Tuesday, May 30, 2006

How to pass a drug test

One of the things that has changed in The America since I left 14 years ago is drug testing as a standard prerequisite for employment. I don’t know what the percentage is in terms of jobs that actually require a prospective employee to pass a drug test, but I consider drug testing a fascist practice – with the obvious exception of jobs like airline pilot or bus driver. I understand that many Fortune 500 companies, for example, are requiring drug tests for people who are going to do nothing more potentially dangerous than sit behind a desk at a computer.

Luckily, Americans are often clever and resourceful people (again, I don’t know the percentage), and many strategies for beating drug tests have been discovered. It’s late over here in the Czech Republic, but before I take a codeine pill and go to bed, I just want to share with you one article that I found tonight upon researching the subject. It is entitled “Fooling the Bladder Cops” and is a fairly comprehensive collection of information on how to beat drug tests.

During a job interview, have you ever been asked to urinate for your new employer? New applicants for many of the Fortune 500 corporations are now being forced to take a drug test. In fact, 15 million will be tested this year. Drug by-products can be detected in urine, blood, hair, external residue, and even perspiration! Drugs aren't the only things they test for; employers are using urinalysis to test women for pregnancy. Pregnant women are getting laid off or denied employment after taking such a test. Parents are spying on their children. The DOD Directive requires the military to screen all active duty members annually. If you don't want to be a victim of the drug war, this text will help you. If you are well known, this text may protect your reputation. I strongly recommended that drug users (pot smokers in particular) read this. Other drugs are covered as well, but marijuana is the main focus of this paper.


Anonymous A-hole, good luck with your test tomorrow. I really hope you pass.

Spackers Я Us

Last week I was checking my spelling of the word ‘spacker’ – I don’t remember why, and I came across a great big definition on wonderful Wikipedia. Here is an excerpt:

“Spaz” products

Many products in America use the word Spaz as part of their name because of the American connotation to energy and excitement.

A caffeinated lipbalm created by a police officer is called "SpazzStick."

An energy drink is called "Spazz Juice" and has a slogan, "all the energy you need to annoy everybody else."

"Spaz-Stix" is the company that produces high end remote control car/plane paints. If you want the most energetic exciting paints, you would purchase "Spaz-stix."

If you are in The America, you might not know why this is so funny, but the terms ‘spacker’ and ‘spaz’ are totally unacceptable in the UK – see Wiki for an explanation, the US/UK differences and how Tiger Woods got into trouble with an innocent comment: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spacker.

* * * * *

Last night at about 00.30, I was lying in my bed, wishing I could get comfortable and fall back to sleep. Suddenly I heard a ruckus in the hallway outside my flat. It sounded like someone was having a great deal of trouble getting into the flat next-door. I heard a key turning, I heard swearing, I heard a door being pounded. Then the noise stopped. Then it started again. When this happened the third or fourth time, I decided I would have to get up.

I opened my front door and saw an exasperated looking young woman. “Do you need some help?” She explained that she was locked out, that the landlord had installed a new bolt lock, had not given her a key because she is moving out in a few days, and told her not to use it. It seemed that somehow when she had left just a few minutes before to let some friends out downstairs, the lock had engaged itself and now she couldn’t get in.

“You’d better come into mine and we’ll ring the landlord.” His phone was off, as one might have expected in the middle of the night.

The young lady was very upset. “What am I going to do? My phone is inside, I have nothing on me, I need to pack.”

“Well, it looks like you are going to be sleeping on my couch.”

“Really? Are you sure? That is so nice.”

“Well, what else am I going to do? Leave you to sleep out in the hall?”

The young lady accepted a glass of water and the bedding that I gave her. We had a little chat and then she asked me if I had any contact lens solution. I gave her two shot glasses and her choice of tap or bottled water. Then she stayed up for hours reading my Vanity Fair magazines.

I gave her a cup of tea in the morning and then the landlord came over and rescued us both.

Max falls apart

an anonymous spine (not Max's)

I have always lived by the simple rule that if you don’t go to the doctor then no one can find anything wrong with you. I have therefore only gone to the doctor in times of greatest need, i.e. debilitating pain for which drugs are essential. Even in the case of pain, more often than not I have taken someone else’s drugs or got the doctor to prescribe drugs without actually seeing me.

Until today. After last year’s broken back (see “Max on drugs” – 30 June 2005) and then my recent two back episodes in the space of one week, I went to the doctor in hopes of being given some exercises or physical therapy or a referral to a chiropractor. But no, the doctor (an associate of the Jester, but not the Jester himself) sent me to the hospital for x-rays. He also looked at my self-imposed drug regimen, which I had of course recorded, and not only did he approve, but he asked me if I needed more of anything. I got more codeine to replace what I had taken from AG. It looks like I might be getting prescriptions for more of everything else when I go back for the x-ray follow-up.

I got home and took the x-ray doctor’s diagnosis out of the envelope with the pictures of my spine. Needless to say, medical Czech is not my language speciality, so the translation was slow and painstaking. Then there is the problem that I don’t understand the English either. The good news is that my spine is straight and my bone structure is fine. The bad news is that I have Schmorl’s nodes, signs of spondylosis, and chondrosis in my L5 vertebra. Hooray! – more things of which I have never heard.

Next stop: Google. What did medically ignorant people do before Google and Wikipedia?

Schmorl’s nodes: herniations of the intervertebral disc through the vertebral end-plate. The disease is self-limiting and usually does not require extensive treatment. Usually due to trauma.

Spondylosis: spinal osteoarthritis; a degenerative disorder of which aging is the primary cause.

Invertebral (osteo)chondrosis: a degenerative process of the spine characterized radiographically by the presence of vacuum phenomena, disc space narrowing and reactive sclerosis of the vertebral body. Also due to aging.

AG had said everything would start falling apart as soon as I turned 40. Why did she have to be right?




Saturday, May 20, 2006

Quote of the day

Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former. -- Albert Einstein

The Beggar's Opera

Václav Havel

Last week, I took Carol and Mike Brady to Švandovo divadlo to see a production of Václav Havel’s Žebrácká opera – “The Beggar’s Opera”. While productions at Švandovo divadlo are in Czech, they have a screen above the stage that shows titles in English. If you go to the theatre and you need the titles, sit in the balcony for the sake of your neck.

As we were leaving the theatre, Carol asked me some questions about the play and when and how it had been produced, given the context of Havel’s standing as a dissident. I could not answer her questions, so I promised to do some research and write a brief report. This is that report. I have included background information about Václav Havel in case other people are not familiar with his history.

Playwright Václav Havel had been part of the movement pressing for political reforms in Czechoslovakia from the 1960s. After the Warsaw Pact invasion that ended the Prague Spring of 1968, he was given the status of “banned” writer. He then became an even more active and vocal political dissident, was imprisoned several times (the first time in 1977), and continued his subversive and heroic activities up until the Velvet Revolution in 1989.

“The Beggar’s Opera” - not an opera - is a comedy, a political satire and an explicitly damning commentary on totalitarianism. Havel wrote “The Beggar’s Opera” in 1975. He adapted the play from a ballad opera of the same name that had been written by John Gay in 1728, which explains why the play is set in London and why the characters have Anglo names. Havel’s play was circulated as samizdat (illegal underground literature) and first performed in the Prague suburb of Horní Počernice on 1 November 1976. Havel was so feared and persecuted by the authorities that when “The Beggar’s Opera” had been staged, the police began harassing other people just for going to see it.




On the Language Debate

Language is another one of those issues that won’t go away. As someone with an advanced degree in Applied Linguistics, I am always angered by the sheer stupidity and ignorance displayed by policy makers in this area.

Like so many other issues, why do politicians think they are qualified to make any decisions at all? They don’t know anything about sociolinguistics, bilingual education, immersion education or first and second language acquisition theories. They don’t know anything about historical linguistics or the ways in which languages develop. The overwhelming majority of our lawmakers cannot speak or understand a second language. Perhaps that is why they are afraid of people who can.

Everyone who lives in The America should speak English – this I agree with in theory, but only because it is to the advantage of the individual. But if an individual chooses not to learn or speak English, that is his right. If immigrants do not ensure that their children speak English, that may be stupid and shortsighted, but it is also their right. Millions of Americans exercise their right to be stupid and shortsighted every day, after all.

Children of immigrants that speak a language other than English are an incredible educational and future economic resource for The America. I watched this Fox News video this morning, in which Michelle Dallacroce, founder of Mothers Against Illegal Aliens, demonstrates the collective stupidity of our country. Linda Chavez, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, had just remarked that we need to have a way for people to enter the country legally because 2 million new jobs per year are being created. Ms Dallacroce’s comment to that was, “What jobs do the women and the children do that we have to have them here other than their children's job is to dumb down the American children and overpopulate our schools?”

I am not sure if her remark means that Ms Dallacroce would be happy to have foreign guest workers in The America as long as they left their families at home, or that she wants to clean the toilets at Burger King herself. Yes, we have terrible problems in public education, but they can hardly be blamed on the children themselves.

I am a proponent of bilingual education. Before you argue with me about how it doesn’t work, let me make it clear that I am not talking about the feeble attempts at bilingual education that have been made in the public schools. I am talking about real immersion bilingual programmes taught by teachers who are actually bilingual themselves and properly trained to do the job right (i.e. MA or other qualification in bilingual education). This would not include teachers who have an elementary teaching credential and happen to speak another language – that has been tried and it does not work.

In my model, you have a classroom with (i) a properly trained teacher and (ii) children who are, in roughly equal numbers, native speakers of the two languages that are being used in the classroom. By the time they finish their primary education, all of the children will be equally skilled in both languages in speaking, listening, reading and writing. It has been done in private schools and it works. For this model, by the way, we need children of immigrants and we need not only tolerance, but also support, for the use of languages other than English.

The world does not end at the borders of The America. The America needs commerce with other countries. The America needs people who speak Spanish, Chinese and Russian. According to The Independent, there are 336 languages currently in use in The America. I think we need to make greater use of some of them.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Checkpoint Carlos

So we are building a fence and sending national guard troops to protect our southern border. The reasons given include to keep illegal aliens out and to hinder the drug trade.

First question – if we need to keep illegal aliens out so badly, why are 12 million of them being offered the chance to stay in our country?

Second question – why are we militarising a friendly border?

In the country where I live, borders will be taken down soon – when the Czech Republic joins the Schengen Agreement, for which they are now preparing. That means that when I drive to Germany, I will only know that I am crossing the imaginary line when I see the sign saying Willkommen in Deutschland.

The last border I walked across was the one separating Israel and Jordan. That was a lovely Iron Curtain experience. I was questioned by the Israelis on my way out, harassed by their security on the way back in and then interrogated on and off for 45 minutes before they finally let me back into the country. (Keep in mind that I am a Jew and I speak Hebrew.) In between the Israeli checkpoint and the Jordanian checkpoint was about 200 metres of no man’s land across which we had to walk. It was closed in on either side by hugely tall fences with barbed wire at the top. Or perhaps it was razor wire. An interesting experience certainly, but not a comfortable one. Is that what the US is aiming towards?

In answer to my first question above, we do not need to keep the illegal aliens out. In fact, we need them inside the country to keep the economy going. I am from California, where the agricultural industry is dependent on migrant workers.

The answer to the second question is much more sinister. The militarization of the border is the not so subtle next step towards martial law. The guardsmen (and women) will be there not to keep aliens out, they will be there to keep US citizens in or, at the very least, to control our movements. Just like the government’s mission to collect information through domestic spying, they are not being open and honest with their motives.

My oldest nephew is 16. Will he be able to get out of the country before he is drafted to fight in Bush’s crusade? I have my doubts.

Small steps, my friends, but they are getting bigger and more brazen, and leading in a wrong and very dangerous direction.

On online dating

I first tried online dating a few years ago when I was in law school and all the boys I knew were 10 to 15 years younger than me. I just wanted the chance to meet men of a more appropriate age. The online thing worked in the sense that I went on actual dates, once even more than one with the same person. But it did not work in the sense that most of the men I met online seemed painfully ordinary, a couple were extremely dull, and I was certain that several of them were not, in fact, single (I only went out with one of those). Within a couple of months, I got bored with the whole thing and stopped playing.

4 nights ago, on a whim, I registered on a Czech dating site. I got frustrated looking at the site’s dumb profile questions, like “Do you shave your legs?” and “Is the condition of a man’s teeth important to you?” but luckily you don’t have to answer all of the questions to get into the action. I hadn’t realised this was going to happen, but as soon as I submitted my registration, my profile went straight to the top of the online list and the messages started coming in.

I was only on for about an hour but it was very interesting.

I got an offer from a young man in Plzeň who said that he would come over anytime for no-strings sex at my convenience and at no charge. He does parties too. There were a couple of other emails proposing just sex, but that is not what I am after. I am a girl and I hang out in bars - finding sex has never been the problem. I have determined that my actual problem lies in finding an interesting man who is not an emotional retard. Nothing against emotional retards, you understand, many in my own close social circle are emotional retards. Yes, including me. Anyway, that is why I have gone online.

I met an Italian man that could barely write in Czech or English so who knows what he was hoping for. Poor thing must be horribly lonely.

A couple of men were very predictable in their approaches.
“Would it be presumptuous of me to ask you for English lessons?”
“Well, yes, actually it would.”
As if I would register on a dating site so I could teach English to men who are too cheap to pay for teachers.

One guy sent me an opening message that said nothing except, “Do you like Zappa?” Well, at least he hadn’t asked for English lessons. Another man wrote to me in English, which was rather sweet.

And there was this other guy whose user name was a character out of a Kurt Vonnegut book so we had something to really talk about straight away. We exchanged photographs. Neither of us was disappointed so we continued to chat. I have already determined that he is age appropriate and literate, and I think it is fair to assume that he is heterosexual, but of course I don’t know if he is actually single.

Online dating seems to have a lot of advantages. You can chat to several people at once, you can shut someone out as soon as they start to annoy or bore you, and you don’t even have to brush your hair or put on make-up.

I think I’ll go back tonight.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Last weekend in Roma

Fontana di Trevi

Il Vittoriano & Colonna Traiana (photo by kd)

Musei Vaticani

Foro Romano

I have written a complete narrative so if you want it, please email, call or text me, or leave a message here. The version with photos is 808 kB. Let me know if you would rather have a text-only version.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

On Immigration

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she

With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

- Emma Lazarus 1883

Friday, May 12, 2006

Sir! No Sir!

Please watch

  • this video
  • and send the link to any kids you know.
    I have already sent it to my nephews.


    Spying, Short-sightedness and Stupidity

    Headline in today’s Boston Globe: Most put security ahead of privacy. The article contains asinine quotes like, “I have nothing to hide, so I don't have a problem with it. If it's for the security of the country, it's OK with me.”

    First, what makes idiots like that so sure that the spying is for the security of the country? I have news for you, mate – collecting information as to what numbers people call is not doing anything for the security of our country. And then how do you know you have nothing to hide? Do you think you know what those collecting the information are looking for? Do you know how that information will be used in the future? Have you ever read George Orwell’s 1984? Seen Terry Gilliam’s Brazil?

    More importantly, do you know what is in the 4th Amendment to our Constitution?

    Americans are not supposed to be about giving up liberty for an empty promise of security. The Ben Franklin quote has appeared so many times on these blogs that we probably all know it by heart, but here it is again:

    They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

    My phone calls have been recorded and it is likely that some of my emails have been read. I have nothing to hide either, but that is not the point. The Bush administration is operating outside the law, which is the point. Stupid, short-sighted Americans are saying it is okay for the government to shit all over the Constitution, and that is the point too.

    I hate clichés but here’s one for you: Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile. Watch the neo-cons go for it. I, for one, am not prepared to give up one fucking millimetre without a fight.

    Update: ABC News/Washington Post poll released today. 63% of Americans say collecting phone records is acceptable. Report here - http://tinyurl.com/mzodd

    Tuesday, May 09, 2006

    A really random email from Jarda's mom

    Ahoj Max, posílám Ti moc hezký pozdrav.
    Max, mám na Tebe jednu prosbu. Učím u učebního oboru pekař a narazila jsem tam na určitý problém. V textu závěrečných zkoušek je požadováno popsat výrobu Macesů. Já podle slovníku cizích slov zjistila, že se jedná o židovský velikonoční nekvašený chléb. Neznám ale složení surovin,ani jak se vyrábí. Nemohla bys mi poradit?
    Zdravím tě Ivana
    P.S. pokud by předpis byl v angličtině tak nevadí, ve škole by mi to přeložili.

    Hi Max, I send you very warm greetings.
    Max, I have a request for you. I am teaching at a school for bakers and I have come across a special problem. The final exam asks the students to describe how to make matzah. I found in a dictionary of foreign words that it is referring to Jewish Easter unleavened bread. I don’t even know what the ingredients are, let alone how to make it. Can you help me?
    All the best, Ivana
    P.S. It doesn’t matter if the recipe is in English, I can have it translated at school.

    So I sent her a recipe for matzah, but without all the extra directions about how to make sure it is kosher for Passover. And a link to the matzah photo above.

    Lockerbie Revisited

    Dark Elegy
    a memorial to the victims of the Lockerbie bombing by Susan Lowenstein

    On 21 December 1988, I was about an hour outside of Heathrow on a flight from the US to London when, at a few minutes past 7 pm, I saw a flash in the distance to the north. When the plane I was on had landed safely and we were disembarking, I heard one of the ground crew say something about a plane crash. I mentioned it to my friend who met me at the airport, but she had been on a bus down from Oxford and so had not heard anything about it. When we got back to her house in Oxford, we turned on the tv for the news. Almost straight away they were reporting that a bomb was suspected.

    There was a 3 year joint investigation by the Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary and the FBI which led to the issue of murder indictments in November 1991. It took sanctions against Libya and long drawn-out negotiations with Colonel Gaddafi before the two accused men were handed over for trial in the Netherlands in April 1999. In January of 2001, the trial came to an end with one conviction and one acquittal. Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi was sentenced to a minimum of 27 years in prison. 14 months later, Megrahi’s appeal was refused and 16 months after that, his application to the European Court of Human Rights was declared inadmissible.

    Wikipedia has a comprehensive article which gives all of the details, including the Helsinki warning and the three possible motives for the bombing.

    Yesterday www.stopthelie.com listed a story from Scotland on Sunday of 28 August 2005, which begins:

    A FORMER Scottish police chief has given lawyers a signed statement claiming that key evidence in the Lockerbie bombing trial was fabricated.

    The retired officer - of assistant chief constable rank or higher - has testified that the CIA planted the tiny fragment of circuit board crucial in convicting a Libyan for the 1989 mass murder of 270 people.

    The article goes on to claim that the US and the UK had known all along that the perpetrators of the crime were not the Libyans:

    The first suspects in the case were the Syrian-led Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command (PFLP-GC), a terror group backed by Iranian cash. But the first Gulf War altered diplomatic relations with Middle East nations, and Libya became the pariah state.

    Following the trial, legal observers from around the world, including senior United Nations officials, expressed disquiet about the verdict and the conduct of the proceedings at Camp Zeist, Holland. Those doubts were first fuelled when internal documents emerged from the offices of the US Defence Intelligence Agency. Dated 1994, more than two years after the Libyans were identified to the world as the bombers, they still described the PFLP-GC as the Lockerbie bombers.

    A source close to Megrahi's defence said: "Britain and the US were telling the world it was Libya, but in their private communications they acknowledged that they knew it was the PFLP-GC.

    "The case is starting to unravel largely because when they wrote the script, they never expected to have to act it out. Nobody expected agreement for a trial to be reached, but it was, and in preparing a manufactured case, mistakes were made."


    I could not find anything more recent in The Scotsman specifically about the Lockerbie case. However, the case is mentioned in connection with questionable evidence-gathering practices by Scottish police, which were uncovered and then covered up at the time of the Lockerbie trial. And I have noted that in the article presented here, there is a reference to Iranian-backed terrorism. The Lockerbie case may be revisited after all.

    Friday, May 05, 2006

    Max is away

    Thursday, May 04, 2006

    Thoughts on Divorce

    Stephy had been waiting a long time for her divorce to come through when it became final on Tuesday. Outwardly she was ecstatic and went for drinks with some friends to celebrate. But yesterday she emailed me to ask if it was normal to feel funny about the whole thing, which made me remember how I had felt almost 7 years ago when my divorce became final.

    First of all, it was completely anti-climactic. All of the emotional investment and the stress of wondering if I was doing the right thing were long past. The biggest thing had been making the decision to leave in the first place and then gathering the courage and emotional strength to actually do it. By the time the divorce process came to a close, there was no strong emotion left, only a lingering sadness.

    Jarda and I had travelled up to
    Česká Lípa together by bus for our court date. We were both still registered as living up there and there was not a long wait like there would have been for the Prague courts. It was not long after I had ruptured my calf muscle and I was still on crutches. The court thingy was so fast that it was almost surreal. Jarda and I went to lunch together and then got on another bus back to Prague and said goodbye at the bus station.

    I had arranged to meet some friends for drinks at Red Room that afternoon. I objected to the gathering being called a divorce party because I didn’t feel it should be a party. I wasn’t really celebrating, it was more that I was in need of the support of my friends, or maybe just their company. I had only asked girlfriends to come, but at the end there were more men than women because the boys had known where I would be and that there would be girls there. Although they did say that they wanted to make sure that I was all right.

    But this is the thing I told Stephy. The divorce was a positive thing, to get your freedom back completely when the marriage hasn’t worked out. But the problem is that by getting divorced you have to give up an ideal that you have probably held most of your life, and a belief in yourself that you would get it right the first time, that you would be able to make a marriage work. It is like shattering a dream to let that ideal go. And then there is the matter of having been very much in love at one time with the person you have just divorced. It is sad, just like any break-up, but a different sadness because it is also the end of such a very long process. And it is so very very final.

    Yes, Stephy, my love, it is good to feel funny about the whole thing. I think there would be something wrong if you didn’t.

    Gearing up for the World Cup

    4 years ago I sat with my German colleague in the garden at Jáma, where we were amongst mostly Americans, and watched the US squad lose to Germany in the quarter-finals of the World Cup. There was only one other German in the crowd of about 30, and the two Germans celebrated their own victory, but also graciously congratulated the Americans on getting so far in the tournament.

    Europeans are pretty snobbish about football (soccer) and think that the Americans work hard, but that football is not really our sport. I think they’ll be in for a surprise this year.

    The US team has qualified for its 5th straight World Cup tournament and is now ranked 4th in the world by FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association – the international governing body of football). Football is stronger in Europe than in North America, but a lot of our players play professionally in Europe.

    The squad for this year’s World Cup has just been announced. This is what it looks like:


    Kasey Keller - Borussia Mönchengladbach

    Tim Howard - Manchester United

    Marcus Hahnemann - Reading


    Chris Albright - LA Galaxy

    Carlos Bocanegra - Fulham

    Steve Cherundolo - Hannover 96

    Jimmy Conrad - Kansas City Wizards

    Cory Gibbs - ADO Den Haag

    Eddie Lewis - Leeds United

    Oguchi Onyewu - Standard Liege

    Eddie Pope - Real Salt Lake


    DaMarcus Beasley - PSV Eindhoven

    Bobby Convey - Reading

    Clint Dempsey - New England Revolution

    Landon Donovan - Los Angeles Galaxy

    Pablo Mastroeni - Colorado Rapids

    John O'Brien - Chivas USA

    Ben Olsen - DC United

    Claudio Reyna - Manchester City


    Eddie Johnson - Kansas City Wizards

    Brian McBride - Fulham

    Brian Ching - Houston Dynamo

    Josh Wolff - Kansas City Wizards

    The US is in Group E for the first round of the World Cup tournament. This is the schedule:

    • 12 June v Czech Republic in Gelsenkirchen
    • 17 June v Italy in Kaiserslautern
    • 22 June v Ghana in Nuremberg

    I hope that some of you lot in The America will watch our team in the World Cup next month. It promises to be a very exciting tournament and this may just be our year.



    Wednesday, May 03, 2006


    From Respekt, which has an English language page with a quirky summary of news from the previous week’s issue: “The Czech Republic maintained first place on the list of Europe countries with the most theft in shops.”

    I never knew the Czech Republic had this honour, and this new knowledge solves a mystery going back 14 years. Those of you who live here (or have lived here) know exactly what I am talking about – the unsmiling old ladies in smocks that stand around and do nothing but watch you like hawks every time you go into a shop. Not a jewellery shop, mind you, or an expensive clothes shop, but your local grocery store or drug store.

    Last time I went into my local supermarket, which is barely worthy of the name, I noticed one of the watcher women having a chat with a customer she obviously knew. As I walked by her and made eye contact, I smiled and she changed her expression to one that said in no uncertain terms, “Don’t try anything funny, I’ve got my eye on you.”

    On another occasion, my mobile phone rang and I began a conversation in English. As all Praguers know, nothing raises suspicions in a shop more than a foreign language the watchers don’t understand. Except perhaps the presence of gypsies, but that is another story.

    Yesterday I walked down to the corner drugstore, which is smaller than my flat, and I consciously wondered about the presence of the uniformed security guard.

    Now I know.


    Tuesday, May 02, 2006

    Max goes to the bank again

    It all started early last month when I wanted to transfer some money from my Czech account to my US account so I could pay my bills back in The America. My bank in The America, which is an investment bank, allows me to transfer money directly into their Czech account in Prague, thus making the transaction simpler and saving me international transfer fees. I had never done it myself before, as my old employer had been paying me directly into that account for visa reasons which I think I have described in an earlier post.

    I tried to do the transaction through internet banking, but the system would not accept the account number. I realised straight away that the number I had been given only had 9 digits, whilst Czech account numbers always have 10. I tried adding a zero at the beginning, but I again got the error message. I tried adding a zero at the end – again, the error message. I emailed my bank in The America, asking them to find the missing digit for me. Many emails back and forth and they were no help at all, always insisting that the number they had given me was correct.

    Meanwhile, my dad covered my bills for me so there was no hurry because all I had to do was pay back my dad – no strict due dates, no late fees, no interest.

    I emailed my Czech bank and they could only tell me that the account number did not exist in the banking system. Finally, just today, I gave in and went into my bank and withdrew cash. I then walked over to the other bank, where my US bank’s account is, in order to physically deposit the money. I filled in the deposit slip and did not say a word to the teller about any earlier problems. He looked puzzled for a minute, and I began to worry, but then he handed me my receipt and it was all done. “By the way,” he said, “you were missing a digit in the account number,” and he showed me where the extra zero belonged – not at the beginning, not at the end, but in the middle.

    I enjoyed writing the subsequent email to my bank in The America.

    Monday, May 01, 2006

    Max and the Buzzcocks

    Last night the Buzzcocks played their first ever Prague show and Max was there. Max should not have been there because she has been ill, but that is another story.

    I used to listen to the Buzzcocks way back when I was at university. I only owned one of their albums (A Different Kind of Tension – 1979), and that was a copy - on a cassette with Killing Joke on the other side. I think I still have the cassette in storage.

    Mike first told me that the Buzzcocks would be playing but it was impossible to find information about their show. Mike knew they would be playing at Futurum, but they were not even listed on Futurum’s website. Tickets for events at Futurum are usually sold either through ticketpro.cz or ticketstream.cz – neither of the two websites had the concert.

    While sitting in the garden of a pub after the Slavia-Sparta match, it was decided that we needed 8 tickets and that I would go to Futurum (because it’s near my work) and see about getting tickets from the box office there. The people at Futurum the evening I went had no idea at all about how to get advance tickets for the Buzzcocks. Tireless research led me to the show’s promoters, Ladrogang presents, a company I had never heard of – it appears that they specialise in punk. If you go to their website (http://ladrogang.wz.cz/) and click on “kontakt”, all you get are a couple of email addresses – no real address, no phone number. So I emailed and reserved 8 tickets.

    We all agreed to meet on Sunday at 19.30 at Futurum to pick up our tickets. As I turned the corner (walking over from Anděl) and was suddenly in front of Futurum, I was surprised to see that I had travelled back in time again, this time to 1977 England. There was a crowd of very hard looking punkers with mohawks of many different colours and pins and spikes and piercings – old punks who were taking themselves too seriously.

    We had not known in advance how much the tickets would cost. They were 350 Kč ($15.50, £8.50), which was a bargain to see an old classic punk band in a venue that probably holds about 300 people.

    The opening band was Plexis, a Czech hardcore band that I thought was very good. For anyone that knows Spike from law school, the bass player/lead singer reminded me of him, although just a bit spikier. There were a few moshers while Plexis were playing, and I moved to the side and up onto a step to remain above the fracas. I was still only about 8 metres from the stage.

    Finally the Buzzcocks came on. Everyone came in from the club’s other bars and the floor was packed. A real mosh pit opened up and I was very amused because it had been years since I had seen real moshing and stage-diving and everything. It was far too crowded for my tastes and, like I do every time I go to a concert like that, I reminded myself for the future not to do it again. I was glad that my friends, some of them big strong lads, were near me, and I hoped that they would back me up if I got into a fight.

    The music was awesome, although there were complaints in my camp that the Buzzcocks were playing too much new stuff and not enough of their classics. But that is what you get for going to a concert with people that know the band from way back when.

    Things I learned last night that I had not known before about the Buzzcocks:

    • They introduced the Sex Pistols to Manchester thereby starting the Manchester music scene.
    • Pete Shelley is gay. But research today has shown me that may not be the case. In Pete Shelley’s own words from a 1982 interview (with all the to-do about his song “Homosapien” being banned by the BBC):

    That the BBC thought it was a gay song is great, fantastic. I'm a sexual person, I don't bother delineating myself into homo, hetero or bi, it just depends on the person, the situation and what happens.


    An interesting fact I learned today on the internet:

    • The Buzzcocks released punk’s first self-financed record, which created the concept of independent record labels.