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.


In support of free speech

Wednesday, 13 February 2008
westergaard mohammed cartoon
Today several leading Danish newspapers have reprinted the above cartoon, one of those that had sparked Muslim protests worldwide after their original publication in 2005. The occasion is the arrest of three suspects in an alleged plot to murder the cartoonist Kurt Westergaard.
This post is in support of the Danish newspapers and Mr Westergaard and those who refuse to give in to fear and fanaticism.

Deniers of History

Wednesday, 16 January 2008
warsaw ghetto monument

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

– George Santayana

Yesterday I read that some German neo-Nazis want to join their untermenschen brethren on their march in Plzeň in West Bohemia this coming Saturday. That march “coincides” with the anniversary of the first transport of the Jews of Plzeň to the concentration camp at Terezín in 1942.

Czech neo-Nazis had tried to march in Prague last November, but they were unsuccessful due to the actions of ordinary people who do not tolerate fascism.

Anyway, still yesterday, I was curious to see if the European Jewish Press had picked up on the Plzeň story so I looked at their website. There was nothing on Plzeň, but I was surprised to see two stories on Holocaust deniers being sentenced to prison for their crimes.

I have already written about my thoughts on free speech and Holocaust denial. I have also spoken on the radio about it. Basically, free speech is sacred and no one should be jailed for saying what they believe.

But there are certain questions that need to be addressed:

How can people actually believe that the Holocaust never happened? Or that we have exaggerated its magnitude?

Why do these deniers have an audience? Who would be ignorant enough to believe them in the face of overwhelming proof that the Holocaust did happen and the Nazis did kill 6 million Jews as well as millions of other victims?

A former right-wing city councillor in Austria was sentenced to prison after having been convicted of Holocaust denial for the third time.

The German who was convicted is a 44-year old lawyer. I found that shocking – someone who is of a younger and more enlightened generation, and highly educated. How can she deny history like that?

Perhaps the most famous Holocaust denier is David Irving, who is now also known for his unsuccessful lawsuit against the historian Deborah Lipstadt. Irving sued Dr Lipstadt for libel after she had named him as a Holocaust denier in her book Denying the Holocaust.

Due to the nature of English defamation law and process, Dr Lipstadt had to prove that what she had written about Irving was true. Her legal team therefore had to show in an English court of law that the Holocaust had really happened. It was an absurd situation on one level, but entirely fascinating on another. And most importantly – it demonstrated that truth always prevails in the end. Dr Lipstadt wrote an excellent book about the case, History on Trial.

So don’t send the Holocaust deniers to jail. They should be allowed to make complete arseholes of themselves. At the same time, however, we need to shout over them, drown them out and make sure people know how ridiculous they are.

No one should be ignorant of history. It has always happened again.

“World Views on Free Press Mixed”

Monday, 10 December 2007

freedom of the press


I have to admit that I was shocked this morning when I heard the results of the BBC poll on press freedom. To be fair, the headline question in the survey had not been, “Do you believe that a free press is important?” In fact, there were two statements, both of which acknowledged that there is no question that a free press is important. The question then really was whether or not a free press is essential.

People across 14 countries were asked to choose which of two statements on the freedom of the media was closest to their own view:

· Freedom of the press to report the news truthfully is very important to ensure we live in a fair society, even if it sometimes leads to unpleasant debates or social unrest.

· While freedom of the press to report the news truthfully is important, social harmony and peace are more important which sometimes means controlling what is reported for the greater good.

Worldwide 40% of people answered that social harmony and peace are more important than a free press. Which means that worldwide, 40% of people do not understand that without an absolutely free press there can be no freedom.

The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure. – Thomas Jefferson

There is a reason that freedom of the press is canonised in the First Amendment to the US Constitution. The concept of a free press was born in the US, as was the concept of real liberty. They are inseparable.

A free press is not a perfect or uniform entity and the press will sometimes agitate and cause disorder. But that is the way things need to be.

With newspapers, there is sometimes disorder; without them, there is always slavery. – Benjamin Constant

Nazi Germany did not have a free press, the Soviet Union did not have a free press. Even in today’s supposedly democratic Russia, journalists are being murdered for what they report.

Our Republic and its press will rise or fall together. An able, disinterested, public-spirited press, with trained intelligence to know right and courage to do it, can preserve that public virtue without which popular government is a sham and a mockery. – Joseph Pulitzer

The results of the survey were also reported by country. 70% of people in the US realised that a free press is essential rather than just important, which was the highest percentage of any country. But 28% of people in the US thought stability and peace were more important, whilst 2% were too stupid to answer the question. That is all worrying. All people in a supposedly free society should understand the essential nature of a free press, and in the US most of all. 70% is far too low.

If the press is not free, if speech is not independent and untrammelled, if the mind is shackled or made impotent through fear, it makes no difference under what form of government you live, you are a subject and not a citizen. – Senator William E Borah

HG Wells once said that the decline and fall of the Roman Empire was due to the fact that they didn’t have any newspapers.

The BBC story on the survey is here and the published report is here.

Ray Bradbury on tv and ‘the people’

Thursday, 7 June 2007

žižkov tower žižkovská věž

Žižkovská věž


This morning I read an article from last week’s LA Weekly about Ray Bradbury. The article was entitled “Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451 misinterpreted”.

I read Fahrenheit 451 while I was in high school many years ago. I liked it, but I don’t think I understood it. It just seemed like good science fiction, but – come on – why would they really burn books in the USA?

We were taught, and most people think, that the book is about government censorship. Ray Bradbury says that it is not. And the things he says the book is about are certainly more threatening than government censorship.

Fahrenheit 451, according to Bradbury, is about television destroying people’s interest in reading. The people themselves are at fault for not reading, and the state only begins burning books because people no longer want them.

Bradbury’s book, then, was prophetic.

Most Americans did not have televisions when Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451, and those who did watched 7-inch screens in black and white. Interestingly, his book imagined a future of giant color sets — flat panels that hung on walls like moving paintings. And television was used to broadcast meaningless drivel to divert attention, and thought, away from an impending war.

People do still read, although not as many people read as much. Americans average about 4.5 hours per day of television; other nations are not that far behind. I have stated my belief over and over – television is evil and it makes people stupid.

The LA Weekly article outlines Bradbury’s views of television news, which mostly have to do with how it has no substance at all.

“Useless,” Bradbury says. “They stuff you with so much useless information, you feel full.”

And the government is not to blame in this case, although it would be wrong to say that they are not happy to take advantage of the situation. But the people have to take responsibility for their own stupidity, and we have something very important to learn from Bradbury’s message.

The mindless entertainment – we don’t have to watch it. The television news that has no substance – we don’t have to accept it. We can demand more or, even better, we can not turn on our televisions. Everyone that really cares about the news knows that the internet is a much better source. But the problem is that television has already done its dirty work, the people have made their choice, they have been sucked in and they don’t have any desire to get out.

The article is here.

Большая чистка

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

chavez silencio dictado


Bolshaya Chistka, or the Great Purge

Venezuelan dictator Hugo “Fidelito” Chávez is on his way to closing down a second television station within the space of a few days. First he closed Radio Caracas TV for allegedly trying to undermine the government, and now he is going after Globovision for allegedly inciting the people to kill him. But it’s not because he’s paranoid or anything like that, they really are out to get him.

Chávez has an interesting history with television, a twisted love-hate relationship. Obviously he loves state-controlled television, which never wavers in its support for him. But Chávez hates private television, not least because it has already once been a fundamental factor in his overthrow – see The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.

Oh yes, Chávez is also suing CNN for allegedly linking him to al-Qaeda. But I think that’s just for fun.

Many people have been protesting the closure of RCTV; on the other hand, many people have been supporting it. The latter group are idiots.

Benjamin Franklin once said:

In those wretched countries where a man cannot call his tongue his own, he can scarce call anything his own. Who ever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.

Which is always interpreted to mean that a free press is essential for liberty, something that by now all educated people know is true.

Chávez is currently only about 4 months into the 18-month dictatorship he was granted. I am certain that by the end of it, there will not be a single truly independent publisher or broadcaster left in Venezuela. ¡Adiós, la libertad!

Fête des femmes

Thursday, 8 March 2007

dolce & gabbana


Today is International Women’s Day, Fête des femmes, or Mezinárodní den žen, depending on where you are. International Women’s Day was declared by the Socialist Party of America in 1909. It is still marked in different ways in socialist countries throughout the world, like France.

Today I chanced upon the Dolce & Gabbana advertisement above and was sucked into the debate surrounding it. First I looked at the ad and formed my own opinion. Then I read what others had to say over on Mike’s blog. Finally I went through Newsweek to the NOW website. Maybe I am being naïve, maybe violence against women really is because of video games and movies and tv and advertising, but I don’t think so.

My opinion on that particular ad is that it is actually pretty damn sexy. Maybe I am a pervert, maybe I am a deviant – think what you will. As I commented over on Mike’s blog:

“I think the ad is sexy. If I had just seen it in a magazine (i.e. without all the hoopla), I would never have spent any time thinking about what it depicted. I would have noticed the female model’s beautiful legs and the oiled muscle tone of the male models. I might have especially noticed how the nakedness of her leg’s and the naked torso and arms above her really stand out in the photograph. It’s a fashion advert. Then I would have turned the page and continued with my reading.”

The NOW love your body website has a page of “offensive ads”; this D&G ad has the place of honour at the top. I glanced at the other ads – I found some of them stupid and perhaps more of them tasteless, but why would I allow an advertisement to offend me?

To try to get a better idea of the NOW campaign, I then looked at the page of “positive ads”. That page features women of colour, an older lady with wrinkles, plus-size models and girl scouts. Yes, it is nice to see more than just plastic, young anorexics. Variety is the spice of life, after all.

The whole thing reminded me of the advertising for the Jan Saudek photography exhibition in Prague last year. Saudek’s photographs feature a lot of nudity – old people, young people, children, skinny, fat – whatever. The photograph that was chosen for the poster that went up all over town featured the bare bottom of a girl of about 12. AG thought it was kiddie porn and she was all up in arms and actually protested against it. But when she wanted me to be outraged with her, I had to disappoint her. I went to see the Saudek exhibition; AG did not.

And that is how it’s done. I am going to let Jono have the final word here – from our email exchange on the subject:

“There is no need to be offended, but it’s fine not to like something. Surely you just vote with your wallet and do not buy products from those companies if they offend you?”