Thursday, June 29, 2006

The High Price of American Gullibility

An article by Paul Craig Roberts from

This excellent essay expresses a lot of the same ideas that I have expressed on this blog with the added bonus of some facts I had not previously come across. Rather than summarise it for you, here is the link. It is an enlightening read.

Don't try this at home

When global news and politics become too depressing, it is refreshing to find comic relief in the stupidity of the people around us.

Translated from

Man wanted piercing, ended up in surgery

At the end of last week, doctors at the hospital in Jablonec had to treat an unusual injury. A young man from Jablonecko who had wanted to give himself a home genital piercing ended up in the care of local surgeons. His attempt at piercing had not gone as planned. Emergency services took the young man, with a bleeding and very swollen wound, to the hospital.

JABLONEC NAD NISOU – “We had never before treated a wound similar to this one,” said Petra Krajinová, Jablonec hospital spokesperson. Doctors had to cut into the young man’s penis in order to drain the clotted blood from the hematoma. The young man should not suffer any long-term consequences as a result of the experience. His recovery, however, will not be pleasant.

“There are more and more complications due to attempted piercings. Every month we treat at least one such case. Generally, most of the cases involve very young patients, under 20 years old. I would say mostly girls,” commented Liberec surgeon Vladimír Výborný.

Doctors generally don’t want to do piercings. From their perspective, it’s just an unhealthy fashion trend.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Intimidation of the Press

the new co-operative

The leak is “treasonous” and The New York Times should be prosecuted under the 1917 Espionage Act, according to Rep. Peter King, chair of the House Homeland Security Committee. In his usual one-word way, “President” George W. Bush has called the disclosure simply “disgraceful”.

The government claims that keeping track of our banking activities is necessary for the “war on terror” (yawn). But watching bank transfers is not going to stop Ali, Ahmed and Muhammed from blowing up cars in Baghdad or themselves in New York.

The New York Times and other US papers broke the story last week: the Treasury Department has been subpoenaing information from SWIFT, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, for years. Most international bank transfers go through the SWIFT system – in fact, about $6 trillion every day.

The administration says they only go into the SWIFT database when they have specific information about a suspected terrorist. Yes, of course, just like they are only monitoring overseas phone calls made by terrorists. And just how would you define “suspected terrorist” anyway?

Before The New York Times broke the story last week, Treasury Secretary John Snow had “invited” New York Times executive editor Bill Keller to his office to try to “talk him out of publishing” the story. Snow has since claimed that letting the terrorists know that we are watching their money has put lives at risk.

Eric Lichtblau, one of the reporters who wrote the New York Times story, disputes Snow’s allegation. “This is not giving away information that is tangibly helping terrorists know what they don't already know.”

And that is the bottom line. The terrorists already knew they were being watched. The only people who may not have been aware of the bank spying were us, the American people.

VP Dick “Dickhead” Cheney thinks it is “a disgrace” that The New York Times won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting on the government’s domestic telephone surveillance programme. But Cheney has it completely the wrong way.

The New York Times and other papers have done us a great service by not allowing the government to intimidate them, and by telling us what we have every right to know. They deserve more awards.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Come on England

…or if England fail, I have decided to adopt Argentina.

Jono and Big G had just arrived at my flat. We were having a beer in the sitting room. I muttered a “sorry, but I have to do this” and turned the tv on. G smiled and settled in more comfortably, pleased that he hadn’t had to ask. It was Saturday at 17.00 and time for the Germany-Sweden match, the first game of the second stage.

We drank our beers, watched the match and talked football for a little while before heading off to the Old Town. We walked by the giant screen on the square, but had no interest in standing in a crowd of sweaty Germans to watch the rest of the match. We instead sat sipping sekt on a roof-top terrace, where we could remain aloof from the crowd but still hear their buzz.

Sekt having been sipped, we made our way to Chez Marcel for dinner. The traditional French brasserie had been transformed into a bar de sport français. So there we were – 2 limeys and a yank in the Czech Republic, in a French place run by Algerian Berbers, watching Argentina and Mexico play football in Germany on French tv.

I was 100% behind Argentina, especially as I have 4 of their players on my fantasy team. A couple of Argentinians had come into the bar wearing their country’s football colours and it seemed that everyone in the bar was supporting Argentina. The score was 1-1 after 90 minutes so the game went into overtime. Maxi Rodriguez’s winning goal at 98 minutes was stunningly beautiful. Argentina were through, and I had got points for my fantasy team.

G was dazzled by my knowledge of the Beautiful Game, but mostly because he is a chauvinist and doesn’t think girls (or Americans) can know about football. At any rate, he has promised to take me to an Arsenal match back in London. Hooray!

On Sunday we watched the England-Ecuador match in the beer garden at Riegrovy sady. England’s win, which was not pretty, means that I will get to see England play when I am in Germany next Saturday. I’ll be watching the match on a giant tv outdoors somewhere rather than in the stadium in Gelsenkirchen, but it’s all very exciting nonetheless.

Come on England!

Friday, June 23, 2006

Iran Again

Timing is everything. I heard this on BBC World Service radio this morning: The US military commander in Iraq has accused Iran of providing covert support to Shia extremists in Iraq.

And from the BBC News website: Although the US has no evidence that Iranians were operating directly in Iraq, Gen Casey said "surrogates" regularly attacked US troops.

Let’s examine the first part of the latter statement. The US has no evidence – that sounds oddly familiar. Of what else have we had no evidence? Let’s see...there was Saddam’s connection to Al-Qaeda and 9/11. Then there was WMD. And of course, we have had no evidence of criminal activities concerning most of the prisoners held in Guantánamo Bay and other illegal prison camps. There seems to be a pattern here. When I was a kid, you weren’t allowed to accuse anyone without evidence. Suspicions and hearsay were not acceptable. It is obvious those rules no longer apply – at least not to some.

Looking at the whole statement again, here is my analysis:
1. We have no evidence that Iranians are operating in Iraq (stated clearly).
2. Iranians are not operating in Iraq and/or our intelligence is still shit (inferred from statement).
3. We want to accuse Iran so we have come up with a “surrogates” theory – whatever that means (postulated from statement).

The Brits have also claimed that Iranians are training insurgents and providing explosives and other materials.

Some analysts fundamentally disagree with Gen Casey, e.g. Karim Sadjadpour of the International Crisis Group in Washington. He told the BBC that Shias have not had a big influence on the insurgency, that the outside help comes from Sunnis and Jihadis from countries like Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

The thing is, I don’t even care whether Gen Casey is, in fact, right. Knowing the truth is not going to make a difference.

What bothers me right now is the timing of Gen Casey’s accusation. What bothers me is the US’ stockpiling of reasons to attack Iran. What bothers me is the possibility that Americans may still be as gullible as we were 3 and 4 years ago in the build-up to the invasion of Iraq.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Ups and Downs of the World Cup

Yesterday was exhausting. Czech played against Ghana at 18.00 and Team USA played Italy at 21.00. I watched both games at home, kd came over to join me.

I had been out with kd and Scouseman in the afternoon, and barely got back in time. In fact, I missed the Czech-Ghana kick-off because I was downstairs in the beer store stocking up for the evening. No big deal, I thought, what’s going to happen in the first couple of minutes?

So when I turned on the tv at about 3 minutes into the match, I couldn’t believe that it was already 1-0 to Ghana. It’s history now, the Ghanaians outplayed the Czechs and won 2-0. Headline on the BBC’s website immediately after the match: Ghana stun Czech Republic. To say the least.

Interesting observation: during celebrations, i.e. when Ghana scored and at the end of the match when they had won, player number 15, John Pantsil, took an Israeli flag out of his sock and waved it around in front of the cameras. I wondered why. Just now, I googled and found what may explain the flag. From Wikipedia:

John Pantsil, né le 15 juin 1981, est un footballeur ghanéen. Il joue au poste de défenseur avec l’équipe du Ghana et le club de Hapoël Tel-Aviv.

In case you didn’t get that, Pantsil plays for Hapoel Tel Aviv football club. He has also played for Maccabi Tel Aviv. Mystery at least partially solved.

On to the next match…

Italy and the US drew 1-1. The game was a big disappointment for Italy, but somewhat of a success for the US. While the 1 point the US gets for the draw may not help the team in the tournament, not losing to Italy whilst playing a man down (9 to 10 because of red cards) was a big psychological victory. And if DaMarcus Beasley’s goal had not been called back for offside…

US goalkeeper Kasey Keller was the hero (and named man of the match). Italian Daniele De Rossi was the villain. His “sickening, needless” elbow that bloodied Brian McBride’s face was “the undoubted low point” of the World Cup tournament, according to the BBC.

The important thing was that Team USA showed that they can play at World Cup level and that making the quarter-finals 4 years ago may not have been a fluke after all. The Americans looked like a different team than the one that had lost 3-0 to the Czechs 5 days earlier.

The USA-Ghana match on Thursday should be a good one. So should Czech-Italy, for that matter.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Quote of the day

Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.
-- Charles Mackay

Thanks to kd for the quote.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Living the World Cup

I love the World Cup tournament. It is so much more exciting than, for example, the Olympics. No weird or boring sports, just the Beautiful Game. And the fact that it is in Europe this time means that the games are in the afternoons and evenings so that I can actually see most of them.

I ducked out of work 30 minutes early yesterday to meet friends to watch the US play the Czech Republic in their first match of the tournament. I had been looking forward to this game since the schedule had been announced weeks (months?) ago. I wanted to support my team, the Americans. But when Jan Koller headed in the first Czech goal just 5 minutes into the game, I did not feel sad or even disappointed. It’s not that I suddenly didn’t want the Americans to win, it’s just that I wanted the Czechs to win too.

I had been talking about the conundrum with some other American Praguer footie fans for days. What do you do when you have two countries – a native one and an adopted one (we have all lived here for a long time), and they play head to head? We wanted the US to win and we wanted Czech to win. In case you are not familiar with the game, only one team can win each match – it’s in the rules. We were not hoping for a tie because that wouldn’t do either of the teams any good in the tournament.

So this is how it played out. Koller had scored and we couldn’t be sad about it. When US star Claudio Reyna’s awesome shot hit the Czech goalpost instead of going into the net, we all groaned. But then at 36 minutes, when Tomáš Rosický scored with a breathtaking kick from 25 metres, we all cheered along with the Czechs. Rosický scored again at 76 minutes and the Czechs won 3-0. (Rosický also scored 17 points for me and I have moved up to 2nd place in my fantasy league.)

And the worst is over. It is unlikely that the US and the Czechs will meet again in the tournament, and I can support both teams in all of their matches. I also support England, but they are not on the same level for me as my top two teams so I will not feel torn and tormented if I have to root against them.

The tournament goes on… In addition to lots more football, I am looking forward to being in Germany during the World Cup. At the beginning of July, I will be visiting Olive, who lives near Dortmund. Two quarter-final matches will be played while I am there. Olive and I have already agreed that we will watch the games outdoors on the giant screen tvs that have been set up everywhere, either in her town or in Dortmund. Dortmund is one of the World Cup cities – the first semi-final match will be played there the day after I leave. And of course there is a chance that one or more of my teams will be playing that day – that would be very cool.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Suicides. Not "acts of war".

Three prisoners being held at Guantánamo Bay committed suicide yesterday morning by hanging themselves with clothing and bed sheets in their cells. The three were the first successful suicides, although dozens of “detainees” in the illegal prison camp had previously made attempts.

The US military has made the outrageous statement that the suicides of the three men, two Saudis and a Yemeni, were “acts of war”.

Anyone who has known someone who has committed suicide knows that suicide is an act of despair, not of war.* I have read Moazzam Begg’s account of being a prisoner in Guantánamo, and it is very easy to see why someone would want to commit suicide there. Moazzam Begg had help and hope as a UK citizen; I imagine that two Saudis and a Yemeni could easily have had no hope at all.

Many rights groups have made statements, all of them expressing the opinion that the men had been driven by despair.

These people are despairing because they are being held lawlessly. There’s no end in sight. They’re not being brought before any independent judges. They’re not being charged and convicted for any crime. – Ken Roth, Human Rights Watch

The Guantánamo camp commander, on the other hand, is certain that the suicides amount to war.

They are smart. They are creative, they are committed. They have no regard for life, either ours or their own. I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us. – Rear Adm Harry B. Harris, Jr

“Asymmetrical warfare”? I don’t even know what that means, unless it means that the three men were very small and powerless against the behemoth war machine that was keeping them illegally imprisoned. They were three men who were effectively stateless and therefore could not commit “acts of war” on behalf of anyone but themselves. They were being denied rights as prisoners of war so it is wrong to suddenly accuse them of committing acts of war.

Semantics aside, killing oneself in isolation cannot be an act of war, or even of terror, by any definition I know. It is fundamentally ridiculous, and even offensive, for a military commander to refer to a suicide as such.

* with the exception of suicide bombers, suicide plane hijackers, etc, whose acts can be said to be “of war”, but which sometimes also have an element of desperation.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

A piece of Bohemian history

Gabčík and Kubiš receiving medals from Dr Edvard Beneš,
president of the Czechoslovak government in exile

Last weekend, Kim and I were walking up the river and decided to stop into the Orthodox Church of Saints Cyril and Methodius, which is famous for being the site of the last stand on 18 June 1942 between the paratroopers who had killed Reinhard Heydrich and the Nazi troops who had been hunting them down. Seven Czechoslovak paratroopers died in the church, of whom two had actually carried out the Heydrich assassination. They were Jan Kubiš and Jozef Gabčík.

There is an exhibit in the church’s crypt where the paratroopers had been hiding and where four of them died. I had been through the exhibit a few times before, but this time was a little bit different.

The first thing was that I noted the address of a safe house in which Jan Kubiš had been hidden right after the assassination. None of the safe house addresses had ever meant anything to me before, but this one did because it is on my block, just 2 doors down from where I live now.

I asked the man working in the museum if they still showed the last part of the Czech film Atentát (Assassination, 1964) that depicts the siege of the church. He said that they were now only showing the film for school groups, but would we like to go up into the church? The church itself is not normally open to tourists, but he was about to take a Ukrainian church group in there.

This was where the visit got really different. The Ukrainian church group had its own guide so the museum man showed a few things to me and Kim and gave us a bit more information than was in the exhibit down in the crypt. For the first time I got to see the top side of the entrances through which the paratroopers and later the Nazis had entered the crypt. The man also explained to us further how the Nazis had found the church.

The exhibit in the crypt says only that another paratrooper, Karel Čurda, had given away the location of the paratroopers’ hideout. But the museum man told us that the Nazis had obtained only the name of the church, and they had not known that the paratroopers were there. When a couple of Nazis walked into the church to have a look round, three of the seven paratroopers were on watch in the choir loft. It was only because they opened fire that the Nazis realized that resistance fighters were there and called for back-up.

The rest of the story is well-known, that the three paratroopers who were upstairs were killed in the firefight, and that the four paratroopers down in the crypt eventually committed suicide to avoid capture. Karel Čurda was hanged for high treason in 1947.

The Heydrich assassination itself remains controversial because the Nazi reprisals, which were expected, were brutal, horrific and excessive. Over 5000 Czechs were murdered in the reprisals. The incidents that are the most infamous as Nazi atrocities are the destruction of the villages Lidice and Ležáky.

Blind to the big picture

Rupert Lees: Blind

Result of an AP-Ipsos poll: “Support the troops, but oppose the war.” The sentiment is easy to understand: “The military is our sons and daughters…” – but it is just sentiment with no rationale to back it up.

The American people want to believe that Haditha and Hamdaniya, i.e. deliberate killings of civilians, are just isolated incidents. And perhaps they are, but how many more do we need before we stop calling them ‘isolated’?

“Support the troops, but oppose the war.” How is it ‘support’ of young men and women to send them far away to an inhospitable country that is teeming with insurgents and where guerrilla warfare is a fact of everyday life? What kind of ‘support’ are they getting when they come home without limbs or with emotional wounds that go untreated? What kind of ‘support’ are their families getting when they come home in flag-draped coffins?

What kind of ‘support’ is it to send the troops back to Iraq for a second, third or fourth tour of duty? Each time they go back, the likelihood of them snapping and committing atrocities is greater. It happens to every army in every war.

“The military is our sons and daughters and, of course, we wouldn’t systematically engage in something that defiles American values.” – Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

Open your eyes, Kathleen. I find it terribly distressing that such a stupid statement could come from the mouth of the director of such a prestigious institute. But, then again, perhaps the definition of ‘American values’ has changed since 2001. This war in Iraq is defiling my American values every day. Sending troops over there to be blown up by roadside bombs defiles my American values. Killing innocent people, whether deliberately or ‘collaterally’, defiles my American values.

It is nothing more than a government and media-generated illusion that the troops are protecting freedom and democracy, it is an absolute lie that they are protecting the US. Every death, whether American military or Iraqi civilian, is nothing more than the waste of a life.

The US cannot win the war in Iraq. Democracy cannot be imposed. The US went into Iraq on the basis of false intelligence and lies. If you oppose the war, the only way to support the troops is to bring them home and stop sacrificing them to the greed of the few who are making fortunes out of the occupation of Iraq.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Max's Morning

I normally listen to BBC World Service radio in the morning whilst getting ready to go to work. I often hear things that grab my attention, but by the time I am at a computer and ready to do some research and write about them, I have forgotten what they were.

This happened yesterday or the day before, when I listened to a US ambassador being interviewed, and what he was saying and how he was saying it really rubbed me the wrong way. By the time I was ready to write about it, all I could remember was that either his first or last name was William(s), he was ambassador in a Latin American country (no idea which one) and he was talking about the “war on drugs” in a manner that was really condescending and patronising towards the government and the people of whichever country he was ambassador to. I made a perfunctory effort to find a US ambassador called William(s) in a Latin American country, but then I just gave up.

So today I made a real effort to remember things - for example, scratching the word Texas into my arm with my fingernail while I was in the shower. It worked because I can now recall 4 things from this morning’s news that upset me (aside from the mess with Arsenal and that Belgian football club).

I am not going to write about one of them, which was the revelation of another possible My Lai style massacre in addition to Haditha. As I discussed with my contact in a major media enterprise yesterday, that certainly deserves its very own post and I am currently negotiating with said contact for a guest blog.

Instead I am looking to the land of the free and the home of the brave - The America.

First stop, new New Orleans or, more specifically, the Renaissance Trailer Park, which houses 2,500 or so former residents of New Orleans. The BBC went there and interviewed some “temporary” trailer park people. FEMA erected the trailer park on the grounds of a juvenile correctional facility or, as the BBC interviewer translated it for a worldwide audience, a youth prison. The trailers are small, but FEMA has furnished all of them with large colour televisions – the opiate of the masses. I couldn’t see on the radio, but I would guess that the majority, if not all, of the trailer park’s residents are black, and it doesn’t seem like anyone is making any effort to get them out of there and back into real homes. That last part is conjecture, based only on what I heard in the interviews. I will not say that it is the government’s responsibility to get the trailer park people back into real homes, but the trailer park people seem to be waiting for the government to do something. Therefore, the least the government should do is to communicate with them and let them know they are waiting for something that is not going to happen so that they will know that they should start making things happen on their own.

Second stop, the border between Texas and Mexico. The state of Texas announced yesterday that it is planning to install hundreds of video surveillance cameras along its border with Mexico. The video footage will be broadcast live on the internet so anyone anywhere can fulfil his or her fantasy of being a border policeman/woman. Governor Rick Perry sees his plan “as no different than the neighbourhood watches that we’ve had in our communities for years and years.” But I see it more as a “spy on your neighbour” scheme, a “be a good citizen and be the eyes and ears of the police state” programme. The Electronic Surveillance Curtain – the new and improved 21st century Iron Curtain.

And the final stop for today, my home state of California. Muscle-boy Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has given in to the fascists in Washington and has agreed to send the California National Guard to the border with Mexico. The four southern border states will be signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the DC dictatorship which includes provisions on costs and rules of engagement, amongst other things. For example, Guardsmen are prohibited from handling detainees, but they are allowed to carry guns. Call me cynical, but that looks to me like they will be allowed to kill but not touch. Odd.

So, in summary, just from this morning’s BBC radio news, we have black people in concentration trailer parks, average Joes being called upon to spy for the police state and a southern border that is about to be militarised along its entire length. Nice.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Czech election blog by Petr Kutílek

The people of the Czech Republic will be voting – or not voting, as the case may be – in general elections tomorrow and after-tomorrow. Prague Daily Monitor has been publishing an election blog, which is written by political scientist and journalist Petr Kutílek.

For those of you who are interested in Czech politics and/or parliamentary systems, I have stolen Petr’s first blog entry, which is a brief and clear explanation of how things work – or don’t work, as the case may be – here in the Czech lands.

The Chamber of Deputies, and why this is the most important election in Czech politics
(22 May 2006)

The 200-member strong lower house of the Parliament is the true centre of legislative power in the Czech Republic, much stronger than the Senate, and effectively also defines the executive power. As the Czech Republic has a parliamentary system, the executive (the government/administration) is generated based on the strength of the parties in the Parliament, specifically the Chamber. After a Chamber election, the government must resign. The President usually designates the leader of the strongest party to become the next Prime Minister. Once he (you guessed it, there hasn't been a she so far, nor will there be after this election) has managed to build a coalition and has presented the cabinet's program for the term, the cabinet has to be approved by the Chamber.

Otherwise, the importance of the Chamber lies in the fact that it can overturn the vetoes of both the Senate and the President on most bills, that it exclusively decides on the state budget, and that it can question and vote on non-confidence in the government. This election is also important for another reason: In less than three years, the new President will be elected, and most likely the Constitution will not have been amended to enact direct popular election of the President. (Although most parties now claim to support the popular shift in the run-up to the election.) Under the current constitution, the President is elected by the Parliament, and the Chamber effectively prevails when separate voting in both houses fails to produce a clear winner.

The Chamber of Deputies is elected through a proportional representation system, whereby citizens vote for a party rather than a single candidate. (A two-round majority system, where voters choose an individual senator to represent their district is used for the upper house.) Within the party's list of candidates (each party has a list for each of the fourteen regions), voters can further give preferential votes to two candidates of their liking. There is a 5% cutoff threshold that a party has to cross nationwide. The 200 seats in the Chamber are proportionally distributed only among the parties that have crossed that threshold.
It matters not who casts the votes, but who counts them.
– attributed to Josef Stalin