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"If that's your best, your best won't do" -- Dee Snider

Since Doug is otherwise occupied this week, I'll pick up the mantle of minding the Czech press. Two stories jumped out at me tonight (and damn near got my wallet): Dajdou wants to go into politics, and Dolly Buster is suing the state for financial mismanagement. Both women are demonstrating a damn-the-torpedos attitude that reminds me of President Klaus.

If you're not familiar with Dajdou, you should be. If you're not in the know as regards Nora Baumberger, aka Dolly Buster, she's the lead EP candidate for the Independent Initiative (NEI). Now please try to keep up.

Anyway, Blesk put the Dajdou story on page one, below the fold. The poor translation below is mine.

Dajdou: I'm going to be a politician

Anna Gleisnerová (18), also known as the "Czech Dajdou" has set her sites to politics! "But I haven't chosen party yet, because each one is worse than the next," the ever-critical Anička told Blesk.

"Each one has a bad platform. I would simply do things differently," says Anička, who would participate in municipal politics once she comes of age.

The young anti-star of the "Česko hledá SuperStar" television contest show wants to change the world for the better. And she believes that she is well suited to be a politician. "In a year, when I'm of age, then I'll see my candidacy realistically," says Anička.

"I don't know, but I think that people will vote for me when they hear my radical opinions." For a moment she hesitates, but quickly adds with confidence that she is broadly gifted and is better than almost everyone, and so she has the best background for a political career.

And then there's this story from ČTK about Dolly Buster, or as the agency calls her for the first time I've noticed, Nora Baumberger. Does this mean the former porn star is gaining more mainstream cred? Is Nusle gentrifying?

"I learnt from citizens that the Czech state debt has been growing in the past years. [Now here's a politician who's in the loop. -ts] This made me believe that the state is unable optimally to manage its finances," she said.

Of course, the pity is that the Prague 1 District State Attorney's Office will blow off Baumberger's complaint because a) she's done the nasty, repeatedly, on film, for money, and b) it's an election year. Discuss.


Not ironic, isn't it not

Via Prague TV, Molvania -- A Land Untouched by Modern Dentistry. Be sure to listen to the Molvania entry into the Eurovision song contest.


The assassination

After Heydrich’s clampdown on the Czech underground, such as it was, Beneš recognized that any further sabotage or intelligence gathering was going to rely on paratroopers trained in Britain and dropped into the Protectorate. Squads were also trained for ‘anti-personnel attacks’ – assassinations. As MacDonald writes,

If Beneš felt his credibility in London and Moscow depended on dramatic evidence of Czech resistance, he also feared for his position at home as a result of Heydrich’s police measures. The parachute groups were not only to impress the allies but also to act as a rallying point for the badly shaken underground.

But Beneš was careful never to go on record calling for an assassination, although he did meet with the assassins before they left Britain. He would later deny any role in its planning and execution.

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Two soldiers were chosen to carry out the assassination. Josef Gabčík (first photo at right) was a Slovak and Karel Svoboda was a Czech. Svoboda later suffered a concussion in parachute training and was replaced by Jan Kubiš (second photo at right), also a Czech. Informed of the mission, they volunteered without hesitation. They were to work without the foreknowledge of anyone in the underground, to reduce the chances the mission might be leaked. The assassination was originally to be carried out on 28 October, the anniversary of the country’s independence.

Several other missions were prepared parallel to Operation Anthropoid. Two of these, Silver A and Silver B, were to help re-establish communications between the resistance and London. Operations Iron and Tin were planned as assassinations. Iron was later cancelled, but its target appears to have been the doddering President Hácha. Tin was to kill Emanuel Moravec, an ugly little toad of a man who was Minister of Propaganda. A sabotage mission, Operation Steel was renamed Out Distance. (No, I don’t know how they came up with these names either.)

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Anthropoid, Silver A and Silver B – nine soldiers in total – were dropped east of Plzeň on the night of 29 December 1941. Silver A got separated in the jump and Silver B lost their radio. Members of Silver A promptly went to visit their mothers and started fighting over sweethearts, but managed to set up radio communications. Anthropoid had a rough landing far off target and were lucky not to be discovered by the Gestapo. Several months later, they were reunited with Josef Valčik of Silver A.

In April, Gabčík, Kubiš and Valčik were diverted to assist in bombing mission, which largely failed. Many parachute squads were being dropped in and many of them were being captured. The Nazis were on the alert and rumours of assassins were abroad in Prague. Even Heydrich was aware of a plot to assassinate him, but he refused to believe the Czechs would commit suicide by killing him. The contacts the men had made in the underground resisted the plan, fearing the reprisals that would follow, and begged London to call off the mission.

Beneš refused. His parachute missions were failing and he needed both military and political victories. He wrote in a message to the resistance that action was necessary ‘even if it had to be paid for with a great many sacrifices’.

Before they left Britain, Gabčík and Kubiš had determined the best way to kill Heydrich would be to attack him in his car with gunfire and explosives. Heydrich’s residence was in Panenské Břežany, just north of Prague. From what they knew of Heydrich’s schedule, the day would have to be 27 May. The assassins needed to find a sharp turn on Heydrich’s route where his car would slow down. They found one north of Holešovice, where the streets Zenklova and V Holešovičkách meet today.

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I went to the site on Tuesday. Even today, cars have to slow down considerably to make the turn. There are no markers of the event, but three streets in the area preserve the memory – Gabčíkova, Kubišova and Valčikova. A man I stopped on the street told me the attack would have taken place roughly at the Vychovatelna stop for buses headed to Nádraží Holešovice. At the corner of Zenklova and Gabčíkova (photo at left) is a fence that looks very much like one in photographs taken at the scene of the attack by investigators, but the man told the streets had changed much since then. At that time, it was largely a green area with few houses. Today, it is dominated by major traffic arteries, underpasses and an ugly blue building with the name Prometheus on its wall.

On the morning of 27 May, Gabčík, Kubiš and Valčik rode bicycles to the planned scene of the attack. Valčik took a high position watching and was to signal with a mirror when Heydrich’s car was approaching. Kubiš stood under some trees on the inside of the sharp corner, ready to throw grenades into the car. Gabčík stood on the opposite side of the rode with a light automatic.

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After a long wait, Heydrich’s black Mercedes Benz 320 came down the hill. At about the same time, a tram was climbing the hill. As the car slowed into the turn, Gabčík walked into the street, aimed at Heydrich and squeezed the trigger. The gun jammed. Realising Gabčík was an assassin, Heydrich stood up, drew his pistol and ordered his driver to stop. At that moment, Kubiš threw a grenade, which landed just outside the car (photo at left). Shrapnel hit Heydrich, his driver and Kubiš and shattering the windows of the tram, which had come to its stop.

The driver went after Kubiš, who got on his bicycle and rode quickly down the hill. Valčik escaped undetected. Heydrich attempted to chase down Gabčík, but was too seriously injured to pursue him far. As Heydrich collapsed, he ordered his driver to follow Gabčík, who apparently ran up the hill and down the street that now bears his name. He attempted to hide in a butcher shop (the only building in the vicinity today that looks like a storefront is at Gabčíkova 19), but found no help. He barely escaped into a side street.

Heydrich was mortally wounded. Shrapnel broke a rib and bits of horsehair and wire from car seat penetrated his spleen. He was delivered to Bulovka hospital, where he died a week later.

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The Czech Army Museum has a pretty good exhibition on the assassination, with lots of artefacts like letters Gabčík and Kubiš wrote, weapons and Heydrich's car (photo at left). The Mercedes was repaired, but the museum has 'restored' it to something like the condition after the attack. There is also a wealth of material on the soldiers' capture and the reprisals, but I'll leave that for another day.


Reinhard Heydrich

On Monday I attempted to shed a little light on the sort of man Edvard Beneš was and the role he played in the Heydrich assassination. Today I’m taking a look at Heydrich himself. There has been a lot written about Heydrich; two books in particular that I’m drawing from are (again) MacDonald’s ‘The Killing of SS Obergruppenfuehrer Reinhard Heydrich’ and Mark Roseman’s ‘The Villa, the Lake, the Meeting: Wannsee and the Final Solution’. There’s also a pretty good examination of Heydrich here.

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Heydrich was not a likeable fellow. The son of a poor musician, he was a social outcast almost from the beginning. Other children picked on him because he was a pigeon-chested pansy who was rumoured to be Jewish. He responded by becoming a ruthless and bloody-minded athlete and womaniser who was pathologically anti-semitic.

There was a lot of that sort of behaviour going around. After World War I, it became fashionable in Germany to blame the country’s defeat on Jews. Heydrich’s involvement in militant nationalist organisations began when he joined the paramilitary Maracker Freikorps at 15. He eventually became a naval officer but was discharged in 1931 for bad behaviour; womanising again. His pride and career prospects wounded, he joined the Nazi party. He would seek his revenge on the officer class later.

Heydrich made a great Nazi, as it were. He was an ambitious climber, continually scheming against those above and below him. He built up the Nazis intelligence wing to dig up dirt on people who got in his way. Anti-semitism was reaching manic proportions. To be called a Jew was accusation, trial and sentence. Such accusations were useful to monsters like Heydrich. Of course, rumours of Heydrich’s own Jewish past continued to linger, and he responded by trying to be the most ruthless anti-semite around.

He wasn’t the only one. The Nazi machine in general and the SS in particular get painted as monstrous models of calculation and efficiency. True, they made the trains run on time and could devote enormous amounts of resources to inconceivably grim statistics, but it was because every individual knew that slacking meant personal ruin of the worst sort. (It’s interesting to note that when the Jewish charge didn’t stick, there was always the accusation of homosexuality.) So when a Nazi couldn’t be efficient and exacting, he went to extra lengths to be brutal, to show his heart was in the right place, sorta.

Many people associate Heydrich with the infamous conference at Wannsee in January 1942. The common understanding of that conference has it that this was where the ‘Final Solution’ was unveiled and that Heydrich was in charge, but I think that’s putting too fine a point on it. As Roseman writes, Nazi policy was not established by anyone other than Hitler, and Hitler was not at Wannsee. Murderous opinions and plots were undoubtedly discussed, but we can’t know for sure because Heydrich wouldn’t let anyone except Adolf Eichmann take notes. Furthermore, Eichmann’s notes apparently look more like an essay, not minutes of a meeting. So Wannsee emerges as an opportunity for Heydrich to impress a bunch of Nazi middle-managers not just with how deep his anti-semitism ran, but with how ruthless and controlling he could be. Read Roseman for more.

Even when he was SS Obergruppenfuehrer, Heydrich had set his sights higher. Just how high he hoped to climb in the Nazi organisation we don’t know, but he saw his path there as leading through Bohemia and Moravia. In 1941, the Reichsprotektor was Konstantin von Neurath, an old-guard army man who distrusted the SS. Heydrich wanted to turn the Protectorate into a model SS state. To that end, he compiled a dossier on Neurath’s administration. He sexed-up the dossier to make the Czech underground resistance to look like more of a threat than it actually was – just as Beneš was doing, but for completely different purposes. So when Beneš’s boycott of the Protectorate press came off, Heydrich pounced. Within a week, Hitler named Heydrich to replace Neurath.

The new Reichsprotektor immediately declared martial law and raised the black SS flag over Prague Castle. He set about expediting the execution of hundreds of suspected resisters, many of whom were intelligentsia and former army offices, to eliminate any potential resistance leaders. At the same time, he increased some rations, distributed shoes and took other measures to depoliticise the Czech population and get individuals to concentrate solely on their jobs and material needs.

Heydrich arrested Prime Minister Alois Eliáš as a traitor and sentenced him to death, but postponed the execution and let it be widely known that further testimony could be expected from the doomed man. This put the fear of god in many officials who were quietly resisting the Nazis, including the aged and ailing president, Emil Hácha. The president eventually denounced Beneš and accused him of being a troublemaker who did not have the interest of the people at heart.

It’s unclear what effect the underground’s ‘undetectable sabotage’ was having on industrial output, but it seemed to be in everyone’s interest to inflate the damage caused – well, everyone’s interest except that of ordinary people and what remained of the resistance after Heydrich launched his initial reign of terror. While Neurath had been loathe to punish the entire population for the actions of a few, and thereby push the country toward rebellion, Heydrich decided to shock and awe the Czechs by executing 3000 men. It was an act that Beneš felt he had to answer.



I neglected to mention that today commemorates Cyril and Methodius. More on this later in the week.

Edvard Beneš (1884-1948)

Speaking of whipping boys ... The second president of Czechoslovakia, Edvard Beneš, would have turned 120 yesterday. Beneš is best remembered for the decrees that bear his name, which expelled Czechoslovakia's German minority after World War II. He also stands out in popular memory for having been on watch during two putsches: The Munich Agreement of 1938, which kinda sorta resulted in World War II, and the Communist coup of 1948, which introduced Czechoslovakia 41 years of state-sponsored unpleasantness.

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Although he died shortly after the arrival of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, Beneš has been in the news again lately. A measure before the Czech parliament earlier this spring would have recognised Beneš for his contributions to the state. He was Masaryk's No 2, after all. But the Senate rejected the bill and sent it back to the Chamber of Deputies, who overrode the bill and sent it on to President Klaus, who refused to sign the bill, but who said yesterday that Beneš is getting the short end of the stick.

I have to agree on that last bit, but there's an awful lot about Beneš that just doesn't come up in the recent discussions. May 27 marks the anniversary of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, one-time SS Obergruppenfuehrer, General of Police, Reichsprotektor and generally unlikeable fellow. This week, I'm taking a look at that assassination and events leading up to and resulting from it. And I'm starting with Beneš. I'm also relying heavily -- nay, stealing liberally from Callum MacDonald's excellent book 'The Killing of SS Obergruppenfuehrer Reinhard Heydrich.' I have condensed and paraphrase a lot, and have attempted to indicate direct use of MacDonald's text by quotes and block text. I've undoubtedly inserted errors and typos in the rush -- sorry. Buy the book.

And for everyone without the patience to read the below: Beneš couldn't win. He might have helped himself by not not being such an insecure control-freak, but under the circumstances he held up pretty well. His love of intrigue and politics got a lot of innocent people killed, but undoubtedly saved many lives as well. I still haven't made up my mind about him. As they say

Kdo chce s vlky žíti
Musí s vlky výti

Beneš's involvement with Czechoslovak statehood dates back to the nation's struggle for independence from Habsburg rule. During World War I, while Masaryk stumped abroad for international support for an independent Czechoslovakia, Beneš remained at home to work with the resistance. He was forced to flee in 1915, but continued to forward intelligence to Paris and London. As MacDonald writes, the experience left Beneš with a taste for intrigue.

In the post-war period, Beneš served as Foreign Minister. He was described by others as 'a difficult man to know well', 'machine-like' and 'unemotional', and said of himself

'In the most difficult position I have never despaired. In politics I always behave as though I were playing tennis. When my opponent is "forty" and I am "love" and the next ball may be the last, I am still convinced that I can win the game.'

MacDonald also notes that Beneš was vain and insisted 'that photographers take his picture from angles which concealed his lack of inches.'

Beneš became president as the Nazis began exploiting the Sudeten problem. He saw Czechoslovak national unity as fragile and opposed calls for Sudeten (and Slovak) autonomy. He was criticised somewhat unfairly for not being Masaryk and developed an intolerance of opposition. MacDonald doesn't say as much, but it would appear Beneš was beginning to suffer from profound insecurity. Still, he was pragmatic:

Beneš hoped to convince the major powers that supporting Czechoslovakia was in their own best interests. The Czechs already had a security pact with France but in May 1935 Benes sough additional insurance in a new treaty with the Soviet Union. This committed the Russians to defend Czechoslovakia against aggression although only if the French first fulfilled their military obligations. The pact reflected his conviction that Czechoslovakia could survive only within a European security system which included both east and west. He saw no advantage in excluding the Russians and believed that Czechoslovakia could balance between communism and capitalism, incorporating the best of both sides.

It's hard to appreciate how hard the Munich crisis hit Czechs in general and Beneš in particular. In addition to insult delivered by Britain, France and Italy, he faced pressure from his army to reject Munich and take on Germany alone. Beneš knew that fighting Hitler was suicide, but yielding the Sudetenland wasn't much better. Forced to resign, he fled to Britain and later to the United States where he stewed in his bitter juices.

For Beneš the reversal of Munich became both a national crusade and a personal obsession. As he later recalled: 'From September 1938, sleeping and waking, I was continually thinking of this objective – living for it, suffering on its account and working for it in every one of my political actions.'

By July 1939, Beneš had returned to London to promote the Czech cause. Confident that the coming war would result in Hitler's defeat, he wanted to be sure Czechoslovakia had a place at the peace conference table. But his view that Hitler's aggression had nullified the Munich agreement won little support in London or Paris. Both capitals resisted his attempts to set up a government in exile until the outbreak of war. Even then, the Czech cause played second fiddle to the Polish one, and the French wanted someone other than Beneš to lead the government in exile. And then there were the Communists:

In 1940, Beneš complained that continued delay might lead his people to turn to Moscow, despite the Nazi-Soviet pact and the defeatist propaganda of the Czech communists, who condemned the war as an imperialist quarrel. As he complained to a high Foreign Office official, how could he 'prevent his countrymen displaying hatred towards the West, which betrayed them and now would not even regard them as equals in adversity …? Why should they join the army and how could the rise of the Communist movement at home be prevented?'

Beneš feared that Czechoslovakia would be negotiated out of existence at the peace conferences at the conclusion of the war. He distrusted Britain and France, and neutral America gave him little encouragement. He clung to what little he had: the underground resistance in Czechoslovakia. He exploited the intelligence and exaggerated the strength of the underground to make the resistance appear stronger than it was, and to prevent a compromise peace which would leave Hitler in possession of Bohemia and Moravia. To some extent it worked: Britain became excited about a possible fifth column at the German rear.

Beneš knew that if the Soviets entered the war before Britain rejected Munich, his people would give up on the West entirely. The Czechoslovak people would also demand the expulsion of all Germans from country after the war – which required Munich be repudiated. Beneš needed to convince Britain that the Czechs were pulling their weight in the war. To this end, he massaged intelligence and intelligence officials. Soon word was out that the Czechoslovak resistence was the most formidable in Europe. True, the intelligence network that Beneš had continued to nurture since before World War I was extensive. But it was also plugged in to Soviet intelligence. Beneš was determined that Stalin support the exile government, not the Czech communists.

The fall of France made Beneš organisation even more valuable to the Allies and the exiled president finally gained an audience with Churchill (and official recognition) in 1941.

Beneš represented the underground as active in three areas – undetectable sabotage against German communications, passive resistance such as slow-downs in the factories, and the collection of intelligence. 'Then the underground would emerge into the streets, seize key positions and send flying columns to reoccupy the Sudetenland.'
In 1941, with Germany appeared poised to invade the Soviet Union, the Czechs got the go-ahead to start dropping intelligence teams into Bohemia-Moravia. These men were members of the Czech Brigade, which had barely escaped destruction after the fall of France.

When the Germans invaded, the Soviets were keen to have all the help they could get from Czech intelligence and repudiated the Munich agreement. Beneš used the new arrangement as a lever to break loose Britain's conditional rejection of Munich.
But the Soviets wanted more than intelligence – they wanted to see the Czechs fighting. Beneš was loathe to expose his underground, only to have it destroyed by German reprisals. He claimed that underground had stepped up 'undetectable resistance'. The intelligence teams that were being dropped into Bohemia-Moravia were given orders to engage in sabotage. But the calls for greater efforts continued. Moreover, Beneš was also under pressure to out-perform Czech Communists in Moscow, lead by Klement Gottwald.

So Beneš orchestrated a move to impress Moscow and London with the effectiveness of his resistance. 'On 14 September 1941, the BBC Czech service called for a boycott of the Protectorate press … In the next few days, newspaper sales declined by up to fifty per cent…' Beneš said the boycott demonstrated that events in Bohemia-Moravia could be co-ordinated by orders from London, and that Czechs would obey the Czech service of the BBC before that of Moscow Radio. The boycott also sent a message to Emil Hacha's puppet regime: if forced to choose, the people would follow Beneš.

But the boycott had a third, unexpected development. Perceiving a weak administration in Prague, Hitler recalled Reichsprotektor Konstantin von Neurath and replaced him with SS Obergruppenfuehrer and General of Police Reinhard Heydrich.


Help wanted: whipping boy

At Tulip's Sofistica party last night, the conversation turned to who would become the Prague expat community's whipping boy now that Alan Levy is no longer with us. You know, the person whose name occasions the rolling of eyeballs and statements like 'Who does he think he is, anyway?' Of course, like Mr Levy, this person should have many supporters, and popular opinion would probably be split fifty-fifty as whether he (or she) was using up too much oxygen.

Anyway, I immediately proposed two of my friends, Scott MacMillan and Evan Rail, for the role of whipping boy. Scott's blog probably tells you all you need to know -- if not, just ask around: Tulip owner, former PBJ staffer and editor of Prague Insider, and stringer for Screen International and for the Four Seasons' magazine, and not the Scott who started Prague One. Evan of course is the erudite restaurant critic at the Prague Post and, as such, is a large, slow-moving target for statements like 'I just hate Evan Rail's restaurant and other culinary reviews.'

So nominate your candidate for whipping boy using the comment link below. Assuming there are at least two more nominations, I'll put a poll on this site to accept votes.


Vewy powewful und pwecise

As I mentioned earlier, Bryn's on vacation. I was able to speak to him just now via Teamspeak, thanks to Lufthansa's in-flight wifi connection. The airline is offering complimentary in-flight wifi access until 31 May. (In the future, the service will cost passengers USD 38.) The connection was at least as clear as the one we use when Bryn's in Prague. I could hear that ambient jet rumble and the children sitting near him. Bryn said it reminded him of the first time he saw images from space that had been taken only minutes earlier.

Of course, this means that during some future flight you could be subject to a fate worse than sitting on the train next to that jackass with the mobile phone.

Bryn also reports that the plane's seats' headrests have retractable wings that you can fold forward to cradle your head as you sleep, allowing your drool to fall on the person next to you. How cool is that?

What's wrong with this picture?

NPR reports that scientists at the California Institute of Technology have developed a visual illusion that they believe will help explain how human brains make sense of the world.

Those wags at ATC probably had this in mind when they budgeted Kevin Kling's commentary on public transportation in Minneapolis. Kling's essay is brilliant in a dozen different way, bust-a-gut funny, and reminds me a lot of riding the night tram. But anyway ...

... [M]ost motorcycle accidents happen because people driving cars say they don't see [the motorcycle]. The study concluded that most people who do not have a motorcycle or a relative or a close friend with a motorcycle simply do not see them. This theory seems to hold true for people who've lost touch with those in need. They just don't see them. Or maybe it's like the time I opened up a Mexican jumping bean. There are just some things you do not want to know.

So going back to Caltech and the 'binding problem' (if you haven't tried the experiment yet, you should): The human brain tricks itself to make sense of the world around it. This usually works. But there are times when the world doesn't make sense and you need to put aside what you think you know, take a step back and look at it all again.

Now read that again.

Which is why Prague Daily Monitor subscribers didn't get today's issue until sometime around noon today. My fault. Bryn's on vacation and -- wouldn't you know -- his plane had barely left the tarmac before I'm totally hosing the entire operation. The mistake I was making -- repeatedly -- was so moronic that I won't dwell on it here, but it was akin to not having the computer plugged in. But I reached Doug and he saved my ass, but not before I had stared at the screen for a couple hours watching all the red dots fall.

Pravda vítězí

Snoop Dogg is down with Ivan Lendl:

"I used to like Ivan Lendl. He was sharp. An old schooler. Make it happen and roll out. Now I like Venus and Serena, but Ivan was the truth."

The plot boggles

I think the drama in Iraq needs a new narrator, because I don't know how we arrived at this latest development: U.S. Troops Raid Chalabi's Headquarters in Iraq

"They have been putting political pressure on us for weeks. It's part of an attempted character assassination and it's politically motivated, but it won't work," Moussawi said.

"When someone stands up independently and puts his views firmly it appears the Americans don't like it, it scares them."

Moussawi said he did not know what the raid was related to, but called it a worrying development. "They think they can do whatever they want. They didn't even have a warrant."

But wasn't Chalabi the guy who ...? When he said there was ...? So we said we ought to ...? And then we ...? Because he said ...? But then we didn't ...? And no one else ...? So it turns out that ...? Then we learned that ...? And suddenly ...?


Cicadian rhythms
History shmistory -- let's molt

As Naomi Lewin points out on NPR, the last time Brood X came to visit, Iran-Contra dominated the news. Before that it was 1970, and the U.S. had just invaded Cambodia. Which got me to wondering: What does history look like to Brood X? The bugs have only come out 117 times in the past 2,000 years. I'm not geek enough to go all the way back, but I did figure out the hatchings since the Europeans liberatee the inhabitants of the western hemisphere. I'm limiting my overview to what the cicadas might have seen if they had read newspapers in North America, so please pardon the Atlanticist bias. All the dates and events below were lifted from Timelines of History and the History Channel, and any errors may be mine.

1987 This would be the first time Brood X saw personal computers. The Soviets were still occupying Afghanistan.

1970 U.S. invades Cambodia. Four students killed at Kent State. 'Catch-22' enters the English language.

1953 Korean War ends in stalemate. Lung cancer linked to smoking. Watson and Crick decipher DNA.

1936 Spanish Civil War begins. Mussolini and Hitler form Rome-Berlin axis. Chaplin stars in 'Modern Times'.

1919 U.S. prohibition begins. Afghan/British war. British massacre at Amritsar.

1902 U.S. gains control of Panama Canal. Women gain right to vote in Australia.

1885 Benz builds gasoline engine. Marx publishes 'Das Kapital' vol. 2.

1868 Ulysses Grant becomes U.S. president. Disraeli becomes British prime minister. Queen Isabel II of Spain is deposed.

1851 'The New York Times' begins publishing. Melville publishes 'Moby Dick'. Louis Napolean leads coup d'etat in France.

1834 End of the Spanish Inquisition. Charles Babbage invents the principle of the 'analytical engine'. France at war in Algeria.

1817 Spanish colonies in Latin America fighting for independence. Turkey grants the Serbs limited sovereignty.

1800 Eli Whitney makes muskets with interchangeable parts. Napolean kicking butt left and right.

1783 Britain declares formal cessation of hostilities with its former colonies, the United States of America. Montgolfier brothers launched their first hot-air balloon.

1766 Samuel Wilson, the future Uncle Sam, born in Menotomy Mass. Menotomy later became Arlington. Samuel moved to Troy, New York, where he and his brother set up meat packing plants which later provided food for the US Army during the War of 1812.

1749 The Georgia Colony rules slavery to be legal. King George commissions Handel’s 'Music for the Royal Fireworks' to highlight the end of the War of the Austrian Succession.

1732 Benjamin Franklin starts publishing 'Poor Richard's Almanac'. Stanislaw II August Poniatowski, last king of Poland, George Washington and Joseph Haydn born.

1715 In the Americas, Yamasse Indians rampage in South Carolina. In France, the Sun King dies of gangrene. In Russia, Peter the Great holds a funeral for his favorite court dwarf.

1698 Abenaki Indians and the Massachusetts colonists sign a treaty ending the conflict in New England. Peter the Great imposes a tax on beards. Wagner born.

1681 William Penn becomes sole proprietor of colonial American territory of Pennsylvania. Huguenots emigrate to England. Last dodo seen. Treaty of Radzin ends five-year war between Turks and allied countries of Russia and Poland.

1664 British drive Dutch out of New Amsterdam. Black Plague rages in London. French and German troops defeat Turkish army at St. Gotthard, Hungary.

1647 First Salem 'witch' executed. Pressure cooker invented. Treaty of Ulm.

1630 First criminal executed in Britain's American colonies. Fork introduced to American dining. Kepler dies.

1613 Pocahontas marries John Rolfe in Virginia. Afghan warrior-poet Khushhal Khan Khattak initiates national uprising against the foreign Moghul government.

1596 First Jewish author in Americas falls victim to Spanish Inquisition. Sir Frances Drake dies. Shakespeare writes 'King John'. Descartes born.

1579 Sir Francis Drake claims New Albion for England. Roshan of Afghanistan killed in battle with Moghuls.

1562 England enters the slave trade. Ferdinand I signs 8-year truce with Suleiman I of Turkey.

1545 In Mexico, Bishop Fray Bartolome de las Casas champions Chiapas Indians. Typhus epidemic in Cuba and New Spain. Counter-Reformation begins at Trent.

1528 Spanish expedition invades Florida; all but 15 die. Wheat introduced to New Spain. England establishes first colony in New World. England, France declare war on Spain.

1511 King Ferdinand of Spain: "Get gold, humanely if possible, but at all hazards - get gold." Portugese capture Malacca; discover the dodo.

1494 First Roman Catholic Mass in New World. Columbus arrives at Guantanamo Bay, enslaves Indians. Ottoman sultan Suleiman I the Great born. First reports of Scots making whiskey.


Repeating History in Iraq

On Saturday, NPR reported on a paper by William Beeman, director of Middle East studies at Brown University.

The U.S.-led effort to bring stability and democracy to Iraq resonates with echoes of recent history. William Beeman ... has written about the tumultuous period after World War I, when Britain and France divided the remnants of the Ottoman Empire. New countries emerged, including Iraq, forged by arbitrary political boundaries.

In 1920, Beeman notes, Sunnis and Shiites held mass demonstrations in Baghdad that quickly grew into a full-scale revolt. Several months passed before the British could regain control, and thousands of lives were lost.

I went through Beeman's paper quickly. Most of the paper is dedicated to understanding Shi'ism and Shi'ite rivalries, and taking a stab at what a Shi'ite dominated government in Iraq would look like. As regards United States following in British footsteps:

From the perspective of Iraqi Shi'ites, the United States is neither better nor worse than the British seventy years ago. One would think that the situation would be improved today with all the hindsight at our disposal. The current Iraq crisis and the failed diplomatic interaction with Iran recapitulates almost every mistake the United States has made in Iraq since the beginning of the conflict. First the Bush administration listens to the wrong people. They take the wrong action, and then they try to blame someone else (like Iran) for their mistake. Finally they stand firm and repeat slogans to cover their ineffectiveness. Even when the people they try to blame are as denigrated as Iran, the world can see how pitifully weak both the actions and the excuses for these actions have become.

That much from Beeman. NPR's story is more about Gertrude Bell:

Among the British nationals who helped establish Iraq was Gertrude Bell. Fluent in Persian and Arabic, she founded an archaeological museum in Baghdad. In letters home, Bell made detailed observations about the new country and its people. Today, U.S. and British leaders are finding new value in her insights. Her letters are circulated at the Pentagon.

NPR provides a link to the Gertrude Bell Project, where you can read Bell's letters from 1874 to 1926. The letters are sorted only by year, so you'll have to go through them with your history book at your side to determine when she might have written about what.


Reason #43 why I'm going to hell

What is up with the elderly? Do people suddenly lose all sense of social responsibility when they retire, or is it something that develops over time? I'm particularly peeved at elderly women, because they're the ones I'm having bad experiences with. The old dudes I think are resting at home, recovering from spanking the carpet.

You've seen it: they get on your tram and hover. They won't sit in the three seats in the front because those are reserved from the decrepit and invalid. And they're so proud as they weave and totter on their one good crutch, preventing anyone else from sitting in the seat. 'Great job!' I want to shout. 'Way to totter! Someone pick this superstar up and give her a hug!'

Then there are the ones that hover over your seat. These are the younger ones. You can actually give up your seat to them if you're burly and fight dirty, and if their hands are full. And arthritic. With palsy. But you can whoop 'em and stuff 'em down in your seat so you can have a little peace, free of their sighing and muttering and ježíšamarieing until they get to the ješte jednou stanice they're going to.

(They're lying, by the way. The next time the biddy tells you she's only going one station, thank you, stay put and watch what happens. It's a riot.)

When I think about it, I think this behavior must be something people develop over time, like a grand unifying theory of life, the universe and how to be a total pain in the ass. This would explain a lot, including the tendency of tramriders', regardless of their edge, to stand in front of the only empty seat on the tram, preventing anyone from sitting in it: 'If I can't have this seat, then no one else will!' Which reminds me of a joke -- I'll tell you in a minute.

The reason I have this stuck in my craw is that I often travel on the tram with my dog. She doesn't take up much space. In fact, the tram is the one place on the planet where she behaves. DPP requires I muzzle her. People think this looks cute, silly or cruel, but actually it's quite necessary. She bites, especially children. She hates children -- or loves the way they taste -- I'm not sure. Anyway, children reach out with their sticky fingers -- Koukej mami! Krasný pejsek! -- and chomp! So I figure DPP has a point.

DPP also requires dogs remain in the front of the tram and that there be no more than one dog per car. At least, I've read this before, but I can't find proof of it now. Maybe they've abandoned it. I think the one-dog rule is a little unreasonable, but I abide by the front of the car rule because there's that extra floorspace right behind the driver's seat where a dog can sit and not get stepped on. And the seat is reserved for the elderly and decrepit, who my dog usually gets along with.

But as you might guess, there's often a perfectly able-bodies punk sitting in the seat working out how best to be a pain in the ass, when the back half of the tram is empty. Dude, be all you can be, but my dog trumps your self-actualization. Sometimes I move to the back, and sometimes I hover.

This joke comes from those comedians over at RFE/RL:

A genie says to a [Russian] peasant, "I will grant you any wish, but remember that I will give your neighbor twice what I give you."
The peasant thinks for a while and responds, "Poke out one of my eyes."


Beat me -- I feel dirty

I'm not sure what I'm watching here in the garden. Elderly men who I've never seen before, but who apparently live in my building, are taking their rugs out into the garden and beating them. Of course, they're cleaning them -- I know that. And yes, they're using that little shamrock-shaped braided wicker rug-beating thing. And the, uh, big, gray frame thingy, the sole purpose of which -- other than taking up the center of the garden and looking instutional -- is to hang a rug over whilst one beats it.

Right. So all that's mundane enough. But it's the way they beat the rug, going at it with a certain tak já nevím co, as the French would say if they spoke Czech. It reminds me of the erotic relations characters in Svankmajer's Conspirators of Pleasure have with objects.

'Erotic?' you say. Well, let me try to explain.

First, let's assume that dancing is basically an erotic acting out -- mating behavior. (If you can't accept that, take a hike.) Second, note for one uncomfortable moment the unfair generalization you've heard more than once: that Czechs can't dance. (It's a rhythm thing. Of course, anyone who can keep up with traditional cimbalom music, with it's lack of time signature, definitely has an innate sense of something, if not exactly rhythm, and no small amount of my respect. [Kundera addresses cimbalom in The Joke.])

Where was I? Oh yeah. So here's these geezers who, nearly as I can tell, emerge from their warrens each spring to molt the carpet. They raise their hackles and demonstrate their virility in a sort of rhythmless carpet-whacking dance. The thwump! thwump! thwump! echoes across the hills. This goes on until they feel they've exhausted themselves or until a female calls to them. Then they go back inside with their freshly spanked carpet. And drink tea, I hope, for another year.


Tongue bites man

I was going to tell you alert you to a troubling story in today's MfD, but that dastardly Doug Arellanes beat me to it: the Czech Senate has decided that it's ok to call this country 'Česko'. Read Doug's take here.

To further confound matters, someone who speaks much better Czech explained to me that 'Česko' is Czech for 'Czechia'. Sorta like 'Deutsch' is German for 'Tedesco', I suppose.

That's the Senate. Earlier this month, the Chamber of Deputies rejected a provision to require broadcasters to use correct grammar, which is just as well. But as a struggling -- nay, floundering -- student of the Czech language, I get dark urges to see native Czech speakers suffer. Especially when they're grammatically incorrect. Tell me you haven't felt this way.


Meanwhile, LN publishes a page one story about how Czech bureaucrats are struggling with something called 'euročeštině'. Apparently, they's all sorts of high-falutin words in them thar EU documents what ain't got no good Czech e-quivalent. Case in point:

Jeden z náměstků ministra pro místní rozvoj dokonce údajně nabízí deset tisíc korun tomu, kdo dokáže co nejdokonaleji přeložit do češtiny slovo implementace.

And I'll give a bright, shiny nickel to whoever best translates into English the word 'oblivious'.

And you thought abusing Babblefish was fun: There are few on-line translators that handle Czech, but here's one that produces gems like 'Dolly Bust: storied Cesko since Ciny az about America' and the above-mentioned 'OUT OF uredniku are modern obrozenci, solicitude their eurocestine unreason'.

Speaking of unreason: The city has another pipe dream for the Stalin plinth. Prague 7 has announced plans to install a sightseeing balloon on Letná plain. The balloon will apparently be able to take 32 passengers 150 meters up to give them a really good view of ... the ground. I mean, I wish them all the best and I'll totally be in line for the ride, but as anyone who's gone up in the Žižkov TV tower knows, Prague's hundred or thousand or miliard spires sorta disappear when you go above a certain point. Of course, if it's hectare after hectare of orange roof tiles you want, knock yourself out.


Wang dang sweet new template

All joy and praise to Blogger for the mad new templates. That green-and-orange number I started with was just reminding me way too much of ... Ted Nugent. A member of Tribe Nuge I'm not, but ... maybe I should explain.
Rural Missouri -- my people called it 'miz-ZUR-ee', not 'miz-ZUR-ruh' -- is a good place to be from (ahem). One of it's more charming aspects is the annual swarm of cicadas (and I'm dismayed that I'll miss this year's 'Brood X' hatch -- remind me to tell you that story). One of it's, shall we say, challenges is that the collective wardrobe of the population contains an improbable amount of bright orange and dull green. The orange is 'blaze orange', a highly visible shade that outdoorsmen wear so they don't get shot by other hunters. The dull green figures in the hundreds of varieties of camouflage, worn by the hunters that get shot by other hunters. ('Do they really shoot each other?' you ask. 'Indeed.')
But I was talking about the Nuge. In case you were wondering if the bow-hunting sportsman and host of 'Spirit of the Wild' is the same Ted Nugent that was once known as the Motor City Madman, heis. Nugent was favorite of the hessians who road my school bus and was duly feared by upstanding, church-going folk like my parents. Ironically, now that Nugent's main line is promoting hunting, my dad watches his show all the time and has even seen him in concert (although Dad says the guitar's still too loud). Next: Alice Cooper takes over Martha Stewart Enterprises.
Anyway, now I've got this rather snooty template, which I'll probably get tired of quicker than you can say 'Cat Scratch Fever'.


Crazy Neighbor #1 -- The Garbage Bomber

I live in the back half of my building, which is in a row of houses. Outside my windows is a double row of gardens -- for our block and for the next block north -- sort of a green canyon between two cement cliffs of flats.

Now, this green swath is thick with blooming forsythia, lilacs, chestnuts and other shrubs, trees and flowers. But in the winter, it's a wretched wasteland of black twigs punctuated with plastic Tesco bags suppurating garbage. It seems a man who lives in the block opposite likes to pitch his trash off his balcony into his neighbors' gardens.

One day last winter, I found a half-hearted attempt at a Molotov cocktail in our garden one morning -- the shattered remains of a vodka bottle with a paper towel stuffed in the neck. The paper towel had been lit but hadn't burned very well. I suspect the bottle was empty before the bomber threw it.

The landlord says the man also connected to the mafia and warns me not to look up when I'm in the garden. Before I got that warning, I never considered looking up. But now it's like an eclipse -- I know I'm not supposed to look, but ...

File under 'Unmarked Helicopters':
Oklahoma City Bombing Was Larger Conspiracy
Attorneys representing Terry Nichols in a state trial that could result in his execution present evidence suggesting Timothy McVeigh had other accomplices in the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. [NPR]

Lo, the tyranny of the empty page.