Max is away

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

phu quoc


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.

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

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.

The Hoover-KBR Continuum

Sunday, 23 December 2007
palmer raids IWW office
Office of the Industrial Workers of the World, New York City
after the Palmer Raid of November 1919

Just in case you were wondering what the KBR detention camps were for…

A newly declassified document shows that J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, had a plan to suspend habeas corpus and imprison some 12,000 Americans he suspected of disloyalty.

Hoover wanted President Harry S. Truman to proclaim the mass arrests necessary to “protect the country against treason, espionage and sabotage.” The F.B.I would “apprehend all individuals potentially dangerous” to national security, Hoover’s proposal said. The arrests would be carried out under “a master warrant attached to a list of names” provided by the bureau.

New York Times

Those arrests, which were proposed in July 1950, were never carried out. But if you go a little bit further back in history, you will get to the time when Hoover was able to arrest thousands of people whose politics he didn’t approve of.

A. Mitchell Palmer was the United States Attorney General under President Woodrow Wilson. Palmer had appointed Hoover as his special assistant. Palmer and Hoover were apparently worried that communists were going to overthrow the American government so they hatched a plan to use the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918 to persecute communists, anarchists and social reformers.

In November and December 1919, 10,000 people were arrested and held without trial, many of them for an extended period of time. The Department of Justice subsequently found no evidence of a planned revolution and eventually released most of the prisoners. However, 248 of the suspects, including the famous anarchist and activist Emma Goldman, were put on a ship and deported to Soviet Russia.

There were 6,000 more arrests in January 1920. Again, detainees were held for weeks or months without being charged, without the possibility to post bail, and without access to legal counsel. And again some were deported.

But the idea that the KBR camps are for political prisoners or dissidents is preposterous.

Huckabee is a fucking freak

Wednesday, 12 December 2007



I am not paying much attention to the campaigning in the presidential primaries in The Amerika. With the exception of Ron Paul, I think that all of the candidates, whether Republican or Democrat, are simply unacceptable. Therefore I don’t really care what they have to say or what their religious beliefs are or whether they used to smoke crack or engage in bestiality. The idea that one of those loathsome people is going to end up as leader of the free world fills me with horror.

But today I am going to nominate my candidate for freakiest of the freaks – Michael Dale Huckabee, Southern Baptist minister, former governor of Arkansas, covenant marriager, and advocate of concentration camps for AIDS patients.

My disdain for Huckabee started back in August when I was reading Michelle Goldberg’s Kingdom Coming and came across the 2005 public spectacle of the Huckabees’ covenant marriage ceremony:

The highlight of the night was the Huckabees’ conversion of their marriage and restatement of their vows, including Janet’s pledge to “submit” to Mike. When they were done, they invited the audience to repeat their promises. Thousands of wives, some in evening gowns or wedding veils, vowed to submit to thousands of husbands…

More recently Huckabee’s 1992 remarks about AIDS sufferers were brought to light. “We need to take steps that would isolate the carriers of this plague… Nice one, Dickhead.

And within the last few days – the fact that he had advocated parole for the rapist of a 17-year old girl. The released rapist went on to rape and murder two more women.

A beauty of a quote came out just yesterday. Claiming that he believed Mormonism was a religion, but admitting that he didn’t know much about it, Huckabee asked, “Don’t Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers? Not really an appropriate question for a clergyman or a statesman to ask about a religion.

And of course Huckabee doesn’t believe in evolution.

For more on what a fucking freak Mike Huckabee is, read Larry Womack’s column here. There are some good links as well.

Fascists for Freedom

Monday, 19 November 2007

fascists palackeho namesti
Fascists on Palackého náměstí


It was Saturday afternoon and Boris and I were standing at the tram stop. We saw a group of eight young men and one young woman dressed in black and carrying black flags. Boris got that inquisitive look. I suddenly realised who the kids in black were and what they were doing.

Saturday, the 17th of November, was a Czech holiday – the Day of struggle for freedom and democracy. The day marks the beginning of the Velvet Revolution in 1989 and the day the Nazis closed the Czech universities in 1939.

On the previous Saturday, the Prague community and the police had prevented neo-Nazis from marching through the Jewish quarter of Prague. One group of neo-Nazis, Autonomní Nacionalisté – the Autonomous Nationalists – had subsequently announced a demonstration for the 17th. It would take place at Palackého náměstí, recently designated Prague’s “Hyde Park Corner”, where no permit is required for speech and assembly. On that day, the fascists would protest the death of freedom of speech.

And once again, I am delighted at the irony.

“We are for arguments instead of bans and we want the freedom of speech,” declared one of the speakers at the rally.

Because everyone knows that freedom of speech is one of the core values of fascism.