at large which has recently seen renewed efforts by the Taliban and Al-Qaida to further instability. The team looks forward to bringing a non-military face of America to those in Afghanistan who may be influenced by the insurgency's anti-American and anti-progress talk.

But most importantly our women are poised to make breakthroughs in their businesses and now is the time to help tip them to success. I can not tell you how much I look forward to seeing all of them again. I particularly can not wait to greet Rahima who won a seat in the upper parliamentary house!

A Simple Favor to Ask
Check out our blog at First posting from our Dubai departure pad should be up by December 3rd and will continue through December 16th. Please have courage and post on the blog. We really do read and appreciate the messages. Pass the URL on to others, particularly young people!

This is a Vacation?
Our agenda is absolutely packed with mentor work sessions, training classes (we have over 120 women signed up!) and meeting after meeting with finance institutions, government institutions and private business people.

This is vacation time for most of the Bpeacers with 7 days a week/7am to 12am workdays assured for six people who all paid their own way for the privilege . . .sort of like a ski vacation without the skis, hot chocolate, beer, fondue or blazing fires . . .

Thinking of you all,
Catch you on the other side of the world . . .be well . . .Kate

p.s. A brilliant idea :)
No one needs another sweater. A bpeace donation makes a great holiday gift for those who have everything. Just go to and click donate!

Max's Other News

It is official. My current firm today declined the opportunity to match the salary offer of my future employer and so I am now in my notice period. The standard notice period in Europe is 2 months, so my last day in my current job will be the 31st of January, or perhaps the 25th, being that I am taking off the 26th and 27th to have a long weekend in London.

Hooray for more responsibility, more autonomy and a pay rise!!

Max Finishes in First

Regular season play has ended in my fantasy football league. After week 2, I was 0-2 and in last place. But then my team started to come through for me. I clawed my way up through the standings, but then remained in 3rd place for weeks. Jimmy and Fatty were above me and neither of them would lose enough for me to move up. Last week Jimmy finally lost and dropped down to 3rd, pushing me up to 2nd. And this week, against all odds, Fatty has lost and I have won and I am now sitting in 1st place.

There are 14 teams in my league and I am the only female manager. My triumph over 13 men is a triumph for women everywhere.

I do not know how I will fare in the play-offs. All I am going to do right now is savour my victory, enjoy the sight of my team name at the top of the list and take the piss out of all of the boys on my league's message board.

Sinister Steve, thank you so much for all of your help and advice.


Monday, December 05, 2005

Condi is pissed off again

It’s For Your Own Good

Don’t you complain about our secret jails, Condoleezza Rice rebuked the Europeans, because we are saving your lives. Muttering under her breath about cheese-eating surrender monkeys and euro-trash, the Secretary of State went on to say how we just don’t understand the difference between right and wrong, how we don’t understand what is good for us, and how maybe someday we will be able to appreciate all the US government/CIA have done for us. You see, she explained, through rendition and torturing spooky foreigners, we are obtaining information that protects you silly Europeans.

And may I reiterate that this is a war on terror and once again, you are either with us or against us.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Unjust Punishment

I hate capital punishment. I understand that sometimes people deserve nothing better than death, but I am nevertheless against state-sponsored murder. We have all heard of the cases where DNA has proved that innocent people have been sentenced to death, but that is not why I am against the death penalty. I don’t care how absolutely guilty anyone is – I believe simply that no person has the right to take the life of another person.

I am inspired to blog about this today because of the case of Nguyen Tuong Van who will be hanged in Singapore within a few hours. Singapore has very strict drug-trafficking laws, which make the death penalty mandatory for anyone caught with certain quantities of illegal drugs, e.g. heroin - 15 g, cocaine - 30 g, cannabis – 500 g.

According to Amnesty International, more than 420 people have been hanged in Singapore since 1991, most of them for drug-trafficking. Singapore has the highest execution rate in the world relative to its population. Monkey and I are boycotting Singapore, by the way.

Nguyen is an Australian citizen. Almost half of Australians have expressed the opinion that if you are stupid enough to get caught trafficking drugs in a country where such activity carries the death penalty, then you deserve to be executed. I understand the sentiment, however I cannot agree with it.

Nguyen is 25 years old and he has already been in prison in Singapore for 3 years. Today, only upon an appeal from Aussie PM John Howard, Nguyen was allowed to hold hands with his mother. Singaporean authorities would not let him hug his mother because they consider physical contact to be too “destabilising”. Oh no, we would not want to destabilise someone who is about to die. And well done, further punishing his mother who has not committed any crime.

One of Nguyen’s lawyers, Lex Lasry, QC, summed up the situation well: “I think the thing that strikes me about this is that we are looking into the eyes of a healthy, 25-year-old man with so much to offer, who is going to die a violent death.”

Nguyen’s capital crime was possessing 400 grams of heroin.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

As Stupid Does

Four peace activists have been abducted in Iraq.

We are angry because what has happened to our teammates is the result of the actions of the U.S. and U.K. governments due to the illegal attack on Iraq and the continuing occupation and oppression of its people.
- a spokesman for Christian Peacemaker Teams

What?!! While I am of the opinion that criticising governments is an entertaining sport, I have to take issue with the above statement. I would change it to read as such:

We are angry at our organisation’s collective stupidity because what happened to our teammates is the result of them being foolish enough to go to Iraq where foreigners have been abducted at a fairly alarming rate and some of them even beheaded or otherwise murdered. What were we thinking?
- Max

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

"American Rapture"

The number of Evangelical Christians in the US stands at somewhere between 70 and 80 million.

Yesterday I read an article called “American Rapture” by Craig Unger in the December issue of Vanity Fair. In the article, I found this statistic: “According to a Time/CNN poll from 2002, 59 percent of Americans believe the events in the book of Revelation will take place.” 59%?!! What ever happened to the Enlightenment? Reason? It is outrageous that 59% of Americans, including many highly educated people, actually believe they will be raptured so that they can witness the apocalypse from the safety of heaven. As part of the apocalypse, merely as a point of interest, the rest of us will be crushed to death in “the great winepress of the wrath of God.”

I am generally respectful of religion, but I do fall short of understanding this kind of blind belief in a myth. It has the makings of a larger scale Jonestown or Waco. I would like to be able to ignore the whole phenomenon but I cannot because this belief in Revelation is actually dangerous for the world.

The first part of the problem is that Evangelical Christians have too much influence in our government. In his article, Unger describes the Council for National Policy, a secret society of rich and powerful right-wing Christians that has some control over the federal government. Jerry Falwell has confirmed that he is a member of the CNP.

“Within the council is a smaller group called the Arlington Group,” says Falwell. “We talk to each other daily and meet in Washington probably twice a month. We often call the White House and talk to Karl Rove while we are meeting. Everyone takes our calls.”

The second part of the problem is that Evangelical Christians do not support peace in the Middle East. They have, in fact, aligned themselves with the Israeli right, and a great number of them agree with the Israeli religious far right that Israel should expand its borders because God gave the Jews all the land from the Nile to the Euphrates. The Israeli government began allying itself with American Evangelicals in 1977 when Menachem Begin called on Jerry Falwell. Benjamin Netanyahu continues the tradition today.

It is an unholy alliance. Evangelical Christians only want a “greater” Israel because they think that it will hasten the Rapture. The pragmatic Israelis welcome the political and financial support, and the tourism, but they must think the Evangelicals are mad as a box of frogs. On the other hand, the Evangelicals must be sure that their Israeli friends are all going to suffer horrible deaths when Armageddon comes.

What it boils down to is that we are advancing the world along a dangerous path because we are allowing Evangelical Christians and their biblical myths to influence our foreign policy in the most volatile region on the planet. At the same time, of course, we have extremist Muslims happily playing the part of the other side.

Yitzhak Fhantich, an Israeli intelligence and security consultant, as quoted in Unger’s article:

“…And Jerusalem, of course, is the home of the Jerusalem syndrome,” he says, referring to the phenomenon whereby obsessive religious ideas can trigger violent behaviour. “If someone believes God told him to do something, you cannot stop him. …After all, religion is the most powerful gun in the world.”

Monday, November 28, 2005

Happy Independence Day, Albania!

Dita e Pavarësisë

Albania is a small country (about the size of Maryland or Wales, depending on your preferred reference) on the Balkan Peninsula bordering Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia and Greece. To the west is the sea -- the Adriatic in the north and the Ionian in the south. Albania was the most extremely isolationist of all communist countries and previously the poorest nation in Europe. (I believe Moldova currently has that distinction.) 28 November was declared Independence Day by Ismail Qemali in 1912 to mark the end of 500 years of Ottoman rule over Albania.

I went to Albania in July 2003: DL and I flew from Prague to Tirana to visit our mate Tanya for the weekend. We spent time in Tirana, but also hired a car and driver to visit the mountaintop castle at Kruja and a beach near Durrës. In honour of Albania’s independence, below are a few memories from my trip that still make me giggle.


We paid our 10-euro entry fees and then had to go through security to get out of the airport. As our bags went through the x-ray machine we wondered what the penalty would be for getting caught with the 800 Davidoff cigarettes we had brought for Tanya and tried not to think about what the inside of an Albanian prison might look like.

On crossing the road

From Tirana in Your Pocket:

Before the collapse of communism, only high Party officials were allowed to own cars. In 1991, when the restriction was lifted, Albanians brought thousands of cars into the country from Italy and Greece. At the time, there were no traffic regulations, no driver's licence requirements, no traffic enforcement and no traffic lights. Fortunately, all this has changed. Driving is still erratic, however, and the country's roads are narrow, treacherous and full of potholes. Visitors should hire local drivers rather than brave the roads themselves.

DL and I walked to the main square of Tirana, Skanderbeg Square. There was a very busy street that ran around the edge of the square and we had to cross that to get properly into the square. There was a marked crossing painted on the street but we soon realised that Albanian drivers were completely blind to white stripes on the ground. There was no real break in the traffic but we had to cross. DL described it quite aptly as being like the video game Frogger.

On sending postcards

The shop assistant asked us for 350 lek for the stamps, but I had noticed that the face value of the stamps was only 220 lek. The woman patiently explained that the extra charge was for the service because (1) we would not be able to find a post office ourselves and (2) we could sit in the hotel and write our cards in a pleasant air-conditioned environment and leave the cards there for them to post. I could not really accept her reasoning but DL told me to just shut up and pay for the damn stamps.

On Tepelena

Best quote of the weekend, from the English language label on a local bottled water: “Suffled how it gush from the source of the woods of Tepelena.” I drank a lot of this water while trying to choke down a particularly poor quality Albanian raki.

On paying the bill

DL and I had wanted to treat Tanya to a night out. It was rare in Tirana to see a sign posted for Mastercard/Visa, but there it was, right in front of us. At the end of the evening DL sneakily took my card to the bar to pay, but to her disappointment, she was told that no, they did not in fact accept credit cards at all, that the signs were there merely for decoration.

Friday, November 25, 2005


This week I read about an Amnesty International report on rape in the UK which revealed some shocking statistics.

In the UK, 33% of people questioned said that they thought a woman is partially or completely responsible for being raped if she has “behaved flirtatiously”. 25% think a woman is at least partially to blame if she was wearing “revealing” clothing or if she was drunk.

I say that 100% of those people that want to place the blame on women are complete morons. It is absolutely within my rights as an individual to go out wearing whatever I want, to have as many drinks as I want and to flirt as much as I want with whomever I want. None of those behaviours would give any man the right to have sex with me without my consent. The fact that people actually believe otherwise is absolutely appalling.

The police in the UK estimate that only 15% of rapes are ever reported to them. Even more distressing is that only 6% of reported rapes ever result in convictions. These very low report and conviction rates indicate that there is something substantially wrong within the system, which is, after all, supposed to protect victims and punish criminals. The problem that permeates the system, and indeed much of society, is a blatant disregard for women and their welfare.


I found a nice little collection of quotes on the web today and I wanted to share some of them.

“This and no other is the root from which a tyrant springs; when he first appears he is a protector.” - Plato

“If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.” - James Madison

“Terrorism is the best political weapon for nothing drives people harder than a fear of sudden death.” - Adolph Hitler

“Why of course the people don't want war ... But after all it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship ... Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.” - Hermann Göring

“The easiest way to gain control of a population is to carry out acts of terror. [The public] will clamour for such laws if their personal security is threatened.” - Josef Stalin

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The Future of Václavák

Prague news:

Yesterday a winner was chosen in the architectural competition on the future of Václavské náměstí (Wenceslas Square) in Prague. The winning entry proposed the following changes to the square:
· pedestrian only; no cars at all
· a possible return of trams to the square
· a second row of trees up and down each side of the square
· the highway to be redirected behind the museum (and thus removed from the square)
· underground parking garages
· fewer kiosks on the square

The city expects to be able to realise improvements on the bottom of the square within 3 to 4 years, but work on the top of the square will not start for at least 5 to 6 years, and will be dependent upon the highway being moved and underground parking garages being built.

Here is the story from Lidové noviny:

If you click on "více fotografií" or "Fotogalerie", you will see visions of the future Václavák. It's pretty cool.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Max's Hair Fable

I got my hair cut 10 days ago. My hair is straight and I have had it longer than shoulder length (this time) for about a year. I had wanted a change, but nothing too drastic. Against the warnings of my two gay best friends, I decided to go for a fringe (bangs). After all, I thought, my hair will grow back.

But I had forgotten that I don’t like hair hanging onto my face. The problem has been complicated because I don’t normally put any effort into my hair and I don’t even own a hair dryer. (Note to TM: not entirely true – I still have the hair dryer I inherited from you when you left Prague – it’s just that it’s in storage in England.)

I have tried a few different strategies, including an effort to tolerate hair tickling my forehead (couldn’t do it), and holding the hair off my face with a clip (stunning junior high school look). But today I finally figured it out. Last week I had purchased some liquid gel for straight hair. It’s actually called ‘milk’: it is white and sticky and you can probably guess what it looks like. I had tried putting the milk just on my fringe and pushing the hair to the side but that looked weird and felt crunchy. Today I followed the directions and put the milk all through my wet hair and then combed the fringe off my face to where it used to go when it was just normal long hair. It worked: the fringe is completely to the side and under control and my hair looks sleek and fabulous.

So my story has a happy ending, but it also has an important moral:
Always listen to your gay best friends when it comes to style and your hair.

Monday, November 21, 2005


There is currently an immigration reform bill in the House of Representatives which would, if passed, bring an end to “birthright citizenship”. Birthright citizenship is currently guaranteed by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which was ratified on 28 July 1868:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.

This “citizenship clause” was at least partially in reaction to the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision of 1857, which had stated that Dred Scott did not have the rights of a citizen because he was “a negro of African descent; his ancestors were of pure African blood, and were brought into this country and sold as negro slaves.” By extension, the ruling meant that no black person could ever be a citizen of the United States, and therefore a constitutional amendment was necessary to change that law.

Birthright citizenship is currently an issue for two reasons, the first being illegal immigration and the second being fatherland security. As to illegal immigration, everyone agrees that it is a problem, however there is disagreement as to whether changing our citizenship laws would be a valid means of addressing that problem.

Rep. Thomas Tancredo (R-Col), a co-sponsor of the immigration reform bill, has said that we must end birthright citizenship because it is nothing more than an enticement that attracts illegal aliens over the border into the US.

On the other side of the debate, Michele Waslin, Director of Immigration Policy Research for the National Council of La Raza, has claimed that changing birthright citizenship would merely increase the number of undocumented immigrants and create a permanent underclass of Americans.

The second issue, fatherland security, stems from the Supreme Court case Hamdi v Rumsfeld, in which the Court ruled: “due process demands that a citizen held in the United States as an enemy combatant be given a meaningful opportunity to contest the factual basis for that detention before a neutral decision-maker.”

Yaser Esam Hamdi, arrested in Afghanistan, is a US citizen by virtue of the fact that he was born in Louisiana while his father was working there temporarily. The family moved back to Saudi Arabia while Hamdi was still an infant.

Chris Paulitz, a spokesman for Sen Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex), said in a statement prepared for The Monitor:

When parents from terrorist-harbouring countries come to America temporarily and have children – with no intention of those children growing up American or supporting our country – their children are still US citizens. After growing up taught to hate America, they still have the ability to freely come and go in our country.

I wonder if he managed to communicate that with a straight face.

I have read many arguments on both sides of the issue. Some of them are quite compelling, but several of the arguments for doing away with (or re-interpretation of) the 14th Amendment are paranoid and/or ridiculous. I do not know how to solve the complicated problem of illegal immigration, but I believe that better ways can be found than eliminating birthright citizenship, which is, after all, a fundamentally American convention. As to the second issue, anyone that thinks we can solve security problems by denying citizenship to children is really way off the mark.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

More on the use of WP in Falluja

There is an article in The Independent today which brings some important information to light and supports my last comment to my previous post.

A manual issued at the US Army Command and General Staff School says that WP can be used as a smoke screen, but that, “It is against the law of land warfare to employ WP against personnel targets.”

The 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons prohibits the use of WP, as well as other incendiaries, against civilians. The Convention further states that forces using incendiaries against military targets must take all available steps to avoid civilian casualties.

Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association, said: ‘The evidence available suggests that that may not have been done.’”

Many Americans want to believe that our country is moral and does no wrong and that there is an explanation for every action with which anyone finds fault, but the fact is that sometimes there is no explanation except that the people giving the orders are not moral and think they are above the rules.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

White Phosphorus

White phosphorus is a spontaneously flammable chemical which is used in war for illumination and smokescreens. Its use is prohibited for attacking civilians by Protocol III of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. According to the BBC, the United States has not signed Protocol III.

I first saw pictures of children with horrific burns from white phosphorus last week. That was when the United States’ use of chemical weapons in Falluja was still being reported mostly by alternative media.

The Italian state broadcaster, RAI, aired a documentary on 8 November (by now widely available on the internet in at least 3 languages) that had alerted a lot of people to the use of white phosphorus, and today the main US/UK etc big media corporations finally reported the information.

Yesterday the Pentagon admitted using white phosphorus as a weapon, but they have denied breaking the convention on the use of chemical weapons and they have denied using the chemical against civilians. But while the Pentagon admits one thing and denies another, we must bear in mind that before yesterday they had only admitted using white phosphorous in Falluja to create smokescreens. The attack on Falluja was one year ago.

White phosphorus is not categorised as a chemical weapon because its primary use is for illumination. However, when a chemical is used as a weapon, which use the US has just admitted, it must then be considered a chemical weapon. Or is that too simplistic?

I would like to believe that the US military did not target civilians when shooting white phosphorus shells, but I do not. Anyway, the bottom line is that the US military used white phosphorus as a weapon in a town where there were civilians. They will of course call the civilian casualties “collateral damage,” but I do not buy into that concept. Our military went into Iraq on the pretext (one of many) of preventing Saddam Hussein’s military from using chemical weapons. There is something very wrong with this picture.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Monkey has just sent me a very informative article about the use of chemical weapons in Iraq:

This briefing examines the continuing use of incendiary weapons (“napalm”) by the US military in Iraq. While the UK government has attempted to downplay or deny the use of incendiaries in Iraq, US officials have been forced to admit using the MK-77 incendiary, a modern form of napalm. The UK is party to an international convention banning such weapons where they may cause harm to civilians. In Iraq, UK forces are part of a coalition which does not adhere to internationally agreed standards of warfare.

Iraq Analysis Group, March 2005

17. listopadu – Den boje za svobodu a demokracii

The 17th of November is a state holiday in the Czech Republic: The day of struggle for freedom and democracy.

17 November was declared “International Students Day” by the International Students Council in London in 1941. This is the background:

The Nazis had occupied Bohemia and Moravia from 15 March 1939. That same year, on the 28th of October (the anniversary of the independence of Czechoslovakia), there were anti-Nazi demonstrations and riots in Prague. In the course of the Nazi suppression of the demonstrations, Jan Opletal, a medical student at Charles University, was grievously wounded. He died on the 11th of November and his funeral was held on the 15th of November. Several thousand students attended Jan Opletal’s funeral and the funeral metamorphosed into another anti-Nazi demonstration.

On the 17th of November 1939, the Nazis stormed Charles University, executed 9 students, sent over 1200 students to concentration camps and closed all the universities in Bohemia and Moravia for the remainder of the war.

Friday, 17 November 1989

The Socialist Youth Union had organised a demonstration for International Students Day. By 4 o’clock that afternoon, about 15,000 people had gathered near Jan Opletal’s grave in Vyšehrad. The demonstrators marched down from Vyšehrad and along the river to Národní třída, a major thoroughfare in the centre of Prague. At about 7.30 in the evening they were stopped by riot police in Národní třída. The police had blocked all escape routes and the demonstrators, mostly students, were trapped. The police brutally beat the students, but then eventually allowed them to disperse. One of the demonstrators, Ludvík Zifčák, did not get up from where he was lying in the street. Thus the rumour of the dead student was born.*

The events of that evening were the catalyst for the Velvet Revolution.

*Ludvík Zifčák was actually a member of the secret police and had not been injured; to this day no one knows what his motives were.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Benjamin Franklin’s Joke

In 1784, while Benjamin Franklin was living in Paris as American delegate, he wrote a humorous letter to his friend Antoine Alexis-François Cadet de Vaux. Cadet de Vaux was the editor of the Journal de Paris, and he subsequently published the letter in his newspaper under the title “An Economical Project”.

In the letter, Franklin called for the people of Paris to get out of bed before noon and proposed the following regulations:

1. That a tax be paid on every window that had shutters to keep out sunlight.

2. That candles be rationed, and the rationing be enforced by the constabulary.

3. That coaches not be allowed on the streets after sunset, unless carrying doctors or midwives.

4. That sunrise be accompanied by church bells and cannons to “awaken the sluggards effectually and make them open their eyes to see their true interests ... All the difficulty will be in the first two or three days; after which the reformation will be as natural and easy as the present irregularity. ... Oblige a man to rise at four in the morning, and it is probable he will go willingly to bed at eight in the evening.”

But Franklin’s proposals were meant to be satirical; the only thing he was actually advocating was that people go to bed and get up earlier. And the joke is on us: Franklin, due to this essay, is credited with the idea for Daylight Saving Time/European Summer Time.

The main benefit of Daylight Saving Time is supposed to be the saving of energy, but DST can no longer save energy to any significant degree. Apparently any energy we save on lighting, we now more than make up for with air-conditioning.

And Franklin’s joke isn’t funny anymore. Practically everyone I know has been suffering from some degree of depression since we set the clocks back two weeks ago; people are sleep-deprived, irritable and irrational. Studies have shown that traffic accidents and fatalities are higher twice a year just after clocks are changed. People are less productive at work. DST has completely outlived its usefulness. In the big picture, it makes no difference whether we are on standard time or daylight time. The only problem lies with the semi-annual transition, i.e. the changing of clocks, which is itself a harmful thing.