Saturday, May 29, 2004

Department of Great Minds Think Alike, and So Do Ours

Last night at 7:15 I received an e-mail from one Watson Kites whose contents were as follows (all punctuation, spelling, and capitalization, or lack thereof, per original):

"I just found your site.

"I play guitar in a rock band called stickfinger down in New Zealand.

"I doubt you will ever hear any references to us in the media.

"I just thought I should let you know that the name of our band was conceived independantly and is an obscure reference to the fact that both our guitars are steinbergers.

"Its a great name though. How do you conceive it?

"gotta Fly


I wrote back:

"Greetings, Mr. Kites.

"What a wonderful last name you have! Has your band got a song called (after the tune off Sgt. Pepper's) 'For the Benefit of Mr. Kites'? If not, I think you should.

"My stickfinger is the English translation of the first two words of a Czech tongue-twister. The Czech tongue-twister is strc prst skrz krk (diacritical marks missing in this version, as I assume you won't have the font installed to read them). This means, literally, 'stick finger through throat.' For a long time, my e-mail address was I had to change because my English-speaking friends, lame-ass mofos that they are, said they "couldn't remember it." I say, what do you think address books are for?! Whatever.

"I am not of Czech heritage, in case you were wondering. But I did learn to speak Czech, through two years of grad school and five years living in Prague, and now, among other things, I translate Czech literature. My finest work so far, just in case you're interested, is a crazy-ass post-Velvet Revolution novel titled City Sister Silver. You can buy it on Amazon, if nowhere else. If you look at the links section on my blog, too, you will find reviews of the novel available online.

"I wish you and your band all the luck in the world.

"Alex Z."

"P.S. I will of course be posting your missive to me on my blog, minus your e-mail address. Hope you don't mind."

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Ad-busting Department

"Strip, Pix, Burn: iRaq" (from Broome St. in Manhattan; a friend of mine took a similar pic at Lafayette and Bond)


Department of Useful Thought Experiments

Alexander Zaitchik, of New York Press, writes on the recent clamor over Nick Berg's beheading in response to the torture of Iraqis by U.S. troops and contractors at Abu Ghraib:

"One of the more insightful comments from the pro-war camp came from Condi Rice, who compared Berg's killers to the KKK. It's a comparison that quickly leads to a useful thought-experiment. Imagine if an Arab nation invaded the U.S. — on the pretext, say, of our numerous active chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs. Let's imagine an Arab force bombed DC, stormed the capital, placed an Arab in the White House, disbanded the armed forces, legalized drugs, nationalized health care and swept thousands of innocent Americans off the streets and into the most notorious prisons of Texas and Florida.

"During all of this, America's underground militias would no doubt unite into a well-armed and nationally organized resistance. Just like in the movies; just like in Iraq.

"Now imagine that reports emerge that American prisoners are being sexually abused and tortured by giggling Arab soldiers, with graphic pictures appearing on BBC America and underground militia blogs. To quell U.S. outrage, the occupying defense minister, let's call him Muhammad Abdulfeld, reluctantly apologizes, calling the images 'un-Islamic' (which is actually how Hezbollah described the Berg killing). Maybe Abdulfeld tosses some euros at the victims' families. 'The American people must understand,' the far-away sultan explains, 'that in an Arab autocracy, mistakes are made, things are untidy.' There are Arab calls for Abdulfeld's resignation, but the minister just flies to Texas for a photo-op after getting chewed out by the sultan, whereupon he declares himself a 'survivor.'

"Now imagine the reaction among the more patriotic members of the American underground—the Central Arkansas Regional Militia, say. Imagine the fate of a young Arab entrepreneur unlucky enough to get caught by the Posse Comitatus or Aryan Nation on some back road in Georgia. Our hypothetical Arab would likely be introduced to some hedge-clippers, several shiny Bowie knives, a blowtorch, some gasoline, some buckshot, some rope and the rear bumper of a full-cab Chevy pick-up. Considering the ugly ends met in recent years by some of those in unoccupied America — Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. come to mind — it's a safe bet our young Arab would not receive the relatively quick slaughter afforded Nick Berg.

"Which isn't to say Berg didn't die a horrific death. The point is that his death brings zero moral clarity to the invasion or the occupation. It does not justify some amorphous 'war on terror,' or dilute the meaning of Abu Ghraib. The lesson of Nick Berg is much more simple and timeless: Don't invade other people's countries and mess with their women. If you do, heads are gonna roll."


A little overblown in style, perhaps; and I don't agree with the lesson Zaitchik draws in conclusion; but nonetheless, in my opinion, a truly instructive exercise.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Department of Grim Calculations

Like numbers? Good, cause this article's got a whole mess of em.

How many Iraqis died a violent death in Baghdad during the first three months of the U.S. occupation?

How many Iraqis were murdered by security forces and buried in mass graves during Saddam Hussein's rule?

How many Iraqis have asked for personal injury compensation from the United States? How many have been accepted and how much money has been paid out to them?

What was the death toll in the March 17th bombing of the Mount Lebanon Hotel in Baghdad?

What is the homicide rate in Baghdad now? How does it compare with the rates in Bogota and New York City?

How many Iraqis were killed in Karbala, Tikrit, and Kirkuk from May through April of this year?

How many Iraqi civilian casualties were there from March 20 to April 20, 2003?

How many U.S. military personnel have been killed as of May 17th? Of hostile causes? Nonhostile?

How many deaths in the British military so far? The Italian? The Danish? The Spanish? The Bulgarian? The Thai? The El Salvadoran? The Estonian? The Polish? The Ukrainian?

For the answers to all of these numerical questions, read Daniel Cooney and Omar Sinan's piece for the Associated Press, titled "Morgue Records Show 5,500 Iraqis Killed."

(If you're not registered with the Chicago Trib, try one of these.)

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Department of News From the Pen of SIPA Alumni

Maura Reynolds, who was was a buddy of mine at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, has a big piece in today's L.A. Times, currently running as the lead piece on Yahoo News: "Bush Offers Plan to End Chaos in Iraq."

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Department of Placing the Blame Where It Belongs

A powerful interview with a 12-year veteran of the Marines who was in Iraq "from the get-go," from the Sacramento Bee.

His conclusion: "I killed innocent people for our government. . . . And you know who I blame? I blame the president of the U.S. It's not the grunt. I blame the president because he said they had weapons of mass destruction. It was a lie."

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Build It and (Hope) They Will Come Department

The world's first performance center designed uniquely for jazz is in the works at Lincoln Center, here in New York. The first public concert will be in October.

To read more about the programming of the venue, which will be the responsibility of Wynton Marsalis, see this piece.

I'm trying to be optimistic about this. Heaven knows jazz in New York needs a boost. If it weren't for foreigners, there wouldn't hardly be any jazz in this city. Americans just don't give a shit.

But as Jon Pareles points out: "Placed in the middle of the Time Warner Center, just above upscale stores and swank restaurants, the hall could be taken as a symbol that jazz is a luxury."

Continues Pareles: "Mr. Marsalis rejects that notion: 'Since we began, we have done all we can do to reach out into the community to say that this music is here and it's music for the people. And this is the people's hall. It's built with the people's money."

No shit it's built with the people's money. That hardly makes it "for the people." What I want to know is what'll the ticket prices be like. Any info on that in the articles? Nope.

I remain a skeptic.
Not That I Care That Much, but Some May Find It Interesting Department

I've had too much work lately to blog much. That and I just haven't had the urge. But here's a little something: an "exposé" of NYT columnist David Brooks, whom I've never liked much. Now I know why. Lyin' sack a ____.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Department of Redacteurs sans Visa

Elena Lappin, whose name I know because she edited the Catbird anthology Daylight in Nightclub Inferno, to which I contributed several translations, recently spent 26 hours in federal detention for coming into the U.S. without a journalist's visa.

Though foreign journalists have always been required by law to have a press visa when entering this country, the policy was not often enforced until March 2003. (Lappin claims this is when the Department of Homeland Security was created; that may be when the press visa requirement began to be enforced, but it is not when the DHS was created; more on that later.)

Lappin breezily assumed that even if she stated, honestly, that she was a journalist but didn't have a press visa, she would be admitted to LAX, since she is a British citizen and the U.K. is a member of the visa waiver program. Boy, was she wrong.

To read her account of her deportation in the L.A Times, go here.

(As for the creation of the Department of Homeland Security: According to this document from the White House, Bush announced its creation on Sept. 20, 2001; on Oct. 8, 2001, he created the Office of Homeland Security; he proposed the DHS in June 2002; and the department itself was formed when Bush signed the bill in November 2002.)

Thanks to Johnny A. in P-burgh for alerting me to this story.