Max is away
I would like to share an email I received from a friend of mine in LA. Eleanor teaches at an elementary school.
My dear Max,
I think of you many days. For instance today there was a girl in our story named Maxine. Not exact, but still… However, I so wished you had been with me yesterday. I was reminded of your breastfeeding blog entry.
I had detention duty which takes place in the cafeteria of my school. You can already tell this isn’t going in a good direction. I was tending the 10 or so first graders who had committed some crime against the school so heinous as to lose them 15 minutes of play time. It was just me and the kids until a group of parents showed up for the awards assembly that would immediately follow. As I patrolled the center aisle looking for whisperers, I happened to glance toward the parents and there it was, a lactating mother with her very sizable boob being sucked on. IN THE SCHOOL CAFETERIA!!!! I understand that the cafeteria is a place for eating, but oh my god. I called in reinforcements. The principal is a male so he brought further reinforcements of the female kind and I excused the children brushing off the one’s “Teacher, teacher, look” comment.
I heard later that our fearless leader was a bit taken aback when the lactater popped the brat off her tit and failed to tuck it back in while said child walked away. The whole thing was wrong on so many levels not the least of which is that I have now seen a boob other than my own at work, and I teach elementary school.
Love and assurances that if I expose my breasts in public it is never while there is a child attached,
PS See you soon.
I went out to the shooting range with Jack again last night. It had been 4 weeks since my first session, and I was worried that my initial fear of the gun might resurface. But it did not. In fact, I was pretty comfortable with the Glock in my hand. Jack and I did some different things this time, focusing mostly on defensive action. That meant emphasising speed and shooting at close targets rather than working on accuracy at distances. Not that I would probably be wearing my gun in a holster were an assailant to climb into my 4th floor bedroom window…
After our hour on the range, Jack and I made our way to our regular pub. Shortly after we had arrived and were drinking our first beers, one of Jack’s mates sniffed and said, “I smell gunpowder,” which led to a discussion of where we had just been, as well as a few off-colour finger-smelling comments.
Like Jack, his mate often carries a concealed weapon. That is the main reason I have not used anyone’s real name. There was a limey sitting with us at the bar.
The limey, of course, wanted to know why I was learning how to use a gun. He questioned what I thought I might someday need it for. I say ‘of course’ because this is the standard limey reaction to Americans and our belief in our right to arm ourselves. The Mad Canadian had challenged that belief on my old blog almost 2 years ago. At that time, I asked my brother to answer her; this time, I am going to answer the limey myself.
All Americans know of the Second Amendment to our Constitution. Many of us can even recite it by heart:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
Unfortunately, a big problem in The Amerika today is that too many people have no idea why the right to keep and bear Arms was ever enshrined in the Bill of Rights. Too many people think that private ownership of guns is an outdated concept and is no longer necessary. The limey last night thought we had needed guns only to kill Indians. However, they are all wrong. The absolute undebatable most important reason why we have the right to keep and bear Arms is so that we can protect ourselves from a tyrannical government. And I dare anyone to argue that that reason is any less valid today than it has been at any time in our history.
The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered, as the palladium of the liberties of a republic; since it offers a strong moral check against the usurpation and arbitrary power of rulers; and will generally, even if these are successful in the first instance, enable the people to resist and triumph over them.
– Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, 1833
There are other reasons for the private ownership of guns. If you are interested in some of them, I suggest that you read my brother’s post. I used some of what I had learned from that post in my argument with the limey last night.
And as the limey was demonstrating his typically Euro-pussy attitude towards guns, Jack leaned over and whispered in my ear, “He would really lose it if he knew what I had on my hip.”
the old foreigner police building on Olšanská
I was going to title this post “Bureaucracy tamed” or even “Bureaucracy conquered”, but I realised that would be total bullshit because you never really beat bureaucracy. It’s too much like herpes – it might go away for a while, but you can be certain that there will eventually be another outbreak.
To cut to the chase, I have received my new visa. I am now a fully valid, legal and legitimate member of Czech society for the first time since March of last year. It’s kind of anti-climactic, really.
I got the news that my visa was ready in Bratislava almost 2 weeks ago. I couldn’t go and pick it up straight away because I was waiting for my health insurance card. They make you show proof of health insurance before they will actually stick the visa in your passport. The card never came. Finally my minder got on the case and she and my man Friday worked out what had happened.
Somehow VZP, the Czech health insurance leviathan, figured out that I was no longer a permanent resident. Which meant that I was not entitled to the insurance card they had been about to issue to me. They cancelled the card. And that is all they did. They didn’t call me, they didn’t write me a letter, they didn’t get in touch with my man Friday. It’s a good thing my minder is an intense control freak and always on top of things. Friday then sorted out the most basic foreigner health insurance for me and paid up front for a year of it. He sent my proof of insurance over to my office by messenger. That was Monday. I picked up my visa in Bratislava on Wednesday.
Once you cross the border back into the country with a new visa, you have to report to the foreigner police within 3 working days to “register” the visa. No rational explanation, just another hoop to jump through.
Every foreigner dreads going to the foreigner police. The place is a constantly disorganised mob scene. The people that work there are miserable and mean, and there are always crowds of grubby migrants from further east. I was going to the new foreigner police premises for the first time.
They opened this morning at 7.30. I had been told to get there at 5 a.m. to secure my place in the queue, and that if I wasn’t there by 7, I wouldn’t even get a number. I got there at 7.40, still drunk from last night’s work drinks. I got number 611. They were on 528. I guessed I’d be there for at least 3 to 4 hours. But 30 minutes later, my guardian angel walked in. She had told me that she would be there with a client and that I should look for her. She grabbed me, we walked into the big hall where all the desks are, and one of her contacts handed her 534 and 535. I had just jumped 77 places in the queue and I was being served.
I have now done all I have to do. Friday will take care of everything else.
Meanwhile, back in The New Amerika, I am still waiting to hear from the California Bar Association. They have been considering my appeal for about a month now. Like I said, herpes.
* and thanks to Jono for the inspired title (no herpes though).
I found three articles yesterday on three different websites related to the requirement for visitors to The New Amerika to obtain a tourist visa. Each of the articles looked at the issue from a different angle.
The first article focuses on an issue that the Czechs love to moan about. Despite being in NATO and the European Union, the Czech Republic has not been granted admission into The Amerika’s Visa Waiver Program (VWP). What this means for Czechs is that to visit The Amerika, they have to subject themselves to a humiliating, costly and uncertain visa application process.
1. Fill in the DS 156 form. Fax it to the US Embassy using a special number. Calls cost CZK 42 (about $2) per minute.
2. The next day, you can call another special number (also billed at CZK 42 per minute) to make an interview appointment. The waiting time for an interview in Prague, according to this webpage, is currently 21 days.
3. Prior to your interview, you pay your fees by bank transfer. That is CZK 2200 (about $100) for the application + CZK 185 for the courier service.
4. You show up for your interview and subject yourself to the whim of your interviewer. They will tell you right then and there whether you are getting a visa (90% of Czech applicants) or not. If you are denied a visa, they will not tell you why.
If you are granted the visa, the embassy keeps your passport for a few days and then returns it to you, with the visa, via the courier service that you have already paid for. If you have not been granted the visa, you get to take your passport home with you, and then you can call the courier service directly to arrange for your prepaid courier charge to be refunded.
There seems to be, at least sometimes, no rhyme or reason to the visa decisions. I know of well-to-do professionals who wanted to go on a short holiday to The Amerika, leaving their two children and their business behind – and one of them was denied a visa.
So a lot of Czechs are not even trying to go to The Amerika, and the first article explains why wealthy Czech travellers are, understandably, choosing to spend their money elsewhere.
An example is Vratislav Hromadko, a wealthy Czech entrepreneur who comes from a virulently anti-Communist family. Hromadko is a rich man and often spends up to CZK 400,000 (over USD 18,000) on his holidays. But he regularly chooses to go scuba diving in Cuba rather than in Florida.
“It’s the same waters, but Cuba gives me less trouble even though it’s a country ruled by a communist police regime.”
Hromadko simply refuses to subject himself to the visa interview.
“It offends me. It is degrading.”
The second article talks about foreign visitors in general, and not only the visa process, but also the rudeness of immigration officials upon arrival in the country.
“In a survey conducted by the travel industry lobby group the Discover America Partnership late last year, the United States scored more than twice as badly as the next region, the Middle East, in terms of travel friendliness.
“Two-thirds of respondents worried they could be held back at airports because of a mistake in form filling or a misstatement to immigration officials. Half said officials were rude and that they feared them more than the threat of terrorism or crime.”
I myself have noticed immigration officials progressively getting ruder and asking more blatantly intrusive questions even of US citizens. I used to be greeted at LAX just with a friendly smile and a sincere sounding, “Welcome home!” But now every time I return to The New Amerika, I am subject to interrogation because I am clearly an unpatriotic misfit and how dare I choose to live outside the borders of the Land of the Free.
Travel Industry Association of America figures show that the number of foreign visitors to The New Amerika (not including our North American neighbours) is down 17% from before September 11, 2001. The US dollar is weak against European currencies, meaning that the whole country is like an after-Christmas sale, yet visitor numbers from Western Europe went down 3% from 2005 to 2006. All of this indicates a lot of money that is not going into the US economy – which is the bottom line.
The third article provides an interesting counterpoint. It criticises the entire Visa Waiver Program for allowing visitors coming into The New Amerika “to sidestep in-place security procedures that screen for terrorists.” The article discusses the problems of, amongst other things, “homegrown jihadists” in Great Britain, the large population of Muslims throughout the European VWP countries, and the liberal naturalisation laws in countries like Denmark, which allow immigrants to obtain citizenship in as little as three years.
I totally see the point of that article, but I cannot agree that doing away with the Visa Waiver Program is the answer. In fact, the requirement to obtain a visa does not keep people out. Or it keeps the wrong people out. I am going to try an analogy that I am not sure will work – guns.
I believe that our laws prohibit certain types of people – convicted felons, for example – from purchasing guns. But if I am a convicted felon and I want a gun, especially if I want it for criminal reasons, I am going to know where to get a gun, and no laws are going to stop me. Before you can say toothless two-bit one-legged crack-smoking smack whore, I’m going to have a gun in my possession.
And if I am a terrorist mastermind and I want to send people into The Amerika to perpetrate a terrorist attack, your visa laws aren’t going to stop me either. Maybe you will not give visas to all of my people, but I only need a few of them there, and you will not be able to keep enough of them out.
Okay, that analogy didn’t quite work, but it’s the best I can do right now. So my final message today to The New Amerika is – please add the Czechs, Slovaks and Poles to the Visa Waiver Program – I am tired of all their bloody moaning.
…and they lived happily ever after in the most atheistic country in the world.
Okay, I don’t actually know for a fact that the Czech Republic is the most atheistic country in the world. I do know, however, that I have never been to a country that has less time for gods and religion, and I have not heard of one either. If Prague is not the most atheistic city on the planet, it is certainly close.
The results of a survey were published in the Czech press yesterday. The question asked in the survey was, “Do you believe in God?” 28% of the respondents said yes, 48% of the respondents said no, and 24% of the respondents said they didn’t know. In case you are interested – my translation of the short Novinky article is here, the Czech original is here.
Keith and I swapped stories last night.
One evening as I was walking towards the tram stop after work, two young men approached me. I recognised them as Mormon missionaries straight away due to their plastic nametags.
“Dobrý večer,” they said sweetly.
“It’s all right,” I said, “you can speak English to me, I’m American.”
They were nice kids – one from Utah and one from Austria, and we had a nice chat. We established early on that I knew quite a bit about their church and that I was 100% sure that I wasn’t interested in going near the place. But what I was interested in was getting an idea of how their work was going.
You see, not only is the Czech Republic the most atheistic place I know, but it also populated almost entirely by drunks, and it has the highest per capita beer consumption of any country in the world. You might actually be able to make a Czech believe in God, or in Jesus, or even in the prophet Joseph Smith and the angel Moroni, but you are never going to convince him to give up his beer.
The Mormon kids were willing to answer me. It seems that they were not actually converting anyone over here, but they had been able to do their charitable work and help people, which they said they were satisfied with.
Keith’s story was about some Jehovah’s Witnesses that had interrupted him and a friend as they were sitting outside and peacefully enjoying their lunch in the early spring sunshine.
“Yeah, we told them they could just fuck right off.”