Monday, October 31, 2005

Found this photo on another blog, thought it was cool, wanted to share.

Fantasy Football - week 8

Hooray for Max! - Max beats the first place team 123.50-114.65. Max stays in 3rd place, but now only 1 game out of 1st, and still with the highest overall point total in the league.

My opponent this week was the league's only other resident of Prague. I took the opportunity to ring him before he got online to check the results for himself.

Jimmy: Hello?

Max: I beat you, I beat you, I beat you.

Jimmy: Hello? What?

Max: I beat you, I beat you.

Jimmy: You what?!! Oh no! What happened? You didn’t have any running backs.

Max: What happened? My tight end scored 30 points.

Jimmy: What?!! Tight ends don’t score 30 points. I should have played Collins. - blah blah blah - Monday morning quarterbacking…

Damn, that was a fun phone call. And Jimmy was right, if he had played Collins instead of Bledsoe at quarterback, he would have won. Ha ha ha ha ha.

Yet another victory for girls everywhere!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

The Slippery Slope of the Nanny State

“another example of the Labour nanny state going completely over the top”

The above quote is from Conservative shadow culture secretary Theresa May, commenting on a proposed ban on passengers drinking alcohol on public transport in the UK.

The aim of the ban, which is only now being considered, would be to stop drunken yobs from terrorising other passengers on buses and trains. It was proposed by Louise Casey, the head of the Home Office anti-social behaviour unit.

The ban would also prohibit passengers in a dining car from having a drink with their meal.

One of the main arguments against the proposal is that drunken passengers who cause problems most often board trains and buses in an already inebriated state. Usually they are making their way home from pubs and clubs or travelling between venues. Obviously the proposed ban would do nothing to alleviate this problem.

Another argument against the proposal is that people should be allowed to have a “civilised” drink whenever they want one, and that this is just another example of the nanny state denying citizens their rights.

The BBC has said that it is unlikely that the ban would cover air travel.

The ban is absolutely ridiculous when you consider 1st class passengers on the Eurostar to Paris, for example, who are served a proper meal and should be able to drink champagne with it on either side of the channel tunnel. Or even Max and Jono in 2nd class who like to have a beer with their sandwiches from the snack bar.

Die Frauenkirche

The first time I saw the Frauenkirche in 1992 it was still a pile of rubble. Because I lived close to the German border and there was still a lot of stuff you could not get in Czechoslovakia, I used to go to Dresden fairly often, an average of once every two months for the two years I lived in Ústí nad Labem.

Dresden, as you know, was destroyed by allied firebombing in February 1945. Known as “Florence on the Elbe”, it had been an incredibly beautiful city, and very important architecturally. By the time I went for the first time, everything had been rebuilt, and so the Altstadt had become a replica of itself. The one exception was the Frauenkirche, the Church of Our Lady.

A decision had been made to leave the Frauenkirche as it was as an anti-war monument. It was powerful because amidst the beauty of the restored Dresden Altstadt, the pile of rubble guaranteed that no one could forget what had happened there. The decision to rebuild the church came after the reunification of Germany and it was to coincide with the 800th anniversary of the city of Dresden in 2006.

I watched the Frauenkirche being rebuilt. On one of my earlier visits, scaffolding had been put up next to the pile of rubble to serve as giant shelves for the sorting and cataloguing of pieces of the church. The intent was to use as much of the original stone as could be used for the reconstruction. A visitors’ centre was created where I saw a model of the church and read about the engineering and progress of the construction. Even after moving to Prague, I continued to visit Dresden fairly regularly, often taking visitors there, and I watched as the church once again became a landmark. When I wasn’t going to Dresden I watched the progress online. I saw the completed exterior of the Frauenkirche for the first time in August of 2004.

The rebuilt Frauenkirche was consecrated today.

Friday, October 28, 2005

The Nanny State

One evening, Monkey, AG, Z, the Flying Dutchman and I were sitting at U Zpěváčků and having a couple of drinks. The bar was particularly smoky that night and our conversation naturally turned to the trend of banning smoking in pubs.

Dutch lives in Ireland where smoking has been banned in workplaces (including bars) since March 2004. Dutch is a heavy smoker and he thinks that the non-smoking legislation is great because it forces him to smoke less as well as protecting non-smokers from 2nd-hand smoke.

The other four of us argued that the non-smoking legislation is a pile of shite because it is just another example of the government telling us what to do. I explained to Dutch that we completely understood what he was saying and that non-smoking environments are indeed very pleasant, but that our fundamental problem with the legislation is that we are adults and we can make our own decisions and the government has no right to tell us what to do, even if it is allegedly in our own best interests.

And Dutch did not get it. He kept going on and on about the health benefits of the ban and refused to even consider the wider implications of being denied our liberties. He was being ridiculously stubborn and the conversation became boring because it got so repetitive.

It was on later reflection that I realised that this is a much bigger problem, that Dutch’s attitude towards the smoking ban is indicative of the willingness of so many people to be told what to do by their governments. It seems that most people still believe that governments act for the good of the people, that they only want to look after us, and that all we have to do is follow their rules and everything will be all right. It is very scary to realise that people really are that stupid.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

A Tits Malone Birthday Story

12 years ago on TM’s birthday, there was an opening party at the British Council’s new centre in Ústí nad Labem. As lecturers at the university, TM and I were invited to attend. It was a very big deal -- the British ambassador was there as well as both the British and Czech ministers of education and other assorted dignitaries. It was pretty unusual for Ústí and somewhat exciting.

So we got dressed up, make-up and everything, and headed over to the British Council with our colleagues. There was champagne (can’t remember if it was real or just Bohemia sekt) and a spread of food that was really over-the-top elaborate, considering the time and the place.

We started drinking champagne and pretty soon TM had decided to play the birthday game where you just get lots of people to kiss you. Being 6 feet tall, attractive and having lush breasts, when TM tells a man to kiss her, he generally does.

For example, to the ambassador:
“Hi, my name’s TM. It’s my birthday. Can I have a kiss?”

Not one man said ‘no’ to TM that afternoon. Legendary.

Happy Birthday, TM. I dare you to do it again this year.
Big kisses

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

To Vote or Not to Vote

I have been mulling over the “vote – don’t vote” debate for a while now. Last November when it was seriously pointed out to me for the first time that voting was a bad idea because it was merely buying into the system, I didn’t accept the argument. Like most people I know, I was brought up to believe that voting was a right I had to exercise, that not voting was giving up my voice, that change could be brought about from within the system.

Of course I was also told never to “throw away my vote” by voting for a 3rd party candidate, which is so totalitarian that I can hardly believe I ever bought into it.

I have been reading on the subject of not voting, especially the non-voting archives at Strike The Root and Lew Rockwell:

The essays made little sense to me at first, and I did not like the way some of the writers dismissed people who vote as stupid – I still think that is unfair. But I kept thinking about the issue and debating it in my head (in a slightly schizophrenic manner), and I have finally come to some conclusions:

My votes, and I have cast many since I turned 18, have never made a difference.

Our system of government does not work and it is never going to work. The system cannot be changed from within because it is too corrupt.

Voting for the lesser of two evils makes no sense. Voting for a 3rd party candidate is not productive because you are still endorsing the system thereby perpetuating its counterfeit legitimacy.

There are many other arguments for not voting as I found through my exploration of the non-voting archives. If you don’t believe me, go have a look for yourself.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Fatherland Security Move to Take Over Police

The Secretary of Fatherland Security, Michael Chertoff, has said that he is preparing to send “a member of his headquarters operation centre” to New York police headquarters in Manhattan as liaison officer. He is also considering sending a liaison officer to Los Angeles as well as to other as yet unnamed metropolitan centres. The purpose is to “improve communication and co-ordination with local officials during anti-terror operations” (CNN).

Department of Fatherland Security spokesman Russ Knocke:

Like any relationship, you recognize you can always find ways to grow and strengthen those ties, and we've been interested in doing so. We hope to move on it very quickly.

Hmm, I think Adolf Hitler said something similar when talking about Germany’s relationship with Austria just before the Anschluss Österreichs.

The head of the New York City Police Department is the New York City Police Commissioner. The New York City Police Commissioner is appointed by the Mayor of New York City. The Mayor of New York City is elected by the people of New York City. In 1844 the Governor of New York State gave the Mayor of New York City permission to establish a police department for New York City. I think you see where I am going: no mention here of Washington, DC or the federal government.

From the Council on Foreign Relations Terrorism website:

Q. How is the NYPD fighting terrorism?

A: Its new measures include:

creating a counterterrorism division and hiring a deputy police commissioner for counterterrorism to oversee related training, prevention, and investigations and to work with state and federal agencies;

hiring a deputy commissioner for intelligence and an in-house intelligence officer for each of the NYPD’s 76 precincts;

training the department’s 39,000 officers in counterterrorism, including how to respond to a biological, chemical, or radiation attack;

assigning detectives to train abroad with police departments in Israel, Canada, and potentially other countries in the Middle East and in Southeast Asia;

assigning one detective to Interpol, the France-based international police agency, and two detectives to FBI headquarters in Washington;

placing command centers throughout the city to back up headquarters in the event of a large-scale terrorist attack; and

acquiring equipment such as protective suits, gas masks, and portable radiation detectors.

I do not know how much of the above has been done; neither do I know what other measures not listed have been taken, but I am certain that the New York City Police Department can take care of New York City without a mole from the Department of Fatherland Security.

A full-time liaison officer from the Department of Fatherland Security is going to do two things: (1) introduce another level of bureaucracy and bullshit to the New York City Police Department and (2) attempt to impose federal control on the New York City Police Department. The New York City Police Department should tell the Department of Fatherland Security to get stuffed.

Ignoring Harriet Miers

I have debated whether or not to write about Bush's nomination of Harriet E. Miers for the Supreme Court and I have decided that any analysis of her as a candidate would be a waste of my time. Harriet Miers is so completely unqualified for the position of Supreme Court Justice that her nomination seems to be nothing more than a bad joke to waste time in the Senate. If Miers ascends to the bench in the Supreme Court, I will eat my hat.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Worldwide Press Freedom Index 2005

Reporters sans Frontières (Reporters without Borders) today released its freedom of the press rankings for 2005. Of particular interest to many of us is that the United States has slipped by more than 20 places from last year to 44. The top eleven countries are all European, and 4 of those are post-communist countries: Slovakia at 8, Czech and Slovenia together at 9, and Estonia at 11.

NB: While RSF is a non-governmental organisation, their impartiality has been called into question because they get funding from the US and French governments.

For complete rankings and explanations:

How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World

A Book Report

I have just finished How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World: A Short History of Modern Delusions by Francis Wheen. JK sent me the book a couple of weeks ago with a note which said that my blog often reminds him of this book. Thanks, JK.

I have just found that the book is being sold under a different title in the US and Canada. It is called Idiot Proof: Deluded Celebrities, Irrational Power Brokers, Media Morons, and the Erosion of Common Sense. I think both titles describe very well what the book is about, i.e. (1) how nothing makes any sense anymore and (2) how much bullshit people willingly swallow on a daily basis.

To Wheen, the beginning of the age of mumbo-jumbo was marked by the parallel rises to power of the “two messiahs”, the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran and Margaret Thatcher in the UK. The year was 1979.

The book is a series of inter-connected essays, each one with a central theme and a catchy title. Examples are “The demolition merchants of reality”, “Right is the new left” and “Forward to the past”. Wheen lampoons everything: e.g. Reaganomics, alternative medicine, the cult of Princess Diana, the Enron phenomenon, conspiracy theories, Noam Chomsky, Madonna, and the anti-globalisation movement. And he is funny. Even the index is funny.

Mumbo-Jumbo has an index of delightful lunacy, including this entry for God: ‘accepted by Newton; angered by feminists and gays; appoints American coal-owners; approves of laissez-faire economics; arrives in America; asked by Khomeini to cut off foreigners' hands; believed to have created humans 10,000 years ago; could have made intelligent sponges; doesn't foresee Princess Diana's death; helps vacuum-cleaner saleswoman; interested in diets; offers investment advice; praised by Enron chairman; produces first self-help manual.’

Incidentally, I was told by Wheen himself that his American publishers commissioned a professional, more sober index. Some people just can't see a joke.
- Philip Hensher, The Independent

Wheen opens the book’s last paragraph with the words “Truth is great and will prevail.” He must be an optimist indeed to be able to document the sheer absurdity of the past 25 years and still come to a conclusion like that.

The Scariest Woman in The America

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had a little 3-hour chat yesterday with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, during which Miss Rice said some pretty scary things.

Not only did Miss Rice refuse to rule out the possibility of military action against Iran and Syria, but she actually went so far as to claim that the “president” does not actually need to ask for authorisation to declare war:

I don’t want to try and circumscribe presidential war powers. I think you’ll understand fully that the president retains those powers in the war on terrorism and in the war in Iraq.

And the Constitution?

The Congress shall have Power To declare War
- Article I, Section 8, Clause 11

You see, Condi, our founding fathers intended that the president would request a declaration of war, and then Congress could choose to grant that declaration of war.*

In 1973 Congress passed the War Powers Resolution, according to which there are two possible ways to establish the legality of a war:
- By a declaration of war according to Art I, or
- By a resolution of Congress authorising the use of force within 60 days of initiating hostilities.

The 2nd possibility may actually be unconstitutional, however it has never been tested before the Supreme Court.

But still, Miss Rice reminded us that there are special rules for George W Bush.

Senator Lincoln Chafee: Under the Iraq War Resolution, we restricted any military action to Iraq. So would you agree that if anything were to occur on Syrian or Iranian soil, you would have to return to Congress to get that authorisation?

Rice’s answer was that, no, the “president” would not need new authorisation.

Miss Rice went on to remind us that we are caught in a struggle of good v evil, us v them:

Syria and indeed Iran must decide whether they wish to side with the cause of war or with the cause of peace.

Under these circumstances, we very clearly cannot worry about silly formalities in Congress.

Thank you for explaining that to us, Miss Rice.

* Starting with the Korean War there have been no declarations of war by Congress. Instead presidents have claimed constitutional authority as Commander in Chief of the military forces (Art II, Sec 2). Dangerous.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Only a Question of 'When?'

I have been meaning to post about Iran for days, but with the move and settling into the new flat and work being crazy, I have not had time to do the research that I wanted to do before posting.

It started when Britain accused Iran of being responsible for bombings in southern Iraq. The Brits claimed that Iran had supplied Iraqi insurgents with explosives technology. I immediately thought, oh, what a convenient pretext for an offensive against Iran. Simultaneously the controversy over Iran’s nuclear programme was continuing, and then Iran, in a very co-operative gesture, accused Britain of provoking unrest inside their country. That accusation was in connection with bombings over the weekend in Ahvaz, in the oil-rich province of Khuzestan, which borders Iraq.

In an interesting twist on the theme of two negatives make a positive, Iranian President Ahmadinejad said yesterday, “We have not found any proof that Britain is not involved in the events in Ahvaz and we have not seen anything that would dissipate our doubts about that country.”

Iran has also accused the US of interfering in Iranian affairs. The US, in turn, has accused Iran (and Syria) of “helping and enabling” terror groups throughout the Middle East.

Condoleezza Rice has been running all over the place pretending to be diplomatic in an effort to build support for the US in relation to the ongoing nuclear dissension and the terrorism accusations against both Iran and Syria.

Most recently, Iran claimed that it had foiled a “British plot” to blow up its largest oil refinery, which is in the southwestern city of Abadan.

Dan Plesch wrote a very interesting column for yesterday’s Guardian entitled ‘Are we going to war with Iran?’ His conclusion is that an enlarged conflict may not be as preposterous an idea as we would all like to think.,12858,1594977,00.html

And my friend Beamis has provided unique insight from the desert in the US. Beamis has observed that rumblings in the earth coming from the military test ranges in Nevada indicate that “renewed war making” on the part of the US will start within 3 to 4 weeks.

We shall soon see…

One for the Ladies (and the Gays)

Holiday in Poland, anyone?

Monday, October 17, 2005

On taking a tram to work

Now that I have moved to Žižkov, I can no longer walk to work. It felt very lazy to get on a tram this morning, but at least I was not hot and sweaty when I arrived at the office.

Living with Monkey in Žižkov

Our new landlord thinks we are the weirdest couple he’s ever seen. Which brings to mind a problem: I never meet men because gay best friends are always mistaken for boyfriends. Okay, “never” is obviously an exaggeration, but here are two examples.

1. Alan’s 30th birthday party in London. The party was during the week and Jono had to work late. At one point during the evening I was talking to an interesting (and interested) man at the bar when Alan approached me to ask about Jono.

“Max, where’s Jono?”

The attractive man raised an eyebrow, because clearly I was being asked about a boyfriend or husband. I wanted to deny any knowledge of any Jono, but alas, I could not.

“He called 10 minutes ago that he had just ordered a cab and he should be here in another 10.”

My knowledge was much too precise for a casual acquaintance so interesting and attractive man was then positive that Jono was my boyfriend/husband/whatever and there went any chance of a date or a shag.

2. Saturday night. I was out with AG. We were sitting at the bar and there was a man at the other end of the bar whom I had never seen before. I thought he might be interesting and we had already made eye contact several times but had not yet spoken. My back was to the door. Suddenly AG’s face lit up so I knew Monkey had to have just walked in. Sure enough, he came up behind me, put his arms around me, touched my boob and kissed my ear (or some similar combination of actions). Stranger at end of bar assumed “boyfriend” and actual verbal contact was never made. Another lost opportunity.

So now Monkey and I are living together. It is temporary while his new flat is being reconstructed. Monkey says 2 weeks, the landlord says up to 2 months, Max says this is Prague and you never fucking know.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Max is moving this weekend.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Questions on Anarchy

Once again I had started writing an e-mail to DD and then decided that I would make it into a blog post instead. This one is about anarchy.

I have been inspired by an article I just read called Defining Anarchy by Mark Davis over at Strike The Root.

The article very clearly explains that:
Anarchy is freedom;
Chaos is not anarchy; and
Chaos is the result of statist-government failure.

The writer deftly uses the situation in post-hurricane New Orleans to illustrate his points. It is a strong and clearly written essay.

But I still have a problem with the concept of anarchy. I have been totally convinced for a long time that our system of government does not work – that is the easy part. Where I am still skeptical is not being sure about how people would behave if they were suddenly truly free.

My first questions for anarchists then are these:

Is there any kind of theory or are there any potential plans that have been prepared for when we rid ourselves of centralised government? It seems to me that there will be a lot of people who will not have any idea what they are meant to do. I feel like I am missing something on the practical side.

Does an anarchist society presuppose that the majority of people are inherently good/moral rather than merely law-abiding?

I have more questions, of course, but I would like to start here. You do not have to be an anarchist to offer an opinion. Thank you.

Max Goes Blonde

I was shopping in Oxford Street for something new to wear to the wedding. I had just made my purchase when I looked at my phone and saw that it was 17.40. I was supposed to meet Christian at 18.00 at a bar on Clerkenwell Road and I knew I couldn’t get there in 20 minutes. I still had to buy a birthday card for V.

I got to the bar at about 18.30 and was surprised that Christian wasn’t there yet. But never mind, I ordered a cocktail and took out my book. Lawyers always have to work later than they expect anyway. I texted Christian again to ask his eta; it was just before 19.00 and he said he would be leaving work shortly.

The bar’s doorman perched on the edge of my couch. “So you’re early for the party?”

“Yes. Well, no,” I said, “it’s just that everyone else is late.”

And everyone was late the whole night – JK had promised to be there by 20.30 and he was not. Jono had gone missing. Only Vašek wasn’t late but that was because I had not known he was coming. And I called and texted people, and they must have thought I was crazy and impatient, but no one ever thought to ask me if I knew what time it really was.

It wasn’t until the bar was closing at 1 a.m., and I looked at my phone which said 2 a.m., that I realised that I had been an hour off all day.

This is what had thrown me: I have a UK sim card and a second handset so normally when I go to London I have that phone with me. The time on it is permanently set to UK time. I do not wear a watch. But this time I had not been able to find my UK phone so I only had my Czech phone. I had not even thought about changing the time.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Kiddies on Tour

A group of Norwegian junior high kids were on a tour of the Czech Republic and Poland. The purpose of their trip was to visit concentration camps and learn about “the importance of peace”.

As they crossed the border between Poland and the Czech Republic, police discovered that the children were in possession of “a Kalashnikov automatic rifle, brass knuckles, knives and other potentially fatal weapons”. It seems that the children had purchased all of these lovely souvenir items in Prague.

The weapons were confiscated and the students were held for 13 hours. Then the border police let them go without charging them with any crime. The students’ travel leader is going to call their parents, but says that he will not pursue any direct disciplinary action at school.

For Jono's Birthday: A Story About Beer

A legal battle that has lasted a century thus far with no end in sight: Budějovický Budvar and Anheuser-Busch are currently involved in 40 lawsuits around the world over the name Budweiser.

Yesterday the European Court of Human Rights upheld a Portuguese Supreme Court decision that had given Budějovický Budvar the exclusive right to use the name Budweiser in Portugal. I pay attention to the Budweiser cases because they make me laugh. I always root for the Czechs, of course – Budvar is one of my favourite beers.

Anheuser-Busch had registered the trademark “Budweiser” in Portugal in 1981. But in 1986 Czechoslovakia and Portugal signed a treaty which protects registered designations of origin. Budějovický Budvar is brewed in the southern Bohemian town of České Budějovice, which earlier had been a German-speaking town called Budweis. “Budějovický” and “Budweiser” therefore mean the same thing - “of the town of Budějovice/Budweis”.

Anheuser-Busch went to the ECHR because, they argued, the Portuguese decision violated Protocol 1 Article 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights: “Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions.” Nice try.

In different proceedings in different countries, sometimes one wins and sometimes the other wins. That is what makes it all so funny. Where Anheuser-Busch cannot use Budweiser, they just stick with “Bud”, and you can now buy Budvar in the USA under the name “Czechvar”, which I highly recommend.

Happy Birthday, Jono!!!
Big love

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Princess Max

Some people are fiercely independent and thus reluctant to let other people do things for them. I, on the other hand, am easily distracted and would get nothing done if other people did not look after me. I am often called ‘Princess’ for a variety of reasons; I believe this one is the most prevalent.

The first time other people really started to comment on my problem was just over 3 years ago when I was moving to England. My friend Marie had recently returned from Spain and was staying with me for a few (6?) months. Marie took on the job of packing up all of my stuff, sending bits of it over with different people who had been to visit, sneaking the heavy stuff into another friend’s shipment to England that was being paid by her employer, giving surplus stuff away, etc. The general consensus amongst my friends was that if Marie had not been there, I never would have been able to move to England at all and I would still be stuck in the same flat in Vinohrady.

When I came back to Prague 15 months ago, I moved in with friends temporarily (for details of that situation, please see my post of Tuesday, 12th April, “On being extremely spoiled”). Although I have been looking to move out for about 10 months, I have only been to see 2 flats. One of those viewings was arranged by Monkey, but I did arrange the second myself (actually, the landlord found me). I am going to see another flat tomorrow, this viewing also arranged by Monkey, and I think this time I am really going to move. (Monkey has already seen the flat and he has started negotiating with the landlord on my behalf.)

Of course all of my stuff is now stuck in England (because Marie went back to The America), but Gareth arranged for storage in his dad's garage and Jono hired a van and helped me move everything.

I was supposed to buy a laptop when I was in The America in August. Monkey did the research for me over the internet and found the best deal, but that computer was never available and I did not manage to get an alternative. Computers are much more expensive in Czech, which means that I was being rather stupid. But I was very busy. Monkey has kept on top of things, he says that prices are coming down here and today he found me a viable option. He has called the computer man and is negotiating a deal for me.

This all means that pretty soon I will have my own flat and a new computer and therefore a renewal of freedom, privacy and independence (and a need to budget).

So thank you to Monkey and to everyone else who has looked out for me over the years. You are too numerous to name, but you know who you are.

Max Spanks the Boys in Fantasy Football

For the 3rd week in a row, I have crushed my opponent. This week the score was 107-91, and I have moved up to 3rd place in my league.

Thanking Sinister Steve once again for all of his advice (although not forgetting the many questions that have gone unanswered).

Just for the record...

This brief post is in response to the comments on my post of Thursday, 6th October.

Everyone is welcome on my blog. In fact, I am amazed, flattered and very happy that you all keep coming back. I love the discussions, and I don't mind when they go off topic. I think it's great that we have such differences of opinion, and I only hope that people sometimes think about the other positions, because we all always have something to learn.

I like the humour, even when it comes through as sarcasm.
I really appreciate the well thought-out and elucidated comments.
I would love it if people would always show respect for each other.

However, as Skeeter very wisely said, sometimes our tones and our intents are not conveyed properly through our comments. Perhaps that means that sometimes each of us needs to be a bit more careful about how we say things, and sometimes we just need to give others the benefit of the doubt, or have thicker skin, if you will.

Please keep coming back. I crave the attention.

Monday, October 10, 2005


St Bride's Church, Fleet Street, London

Interesting facts:

1. The church's tiered steeple was the model for the traditional tiered wedding cake.

2. The parents of Virginia Dare, the first child of English parents to be born in America (1587), were married there.

Karaoke tour of London

2 vintage Routemaster buses, more champagne, songbooks at the ready, everyone singing at the tops of their voices, some dancing in the aisles, general hilarity. We quickly became a tourist attraction, and rightly so.

Jono: "I could do this every day."

Delfina Studios, Bermondsey Street

More champagne, canapés, and a jazz band. The weather was fabulous so we were able to be outside as well. Then an excellent dinner and entertaining speeches. After dessert and coffee we went back out into the reception area where a dance floor had been put down and an Irish band had set up.

I watched the Irish bride and groom and wedding guests dancing, and then the inevitable happened, the inspiration came and Max, too, became Irish for a while.

The band alternated with a dj. Jono sent me over to the vodka luge where I managed to indulge without spilling any vodka on my new lace top. And we danced and drank and chatted with all sorts of people until about 1 a.m. We were, of course, amongst the last to leave.

Jono and I got a cab home where his housemate, V, was still celebrating her birthday. More champagne in the garden.

* Late note: this just in from Juicy the maid of honour -- apparently on Saturday we got through 450 bottles of champagne, not counting the mini (375 ml) bottles of Veuve-Clicquot we had each received (with a straw) upon leaving the church (and some of us had seconds of those on the karaoke bus). How many wedding guests, you may be asking. Not sure - maybe 150.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Max is away

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Things are getting worse all over

As I have criticised the loss of freedoms in the US and the UK and the draconian legislation in those two countries (e.g. the Patriot Act and the Terrorism Act, respectively), I have been saying all along that Europe is not far behind.

Benvenuto in Italia! Due to anti-terrorism legislation passed in July of this year, you must now show identification to use a computer in a privately-owned internet café in Italy. The Italian authorities have ordered all providers of public communications services to make photocopies of passports of everyone who uses the internet, phone or fax. Customers must sign a security disclaimer.

The law also requires internet cafés to keep logs of which customers use which computers and their log-on and log-off times. New public communications business licences are mandatory as is tracking software. The software records all sites which are visited by the internet café customers; the internet café managers must deliver the list generated by the software to the police on a regular basis.

The new measures not only add up to a blatant invasion of privacy, but they have also hurt business. Internet café owners in Italy report that their business has decreased by 10% since July.

An additional disturbing aspect to the situation is that the Italian people have not organised any protests against the legislation - which reminds us that Italy was, after all, the birthplace of fascism.

A Limey Making a Difference in The America

I asked my friend K if I could post an e-mail she had received from her husband, Alan, who is currently serving as a volunteer for hurricane recovery in Biloxi, Mississippi.

K’s response:

I was hoping you'd ask! Yes, please...and thanks!

By the way, the Red Cross is not liked down there, but the Salvation Army is...however, this group is just about 50 people making a big difference immediately...

Alan is volunteering with Hands On USA.; here is what Alan wrote:

Hi Honey,

Finally after a week I am getting round to try and journal what I have seen and experienced since coming down to Biloxi!

It’s very hard for me to see so many houses and families affected by what happened here, the scope of the destruction is simply mind-boggling. We are trying to make what impact we can within
Biloxi and the neighbouring cities, but there is so much that we cannot do, which I find frustrating.

What really counts each day is the people we are helping, those who are trying to help with us and the organization that is supporting our efforts, but mostly the love and support that I get from you. Because without you I simply could not be here making what impact I can.

It’s strange, but within 24 hours of working you become a veteran. I laughed at this when I was told on arrival, but it really is the case.

The first day was watching (and working), the second was organizing and working, the third was leading and working. I had with me 14 other people who are all working their butts off to clear trees and debris from people’s homes. They are looking to me for the next job, planning the day, packing checklists and executive decision making on the jobs - go figure!

One thing that does amaze me is how we continue to gel and function as a team through the ever changing dynamic of the group. People are joining and leaving every day and no two days are the same.

Here is a chronicle of my day:

I woke at
7am and headed down to a breakfast that was prepared by other volunteers, who had awoken at 5:30. I had planned my day the night before, so I knew which priority A tasks to do first etc... (p.s. a priority system that I introduced).

We had a number of new people, so I ran down the day for them and made sure that they had the kit for cutting trees (hat/glasses/gloves/sunscreen). After we sourced another car and got the coolers packed and Gatorade in the igloo we set off for our first job.

This job was for Lillian, a 78 year old lady who had recently lost her husband. On my first day we had cleared her yard of a big tree, 3 feet in diameter at the base. Her neighbour had cooked us lunch as a way of thanks, then donated a dolly for moving trunk chunks, then donated $275, Lillian then also donated $100. So today’s job was to clear her yard of a collapsed shed as way of thanks. She insisted on giving us another $100 donation (which we plan to spend on her and deliver her some treats).

Job done, off to number two. That was in Murrey St, part of the grid the city of Biloxi assigned to us to help co-ordinate our relief efforts (we help all over, but more so in our grids). We had five work orders to perform, so I broke up the team into three and set them at it.

I headed onto a side job with two others. This job was across town to an area very hard hit, all the houses are condemned and many are off (or NOWHERE NEAR) their foundations. Very scary and definitely very smelly, lots of dried raw sewage about the place.

Lionel was waiting for a FEMA trailer to arrive that day so he would have somewhere to live while we rebuilt his house. So we removed a rusty marquee from his driveway and towed out two flooded cars from the side of his house. We thought that his driveway might be too narrow for the trailer, after having seen them at other locations, so we did more work. We cut down a tree in the middle of his front yard and smashed up the concrete holding the fence posts and removed his front fence. No way could FEMA not deliver for this guy.

On each job, we make sure that each person we meet has water and ice and Hepatitis A and Tetanus vaccinations, there is a lot of sewage and rust around here.

We rejoined the main group and they had torn through 4 jobs and we helped them finish off the last one. One of their jobs, they had been cutting through brush and lopping off high-up limbs and while pulling on a branch, it moved and they saw the dog that was chained there, long dead, but it ripped apart. There were also rabbit cages with dead rabbits. Not pleasant at all!

We then had lunch at a centre set up to cater for all the
Biloxi emergency services. Good food and a welcome break. On the way out I sat with a table of officers and let them know that Hands On support them by coming in and performing work that they would try and do on their days off. And we wanted them to be able to relax after dealing with such a catastrophe. They visibly appreciate the gesture even if they are ok. Today one of the officers gave us a job to help out on his daughter's house. That saved him from having to do it.

After lunch was my second Priority A job. A family that lived in a poorer part of town. I had worked on their house earlier in the week, gutting out the interior. The stench when the freezer, having been without power for three weeks of 90+ heat, spilled its freezer juice was something I’ll never forget.

Today, the city had still not cleared the roadside debris, so I once again had the pleasure of meeting that freezer! We cleared out his back yard and it contained a large tree on his roof and two boats (not his) and much debris. We saved this man and his family so much work and he was very very grateful.

Each job has a story to tell and most people are more than willing to tell it. One man had water surge to 30 feet and settle at 25, the insurance companies are trying to tell folks here that their houses were flooded and they do not have flood insurance, but we know that the house was damaged by storm driven water and I guess it’s the age old situation with insurance companies!

I will send you the picture of us sitting in one of the boats being pulled through his drive by a truck!

The last job of the day was for Larry, an 80 year old who walks with a cane. He had an 80 foot pine fall in his yard and had no hope of getting it removed - he could not afford to pay contractors to remove it. A neighbour had helped to cut and remove the limbs, but we still had a few thousand pounds of lumber in the trunk. While the crew was unloading I noticed that the city was clearing the curbside of debris, using a construction side bucket & grabber and dump truck.

I went to speak with the crew boss and explained the situation and the relief organization we are working with. He went against the city rules and brought in the machine to rip the trunk and root system and loaded it all straight into the dumpster saving us a couple hours of cutting and lifting! As we were leaving, Larry’s wife came home and was so overjoyed. She had already resigned to having that tree as a part of her yard for years to come and she was close to tears that it had been taken away.

Well, I’m bushed and that was my day. A good day, but hard for a software engineer! More of the same tomorrow, and every day until I head back.

Making a difference, one yard at a time.

Love you,


Wednesday, October 05, 2005

“President” Bush said yesterday that he would consider using the armed forces to enforce quarantines should there be an outbreak of avian flu in the United States. It would thus seem that Bush has never heard of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878.

The Act reads as follows:

Whoever, except in cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress, willfully uses any part of the Army or the Air Force as a posse comitatus or otherwise to execute the laws shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.

The Navy and Marines have been included in the Act by a Department of Defense regulation.

There are exceptions to the Act, e.g. episodes involving nuclear materials, but my search (cursory as it was) did not reveal any mention of ‘in the case of disease or pandemic’.

It would be a good idea to have a plan in place to prevent the spread of disease should there be a mutation of avian flu which produces a strain that is passed from human to human, but our military should not be involved. Besides, last I heard, they were pretty busy in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005


Today I started reading the book that JK sent me, How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World by Francis Wheen. So far, so good.

I have already found one passage in the book that I like so much, I am going to use it in the title part of my blog (or as much of it as will fit). It was actually quoted from Roger Scruton, a contemporary British philosopher and self-described political activist and conservative. I found Scruton’s article "What Ever Happened to Reason?", from whence the quote was taken, in City Journal:

The Enlightenment made explicit what had long been implicit in the intellectual life of Europe: the belief that rational inquiry leads to objective truth. Even those Enlightenment thinkers who distrusted reason, like Hume, and those who tried to circumscribe its powers, like Kant, never relinquished their confidence in rational argument…For the ensuing 200 years, reason retained its position as the arbiter of truth and the foundation of objective knowledge.

Reason is now on the retreat, both as an ideal and as a reality.

Monday, October 03, 2005

An Accidental Guest Blogger

Today I would like to share with you an e-mail (well, most of it anyway) that I received a couple of days ago from my friend Veronica (not her real name) in The America. I think Veronica’s words speak for themselves.

Subject: O Canada

Dear Max

Well, this mightn't come as too big a surprise but Kaz and I have made the decision to emigrate to Canada next year! We are super-excited, for myriad reasons.

1) This country is FUCKED because our administration is FUCKIN' CORRUPT.

2) This area where we live is so goddamn expensive that I've just had it. I've had it! (To wit: we realized that to stay in this house I'd need to go back to work and I don't want to.) So, we decided to seriously downsize [plus Kaz wants to buy a house for cash because, as you probably already know, those crazy Nuts don't take loans -- they pay cash for everything. Bless them.]. We live in a pretty posh (and fuckin' conservative & WHITE) area, so we were looking at not just smaller houses on smaller plots of land, but not-as-tony neighborhoods. We thought we saw the perfect house, Max: a real fixer-upper (which is our thing) on a nicer street, but it was listed for $799K, which is high (in our opinion). Let's just say we were wrong because when I spoke with the listing agent he told me it'd sold for $952K and he didn't think it was a fixer-upper but rather a teardown. Holy fuck. To spend nearly $1M for a teardown in an okay neighborhood?

3) The Bay Area prides itself on being über liberal and ethnically diverse, but those are simply west coast prevarications. It's only "liberal" if you subscribe exactly to the common (albeit parochial) doctrines -- divagate at all and you can no longer be "liberal" but rather "wrong." So I, who am a Socialist and ostensibly more "liberal" than these dotcom limousine liberals, am "wrong" because my views don't jibe with theirs -- doesn't matter that mine are more progressive. Um, okay. And diverse? Sure, there are lots and lots of different colors here, but nobody's intermingling, that's for goddamn sure. And even those of us who do (like me, for example) are then kept out of one community or the other. The whiteys like to make "Asian driver" jokes and the local Jap gakku-en (like a nondenominational temple) told me, in not such subtle terms, that while I'd be welcome to attend the festivals it wouldn't be a good idea for me to volunteer or accompany Leo to Jap playgroup. Like I'd let my fifteen month old son attend by himself, for christ's sake. Never mind that I'm more Jap than some of them -- having lived there and speaking the language. My Chin-Am friends have said that within the Chin-Am community it is equally predatory. Shame on them all.

4) This is a car culture. Now don't get me wrong, I do love my car, but living in a more urban setting would just be so awesome! How wonderful to put Leo in his stroller and walk a few blocks and be at the shops / cafes / park / library / his school / public transport. Unless we move to San Francisco (and talk about très cher & uptight!) we can't do it here.

But we can in Toronto. We can fulfill all our above objectives (and more) thereby giving ourselves and our future family a much more fulfilling quality of life. And that rocks.

You know, after I had that delicious chat with you when you were in SmelL-A I began to hear many, many grumblings about the state of our nation and the administration. It's been quite interesting, actually. You were like beginnings of this wave and then more and more there it was being reported in the media. The media is still shameful in its blatant disregard of representing public opinion or aggressively pursuing the "truth" (whatever that is anymore), but at least now we're getting a peek at what's going on in the hearts and minds of Americans with a live red blood cell count.

I love you, Mireille!

Note: Mireille is Max's secret Frog name, taken from the video series that Veronica and I were subjected to in our French course. The actress that played Mireille in the series, Valérie Allain, went on to star in many fine films of the pornography genre.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith

A Book Report

I have just finished reading Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer. The book begins with an account of the murders of Brenda and Erica Lafferty in American Fork, Utah in July 1984. Brenda was 24, her baby Erica was 15 months old. They were murdered by two of Brenda’s brothers-in-law, Ron and Dan Lafferty, fundamentalist Mormons who had been excommunicated from the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). The remarkable thing about the murders was that Ron and Dan Lafferty truly believed that God had commanded them to kill Brenda and her baby.

The book goes on to describe the modern Fundamentalist Mormon movements, giving details of their beliefs, their settlements and the people who lead them, as well as providing interviews with men and women who have left - or escaped, depending on your perspective. The book also offers a comprehensive history of the LDS church, which is absolutely fascinating and greatly increased my knowledge of the religion and its origins. The history covers both the mainstream church and the fundamentalist sects that split off from it.

I had previously known of the persecution of the Mormons and thus why they had been driven west to Utah, but I had not known how violent some of the Mormons themselves had been. The Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857 is perhaps the most extreme example.

I had known that polygamy had earlier been a part of LDS doctrine, but I had not known that the introduction of the principle of “plural marriage” had nearly torn the church apart and that the subsequent banning of the practice was, arguably, the reason for the fundamentalist split.

The book is extremely well-researched, and the edition I read (June 2004) included the LDS church’s response to the first edition (July 2003) as well as Krakauer’s response to the response.

“Powerfully illuminating…. An arresting portrait of depravity.” – The New York Times Book Review

“Scrupulously reported…both illuminating and thrilling. It is also the creepiest book anyone has written in a long time.” – Newsweek

Having finished this book at the same time as watching The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear, I could not help noticing the parallels in the stories which show how fundamentalist religious conviction will always eventually manifest itself in violence.

* Thanks to Little Sister for pushing me to buy the book.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

The Power of Nightmares

I have just watched the first part of a 3-part BBC documentary that Monkey gave to me. The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear by Adam Curtis has been shown twice on television in the UK - October/November 2004 and January 2005. It was aired in Canada in April 2005, and was scheduled for July 2005 in Australia, but cancelled because it was decided that the screening would be “inappropriate” after the bombings in London. An edited version was screened in Cannes in May 2005.

The documentary has never been shown on American television. You can download it for free at

I am not going to tell you what you should think about it. I will only say that it is interesting and compelling.

I do not know enough to judge how accurate the material is, but I learned quite a bit just from Part 1 – Baby It’s Cold Outside. I know less than I should about the politics of the 1950s, 60s and 70s; the film actually filled in some of the gaps, e.g. the origins of neo-conservatism and some of the activities of Team B.

I would be interested to hear what anyone else thinks about it.