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Best New Political Sub-Category of the Day: The "'Even the New Republic' school of liberalism." Coined by Max Sawicky (or maybe Eric Alterman -- see comments).

03/01/2003 08:35 PM  |  Comment (10)

Lots of Good Amy Langfield: First, she busts dailycandy.com for euphemistically using the word “dedicated” instead of “advertisement” atop paid-for e-mail announcements. She also indulges in a tastefully brief recollection of the fall of 1989, when she was editing a university daily (for which I was the production manager/typesetter, and author of a daily humor paragraph disguised as the “weather”). Italics are mine:

When I was editor of my college paper, our Back to School issue -- which was sent to students at their parents' address in August -- included a full-page guide on what freshmen needed to know about drugs at college. It was a Tony Pierce creation. I think it said which were safe, which were sketchy, availability and probably prices. And to her credit, our chancellor (we learned only months later) fielded dozens of calls from angry parents wanting to transfer their precious incoming freshmen.
News you could really use!

03/01/2003 08:14 PM  | 

The Grateful Dead -- Patriotic Capitalists of the Wild West: So says Brian Doherty, in Reason.

03/01/2003 08:03 PM  | 

More on Klaus: From Peter Pribik, an anti-Communist free marketeer who grew up in a Radio Free Europe household in Munich:

Klaus, you will recall, is the man hailed as the Czechs' Margaret Thatcher. A merciless market reform sort of fellow. In the end he turned out to run a rather corrupt government that all too often let the public mood dictate its zeal for reform. […]

His obstinacy has paid off. Someone had to get elected eventually. Yet the role is largely ceremonial. He can pontificate at home. But Havel had global appeal because he is Havel, not because he was President of the Czech Republic.

Next time you or someone else wants to argue that Klaus is the real reformer of the two Vaclavs, check out this Dec. 9, 1997 Havel speech, delivered soon after Klaus’ government finally collapsed over a corruption scandal and banking collapse (both precipitated by Klaus’ failure to, you know, reform).

03/01/2003 07:38 PM  | 

Terrible News From Prague -- Klaus Elected President: And by a vote or two, too.

Why is this bad? Because Klaus has either been in power or in a power-sharing agreement for most of the past 13 years. Power corrupts, especially in the newer democracies of Central Europe. And no, it doesn’t matter how many times you can convince gullible young “classical liberals,” despite all evidence to the contrary, that you’re a Friedman-loving Thatcherite. Truth is, he obstructed the same economic reforms he swore by, blocked attempt after attempt to introduce transparency and decentralize government power, and clung to power like the raccoon guards his avocado.

If I understand things correctly, this will also mean that Klaus gets to nominate the next members of the Czech Constitutional Court, whose 10-year terms wind up this year. The Constitutional Court, along with the presidency, have served as checks & balances on the power of the political parties that run Parliament. Now, with Klaus in the Castle, and appointing the judges, and still serving as grand poobah of ODS, look for ever-more chances of corruption, and covering up whatever misdeeds he has directly presided over. Shoot, I wouldn’t be surprised if his first order of business was to launch a smearing probe into the misbehavior of his predecessor, who he desperately wants to discredit. He’s a prick with an inferiority complex, a would-be intellectual with incoherent ideas about foreign policy, and a ruthless partisan taking over what has been a non-partisan post (though one could argue that the politicization of the presidency is long overdue). Whatever; I think it’s lousy news. UPDATE: Steve at PragueBlog is none too thrilled either, and gives a long list of reasons why.

02/28/2003 04:06 PM  |  Comment (1)

Interesting Kaus Thoughts About Multi-lateral Proceduralism and the War: Scroll to “Don’t Rush Me V.”

02/28/2003 03:52 PM  |  Comment (1)

DSL Freedom: Ahhhhh. First time in two weeks we’ve had a DSL home network, as opposed to 2-3 nervous people wrestling over a single sad phone line. Naturally, the brown-out period coincided with research-heavy deadlines of a particularly horrid nature. Let’s hope things work better this time around.

02/28/2003 01:15 PM  | 

A Brief List of Books Banned in Cuba: Havel, Orwell, Solzhenitsyn, Garton Ash, etc. That Carlos Franqui book at the top is pretty harrowing, and worth a read. UPDATE: Cuba just seized a U.S. shipment of 5,101 books, the U.S. Interest Section announced yesterday. The Revolution was therefore kept safe from Groucho Marx, Martin Luther King, John Steinbeck, and so on.

02/28/2003 01:59 AM  |  Comment (7)

Some Flattery Will Get You Everywhere: The last-nameless Steve, who has taken the url pragueblog.blogspot.com, writes nice things about my old newspaper.

I arrived in Prague not long after they started publishing the paper. I came ready to take up an English teaching job and to give it six months to a year as a "career sabbatical," adventure, or escape depending on when and how you asked me. I booked my first few nights' accommodation in a pension through an agency at the main train station, and as I paid they handed me a copy of Prognosis. Installed in my pension, I opened up the paper and the very first thing I saw was a piece by John Allison called (if I remember correctly), "Why Teaching English is Boring." I eventually learned that this person was called the Grand Old Man of ex-pats, a pretty relative term, but that he could be counted on for something amusing in each issue, which everyone seemed to look forward to greatly in those days. It had its faults, don't we all, but Prognosis pretty well embodied that weird new Prague spirit that lasted for a few years after the revolution, and pretty well marked its end when it ceased publication in 1995.
See the benefit of retiring in your prime? (Or, er, finally going bankrupt after being run like a spastic commune.) Steve goes on to tell a little story about Havel, who the Czech Parliament is trying yet again to replace today.

02/28/2003 01:53 AM  | 

Fun With Dr. Frank: Dr. Frank, the singer/songwriter of the East Bay punk-pop band The Mr. T Experience (which I saw at the Roxy in Prague, opening up for that straight-edge D.C. band everyone except me likes) … is one of my favorite post-Sept. 11 writers. Here are some recent examples why:

* A brief account of being gassed by a Parisian cop while busking:

"She's gotta *cough* *sniff* ticka *wheeze* *choke* tooo ri-i-i-" I had burns around my eyes and on my face for weeks afterwards. Busking is hard work, but it shouldn't be *that* hard. I think that remains the worst review I've ever received.

* On Bush’s neo-con speech:

At the very least, any further waffling, wobbling, or backtracking, any hint that our efforts at Liberation will be less than sincere or thorough, any nod to the stability-at-all-costs mantra of Foggy Bottom and the GHWB alumni, can now be criticized fairly powerfully with a playback of the President's own words.

* On being an American in London, listening to anti-Yank sentiment:

I've always kind of enjoyed being the caterpillar in the salad, and I can't say I've ever felt in the least humiliated or wounded in such situations. […]

Admit you're a bit less than thoroughly anti-American, though, and they stare at you flabbergasted, open-mouthed, as though you've expressed admiration for Hitler or something. It plays out like a breach of decorum more than anything else. Your date may, with a pained expression, say something like "Oh, really, Herbert..." Usually, as in most things, they're far too embarrassed to make a scene about it and it goes no further. Everybody sort of mumbles the word "right," and looks at the floor or ceiling. Usually, as in most things, they're far too embarrassed to make a scene about it and it goes no further. Everybody sort of mumbles the word "right," and looks at the floor or ceiling. Eventually, someone buys the next round of lagers and you move on. (If you enjoy this kind of thing, you can make a sort of game of it: the best card to play is not about this or that war, nor this or that president, nor even this or that McDonalds-- which most Brits dearly love, whether they admit it or not. No, the checkmate move is Guns. Freaks 'em out every time.) The ultimate irony is, of course, that by and large they really do love America and Americans, often to the point of obsession.

I'd add, though, that you can play this kind of Outrage Roulette in Berkeley just as easily. The difference being that in Berkeley, someone usually ends up crying. So it's not even remotely worth it.

02/28/2003 01:43 AM  |  Comment (3)

Serial Blogging to Keep a Download Alive: Well, it looks like my last day of shared dial-up, which necessarily must end in a horrid three-hour download of my new DSL crap, will forever keep getting derailed unless I am sufficiently engaged with the Internet to avoid being kicked out mid-load. This means I need to A) stay awake, B) serially link to various things.

Onward, then: Eric Neel offers advice on how to read the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue without offending the lady-friend. First suggestion -- go to the magazine rack, and slip it underneath one of the newsweeklies:

The key to this strategy is to have politicky phrases at the ready should anyone approach and ask what you're reading. You casually close the magazine, look them in the eye and say things like, "The inspection reports are still incomplete -- that's what worries me," or "There is a serious risk in ignoring the will of the people, don't you think?"
Also, there’s the philosophy tack:
She says, "What do you see in those women?" You say, "It's an aesthetics thing. Like Kant talks about. It's the fundamental human affinity for curved lines and ideal forms. I look at these pictures as art historical texts, really, exemplars and echoes of what the great masters were after."

02/28/2003 01:20 AM  |  Comment (2)

Amusing Little Participatory Story About Busking: Oh, the highs and lows of playing music on the street!

One of the best experiences I had busking was with Jeff Whalen in Vienna in October or November of 1994. We had been playing originals & friends’ songs now and then on the streets of Prague, trying to re-ignite an ancient songwriting/performing bond, but the magic feeling was rarely there. Thought we’d road-trip for one day to see how the rich Austrians reacted … and it was fantastic. Unseasonably warm weather on the Graben, huge crowds, and people just vomiting up money (I think our take was more than a thousand shillings). No hassles from cops, and even an Austrian record company executive -- named Peter Pany, no less -- approached us afterward, talking about how maybe he could package us as the New Wham or something. Sure!

This fantastic experience became the basis of our bright idea to live in Bratislava the following March and commute the 66 minutes every day to soak the rich and sell our tapes, then catch the last train back & drink Slovak beer at terrible nightclubs and fake Mexican restaurants. The huge “profit” would then fund amplifiers and guitars for the electric band.

There wasn’t a single day half as good as the balmy Graben the fall before. Cops hassled us nonstop -- the city’s permitting process became newly rigid the day we got there, parceling out single two-hour chunks every day, often in places with no pedestrians, or at times after our last train left. An evil Teutonic border guard developed the habit of kicking us off the train in the middle of nowhere, because he did not like us. And the cruel Trans-Danubian wind pelted ice and snow at our faces and fingers, usually coinciding precisely with our two-hour time-slots. Even Peter Pany turned out to disappoint. It was dreadful … though vaguely heroic. At least in our eyes.

Best places to busk in Europe: Charles Bridge in Prague, and anywhere in old town Luxembourg. Also, you can’t go wrong with a guitar & an arsenal of Beatles songs in any tourist village on a Greek island. Worst place to busk: Amsterdam. Most audacious busking act I’ve ever seen: Comic strip genius Drew Martin, sitting like a swami snake-charmer on a rug, hacking on a two-note flute with an obvious string attached to a cloth snake, which he would sort of slowly lift up every five minutes or so. I once saw a Czech babicka watch Drew, slack-jawed, for a good long while, and then walk off, shaking her head and muttering “To je neni pravda” (rough translation: “That shit ain’t right!).

Matt’s tips for busking (which, as I’ve mentioned before, has many similarities to blogging):

1) Don’t do it for money. In other words, play music because you’re having fun, rather than depending on the money to eat. We had a terrific busking band (named “Whalen,” because we played a lot of Jeff Whalen songs even though he wasn’t there) in the summer of 1991, and it was all about the fun of performing, singing, hanging out with the wine-swilling kids, jumping around in the sun. Used the money as icing on the cake (or more literally, beer & pizza). Desperation-buskers bum people out, though they can be pretty arresting if they play Billy Bragg-esque originals.

2) Incorporate visuals, sight gags, physicality, stupid jokes. There was a remarkable Russian band that used to come to Prague for a few months every year … anyone remember their name? Crazy-looking dudes with the weirdest triangle-shaped instruments (and faces) you ever saw … and every set was a show-stopping bit of performance art, with sketches, violence, running around. Every busker in town would sit in their crowd, and learn tricks.

3) Harmonies, harmonies, harmonies. Every time you sing a pretty harmony, little baby Jesus smiles. Nail some three- and four-part stuff, with counter-melody buddies and huge choruses … and not only will you tickle your harmony bone, but you’ll be confronting the busker’s main enemy: acoustics. This is why it’s also a good idea to find battery-powered amplifiers for the bass and lead guitar.

4) Sell tapes or CDs. With Van Diamond (the two-part acoustic deal with Jeff Whalen) we recorded 14 songs at an eight-track studio in two days, and printed up something like 600 cassettes for $1,000 in total cost. Sold ‘em for $10 a pop. I think on our best day in Vienna we sold 26, which earned me more in a single day than my monthly salary at Prognosis. People who never toss coins into guitar cases will buy a tape of music they enjoy.

5) Prime the pump. There is a science to it, and you’ll never get the levels just right, but make sure there is cash in the case with the kinds of denominations and currencies you’d like to see. You’ll feel like a bastard the first time or two, and then you’ll wonder what took you so long.

6) Get a cute hippie to make sure a hat is passed around the crowd every once in a while. Most people wouldn’t mind sitting around and listening to the nice music, and if the crowd is at all large, it becomes awkward to stand up, dodge the drunks, and drop a bill. Do it about once an hour, and let people pass it around themselves, so they don’t feel pressured.

7) Play originals. If you don’t have originals, then either A) play unexpected covers, in an unexpected way, or B) play the usual songs, and do everything in your power to make everyone sing along. Ise Severo, who may be the best busker in the world despite having a hoarse singing voice, always understood that it wasn’t about him, it was about people wanting to hang out in a beautiful place and sing Beatles songs together. I have a tape of his originals -- which he never played -- and they are some of the darkest songs you’ll ever hear. But seeing him lead a dodeca-lingual singalong of “All You Need is Love” -- priceless!

8) Always have three packs of extra strings ready, and learn the skill of “tying” a broken string together in a pinch. If you are more than one person, develop a separate repertoire for playing without string-boy. Know the best & cheapest local string-brands and music stores.

I once thought it’d be a neat idea to write a “Busker’s Guide to Europe” book, for those who like to play and listen to hippie-music in exotic locales. Still think it’s a good business idea … but not for me. Probably won’t ever busk again; it’s been nearly eight years, after all, and I have lost nearly all desire to inflict my emotional problems on other people. But for a while it was so damned fun that I swore up and down that if I ever moved back to the States I would make a point of playing street music as often as possible. Oh well!

02/27/2003 01:00 PM  |  Comment (10)

Collecting Every ‘To-war-or-not-to-war’ Post: I’ve been busy as sin and barely online for several weeks now, but occasionally I’ve read very compelling, throat-clearing, here’s-where-I-stand-on-the-war,-dammit posts by various bloggers (Colby Cosh, Thomas Nephew, Chris Scheer, etc.). I’ve noticed among both friends and peers a very mixed bag of opinions, many of them intelligent and conflicted. Wouldn’t it be nice if someone collected all the best blog-posts of this variety, pro, con and confused? Sure it would! So, please, someone get it together. In the meantime, you can nominate your own mini-essay or someone else’s in the comments below.

02/27/2003 12:05 AM  |  Comment (7)

That Big Post-Sept. 11 Political Shift: Matthew Yglesias writes:

At any rate, over the past two years Glenn Reynolds has managed to turn me from an enthusiastic supporter of gun control to a confused skeptic and in the meantime Paul Begala and Howard Dean have convinced me that this is a losing political issue, so I've really lost my interest.
Though some friends, and editors for certain political magazines, are convinced my politics have changed strongly since the Sept. 11 massacre, I would say that after the shock & my subsequent exposure to the libertoid/conservative/iconoclastic wing of American life, there are exactly three things I feel differently about: 1) I won’t soon again vote for a president with goofy-ass ideas about foreign policy, 2) I don’t really know what to think about gun control, though I hardly ever obsessed about it previously, and 3) I am no longer a feverish supporter for campaign finance reform, on those free-speech and regulation-creates-loopholes grounds that the devious InstantMan has successfully hammered into my skull. OK, there’s a fourth -- I am worried about the expansion of American power and responsibility. How have you all changed, if at all?

02/26/2003 11:28 PM  |  Comment (19)

Former Editors of Prague English-Language Publication Hired to Run Iconoclastic Big-City Free Weekly: In New York, not Los Angeles. Ho Ho!

02/26/2003 09:26 PM  |  Comment (1)

Stupid Technical Question of the Day: I haven’t been able to open up the L.A. Weekly website for nearly four weeks now. It just loads and loads, and never opens. Do any of you have similar problems? Does my computer = crazy? Have they blocked me, so I won’t make any more cruel comments about Harold Meyerson? Please advise.

02/25/2003 11:35 PM  |  Comment (6)

Chomsky, on the ‘Morally Repugnant’ Havel: From the I-collected-it-so-I-might-as-well-post-it department, here are a few choice selections of Noam Chomsky talking about Vaclav Havel, specifically the then-Czecholsovak president’s Feb. 21, 1990 speech to a joint session of the United States Congress, and the reaction thereof. First, the section from Havel’s speech that most likely made Chomsky’s blood boil:

Twice in this century, the world has been threatened by a catastrophe. Twice this catastrophe was born in Europe, and twice Americans, along with others, were called upon to save Europe, the whole world and yourselves. The first rescue provided significant help to Czechs and Slovaks. […]

At the same time, the United States made enormous strides. It became the most powerful nation on earth, and it understood the responsibility that flowed from this. Proof of this are the hundreds of thousands of your young citizens who gave their lives for the liberation of Europe, and the graves of American airmen and soldiers on Czechoslovak soil.

But something else was happening as well: The Soviet Union appeared, grew, and transformed the enormous sacrifices of its people suffering under totalitarian rule into a strength that, after World War II, made it the second most powerful nation in the world. It was a country that rightly gave people nightmares, because no one knew what would happen and when to worsen the mood of its rulers, and what country it would decide to conquer and drag into its sphere of influence, as it is called in political language.

All of this taught us to see the world in bipolar terms, as two enormous forces, one a defender of freedom, the other a source of nightmares. Europe became the point of friction between these two powers, and thus it turned into a single enormous arsenal divided into two parts. In this process, one half of the arsenal became part of that nightmarish power, while the other the free part bordering on the ocean and having no wish to be driven into it, was compelled, together with you, to build a complicated security system, to which we probably owe the fact that we still exist.

So you may have contributed to the salvation of us Europeans, of the world and thus of yourselves for a third time: You have helped us to survive until today without a hot war this time, merely a cold one.

Chomsky was so disgusted by this he fired off a letter on March 1 to friend Alexander Cockburn (at least, if you believe this website). An excerpt (all italics will be mine):
Dear Alex,
As a good and loyal friend, I can't overlook this chance to suggest to you a marvelous way to discredit yourself completely and lose the last minimal shreds of respectability that still raise lingering questions about your integrity. I have in mind what I think is one of the most illuminating examples of the total and complete intellectual and moral corruption of Western culture, namely, the awed response to Vaclav Havel's embarrassingly silly and morally repugnant Sunday School sermon in Congress the other day. We may put aside the intellectual level of the comments (and the response) -- for example, the profound and startlingly original idea that people should be moral agents. More interesting are the phrases that really captured the imagination and aroused the passions of Congress, editorial writers, and columnists -- and, doubtless, soon the commentators in the weeklies and monthlies: that we should assume responsibility not only for ourselves, our families, and our nations, but for others who are suffering and persecuted. This remarkable and novel insight was followed by the key phrase of the speech: the cold war, now thankfully put to rest, was a conflict between two superpowers: one, a nightmare, the other, the defender of freedom (great applause).
Chomsky goes on to imagine a similar reaction in Pravda should a North Vietnamese peasant give an anti-American speech in front of the Supreme Soviet. The peasant, in this scenario, is morally superior to the so-called Czech hero:
I don't mean to equate a Vietnamese villager to Vaclav Havel. For one thing, I doubt that the former would have had the supreme hypocrisy and audacity to clothe his praise for the defenders of freedom with gushing about responsibility for the human race. It's also unnecessary to point out to the half a dozen or so sane people who remain that in comparison to the conditions imposed by US tyranny and violence, East Europe under Russian rule was practically a paradise. Furthermore, one can easily understand why an oppressed Third World victim would have little access to any information (or would care little about anything) beyond the narrow struggle for survival against a terrorist superpower and its clients. And the Pravda hack, unlike his US clones, would have faced a harsh response if he told the obvious truths. So by every conceivable standard, the performance of Havel, Congress, the media, and (we may safely predict, without what will soon appear) the Western intellectual community at large are on a moral and intellectual level that is vastly below that of Third World peasants and Stalinist hacks -- not an unusual discovery.

Of course, it could be argued in Havel's defense that this shameful performance was all tongue in cheek, just a way to extort money from the American taxpayer for his (relatively rich) country. I doubt it, however; he doesn't look like that good an actor.

Chomsky goes on to observe that Havel “plainly shares the utter contempt for the lower orders that is the hallmark of Western intellectuals.”

We are not finished. Chomsky expands on Havel over at ZMag, in an essay that seems to have appeared in his Deterring Democracy book (sorry for all the prevarication; I barely have Internet access these days to double-check things, and time is short). Excerpt:

Havel's address to Congress had a remarkable impact on the political and intellectual communities. "Consciousness precedes Being, and not the other way around, as the Marxists claim," Havel informed Congress to thunderous applause; in a Woody Allen rendition, he would have said "Being precedes Consciousness," eliciting exactly the same reaction. But what really enthralled elite opinion was his statement that the United States has "understood the responsibility that flowed" from its great power, that there have been "two enormous forces -- one, a defender of freedom, the other, a source of nightmares." We must put "morality ahead of politics," he went on. The backbone of our actions must be "responsibility -- responsibility to something higher than my family, my country, my company, my success" […]

Putting aside the relation of Being to Consciousness, the thoughts that so entranced the intellectual community are, after all, not entirely unfamiliar. One finds them regularly in the pontifications of fundamentalist preachers, Fourth of July speeches, American Legion publications, and the journals and scholarly literature generally. Indeed, everywhere. Who can have been so remote from American life as not to have heard that we are "the defender of freedom" and that we magnificently satisfy the moral imperative to be responsible not just to ourselves, but to the Welfare of Mankind? There is only one rational interpretation: liberal intellectuals secretly cherish the pronouncements of Pat Robertson and the John Birch society, and can therefore gush in awe when these very same words are produced by Vaclav Havel.

Finally, let’s recall Christopher Hitchens’ rejoinder to Chomsky’s rebuttal of Hitchens’ post-Sept. 11 thumb in Chomsky’s eye:
[T]he last time we corresponded, some months ago, I was appalled by the robotic element both of [Chomsky’s] prose and of his opinions. He sought earnestly to convince me that Vaclav Havel, by addressing a joint session of Congress in the fall of 1989, was complicit in the murder of the Jesuits in El Salvador that had occurred not very long before he landed in Washington. In vain did I point out that the timing of Havel’s visit was determined by the November collapse of the Stalinist regime in Prague, and that on his first celebratory visit to the United States he need not necessarily take the opportunity to accuse his hosts of being war criminals. Nothing would do, for Chomsky, but a strict moral equivalence between Havel’s conduct and the mentality of the most depraved Stalinist.
I’ve seen other Chomsky writings on Havel & Central Europe, but they're not at my fingertips right now. I should point out that all of Chomsky's critiques include a laundry list of U.S. sins that I did not include in my excerpts here.

02/25/2003 12:41 PM  |  Comment (63)

Lonewacko’s Skeptical Take on L.A. Blogrolling in Our Time: Keep this up, and I’ll never link to you, pally!

Last night was good fun, though I don’t have time to write about it. As always, it’s a treat to put faces on names, and meet new stimulating humans. Thanks to La Seipp, and for everyone who showed up. Layne has links to a few interesting accounts.

02/23/2003 05:15 PM  |  Comment (4)

Hi! What are you doing down here?

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