Friday, December 29, 2006

Max is moving too

There seems to be an exodus over to Wordpress and I, ever the follower, have decided to join it. I haven't quite figured Wordpress out yet, but I'll get there, the same way I did with Blogger. Please visit me at my new home (and please update your link if you have one). See you over there.


Max's America

Thursday, December 28, 2006

A matter of time

Alcohol is going to be banned on all flights going into, out of or over The New Amerika and the United States of Europe. We are already clearly headed in that direction.

Remember the good old days of trans-Atlantic travel? You would leave LA, let’s say, early in the evening. Once the plane had reached cruising altitude, the service would begin. The waitresses would bring round the drinks trolley and you could have whatever you wanted and it was all free.

“I’d like a gin and tonic, please.”

“Here you are, miss. Why don’t I just give you two drinks now so you won’t have to wait for me to come round again.”

Then they would serve dinner, which always came with wine.

“Would you like red or white? Here, have two bottles – they’re only little.”

Then they would come round again with coffee and liqueurs.

“A brandy? Here, let me give you two, they’ll help you sleep.”

And then they would come round again and again, and whenever you pressed the “drinks, please” button. Or you could go to the galley and ask for something. You were never asked to return to your seat “for security reasons.”

Gradually things started to change. The waitresses got less generous. Sometimes wine was not offered with dinner so you had to ask for it. The practice of serving a digestif was completely forgotten. And then the American carriers started making you pay cash for booze – the ultimate incivility of air travel.

Drunk = unruly = security risk. Apparently.

And then today – one step too far. The Czechs are sensationalising the incident and calling it an attempted hijacking. The Russians are calling it what it more likely was – a drunk passenger raising a ruckus.

And the civil aviation authorities will eventually call it this: a reason to ban the booze. It’s only a matter of time.

The story of the incident in Czech and in English.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Cut and run

It is clear to me that American troops will not be leaving Iraq anytime in the near future. Time will show, unfortunately, that I was right when I said that a change in the balances of both houses of Congress would not make any material difference.

Dr Condoleezza Rice has just referred to the war in Iraq as an “investment” and has claimed that the cost in lives and dollars is “worth it”. I don’t agree. I would rather have Sam still alive. But I guess when you are in a position of power like Dr Rice, you can’t afford to be sentimental.

Sen. John McCain wants to raise troop levels in Iraq. It is likely that Sen. McCain will run for president in the 2008 elections.

Bush spoke this week of a necessity to increase the overall numbers of men and women in our armed forces.

“…this ideological war we’re in is going to last for a while, and...we’re going to need a military that’s capable of being able to sustain our efforts and help us achieve peace.”

But where are these greater numbers of bodies for our armed forces going to come from? Everyone knows that military recruitment is down and desertion rates have remained high. A draft would be unacceptable, but all of the mechanisms are in place.

Bush still thinks we can win the war in Iraq. He is still claiming that his horrible war that has got horribly out of hand is necessary to protect us from The Evil Terrorists.

Dr Rice claims that when Iraq “emerges as a country that is a stabilising factor, you will have a very different kind of Middle East.” I find it hard to believe that she actually believes that, but, then again, Dr Rice is an academic Sovietologist, not a practical Arabist.

A Jew and a Palestinian go for dinner in a Lebanese restaurant… The food was great and the conversation was challenging. Something we agreed on was that Middle Eastern culture is not the same as Western culture. As much as some people would like to think that we are all so much alike, we simply do not have the same values, morals or perspectives. Your average person in Iraq, for example, couldn’t give a shit about freedom and democracy. Neither is in his history, neither is in his tradition, neither is in his experience and neither fits into his culture.

And we agreed that you simply cannot impose democracy. That is a paradox.

Therefore the war in Iraq is pointless (aside from the oil, obviously). No matter what happens, Iraq is not going to emerge as a democracy and it is not going to stabilise anything. If The Amerika stays in Iraq, we will continue to be a catalyst for violence and we will be sending more of our own men and women to die pointless deaths. The claim that we need to improve the situation before we can leave, that we can’t “cut and run,” is crap. We are never going to be able to make it any better. The only way we can improve the situation in Iraq is by leaving – and the sooner the better.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Max loves the bureaucrats

An sms sent from Max’s phone Wednesday night at about 6.30:

“Just for your amusement, a report after the živnostenský úřad: if I had had a semi-automatic weapon in my hands, they’d all be dead. Luckily I had Kuba with me and he remained calm. I nearly cried. For real. We achieved neither success nor failure, just an ascent to a new and higher level of absurdity.”

I had gone to the Czech embassy in Bratislava on Monday to turn in an application for a new visa based on my trade licence (živnostenský list). The Czech Republic has a rule that you have to apply for a visa from outside the country. It’s perfectly logical that I should go from Prague to Bratislava to submit my paperwork because, you see, what they do in Bratislava once they are sure that my application is complete, is send it from Bratislava to Prague for processing. And then – get this – when my visa is ready, they will send everything from Prague back to Bratislava so that I can again travel from Prague to Bratislava to pick it up. That must make sense to someone.

I thought that things were finally looking fairly good. It had taken literally a year to get things straightened out with the trade licence office, the financial authority, the social insurance office and the health insurance people – all prerequisites for my visa. I went into work on Tuesday morning feeling pretty proud of myself.

There was some communication with the embassy in Bratislava on Tuesday – just a minor complication with my application that was all straightened out by Wednesday morning. But then on Wednesday at 16.22 I received a fateful email from the embassy informing me that the printed version of my trade licence I had submitted was over 180 days old and I would need to submit a new one.

It did not seem like a serious problem. Kuba had already been on the phone to the trade licence office in Prague 3 to find out what I would need to do and what documents I would need to show in order to change my registered address from Prague 5 to Prague 3. (Since I moved over a year ago, I thought it might be time to make it official.) Kuba had talked to a very nice lady who had said that it would be no problem at all. But suddenly it was an urgent mission, so we left our office at 5 o’clock to go to Prague 3.

I should not have gone. I am usually polite, but generally only when things go my way. I hate bureaucracy, I abhor having to jump through official hoops, and I have no patience for the stupid people that always work in government offices. But because we had gone by tram, Kuba couldn’t tell me to wait in the car.

All I wanted was to officially change my residential address, and I had the requisite notarised statement from my landlord. Then I wanted them to print me a new piece of paper so that I could send it to Bratislava. Easy, right?

The woman was perturbed that I did not currently have a valid residency permit in my passport. Kuba and I explained that I had submitted an application in Bratislava and they just wanted a more recent printout of my trade licence. The woman was perturbed that my trade licence had been issued without an expiration date. I explained that I had had permanent residency when I got it. The woman was perturbed that I had had permanent residency in the past, but didn’t have any residency at all now. I explained divorce. The woman didn’t understand, she didn’t know what to do. She wanted to cancel my trade licence that is good forever because I no longer had permanent residency. She went to talk to her colleague in the next room. The colleague didn’t know anything either.

I begged Jakub to make the woman see reason. Not that he hadn’t been trying.

We went back and forth and round and round and I was just getting angrier and angrier. And frustrated. I don’t hide my feelings well. At one point I just figured I was never going to get a visa or anything, and I threw my folders down onto the table. It was frustration, and not aimed at anyone, but the woman took it personally.

Kuba, bless him, remained calm and cool and smiley and friendly for the entire 30 minutes we were there. He had the presence of mind to ask about the woman’s supervisor. She had already left the office but would be in tomorrow so he left his card for her and took hers. Finally we left.

And as soon as we got outside, Kuba started swearing and he was as angry as I was and as disgusted by the woman’s stupidity and lack of sympathy and unwillingness to help us. I was surprised - he had been so perfect inside the office.

And nothing was solved today – the supervisor was no help at all. In fact, she seemed to be as totally clueless as her worker bees. Tomorrow we try a new strategy – appealing to Bratislava.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Max was away

Vianoční trh v Bratislavě

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

How the story ends

I woke up this morning just before 6 o’clock (not on purpose, obviously). I looked at my phone and immediately wondered what had gone wrong with the mission because the screen said “15 missed calls”. But I quickly determined that those calls were actually part of a different story, which I will not go into here.

About 10 minutes later, I received a text message from A.

He was so nice, did not even look at the money, and handed me the becherovka saying that he couldn’t take it! I am so happy and relieved. This was worth getting up so early! Radim & you especially have made my day!!

Radim was the conductor’s name.

As I later told A. in an email, I actually found it very satisfying to have achieved something in the “old” way. It may have been time-consuming, but then so is making bread by hand (also v satisfying).

And A. took the time to explain to me why she needed Kolja. I found it interesting, so here are A.’s words.

for the second year in a row i am teaching about communism and postcommunism in central&eastern europe to a group of american students on a semester-long exchange program - figuring that 1) students would die of boredom if i lectured at them at every single class, and 2) a picture (or many) is worth a thousand words, i put three films on the syllabus: man of marble (poland, soc-realism), kolja (czech republic, transitioning), & goodbye lenin (germany, nostalgia).

and no film shows late communism and the revolution into postcommunism better than "kolja"!!

And there you have it - a story with a happy ending.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Max's Monday Mission

A. had called me while I was in Paris, so I knew what I would have to do after work today. Sure enough, there was an email waiting for me this morning informing me that she had not been able to solve her problem in Kraków, and she would indeed need me to step in.

A. is a professor of sociology at the university in Kraków. She teaches Polish students in Polish and foreign students in English. For reasons unknown to me, she was planning on showing a Czech film to foreign students in a class tomorrow. On Friday, A. had discovered that her dvd of the film with subtitles in English was missing. She had another copy of the film, but it had only Polish subtitles. She searched high and low, calling every dvd place in Kraków, and even some in Warsaw, trying to locate a copy of the film with English subtitles. No one had it.

A. saw two options. The first was to watch the film with Polish subtitles and take it upon herself to provide simultaneous interpretation into English. The second was to have a dvd with English subtitles purchased in Prague and sent to her. The only friend in Prague A. felt she could ask to do such a thing was Max. As providing simultaneous interpretation would be difficult and exhausting, A. much preferred the second option.

As a result of our phone conversation on Friday, A. knew that I would not get back to Prague until very late on Sunday night, and I would only be able to do something on Monday. She formulated a plan, and sent it to me on a self-destructing tape – actually, in an e-mail. My mission, should I choose to accept it, was to purchase a dvd, take it to the overnight train that goes from Prague to Kraków, and entrust it to a conductor. A. would meet the train in Kraków, give the conductor some money for his trouble, and collect the dvd.

My first thought was that this was going to be a goddamn pain in the ass. My second thought was that I needed to look at it differently and treat it as an important mission that would actually be fun. I chose the second perspective.

I checked the train timetable on the internet at work. The train was departing Praha hlavní nádráží at 20.55, which gave me plenty of time. I talked to Kuba about my mission, to get a Czech opinion as to whether a conductor would accept the package. He said, “Well, 20 years ago for sure, but I don’t know about now. Take some booze for the conductor.” I spoke to Jono about it over email, and he suggested that perhaps if a conductor wouldn’t take it, a traveller would. All good advice.

Upon leaving work just after 18.00, I went straight to Bontonland, where I knew they would have the dvd I needed. They did. I made my purchase and then went to a supermarket where I bought a half-litre bottle of Becherovka. Then I went to Jáma to wait until it was time to go to the station.

I texted A. to inform her of my progress to that point. I took out the envelope I had brought with me, and wrote her name, the station, and her phone number on it. I drank a small beer, read my book, and talked to some people I knew. Then it was time to go for the only part of my mission that could possibly go awry. I made my way to the station.

I watched the departure board until the platform number came up. The train was not yet there, so I had to wait a few more minutes. The train pulled in at about 20.35, so I had loads of time before it would be leaving. I located a sleeping car that was going only to Kraków rather than on to Warsaw. There were two conductors standing outside. I didn’t know if what I was going to ask was kosher, so I would have preferred only one conductor, but I didn’t have a choice so I went for it.

I turned to the younger of the two conductors and told him that I had a request. I explained that I had a small package for a friend in Kraków and that she would be at the station and that it was just a dvd, as opposed to anything dodgy. I took the dvd out of the unsealed envelope to show him. His only question was if she would be giving him some money at the other end. I said that yes, she would give him some money. I also informed him that it was very important because she needed it for a class tomorrow. He agreed to take the package. I showed him that A.’s phone number was on the envelope just in case. He said, “In case she oversleeps?” I said that she would not, that she would certainly be at the station. He reminded me that the train would be getting into Kraków głowny at 5.47. I assured him that A. would be there.

And then I said that there was something else and took the bottle of Becherovka out of my bag. He asked if that was also for her, and I said that no, it was a gift for him to thank him for his trouble. He said that he couldn’t accept it. I said, well, please take it anyway. If you don’t want it, my friend will be happy to have it. I hoped by saying that that he would take it for himself. He then accepted the bottle, so I will find out tomorrow whether or not he eventually passed it on to A. I confirmed the number of his wagon with him and got his name.

The conductor took the package inside the train, I texted A. to give her the crucial information, and I left to go home, proud of a job well done.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Max is away
I am posting this early because I have to leave my house at 4 a.m. on Thursday to catch a 6 o'clock flight.
Happy birthday to me!

Monday, December 04, 2006


On today’s episode of Jackass, Gwyneth Paltrow earns her stripes as the latest spoiled American celebrity twit to put her foot right into her mouth.

Gwyneth Paltrow is an accomplished actress. Her husband Chris Martin is an amazing musician. They named their first child Apple. Whatever. I think that’s a pretty stupid name, but it’s not my style to criticise a personal choice of people I don’t even know. Neither am I a celebrity worshipper, but I have always had some kind of respect for Gwyneth Paltrow.

Until today, when I read excerpts from an interview Gwyneth Paltrow did with a Portuguese newspaper. Some of the quotes may have been taken out of context – I know that can happen – but it still seems that she talked absolute shite. Let’s take a look at some of Gwynnie’s remarks.

Gwyneth said:

I love the English lifestyle, it’s not as capitalistic as America.

Max responds:

What are you, a fucking socialist? Is your problem capitalism, or did you actually mean to criticise our consumerism? Either way, you are an ignorant twat. Do you ever go down to Oxford Street at the weekend? Do you have any idea how much debt the average Brit has? Do you have any idea why? Yes, Gwynnie, that would be capitalism and consumerism – no less amongst your beloved limeys than amongst your reviled compatriots back home.

Gwyneth said:

People don’t talk about work and money, they talk about interesting things at dinner.

People talk about interesting and mundane things everywhere. If you are at a dinner and the conversation is dull, perhaps you should look at what you are contributing to it instead of making sweeping - and stupid - generalisations.

Gwyneth said:

I like living here because I don’t fit into the bad side of American psychology.

Max responds:

I won’t even pretend to know what you mean by “the bad side of American psychology.” I never shot up my high school either.

Gwyneth said:

The British are much more intelligent and civilized than the Americans.

Max responds:

You really are an idiot, aren’t you? Generalisations are dangerous, blondie. Civilized? You have obviously never been out in Nottingham on a Saturday night. It gets pretty rough. You have, however, proved your point about intelligence. Thanks for setting a great example for all of us.

On the subject of Madonna (the pop star, not the mother of God), Gwyneth said:

She's like an older sister. Everything I have gone through, she went through ten times worse and ten times longer. She gives me good advice about how to say no and take care of myself.

Max responds:

Guess what, Gwynnie? The limeys don’t like Madonna either. They just ignore her and hope that she’ll eventually fuck off back to New Jersey.

Anyway, I know you are being slammed all over the press and all over the internet for your stupid comments. Good. Maybe you’ll learn something from all of this, for example that spoiled, over-privileged, conceited egoists that think they are better than the rest of us should keep their fucking little mouths shut. I suggest you lie low and avoid doing any interviews for a while. Or have your larynx removed.

Friday, December 01, 2006


Salvador Dalí: Persistence of Memory

I just saw this headline: “Studies say chemotherapy causes brain damage.”
I immediately thought of Adam.

Adam was diagnosed with a brain tumour in December of 2001. The doctors did everything they could, but Adam died 2½ years later. He was 32.

At different times during his treatment, Adam had brain surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and I don’t know what else. I don’t know which of those things, or what combination, caused the brain damage, but he had brain damage. He found it difficult to read, he couldn’t concentrate on anything for more than a few minutes, and his balance and coordination were damaged. And he lost his memory.

One day, I don’t remember exactly when, or even whether I was in Prague or Guildford at the time, Adam called me.

Max, it’s Adam.

And he told me how he had lost his memory and how he was piecing it back together person by person and that Dan had just talked about me and Adam had remembered me. Now Adam wanted help remembering Prague and the places and the people that we had in common. Adam was completely unashamed and honest.

I don’t remember much, Max. But I remember that we worked together and I remember that you were a lot of fun to be out with.

I think we talked for about 45 minutes. Adam asked me questions about our office and the people and who sat where. He asked me how we had met, and he remembered that we had stayed out till 4 a.m. the night before his first day at work. We talked about the places he knew in Prague, where he had lived for only 3 or 4 months before his diagnosis, and the people that he had just been getting to know. It was a beautiful conversation because I could hear the joy in Adam’s voice as more and more pieces fell into place and he got a bit of his past back.

I don’t think about Adam that often anymore. It’s nice to get a bit of my past back too.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

E pluribus recta

Sometimes I am amazed at the facts I can pick up whilst wandering semi-aimlessly through the labyrinth of knowledge and fantasy that we call the interweb.

Today I learned that E pluribus unum is no longer the national motto of The Amerika. E pluribus unum, for those few of you who may not speak Latin, means “From many, one,” and it originally alluded to the uniting of the 13 colonies to create The Amerika. The motto was first selected in 1776 and features prominently in the Great Seal of The Amerika.

As a motto, E pluribus unum is very cool. I like the fact that it is in Latin because I am a geek. I like that besides reflecting the beginnings of The Amerika, the motto reflects the diverse plurality of our contemporary society. I like that it is all-inclusive.

In contrast, our current motto sucks. “In God We Trust” has been the official motto since 1956, although it first appeared on coins in 1864. The slogan “In God We Trust” was made up as a reaction to pressure from obsessed Christians during the Civil War. And as a theory, I would guess that it became our official motto in the 1950s as a reaction to the godless atheism of those pinko Russkie commies. Which is, as you probably know, also how a reference to God got into the Pledge of Allegiance.

I came to the topic of mottos today when Crooks and Liars led me to Pam’s article about the new US $1 coins. It seems that both mottos, the cool Latin one and the creepy superstitious religious one, are going to be engraved on the sides of the new coins instead of the front or back. Much like British £1 coins have their varying inscriptions around the edges. And, guess what – the Christians are pissed off that the reference to God is not going to be as obviously visible as it is on our other coins. You can read their whining here.

I know that the US Mint doesn’t give a shit what Max thinks about the coins, but here we go. You should remove the reference to God completely. You are alienating atheists, and you are alienating people who do believe in God (or whatever), but find it vulgar that you continue to associate God with money. Hasn’t it ever dawned on you that the association is in extremely poor taste?

That’s it. I don’t really care what the money says or where the words appear. As far as I’m concerned, the new dollar coins could say “FUCK OFF WORLD” right across George Washington’s forehead. Oh, and by the way, the new coins might not be worth very much by the time they get into circulation next February.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Twin Terrors

This post is not an attack on Jenna and Barbara Bush. I understand that most 25 year old girls are a bit stupid, and it’s not their fault that their dad is the worst “president” ever. I cannot explain the secret service’s disinterest in protecting the girls, but it seems that they don’t hold the wellbeing of their charges as a top priority. I would also like to add that everything in this post is hearsay.

The news has offered some entertaining stories about the Bushettes in Argentina over the last couple of days. There was the handbag that was stolen under the watchful eyes of the secret service, alleged nudity in hotel corridors (according to an Argentinean tabloid), and reports of further episodes of lax security. There was also the rumour, later denied, that the US embassy in Buenos Aires had requested that they leave the country.

Every time I see a headline about a Bushette, I am reminded of one of the stories I heard when Jenna was spending a summer in Prague. She was staying at the ambassador’s residence, and the lads of the Marine Security Guard detachment at the embassy were often recruited to accompany her out. I knew several of the marines that were here back then, and I heard the following story from a few of them.

Some of the Marines were out in a bar with Jenna, and the boys were explaining to her that only half of them could drink at any one time. Even when not on guard duty at the embassy, they were on call and at least half of them had to be stone cold sober. After the boys had completed their explanation, Jenna thought for a minute and then asked, “What do you do with the other half of your drinks then?”

For real.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Saturday, November 25, 2006


I have just watched a clip of Richard Dreyfuss on “Real Time with Bill Maher” over at Miss Mickey’s blog, Future Corpse. To use Miss Mickey’s words, Richard Dreyfuss’ words are “powerful and inspiring”. To me, Dreyfuss’ message was about taking personal responsibility. Here is some of what he said.

The clip started off with Dreyfuss pointing out that a fundamental problem is that we, the people, don’t really know what’s going on as far as what our government is actually doing and the reasons they have for their actions. He reminded us of something Dan Rather had said, that the press does not ask certain questions anymore. Dreyfuss expanded that to include the people, stating that we do not ask questions of our government.

Maher questioned whether people know anymore what civics is.

Drefuss defined civics as, “learning of the tools of maintaining a republican democracy.”

He pointed out that it was an idea held by the founding fathers that the people are sovereign. He then spoke about the problem of “who whispers in the sovereign’s ear,” which he defined as “Rupert Murdoch, the guy who owns Viacom and the guy who owns ABC.” And, of course, we don’t know if they also have their own agenda.

But back to personal responsibility…

“Unless the society stands against certain things, they will have endorsed certain things, like torture, leaving the Geneva Convention, and lying to the Congress about the reasons for war.”

Dreyfuss mentioned that the legislative and judicial branches of government have dropped the ball, that they are not doing “their duty” to keep the executive branch in check, to keep the president’s powers within a limited scope. Which will be even more dangerous for the future than it is for the present.

…and then back to civics and personal responsibility…

“You can actually learn the constancy of curiosity and the constancy of outrage. You can learn that it is okay to keep asking the questions and to be dissenters. And if you don’t, if you’re not taught it, then you don’t know it. But we owe ourselves and the United States that we will pass off to our children to relearn the tools of reason, logic, clarity, dissent, civility and debate. And those things are the non-partisan basis of democracy, and without them you can kiss this thing goodbye.”

I have nothing more to add.

The clip and Miss Mickey’s words are here.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Get your kid out of my face - I’m not interested

A funny thing happens to people when they have children. First, they consider that their new baby is the centre of the universe and the most exciting thing ever. That’s great. But then some parents take that a step too far by forgetting that their baby is merely the centre of their universe, and other people just aren’t really interested.

I have been excited by a few babies in my lifetime: my own Little Sister, my nephews and my niece, and the babies of a few close friends. That’s it. Babies just don’t do it for me. I think they generally look like cabbages for about 6 months, and they don’t do anything even remotely entertaining for at least a year. I don’t ask other people if I can hold their babies, and I don’t stop to admire babies in their prams. I don’t volunteer to baby-sit and I don’t change diapers.

Today I saw a headline on the Huffington Post that said: “Mothers Protest Airlines with Nationwide Airport Nurse-In”. Cool, I thought, I like protests in airports, so I went on to read the Washington Post article: Mothers Rally to Back Breast-Feeding Rights.

In spite of my non-fascination with babies, I am all in favour of breastfeeding. So as I read the article, I was waiting to be offended on behalf of breastfeeding mothers everywhere. Imagine my surprise when I found myself instead offended by the mothers, and specifically by the breastfeeding mother who had been escorted off a plane, thereby inspiring the protests.

First, the “baby” she was breastfeeding was not a baby. The Washington Post story had said only “toddler”, but looking round I found the kid was 22 months old. Yuck. But more importantly, the flight attendant involved in the incident had not told the mother that she could not breastfeed, s/he had merely asked her to cover up.

I would have done the same.

The protesting ladies say that breastfeeding is “normal” and “natural”. So it is, ladies, but so are masturbation and having sex. We don’t participate in either of those activities on airplanes, now do we? Certainly not without covering up!

I do accept that breastfeeding is good for babies. And I guess some women like having their nipples sucked raw several times a day. I completely support the right of women to breastfeed on airplanes. BUT I DON’T WANT TO SEE IT!!!

I don’t care how natural it is, I don’t want to be forced to look at your brat sucking your tit. Okay? Got it? Go ahead and breastfeed, but cover up and be discreet. The rest of the world is not enthralled by your child or your bovine motherhood rites.

Thank you.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Draft Again

Okay, so this morning I was reading stories about Rep. Charles “Insanity” Rangel and his 2nd proposal for a military draft. I had read about it yesterday, but as the general consensus was that Rangel’s proposed legislation wouldn’t go anywhere, I was not inspired to write about it.

Then today I came across a story on ABC News about the current high school drop-out epidemic.

A recent study by the Department of Education found that 31 percent of American students were dropping out or failing to graduate in the nations largest 100 public school districts.

The article doesn’t mention the military as a consequence of dropping out of school; it discusses only poverty, crime and shortened life span in that context. But I can make that leap myself. The poverty draft has come up on these pages before. And it is well-known that the military will take recruits without diplomas and with the promise of a GED (high school equivalency exam).

This all got me thinking further. I remembered that the US confers citizenship as a reward for military service. And then I wondered if military service is ever offered as an alternative to jail time or criminal prosecution. It was easy enough to find an answer because it is a real issue. According to, courts did sometimes offer the choice of jail or the military during the time of the Korean and Vietnam wars. But the military’s current recruiting regulations forbid accepting such cases. If they are following their own rules, which is doubtful.

“There’s no way to recruit within the rules and be successful.” – a recently retired army recruiting-station commander. (as quoted in Vanity Fair, September 2005, see Max.)

But “Insanity” Rangel says, “I don’t see how anyone can support the war and not support the draft.” And Senator John McCain wants to substantially increase the number of US troops in Iraq. And I am very sorry because I don’t believe in the incoming Democratic Congress and I do believe that the future is uncertain.

I found an interesting article on CNN, of all places. It’s all about how we are already ready for a draft. Of course, Selective Service. According to the article, 93% of men between the ages of 18 and 26 have registered, as required by law.

And then it’s all would we, wouldn’t we… well, this is how we’ll do it if… (kind of O.J. Simpson style, I thought).

Basically, if we do raise troop levels in Iraq or start a war somewhere else, we will need a draft. The only way to avoid a draft would be to significantly raise volunteer levels. Volunteer levels “surge” when The Amerika is attacked. Two examples: Pearl Harbor and 9/11 – both attacks that the government could have prevented, but chose not to. Hmm, makes you think…

For a detailed outline of “What Happens in a Draft”, see the Selective Service website.

Friday, November 17, 2006

CNN's Offensive Pig

White people campaigning for Keith Ellison

I finally had a chance today to watch this clip on Media Matters. It has provided another point for the long list of reasons why I hate CNN.

The clip is CNN’s Glenn Beck interviewing Keith Ellison, the first Muslim ever to be elected to Congress.

Actually, it is not an interview at all – perhaps that came later. The clip is mostly Beck’s disclaimer, in which he prefaces his ridiculous ‘non-accusation’ with statements along the lines of, “I have Muslim friends, I have been to mosques, I love Muslims.” All stupid declarations that warn you that he is about to say something exceptionally idiotic. And then he did.

“I have been nervous about this interview with you, because what I feel like saying is, ‘Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies.’…I’m not accusing you of being an enemy, but that’s the way I feel, and I think a lot of Americans will feel that way.”

Very much to his credit, Ellison handled the ‘non-accusation’ well, responding in an intelligent and controlled manner, and without becoming defensive. Perhaps he was seething on the inside. I would have been.

Glenn “Offensive Pig” Beck may as well have said, “Sir, you are not white and you are not Christian. What gives you a right to sit in the House of Representatives?”

And Beck obviously had not done his homework. Ellison has been open and forthcoming about his religion and what it means for him in a political context. A quick google search turned up these quotes from May 2006:

“I think it’s time for the United States to see a moderate Muslim voice, to see a face of Islam that is just like everybody else’s face. Perhaps it would be good for somebody who is Muslim to be in Congress, so that Muslims would feel like they are part of the body politic and that other Americans would know that we’re here to make a contribution to this country.”

“My faith informs me. My faith helps me to remember to be gentle, kind, considerate, fair, respectful. But I don’t make my faith something that other people have to deal with.”

Beck also made the statement that Ellison’s district was “heavily immigrant with Somalians”, and went on to imply that Ellison had only won his seat in Congress because his district is Muslim. I did not find information as to how many Somalians live in Minnesota’s 5th district, but I did find here that the population of the district is only 23% minority. What this means to me, is that some of the people that voted for Ellison must have been white and non-Muslim.

Beck made a complete arse of himself. His comments were nothing more than a blatant and shameful display of racism and ignorance. Not really surprising on CNN.

* Keith Ellison quotes from The Hill.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

O.J. Simpson – What a Cunt

On the 27th and 29th of this month, those of you in The New Amerika can watch on TV as the murderer O.J. Simpson describes how he killed Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman in 1994.

O.J. Simpson: If I Did It, Here's How It Happened – brought to you by Fox Television.

Now, if I had killed my ex-husband* and got away with it, the last thing I would do would be to describe to the world how I had actually done it. I would keep quiet, continue my charade of innocence, and not draw attention to myself in hopes that the world would eventually lose interest and leave me in peace. And even more so if I had children because I would want them to be left in peace (the poor motherless things).

But not O.J. Simpson, because he is an absolute cunt. His 2-part television interview is timed to coincide with the release of his book, If I Did It** (for which he was reportedly paid $3.5 million).

O.J. Simpson stood trial for murder and was acquitted. Practically all of the evidence had pointed to his guilt, but the jury was too star-struck or too retarded or too something to reach the correct verdict. Or maybe it was that the prosecutors had fucked up. Or the judge. Or that the investigating policeman was a racist. Who knows. Maybe Simpson’s book will also offer a theory on that. But because Simpson was tried and acquitted, he cannot be tried again for the same crime.

“…nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb…” – Article V, Bill of Rights.

So Simpson is protected by the law against “double jeopardy” as he was protected by his right to trial by jury and as he is now protected by his right to freedom of speech.

You go, O.J. I hope your children hate you.

* I did not kill my ex-husband; he killed himself.

** Published by HarperCollins. Fox and HarperCollins - both owned by News Corp, the company founded and controlled by that amoral neo-con arse-licker Rupert Murdoch.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

More on 9/11

I was over at Stop the Lie yesterday where I found an article about a symposium that had taken place at UC Berkeley on Saturday. The all-day event, called Lifting the Fog was dedicated to examination of the destruction of the World Trade Center through real science and use of the Scientific Method.

This is exactly what I am talking about. I know people think I am a whacked-out conspiracy theorist. Fine – use whatever label you want. But the participants in the Lifting the Fog symposium are real scientists who have done real research and have found evidence that conflicts with The 9/11 Commission Report.

Lifting the Fog does not claim that the neo-cons were behind 9/11, or that aliens hijacked the planes, or that Osama bin Laden is hiding on Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas. What Lifting the Fog does say is, ‘Here is our evidence. It does not match with the “official” story. We are calling for a wider investigation.’

Through the story on the symposium, I found the Journal of 9/11 Studies, an online collection of articles “covering the whole of research related to 9/11/2001. One of the editors of the journal, Steven Jones, is one of the key people from Lifting the Fog. As a well-respected professor of physics at BYU, Dr. Jones represents the high level of science behind these projects.

As I said when I reviewed Loose Change, and it bears repeating here, “the only fact is that we don’t know what really happened on 9/11.

Meanwhile, the other Max has ordered copies of the 9/11 Commission Report for us and we are both also reading alternative theories of what happened and we are starting the Max2 Think Tank. We’ll figure things out eventually. Anyone care to join us?

Lifting the Fog’s own website is here.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Change afoot?

I have been asked for my reaction to the outcome of this week’s elections in The New Amerika.

When I woke up on Wednesday morning and heard on the radio that the Democrats had taken over the House of Representatives, I thought that was better than if they had not. When I got home last night and heard that Donald Rumsfeld had resigned, I got a bit more interested. And then this morning when I woke up, I heard that Jim Webb had won the senate race in Virginia and so the Democrats had taken over the Senate too. That brought a smile to my face.

However, I find it hard to believe that there will be any substantial changes in policy in Washington. The only reason that Democrats look good is that we compare them to Republicans, who are mostly slimy, corrupt, power-hungry, immoral, loudmouth liars. But Democrats too vote in favour of laws that go against our Constitution. Democrats too are interfering with our rights as free people.

I have twice written about the Military Commissions Act of 2006:
Overwhelmed and bewildered…again, and
Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Überpresident.

Keith Olbermann has also spoken out strongly against the Military Commissions Act, although his videos that I had linked from here have been removed from YouTube “due to terms of use violation.”

Today I am not going to write about the Act itself, only about how many Democrats voted for it.

In the House of Representatives, 34 Democrats voted “aye” and 7 registered a “no vote”. In the Senate, 12 Democrats voted “yea”. Therefore even if the balances in both houses had already changed, the Military Commissions Act would still have gone through.

I’ve got another one for you: the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act of 2007. Hidden in there is a provision that revises the Insurrection Act and basically repeals the Posse Comitatus Act.

Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont had this to say about it:

“It also should concern us all that the [Act] includes language that subverts solid, longstanding posse comitatus statutes that limit the military’s involvement in law enforcement, thereby making it easier for the President to declare martial law.”

For a complete analysis that should scare the shit out of you, I recommend this article by Frank Morales.

And here are the numbers. In the House of Representatives, 168 Democrats voted for the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act of 2007. In the Senate, the Act passed by “Unanimous Consent”.

Is anything going to change in Washington because the Democrats are now the majority in both houses of Congress? I really doubt it, but I would love to be proved wrong.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Darwinian Demo

Survival of the fittest - I remember learning that term in grade school. I have been fascinated ever since by the concept that it represents, and I love seeing it at work. I am a big fan of the Darwin Awards.

Imagine my delight this morning when my eyes hit upon this headline: Woman fatally bitten by snake in church. Please, I thought as I clicked on the headline, don’t let it be a cleaning lady finding a snake under a bucket. I want to read about crazy bible thumpers who speak in tongues and believe in George W. Bush and the Rapture. My atheist prayer was answered.

Kentucky. East London Holiness Church. Snakes handled as part of religious worship. Crackheads.

But I learned something. I had known for a long time that some people play with venomous snakes in church, but I never knew why. According to the Yahoo! news story, it says in the Bible that a true believer will have the ability to “take up serpents” without coming to any harm. I wondered where in the Bible, and even which Bible.

A quick Wikipedia search gave me all the answers I wanted, including the history of snake handling and the passage at Mark 16:18.

They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

So now that this woman has died of a snakebite, should we expect that the rest of the congregation will learn something and leave off with the snakes? Apparently not. According to Wiki, a bite is explained by the fact that the woman’s faith was not strong enough or that she had sinned or that God was sending a message.

Good work, Darwin.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

In satura veritas

In satire there is truth. From The Huffington Post:

“So tomorrow is the big day. That’s when we go out and vote for a bunch of people who we think are going to suck less than the last people we voted for. But come on, let’s be honest -- even the new people we’re voting for are eventually going to suck just as much -- if they don’t already.”

These are the opening sentences of a very funny blog by Josh Jennings. Whilst the rest of the blog made me laugh a lot, it was clearly written as satire – in contrast to the opening lines, which, though tongue-in-cheek, are just the plain truth.

There are many reasons why I have not voted since the presidential election in 2004. One is that I believe that our elections are no longer free and fair (see my post of Sunday, 5 November below). Another is that it is one of the ways in which I can demonstrate my belief that our system of government is not legitimate, i.e. by not participating in it. A third is that I am not sure if absentee ballots are ever even counted. I know my vote for president is not counted in the state of California because the results are always decisive before postal votes are (or would be) tallied.

But my main reason for not voting can be expressed exactly how Josh Jennings put it. All politicians suck. Democrats might be better than Republicans and Libertarians might be better than both, but comparing politicians is like trying to rate whose shit smells less. You really just don’t want to be sniffing at any of it.

Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
- Lord Acton’s dictum (1887)

Monday, November 06, 2006

Max’s Time Travels

Welcome to another episode of Max’s Time Travels. Today, boys and girls, we travel back in time to August 1974. Are you ready?

But let’s start in the present. This morning I was reading a story about a hidden camera investigation at Orlando International Airport. What the investigation found, surprise surprise, is that TSA-Fatherland Security workers are inefficient and don’t know how to do their jobs, and that Aviation Authority workers are blind morons.

I think we have all noticed unattended bags in airports. My reaction to an unattended bag is instant suspicion, which is obviously a result of having spent a lot of time in Israel. If I see a bag which appears to be unattended, I will first look around for the idiot who left it there – he is often easily recognised by the gormless look on his face. I will speak to him and admonish him and command that he stay with his bag.

If I cannot spot the bag’s owner, I will speak up and ask in a loud voice whose bag it is. If no one claims the bag, I will report it straight away to an airline or security worker.

In contrast, TSA and Aviation Authority workers paid no attention at all to bags left unattended at the airport in Orlando, including one left for an hour just outside the Aviation Authority Office.

But I am not going to write about how pathetic some airport workers are, with their imagined authority and overall uselessness. And I am not even going to write about Rep. John Mica, Chairman of the Aviation Subcommittee, whose reaction upon being told of the bag that sat by itself for one hour was, “It doesn’t bother me – did it explode? That doesn’t pose a risk.”

Because I promised you time travel, so here we go…

The same article explains why one might need to be concerned about unattended bags: “Bombs in several airports, including Los Angeles (1974), Frankfurt (1985), Seoul (1986) and Algiers (1992) took multiple lives and injured scores of people.” I read that line and did a double-take. Los Angeles? 1974? I never knew about that. So I did some research (this is the going back in time part).

It was easy to find what had happened. A bomb had been left in a coin-operated public locker in Terminal 2, between the Pan Am and Korean Airlines counters. It exploded on the morning of 6 August 1974 at 8.10 PDT.

According to the Los Angeles Fire Department Historical Archive, the bomb killed 4 people and injured “at least a score”. According to Wikipedia, 2 were killed and 17 injured. According to the NBC Evening News, 2 were killed and 39 injured (Vanderbilt University’s Television News Archive).

It took quite a bit longer to find out who had placed the bomb, and I finally found that on msnbc. It was the Alphabet Bomber, which was something that finally sounded familiar to me. The Alphabet Bomber, as he had been named by the media, was a Yugoslav immigrant named Muharem Kurbegovich, who called himself “Aliens of America”, although he acted alone. For details of his other activities, see the link above.

Kurbegovich was arrested on the 21st of August 1974.

I was 8 years old in 1974 and I was away at summer camp at the time, which would explain why I had never before known that the airport in my hometown had been bombed that August.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Free and Fair?

If you are American and you still think that we have free and fair elections, then you are either ignorant or delusional or you have been living as a hermit in the forest for the past decade or so.

Some of the stories have eventually become mainstream news, so we have all been made aware of problems with electronic voting machines, long lines at the polls, and discrimination based on race, age or socio-economic status. But many people still do not want to admit that these sorts of things can happen in the United States of America.

Well, folks, get your heads out of your butts because voting problems are rampant in The New Amerika. Today I found an article in Mother Jones entitled Just Try Voting Here: 11 of America’s Worst Places to Cast a Ballot (or Try). In the article, Sasha Abramsky presents a list that is not exhaustive, but is representative of the problems with the polling systems in many of our states. The cases that Abramsky highlights are not merely suspected, hypothetical or alleged. In fact, they are all documented obstructions that are proven to keep people from voting or voting effectively.

I will not repeat or summarise what Abramsky has written. Please follow the link above and read the article for yourself.

The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything. - Josef Stalin

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Cheney, you're a dick

Insurgents in Iraq have not increased their attacks in order to influence US mid-term elections. They are not “very sensitive to the fact that we’ve got an election scheduled.” In fact, the insurgents in Iraq couldn’t fucking care less.

Guess what, you moronic dinosaur, insurgents in Iraq have increased their attacks because they hate Americans and they are really pissed off, which is thanks to your regime’s bullshit war on terror and the subsequent illegal and immoral occupation of their country. Why don’t you try to tell us again how they hate us because we are free?

The insurgents don’t give a rat’s ass about elections in The New Amerika because they don’t see a difference between red state and blue state, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Green, whatever. All they see is The Enemy. Attacks will not subside if the Democrats become the majority in the House.

And I see what you are doing with all of your talk about how the terrorists are using the internet. I know your regime would really like to have exclusive control of the web. It all goes with the Orwellian Ministry of Truth your slimy mate Rumsfeld is setting up over at the Pentagon.

Here’s what Dick said on Fox News:

“There isn’t anything that’s on the internet that’s not accessible to them. They’re on it all the time. They’re very sophisticated users of it.”

Well, hello, you ignorant cretin, everything on the internet is accessible to everyone everywhere all the time (except where repressive governments interfere, much as you would like to). And even schoolchildren are sophisticated users.

Dick just likes to throw things out there and scare some people. He would like you to believe that if you don’t vote Republican, things in Iraq will get much worse and terrorists will be on your doorstep by morning.

He wants you to believe that his regime must control the internet in order to keep the terrorists from getting and disseminating information. And you’ve got no problem with that until you realise that you won’t get to use the internet freely anymore either.

Dick wants you to believe a lot of things that are nothing more than twisted lies.

If you believe Dick, we’re all fucked.


Newsflash: Pentagon to open Ministry of Truth

Wanted for immediate employment: fiction and fantasy writers, no experience necessary, training will be provided. Membership in any neo-con or other right-wing organization an advantage. Equal opportunity employer; liberals and anarchists need not apply.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Fatherland Security in action

I feel safer today. I have had news that Fatherland Security intercepted a dangerous package as it travelled between New Jersey and New York. The package contained one document of three pages, printed in standard toner on paper. The paper may have been recycled or may have been of differing sizes, which would of course have been reasonable cause for suspicion.

The package originated in New Jersey, having been sent as a scan from the London office of a US law firm. The ultimate intended recipient of the package was the firm’s New York office. That is like sending something to yourself, which is definite cause for suspicion. But luckily Fatherland Security stay on their toes.

Now you may be wondering, as I did, what the three-page highly questionable document was. This is pretty shocking, so please make sure you are sitting down. Page one was a Companies House* form which had been signed in New Jersey and needed to be sent back to England via New York. Page two was a piece of paper bearing the address of Companies House. And page three contained a single paragraph listing security.

I don’t know what the consequences might have been if that package had got through. We are living in such dangerous times.

Come on then - three cheers for Fatherland Security and The New Amerika.
Sieg heil! Sieg heil! Sieg heil!

* Companies House is the office that maintains the commercial register for England and Wales.

Thanks to J for the story and his assistance.