Where Max was on Saturday night

Monday, 30 April 2007

 

 

Xavier Baumaxa CL 01

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Xavier Baumaxa CL 02

Xavier Baumaxa CL 03

 

Xavier Baumaxa CL 04

 

Xavier Baumaxa

Kulturní dům Crystal, Česká Lípa

28 April 2007

All photographs courtesy of Martin Chrz


The Rage and the Pride

Sunday, 29 April 2007

oriana fallaci

La Fallaci

 

A book report

I read a feature in Vanity Fair magazine a number of months ago on Oriana Fallaci, who had recently died. The article, which had praised Fallaci as a war correspondent and interviewer of controversial figures, inspired me to purchase her two post 9/11 books, The Rage and the Pride, published in English in 2002, and The Force of Reason, published in English in 2006. Fallaci herself was a controversial figure, and those two books were arguably her most controversial pieces of writing. I am going to focus on Fallaci’s message as delivered in The Rage and the Pride.

From the first page of the book’s preface, you are struck by two things about Fallaci: the first is her passion and the second is that she knows her stuff. She gets all of her facts right – whether from 19th century Italian history, the origin of the concept of zero or the events leading up to 9/11. Fallaci was a careful researcher and she believed strongly in her own observations and experiences. You cannot doubt Fallaci’s facts, you can only struggle against her interpretation of those facts if you do not – or merely do not want to – agree with her conclusions.

Fallaci, although Italian, had made her home in Manhattan for many years, and The Rage and the Pride was her reaction to the events of 9/11. Fallaci had originally written the treatise in the style of a letter to the editor for an Italian newspaper. The version that was published in the newspaper took up 4 ¼ newspaper pages although it had been severely edited. Fallaci stated that her aim in writing the treatise had been to “unplug the ears of the deaf and open the eyes of the blind”.

Fallaci had written an editorial 20 years earlier that she describes as “the scream of a Westerner full of indignation towards the idiots who did not smell the bad smell of a Holy War to come, and who tolerated the abuses that the sons of Allah were committing in Europe with their terrorism…” She goes on to quote herself as having said, “‘What logic is there in respecting those who do not respect us? What dignity is there in defending their culture or supposed culture when they show contempt for ours? I want to defend my culture, not theirs…’”

Fallaci’s belief is that Moslems want to subdue, or even destroy, our culture, and impose their own culture on us. She sees this as their fundamental aim, and goes on to claim that they have no interest at all in living in peace with us. Her statements at first struck me as being far too close in character to, for example, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. How could someone think that an entire faith group might have a united goal, which is the conversion or destruction of everyone who is not like them?

On the other hand, you realise that the Spanish Inquisition did not require the agreement or consent of each individual Catholic subject of Ferdinand and Isabella. Nor did all of the communists in the Soviet Union support Stalin’s purges. And I am sure that you can think of enough similar events from history to represent all periods and all of the inhabited continents.

And then Fallaci assaults you with her facts and evidence and observations and her own experiences, and you will – even if you still don’t want to – find yourself beginning to wonder if she’s right.

There was a synod at the Vatican in October 1999, a meeting where Christians and Moslems discussed relationships between the two religions. There “an eminent Islam scholar” declared to an audience, “‘By means of your democracy we shall invade you, by means of our religion we shall dominate you.’”

Fallaci calls the invasion a “Reverse Crusade”.

Fallaci had travelled throughout the Moslem world. She had interviewed King Hussein, Yassir Arafat, the Ayatollah Khomeini and Ali Bhutto, amongst others. On her travels, she was often treated with contempt because she was a woman, and she saw horrible things. She wants you to get the picture of life in a Muslim country, but the stories aren’t new. You’ve heard about men being executed for being gay, boys having their hands chopped off because they stole some food, and women being stoned to death for the crime of having been raped, or being executed for having gone to a hairdresser.

All of this concerns you, Fallaci reminds you, because “freedom separated from justice is half a freedom.”

Fallaci then brings the Moslems west. She describes how they destroyed Beirut in 1982, in particular their desecration of churches and shrines of other religions. She describes an action in Florence, her hometown, in 1999. As a political protest, Moslems erected a tent on Cathedral Square and lived in it for 3 ½ months. Fallaci describes their behaviour, including how they would piss and shit on the church. She shows you that they were exhibiting not a mere lack of respect for her culture, but out-and-out contempt and disdain.

But people are afraid to react because if you criticise or object to their actions, you will be accused of being a racist. And everyone in Europe is afraid to be labelled a racist.

Fallaci wonders how so many Moslems get to Europe, and where they get the money. She wonders if they are being funded – sent over by “some Ousama Bin Ladin for the mere purpose of establishing the Reverse Crusade’s settlements and better organising Islamic terrorism.”

And she comes to the point that, basically, it is going to be us or them.

As I said in my opening paragraph, controversial. But The Rage and the Pride is a compelling read and it will make you rethink the issues of immigration, tolerance and acculturation.


The Classic Caesar Salad

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

caesar cardini

 

Caesar Cardini makes a salad – always tableside and with a flourish

Of course I am still worried about the war in Iraq, over-zealous security measures in The Amerika, my right to carry a gun and terrorism, but today I am also worried about Caesar salad. You see, I love Caesar salad. I grew up on it. My mom has always made her own Caesar dressing, and my sisters and I used to continually ask for it. My mom’s is still the best Caesar salad I have ever had, even though she told me a long time ago that she does not make it exactly according to the original recipe. And today, Caesar salad was disparaged in the press.

A complimentary copy of a local business weekly arrives at my desk every Tuesday and today is Tuesday. So although last week’s issue was still on my desk and still in its envelope, I opened this week’s issue and turned, as you do, directly to the restaurant review. What I read there was shocking.

“…he barely touched the Caesar salad…as he said he could taste fish in the dish. The restaurant’s co-owner…said his Caesar salad dressing is made with anchovies, a variation on the original recipe.”

Sacrilege! How could the restaurateur call anchovies “a variation”? How could the reporter repeat his mistake? Everyone knows that a proper Caesar contains anchovies.

I considered writing an email to the editor, but why would I do that when I have my own blog? I decided to do some research, which was a good thing, because what I found surprised me. I was right that the original Caesar had anchovy in it, but what I hadn’t known was that the only anchovy in the original Caesar was contained in the Worcestershire sauce that was one of the ingredients.

In spite of all that, there are loads of recipes on the internet that purport to be “the original” or “very close to the original” – and most of them call for anchovies. So I realised that it was up to me to set the record straight.

The original Caesar salad was invented in 1924 by Caesar Cardini, an Italian immigrant and chef who lived in San Diego and owned a hotel and restaurant over the border in Tijuana. There are a couple of popular myths about the circumstances behind the invention of the salad. One of them claims a July 4th rush that had depleted the kitchen, and the other claims a party of Hollywood stars suddenly descending on the hotel. But whatever the catalyst that led Cardini to create something out of nothing, the result was mouth-watering immortality.

 

On the question of anchovies, Wikipedia goes so far as to claim that Cardini “opposed” the addition of any anchovies beyond those already in the Worcestershire sauce.

 

Wikibooks Cookbook has Caesar Cardini’s original recipe as told by his daughter Rosa to Julia Childs and published in From Julia’s Kitchen:

 

On our television show I didn’t have time to do the croutons Caesar’s way, and you may want to follow Rosa’s directions for them: cut homemade type unsweetened white bread into half-inch dice and dry out in the oven, basting them as they brown with olive oil in which you have steeped fresh crushed garlic for several days.

 

Except for the croutons, the following recipe duplicates Rosa Cardini’s instructions for her father’s salad, as she repeated them to me.

  • 2 large crisp heads romaine lettuce
  • 2 large cloves garlic and a garlic press
  • Salt
  • 3 cups best-quality olive oil
  • 2 cups best-quality plain unseasoned toasted croutons
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup (1 ounce) genuine imported real Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  • Peppercorns in a grinder
  • Worcestershire sauce

The romaine. You want 6 to 8 whole unblemished leaves of romaine, between 3 and 7 inches long, per person. Strip the leaves carefully from the stalks, refrigerate rejects in a plastic bag and reserve for another salad. Wash your Caesar leaves gently, to keep them from breaking, shake dry, roll loosely in clean towels. Refrigerate until serving time.

 

The croutons. Purée the garlic into a small heavy bowl, and mash to a paste with a pestle or spoon, adding 1/4 teaspoon salt and dribbling in 3 tablespoons of the oil. Strain into a medium-sized frying pan and heat to just warm, add the croutons, toss for about a minute over moderate heat and turn into a nice serving bowl.

 

Other preliminaries. Shortly before serving, squeeze the lemon into a pitcher, boil the eggs exactly 1 minute, grate the cheese into another nice little bowl, and arrange all of these on a tray along with the rest of the olive oil, the croutons, pepper grinder, salt, and Worcestershire. Have large dinner plates chilled, arrange the romaine in the largest salad bowl you can find, and you are ready to go.

 

Mixing the salad. Prepare to use large rather slow and dramatic gestures for everything you do, as though you were Caesar himself. First pour 4 tablespoons of oil over the romaine and give the leaves 2 rolling tosses — hold salad fork in one hand, spoon in the other, and scoop under the leaves at each side of the bowl, bringing the implements around the edge to meet each other opposite you, then scoop them up toward you in a slow roll, bringing the salad leaves over upon themselves like a large wave breaking toward you; this is to prevent them from bruising as you season them. Sprinkle on 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 8 grinds of pepper, 2 more spoonfuls of oil, and give another toss. Pour on the lemon juice, 6 drops of Worcestershire, and break in the eggs. Toss twice, sprinkle on the cheese. Toss once, then sprinkle on the croutons and give 2 final tosses.

 

Serving. Arrange the salad rapidly but stylishly leaf by leaf on each large plate, stems facing outward, and a sprinkling of croutons at the side. Guests may eat the salad with their fingers, in the approved and original Caesar manner, or may use knives and forks — which they will need anyway for the croutons.

 


Blow it out your arse, Arianna

Monday, 23 April 2007

don't tread on me

 

Why do so many people think that guns are bad? People seem to jump to conclusions without doing any research, without looking at the statistics, and without talking to people who might know better.

Yes, I guess I am obsessed. Today’s post is inspired by several things, the last of which was just now looking at the Huffington Post (which annoys me more and more every time I look at it) and reading Arianna Huffington’s bash of Tom DeLay. Tom DeLay, you see, suggested that if Virginia Tech had not been a gun free zone, someone might have stopped Cho Seung-Hui before he was able to murder so many people.

Sarcastic Arianna refers to “Mutually Assured Destruction Goes to College. Animal House meets Death Wish. Shootout at the O.K. Dorm. Ha ha ha – but actually, not at all funny. It makes me wonder if Arianna has ever looked at any of the research on guns and gun control, or if she just likes vilifying people who take the 2nd Amendment seriously.

I found some very interesting research last week – an article on the relationship between gun control and genocide, a University of Chicago study on gun control, and a survey of the police in San Diego.

Gun control and genocide – an article by Jay Simkin

I had never known, for example, that Turkey had a gun control law in effect when over 1 million Armenians were massacred between 1915 and 1917. The Soviet Union enacted a gun control law in 1929, and over the next 20 years, Stalin’s purges killed 20 million people. Other genocides noted in the article as all having occurred whilst gun control laws were in effect: Jews, gypsies and other victims of Nazi Germany, anti-communists in China, Mayans in Guatemala, Christians in Uganda, and the educated class in Cambodia.

I really don’t know if there is a direct relationship, but it certainly bears looking into or at least thinking about. Anyway, I put that article first because it is the weakest of my three arguments.

The abstract from the University of Chicago Gun Control Study

“Using cross-sectional time-series data for U.S. counties from 1977 to 1992, we find that allowing citizens to carry concealed weapons deters violent crimes and it appears to produce no increase in accidental deaths. If those states which did not have right-to-carry concealed gun provisions had adopted them in 1992, approximately 1,570 murders; 4,177 rapes; and over 60,000 aggravate assaults would have been avoided yearly. On the other hand, consistent with the notion of criminals responding to incentives, we find criminals substituting into property crimes involving stealth and where the probabilities of contact between the criminal and the victim are minimal. The largest population counties where the deterrence effect on violent crimes is greatest are where the substitution effect into property crimes is highest. Concealed handguns also have their greatest deterrent effect in the highest crime counties. Higher arrest and conviction rates consistently and dramatically reduce the crime rate. Consistent with other recent work (Lott, 1992b), the results imply that increasing the arrest rate, independent of the probability of eventual conviction, imposes a significant penalty on criminals. The estimated annual gain from allowing concealed handguns is at least $6.214 billion.”

I think it speaks for itself.

San Diego Police survey

The survey was done in 1997 and these are the actual questions that were asked. There is a statement on the page where I saw this survey that these results are similar to those in other police surveys all over the US for over 20 years.

1. Do you support an assault weapons ban? NO – 82.1%

2. Do you support a limitation on magazine capacity? NO – 82.2%

3. Do you support a law-abiding private citizen’s right to carry a concealed weapon? YES – 84.9%

4. Do you believe that armed, law-abiding citizens are a threat to you as a police officer? NO – 92.1%

5. Have recent gun laws (weapons bans, magazine capacity limits, and increased waiting periods) reduced violent crime in your area? NO – 94.2%

6. Would you support a point of sale background check (instant check) for the purchase of a firearm? YES – 92.1%

7. Does gun ownership by private citizens increase public safety? YES – 87.1%

8. Do you believe the criminal justice system needs streamlining and reform? YES – 99.2%

9. Do you believe in the death penalty? YES – 99.2%

10. Do you believe that restrictive gun laws will reduce violent crime? NO – 92.1%

11. Do you believe that gun buy-back or turn-in programs take guns out of the hands of criminals? NO – 98.5%

12. Do you believe that misuse of a firearm in a crime should result in stiff, mandatory sentences with no plea bargaining? YES – 95.6%

And now I have to ask myself whether I would like to believe a whining (and annoying) columnist on the one side, or the police – who might know a bit more about the topic, and a statistically sound study from a top-notch university on the other side. To be honest, the genocide study comes from Guns & Ammo magazine, so I am willing to leave that one out of the argument.

But again, the bottom line is who I am going to trust to protect me when I need protection. Hmm, let me think – that would be me.

I am not even sure that there is an argument for background checks. It didn’t stop Cho Seung-Hui and he was a certified nutter. I believe that criminals will always be able to get guns. They don’t abide by the law, which is what makes them criminals. Which means that I need to be able to get guns too. And legally – because I am not a criminal.

The article, study and survey discussed above are all here. You will also find some other nice Second Amendment links.

 


A Girl’s Best Friend?

Thursday, 19 April 2007

annie get your gun

 

Perhaps I am becoming obsessed.

I first want to restate my comments of Tuesday, which followed the Virginia Tech tragedy.

…And I am now thinking of joining the NRA because one of the thoughts I had in relation to the shootings yesterday was that if any of the people in the vicinity of the gunman had been packing, they could have taken him out. It just takes the police too long to get anywhere and we need to be able to defend ourselves.

I asked Jack, “Why do you carry a gun if you never need to use it?”

Jack answered, “Because one day I might.”

And I get that, I absolutely get that.

My brother then contributed this link, which is to the concealed carry database.

And today I found this blog post by CLS, entitled, “When mass killers meet armed resistance.” It is an extremely interesting and readable piece, and effectively makes the argument that we should all be armed. It relates incidents where private citizens with guns have taken down gunmen, thereby cutting short their shooting sprees and potentially preserving many lives. CLS makes the very sad point that if only Virginia Tech had not been a “gun free zone”…

I strongly encourage you to read the article. [Disclaimer: Although I believe that the stories CLS tells are true, I have not independently verified all the facts.]

The main point that CLS has made and that I would like to emphasise is that we as individuals must be able to protect ourselves. The police are generally not there when you need them and it will always take them time to get there.

It’s just basic self-reliance.


The Police: greedy, or merely ignorant?

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

police black white

 

When I first heard that The Police were re-forming for a worldwide concert tour, I got very excited. They are one of those bands that I had always really liked, but had never got round to seeing in concert. And so before tour dates and locations had been announced, I decided that I would happily travel to see The Police, in case they chose not to stop in Prague.

Early on, Jono sent me a promotional email he had received at work about VIP tickets for the shows at Twickenham in London. Those tickets were going for ₤365 a pop but, I thought, that’s London and they are part of a VIP package. I didn’t imagine that price could be at all indicative of what Prague prices might be.

Before I left for The Amerika at the end of last month, I had heard that The Police would be playing in Prague, but there had not yet been an official announcement (as far as I knew) and tickets had not yet gone on sale. Then last night I was out with Mike and he asked me if I had heard how much tickets were. I had not, so he told me.

The cheapest tickets are 220.

What? 220? That’s amazing!

Euros.

What?!! No way!

Yes.

Really?? 220 euros?

Yes. 220 euros. The cheapest seats.

Those greedy bastards.

To put things into perspective… the average monthly salary in Prague is around €720. And Prague salaries are higher than anywhere else in the country. Now, even though my monthly earnings are quite a bit higher than the average, I still would not pay that kind of money for a concert ticket. The price is simply too obscene.

Contrast: Mike and I bought tickets for the Rolling Stones concert last year – which was cancelled, but that is beside the point. Those tickets were priced at 990 Kč each, or, at today’s exchange rate, about €35. And that was the authentic original half-dead Rolling Stones – not a cover band. Who the hell do The Police think they are?!

And today I did my research. The price in euros is nearly standard across Europe. I did not look at every city, but the shows in Hamburg, Amsterdam, Paris, Antwerp and Vienna all have the same pricing as Prague. The tickets are €220/250/290 + €30 delivery.

And that is where I might be able to give The Police the benefit of the doubt and accuse them of ignorance rather than greed. Perhaps they don’t realise that unlike the other countries where they are playing, the economy of the Czech Republic is still recovering from 40 years of hardcore communism. As an example, even now, 17 years after the fall of communism, average monthly salaries next-door in Austria are 4 times higher than they are in the Czech Republic.

But back to greed…

In England, tickets for Manchester and Twickenham are ₤240 and ₤290 or, at Twickenham only, you can stand for ₤220.

In The Amerika, it seems that the price of tickets is more varied and thus spread over a wider socio-economic range. I looked only at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, where tickets go from $70 to $3080, and Madison Square Garden in New York, where the price range is $160 to $5690.

Mike and I agreed that the most likely scenario for The Police concert in Prague is that not enough tickets will be sold and the concert will be cancelled. Hey ho.

*current exchange: ₤1 = €1.48 = $2.01


Spring

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

daffodils

Spring Flowers by Rolf Hicker

 

Prague Spring

I hate spring. Of course, the warmer weather is wonderful and the sunshine and the colours and the flowers are lovely. But I have terrible seasonal allergies and so for three months out of every year I am absolutely miserable. It’s not just a runny nose and watery eyes, it’s congestion and headaches and an irritated phlegmy throat and even nausea, and it gets fucking worse every year.

New York Spring

The British pound has just reached $2. Limeys have been flying over to New York by the thousands just for weekends of shopping. “I say, old chap, everything is so bloody cheap over here in the colonies.” Americans should find that humiliating. It should make Americans angry and it should make Americans question. Why is our currency so weak? Could it be the deficit, financial mismanagement, national debt, financing wars, selling our soul to China, selling our soul to Halliburton…

Wake up, Amerika! The rising price of gasoline is the least of your worries.

Blacksburg Spring

You’d think it was Iraq or Afghanistan or something. 33 dead at a university in The Amerika. The university administration is being criticised for not warning the students about the gunman, even though they had 2 hours between the first and second rounds of shootings. The university is defending itself with the ‘unforeseeable’ argument. Both sides are right. There is no point in pinning blame on anyone except the gunman (or gunmen). It is impossible to defend against an incident like this one. Luckily, very few people ever decide that mass murder is the way they want to go out. (I am excluding governments, of course.)

And I am now thinking of joining the NRA because one of the thoughts I had in relation to the shootings yesterday was that if any of the people in the vicinity of the gunman had been packing, they could have taken him out. It just takes the police too long to get anywhere and we need to be able to defend ourselves.

I asked Jack, “Why do you carry a gun if you never need to use it?”

Jack answered, “Because one day I might.”

And I get that, I absolutely get that.