Friday, March 31, 2006

The pen is mightier

Moazzam Begg has written a book. I read about it this morning in The Sunday Times Culture supplement of March 19, 2006 (I’m a little behind). The book is called Enemy Combatant: A British Muslim’s Journey to Guantanamo and Back.

The book review mentions that Begg had been appearing on UK talk shows to promote his book. I began to wonder if he would be appearing on any US talk shows. That line of thought led me to wonder whether his book would even be available in the US, so I checked both amazon UK and amazon US in order to compare.

amazon UK. I searched books for “Begg”. As I expected, his book was at number one on the list of “most popular results for Begg”. The amazon price, by the way, is £11.38, while the book jacket price is £18.99.

amazon US – same approach to the search. I found books by several other authors with the surname Begg, but not Enemy Combatant. Then I noticed that above the books, amazon offered me “Related searches: enemy combatant; moazzam begg; guantanamo”. I clicked on each of the related search options in turn, and was offered only books that mention one or more of those terms. In short, what I found was that the book is not being offered on amazon US.

I understand that the book may not yet be released in the US, but amazon often lists books before they come out so that they can take advance orders.

So then I decided to search Barnes & Noble – nothing. I searched – nothing. I searched the New York Times for any mention of the book – nothing. I will be very interested to see if and when Moazzam Begg’s book comes out in the US. If it does not appear in the very near future, I will be very disappointed indeed.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Lords lose the plot

The House of Lords had repeatedly refused to pass a bill which would create compulsory national ID cards, but today they caved in and approved the measure. The ID cards will be biometric - they will use fingerprint, iris and face recognition technology. The government has claimed that they will serve as a crucial defence against illegal immigration, benefit fraud and terrorism.

Researchers at the London School of Economics have estimated that the cost of the biometric ID card scheme will be at least £10.6 billion, but could actually rise as high as £19.2 billion. At the median estimate, that would be £230 per card – costs to be borne by the taxpayers, of course.

In addition to costs, the LSE study also addressed the question of whether or not the ID card scheme would be legal. The short answer is no. Certain elements of the programme “potentially compromise” Articles 8 (privacy) and 14 (discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights. There is also a question as to whether requiring fingerprints as a pre-requisite for acquiring a passport (which is tied in with the ID card scheme) is allowed under UK law.

All in all, the scheme is a bad idea. It is thought that it will help prevent certain kinds of fraud and even have some benefit for the commercial sector, but it is highly questionable whether the scheme can do anything for illegal immigration or terrorism. And it can only cause problems for civil liberties.

Once the cards become compulsory, will it mean that the police will be allowed to stop people and demand that they show their ID cards? If so, it is certain that specific groups of people will be targeted.

The UK’s last national ID card programme ended in 1952. They have managed to survive for over half a century without national ID, and the assertion that it is now suddenly necessary is preposterous. The government is seriously overstepping its bounds in trying to control its citizens. As Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat constitutional affairs spokesman, has said, the plan is a “ridiculous incursion” of the state on the individual.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Assholes with Umbrellas

Umbrellas are stupid. Why would you want to have to hold something bulky and awkward above your head when you can just wear a hood or a hat to protect yourself from the elements while keeping your hands free?

Today was the first rainy day of the year – at least the first rainy day during which I have ventured out. It has been raining steadily but lightly all day – hardly an umbrella-worthy deluge. But following are three examples of things that occurred today that illustrate what jerks people are when they are armed with umbrellas.

This morning at the tram stop, a young woman was walking with an umbrella in one hand and pulling a suitcase with the other. She was about my height, and shorter people need to be extra careful with umbrellas. But she was not paying attention and had I not pulled my head out of the way at the last second, I might have had an eye poked out by one of the spokes of her weapon. Why did she not know enough to hold the umbrella higher as she walked by me?

Walking into a building during my lunch break, a woman folded her umbrella down and then started to shake the water off it, seemingly oblivious to the fact that she was spraying water on the people closest to her.

This evening, on the tram on my way home, a man got on with a closed umbrella (it was no longer raining), and as he turned nearly stabbed me in the leg with it. Why did he not realise that one must hold one’s umbrella straight up and down rather than nearly horizontally whilst in a crowded space?

This is one of my pet peeves – that so many people, when brandishing umbrellas, become fucking retards.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Regional Comparison

On the 17th of March, the Czech press published standard of living statistics* for Central Europe. The overall ranking of the countries was as follows:

  1. Austria
  2. Germany
  3. Czech
  4. Hungary
  5. Slovakia
  6. Poland

Here is a little Czech-orientated summary of the categories as listed in the newspaper Mladá fronta Dnes:

GDP – Czech came in 3rd at 73% behind Austria (122%) and Germany (108%). Poland was last at 50% (EU=100%).

Average salary – Czech was 3rd at CZK 19,000/month; Germany was 1st at CZK 105,000/month and Austria 2nd at CZK 80,000/month. Slovakia was last at CZK 14,000/month.

Price of goods – Czech was 2nd at 68%; Poland was 1st at 61%; Austria was last at 104% (EU=100%).

Number of cars per 1000 people – Czech was 3rd at 358; Germany was 1st at 541 and Slovakia last at 247.

Size of living space per person – Czech was 3rd at 29m2.

Number of mobile phones per 1000 people – Czech was 1st at 1056, Poland last at 599.

* source: Eurostat

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Come out...

Appearing at Friends this Saturday night. Check out the Friends website:, or call Max for more details.

The Czech Glass Ceiling

The 8th of March was known as International Women’s Day in the communist world. The 8th of March 2006 is now known as the day that a high-profile lawsuit was finally brought to draw attention to the problem of gender discrimination in the Czech Republic.

In the Czech Republic, women make 25% less than men in comparable jobs and women hold only 14% of top management positions in large corporations.

Marie Čauševiç has filed a suit against her employer, Pražská teplárenská (Prague Heating), for denying her a promotion. Čauševiç is an economic adviser at Pražská teplárenská and in May 2005 she applied for the position of financial director. After the first round of interviews, Čauševiç was told that she was the strongest of the five candidates, but after the second round of interviews, the job was offered to a man.

In September 2005, Čauševiç received a letter from the chairman of the board of the personnel agency that had been engaged to fill the position. The letter said she would “always come second because of information asymmetry.”

No one involved in the case can figure out what “information asymmetry” actually means, but all of the understandable signs point to the problem of a very real (although metaphorical) glass ceiling.

While Čauševiç is convinced that she was passed over for the position because she is a woman, we will probably have to wait a very long time to find out what the court thinks of the situation. The long wait is another problem – that of the Czech judicial system, which is in desperate need of reform. The important aspect of the case for now is simply that it is getting media attention and has brought the problem of a glass ceiling to light.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Only Solutions

My only complaint about my new job (aside from the fact that I have to get out of bed every day, which is usual in jobs) has been that the coffee tastes like poo. I have mentioned the problem to the right people – wondering how they could have not noticed such a fact on their own, but no one else seems to think it necessary to invest in a restaurant quality espresso machine.

In Tomášek’s firm, making a proper cappuccino is a point of pride for the partners, while I find myself in a firm where they think the clients are only interested in good legal advice. But how can you trust lawyers who can’t even make a decent cup of coffee? (I know, I know – how can you trust lawyers? Shut up.)

My motto at some point in the past before I knew any better used to be “There are no problems, only solutions.” (Thanks to Kitty Killer for reminding me of that.) So, being that we are not getting a beautiful new espresso machine, I have to figure out why the coffee tastes like poo and what we can do about it. Why do I have to do it? Only because if I don’t, no one will and I’ll be drinking poo-flavoured coffee for the rest of my working life.

As the firm is buying perfectly decent coffee beans, I decided that the problem must be that the coffeemaker has probably not been cleaned properly in about, oh – ever. I mentioned this to the German lawyer (foreigners like to complain to each other first) and then to the Czech lawyer with whom I sit. But of course merely talking about it did not cause anything to happen.

Today when I got back from lunch I poured myself a cup of coffee. I put sugar in it, which I don’t normally do, and milk, but still it tasted like poo. And then finally the motivation hit me and I researched how to properly clean a coffeemaker. The key, as I had suspected, is white vinegar, but everyone else probably already knows that. I typed out simple directions and I have given them to my officemate who will have a word with the evening receptionist and perhaps one night this week, the coffeemaker will finally be cleaned. I’ll keep you posted.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Bird Flu in the Czech Republic

Although avian flu has already been found in birds in Austria, Germany, Poland and Slovakia, it has yet to surface in the Czech Republic. But of course the Czech Republic, like the rest of Europe, is taking precautions against the spread of the virus. This past week I found an A5 size flyer in my mailbox entitled Ptačí Chřipka: Informace pro veřejnost (“Avian Influenza: Information for the public”). I read in the newspaper the next day that the flyer was being distributed to every household in the country.

The informational flyer was produced by the Ministry of Agriculture rather than the Ministry of Health – a point from which I infer that the Czechs have not yet lost their sense of perspective on the problem.

On the front side of the flyer are 5 questions and answers.

  1. What is avian flu? The answer explains that it is a virus that affects birds, both wild and domestic, and goes on to describe the symptoms of a sick bird.
  1. What is the risk of bird flu being transmitted to people? The answer explains that the risk is low, and that people have only contracted bird flu in exceptional circumstances, meaning close and extensive contact with stricken birds. Therefore people should avoid unnecessary contact with birds as well as with their droppings and feathers.
  1. What are the symptoms of avian flu in people? The answer describes the symptoms, and then goes on to explain that the probability of any people getting bird flu in the Czech Republic is extremely low and that in the conditions here, the virus is really a veterinary problem.
  1. How does one protect oneself against bird flu? The answer is about hygiene and washing and disinfecting one’s hands if one has had contact with birds or their poo. The answer also mentions that people who work with birds may have to wear protective clothing.
  1. Should we be worried about eating poultry or poultry products? The answer is no, that birds on poultry farms are being monitored, and that one need only follow the usual rules of hygiene and cook poultry or eggs properly. The virus will not survive temperatures of 70°C or above, and the time needed at this temperature is just one second.

The back of the flyer offers six points of practical advice:

  1. If you should come across a bunch of dead wild birds, inform the veterinary authorities or a private veteran or the police.
  2. Don’t go near sick or dead birds and tell your children to stay away from them.
  3. Wash your hands regularly and especially before you eat. Cook in a hygienic manner.
  4. Don’t allow your dogs, cats, etc to be exposed to sick or dead birds.
  5. If you are going to a country with a bird flu problem, check with the European Centre for Disease Control and the Ministry of Health. Don’t visit places like poultry markets.
  6. Do not needlessly worry about consuming poultry and poultry products – note the point about letting the food reach a temperature of 70°C all the way through.

I was pleased by the flyer because I felt it was good, practical advice without any exaggeration or tone of panic. In fact, it seemed like it was meant to allay fears rather than stir them up.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

The (D)evolution of English


English no longer belongs to those of us who speak it as a native language. We do not have control over the language and we will not determine how it develops. In the world today, there are more speakers of English as a second/foreign language than there are speakers of English as a first language.

From the fleet sheet final word:

Telefónica of Spain set a record by using three languages and the periodic table in naming its local Český Telecom/Eurotel merger as Telefónica O2 Czech Republic akciová společnost. This is Spanglicz at its best! Telefónica could have reduced it to mere Czenglish by removing the acento agudo from the “o,” but this grammatical hodgepodge makes a statement. English might be the global language of business, but it’s increasingly foreigners who are setting the rules. The British Council found that communication in English sometimes goes smoother when no native speakers are present. Their superior command of the language can be a headache for those who just want to use their Czenglish, Denglish, Spanglish, Franglais or Spanglicz to get their point across. If native speakers want to remain in the boardroom, they’re the ones who will have to start making most of the language compromises.

I see this phenomenon every day in my work. Communication between Czech lawyers and a Hungarian client, for example, is all in less than perfect English. I hear my Czech colleagues speaking with our German colleague in English. I read the Prague Daily Monitor (, which is all in English, but mostly written by Czechs. And out and about in town, I hear many conversations in English in which none of the interlocutors is a native speaker. Reading Czech menus translated into English is often hilarious. There is a bakery in Prague 6 where chocolate-glazed donuts are presented as ‘darky donuts’ (one of my favourites).

Historically, English has always been influenced by non-native speakers. The earliest influences, which shaped our modern language, were brought about through invasions of Britain – the Scandinavian invasions of the 8th and 9th centuries and the Norman invasion of the 11th century. Just under one-third of our words in modern English are French.

While many speakers of other languages complain that English is invading their own languages (e.g. ‘computer’ or ‘Big Mac’), the same is still happening in the other direction. If you listen to a conversation between two Americans who live in Prague, we will use Czech words when there is no exact English equivalent. The word sídliště, for example, can be translated into ‘housing estate’ in British English or ‘housing development’ or ‘housing project’ in American English, but none of those really expresses the idea of a Czech sídliště so the word sídliště has become part of the Prague English dialect.

Some speakers of English do object to the invasion of foreign words and imperfect grammar, but there is simply no point in protesting as it is in exactly this manner that languages, including English, have always developed.

As James D. Nicoll has said:

The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and riffle their pockets for new vocabulary.

* Engrish is a Japan-based phenomenon. To see more, visit

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Same-sex unions now legal in the Czech Republic

Homosexuální svazky prošly i přes Klausův odpor

This afternoon the Chamber of Deputies of the Czech Parliament overrode President Klaus’ veto to legalise same-sex unions. 101 of 177 deputies voted for the measure, which makes the Czech Republic the first post-communist country to grant gays and lesbians some of the same family rights that heterosexual couples have traditionally had. Gay unions can start taking place in a few weeks’ time, once the law has been formally recorded.

Today is a big day in the Czech Republic for liberty and equal rights.

Beer - the Miracle Drug

Reported yesterday on CNN: beer slows the ageing process.

There is the answer for you, Little Sister – it’s not just good genes or not having children or expensive skincare products – it all comes down to beer.

In a study conducted here in the Czech Republic, doctors have found that moderate beer consumption slows aging. It also reduces the likelihood of heart attacks by increasing levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol and hindering certain dangerous free radicals.

From the CNN website:
We should note that the Czech study was paid for by a group of big Czech breweries. We should also note that Czech doctors, in an earlier, separate study, once reported that two beers a day could fight impotence.

Meanwhile, down in Austria, a study has concluded that hops affect the production of neopterin and tryptophan, making beer both an anti-inflammatory and a happiness-inducing drug.

So if you are inflammated, depressed and/or getting older – drink beer. You’ll be glad you did.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Downside of Atheism

On Friday, the Chamber of Deputies of the Czech parliament voted against making Good Friday a public holiday. That is a huge shame because we get Easter Monday off, and a four-day weekend would have been a very nice springtime bonus. One of the main arguments against making Good Friday a public holiday was the burden on the economy – Deputy Michal Doktor (ODS) said that each public holiday means a loss of 8 to 9 billion crowns.

The story in the Prague Daily Monitor compared the number of Czech holidays to the number of holidays in some other European countries. Here is the count:

Norway – 19
Spain – 18
Czech, Denmark, Italy, Portugal, Slovakia – 13
France – 12
Netherlands – 11
UK, Poland – 10
Greece – 9

While it looks like we are doing fairly well for holidays here in the Czech Republic, it should be noted that we have no Monday holiday rule and so if a holiday falls on a weekend, we lose it.

1 and 8 May are both holidays – if one falls on a weekend, so does the other. 5 and 6 July are both holidays – if they are on Saturday and Sunday, that is another two lost at once. Last Christmas, we lost the 24th and 25th of December as they were Saturday and Sunday, which means that we also lost the 1st of January. I am fairly certain that it is not possible for us to enjoy the benefit of all 13 public holidays in the same year.

Max's Photo Album

Here are a few photographs from the trip Jono and I made to see friends in Washington, DC last month.

The Potomac River, Great Falls, Maryland

On the Mall - the Smithsonian

The National Archives, where we paid homage to the Charters of Freedom

The Washington Monument

Saturday, March 11, 2006

What really happened on 9/11?

cartoon by Steve Bell

There is a petition circulating right now which calls for the government to release all kinds of evidence connected with the events of September 11, 2001. Here is the beginning of the petition and, at the bottom of this post, a link which will take you to the full text and the signature page.

“Scholars Call for Release of 9/11 Information



“On Behalf of the People of the United States of America, the Undersigned Scholars for 9/11 Truth Hereby Petitions for, and hereby demands, Release of the Following kinds of documents, video and films, and physical evidence to the public for study by experts and scholars investigating the events of 9/11:

“1. Immediate release of the full Pentagon surveillance tapes, of which five frames (only) have been released via the official ASCE report, as Judicial Watch has also requested. We further demand release of the video tape seized by FBI agents minutes after the Pentagon hit, from the fuel service station near the Pentagon, as well as any other videotape which shows the 9/11 strike on the Pentagon.


“2. Immediate release of 6,899 photographs and 6,977 segments of video footage held by NIST, largely from private photographers, regarding the collapses of WTC buildings on 9/11/2001 (NIST, 2005, p. 81). In particular, all footage relating to the collapse of WTC 7 (including shots before, during and after the collapse) must be released immediately, without waiting for the NIST report on WTC 7, which is long overdue and may be prolonged indefinitely.

“3. An explanation from Vice President Richard Cheney regarding the "orders" described by Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta in his testimony before The 9/11 Commission. Secretary Mineta stated that while in an underground bunker at the White House, he watched Vice President Cheney castigate a young officer for asking, as a plane drew closer and closer to the Pentagon, "Do the orders still stand?" The officer should be identified and allowed to testify at a deposition under oath.


To read the entire petition and to add your signature online, go to: