Monday, July 31, 2006


Marge Piercy published a book in 1991 called He, She and It (or Body of Glass outside the US). Wikipedia describes the book as a “feminist science fiction/cyberpunk novel”. Max describes it as “bloody good”.

The book takes place in the not too distant future. Wikipedia says 2059; Max doesn’t remember exactly. The world of the novel is in bad shape. Gigantic multi-national corporations have taken over the world and the environment has been devastated. Much of the world is straight out of Mad Max - devoid of law and order and extremely dangerous.

In other words, an entirely believable future.

The novel also takes place in the past as it incorporates the legend of Rabbi Löw’s Golem in 16th century Prague.

There is one aspect of the story that has always scared the bejesus out of me. Prior to the time of the narrative, the Middle East had been destroyed in a nuclear war. Maps in the year 2059 have only a black zone where Israel and its neighbours used to be.

And guess what. The world blamed Israel for starting the nuclear war. And the world did not stop there. If Israel was being blamed (rightly or wrongly), it followed that all Jews everywhere in the world were at fault. This defective logic led the world into a new age of rampant anti-Semitism.

Meanwhile, in the non-fictional world of today…

Mel “Hateful Bigot” Gibson was arrested for drink driving in LA at the weekend. It is reported that Gibson yelled anti-Semitic epithets at the arresting officer, repeatedly asked the officer if he was Jewish, and stated that “the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.” Amongst other unpleasant things.

A man forced his way into the office of the Seattle Jewish Federation last Friday and shot six women, one of them fatally. Three were taken to hospital in serious condition.

For lists of other incidents all over the world, see and click on ‘Anti-Semitism’.

Max's Weekend

I have been busy and that is the only reason I did not manage to write this past weekend. Abby V was here from the London and Free & Easy was here from Bucharest.

Cocktails and Politics

Friday night was mostly about cocktails and discussions of current events and politics. Abby V is a political journalist. The Belgian was out with us too, and he is one of the most well-informed people I know.

We had the kind of discussion that I love. Three people, three different backgrounds, three different sets of opinions, but all three well-informed, all three able to express ourselves, all three able to listen to each other, question each other and to agree and disagree calmly.

(Only three because Free & Easy was off in her own world dreaming about the rugby.)

We also had a very nice dinner and finished off with a nightcap at a bar that specialises in single malt whiskies – I had a non-chill filtered Clynelish, which made me happy.

Day of Culture

Abby V and I were determined to get some culture into our weekend. After a lovely brunch at Fraktal, we walked down to the Old Town to see the Jan Šibík photography exhibition entitled Stories. Jan Šibík is a photo journalist and Stories contains some of his most harrowing photos - Sri Lanka after the tsunami; Afghanistan, Iraq and Liberia at war; an AIDS hospice in Ukraine; Angola, Palestine and more. Amazing, beautiful, poignant photographs. You can see many of them here:

After our second coffee break, Abby V and I headed to the Mucha Museum. I had never been before and, to be honest, I wasn’t expecting much. Alfons Mucha is arguably the most famous art nouveau artist and his work is pleasing to look at, but I find that it all looks the same after a while. The redeeming feature of the museum was a film about Mucha’s life and work. Now Abby V and I are obsessed with making a trek to Moravský Krumlov to see Mucha’s defining work, the Slavonic Epic.

We then had a beer and snack break and I introduced Abby V to pivní sýr – beer cheese. Beer cheese is a soft, smelly cheese that you mix with mustard, chopped onions and beer, and then eat on bread while you are drinking more beer. Abby V liked it.

In the evening we changed our cultural focus from the visual arts to music. Abby V and I went to a jazz club to hear the Matej Benko Trio. They were fantastic and I would definitely go to see them again.

(Free & Easy was at a wedding.)


Our day of rest, of course.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

One small victory for Max

…or two small victories if you count the battle with the post lady.

The receptionist called me at about 11.30 this morning. “Max, you have post here that you need to sign for personally. Can you come downstairs now? And bring your ID.”

I told Soňa that I would bring whatever I could find. I grabbed a copy of the photo page of my passport, and my wallet.

The post lady had my envelope and the register I would need to sign sitting on the counter at reception. “Hello. Here’s my passport,” I said cheerfully as I put the photocopy on the counter.

Very predictably the post lady said, “Huh? What’s this? This is not a passport. Don’t you have your passport?”

I explained to the post lady that I don’t actually need my passport to get from Prague 3 to Prague 5 so I had left it at home. But it was her lucky day because I had the photocopy on my desk. She didn’t like any of that.

I offered her two photo driving licences – one from California and one from the UK.

“Huh? What’s this? Don’t you have an občanka?” Občanka being the Czech national ID card.

I spent the next three minutes convincing her that, where I come from, a driving licence is an občanka. The receptionists occasionally piped in to back me up.

Finally, as she mumbled something about how they would never accept a photocopy at the post office, she accepted my photocopy and let me have my envelope.

I took my letter upstairs and then forgot about it for about 40 minutes. Finally I opened it and it was actually good news.

The letter is an official declaration from the Financial Authority that I do not owe any back income tax. (I won’t say anything else on that subject so as not to incriminate myself.) I have been told that when I get similar declarations from social insurance and health insurance, we will be able to take everything to the Foreigner Police. I don’t know what happens after that.

The process of sorting out my old trade licence has been going on for about 7 months. The problem was that I had not used it since 1998 but I had never cancelled it because I didn’t know that I was supposed to. The whole thing has been superbly ridiculous and hilariously bureaucratic.

I could describe the whole exercise, Der Prozeß, if you will, as being classically Kafkaesque. The never-ending aspect of it, the unpredictability, the hoops to be jumped through, never knowing if you have done something to their satisfaction or if you will be asked to do it again, not knowing if and when the rules will suddenly change. And of course not knowing if they will suddenly take you away for execution. But I don’t describe things as Kafkaesque because that adjective is so overused in this town. An example: I read a restaurant review online in which the reviewer described the service as Kafkaesque. My conclusion was that the reviewer had never read any Kafka, but was simply a poser and a twat. The only way the service in a restaurant could be Kafkaesque would be if all the waiters suddenly turned into giant cockroaches. That never happened.

Max on the Middle East again

It appears that I may have missed the bigger picture.

I always read news on websites that are anti-war. The one-sided stories began appearing immediately after Israel started their offensive in Gaza. Well, that is not quite true – there had been anti-Israel stories before. In fact, there are always anti-Israel stories. But then with the war against Hezbollah in Lebanon, some of the views expressed have been so extremely anti-Israel that I have actually been shocked.

I am a regular reader of Strike the Root, which I would describe as a high-quality and hardcore libertarian site. One of the regular features is a reader poll. I had never been offended by anything on the site, until their poll that read as follows:

Do you think Neocons, Zionists and conservative Christians want the war in the Middle East to continue? (19-23 July 2006)

That offended me. To me the question showed a lack of understanding of what Zionists and Zionism are. To me that question was anti-semitic.

But I have continued to read all of my usual sites that are anti-war, as well as mainstream and other alternative press. And I have continued to take in as much as I can, to think for myself and to try to figure things out. Reports that “President” Bush did not want an immediate cease-fire in Lebanon made me realise that something was rotten.

“What the fuck?” I thought to myself over and over. People are being killed on all sides. Lebanon is being bombed back into its recent dark ages. Why would any rational person want to put off a cease-fire?

Why did the poll writer for Strike the Root group Zionists together with neo-cons and conservative Christians anyway?

Neo-cons are the occupiers of the White House, Project for the New American Century - sick, greedy, power-hungry war-mongers who don’t spare so much as a thought for anyone but themselves.

Conservative Christians are seemingly waiting for the Rapture, and for some reason they need all hell to break loose in the Middle East.

Both groups support Israel in their own twisted ways for their own twisted reasons. Neo-cons want to use Israel for their own purposes, just as they use the American government and the American military for their own purposes. Conservative Christians need the Jews to be in Israel in order to bring about Armageddon and their salvation party in their Christian heaven. Apparently, sometimes the two groups overlap.

Where do Zionists come into the equation? Did the poll writer mean the Israeli government? Is the Israeli government actually co-operating with people whose aims are world domination and Armageddon? What is really going on? What is the bigger picture? I, for one, do not pretend to know.

And finally, a message for Strike the Root:
Choose your words more carefully. You should learn what a Zionist is before you throw the word around. Thank you.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

A Demonstration of US Arrogance

Upon opening today’s email from Prague Daily Monitor, two headlines caught my eye.

“Czechs against proposed US missile base, says poll” and, under it,

“Cabaniss: Czechs oppose US missile base due to lack of information”.

William “Cannabis” Cabaniss is the ignorant and arrogant US ambassador to the Czech Republic.

Jaroslav Hadrava of Median, the agency that conducted the poll for Mladá fronta Dnes, agrees with Cannabis: “People do not have enough information about what the permanent presence of American units would mean for them. So worries and often fear prevail in them.”

Perhaps Jaroslav “I like to talk out of my arse” Hadrava does not know enough of his own nation’s history. Which is surprising, because Czechs have a fascinating history and most of them know it well.

The Lands of the Bohemian Crown were absorbed into the Habsburg Empire in the year 1526 and the Czechs were ruled from, and occupied by, Austria until 1918.

Czechoslovakia existed as a free and democratic republic from 1918 to 1939.

The Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia was occupied by the Nazis from 1939 to 1945.

Czechoslovakia was more or less free from 1945 to 1948, which is when the Communists took over. In 1968 Warsaw Pact forces invaded Czechoslovakia, and the Soviets remained in occupation of the country until 1989.

Czech and Slovakia have been free since 1989.

Which means that, in the last 480 years, Czechs have been free, unoccupied and autonomous for about 41 years. I think that is enough information for 83% of Czechs to rationally decide that they are opposed to a permanent US military presence on their territory.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Max against missiles

They started in north Moravia this morning. A team of about 20 US military experts is looking for a place to put some missiles.

The project is part of a US anti-missile defence system, an umbrella, so to speak, that will protect all of Europe from North Korea, Iran and any other “rogue” countries that decide to attack us.

The US Department of Defence wants to build a base for missiles and they are considering three sites in the Czech Republic, as well as sites in Poland and Hungary. A team has already inspected the sites in Poland, and a team will go to Hungary later this summer. The Polish newspaper Przegląd has claimed that a deal has already been made between Washington and Warsaw for a base in northeastern Poland. I hope they’re right, but only because it would keep the missiles away from Czech.

The sites the US missile team is inspecting in the Czech Republic are all military training areas (vojenský výcvikový prostor) and they have all previously hosted Soviet troops. The locals have not missed the irony.

The missile experts are in Libavá today. Vojenský výcvikový prostor Libavá is about 25 km northeast of Olomouc. The majority of local residents are not very happy about the prospect of a missile base. They don’t believe that a US military presence will bolster the local economy or, in fact, provide any benefits at all.

The other scheduled stops on the inspection tour are Jince and Boletice. Vojenský výcvikový prostor Jince is near Příbram, about half-way between Prague and Plzeň. Boletice is in Šumava and only 5 km from Český Krumlov.

Many in the Czech government seem to think that a US missile base on Czech territory would be a positive thing. Particularly ODS, who apparently like the flavour of American butt. Only the Communists have come out unequivocally against the project.

And Max. I am with the Communists on this one.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Go Radio Ulster

Here is a nice little audio clip from the BBC. It is from the 6th of July and it is a Radio Ulster presenter voicing his opinion of George W. Bush. The BBC had to apologise for the presenter’s comments.

I would like to thank X for sending the clip to me for this blog.

And I would like to thank knottyboy for hosting the file on his server and writing the code for me. (Max is not the computer goddess she would like to be.)

Bush clip - 117kb

Opens with any mp3 player, click link to begin download.

Max on the Middle East

I find it difficult to write about Israel. I find it difficult to talk about Israel. People often want my views on the subject because I am fairly knowledgeable about it (and because I am Jewish). I have lived in Israel, I have studied Israeli history (from ancient to modern) and politics, and I have even taught modern Israeli history and politics. I know the people and the culture fairly well.

I am always frustrated when people exhibit ignorance of the history and politics of the region, yet also express strong views. People tend to take sides in a discussion, and refuse to acknowledge that there is another side, or even other sides. The situation in the Middle East is far from black and white.

I have always been frustrated when people introduce the idea that either (i) Israel shouldn’t be where it is, or (ii) the Palestinians are not a real nation of people. I have simple answers to those arguments. First, Israel is there and you are wasting time in a pointless discussion instead of focusing on the real and current issues. Second, no matter what history you have been taught, you cannot deny that the Palestinians exist as a nation in today’s world. No matter what you say, you are not going to make Israel or the Palestinians disappear. The problem is not going to go away.

Since 1987-1988, when I lived in Israel, I have been certain of the following:

  1. The Palestinian Arabs would eventually achieve some degree of autonomy.
  2. Israel would eventually withdraw from at least some of the territory that lies outside of the Green Line (pre-1967 borders).
  3. The Palestinian Arabs would fuck up through some form of aggression.
  4. Israel would use the Palestinian aggression as an excuse to go back in.

And it has happened exactly like that.

Then throw Lebanon into the mix, and we have a two-front “conflict”.

People have accused Israel of over-reacting and called their response disproportionate. Look at history. Israel’s response is always “disproportionate”. Look at a map. Israel is a little tiny country surrounded by large and mostly unfriendly Arab countries. What do you expect them to do?

People have said that it is not the Palestinians or Lebanese who are waging war on Israel, it is Hamas and Hezbollah. The Palestinians elected Hamas. You could just as easily say that the US is not occupying Iraq, it’s just the neo-cons. Sorry, the argument does not work. Hezbollah do not control the Lebanese government, but Lebanon tolerates their presence and activities, which makes Lebanon responsible under international law. It is a fair argument that Lebanon does not have the power to control Hezbollah, but that is not Israel’s problem.

Many people are justifiably upset that Israel has attacked infrastructure in Gaza and that it is the innocent people that are suffering. I won’t defend Israel for destroying the power plant, but, again, look at history. “Disproportionate” – perhaps; completely predictable – absolutely, and Hamas knew it.

Hezbollah from the north and Hamas from the south have been firing rockets into Israel. Just this morning, rockets came very close to hitting an oil refinery and gas storage tanks in the port of Haifa, Israel’s third largest city. People have been killed. Israel has to defend itself, and they are within their rights to do so.

It is a tragedy that innocent people are losing their lives and their homes on both sides. I have heard people argue that Israel is somehow more guilty because more Palestinians and Lebanese have been killed than Israelis. But this is not a game and it’s not about keeping score.

Where is all of this going? I don’t know. I hope that international intervention and diplomacy can bring an end to this latest conflict before it widens. But it is very scary that there is that potential for escalation.

I found a very good article this morning in the Baltimore Sun. It was written by Shibley Telhami, who is the Anwar Sadat professor for peace and development at the University of Maryland and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. It is titled “The limits of escalation” and it analyzes whether Israel’s strategy of demonstrating strength can work.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

NatWest 3: an abuse of law

The case of the NatWest 3 provides a fine example of why we should worry more about legislation that is passed “to protect us from terrorists”.

I am not concerned with whether the NatWest 3 are innocent or guilty. I am concerned that they have been extradited to the US without a preliminary hearing in the UK, which could have determined whether or not there was sufficient evidence to support their extradition. I am concerned that they may not be given the same rights as American citizens in custody in the US. I am concerned that their human rights have been violated because they may be stuck in Houston (I could stop right there, couldn’t I?) and have no way to work and support their families. It could be up to two years before their case is actually brought to trial.

The NatWest 3 could be tried in England. They were in England when they allegedly committed the crime. England has a fully functioning judicial system that meets (and possibly surpasses) American standards. The US is basing its claim for jurisdiction on the fact that money was wired between the US and England, based on which England would have an equal claim for jurisdiction.

The UK-US Extradition Treaty of 2003 was originally agreed to protect us from terrorism”. Ensnaring people who are suspected of a white collar crime, and hardly dangerous to society or “our way of life”, is an injustice and makes a mockery of a law that was supposedly enacted to protect citizens of both the US and the UK. The situation of the NatWest 3 is a fine example of how “anti-terrorism” legislation is being used against ordinary citizens.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Zamek w Przegorzałach

This was my fifth trip to Kraków and I saw two things I had never seen before.

The first was the Festiwal Kultury Żydowskiej w Krakowie - the annual Kraków Festival of Jewish Culture, which was in its 16th year. The old Jewish area of Kazimierz was full of music and cultural events, the highlight of which was a huge street party and concert on Saturday night. It was fantastic, but I am not going to write about it. If you are interested, see

The second thing: on Saturday afternoon, A said she wanted to take me out of Kraków and show me something special. We drove to Przegorzały to visit the zamek (villa) there, which is on a hill overlooking the Wisła river and has an amazing view of the countryside between Kraków and Oświęcim. It was absolutely gorgeous and we sat on the terrace there and had coffee.

There’s more. Like most places in Poland, the zamek has a history. Hans Frank, Governor-General of Occupied Poland from 1939 to 1945, used the zamek as a summer residence. The story A told me is that Frank did one or two things to the zamek in order to impress Heinrich Himmler, although it is not known whether or not Himmler ever made it to the zamek. The thing Frank did, which is still in evidence in the foyer of the zamek, is that he ordered the construction of a granite fountain in an interesting shape.

Because a picture is worth 1000 words, here is a photograph that I took, standing on the edge of the fountain to get the full effect from above:

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Max is away again

Monday, July 03, 2006

Soccer etymology

This post will be my last about football. I promise.

For years I have had to listen to limeys making fun of the word “soccer”. After seeing it used on British tv a few years ago (the show Soccer Saturday), I did a bit of research and found that it was a British-coined term, a shortening of “Association Football”. Whenever the limeys disparage the word “soccer”, I inform them that they are the ones who made it up.

As the ridiculing picked up again two weekends ago when Jono and Big G were with me in Prague, I decided to present the evidence right here.

“Soccer” is indeed short for “Association Football”.


The Football Association was formed in London in October 1863 when representatives of eleven clubs and schools met in an attempt to standardize the rules of the game. One of the rules prohibited the carrying of the ball, a rule that would lead to the Rugby-oriented clubs leaving the Association several months later. The name “Association Football” was coined to distinguish it from Rugby.

By 1889, the abbreviation socca’ was in use, and the spelling soccer had made its appearance by 1895.


1889 – socca; 1891 – socker; 1895 – soccer. originally university slang, from a shortened form of “Assoc.”…they could hardly have taken the first three letters of the word.

So piss off with your notions of superior language, limeys.

Fußballweltmeisterschaft Report

…or the Agony of Defeat

The atmosphere in Dortmund was magical. The England-Portugal match was excruciating. I actually worried that I might have a heart attack during the penalty shoot-out. I didn’t, but I swear my grey hair count doubled (to 8 – still nothing to worry about). I was in regular radio contact with Jono in London – that weird went with P&O to watch the match in a Portuguese bar. Good thing I wasn’t there – I would have killed people.

Olive and I had driven to Dortmund earlier in the afternoon. We checked out one of the public viewing areas – a huge screen on Friedensplatz, but decided we couldn’t do it because it was about 32ºC (90ºF) and there was no shade at all. We walked round and became part of the pervasive carnival mood. The whole city centre was lined with beer, sausage and souvenir stands. I bought England paraphernalia – a red and white lei and a wristband. I wore them proudly, even after the match. There were flags everywhere, displayed on buildings and on people. People were happy.

I decided we needed to find an Irish pub – I wanted to be amongst limeys to watch the match. Olive asked a couple of people and we were directed to Limerick’s, which was nearby. We went in at 4 o’clock when they opened and staked out a prime table directly in front of the big screen.

It was actually a very exciting match. Except that England didn’t win. It was shocking when David Beckham went off with an injury at 51 minutes, but the team had enough depth and maturity to play without Beckham. It was even more shocking when Wayne Rooney got sent off at 62 minutes, and incredibly frustrating because it was down to his own stupidity. I reckon Rooney would have got only a yellow card for stepping on Ricardo Carvalho’s testicles – that could have been unintentional, after all. But then he shoved Cristiano Ronaldo and the referee gave him what he deserved. What a cunt.

England played well one man down for the rest of the match, but not quite well enough. The crowd in the pub was screaming for a goal. If there is one certainty in football, it’s that England do not win on penalties.

At the end of the 30 minutes of extra time, waiting for the penalty shoot-out, I thought I might throw up. I was shaking and tried to remind myself that I wasn’t actually English. The rest is history. England are out.

Olive tried to be sympathetic, but she was still over the moon from Germany’s win over Argentina the night before.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Max is away