Saturday, February 28, 2004

Department of Ex-Prognosisites in the Times

Heidi Bradner, whose photographs I see in the Times from time to time, had two shots in Tuesday's paper, for an article about the bones frozen into the land around the area of Siberia known, thanks to Solzhenitsyn, as the Gulag Archipelago.

If you're interested, go and see it now; the article (and the photos with it) will only be available online for free til Tuesday. Also, be sure to click on the photos to enlarge them.

Ah, never mind. Here they are:

In Norilsk, an industrial complex and former penal colony in Siberia, the most prominent memorials so far, like the one at right to Polish prisoners, were built by non-Russian republics, now free of the Soviet bloc, whose citizens died in the Soviet gulag. A campaign by survivors for an official monument to all of the victims has been met with official indifference.

Vasily F. Romashkin, a former political prisoner in Norilsk, in front of part of a nickel ore enrichment plant that he and fellow prisoners built. The factory, one of many at the area's first nickel mine, is still in use.

Friday, February 27, 2004

Who Killed Jesus? Department

Re: Mel Gibson's new movie, The Passion of the Christ, David Denby writes, in the March 1 New Yorker:

"In The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson shows little interest in celebrating the electric charge of hope and redemption that Jesus Christ brought into the world. He largely ignores Jesus’ heart-stopping eloquence, his startling ethical radicalism and personal radiance—Christ as a "paragon of vitality and poetic assertion," as John Updike described Jesus’ character in his essay "The Gospel According to Saint Matthew." Cecil B. De Mille had his version of Jesus’ life, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Martin Scorsese had theirs, and Gibson, of course, is free to skip over the incomparable glories of Jesus’ temperament and to devote himself, as he does, to Jesus’ pain and martyrdom in the last twelve hours of his life. As a viewer, I am equally free to say that the movie Gibson has made from his personal obsessions is a sickening death trip, a grimly unilluminating procession of treachery, beatings, blood, and agony—and to say so without indulging in "anti-Christian sentiment" (Gibson’s term for what his critics are spreading). For two hours, with only an occasional pause or gentle flashback, we watch, stupefied, as a handsome, strapping, at times half-naked young man (James Caviezel) is slowly tortured to death. Gibson is so thoroughly fixated on the scourging and crushing of Christ, and so meagrely involved in the spiritual meanings of the final hours, that he falls in danger of altering Jesus’ message of love into one of hate."

Later in the piece Denby notes: "The writer Jon Meacham, in a patient and thorough article in Newsweek, has detailed the many small ways that Gibson disregarded what historians know of the period, with the effect of assigning greater responsibility to the Jews, and less to the Romans, for Jesus' death. Meacham's central thesis, which is shared by others, is that the priests may have been willing to sacrifice Jesus—whose mass following may have posed a threat to Roman governance—in order to deter Pilate from crushing the Jewish community altogether. It's also possible that the temple élite may have wanted to get rid of the leader of a new sect, but only Pilate had the authority to order a crucifixion—a very public event that was designed to be a warning to potential rebels."

Reach Meacham's article here. (Be warned: It's more than 5,000 words.)
Department of Harnessing the Power of Comics to Erode a Long-standing Myth

Will Eisner, creator of the 1940s comic hero the Spirit, is doing a graphic novel that depicts the fraudulent origin of "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," in 1903, and its subsequent exposure as a fake, by the Times of London in 1921.

I'll buy that.

Advertising Department

The ads at the top of my blog as I write this say "Czech translations: Top quality at competitive rates ISO-certified quality assurance" and "Muslim Single, Marriages: Meet tens of thousands of muslim singles. Free registration."

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Language Police Department

As an addendum to my previous postings on the situation in Slovakia, note that while the BBC correctly refers to the Roma as Roma, Reuters, AP, and UPI all use the better-known but clearly derogatory appellation Gypsies.

The New York Times, in its World Briefing section yesterday, went with an abridged Reuters story that only used the word Gypsies. (Note that the Reuters dispatch above uses Gypsies in the headline, but in the body text switches over to the more accurate term, Roma.)
Brief Update Department

From the front page of today's Lidove noviny (by a correspondent in Kosice, not a wire report): "We Will Go to Czechia, Say Slovak Roma":

Yesterday, too, the situation in Romani settlements in central and eastern Slovakia was near a state of emergency. While the looting has ceased, thousands of police and soldiers are patrolling the area. Meanwhile the extent of the crisis forced the Slovak government to reduce the planned curtailment of welfare benefits. The minister of labor moreover declared that he wants to help the Roma by reducing the influence of usurers, who fleece them of most of their money. The situation remains tense. Many Roma have begun to speak in front of journalists of a plan to leave for Czechia. "The Czech Roma, they have the life. They've got Mercedes and enjoy themselves," the 50-year-old Pavol Stanko describes the mood.

According to officials, it was quiet yesterday on the Slovak-Czech border. But Romani activists in Ostrava, for instance, are talking about the risk of an exodus of Roma to Czechia, with Ostrava the most likely destination of the first wave. "As long as the disturbances continue, thousands of Roma will want to cross the border," said the chairman of the Moravian-Silesian Roma Civic Initiative, Frantisek Sivak.

More information on page 6.


Here is a PDF of the front page of today's Lidove noviny. The photo caption says: " 'THEY DID THIS TO ME.' Relatives in a Romani settlement on the outskirts of Trebisov, Slovakia, point out a bruise on the face of a Rom boy. They claim he sustained the injury in an intervention by police units."
Found in Translation Department

Allow me, briefly, to point out a few things about the two CTK articles I translated in my previous posting:

1) On a lighter note, when they say "an angry man hurled an ashtray," you should know that these are not the cheapo plastic ashtrays that prevail in American bars, but ponderous, thick-walled, glass ashtrays that can easily kill someone.

2) Note the headline of the second piece, "Slovakia Deploys Against Looting Army." In other words, the (white) Slovaks are Slovakia; the (nonwhite) Roma are not. And not only are the Roma not Slovaks, they are an army, i.e., a force of invading foreigners.

3) In general, throughout the articles, which, since written for the Czech News Agency, will run in every daily in the Czech Republic, the language is such that the Roma are always "they" or "them." Note the fifth paragraph of the first piece, for instance, which refers to "they" without bothering to make clear who "they" is. Why bother?

4) Substitute the words African-American for Rom and Romani, and African-Americans for Roma, and you will learn a great deal about Czechs' and Slovaks' attitude toward Roma. You will also understand how little Czech journalism has changed in this respect since 1989.

5) Apart from the tedious repeating of information in the second piece, note that Interior Minister Palko seems to be fairly bragging to journalists about the Slovak police's use of a water cannon against the protesting Roma: "This is the largest police mobilization since 1989. As you have noticed, it was also the first time since 1989 that a water cannon has been used." Not to mention that his comment suggests that he himself made the decision to use it, as opposed to the police on the ground.

To read a good article about racism toward Roma in Europe in general, click here.

That is all for now. I have paid work to do.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Department of Economic Conflict Disguised as Ethnic Strife

Roma Protests in Slovakia: The First Installment

A report by the Czech News Agency (CTK), dated Feb. 20 and datelined Kosice, appeared in the daily Lidove noviny under the headline "Lower Benefits Drive Roma to Loot":

After the government's decision to pay lower welfare benefits beginning next month, instances of looting occurred in eastern Slovakia. Dozens of Roma today raided shops in the border town of Cierna nad Tisou. The first case of looting was recorded a week ago in Levoca.

According to the spokeswoman of the regional police headquarters in Kosice, Jana Demjanovicova, a group of about 40 to 50 Roma, including children, broke into a Jednota a Rokoko grocery store today before noon, and stole items worth approximately 50,000 Slovak crowns [about $1,560]. In the process, the crowd injured two saleswomen who had tried to prevent the looting.

According to the police spokeswoman, the Roma population is affected the most by the lowering of welfare benefits. In some Roma communities in eastern Slovakia, 100 percent unemployment is not unusual, so the only source of income for people here is support from the state.

While in the past they received 4,000 crowns a month and up, from March of this year the state, under a new law, will pay only a little more than 2,000; they can earn another 1,000 crowns by performing public works for the town or municipality.

Ministry: Usurers Behind Looting

Workers in the offices of labor and social affairs in eastern Slovakia, however, are already experiencing tough times now. Often they too are targets for attacks. Curses and insults are not all they face; in Kosice an angry man hurled an ashtray at an official and one was struck in the face.

"Most of the people dependent on welfare will not feel the impact of the new law until a month from now. The fear on the part of the office employees is understandable. We will probably not be able to get by without the assistance of the police," Eva Surova, spokeswoman for the head of the Social Affairs Division of the Office of Labor and Social Affairs in Kosice, was quoted as saying in today's edition of the regional newspaper Korzar. Jana Demjanovicova confirmed that in the past few days the police had sent out guards to offices and post offices where benefits are issued, and they will probably do the same a month from now as well.

But the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs denies that the incidents are an expression of people's desperation. Martin Danko, the ministry's spokesman, described the looting of shops as a deliberately organized action. According to him, the main people behind these incidents are usurers, who "are losing a source of ill-gotten income as a result of the reduction in benefits," and as a result are now trying to stir up hysteria among the Roma population.


Another CTK dispatch, this one from the Slovak capital, Bratislava, and dated Feb. 24, was titled "Slovakia Deploys Against Looting Army":

The Slovak government tonight approved the deployment of 1,000 troops to aid police in overseeing Roma in the country's eastern and central regions who are revolting against a planned cutback in welfare benefits, Interior Minister Vladimir Palko and Defense Minister Juraj Liska told journalists after a cabinet meeting.

"This is a joint patrol operation. The soldiers will not be carrying out any other assignments," Palko said at the press conference. According to the minister, the police will be backed by 1,000 troops, both professionals and soldiers serving their mandatory military service, but he did not say which regiments the soldiers would be from or whether he was considering deploying special army units as well.

"We all know that the Romani problem has taken on a new shape," Palko said. "We intend to meet this problem head-on. We have the resources, and we will deploy as many resources as necessary for us to get this problem under control and for the police force to be able to perform their normal duties," he added.

Not Social but Romani Disturbances

Asked whether he considered the situation now, unlike Monday, to be a case of social disturbances, he stated that it was a matter of "Romani disturbances." Prior to Monday's and today's violent confrontations of hundreds of Roma with police in Trebisov, Palko had refused to speak of social disturbances.

One of the reasons the cabinet opted to deploy the military was that it is expecting Romani demonstrations in some places on Wednesday, despite that the original organizers from the Romani Parliament called off the nationwide protests against the reduction of welfare benefits they had announced for today.

"In some places they are announced, and in other places we have reliable information that even though they were not announced, they are going to take place," Palko said of the planned protests. "As long as they proceed without any criminal acts committed, it will be absolutely fine. No one will intervene," he said.

Army Just as Supplemental Guard

The ministers emphasized that the deployed troops would be acting only as a supplemental guard force and would be under the command of the regional police. "The main part of their activity will consist of detached units of the police force that I have sent to the Kosice, Presov, and parts of the Banska Bystrica regions," said Palko.

Among the 1,000 members of the army will be soldiers performing their mandatory service, as well as professionals. Liska assured that they would not be armed with any special weapons but are only going to assist in patrols. He did not reveal, however, which regiments he had chosen.

The aid of the army in the police's patrol service is provided for by the Slovak law on the police force not only under exceptional circumstances but also in common situations such as elections or defending the borders; cabinet consent is all that is required. The army has served a similar function in the past 15 years only a few times, for instance after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Largest Police Operation Since 1989

"I have decided to shift a significant number of police to the territory of the Presov, Kosice, and parts of the Banska Bystrica regions. All policemen have been called back from vacation. This is the largest police mobilization since 1989. As you have noticed, it was also the first time since 1989 that a water cannon has been used," said the minister. A total of roughly 1,200 policemen will be relocated to the territory of the regions where looting is taking place.

The looting continues in central and eastern Slovakia, and Roma say it is because they are going hungry due to the reduction in welfare benefits. But many politicians and experts in Romani issues believe that usurers are behind it, in the fear that, come March, the new method of paying benefits will lower their profits.
Department of News to Come

It may take me a while to get a posting together, as I have to read and translate a few articles first, but my Czechish readers should be aware of the protests going on by Roma in Slovakia, and the government's response, which has been to mobilize more police than at any time since 1989. In other words, the hovno is hitting the vetrák. (Sorry I can't get the hacek.)

While I get my posting together, you can read about it in English on this page.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Department of Historical (or is it History-making?) Opinions

If I am not mistaken, this is the first time Noam Chomsky has ever been able to get an opinion published in the New York Times. Could the Times be a-changin'?
Department of Why the New York Times Is Certainly Not the Home of "All the News That's Fit to Print"

Case in point being this article from last week, appropriately dissected and slammed by Jack Shafer of Slate.

Seems the vaunted Times is unable to keep straight the difference between Arabs and Muslims. Fuckin' idiots.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Department of Free Brazilian/Electronic Mixes by DJ Dougiegyro

His latest is titled Žižkoteca 2: City of Gott. Download it, along with cover art, here.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Department of I Doubt It's Worth the Hoopla but I Suppose I Shouldn't Knock It

A new Web site that "features writers from around the world in English translation": Words Without Borders.

Department of the Kind of Man You Just Gotta Love

Native New Yorker, in his 50s, and he's *never* been to a restaurant in his life. Well, maybe twice. But not only that: he's a deshatnesizer! Meet Ira Glustein.

Department of My Problems Are the Problems of All Americans

Viz this editorial on spyware in yesterday's NY Times.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Department of Turnabout Is Fair Play

Our attorney general, Ashcroft, is being sued by one of his own prosecutors!

The whole brouhaha is a result of this botched anti-terror case in Detroit last year.

I, for one, am happy to see Ashcroft take it in the chin. By the way, in case you hadn't heard, the chaste antispeed freak is also being sued -- for torture! -- by the Center for Constitutional Rights.
Department of Odds and Ends

A few items I found interesting in yesterday's NY Times:

1) Goldfish to shed trans fatty acids (I've always loved goldfish crackers)

2) Kennan just won't quit (the infamous Mr. X lives on and on and on . . . )

3) Libeskind to design Dalí museum in Prayhey (trodding the Berlin–New York–Prague axis)

4) A plague of artisten on your Mohawk ("we may have a problem")

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Department of Retrospective Highlighting

Now that I myself have read it, I wholeheartedly recommend, for anyone interested in the tangle of Israel/Palestine, this interview with Tom Segev, the eloquent author of the aforementioned One Palestine, Complete. Not only does Segev have a way with words, but he is also incredibly fair and balanced (insincere apologies to Fox for infringing on their "trademark").

Department of Changing the World

Ashoka is an innovative nonprofit organization that "searches the world for social entrepreneurs—extraordinary individuals with unprecedented ideas for change in their communities" and gives those people funding to carry out their ideas.

I discovered Ashoka in the course of my (unsuccessful) job search of 2001–03, and this past fall I signed on to do a few Czech-to-English translations for them every once in a while, on a volunteer basis. (My Czechophile readers, by the way, may be interested to look into the projects of Ashoka fellows in the Czech Republic.)

Anyway, Ashoka just put a new book out, called How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas. I got a copy from my father, who happens to be an Ashoka supporter, and intend to read it sometime in the near future (probably once I get through with One Palestine, Complete).

So if you are one of those people who aim to make their mark on the world, why don't you jump over here and give the book a little look-see.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Department of Municipal Pride

Last week, in case you missed it, New York City became the 250th governing body in the United States to adopt a resolution sticking up for civil liberties in the face of the attack on them embodied by the USA PATRIOT Act.

Here's the Washington Post article on it (too late to get the New York Times, since it's past the seven-day limit). And here is the ACLU's press release heralding the event.

At moments like these, I am proud to be a New Yorker.

(Above is a picture of the Empire State Building, taken from Kent Avenue in Williamsburg, a few blocks from where I live. Those who have visited me in Greenpoint, and taken the neighborhood tour, may recognize it.)
Department of Immigration Politicization

A very interesting piece from the Detroit News — which, not at all coincidentally, given the concentration of Arab-Americans in the Detroit area, has, along with the Detroit Free Press, the best coverage of Arab-Americans in the United States — on the attitudes of immigrants going into this year's election.

This article is also noteworthy for its info on the Great Lake State's growing Mexican population.
Department of Chipping Away at the Wall of Untruths

I'm talking about the new book by ex-Prognosisite Chris Scheer, The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us About Iraq.

I went to see Chris and his father talk about the book last night at Housing Works, and conveniently for me, since today is a hectic day, another ex-Prognosisite who was also in attendance saw fit to say a word or two about the event and the book. Her name is Amy Langfield (née Collins) and you can read her account here.

I didn't have enough cash on me to buy a copy last night, but I'm planning to buy at least one copy here, and you should too.

Well done, Chris. It may be, as you say, just another chip in the wall, but it's a crucial chip. You done made me proud, boy!
Department of Strangulation by Eating Utensil

Two quotes from an article in yesterday's New York Times on the recent opening of The Shops at Columbus Circle:

1) "It's like a mecca for everything."

2) "This is like a piece of Stamford in Midtown. It's really nice that they brought the suburbs into the city."

I don't care what the developers responsible for it say; this place is a *mall,* and if you ever catch me in there, you can force me to buy you an eight-dollar bottle of Bud at Stone Rose, the restaurant there run by Cindy Crawford's husband. As if! Gag me with a spoon!