Max is away

Friday, 28 March 2008

Prague Graffiti

Sunday, 23 March 2008
john lennon wall prague

There are a lot of graffiti in Prague. The main reason, as I understand it, is that graffiti were mostly not tolerated before the Velvet Revolution, so once communism fell apart, no one wished to stifle this new way of free expression. Now it’s just out of hand.

I was on the tram yesterday when I saw graffiti on the side of a church on Karlovo náměstí that said in English, “Fight State”. And I thought, as I so often do – If you are going to deface private property whilst using the English language, at least get the bloody grammar right. And I thought of other examples that I have seen around Prague, like “Fuck System” and “We don’t want clean city!”

The graffiti is ugly, but as a linguist, a writer, an editor, and most of all as an absolute pedant, it’s the grammatical errors and the misspellings that really irk me.

I was on another tram later in the day when I overheard two other foreigners discussing the graffiti. One explained to the other that they were symbolic, that no one would do anything about the graffiti because under communism, graffiti had been the only means of protest.

Now I knew that was a load of crap because there is so much evidence to the contrary. For example, Plastic People of the Universe, samizdat publishing, Charter 77, the imprisoned dissidents who are today’s politicians… But like in a lot of the bullshit you hear around town, there was some truth in what the young lady had said. Specifically, the John Lennon wall.

The John Lennon wall in Malá strana became the holy wall of freedom graffiti after John Lennon was killed in December 1980. The authorities tried to keep the wall clean and graffiti-less, but not even surveillance cameras and a human guard could keep the sprayers and painters and poets away. But that wall was an exception and Prague was otherwise without graffiti.

Must have been nice.

Lives and Treasure

Thursday, 20 March 2008
pirate game

“No one would argue that this war has not come at a high cost in lives and treasure…”

PЯesident George W Bush, speaking yesterday about Iraq

Sorry – “treasure”?

I don’t know about everyone else, but I find that use of the word ‘treasure’ offensive. The war in Iraq is not a children’s game of pirates, and the taxpayers’ hard-earned money is not ‘treasure’.

But W is an asshole and John McCain is going to be even worse.

If I were on the Supreme Court…

Tuesday, 18 March 2008
second amendment

The fundamental issue being debated in the Supreme Court today is whether the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution was actually meant to protect an individual’s right to possess guns.

There are of course all kinds of arguments and statistics and rationale that have been bandied about on both sides of the issue. Even Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership have submitted an amicus brief.

But there is no precedent for this case currently before the Supreme Court and it therefore has to come down to the sitting justicesinterpretation of what the framers actually intended.

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.

From the perspective of language, it seems to me that the inclusion of an “and” could have precluded any argument.

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, and the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

The omission of the “and”, however, does not prove anything. In fact that non essential “and” may have been left out only because the sentence flows better without it.

I either read or heard an argument the other day that had been put forward by a historical linguist. He said that to “bear Arms” clearly has to refer to a militia, as that was an idiom for being a soldier (or something like that). However in the bit that was quoted, he never mentioned what “to keep…Arms” might mean.

There are other ways in which a good editor could have clarified the 2nd Amendment. For example:

As a well regulated Militia is necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

The right of the people to keep and bear Arms for a well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, shall not be infringed.

I am an editor and I could play with that sentence all day, but it would never tell us what the framers had intended. To get an idea of intention, we have to look elsewhere. We have to understand the politics of the time, we have to understand history, and we should look at other things that the framers said and wrote.

James Madison is considered the author of the Bill of Rights (the first 10 Amendments to the US Constitution). He adapted the Bill of Rights from the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which had been drafted by George Mason in 1776. One of George Mason’s sources had been the English Bill of Rights of 1689. Even the English Bill of Rights declares that the subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defence suitable to their conditions and as allowed by law”.

James Madison had initially been on the side that argued against a Bill of Rights, the danger being that if only certain rights were enshrined, then that would put all other of the natural rights of man at risk. A Bill of Rights would also assume that the government had powers that it had never in reality been granted.

I leave you now with a few quotes to help you decide what the framers really thought.

Americans have the right and advantage of being armed – unlike the citizens of other countries whose governments are afraid to trust the people with arms. – James Madison

The Constitution shall never be construed … to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms. – Samuel Adams

The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government. – Thomas Jefferson

Firearms are second only to the Constitution in importance; they are the People’s Libertys Teeth. – George Washington

A vote for the Democrats is a vote for Al Qaeda

Saturday, 15 March 2008
mccain bush hug

Or, in other words, a vote for Obama is a vote for Osama.

Politicians have no shame. Or, in other words, McCain is a dick.

I saw this story on the dreaded Huffington Post: McCain: Al Qaeda May Intervene To Tip Election Towards Dems.

John McCain would have us believe that a vote for a Democrat is a vote for Al Qaeda. Therefore if you vote for a Democrat, you support terrorism. And if you support terrorism, you’re the same as a terrorist. So if you vote for a Democrat, you are a terrorist and you’d better have your overnight bag packed and ready by the front door so that when you’re renditioned you’ll at least have your toothbrush.

Or you can be a patriotic Amerikan and vote for McCain.

Calling a spade a spade

Friday, 14 March 2008
geraldine ferraro vp pin

Okay, I suck. I have let my job totally get in the way and I haven’t managed to post all week. That in spite of some juicy things going on: Eliot Spitzer (prostitution), Geraldine Ferraro (accusations of racism), Mehdi Kazemi (sodomy), new marijuana laws in the Czech Republic… Luckily I am not going anywhere this weekend and I anticipate spending some quality time in front of my computer.

But for now, I would like to share excerpts from some emails that were exchanged yesterday between me and my friend Ricardo, who is a limey and also lives here in Prague. Ricardo is blue and I am violet.

Irrespective of whether Hillary or the Osama bloke (didn’t a paper get in trouble for that?) win, it is questionable if either will have enough support against the next gung ho tyrant-in-waiting of the United States of A. His arms look a bit too short.

Geraldine Ferraro (a former VP candidate) just got into trouble for pointing out that Obama is black.

I thought he was 50:50. Does that mean it’s wrong to say he’s black and equally that he’s white? Blimey.

He is 50:50, and I think you are allowed to say that he is white, but only because anyone can see that he is black. You are not, however, allowed to refer to him as African-American because although he is half African and half American, his ancestors were not slaves so therefore saying African-American would somehow be misleading.

Why is it that you’re allowed to say that Obama’s campaign is going well because he is young, because he is good-looking, or because he reminds people of John F Kennedy, but you can’t say that his race has been a factor? Especially when clearly it has. Just as some people are voting for Hillary Clinton just because she is a woman and some people will vote for McCain in November just because he is a white man, some people are obviously voting for Obama just because he is black. And so what? That’s just because lots and lots of people don’t vote on the issues.

Mrs Ferraro, your mistake was that you forgot to speak in a whisper when you said the word “black”.

Max is away

Thursday, 6 March 2008

tower of london