Monday, July 31, 2006
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 http://www.adl.org/ and click on ‘Anti-Semitism’.
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: http://www.sibik.cz/kniha_stories_01.htm.
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. http://www.mucha.cz/
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. http://www.matejbenko.com/
(Free & Easy was at a wedding.)
Our day of rest, of course.
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
…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.
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
“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
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
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.)
Opens with any mp3 player, click link to begin download.
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
I have always been frustrated when people introduce the idea that either (i)
Since 1987-1988, when I lived in
- The Palestinian Arabs would eventually achieve some degree of autonomy.
would eventually withdraw from at least some of the territory that lies outside of the Green Line (pre-1967 borders). Israel
- The Palestinian Arabs would fuck up through some form of aggression.
would use the Palestinian aggression as an excuse to go back in. Israel
And it has happened exactly like that.
People have accused
People have said that it is not the Palestinians or Lebanese who are waging war on
Many people are justifiably upset that
Hezbollah from the north and Hamas from the south have been firing rockets into
It is a tragedy that innocent people are losing their lives and their homes on both sides. I have heard people argue that
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
Saturday, July 15, 2006
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
The NatWest 3 could be tried in
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
Sunday, July 09, 2006
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 http://www.jewishfestival.pl/.
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
There’s more. Like most places in
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:
Monday, July 03, 2006
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
“Soccer” is indeed short for “Association Football”.
The Football Association was formed in
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.
…or the Agony of Defeat
The atmosphere in
Olive and I had driven to
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
It was actually a very exciting match. Except that
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.
Olive tried to be sympathetic, but she was still over the moon from