Tuesday, May 31, 2005

A Budding Libertarian?

DD, Monkey - this one's for you.

I was out tonight with 2 friends, Mimi (Slovak) and Rob (Slovak-Canadian), and we talked a lot about politics, both EU and US. Almost to my surprise, I found myself espousing libertarian ideals, especially proclaiming the dangers of strong centralised governments.

I think I may be converted.

This is an unusually brief post but it is already nearly 2 a.m.; I stayed out late to watch the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim play (they lost). I shall write more later about the development of my political philosophy.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Vive la France!

The Frogs have finally done something right that does not involve gastronomy or oenology. Yesterday they voted ‘NON’ in a referendum on ratification of the EU Constitution.

I used to be in favour of the EU. The European Economic Community was a good idea, allowing for the free movement of goods in a common market, and benefiting everyone from an economic perspective. But as the EEC developed into the European Community and then the European Union, national governments started giving up too much power to Brussels. In recent years people have started to speak of the “United States of Europe” in order to emphasise the direction in which the EU seems to be heading.

While studying law in England, one of my mandatory subjects was EU Law. I remember being surprised upon learning how much power sovereign countries had been willing to give up for the sake of the Union, and that when a member state’s laws are in conflict with EU law, EU law prevails. That always seemed offensive to me.

The Czech Republic joined the EU in May of 2004. At first I thought it was a positive development, that it would benefit the country politically and economically, but now I am not so sure. For one thing, it puts me at a disadvantage, not being a citizen of an EU member state. And the Czechs have already started to rebel against governance from Brussels, which is hardly surprising since they have spent most of their recent history unhappily being ruled from somewhere else, whether Vienna, Berlin or Moscow.

To return to the EU Constitution, it has to be ratified by every state in order for it to come into force. Nine countries have already ratified it. Certain countries, considered more ‘euro-sceptic’, e.g. the UK and Denmark, have been expected to reject the constitution, but France, which was one of the EEC’s six founding states and generally pro-Europe, was until recently expected to vote ‘yes ’ with a comfortable margin.

As to what will happen next, predictions are that either a new draft constitution will be introduced, leaving out some of the more controversial articles, or that the important articles will be implemented through other legislation.

At any rate, the Frogs have struck a blow to the EU, and I hope that it will lead a movement towards decentralisation of power from Brussels.

Friday, May 27, 2005

On China

Beamis wrote an enlightened post yesterday entitled “Perpetual Warfare”: I encourage you all to read it. http://pinyonpine.blogspot.com/

But I disagree with the prediction at the end of the post. While our attention is drawn to those who fight in the name of Allah, there is a greater danger building farther to the east.

On Monday morning I had a conversation with a business associate about commerce in China. Her forecast was that the Chinese were going to be the first ones to successfully marry European know-how and American-style marketing which will further boost their economy. Yesterday in another meeting, we discussed the problem of the total disdain for the laws of intellectual property amongst the Chinese, and how the Chinese actually make friendly visits to research and production facilities elsewhere in the world, surreptitiously take photographs and then copy any useful technology. Why worry about patents if you don’t have to?

On Wednesday at dinner, Olive and I were discussing what the Chinese had very cleverly done in the Ruhrgebiet, the area of Germany in which she lives and which used to be Europe’s industrial coal and steel centre. Sometime after the decline of the steel industry in the 1970s, the Chinese went to the Ruhrgebiet and bought everything they would need to produce steel. They disassembled machinery and structures and shipped them all back to China. And, of course, steel production has become more important again. Germany was still ahead of China in steel exports in 2004: Germany 27.3 million tonnes; China 20.1 million tonnes, but while Germany was up only 10% on its 2003 exports, China was up 140%. In 2004 China produced 272 million tonnes of steel; 2005 production is projected to reach 330 million tonnes.

China is already the second largest economy in the world after the US (measured in purchasing power parity). China has a large armaments industry and a space programme. Its environment is in terrible shape; they have lost one-fifth of their agricultural land since 1949. China has been developing military and economic co-operation with both India and Russia. China’s population is approximately 1.3 billion. They have compulsory military service and the largest army in the world.

What scares me is that while attention is focused on the Middle East and “rogue” states like North Korea, China will just quietly go about its business becoming more powerful. And one day, although perhaps not for another 20 years or so, China will suddenly explode.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The 18th Track

On Tuesday, in addition to the book of quotes, Richard also presented me with his control copy of a demo cd he had recently sent to a music magazine in the US. (He produces music in a studio in his house: electronic tracks, remixes and such.) He told me what was on each track and I looked at the cd and registered that there were 17 tracks.

But I knew straight away that there should have been 18 tracks and that it was a mistake that the 18th track had been left off.

I asked Richard about the missing track and his eyes got very wide.

“How did you know that?” he asked.

I had been spot on. Richard had had another track all set to go on the cd, but had finished everything before he realised that he had left it off.

I just know things sometimes. It does not help me with the horses, however. On Sunday I bet on 8 races and did not win a single one.

My research has shown me that there is a significant connection between Carl Jung’s concepts of the unconscious mind and synchronicity on the one hand, and extra-sensory perception (telepathy and clairvoyance) on the other. But it gets really complicated and I’m not sure how much further I will get in my sporadic research because I have a very limited attention span.

Max for The Beautiful Game

From a post by Riggs is Crazy:

Soccer – Get up pussy!
– If anyone reading my blog likes soccer, don’t bother coming back. You’re about as welcome as fat Canadians in Murphy’s bedroom.

This post is in response to that.

I have just come home from watching the UEFA Cup final: Liverpool FC v AC Milan. The match was in
Istanbul; I watched it on tv in U Zpěváčků, of course. The game was the most exciting sporting event I have seen in a long time. I am not a true Liverpool fan, but Liverpool have two great Czech footballers playing for them, Milan Baroš and Vladimír Šmicer, and I root for Czechs.

The Liverpool FC website had this to say about the match:
On what will go down as THE most incredible night in this club's illustrious history the Reds amazingly fought back from a 3-0 half-time deficit and won the match on penalties.

AC Milan scored their first goal in the 1st minute. By the half they were ahead 3-0. I thought it was hopeless and suggested to Mike that we just turn off the tv. Luckily he did not listen to me.

In the second half,
Liverpool scored in the 54th minute, the 56th minute and the 59th minute. Unbelievable. The second goal was scored by Šmicer (hooray!). Regular time ended in a 3-3 draw. Neither team produced a goal in the 30 minutes of extra time. The game came down to penalty kicks.

Now, a lot of people object to penalty shoot-outs as being not fair, not reflective at all of how the teams have played during the game, etc. But, bloody hell, they are exciting.

Just last Saturday Arsenal beat Manchester United in the FA Cup final on a penalty shoot-out after a 0-0 draw -- a fantastic ending to the match.

Jerzy Dudek,
Liverpool's Polish goalkeeper was a hero. With 3 minutes remaining in extra time he performed a miraculous double save when, after he blocked Shevchenko's header and was still on the ground, Shevchenko tried to kick the ball in over his head and he managed to block that as well.

The penalties:
Milan – Serginho’s shot went over the top of the goal. We cheered.
Liverpool – Hamann scored. We yelled.
Milan – Dudek blocked Pirlo’s shot. We shouted.
Liverpool – Cisse scored. We screamed.
Milan – Tomasson scored. Quiet (except for Olive who was the sole Milan supporter in the bar).
Liverpool – Riise’s shot was blocked. We groaned.
Milan – Kaka scored. Quiet again.
LiverpoolŠmicer scored. We screamed some more.
Milan – Dudek, the hero, blocked Shevchenko’s shot. The bar exploded.

I really don’t understand how anyone can not love football/soccer. By the way, the US is playing England in a friendly this Saturday. Why don't you lot over there in America watch that? You might even like it.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Roger Daltrey on Taxes

Richard was surprised to learn that The Who are my favourite band ever; he said that was very unusual for a girl. Nonetheless, he lent me a book called The Who In Their Own Words. It was published in 1979 and is a compilation of quotes from interviews given in their first 15 years. I read the whole thing while sitting at the bar at Banditos tonight.

One of the quotes made me think immediately of Devastatin’ Dave.

Roger Daltrey: I think you should pay the people on welfare enough to live. What is such a shame is that people go to work and can’t really earn much more because it’s all taken away in tax…and the tax is all wasted on more government to dish out less welfare. Just suppose I invest money, whatever that money makes as investment income I’m paying about ninety-eight per cent tax on it. And yet that’s the only way England’s going to become great… If you really love England shove your fucking money into it. But why put your money in it if you don’t get anything? I mean inflation is twenty-five per cent… Fortunately up to two years ago there were schemes where you could earn money abroad and not pay tax on it…which has all gone to pot now… Anyone who starts to make it leaves – I suppose financially they’ve got to. I don’t mind paying that amount of tax – it’s what they do with it I don’t like. If I thought it would go to old age pensioners to increase their pension, but it doesn’t. Every time they put up taxes it’s always just another department for this or another for that. Look at the amount of civil servants…I’d certainly lower taxes, definitely I think it is the main problem in this country – overtaxed and overgoverned.

Roger Daltrey was not quite describing a DD-style taxless Utopia, but DD, I thought you’d like the quote.

A Visit to the Foreigner Police (Cizinecká policie)

A comparison with getting a tourist visa at the Russian embassy in London will help me illustrate the trials of trying unsuccessfully to submit my paperwork for a long-term residency visa in Prague today.

You have to wait for a long time at both places. The queue outside the Russian embassy in London is just that, a queue – a proper orderly English queue, with everyone standing a respectful distance from everyone else. No problems with people touching you and no problems breathing.

The situation at the foreigner police in Prague is different. A rock concert where people get stampeded to death comes to mind. All the EU citizens now get to go elsewhere, but the Americans are left to suffer with our poorer relations from the east, i.e. mostly Ukrainians, assorted Yugoslavs and Vietnamese. The problem with our eastern brethren is that they have no concept of personal space. People were pressing in and pushing through and touching me, which I hate, and several times I had to close my eyes and force myself to take deep breaths. I may have even elbowed one or two people (strictly self-defence).

In London I had to wait for two days before I got into the embassy. I gave up after 4 hours on the first day, and went back the next day and waited for 8. The Czech policeman, who looked to be about 14 years old, let us in after only about 2 hours.

The Russians in the embassy were really mean and yelled a lot. The women in the Czech information window were very nice to us. They told us where we needed to go and gave us a number. We got inside office #4 suspiciously quickly only to find out that we had been sent to the wrong place. We went back to the window and the women were gone. It was about 9.30 and all the numbered tickets for the morning had been given out.

We stood outside another door where I needed to go to register my new passport before I could apply for my new visa, but we did not stand a chance of getting in without a number. It suddenly seemed that everyone else was from the same village in Ukraine and they were all letting each other cut into the imaginary line.

I had more or less known what to expect at the foreigner police, although I had managed to avoid going to this, the main Prague office, for about 7 years. Katka, on the other hand, was completely traumatised by the experience.

When I left the Russian embassy nearly 33 hours after I had first got there, I had a valid visa glued into my passport. When we gave up and left the foreigner police only 3 hours after we had arrived, I left with nothing, except a promise from Katka that the firm would pay an agency to do the dirty work for me after all.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Coincidentally speaking

This post about coincidence has been inspired by two occurrences that happened a month apart.

On 19 April, DD, in Denver, titled a post on his blog “Wailing and Gnashing of Teeth.” Within in the next day or so, my colleague, Richard, in Prague, used the same expression when speaking of a relative’s funeral that he would be attending in England that weekend. Cursory research has shown me that the expression comes from the book of Matthew in the New Testament. I took note of the coincidence because “wailing and gnashing of teeth” is not something I have often heard in conversation.

On 19 May, one of the partners in my firm, a Czech, called to ask me for an explanation of the saying “The die is cast.” At about the same time, an anonymous commenter posted on DD’s blog “Alea iacta est.” I looked it up the next day to find that it means “The die is cast,” which words were attributed to Julius Caesar (by Suetonius) upon his decision to cross the Rubicon with his army intact. Again, it seemed like a weird coincidence.

So I started thinking about coincidence. At first my question was whether there is such a thing as coincidence. I googled: the first link took me to a website that showed me how to fold an American $20 bill to see the World Trade Center on fire, and more. There were also several links to mathematical explanations for what we call “coincidence”. I could not get into those at all (I got a D- in calculus). There were psychology articles, a lot of Christian sites and, not surprisingly, other people’s blogs. I found the arguments for the existence of coincidence far more compelling than those against.

In reality, the most astonishingly incredible coincidence imaginable would be the complete absence of all coincidences. -- mathematician John Allen Paulos.

But then I realised a question of more fundamental importance is how do we define coincidence. We cannot discuss whether something exists or not if we do not know what we are looking for. It is the lawyer in me: define your terms.

The dictionary on my desk says: “the chance occurrence at the same time or place of two or more events that appear to be related or similar.” But while semantically accurate, the definition does not convey the deeper meaning that the word has attached to it. In addition, too many explanations of “coincidence” focus on finding a parking spot or something else that hollow, which to me is not the same as DD and Richard using the same biblical quote within a day of each other.

More research led me to the term “synchronicity” which was coined by Carl Jung to describe “meaningful coincidence”. According to Jung, synchronicity has occurred when “no causal connection can be demonstrated between two events, but where a meaningful relationship nevertheless exists between them.

My question has now become “Does ‘synchronicity’ really exist?”

More research to follow.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Guest blog: "Daryl" answers the Canadian's questions about guns

First of all, I had never been to the comments section of a blog until today (at your request). Secondly, I wouldn't post anything in the comments section of a blog (not even your wonderful blog), my own blog doesn't even contain a comments section. You want to comment? Start your own blog. Thirdly, the plural of American is Americans, not "American's."

All of that being said, I suppose I've been baited. But my response is no doubt more worthy of a front page post than any sarcastic drivel that might be drummed up on nothing more than ignorant assumptions and generalizations.

I'd like to clear up this gun issue once and for all:

I carry a gun because I have an exceptionally small penis and the gun, in my subconscious and elsewhere, helps compensate for that fact. I carry a gun because I'm frightfully scared of the dark, of bogey men, of lightning, of my own shadow, and of anything that moves under its own power or some mystic power that I'm not able to fully understand due to my undying faith in God's dominion. I carry a gun because I'm wholly impotent and the gun reminds me of a hard penis. I carry a gun because my mother didn't breast feed me. I carry a gun because I have violent and delusional tendencies, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and virtually every sexually transmitted disease known to man. Syphilis can make a man think all manner of strange thoughts. And it can make strange monsters appear in the closet. Properly armed I am able to vanquish these beasts, unarmed I would be entirely prone to their wrath. I carry a gun because I'm a snake-charming hillbilly with no more interest in the world than killing me some communists, terrorists, hippies, democrats, and innocent school children.

Oh, wait, no, those are the reasons for which I carry a gun...according to those whose pre-conceived notions of guns and America fit neatly into their banana hammocks (in case you're wondering, that's an American name for those absolutely ridiculous swim suits you men insist on wearing. My god, cover up some, nobody wants to see that unkempt afro between your legs!).

Actually, I carry a gun because I'm a Jew living in rural Oregon, among other things. I carry a gun because I handle large amounts of cash during certain times of the year. I carry a gun because I live in one of America's methamphetamine capitals (tweakers are unpredictable). I carry a gun because the last thing that I want to do is finish some poor deer off with a golf club, hammer, or whatever other blunt instrument I might have in my car (they don't often die immediately when hit on the highway). I carry a gun because areas that I walk, hike, fish, and sleep aren't always safe (because of cougars, bears, or even gang-rapists (which has happened on more than one occasion in Oregon campgrounds)). I carry a gun because I've been chased by the KKK in this state for doing nothing more than stopping to photograph anti-Israel and anti-Jewish propaganda. I carry a gun because the world and its people are unpredictable. I carry a gun because even the mightiest nations in human history have fallen, (and if you listen to some, mine's falling as I write). I carry a gun because, in rural areas, police protection is farcical. I carry a gun because my business has been vandalized with swastikas and human feces. Most importantly, I carry a gun because it's a right afforded me in the United States Constitution, a right so vital to the founding fathers that they protected it, in the Bill of Rights, well enough that, despite no shortage of domestic or international pressure to change it, it exists unchanged to this day.

I carry a gun because I'm a citizen. You don't carry a gun because you're a subject. It's that simple. It really is. Gun laws around the world are a reflection of the lack of trust of governments in their people. The less stable a political system, the more laws regarding guns are passed and the more extreme penalties for gun possession become (and, ironically, the more guns become vital to either overthrow or stabilization). Governments ABSOLUTELY FEAR an armed citizenry. The United States staked its ground on an armed revolt. That spirit doesn't die in only two hundred fifty years, and it can't be squelched by the rote statistics or the inane logic of those who'd prefer that people like me be properly subjugated. With straight faces, these people fear for the safety of my children, simply because I own guns.

My kid is safe, I assure you, I see to it as his father. It's kind of my job. I assure you that you will do more damage to children by smoking in their presence than I will ever do to my child by owning a gun.

It seems odd to me that the "educated" of the world, the "nuanced," the "progressive thinkers" seem to concur on matters involving guns. Is it that their intelligence and righteousness know no bounds, or is it because they think exactly as they're expected to? Have they, in fact, ever given the subject anything more than cursory (read predictable) attention?

The "Canadian" is certainly wrong about one thing, at least as it pertains to America. Time and again, with the LONE exception of one defendant in one case decided by one court (which is currently under appeal), in every state in this country, lethal defense of one's domicile (rights that extend, in most U.S. states, to a car in which one is sleeping) has been upheld by every level of court. It is unadulterated gibberish to claim anything different. To refer to ONE SINGLE CASE is disingenuous at best, hyperbole at least.

But the "Canadian" is right about one thing, it's highly unlikely that I'll have to use my weapon in my own defense. In the United States, the percentage of "hot" burglaries (defined as burglaries in which the residents are in the home) is roughly 18% (a certain portion of that percentage must be homes in which it wasn't expected that the residents would be inside). In the UK, for example, the percentage of "hot" burglaries is nearly double that figure. What one single variable do you suppose accounts for that discrepancy? It's certainly not a fear of the grape smuggler (please see banana hammock).

My right to own guns serves a two-fold purpose. First, it's the final defense against tyranny. Don't believe me? Check here for a more eloquent explanation: http://www.law.ou.edu/hist/federalist/ (federalist papers, numbers 41 and 43 to be exact, by James Madison, writing, of course, as "Publius"). Secondly, it prevents foreign armies from invading America. Think of your worst image of Americans with guns. Now, apply that image to the perspective of a foreign soldier preparing to invade. Exactly, nobody's coming. Individual ownership, by itself, is an international deterrent against invasion. Aside from an extremely erroneous decision by a lone Japanese submariner, the U.S. mainland has never been attacked, even before America had established its power in the world. Why is that? Individual gun ownership is certainly one component.

But, really, what is it about guns themselves that scare people? Who is more scared, me of a bogey man, or the "Canadian" of a gun? And what's a more realistic description of humanity, 10,000 years of brutality, or 60 years of moderate civility?

Because, let's remember, had the citizens of Europe, independently, risen up in arms against Hitler or Mussolini, well, history books would certainly contain very different chapters. Oh, but that was so long ago (yeah, right, eons and eons, huh?)...

The fact is that the world is filled with two distinct personality types: aggressive and passive-aggressive (yes, only two; show me a passive person and I'll show you a dead person or an institutionalized person). Guns make the passive-aggressives uncomfortable because there's no pretending that they're anything but the obvious; namely, the weapons that even they'd use if things truly went sour.

So stuff your common-denominator opinions of America and its guns right into your sausage sack (see grape smuggler), and in the process recognize that I'm no more ignorant than you solely on the basis of my gun ownership, citizenry, or even, gasp, my political choices.

If we wanted to be more like Europe, well, we NEVER WOULD HAVE REVOLTED in the first place.

One last thing about Canadians: What is it with the black socks and shorts? Is the black sock/short combination some kind of national movement? I tell you, you can take the Canadian out of the mullet, but you can't really take the mullet out of the Canadian. And they say "American's" lack style!

Appreciatively, and armed to the teeth,

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Standards of Behaviour

...or "behavior" as my friend Matty likes to spell it.

Talking about a particular night out with Tommy in LA, I have described our state as “Prague drunk” which is completely different to LA drunk and entirely inappropriate when in LA. We started at 5 in the afternoon in downtown Santa Monica, went to a few different bars, never ate dinner, and drank until about 2 a.m. I am sure we were hilarious, but we must have totally shocked the locals who were not used to that level of unashamed drunkenness on a Tuesday night. Probably especially when our friendly and innocent kiss goodnight in front of the last bar went a bit further than either of us had anticipated.

Jono was in New York and went out with another limey for some beers. They had had only 2 pints each and when ordering a 3rd, the waitress asked them if they hadn’t already had enough. They looked at each other in disbelief and then proceeded to spend the rest of the afternoon in the pub and got properly British drunk, which was entirely inappropriate in New York.

I remember noticing very quickly when I first came over to Czech that people had a different attitude towards drunkenness. I think the Czechs think that drunkenness is a natural state, we all get into it from time to time, and it is therefore nothing to be ashamed of or to look down upon. Drinking is encouraged. The first time I went to visit a friend in Moravia, I learned that when your host takes the top off a bottle of homemade slivovice the top does not get put back on. You drink shot after shot until the bottle is empty. (As Monkey and Kirky and I did one day at work with a bottle of Albanian raki.)

Czechs also have a different attitude towards public displays of affection. People snog on the metro here, even during the day and while it's full. You see couples fully making out in bars and clubs all the time. No one pays any attention except for voyeurs and perverts.

Jono and I were talking about all of this, and about how sometimes we tell stories to friends and they are a bit shocked by our escapades. It seems that we simply forget that what is acceptable in our worlds may not always be normal in other people’s worlds.

I am not making excuses, just observations.


AG and I were discussing a friend of mine whom I defended as being wonderful, although tiresome when drunk.

AG’s response to me was:

Most drunks are tiresome. You’re not – you become more brilliant.

Thanks, AG.

Monday, May 16, 2005

World Champions in Hockey...again

Mistři! Češi pokořili Kanadu a mají zlato!
Champions! The Czechs have humiliated Canada and have the gold!

Did anyone watch the hockey yesterday?

Jono, AG and I went to U Zpěváčků. The Cricketer came over when I texted him that we were there, so the four of us watched the final together. rtm came in towards the end of the match, having biked down from a costume party/film set, which explained his attire. rtm, by the way, often looks as if he has been hurriedly dressed by oompa-loompas who have purchased clothes for him in leprechaun second-hand shops. The funny thing is that he pulls it off.

The match was fairly exciting. We spent a lot of time making fun of the Canadians in the bar, or people we imagined to be Canadian, as well as two annoying American students with Valley accents and one cheap bastard who must have bummed a cigarette from every single person in the bar instead of buying his own pack. Jono even made fun of the Cricketer, in a nice way, saying to him: "I just don't see the point of lots of people dressing in white and then standing around in a field for three days."

The hockey match ended in a nice brawl and an empty-net goal to make the final score 3:0.

The Cricketer went back to his house, and Jono and I walked home amidst the cheering Czechs.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Mad Max

I have been asked off-blog why my big sister had pissed me off the night before her wedding, and why I had a gun in my handbag that night. Here is the rest of that story:

Jono had travelled with me from Prague to LA and was my guest for the duration of our stay. My sister had said that he was welcome at the wedding, which was on a Sunday morning, and of course my parents had said that he was welcome for anything we did as a family. But Sister and her new husband were hosting the dinner on Saturday night, and Sister was adamant that it must be family only. She said that if Jono were my “boyfriend” then he would be welcome, but not otherwise. Jono and I were both annoyed at the prospect of being required to define our relationship for someone else. Sister and I argued about it for days and, while everyone else thought Sister was being stupid, no one would get in the middle. So in the end, Jono went out with a friend that night, and I was driven to the restaurant, in a foul mood but looking great, by little brother-in-law and little sister.

It was LA so the restaurant had only valet parking. "Daryl" said he was not going to have the car valet parked and we drove around the block. There was no parking anywhere and, after our 3rd trip round and many questions, "Daryl" finally admitted that the reason he would not valet park was that he had a gun in the car. I was carrying a very large handbag that night and so I offered to hold the gun. I have no idea what kind of gun it was, I know only that it was a handgun, it was large and heavy, and the weight of it felt very good on my shoulder as the three of us walked into the restaurant.

Family gatherings are hard for me, and I always take refuge in little sister and brother-in-law, with whom I am very close. We were the last to arrive. There was one big square table for the 16 of us, and the remaining 3 spaces were not all together. Big Sister meanly and stubbornly refused to have anyone move for us. I thought about the gun in my bag. "Daryl" very sweetly went to the single space to allow me to sit with little sister. And you know the rest of the story already.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

TV Monkey

There is my Monkey, who hangs out with me in my world, and then there is this Monkey, who went on a journey from China to India with his friends Pigsy, Sandy and Tripitaka. Richard told me about this tv show just this morning.

Richard is the only one at my work who knows about my blog, except for the IT guy, of course, who will probably use it one day to get me into a lot of trouble. Hey ho.

The first episode was called Monkey Goes Wild about Heaven:
"Mischievous King Monkey is summoned to Heaven, where he steals the heavenly peaches, and eats them to gain immortality. He fights two of the Emperor's officials, and all three of them are expelled to Earth. Monkey gets imprisoned under a mountain of rocks, while the other two are transformed into a pig monster (Pigsy) and a water monster (Sandy). Buddha says that a holy man must be sent to fetch holy scriptures from India, to save the world."

Random bits from some other episode synopses:

#6 - "When Monkey kills a girl and her elderly parents, Tripitaka is left with no choice but to punish him..."

#8 - "When Monkey saves a pretty widow from the Demon Spirit of Great Snakes, amorous Pigsy falls snout over trotters in love with her, but she only has eyes for the celibate boy priest Tripitaka."

#11 - "Tripitaka finds the task of reuniting night and day very difficult, especially when Monkey becomes hopelessly besotted with a pretty girl and Pigsy falls for a lady of the night."

#28 - "The evil Dogs of Plague, disciples of the Great Hound of Hell, plan to kill Monkey, Pigsy, Sandy and Tripitaka."

#30 - "The Fraction Demon goes around asking children questions about fractions, and kidnaps those who answer correctly."

#36 - "A snobby princess has been kidnapped by a fish monster who wants to marry her, but she continually refuses because he's too common."

#37 - "The pilgrims eat some freshly picked mushrooms, and lose their memories. Monkey wanders off and joins a band of outlaws. "

This must have been the greatest show ever.


Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Adventures in Body Piercing

Today I received a text message on my mobile phone from Danny. Danny is one of the people I have known in Prague forever, one of the ex-pat crowd that you can find in a bar any day of the week. This is the message, which is promoting his latest business venture:

Gentlemen, the [***-*****] strip boat is setting sail this Sunday at 3 pm, this is intended for friends and to get a little support. The trip will last 2 hours, feature 6 strippers, 3 beers included in the price and have a lesbo finale. Price 1000 CZK. Be great to see you all and if you bring a friend you drink for free. Please sms back and I'll reserve your place. Danny, the [***-*****] Strip Boat

(*Editing note: I had to remove the name of the boat from my text because I was told yesterday (21 May) that my blog had shown up when a friend googled the boat. I don't really need that.)

No story about Danny is finished until I get to the part where he, James and I tried to go for body piercings together. It all started at a Canada Day celebration which was bloody boring (too many Canadians) so we decided to go for piercings instead. We discussed body parts and, while the boys settled on their nipples, I decided that the only appropriate place for a piercing would be my labia. The lads only wanted to know if they could watch.

You always see tattoo/piercing places when you don’t need one, but suddenly at 9.30 on a Monday night they all seemed to be closed. We must have visited 4 or 5 when I finally called directory enquiries for help.

I need the number for a tattoo place.

Which tattoo place?

I don’t know, that’s why I’m calling you.

This is directory enquiries. You need to give us a name and then we give you a number. That’s how it works.

I don’t have a name, that’s the problem. You have a whole list. Just give me one.

We went on like that for a bit until she finally gave me a number. The place was open. We called a cab, but just then, right when we were about to accomplish our mission, Danny and James’ girlfriends found us and took them away. You see, while Danny had been ignoring his girlfriend’s calls for hours, James had been talking to his girlfriend and telling her where we were every step of the way.

As getting your hoo-hoo pierced is no fun on your own, I went to drink beer with Jono and Charlie instead.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Max Post 9/11 (and a hint of Gun Story 1)

I was telling DD the other day that I feel foreign when I am in the US so I am going to explain why that is, if I can. The sense of not belonging there seems to come from the fact that I was not in the US on the 11th of September and I have not been there for what has happened in the aftermath. I don’t understand the sudden burst of overt patriotism, which looks very strange when seen from a continent where flag-waving only normally goes with international sporting events. I don’t understand the fear factor and why it is that the “threat” seems to have been blown out of proportion. I am not sure that I know what the Department of Homeland Security actually does.

(Monkey and I saw Tom Ridge in a pub in London last January. I had to convince Monkey that the secret service men would be able to get to him faster than he would be able to get his dinner knife firmly inserted into Ridge’s neck.)

My big sister got married (for the 2nd time) in August of 2002. It was my second trip back to the US since 9/11. We were having a family dinner the night before the wedding and I was pissed off at my sister, for reasons I won’t go into at this time. The reason I had a gun in my handbag also had nothing to do with the current topic; luckily (unfortunately?) my little brother-in-law had not asked me to also hold his ammunition. It was actually a nice dinner during which I mostly just ignored my big sister and chatted with my nephew and my little sister, who were on either side of me. After dinner I ordered an espresso, which was served with a twist of lemon on the saucer. I drink espresso regularly and had never, except in the film Beverly Hills Cop, seen a twist of lemon anywhere near it.

So I said, without really thinking and to no one in particular, “Oh, lemon, hmm, must be an American thing.”

And my new brother-in-law’s cousin that was sitting on the other side of my little sister, said nastily (and rather unfairly, I thought), “If you don’t like it here, why don’t you go back to Europe?”

And I was beaten. I should have had a go at her and called her all kinds of nasty words (I have loads stored up for occasions such as these) but instead I apologised and explained that I had not meant to cause any offence. That was it: that was the moment I realised that I had no idea what was going on in the US.

The next day my little brother-in-law explained to me that things had become different since 9/11, and that people really believed the rhetoric about “if you are not with us then you are with the terrorists,” and anything can and will be misconstrued as being un-American. And I had thought Joseph McCarthy was dead.


I recently read the new epilogue (for the forthcoming paperback edition) to Robert F Kennedy Jr’s book, Crimes Against Nature, which was in this month’s Vanity Fair magazine. Vanity Fair is my favourite magazine, the only magazine I read religiously, and yes, I do recognise that it is snobby left-wing pseudo-intellectual propaganda.

The title of the essay, at least as named in VF, is “The Disinformation Society” and you can probably guess what it’s about. We all know that right-wing religious fundamentalists control the US media, but I was nevertheless surprised by the results of a survey that Kennedy has cited in his book. The survey was conducted in October 2004, i.e. pre-election, by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA), which is a joint program of the Center on Policy Attitudes, in Washington DC, and the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland. Here are some of the highlights:

72% of Bush supporters believed Iraq had WMD (26% of Kerry voters).

75% of Bush supporters believed Iraq was providing substantial support to al-Qaeda (30% of Kerry supporters).

82% of Bush supporters believed either that the rest of the world felt better about the US thanks to its invasion of Iraq or that views were evenly divided; 86% of Kerry supporters realised that a majority of the world felt worse about our country.

Most Bush supporters believed the Iraq war had strong support in the Islamic world. Kerry’s supporters knew it did not.

In addition, most Bush supporters agreed with Kerry supporters that:
1) if Iraq did not have WMD nor ties to al-Qaeda, then we should not have gone to war;
2) we should be a party to the Kyoto Protocol;
3) we should be a party to the Mine Ban Treaty; and
4) we should have strong labour and environmental standards in trade agreements.

These "Bush supporters" voted for Bush because they thought that these were his views too.

Kennedy quotes Bill Moyers (December 2004):

I think my peers in commercial television are talented and devoted journalists, but they’ve chosen to work in a corporate mainstream that trims their talent to fit the corporate nature of American life. And you do not get rewarded for telling the hard truths about America in a profit-seeking environment…We have an ideological press that is interested in the election of Republicans, and a mainstream press that’s interested in the bottom line. Therefore, we don’t have a vigilant, independent press whose interest is the American people.

Fox News is only the tip of the iceberg. We are completely screwed as a democracy because most people still believe that the media are delivering truth, or at least objective reporting, and you cannot have democracy without a responsible press. - Max

Writing on the walls

I was with rtm, DC, Mike and Keith last night at Roxy to see Blues Explosion: I enjoyed it. We drank beer while we were there and so I had to visit the loo. Roxy is one of those places that has graffiti all over the toilets, mostly written during techno parties by pilled-up teenagers. This is what I read:

“Happiness is a shallow emotion. Anger is passion…”

There was more, quite a bit more, in fact, but you get the idea. I was disappointed that I had not chanced upon something more worthwhile to read. My problem with the writer’s thesis statement was that happiness is not an emotion at all. It may be a matter of semantics, but I would say that happiness is a state, a condition, rather than an emotion. Anger is passionate, certainly, so she got one half-right.

I then thought, hmm, both happiness and anger are fleeting – but who cares? I don’t write the product of my own boozed-up reveries on walls.

So next time you are in toilets where graffiti is the accepted thing, should you wish to take the time to write something on the wall, I propose that you copy part of a Walt Whitman poem, or a sonnet by Shakespeare, an Oscar Wilde witticism, or even Eminem lyrics. If you are DD, perhaps an essay on Austrian economic theories or something Swiss; if you are JK, consider an amusing anecdote about Lord Denning. Be philanthropic and give the toilet-goers that follow something of value to read.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Today's rant

Stephy has offered to marry me so that I can get permanent residency in the Czech Republic and avoid visa complications. That is a very generous offer, sweet Stephy, thank you. Unfortunately, while Stephy does have Czech citizenship, she currently lives in Texas, which is more or less the last place I would ever live.

On the other hand, I would like to marry Steph to assert my right to marry whomever I want. I have been outraged over the last couple of days, reading about all the fascists in America who want to control everyone else’s lives: no gay marriage, no gay adoptive parents, no gay foster parents; no benefits, no health insurance, no social protection...

It always comes down to the same thing: a bunch of closed-minded assholes trying to control other people’s lives.

We all know the conflicts and the paradoxes, e.g. being anti choice but pro death penalty, or being anti gay parents but not giving a shit if a heterosexual white man is beating his wife and abusing his children. What puzzles me is why these people are the least bit concerned about the lifestyles of people they do not even know. What difference can it possibly make to them?

The first thing I read this morning was about the president of Latvia awarding George W Bush her nation’s highest medal for being a “signal fighter of freedom and democracy in the world.” I do not understand that at all. It is ironic to me because I know that Bush does not support freedom in the US (refer to issues above, amongst others). And I would like to know in what light he can be seen as a fighter for democracy, because I see him as a corrupt war-monger and all round general fascist. It is true that in post-communist Europe, people are grateful to the US for helping to end communism, and rightfully so, but Bush junior had nothing at all to do with that. If the communists had still controlled this part of Europe when Bush junior came to power, he probably would have invaded in order to bring democracy to the people.


Staying with the musical theme chosen by Matty & DD, I am writing today about a Czech band called Lingers. I have known the founding members of Lingers, Arnošt and Tomáš, since before they started the band in 1993. Lingers are real musicians, all of them being classically trained, which is not unusual in the Czech Republic. Their lyrics, which are in English, are intelligent and poetic.

Lingers are playing in a small venue tonight in Prague and I will be there. They are also currently engaged in a competition on TV Óčko and I am not above soliciting votes for them. If you would like to see a very short excerpt of their appearance on TV Óčko, please go to http://www.hydeparkcz.cz/ and click on the bit where there are pictures of different singers. On the next screen you will see a list of the different bands in the competition; if you go to Lingers and click on the red strip where it says přehrát video ukázku (mpeg) you will get to a short video clip. If you go back to the front page, you can vote for Lingers in the bit on the right-hand side. Voting is open until sometime tomorrow evening (central european summer time).

Lingers are just starting to get recognition as artists. Upon the release of last year's Gallery, the Czech music press was generous in its praise, and MF Dnes, the country's most widely-read newspaper, called Gallery "the album of the year". The Prague Post wrote about them too; that article is in English and you can look at it at http://www.praguepost.com/P03/2004/Art/0617/featu5.php.

Lingers have their own website: http://www.lingers.cz/. You can listen to some of their music there. Just click on "music" (underneath the songlist, "texty" will take you to their lyrics). Unfortunately, beyond that, the website is all in Czech; I am going to talk to Arnošt this evening about getting it into English as well.

By the way, all of their songs are really different, so please do listen to more than one.

Thank you for your support.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Christian and his mates have done it!

This in from Christian 5 minutes ago via sms:
"We have done it! 901 miles in 8.5 days."
Those guys are awesome.
Well done, C. I am very proud.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Christian's progress

Yesterday was the 7th day of the charity bike ride. From Christian's sms: "Just smacked another 100 miles, staying by Loch Ness tonight, then just 2 more days."

On another note, Max is thinking of moving to Albania.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

On getting a bloody visa in the Czech Republic

I used to have permanent residency but then I got divorced. I managed to fool people into thinking I still had permanent residency for a couple of years after that. In 2001 I started the process to legitimately obtain long-term residency, which was very complicated because the Foreigner Police (Czech equivalent of the INS) had been wondering where I was for a while. Then when I was almost finished and just waiting for my visa to be ready, the woman whom I had paid to handle the process for me disappeared. I found out a few years later that she had gone underground to avoid being killed by the Ukrainian mafia, or something like that. She had all my paperwork and the receipts I would have needed so I just gave up. At that point, employers/clients started paying me in cash or by invoice from England.

I was away for two years, and when I came back I went to work for the Ministry of Defence; they obtained a special visa for me. But now I am in a new non-governmental job, and I have to get a regular long-term residency visa. The firm arranged my work permit for me, which was the first step. Now the jokers want me to do the rest of the work myself.

The first step is getting an extract from the Criminal Register to prove that I do not have a criminal record in the Czech Republic. What the police want from me in order to process that:
1. a filled in form;
2. 50 Kč (about $2 US);
3. my passport; and
4. an officially translated super-legalised apostilled copy of my birth certificate.

…and they can just fuck off. For one thing, my birth certificate lives in a safety deposit box in LA and it has not seen the light of day since I got my first passport 25 years ago. I am not even going to consider the steps necessary to produce an officially translated super-legalised apostilled copy. Anyway, I happen to know, because I have done it before, that if you pay an agent to get the extract for you, they can do it without a birth certificate. I am going to go to the police tomorrow to try on my own, and when I don’t succeed I will call another agent who will probably end up having to go underground, taking all of my paperwork with her.

My Theory on Canadians

I have developed a theory on Canadians: they are all either completely boring or absolutely mad. Think about the Canadians you know, and you will realise that I am right.

Examples of boring Canadians:
1. Mullet-haired Brian who used to live in Ústí nad Labem where he taught English at a secondary school and dated 16-year olds as he was incapable of conversation with adults because he was too boring.
2. That other Canadian that used to sometimes drink at Jáma years ago; he was so boring I can’t even remember his name.

Examples of mad Canadians:
1. Celinka, aka the Mad Canadian, who enjoys nothing more than making a spectacle of herself in public. She picked a fight with Henry Rollins once and they have been pen-pals ever since. Mad as a fish.
2. Velká Laura, whose hobbies include crushing beer cans between her breasts, shacking up with rock stars for a week at a time, and travelling to Ireland for sex because she finds Canadian men boring. Mad as a fish.

1. Rob is neither boring nor mad, however Rob is not really Canadian. He was born in Slovakia and his family only moved to Canada when he was 4.
2. Therefore there are no exceptions.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

A Horrible Dullard

Imagine if you met a man who talked in nothing but clichés and puns. This is what happened to me last Thursday night when I met Carol & Mike’s daughter’s boyfriend. At first I tried to laugh politely at his stupidity, but that did not last long. I am known for being incapable of hiding my dislike of displays of sheer dullness, and I really hate clichés. If you don’t have something original to say, then keep your mouth shut and don’t waste my time.

Update on Christian

Yesterday was Christian's 29th birthday and the 5th day of the charity bike ride. His sms update: "We crossed the border into Scotland today and are staying in Lockerbie tonight." Inspiring.

A Random Event (one of many)

I will not say when this particular random event happened, nor will I say exactly where, but only because I want to protect the identity of the person involved. I will tell you only that I was drunk from the beginning.

I was drinking in a bar on a Friday night. I was talking to my friends, talking to strangers, letting men buy me beers, as you do. Then I got into a conversation with a bloke that I'd known for a while but did not know well. I've got no memory of what led up to this point in the conversation but suddenly he told me that he desperately desired to have sex with a man, but in terms more graphic than that. I learned that this man had not had any previous sexual experiences with other men, he had been totally heterosexual well into his 30s, but he really wanted to suck cock and get fucked up the butt.

"I don't know why I'm telling you this. I have never said any of this to anyone else before."

And then a standard Max the problem solver drunken reaction: "Okay, let's see what we can do about this." I texted a gay friend to see if he might want to help the poor bloke out. He did not. So I started telling my curious acquaintance about local gay bars and even Drake's (which I had not yet visited - see earlier post). But Max really likes to help people so we left the bar where we had started our chat and I took him to a gay bar myself. He did not last very long: neither of us had drunk even half a beer when he said he wanted to leave. Then we walked for a bit because he had said he wanted to go to mine to show me pictures of himself dressed as a woman that were on the internet. On the way he asked me if I owned a strap-on. I responded honestly, that I did not.

Once we got to my house, I looked at the pictures of him dressed as a woman. I will say that he was as attractive as a woman as he was as a man, but that is bullshit because I don't think I could even focus on the photographs by that time. We talked a bit more and then I threw him out because all I wanted to do at that point was sleep.

I have hardly seen this man at all since this episode; I think he has been avoiding me.