Friday, September 30, 2005

In Today's News

Army Faces Worst Recruiting Slump in Years

Oh, really?

The daily reports of American deaths in Iraq and the uncertain nature of the struggle against the insurgency have put a damper on young people’s enthusiasm for joining the military, according to opinion surveys.

Oh, really?

Draft, anyone?

Secret Max

I have been to graduate school 3 times. Most people only know about the 2nd (MA in Educational Linguistics) and the 3rd (Law). This post is about the 1st – an incomplete MA in Rabbinic Literature.

I was 22, I had just returned from an extended stay in Israel, and I thought I might like to be a rabbi. I was attracted to rabbinical school because of the intellectual course of study. I loved reading the Talmud in classical Aramaic and mediaeval Hebrew and arguing points of Jewish law. I loved my philosophy class and bewildering my classmates with my unorthodox views.

But I had to leave because I could not handle the religion. I had kept kosher for 6 months; as I was semi-vegetarian at the time, all it meant for me was giving up shellfish. It didn’t do anything for me spiritually, so at the end of the 6 months I went out and had a lobster. All of my classmates had already declared their intentions to become rabbis; with the contrast I realised that I simply did not believe enough to go through with any of it.

If I had completed my MA and had not gone on to become a rabbi, all I would have been able to do with my education would have been to teach Hebrew school. I was already doing that, and I already felt like an imposter.

Yet I was not an imposter. I was teaching kids ages 12 to 18 to look at the Bible from a modern perspective and to question and explore how we might understand it in a 20th century context. I was also teaching modern Israeli history and politics and trying to give them a broader view. I discussed philosophy with my 12th graders. All of it fit into the Jewish tradition of education.

But I had to quit. I recognised that I was losing my religion and that pretty soon I would be teaching apostasy. I didn’t think that would be the right thing to do so I left my teaching job and my studies and started to think about what else I might like to do.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Happy Birthday DD!!!

Max's birthday haiku for you:

Forty is yet young
Celebrate like a Monkey
Move to Europe soon

Monkey's birthday haikus for you:

Whose birthday today?
Why, DD! DD! DD!
Leave some booze for mine

DD can’t eat cake
So he’ll have a birthday egg
With peanut butter

Monkey has just suggested that in honour of DD's birthday, we follow a DD tradition and have a haiku challenge. Please do it for DD (I know you lot won't do it for Max and Monkey) and submit your DD birthday haikus right here.

For Tits Malone: Tales of Burčák

This is from a Prague Post article:

From early September until sometime in October, the beloved half-fermented grape juice known as burčák enjoys its yearly star turn. Pale gold, cloudy, yeasty and honey-sweet, ephemeral burčák is nothing more than an early stage in the production of wine. Increasing in alcohol even as it is poured, it varies in strength — in optimal conditions, the last sip in the pitcher can be quite a bit stronger than one from just an hour earlier.

We consulted a panel of experts for their stories about burčák. To get started on your own story, look for it at a winery — often sold in reused plastic water bottles — or hit one of the city's better wine shops. But be careful. The poisoned feeling you might have after too much burčák comes from a very real poison: carbon monoxide given off by the yeast as it consumes the very grape juice you're consuming.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Fart Fest

On Friday night we went to bed at about 3.30. Jono got in first and then right when I got in, he let one rip. It is only worth writing about because it was absolutely the worst smelling fart I have ever been subjected to in my whole life. We were so disgusted by it/impressed with it that we talked about it all weekend.

On Sunday night all 6 of us went to bed early. Jono said that he was feeling bloated and so he was going to take a Déflatine. I asked him what it was and he described it as “a tablet that makes you burp and fart so that you can get everything out of you.” He made me take one too. It did absolutely nothing to me but it worked instantly and effectively on Jono. He was enjoying it so much he took another. It was hilarious: he really just farted again and again and again, and then he started belching, and he stood up so he could start the burps deeper and then he farted some more. We were giggling like idiots and we could sustain the hilarity because nothing smelled like his killer fart had on Friday.

Jono, I know you may not have wanted me to write about your fart fest; please just consider it a free personal ad.

Hen Saturday Night

Dinner at Mozaika. The conversation over aperitifs was mostly about sex and then it went downhill from there. By the end of the meal, we were playing “shag, marry or push off a cliff.”

Nina had made up a task list for the bride-to-be. Abby accomplished her first task while we were still at the restaurant. (1) a kiss from a barman. Juicy went to speak to the barman: “You. Table.” I explained to him what Abby was after and he obliged.

We moved on to an area of the Old Town which has at least two cocktail bars on every block. Our first stop was Bar Zero but it was too packed so we went to Parker’s but it was too empty so we went to Ocean Drive and it was just right. There Abby very quickly accomplished her next two tasks. (2) a man’s phone number and (3) a cigarette.

I agreed to help Abby with the next tasks. We approached 4 fairly handsome English blokes. (4) a photograph of a hairy chest. After Abby took the photograph the lads asked what else was on the list. (5) a fireman’s lift. The one with the slightly hairy chest picked Abby up and threw her over his shoulder.

(6) a photograph of a lipstick kiss on a bald man’s head. We called the man over to our table. I handed Abby my dark lipstick. The man was a little bit suspicious and a little bit rude but he let Abby kiss his head and we got the photograph.

Abby walked over to the bar on her own for the next task: (7) a drink from a gentleman. She started talking to two Taiwanese men. They bought her a piña colada and Abby confounded them with her knowledge of Taiwanese politics.

We moved on to Alcohol Bar. I hate sweet and sticky drinks but I had one because it was called Ještěrka Max (Lizard Max). I tied the cherry stem into a knot with my tongue.

Juicy took my notebook and wrote me a note:

Juicy would like to thank Max for the moment in her blog. What a lovely weekend. Sadly all men in Prague seem to be gay. There goes my tour of the EU nations. Last week was Switzerland, the week before was Belfast. Now Gayville. How disappointing. Am very up for it. Max has a broken showerhead off the wall – where is my potential husband loves…disappointing. Max is always fulfilled. As sister of the hen the choice should be mine. The music is Enrique, Kylie and the rest, the drink is strong and the men are invisible. Sad and inexplainable. Bless George Clooney in Ocean’s 11. All my love to Auntie Max. Juicy xx

Then we went to Parker’s. Flaming B-52s. (8) an item of clothing. Abby got two different men to take off their shirts so she could put them on. (9) a raunchy photo. Abby sat on the knee of one of the topless men for the photo. (10) a condom. Abby asked but they did not have. We moved on to Bombay Bar.

When it was very nearly 4.30 a.m. we left to go home. Jono and I were walking a little bit ahead, and next thing we knew, we heard some shouting and Juicy appeared to be about to get into a fight. Abby had gone up to a random African man in the street and asked, “Do you have a condom?” I don’t think the poor man was really used to drunk Irish girls and he jumped to the conclusion that she was a whore. He said he did not have a condom and he put his hand in the back of her jeans. Abby pushed him away calmly and everything was fine.

Then Abby told Juicy, but just to make conversation. “That guy just tried to put his hands down my trousers.” Juicy went mental. Irish, ginger, drunk and over-protective of her elder sister. Jono and I were called upon to defuse the situation. Jono took the harder job: Juicy. I had a little chat with our African friend and eventually he calmed down and went away. I went to help Jono with Juicy because she is a bloody handful. And then suddenly the African came back for more. I calmly but firmly explained to him why he had to go away again and he finally did.

I called a cab so the 4 grown-up ladies could get home quickly; Jono and Juicy walked.

Monday, September 26, 2005

The Joy of Fantasy Sports

There is a boy in both my football and baseball leagues who has been taunting me relentlessly on our message boards for the last couple of weeks. Don't worry about Max though, because I give at least as good as I get.

In my leagues teams go head-to-head, and I was playing said boy in both leagues during the week that has just ended. These are the results:

Max 129.75
Dumbass Boy 74.55

Max 8
Dumbass Boy 2

In addition to humiliating Dumbass Boy with that crushing football score, I have knocked him out of 1st place in the league. Max is a happy girl today.

SS, thanks again for your help with my football team.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Hen Party

Abby V is getting married in two weeks’ time so tonight she and three other friends are coming over to Prague from London for her hen weekend.

The cast of characters:
Abby V – the bride, a fiery ginger-haired Irish lady
Juicy Tube – Abby’s sister, very excitable
Nina – Abby’s friend, lovely and a bit offbeat
Jono – the reason I know Abby, the untraditional member of the hen party (i.e. a boy)
Candy – coming over from Ireland tomorrow; I’ve never met her before
Max – no explanation necessary

Hopefully by Monday I will have some entertaining tales to tell.

Have a fun weekend, everyone.

*Tuesday update: I was asked to provide pseudonyms for all the girls before I tell stories -- names have been changed.

More Good Karma

He who saves a single life is considered as if he has saved an entire world. – The Talmud

Six holidaying limeys have been hanging out in U Zpěváčků for the last couple of nights. Yesterday I got into an in-depth conversation with one of them who was called Chris. Chris and his wife Deborah have recently started fostering older teenagers. In the UK, children who are in the care of the state are sent out on their own at the age of 16 unless they are still in full-time education, and most of them are not. It is expected that at the age of 16 they will be able to earn enough money to support themselves. According to Chris, 80% of them end up in prison and a lot of them go into prostitution. The UK lacks enough carers/foster parents to look after these kids. According to Chris, the UK is 10,000 carers short.

Chris and Debs had to undergo a year of training and evaluation before they could take in their first kid. Chris told me about one of their kids, a 16-year old who had been running with a gang in a town near Gatwick. I’ll call him Simon.

Chris and Debs took Simon into their home and gave him love and personal attention. They gave him pocket money with no conditions attached. Chris took Simon mountain-climbing and sailing and bonded with him in a man-to-man way. Chris also taught Simon how to work on cars and then Chris helped Simon find a job so he could start earning his own money while learning to be a proper mechanic. Simon now stands a good chance of making his way in the world and never again having to steal because he is hungry.

“It’s liquid gold turning those assholes around,” Chris told me.

I find it inspiring to meet people that are just good and kind and generous and work to make a difference in the world.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Lovely Penguins

Penguins are cool and they make me laugh because they look really funny when they walk. I became especially fond of penguins in the year 2000 when I realised that my then-boyfriend sometimes looked a bit like a penguin when he walked. My favourite Christmas present that year was a walking-talking penguin doll. Monkey and I visited some penguins at the zoo on Sunday.

But it was only today that I have learned that penguins are morally superior to most people and that we should look to them as inspiration for Christian family values. The film, March of the Penguins, is “the motion picture this summer that most passionately affirms traditional norms like monogamy, sacrifice and child-rearing,” according to film critic Michael Medved.

Apparently, the unsuspecting penguins have been hijacked by conservative Christians as “a parable of family virtues, a role model for men, an argument against abortion and convincing proof that Darwin was wrong” – Yahoo news.

But while the Christian conservatives with their weird ideas of a monopoly on family values are extolling the virtues of penguins, we are informed that emperor penguins actually switch mates every season and that homosexuality is rampant amongst the penguin population.

Sheerly Avni on calls penguins “some pretty slutty birds,” which just about says it all, I think.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Today’s Totally Awesome News

An e-mail from my good friend JK:


You have requested some JK news and I am delighted to tell you that I can offer some pretty good stuff.

Last Wednesday the tenants of [name deleted] Buildings held a meeting. In this meeting they all voted. The outcome of this vote is that I have been offered a tenancy with chambers!

Obviously I am over the moon and have spent much of the last 6 days drinking champagne. Even now it still hasn't fully sunk in, although I do feel as if a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders!

To explain: I went to law school with JK. We had the same course (Post-graduate Diploma in Law) the first year, and then separated for the second year. I did the Legal Practice Course (for future solicitors) whilst JK did the Bar Vocational Course (to become a barrister).

JK was one of about 1500 students on bar courses in England & Wales. Of those, only 600 would get pupillages, i.e. mandatory apprenticeships. Of those 600, only about 350 would be offered tenancies. So you can see that this is quite an achievement for JK, who is absolutely brilliant, by the way.

I am very very proud of you, JK. Well done.

Best Burgers

I hate fast food hamburgers but I like In-N-Out. Some of you may not know In-N-Out Burger; it is a chain of drive-through burger bars in California, Nevada and Arizona. The first one was opened by the Snyder family in Baldwin Park in 1948 and every single one is still owned by the Snyder family.

The advertised menu has never changed:
- Double-Double
- Cheeseburger
- Hamburger
- French Fries
- Shakes & Beverages (Coke, etc)

The hamburgers are made from 100% pure beef; they are served with lettuce, tomato, “spread”, with or without onions (raw or grilled) on a freshly baked bun. The cheese is American. The french fries are made from fresh-cut potatoes and fried in vegetable oil. The shakes are made from real ice cream. All the ingredients are high quality and everything is made fresh to order. You don’t drive through In-N-Out when you’re in a hurry.

I never went to In-N-Out as a kid, it wasn’t the kind of place my parents took us. Then I was a vegetarian for a long time and by the time I had started eating meat again, I had moved overseas.

Anonymous A-hole loves In-N-Out, and I think our nephews must have inherited that love from him. Last month I had my first ever In-N-Out burger with my eldest nephew J. He taught me about the secret menu. The secret menu does not appear anywhere but everyone that goes to In-N-Out knows about it and how to order from it. The people that work at In-N-Out of course recognise all of the items and happily accept the secret orders.

In-N-Out Secret Menu:
- Double Meat (i.e. no cheese)
- 3x3, 4x4 (supposedly you can order up to 10x10)
- Protein Style – wrapped in lettuce instead of on a bun
- Animal Style – mustard added into the beef while it’s cooking + pickle, extra spread, grilled onions
- Grilled Cheese (2 slices of cheese; no meat)
- Flying Dutchman – 2x2 meat and cheese, nothing else (no bun, no condiments)
- Wish burger – no meat, no cheese, just vegetables and spread on a bun
- Well-done fries (brown and crispy)
- Neapolitan shake (blend of chocolate, strawberry and vanilla)

J, an enormously hungry teenager, had a 4x4 Animal Style with fries and a root beer; I had a Cheeseburger Protein Style – it was awesome. Big Sister did the driving and paid.

Monday, September 19, 2005

The View from my Office Window

Prague Castle

I brought my camera to work with me today but the batteries are out. I found this photograph on the internet and it is more or less the picture I would take from my window (with a zoom lens).

Thank you, Monkey & DD

Monkey - for encouraging me to change my blog template and teaching me how to change the colours in html, and for insisting that I start using pictures.

DD - for showing me how to get pictures into my blog.

No More Bullshit

My mother, who had never before voted for anyone other than a Republican in a presidential election, voted Libertarian last November. I, like many other people I know, voted for Kerry, but only because I wanted my vote to count against Bush. Several people I know did not vote at all because they could not in good conscience vote for any of the candidates, or because they could no longer believe in the system. I respect all of those choices.

We have all been conditioned to think that we vote in a two-party system. We have been told that any vote other than for a Republican or a Democrat is a wasted vote. This is not true, and we must stop thinking this way.

Even now, nearly a year after the last presidential election, I still have conversations with people about how we voted last November and why. For a while, I thought I would never vote again, but I have changed my mind. I believe there are enough of us who are so disgusted with our current system and with both of our main political parties that our unconventional votes could have an effect.

If there were an election tomorrow, I would probably vote for a Libertarian candidate. In last November’s election, Libertarian candidate Michael Badnarik won 0.3% of the popular vote. Not very promising, but what if next time the Libertarian candidate were to win 3% of the vote, and the time after that 8%? Eventually even the slow people would get the message that we have choices other than Republican and Democrat.

I also think that if I could not vote for anyone who was running, I would go to the polling station anyway and write in “none of the above”. I would not want my action of not voting to be mistaken for laziness or disinterest. I would want to let people know that none of the candidates was acceptable to me. I will never again feel forced to choose from amongst people I do not like.

If everyone were to take a similar stand, we could bring about a change in the system from within. If people refuse to vote for candidates that are not acceptable to them, we will no longer have to suffer idiots in positions of power. It may take a while to convince people, and I would love it if we could somehow bring about change in a quicker fashion, but I will at least get satisfaction from making my voice of discontent heard.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Show Us Your Papers

Radio Frequency Identity Chips and the Real ID Act of 2005

I first heard of Radio Frequency Identity Chips (“RFID Chips”) a year ago when I was warned that they would soon be put into passports. I got a new passport last February which had a machine readable strip – nothing new, but my old passport had not had one because it had been issued by an embassy, and it was only after 11th September 2001 that all US embassies had to update to the current technology.

President Bush signed HR 418, the Real ID Act of 2005, into law on 11th May 2005. Have you heard of it? Most people have not. It was entrenched in another bill that had to pass because it provided funds both for military actions in Iraq and for tsunami relief.

The Real ID Act has nothing to do with passports, it has to do with a mandatory national identity card, which will be forced on us by masquerading itself as a driver’s license or state ID.

Congressman Ron Paul: Supporters claim it is not a national ID because it is voluntary. However, any state that opts out will automatically make non-persons out of its citizens. The citizens of that state will be unable to have any dealings with the federal government because their ID will not be accepted. They will not be able to fly or to take a train. In essence, in the eyes of the federal government they will cease to exist. It is absurd to call this voluntary. Republican Party talking points on this bill, which claim that this is not a national ID card, nevertheless endorse the idea that "the federal government should set standards for the issuance of birth certificates and sources of identification such as driver’s licenses." So they admit that they want a national ID but at the same time pretend that this is not a national ID.

Here are a few things for which our licenses or state ID cards are currently used:
- Boarding an airplane
- Boarding an Amtrak train
- Obtaining federal hunting or fishing licenses
- Obtaining a passport
- Writing a check at the supermarket
- Cashing payroll or state aid checks
- Enlisting in the military
- Voting in a federal election
- Buying beer
- Entering a federal building
- Entering a bar or club
- Obtaining federal firearms licenses
- Entering a military installation

We will be able to do none of these things by 2008 without our new national ID cards.

It is not yet certain what information will be embedded in the new ID cards nor what kind of technology will be used in them. That has been left up to the discretion of the Department for Fatherland Security.

The information that starts out in the cards will be at the very least: name, date of birth, place of residence (no more p.o. box addresses), social security number, and physical characteristics.

The technology will be at best, machine readable strips and, at worst, RFID Chips. I have done a bit of research into the technology behind RFID Chips. They are already commonly used on some toll roads where a receiver reads the chip that is embedded in the sticker on your windshield. Once we have the RFID Chips in our licenses/ID cards and passports, they can be read whenever and wherever without our knowledge, which means a complete end to privacy. It will become possible for the government (and others) to easily track our movements and know exactly where we are and with whom at all times.

We will not be able to leave our IDs at home because we could be asked to show them at any time. A private citizen will immediately become suspect if s/he is not emitting a proper radio frequency from his/her RFID chip.

This is all in the name of stopping terrorism, of course.

In addition to our new mandatory national ID, the Real ID Act can also effectively close our borders. It authorises the Secretary of Fatherland Security to waive all federal, state and local laws to expedite construction of security fences and barriers at our borders.

There are many other problems with the Real ID Act, e.g. its effect on immigrants and asylum seekers, its cost and identity theft, but they are far too many to go into here.

One more thing: the Real ID Act is in direct conflict with the 10th Amendment to our Constitution. The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Oh, and by the way, those of us living overseas may not be able to renew our driver’s licenses at all.

For more information on the Real ID Act of 2005 (for a start):

For more information on RFID Chips, please see (for a start):

Friday, September 16, 2005

Romper Room

Tonight Věra is celebrating her 18th birthday at U Zpěváčků, which is a large part of the reason that Monkey and I left there at about 9.30. We had to make an appearance because it was important to Věra, but as we are twice as old as most of her friends we had very little motivation to stay.

Věra works as a bartender at U Zpěváčků. The legal drinking age in the Czech Republic is 18 but Věra has been working in pubs since she was 15. I am not sure how that has worked.

Mike was working tonight. Monkey and I sat in the front room and talked to Mike while Věra and the other children were in the back. Věra was a good hostess, coming into the front fairly frequently to speak with us (and to order more drinks for her friends) and to invite us to join the party in the back. Monkey and I politely declined her invitations.

More and more kids kept coming in and walking to the back to join the birthday party, until finally I couldn’t hold it back anymore: “It’s like bloody Romper Room in here!”

Andrew the Surly Canadian piped up with, “I was just thinking that. All they need is lunchboxes with Casper the Friendly Ghost on them.”

The kids were looking at us distrustfully – perhaps because we are not much younger than (the same age as?) their parents. Monkey and I made our excuses as soon as we could.

Max the Dedicated Worker

I arrived at work 30 minutes late today but only because I was up early and at my computer at home. Well actually, I had also decided that it was autumn this morning and that I would wear my red wool jacket which meant that I had to change handbags so I wouldn’t clash – you know how it is. But never mind, the only person that saw me stroll in at 9.30 was the managing partner.

I had arranged to meet my friend Coco for lunch at a Japanese restaurant at 1.30. I was not late for lunch as that would have been rude. We looked at the day’s cheap lunch special and after some deliberation decided instead to go for a rather pricey 4-course menu. We had just finished the second course when we realised quite a lot of time had already gone by so I looked at my phone.

“It’s 2.30,” I said.

“Oh no, maybe we’ll have to ask them to box up the rest,” said Coco.

“I was 30 minutes late this morning,” I confessed.

“I was too,” said Coco, as we giggled, knowing full well we were not going to ask them to pack anything to take away.

“What are they going to do, fire me?” Coco added. Native speakers of English with knowledge of the law are not a dime a dozen in this town, after all.

Coco and I had not had a proper catch-up in years, literally, so we had a lot to talk about. Coco is buying a flat and taking on a mortgage, which sounds really scary. (That’s why her name is now Coco, because she is lamenting never being able to buy another Chanel lipstick.)

We talked about recent travels and visits; we talked about the south of France and St Louis. Coco has been to St Louis, she went there for a wedding a few years ago. She had to take a Greyhound bus from Chicago to St Louis and apparently a lot of that was rather traumatising. Coco told me about being in the bus station in Chicago, seeing all of the desperate people – the girl crying to one side, the people having sex in a chair somewhere on the other side, the people that asked Coco for some of her m&m’s, those whose eyes were the size of saucers… Coco herself had not slept in 24 hours and was seeing people as if they were rushing by in a speeded up film.

Then Coco talked about St Louis, especially about how people jumped all over her when they heard her accent.

“Are you American?”

“Well, no, I’m not American.” Coco is decidedly English.

“Where’s Prague?”

“It’s in Europe.”

“Is London in Europe too?”

Needless to say, Coco was not impressed with the level of knowledge in St Louis but, to her credit, she tried not to be judgmental.

Coco was horrified at the prospect of Max going to spend some time in St Louis. Monkey and I have been throwing the idea around, but mostly last Sunday when he was at the end of his 3-day bender and talking about why we should get married (that is a different story altogether, I am probably going to get in trouble for even mentioning it, and it is highly unlikely that we will ever marry each other anyway).

“They’ll never understand you,” Coco warned, “I could not even order a Diet Coke without an American friend interpreting for me.”

And finally after a 2-hour lunch, we paid the bill and went back to work.

Another case of: "Don’t they have more important things to worry about?!"

Back in June we had burning the flag; this month, once again, we have the Pledge of Allegiance. I remember saying the pledge as a kid everyday in school without paying attention to the words and not giving a shit what it meant. I can say that it was a stupid waste of time, but basically it didn’t do me any harm. I absolutely cannot understand why people feel so strongly one way or the other about the pledge when we are in the midst of wars and natural disasters and our economy is failing, etc. What I want to say is that people should choose a more useful cause.

But putting all of that aside for the moment, let’s have a look at our Pledge of Allegiance.

The original pledge was written in August of 1892 by Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister and Christian Socialist, and published in the September 8th issue of The Youth’s Companion, a widely-read family magazine. The original text:

I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

“my Flag” was changed to “the Flag of the United States of America” in the 1920s, supposedly to ensure that immigrants would know to which flag they were swearing allegiance. Bellamy disapproved of the change but no one cared.

The words “under God” were added in 1954. One widely accepted opinion is that this change was a reaction to the godlessness of the Soviet Union. Bellamy was dead by the time of this change, but his granddaughter stated that he would have resented it.

Below are some of Bellamy’s own records of his thoughts in writing the pledge.

It began as an intensive communing with salient points of our national history, from the Declaration of Independence onwards; with the makings of the Constitution...with the meaning of the Civil War; with the aspiration of the people...

The true reason for allegiance to the Flag is the 'republic for which it stands.' ...the Nation - the One Nation which the Civil War was fought to prove. To make that One Nation idea clear, we must specify that it is indivisible, as Webster and Lincoln used to repeat in their great speeches.

Some would say that Bellamy contradicted himself, that in fact Lincoln and the Civil War had contradicted the ideals of the Declaration of Independence. Bellamy purposely left out the word ‘equality’ because he knew that it would not be accepted. Women and black people were not equal, after all.

I wish I had learned all of this in school instead of just having to repeat the pledge over and over.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Vox Populi

The results of the “Voice of the People” 2005 survey were published on the BBC website today. The survey questioned more than 51,000 people in 68 countries with the aim of measuring world opinion in what is basically one broad area.

The validity of the survey as “worldwide” has to be questioned because of some glaring omissions, mainly that China is not included in the survey and Egypt alone represents the Arab world. The reason for this is that the survey was conducted by Gallup International and was paid for by Gallup’s clients, and therefore focused on markets which were important to those clients.

Here are some of the findings:

Is your country governed by the will of the people?

Worldwide, only 30% said yes.

These are the percentages of people who said NO, by region:
North America – 60%
Western Europe – 65%
Eastern and Central Europe – 73%
Africa – 61%
Asia-Pacific – 65%
Latin America – 69%

Are your elections free and fair?

Worldwide, 47% said yes, 48% said no.

Paul Reynolds, who wrote the BBC article points out certain contradictions. He offers the UK as an example:
66% said the government was not by the will of the people;
70% said elections were free and fair.

I disagree with Mr Reynolds: I do not think that those two percentages are necessarily contradictory. Elections come first and they can be free and fair (theoretically, at least) but when your choices are Dumb and Dumber, where does that leave you? And once Dumber (theoretically speaking) is elected, no one can guarantee that s/he will govern by the will of the people.

Reynolds goes on to quote Churchill: Democracy is the worst system of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

…which could possibly mean that anarchy is indeed the way forward, but I shall leave that to DD as I still have some doubts.

Which of the following do you trust?

The BBC did not list all of the possible answers but here are some of the results:

Religious leaders came out on top globally, at 33%, but there was a world of difference amongst regions:
Africa – 74%
South-east Asia – 68%
North America – 49%
Scandinavia – 12%

Politicians came in low, at about 13% worldwide, but they did better in North America than anywhere else at 23%. All of Europe, in contrast, was at 10%.

Who would you like to give more power to in your country?

Global figures:
“Intellectuals” (defined as writers, academics, etc) – 35%
Religious leaders – 25%
Military – 20%
Business people – 20%
Journalists – 20%
Politicians – 16%

Alarming: religious leaders came in first in North America at 37%. Separation of church and state, anyone?

*some of my figures may be off by 1-2% as I had to read some of them off very small graphs.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Today's Good News

In the last 24 hours I have reconnected with 2 friends.

Yesterday at lunchtime my phone rang, I did not recognise the number, did not remember offhand that +7 was Russia. When I answered the phone, the person at the other end said, “Hi, Max, it’s Nadia.” It took me a couple of seconds to realise it was Nadia from Moscow.

I only met Nadia last summer when I was in Moscow and I had not seen her since then. She was calling because she was in Prague on business and had some free time in the evening. So we went out for cocktails and dinner and it was absolutely lovely to catch up with her.

This morning rtm sent me a forwarded e-mail. It was a long article but good so I read the whole thing through and at the bottom of the e-mail was the name and e-mail address of a girl who had also worked at the Ministry of Defence during my first stint there in 2000-2001. So I sent her an e-mail, she has responded, and we are going to have lunch together within the next couple of days.

Things often happen in threes. I hope someone else nice is going to pop back into my life.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Words of Reverend Martin Niemöller

Jono sent me an e-mail last night to remind me of the words of Reverend Martin Niemöller, a German who was imprisoned from 1937 to 1945 for being an outspoken critic of Adolph Hitler and fascism. His most famous quotation:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out –
because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out –
because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out –
because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out –
because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me –
and there was no one left to speak out.

Thank you, Jono.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Habeas Corpus 2005

The writ of habeas corpus is the fundamental instrument for safeguarding individual freedom against arbitrary and lawless state action.
- Harris v Nelson 1969 (US Supreme Court)

The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.
- US Constitution, Article I, Section 9, Clause 2

On Friday the US Court of Appeals ruled that President Bush has the power to imprison without trial a US citizen arrested on American soil. The court concluded that Congress had implicitly granted Bush the power to hold American citizens as “enemy combatants” when it authorised the use of military force against those who carried out the attacks on September 11th, 2001.

In June, Murphy jumped down my throat, first on Riggs’ blog and then on his own, because I objected that the principle of habeas corpus was being ignored in American prisons in Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. Murphy was very quick to point out that habeas corpus was not meant to protect “terrorists and enemy combatants”.

Well, Murphy, now we have a problem. Jose Padilla is an American citizen, you know, one of the people whom our Constitution is meant to protect. Jose Padilla, just like you or me, should be entitled to file a petition for a writ of habeas corpus and be released from custody or duly charged and tried.

Liberties and rights are chipped away at little by little rather than all being taken away at once. People are generally prepared to give up a few small freedoms for a feeling of greater security. Most people do not mind that habeas corpus has not existed all along for those imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, and most people still do not care that habeas corpus has been denied to Jose Padilla.

It is nothing unusual that people remain complacent when other people’s rights are taken away. It is, however, extremely short-sighted and naïve to think that it will not go on to affect the rest of us sooner or later.

* * * * *

Europe is headed down the same path as the US, which obviously worries me because soon there will be nowhere that I want to live.

Director General of the British Security Service MI5, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, gave a speech in The Hague earlier this month in which she addressed the problematic relationship between security and civil liberties.

The world has changed and there needs to be a debate on whether some erosion of what we all value may be necessary to improve the chances of our citizens not being blown apart as they go about their daily lives.

Last Wednesday, in a speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, UK Home Secretary Charles Clarke warned that “the rules that currently govern our law-enforcement bodies seriously inhibit their ability to protect us,” and therefore it would be necessary to change them. Mr Clarke also pointed out that the European Convention on Human Rights was “established over 50 years ago in a quite different international climate,” implying that it has become obsolete.

Mr Clarke also spoke about retention of telecommunications data, the Schengen Information System (generation II currently in development), the Visa Information System and biometric data.

For anyone who still has any doubts, Big Brother is already here.

Friday, September 09, 2005

...and my new favourite thing

Bush declares Katrina prayer day

Can anyone tell me what the fuck that is supposed to accomplish? Bush makes me sick.

Lay down your arms

In New Orleans, the police are confiscating guns from private citizens, supposedly to facilitate the forced evictions of those citizens from their homes. As we all know, the right “to keep and bear Arms” is guaranteed in the 2nd Amendment to our Constitution. I am not particularly fond of guns myself, but it worries me that citizens are being forced to give up their arms and being forced out of their homes.

When I was with my entire weird family in the desert last month, I had a talk with my 15-year old nephew about drugs. I explained to him that when I had been a drug peer educator at Berkeley, we never told people to do drugs or not to do drugs. Our programme’s mission had been only to give out as much information as possible and then leave people to make their own informed, and hopefully responsible, choices. We were dealing with university students.

In New Orleans, more experienced adults are being not only told what to do, but in many cases being handcuffed and forced to leave their own property. If I were in New Orleans and someone explained to me all of the potential dangers of staying there, I might be very likely to leave the city. However I would want to know that I could make my own decision and that I was not being told what to do as if I were a small child who could not be left on my own. I imagine it must feel absolutely heart-breaking and frustrating - and I don’t know what else - to be forced to leave your own home when you don’t want to go. It’s just wrong.

Positive News, just for a change

Do you remember the story of the 11-year old girl from Surrey (England) who saved 100 people from the tsunami in Phuket last December? Tilly Smith had learned about tsunamis in a geography lesson two weeks earlier and when she saw that “the sea was all frothy like on the top of a beer,” she remembered the video she had seen at school and correctly concluded that a tsunami was imminent. She told her parents and, although they had not believed her at first, they raised the warning and everyone left their hotel’s beach for higher ground.

Today Tilly will receive the Marine Society’s Thomas Gray Special Award from Second Sea Lord, Vice-Admiral Sir James Burnell-Nugent.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Lawyer Jokes

- What do you call 100 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?
- A good start.

I am starting a collection for Sinister Steve.
All contributions welcome.
No joke too offensive.

As DD would say, do your worst.

A High-Profile Cleansing of Anonymous A-hole’s Reputation

I have been chastised for believing that the anonymous comments on Beamis’ post of Friday, 2nd September 2005 - “See ya later alligator” - could have been written by Anonymous A-hole.

This post is my penance.

Asshole, I had my doubts (as did Sinister Steve, by the way) but I nevertheless did not defend you. For that I apologise. I was certain that it was not you after the anonymous poster called me names, but still I did not publicly clear your name until I had received confirmation directly from you. For that I also apologise.

To my fellow bloggers and blog readers, Anonymous A-hole would prefer that you do not think that he is a bigger asshole than he really is. Further, Anonymous A-hole has promised that he will always use the “Anonymous A-hole” name and will not post comments anonymously. I have known Anonymous A-hole since he was a kid, and I can say with all confidence that he is a man of his word.

Thank you for your understanding.


Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Sex and the Middle-Aged Woman

Fact: Max will turn 40 in December.

I have not been worried about turning 40: I don’t look my age, I am told I don’t act my age, and if I drop dead tomorrow, so be it. I do have a fear of one day waking up, looking in the mirror and realising it has all caught up to me and I suddenly look 110, but that shouldn’t happen for a while yet.

I don’t actually know what “acting my age” means, but I think it has something to do with getting a mortgage, being scared about losing my job and knitting in front of the tv.

When I was in the US, I kept reminding my mom that I was about to turn 40, as in “Stop telling me what to do, I’m 40!!” It was fun because it annoyed her no end – I guess it made her feel old.

Today I have even more reason to be nonchalant about turning 40 this year. A survey in the UK yielded the following results:

77% of women said that they enjoyed sex more in their 40s than they had in their 20s.

69% of women over 40 said they felt more adventurous in bed than ever before.

66% felt more confident about their bodies.

70% said they felt more sexually confident.

45% over 40 wanted more sex than ever before.

Source: Health Plus Magazine

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Telling the Truth about Chief Justice Rehnquist

An obituary by Alan Dershowitz.

My mother always told me that when a person dies, one should not say anything bad about him. My mother was wrong. History requires truth, not puffery or silence, especially about powerful governmental figures. And obituaries are a first draft of history.

So here’s the truth about Chief Justice Rehnquist you won’t hear on Fox News or from politicians. Chief Justice William Rehnquist set back liberty, equality, and human rights perhaps more than any American judge of this generation. His rise to power speaks volumes about the current state of American values.

For the rest of it, here is the link:

For Your Information

Because so many discussions lately seem to touch on the comparative price of gas, here are conversion figures and some recent gas prices.

1 US gallon = 3.785 litres
1 UK gallon = 4.545 litres

1 USD = 23.322 CZK
1 GBP = 1.840 USD = 42.922 CZK

US: around $3 per US gallon
Czech: CZK 34.50 per litre = $5.60 per US gallon
France: $7.09 per US gallon
UK: approaching £1 per litre* = $8.36 per UK gallon = $6.96 per US gallon
Average in Europe as published on yesterday: CZK 42.45 per litre = $6.89 per US gallon

* Retailers in the UK have to upgrade their pumps before they can charge more than 99.99p per litre.

Inappropriate Max

J was in Dorset last weekend. She was in the lobby of her hotel in Bournemouth and decided to have a quick look at my blog. She typed in the url and got this message:

"Access denied due to inappropriate language:
f***, f***, f***, f***ing, f***..."

fuck cunt twat wank bitch

Monday, September 05, 2005

Torture and Murder of Women in Guatemala

In Guatemala, women are being raped, mutilated and murdered in their thousands. Even little girls have to constantly look over their shoulders. There is little chance of the perpetrators being caught – because often the law is right behind them.

…On average, two women have been killed each day this year.

This is a country where a man can escape a rape charge if he marries his victim – providing she is over the age of 12. In this country, having sex with a minor is only an offence if the girl can prove she is “honest” and did not act provocatively. Here, a battered wife can only prosecute her husband if her injuries are visible for more than 10 days. Here too it is accepted in some communities that fathers “introduce” their daughters to sex.

- from an article by Christine Toomey, The Sunday Times Magazine, August 28, 2005

It seems like a lot of news lately makes me sick, but this story nearly made me actually vomit. Here are some harrowing descriptions:

They found Manuela’s body on the floor in a pool of blood. The baby was propped up in a high chair. Both had been beheaded. The nanny had been raped and mutilated; her breasts and lips had been cut off, her legs slashed.

Maria was found lying face down on wasteland to the west of the capital. Her hands and feet had been tied with barbed wire. She had been raped and stabbed; there was a rope around her neck, her face disfigured from being punched, her body was punctured with small holes, her hair had been cut short and all her nails had been bent back.

Nancy was found stabbed 48 times, her killer or killers had tried to cut off her head.

Less than 10% of murders of women have even been investigated; out of 527 murders in 2004, only one has resulted in a prosecution.

In 1954, the CIA orchestrated a military coup in Guatemala, destabilising the country forever after. The repression and violence for the forty years following the coup were the worst in Latin America, but also the least reported. The majority of perpetrators of atrocities were those armed and trained in “methods of sadistic repression” by the US.

Now much of the terror against women is blamed on organised crime.

“A key element in the history of Guatemala is the use of violence against women to terrorise the population,” explains Eda Gaviola, director of the Centre for Legal Action on Human Rights. “Those who profit from this state of terror are the organised criminals involved in everything from narco-trafficking to the illegal adoption racket, money-laundering and kidnapping. There are clear signs of connections between such activities and the military, police and private security companies, which many ex-army and police officers joined when their forces were cut back.”

Very few people in Guatemala seem to care about the barbarous torture and murder of women, but you can register your protest at

Work sucks

I am a lawyer. I have finished law school and passed the Law Society exams. I am not a fully qualified solicitor because I have not done, and will not do, the two years of training in England that would be required. The main reason is that I no longer wish to practice law. Someday I may change my mind and go back to do constitutional law or human rights law or something interesting and worthwhile, but corporate law is mostly dull and uninspiring.

On top of tedious work, the hours can be horrific. My personal record is 33 hours without leaving the office. I know lots of people who have done more. When I woke up on Saturday, I found an e-mail from Jono – he was still at work in London from Friday, going on 24 hours and merely hoping to be able to leave within a few hours. Last time Jono came to Prague for a visit, he had to tell people at work that I was getting married and that he was doing a reading at the wedding, all just to guarantee that they would not make him cancel his weekend away and make him work instead.

I have just had an e-mail from Howie, an English solicitor who is working in Prague: “been through a spate of working until 2am for 6 days a week and then dying in a corner for the 7th.” Nice.

Almost all of the lawyers I know hate their jobs and would like to find something else to do. I know two lawyers who have left corporate law for criminal law, which is infinitely more interesting. One of those is a public defender in LA and he has got some incredible stories. He also gets to go home around 5 p.m. every day. Two of my limey friends have recently made their escape from corporate law and will be opening an independent bookshop in Bath within the next few months. So many more only dream.

Max’s escape is in the planning…

An Independent Supreme Court

The Supreme Court was established by the Constitution in 1789: The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.

The Constitution did not specify what were to be the Supreme Court’s duties and powers, and the early Court was weak because its role had not been defined. The Court began a metamorphosis in 1801 when John Marshall became chief justice. In 1803 the Court issued its decision in the landmark case Marbury v Madison, which established the Court’s power to interpret the Constitution and to determine the constitutionality of laws passed by Congress and state legislatures.

The Constitution also did not specify how many justices were to serve on the Supreme Court. The Judiciary Act of 1789 established that the Court would be composed of six justices, i.e. one chief justice and five associate justices. Congress retains the power to mandate the number of justices on the Court.

The Court had six justices from 1790 until 1807, when the number was increased to seven. The number became nine in 1837 and ten in 1863. In 1866, the Radical Republicans passed the Judicial Circuits Act, which set the number of justices at seven. The decrease in the number of justices was to occur through not replacing retiring justices, and the Act was passed specifically to prevent President Andrew Johnson, a Democrat, from making any appointments to the Court. The number of justices was again set at nine in 1869. FDR later attempted to expand the Court for his own political ends, but failed.

With the recent death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist, there are currently 8 justices sitting on the Court. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, although retired, remains on the Court until her replacement is confirmed.

Six of the eight justices were appointed by Republican presidents; only two of them by a Democrat. President Bush has already nominated one very conservative justice for the Court. Judge John Roberts will be confirmed by the Senate because he has an impeccable record as a jurist. I expect that Bush will make another clever appointment, i.e. conservative but confirmable.

I do not mind whom Bush appoints in terms of how “conservative” or “liberal” they are. The key factor for the Supreme Court in maintaining proper checks and balances in government is political independence. Aside from the Florida election decision in 2000, Supreme Court justices have a very strong tradition of maintaining independence, even with respect to the presidents who have appointed them. Famous examples are Justices Oliver Wendell Holmes and Earl Warren.

Then, of course, the new justices must also be absolutely committed to upholding the Constitution, but that is, after all, their job.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Protecting our Borders

Due to visa complications, I was carrying two passports around with me last week. One evening I compared old and new entrance stamps from visits to the US.

I had used my old passport for over nine years and made several trips to the US, probably averaging at least one per year. There is only one US entrance stamp in my passport, which is normal because I have an American passport and I would not normally have to be able to prove my comings and goings from the US, and so the immigration people didn't bother.

My new passport has one US entrance stamp from one visit to the US.

The stamp in my old passport:U.S. IMMIGRATION, LOS, ADMITTED JUL 28 2002.


I suppose this means that US Immigration no longer exists, that it too has been absorbed by the Fatherland Security and Protection office. I find the change ominous.

Friday, September 02, 2005

A Czech Perspective on New Orleans

I just had a conversation with one of my Czech colleagues about New Orleans. Some of his comments:

I can’t understand the barbarism of those people. There have been disasters before, like earthquakes, but no one has behaved like that. I didn’t think it could happen in America. If it were Russia, I could believe anything, but America…

And George Bush, flying over the city in his airplane - he showed a lot of concern.

And what is happening with the oil? It’s only 3 states out of 50. How can that have such a huge effect?

And why haven’t more people, national guard or whatever, been sent to help? America is supposed to be stable enough to handle anything. It doesn’t look like that now.

Swearing Allegiance

In today’s Times: Brussels wants immigrants to swear allegiance to EU,,2-1761335,00.html

The UK only recently began requiring immigrants to swear allegiance to the Queen, and now a European Commissioner has proposed an “oath of faithfulness” for the entire 25-nation European Union.

One can get every immigrant to somehow declare they will respect national law, EU law and the Charter of Fundamental Rights. – Franco Frattini, European Commissioner for Justice and Security

Loony. There is no point of an oath of allegiance. If immigrants love their adopted country and are law-abiding residents, an oath is not going to change their behaviour. If immigrants are terrorists and suicide bombers, an oath is not going to change their behaviour either.

Everyday at school we pledged allegiance to the flag. As a very small child I had no idea what I was saying and even later the pledge never had any meaning for me.

I took my Peace Corps oath in 1992. My right hand was up and my left hand was holding an alcoholic beverage. I did not say all the words properly, I could not take it seriously. I had gone into Peace Corps as a well-qualified teacher. Taking some weird oath was not going to have any influence on how I was going to do my job or how I was going to represent my country. If I had been a sociopath, I would still have been a sociopath after the oath.

Thursday, September 01, 2005


Something I observed in the America, but had forgotten about until just now, is that the toilets are very powerful. European toilets are weak and flush rather half-heartedly, while American toilets are bold, strong and purposeful. The difference puzzles me.

An open e-mail to DD

Subject: Midday Report

I am still drunk. My alarm was going off repeatedly this morning for 2 hours and 22 minutes before I woke up. Very weird that I kept hitting snooze instead of turning the fucker off. That must have been my unconscious conscience at work.

DD, Monkey and I were not yet drunk last night when we called you. We had been helping kd move into her new flat, and hadn't even gone to dinner until about 10. kd's landlady is an amazing character. She loves kd and Monkey because they are ginger, but she thought that I was Italian, Spanish or Portuguese. I had to admit to being French.

But then we did get drunk. We almost went home at one point well before we even called you, but decided to have one more. That one more became several more and we got more and more depressed because the tv was on in the bar (no sound, of course - we were listening to music) and Mike was just switching between news channels: pictures of the hurricane destruction and the anniversary of Beslan and the stampede in Baghdad. It just wasn't a good day. And Delicia kept calling J to tell her the price of gas in Georgia. That made us question how the price of gas could go up so quickly, and what the hell the government is playing at this time. And we ridiculed Bush for flying over the hurricane area in Air Force One at an altitude appropriate for a 747, and what the hell could he see anyway?

I think this e-mail is becoming a blog. So be it.