Happy new year? I'm not done complaining about the old one

In the new year's message from Serbian prime minister Vojislav Koštunica:

"On its way out is a year which was, by many measures, difficult. In that year we did not live the way we expected and how we deserve."

So it isn't so much that you ought to be wished a happy new year. It's much more important that you be persuaded that the old one was sad.

Can we tolerate East Ethnics?

Ian Buruma wrote an odd piece for the New Yorker in which he takes an insane person's murder of an obnoxious racist as a sign that tolerance cannot survive, and then proceeds to blame the whole thing on an imaginary "Middle East."

I thought of responding, but a post at Dragi Erazmo pretty much says everything I thought.



Thank the internet spirits for Norm Jensen of One Good Move, who finds the most fascinating and hilarious items to post on his site. Set aside three minutes and fifty five seconds to enjoy this mockumentary film (a Quicktime video file) on the unique oratorical style of Mr Bush. The genius of the presentation is explained by Harlan McCraney, Presidential Speechalist (underplayed by Andy Dick).

Jerry Orbach, 1935-2004

He had a celebrated career in musical comedy for several decades before he took on the role for which he became known around the world, as the world-weary and sarcastic detective Lenny Briscoe in the television series Law and Order. According to reminiscences, he actively participated in writing the series as well, and was not only a much-loved actor but also a nice person. Now Jerry Orbach has died, of prostate cancer at the age of 69.

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His comforting and long-running presence will be missed by insomniacs everywhere.


Lessons in free market economics

Thanks to the always very perceptive Dušan Pavlović.

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Deadline for ICTY indictments

There is an interesting essay with a developing discussion over at The head Heeb by a guest writer, one Doug M.

He writes about the impending deadline for the ICTY prosecutor to file indictments -- 31 December, just two days from now. Most of the essay is dedicated to speculating as to whether an indictment is likely to be filed against Ramush Haradinaj, the former guerrilla commander who has recently become prime minister of Kosovo. But there is plenty of interesting reflection beyond that as well.

Phobias for fugitives

The Croatian justice minister, Vesna Škare Ozbolt, is quoted today as explaining that the fugitive Ante Gotovina, who is charged by ICTY with war crimes and crimes against humanity, is afraid to face the charges against him because a previous prison sentence in Nicaragua made him "phobic of any kind of imprisonment."

And no prosecutor would want to file charges against people who are afraid of prison. Only against people who fantasize about it.


Susan Sontag, 1933-2004

Today the writer Susan Sontag died, of leukemia at the age of 71. She was a specialist in no field and a contributor to many, and although critics might say that she invited controversy without being prepared for it or that her best ideas were far behind her, she managed for a long time to occupy a role that has largely disappeared in the US: the public intellectual with something cogent to offer on a wide range of subjects, for whom coherence and erudition are values independent of a particular object.

That role was probably the product of the existence of an established upper class -- one whose members were interested in more than the construction and maintenance of their own fortune, and who felt the need to justify their position by offering something in return. That class was easy to ridicule while it was still around, but it will be hard to replace now that it is gone.

New for admirers of popular culture

This is either a new magazine or one I have just heard about. Either way, it will probably be interesting to have a peek at Popboks, the official publication of the "Society of admirers of popular culture." It is edited by the courtly Goran Tarlać, and among the contributors are some of the finest popular culture writers Belgrade has to offer. In addition to the magazine, the site offers archives of the historic popular culture magazines Džuboks(1974-1985) and Ritam (1989-1995).


Roasted potatoes with lemon

This is simple, and often impresses people beyond all reason. The original recipe was from a book I got from a Greek market in Worcester, but that one called for inordinate amounts of butter which ended up giving the whole thing a soapy flavor, so I changed it. They go nicely with any sort of roasted meat, but it would be a shame if that meat were anything other than lamb. The "it would be a shame if you did anything other than what I do" line I got from Marcella Hazan's cookbooks, great recipes but an imperious tone.

The roasted potatoes

enough olive oil to cover the bottom of a roasting pan
6-8 potatoes, the small to medium type are best
juice of one lemon
salt and pepper
enough broth to almost cover the potatoes (from kockice is fine, I like Knorr's vegetable kockice)

Cut up the potatoes any way you like, thick slices or wedges are best. Put them in an oiled roasting pan.
Pour the lemon juice over them, sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Pour the broth over that.
Put them in the oven and roast them with whatever meat you are roasting, about 90 minutes.

That is really all! Simple and transcendent.


Forecast: Cold, drizzle, light posting

Greetings from my wife's computer! My computer has to be sent off to Apple for a repair, which will have us sharing a device for a few days. Pametniji popušta, so I expect that until my machine comes back the blog will not be updated too often. But do come by, enjoy what is already here. My previous experience tells me that Apple is generally pretty fast about fixing stuff and getting it back.

There is ardor among thieves

This breaks my heart. A serial robber in Zagreb was caught after 26 robberies because police were able to identify him by his very cordial language. According to the Associated Press:

The 25-year-old man called the people in the stores ``honey'' or ``kitten,'' and told them: ``You are very dear,'' ``This is a tiny little robbery'' and ``Take some of the money yourself, babe.''

Turns out the fellow wasn't even armed. The whole "civility in public discourse" business must be nothing but lip service.


My dahija, he wrote me a letter

B92 is reporting that a letter was received, sent as a fax from an unlisted Belgrade telephone, to Alternativna televizija Banja Luka, purportedly from the fugitive Radovan Karadžić. There is no confirmation of authenticity, and it may well not be authentic. There is also no sign of it on ATV's web site, at least not yet.

The content of the letter seems to be largely a complaint about OHR's measures in Republika Srpska, and a criticism of SDS for not responding decisively enough.

"Now it is to be or not to be," the letter tells citizens. I'll take "not to be" for 200.

Dalmatia on the Danube

Maybe with global warming it will be! But geographic purity does not matter much compared to the service offered by the Blue Danube Wine Company, which distributes wines from Croatia, Hungary and Austria. Ljudi, they have Mátyás Szöke's cabernet for $10.95 USD a bottle!


Chocolate, garlic and fish

I haven't offered a culinary post for a while. But now I am inspired by this article by Cristiana Pulcinelli in l'Unità, "Cioccolata, aglio e pesce per vivere sei anni in più." She reports on a variety of nutritional studies showing that life expectancy can be increased by eating the three above-named fine things.

Now, I am wondering whether anybody has a recipe for monkfish in molé. That ought to take care of it.

Outward Christian soldiers

The always very interesting Digby gets us up to speed on a project to move right-wing theocrats who call themselves Christian to the state of South Carolina with an eye to taking it over. They declare:

"ChristianExodus.org is coordinating the move of thousands of Christians to South Carolina for the express purpose of re-establishing Godly, constitutional government. It is evident that the U.S. Constitution has been abandoned under our current federal system, and the efforts of Christian activism to restore our Godly republic have proven futile over the past three decades. The time has come for Christians to withdraw our consent from the current federal government and re-introduce the Christian principles once so predominant in America to a sovereign State like South Carolina."

If they are unable to accomplish their goals legally, they add, they are ready to leave the United States:

"ChristianExodus.org is orchestrating the move of thousands of Christians to reacquire our Constitutional rights and, if necessary to attain these rights, dissolve our State's bond with the union."

The problem, of course, is that there are already people living in South Carolina. Maybe they could find a place much, much farther away? No, farther than that. Farther still.

Religion news from all over

In case you were curious about sin. This from Associated Press.

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Cigarette packs in Thailand may soon carry more than the usual health warnings, with an edict admonishing the public not to give Buddhist monks a smoke.

The new label, proposed by the head of Thailand's National Buddhism Office, will read: "Donating cigarettes to monks is a sin."

Carry on.

It's official! Collaborators = antifascists

Right, so the Serbian parliament has passed a law declaring the World War II-era Četniks and partisans to have been, retrospectively, on the same side. Coming from the United States, it may be that I am no position to be self-righteous about the idiocy that is in power in other countries. But I have to wonder, now that they have got through voting (176-24) on the legal falsification of the past, what plans do they have for falsifying the present?


OHR 1, RS 0, everyone else ... 0

Widely expressed concerns about a deep crisis on the way in the Republika Srpska (RS) entity of Bosnia-Hercegovina are a tempest in a džezva. A lot of the reactions I have seen portray high representative Paddy Ashdown’s decision to suspend the autonomous police of RS as some kind of unjustifiable and dictatorial power grab. It wasn't, but at the same time, the action highlights some of the problems with his job.

First to the reasons why the action is not an unjustifiable power grab:

1. Why grab what you already have: Paddy Ashdown is the UN High Representative for Bosnia-Hercegovina, an office created by the Dayton Peace Agreement to oversee the federal government and the governments of the two entities. The Office of the High Representative (OHR) has extensive powers, including the ability to veto legislation and to remove public officials for violations of the Dayton Agreement. This has been controversial in the country, and Mr Ashdown has fueled the controversy further by using OHR’s powers more extensively than his predecessors. Nobody doubts that he has the power, if there is any debate it is over how politic it is to use it.

2. The entities and subentities create crises that need to be addressed: In theory, OHR should cease to exist once Bosnia-Hercegovina becomes functional as a state. But not all political actors in the country want it to become a functional state. From the beginning, authorities in RS have sought to weaken the authority of the federal government and behave as though their entity were a state. The other entity, the Federation of Bosnia and Hercegovina (FBiH), is periodically weakened by the efforts of political forces among Hercegovinian Croats to act as though federal and Federation control did not exist. The dominant political parties among both Serbs and Croats do not disguise the fact that they would rather be part of a different state.

3. The RS authorities invited a response: One of the requirements of Dayton is that authorities cooperate with ICTY. This is also a requirement if Bosnia-Hercegovina is going to be included in European regional arrangements, which offer the only opportunity for political or economic progress. How many suspects have been arrested and extradited by RS since RS began to exist (in a legal form) in 1995? I didn’t hear you. How many? That’s right, ZERO. It is a violation of Dayton and an obstacle to the progress of the country. Which is what the far right parties in power in BH want, and there is no reason to allow them to get it.

As to the threats of crisis: RS premier Dragan Mikerević resigned, as did federal foreign minister Mladen Ivanić. Mr Ashdown put it well in an interview with BBC: “If somebody wants to resign because they have to cooperate with the Hague, that is their problem.” RS president Dragan Čavić is threatening protest measures and a referendum in which ”RS would choose its own way.” Considering what happened last time his party tried to create an independent state by fiat, the threat is as empty as it is irresponsible.

The bottom line: Mr Ashdown acted within his legal powers. It is true that he made the ultraright Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) angry, but the price of keeping SDS pacified is far higher than any conceivable corresponding benefit.

Now to the down side. What this whole tempest shows is the underlying weakness of OHR as an institution: OHR will never run out of reasons to justify its continuing overlordship, and as long as it does the electorate in the entities will never stop providing reasons. People will continue to vote for extreme right parties to show their frustration with OHR, and then their elected officials will behave irresponsibly. OHR will use this irresponsibility to expand its own power to undo the work of elected officials. The reason is simple. One way to assure that politicians will behave irresponsibly is to create a system in which they carry no real responsibility. Dayton created a vicious circle in which the extreme right and the international administrators depend on one another. If there is a way out of this vicious circle, nobody has put on a light to show it yet.


Vic dana iz Danasa

From Monday's Danas, for a feature on jokes involving this character, take a peek also at Carniola.

Došao Mujo na granicu. Pita carinik:
‘Alkohol?’ ‘Ne!’
‘Cigarete?’ ‘Nee!’
‘Kava?’ ‘E, može jedna mala’.

Prilog čitaoca S. M. iz Sjenice


The image of Serbia

Some quotations from a panel discussion at the Media Center in Belgrade today on the topic of "Serbia and its image," organized by the magazine Vreme and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, as reported by B92:

Roksanda Ninčič, Ministry of Foreign Affairs: "It looks as though nobody cares about the future of this country, nor its citizens, and with that in mind, not for its image either."

Predrag Marković, historian: "The regime of the nineties succeeded in ruining our image, with unbelievable speed. It is not possible for anybody to understand how an order could be given to destroy the only two cities that the world knows about, Sarajevo and Dubrovnik."

Dubravko Koledić, journalist for the German Press Agency (DPA): "The image of Serbia has been meaningfully damaged by the number of votes the Radicals get. The image of Serbia has been spoiled by the premier, Vojislav Koštunica, because he will not cooperate with the Hague. That is what is said by an ordinary person, not an institution, and that is what is written on an ordinary internet site. So, we affect our image ourselves, we are responsible and not even God can help us with that."

Srđan Šaper, marketing executive and erstwhile pop star: "I think that a retrospective revalorisation of the Tito period is going on, not only because people lived better then, but because they had a clearer sense of national identity, that is they identified more with what was then Yugoslavia than they do with what is now Serbia."

The report only gives these brief passages from the three participants (it is accompanied by a photo in which there is a fourth person, the moderator, I suppose). It would be interesting to see the complete texts. But what seems striking from the quotations that the journalist chose is that they are not transparently about image at all, but about concrete concerns.


Housekeeping: Some new links

Some people might be interested in a few of the sites I have added to the link list since first posting it. These ones have been added:

Amitai Etzioni: Reflections by the sociologist of the same name.
Chase me ladies: I believe this a satirical site from Hong Kong.
Dnevnik ulice: Some darn fine urban essays from Mostar.
Here's what's left: Left takes on US politics.
Manic net preacher: European politics, accent on the economic.
Pestiside: "The daily dish of cosmopolitan Budapest."
Reportage: Journalism from South Asia by Joshua Newton.
Transition trends: News from countries in transition wherever they may be.
Turkish torque: Social and political commentary by Ugur Akinci
Viewropa: A group "Euroblog," politics, culture and tutti quanti.

I think that's all of the new ones.

Kosti u mikseru

A lot of the news from Serbia this week has to do with real or imagined political conflicts about how to confront the recent past. But that is not enough for today's ambitious politicians. They also want to refight the Second World War. And why not, when Richard Burton, Yul Brynner and Orson Welles fought it so well?

What, you say? Well, this: before the Serbian parliament is a proposal that would declare the Partisan and Četnik movements of the WW2 era to be equivalent. This is the same sort of bad idea about "reconciliation" that inspired Ronald Reagan to visit Bitburg, Franjo Tuđman to develop new symbolic schemes for Jasenovac, the Burger King to relieve the Freedom Fries of their feudal obligations, and a host of other misguided gestures in which the bodies of the dead are exploited for political gain and the whole spectacle is promoted as if it had something to do with "peace." But clearly it is a burning issue for a parliament that has nothing meaningful to do, led by a government for which paralysis is a political principle.

The whole nonsensical business was either sidetracked or revealed, depending on your politics, in yesterday's debate (there are varying reports in B92, in Danas, and in Blic). DSS deputy Dragoljub Kojčić made his contribution by telling deputies from Montenegro to go back there, instructing Muslim deputies to "respect my history!" and praising his daughter's ideological interventions in her third-grade history lesson.

For good measure, he also called SPS deputy Ivica Dačić a "Četnik in a tetrapack." No, I don't know what that means either, but chances are it raised the level of the debate.

Update: One of the best responses I have seen on this comes from Ivan Torov, who is for some reason now writing for Политика. It's right at the other end of this link.

Shouldn't we all join the pop cult?

It has been a long and arduous wait, but finally, the fifth edition of Pop Kult is online (to my British friends: no, this is something else).

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Attractive features include: Jelena Milić's column "Impotencija i provincija," Ivana Kronja on turbo-folk, an essay on Dinko Tucaković's film Rubber Soul Project, Ljubiša Rajić on elites, and a good deal more.


Interview with special prosecutor for war crimes

In this week's edition of the magazine Vreme, Dejan Anastasijević interviews Vladimir Vukčevic, the special prosecutor for war crimes. Mr Vukčević discusses his ambitions to establish credibility for more trials to be carried out domestically, criticizes the political actors who denounce his work, and coyly announces that he has some cases he cannot discuss.

The original article is available from Vreme, and for anyone who prefers an English translation, I made one.

Fun with fugitives

One of my favorite headlines from a Serbian newspaper I vaguely recall from the beginning of 1995, when international negotiators were promoting a peace plan for Croatia. They came to present the plan to Slobodan Milošević, and the headline the following day was "Milošević did not say either yes or no." So what did he say? Everyone had to guess.

Here is some competition in today’s Blic. Dejan Vukelić has an article titled “Prosper offers for Karadžić and Mladić to be tried in Serbia.” The characters so far: Pierre-Richard Prosper is the US ambassador at large for war crimes, and Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić are fugitives charged by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) with war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Bosnia-Hercegovina. So already we have the question: how can Mr Prosper make an offer in the name of an institution he does not represent, and how can Serbia try non-citizens for crimes committed on the territory of another state?

Next character: somebody named Borko Đorđević, a person I have never heard of, but who is identified in the article as a “respected surgeon from the United States.” Apparently Dr Đorđević has a plan to enlist the aid of former US president Jimmy Carter and negotiate the surrender of the two fugitives. There is no word as to whether Mr Carter knows anything of this plan.

Are you with me so far? Good, because now it gets weird. The article goes on to say, "…if Mladić and Karadžić were to surrender to our [Serbia’s] authorities, Prosper said that he does not exclude the possibility that they be tried in Belgrade…” Did Mr Prosper say this? Apparently not: the journalist was told this by "the minister for the diaspora in the Serbian government Vojislav Vukčević.” And how did a person with the title of “minister for diaspora” (whatever that is, it cannot be an office that has authority over this field) learn this? "He says that he heard Prosper’s position listening to a conversation between him and Đorđević’s lawyer.” So apparently Mr Prosper did not make an offer: he told a lawyer representing a third person in a (presumably) private conversation that he "does not exclude the possibility” of something happening over which he has no authority – he did not say either yes or no. This was told by a fourth person, Mr Vukčević, to a fifth person, the journalist who wrote the article for Blic. Just to make things clearer, the article concludes with statements from several people confirming that none of the people named so far have any authority to decide in this matter.

What happened here? Probably nothing, but everybody has to guess.

Update: Radivoje Petrović has more in Политика. Apparently this effort has been going on for a while, and includes a campaign to build an all-star defence team for Karadžić and Mladić, which would be led by the well known attorney Alan Dershowitz (the paper renders it as Дрсовиц). They also have a photo of this Dr Đorđević, who seems to be a plastic surgeon in Palm Springs.

Update 2: Now it is Novosti's turn. In her article, Dubravka Savić adds that conditions include, in addition to the high/powered legal team, a guarantee of pretrial detention in private lodging in Belgrade and the opening of an ICTY branch office in Belgrade. Have these negotiations already begun?

Update 3: With the morning come statements from people who actually have responsibility in the matter. B92 reports that Mr Prosper told the Beta news agency that "the whole story is completely untrue" and denies ever having contact with Dr Đorđević. The chair of the National Council for Cooperation with the Hague Tribunal, Rasim Ljajić, says "there is not even a theoretical chance" that the two could be tried in Belgrade and does not regard the story as serious.


Holiday music from North Ethnia

Okay, I understand that at least here in the USA, it can be a little difficult to enter a public place at this time of year without hearing atmospheric music of the "holiday" genre. Fine, but why does the genre have to be so narrow? And really, bells, was it Pavlov who determined that the experience of shopping is enhanced by pop songs with bells?

Thanks to Viewropa, here is a nice alternative. When I played it, my beloved spouse called from the other room, "Irish or Balkan?" Postmodern Polish, actually. (The link is to a somewhat slow-loading mp3 file, 3,8 MB.)

"Chasidic Dance," by the Warsaw Village Band

Enjoy! And do have a look at the group's web presentation at this address.


Those of you fortunate enough to read Italian might find this interview of Christophe Solioz by Luka Zanoni interesting. He is working on a metaphor for the international presence in Bosnia-Hercegovina modelled on Freud's concept of "interminable analysis." The metaphor raises a good number of potential questions for exploration: Is "nation building" a form of therapy? Who is being treated, and for what? Do any of the parties willingly see themselves as therapist or patient? Maybe the issue could be raised of whether the insurance program covers the sessions?

Generally I am not fond of psychological metaphors as a way of discussing social phenomena, but this seems potentially very rich.

CIA: Keep clear of military interrogation practices

All right, I know this is no revelation, but it seems increasingly clear that there is a good deal of friction between career intelligence people at the CIA and the policy people dominating the Bush administration. We already knew this from the earlier semipublic conflict over who claimed what country had what weapons. Adding to the expanding pile of revelations, today the New York Times reports on a CIA memo to employees in Iraq from August 2003. The memo advised CIA agents that prisoners held in Iraq were in military custody, and warned them against joining in any excesses by the military, telling them:

"if the military employed any type of techniques beyond questions and answers, we should not participate and should not be present"

Complaints by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) regarding the military's treatment of prisoners were made public last week. Administration people might state publicly that the torture scandals are the product of some enemy or left-wing cabal --but they know that their opposition comes from responsible people in the government.

Fellowships for women human rights journalists

The call for applications has gone out from the International Women's Media Foundation for women journalists covering human rights to become the first holder of the Elizabeth Neuffer Fellowship. The fellowship involves a residency at MIT's Center for International Studies, with the opportunity of spending time at the Boston Globe or that other paper in New York. The application is available here, the deadline is 25 February and the term of the fellowship is from September 2005 to May 2006. A biography of Elizabeth Neuffer is here. Her book, The Key to My Neighbor's House: Seeking Justice in Bosnia and Rwanda, can be purchased here.


Everyone off on technicalities?

B92 is running a statement by the lawyer Tibor Varady regarding two suits involving the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SRJ: 1992-2003), now the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro (SCG: 2003-sometime soon). The suits involve a genocide charge filed against SRJ by Bosnia-Hercegovina and a genocide charge filed against NATO by SRJ.

Mr Varady's basic argument in the suit filed by Bosnia-Hercegovina is that the International Court of Justice does not have jurisdiction in the case because SRJ is not the legal successor of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRJ: 1945-1991), and therefore not a signatory to the conventions that give the court authority. What he is hoping is that the court will find that SRJ did not have standing to sue NATO for that reason, which would make it possible to argue that Bosnia-Hercegovina could not sue SRJ for the same reason.

Did you get all that? It's all a lot of good sophist fun if you are a lawyer. The essence of it is that if Mr Varady is right, the outcome does not depend on the merits of the cases.

Update: Good thing that last sentence was premised "if Mr Varady is right," because it seems like he is not. In February 2003, the ICJ ruled that the issue of successor representation of SFRJ in the UN could not be raised as a substantive argument regarding jurisdiction, because it did not affect SRJ's obligation to abide by international law. Thanks to Andras Riedlmayer for drawing my attention to the ICJ ruling, which was announced here.

NE Ethnia: Boston more diverse, region still segregated

A report in today's Boston Globe summarizes the findings of a housing study in greater Boston by Kennedy School professor Guy Stuart. Although the region in general is becoming more diverse, the picture changes when one looks at where population growth is taking place. To wit:

"Nonwhites and Latinos are moving to satellite cities in large and disproportionate numbers. While 15 percent of the region lived in satellite cities in 2000, for example, 34 percent of the area's Latinos resided there. The study listed the satellite cities as Attleboro, Brockton, Fall River, Fitchburg, Gloucester, Lawrence, Leominster, Lowell, New Bedford, and Worcester."

As the population in the satellite cities grows, the cities are becoming more segregated since "whites who departed either moved to another community or shifted to blocks where whites already had been disproportionately represented." These other communities include suburban towns, where the population of the average block was 93 per cent white in 2000. The article concludes:

''If these trends continue," Stuart said, ''satellite cities will become more racially and ethnically divided, as whites either leave or move to enclaves that are already largely white, in the face of a rapidly expanding nonwhite and Latino community." 

I would add that housing is not the only area where division is apparent. The pattern was obvious in our previous home in Worcester, where expanding and culturally vibrant immigrant communities are almost entirely excluded from the Soviet-type political structures, and live on blocks which are ignored by the financial and business structures. Meanwhile the businesses which would be in the city center (bulldozed long ago to buld a chronically failing shopping mall with a large and generally empty parking garage) were migrating across the border to the strip-mall section of suburban Shrewsbury. As we used to tell people trying to find us, "We live right where downtown would be if there were one."


There is no statute of limitations

The former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet has been charged in the disappearance of nine people and the murder of one, and placed under house arrest pending trial, the BBC reports. Judge Juan Guzmán has also determined that Pinochet is mentally fit to stand trial, reversing previous findings by Chilean and British courts. Other charges remain pending against him.

The decision has been welcomed by Chilean human rights organisations for obvious reasons. Of course, it also has implications elsewhere in the world for aging killers seeking to wait out the charges against them. Pinochet has been relying on the fact that as time goes by, his memory and physical condition deteriorate. As time goes by, the willingness of his former associates to stand between him and justice deteriorates too.

Poison is as poison does

Certainly by now everybody knows about what seems to be, now there is no doubt, the attempt to eliminate the Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yuschenko by poisoning.

Juan Cole reminds us that "the annals of modern history are replete with failed poisoning attempts that backfired," and gives an overview. It includes the Wile E. Coyote-worthy CIA schemes against Fidel Castro. It also includes that fascinating poisoned umbrella tip used against Georgii Markov in 1978, apparently the only success on Professor Cole's list.

DW: Enthusiasm for EU declining in Croatia, or not

Today on Deutsche Welle there is a report desribing a decline in enthusiasm for joining the European Union in Croatia. A survey (DW doesn't source it, however) shows support for EU accession declining from 72.4% in January to under 50% in November. They cite analysis (okay, two individuals) attributing the decline in support to European demands for the extradition of Ante Gotovina and for the return of refugees.

The piece might be saying too much based on too little: surveys are notoriously unreliable in this part of the world, even though a big shift like this might be hard to attribute to sampling error. And one would hope for a wider variety of sources, especially since both analyst Radovan Vukadinović and foreign ministry official Hijadet Bišćević seem to be echoing official positions. At the same time, there are enough expressions of real frustration with EU criteria in all of the candidate countries so that the perspective that DW's report offers cannot be dismissed out of hand.

Pink provocations

Responding to an earlier event in which a Serbian architecture student provoked an incident with his poorly conceived street performance of appearing on Zagreb's main square with a large portrait of Četnik commander and World War II era collaborator Draža Mihailović (he received a short prison term for disturbing the peace and was sent home), a Croatian hacker has got his material onto the site of the sleazy (and privately owned) Serbian television network RTV Pink. B92 carries the text, which seems fairly innocuous considering the effort involved:

"Greetings, Greater Serbia. We would like to have our own text on your national television. If you can take photos on our square with Četnik leaders, we can also appear on your national television with our own national symbols.

"Greetings to Stevan Vranešević who so courageously took his picture in the middle of Croatia. Thank you for the hospitality which our basketball players got in Belgrade. Warm greetings from Croatia.

After that the story continues in a warm and fuzzy tone. RTV Pink did not delete the message, telling visitors to the site in a postscript that they did not consider the purpose of the message to be destruction but communication (Note: This information is from B92, the Pink site was not reachable Monday morning, probably preopterećen). Responses to the message among B92's visitors who posted messages are also distinctly not outraged. Here are some examples:

"I welcome this gesture by our dear friends from Croatia. It demonstrates that Pink is the national television of Serbia. Who watches RTS anymore?"

"I think that this is the work of RTV Pink. Željko [Mitrović, head of RTV Pink] uses any means to attract attention."

 "One more sign that on both sides there are normal and, thankfully, humorous, young people."

"I would say this is done with style. This text on the site of RTV Pink automatically raised the quality of the site, at least in the cultural sense. Greetings to all Croats and Serbs who fight with words, irony and other intellectual weapons."

"Interesting news. I think that it is (unfortunately) a very telling sign of the (present) distinctions between 'us' and 'them.'"

"Pink is not the national television but a national vision. Pink is all of us ... the kid really hit the central point of the Serbian nervous system." 
"This is the continuation of war by other means. These kids were raised in the nineties on the programs of 'national' television and 'national' textbooks."
 "Bravo! This can be taken positively. On both sides there are good and competent hackers. I hope that in the future we will also compete in better disciplines. You remember the eighties and the competition between the Zagreb and Belgrade cultural scenes. What is more, I hope this will lead to better understanding of the need for internet protection. Nobody can learn anything from photos with Draža, but from 'hacking' sites they can! Greetings to people in Zagreb and especially people in Split!" 

There are certain to be more comments (the link again, right here) as the day goes on.


Sunday breakfast

I made these for breakfast, a recipe of my own devise. Maybe not your traditional breakfast pancakes, but my daughter likes them.

Corn pancakes

1 cup of corn flour (any corn flour will do, so don't go wasting money on the fancy stuff)
3 eggs
a splash of sparkling mineral water

4 or 5 scallions, chopped up
a handful of parsley, chopped up
some bell pepper, chopped up (even better if you have some roasted ones laying around)
whatever cheese you happen to have, cut into little cubes
a spoonful of Vegeta or some other dubious MSG product
olive oil

Mix together the corn flour, eggs and mineral water until you have a semigloppy mess. Add in the chopped stuff and cheese and mix some more. Mix in the Vegeta. Drop the mixture by spoonfuls into a pan with hot olive oil and fry them up until they are the color that fashion houses label something like "earth tone." Serve them and eat them. They are nice with yogurt, Eros Pista, olives, feferončići, or whatever else you may have.

Update: Azra says, "Yummy. Tata didn't explain what feferončići were, so I will tell you instead. Feferončići are yummy spicy peppers. They are hot, and the Macedonian ones are the best. Have a spicy time."

Your political beliefs are spreading

Elisabetta Povoledo reflects on the question that has been confounding all of us: "Is Nutella left- or right- wing?" Nutellologist Gini Padovani has the answer:

"All generations have appropriated Nutella - they all feel as though it belongs to them. It transcends generations. It is national-popular," he said, referring to a concept coined by the founder of the Italian Communist Party, Antonio Gramsci. "Today we would call it bipartisan."

This happens in a context of ideologisation of taste, which Padovani says is a uniquely Italian phenomenon, arguing, "It's only here that people say that a shower is 'left' while a bath is 'right,' jeans are 'left,' a jacket is 'right,' or that Nutella is 'left' and Swiss Chocolate is 'right'."

This all makes perfect sense to me, even though most of my politics are "left" and most of my tastes are "right." Which makes me a centrist, doesn't it?

Thanks to the brilliant Edin Hajdarpašić for bringing this to my attention.

New on East Ethnia: A list of links

A small thing, yes. But look down the page on the right, and you will find that I have added a link list to the site. Since I am not terribly proficient in things computer, this took a bit of digging around for scraps of HTML (thanks to Coturnix for a big chunk). For some reason typing bits of letter combinations into brackets has made me feel accomplished.

Guarantee: Every link has passed through a rigorous process of me looking at the site and deciding whether I like it or not. Suggested additions always welcome, of course.

Tough on crime II: Run-ins with scissors

In Philadelphia, a ten-year old girl was placed in handcuffs and brought into the police station because she had brought a pair of scissors to school, according to the Associated Press. No, she did not threaten anyone with them. But apparently she violated a shool rule according to which scissors are considered to be potential weapons. Every ten-year old reads the variations on rules that get thought up, right? Because otherwise it's into the cuffs. After terrifying the girl, according to the report, "Police officers decided the girl hadn't committed a crime and let her go." Really.

I have just got no comment on this utterly avoidable display of brutal stupidity involving at least two state agencies.


Weekend light reading: Aesthetics and politics

There is an interesting article available at Kakanien Revisited, which discusses political conflicts in the Milošević period in terms of the promotion and desecration of images, and the techiniques of different art movements. It is illustrated with photographic documentation of some of the more interesting performances of the period.

"Image worship, parody and image destruction in Serbia in the 1990s," by Anna Schober (the article is in pdf format).

The author vigorously contests the perception that parody and irony have become dominant, therefore meaningless, forms of political representation by focusing on the "image struggle" that was carried out in multiple fields during this period.

Coverage of Rumsfeld's exchange with soldiers

The only thing resembling a television news program in the United States, Comedy Central's Daily Show with Jon Stewart, offers its coverage of Defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld's inadequate responses to the concerns of US soldiers, courtesy of One Good Move. The file is a Quicktime video file, 9.9MB, lasting 8 minutes and 42 seconds.

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Apparently Rumsfeld's responses to inquisitive soldiers are nothing compared to the way he answers his own preemptive rhetorical questions.


Department of bad decisions

ICTY yesterday released Jovica Stanišić and Franko Simatović, respectively the founder and first commander of the Unit for Special Operations (JSO), pending trial. This more or less guarantees that efforts to intimidate witnesses will intensify, not only in their trial but in the ongoing trial of JSO members for the murder of prime minster Zoran Đinđić. They may have already started.

Economic data from WIIW

At the WIIW (that's Wiener Institut für Internationale Wirtschaftsvergleiche, or Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies for us Yanks) Balkan Observatory, they have posted new economic data and forecasts for eight Southeast European countries: Albania, Bosnia-Heregovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Romania, Slovenia, and Serbia-Montenegro. Files are in pdf format.

At TOL: Apology time

For anyone who is interested, my new column for TOL is out. This month, it is about Serbian president Boris Tadić's apology and the responses to it.

Also at TOL, a series of articles on drugs in Central Asia, an analysis of asylum standards in the EU by Martin Rozumek, the editors' take on the controversy over election fraud in Romania, and much more.


Quote of the day

From World o'Crap:

"Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes, that way when you criticize them, you're a mile away and you have their shoes."

2004 Global corruption barometer from TI

Transparency International has released its Global Corruption Barometer for 2004. All 23 pages of it are available as a pdf file here. The group’s work is a little controversial among people who study corruption because they conduct surveys on how much institutions are perceived in public opinion (among 50,000 respondents in 64 countries) as being corrupt rather than studying corruption itself. Perceptions are not completely irrelevant, however, considering that trust in institutions in an important variable in measuring how stable they are likely to be and how likely they are to be perceived as legitimate.

The five institutions perceived as being most corrupt are: 1) political parties, 2) legislatures and parliaments, 3) police, 4) the judiciary, and 5) tax revenue agencies. There is some variation, though: in the US, Canada and some European countries, media outlets make people's top three. 45% of respondents globally expect levels of corruption to increase in the coming three years (up from 42% in 2003), while 17% expect a decrease (down from 20% in 2003).

Obviously it is hard to draw very many meaningful conclusions from a sample as diverse as this, encompassing 64 countries with a wide range of conditions and situations. They do give aggregate data on individual countries in Appendix IV, but not in enough detail to do the kind of cross-tabulation they do in the text of the report. It’s interesting data-gathering, and it cries out for some independent analysis that would produce some good theory.

The Hague moves a couple notes up on the flute

Political analyst Tanja Topić tells B92 that she senses a change in official rhetoric regarding relations between Serbia and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) following president Boris Tadić's return from visiting Bosnia-Hercegovina. It is apparent in Tadić's apologies (however mixed) in Sarajevo and Mostar earlier this week, and in statements by Tadić and foreign minister Vuk Drašković today. She doubts, however, that this change of rhetoric will lead to arrests and extraditions soon, because of "criminalised structures which protect fugitives."

Not to be outdone, prime minister Vojislav Koštunica's government has decided to offer guarantees for the provisional release of Vojislav Šešelj. It is a cynical move, calculated to undermine Tadić by throwing a bone to the far right, and taken in the full knowledge that Šešelj's chances of gaining conditional release are absolutely zero.

No Batman, Mandrake or Phantom?

Now here is a good idea for a film series. Dom omladine in Belgrade is introducing "Superoperator," a program in which every month a well-known cultural figure selects films to be followed by musical performances.

The program kicks off in December with the program selected by Dušan Kojić - Koja of the greatest Yugoslavian band of all time, Disciplina Kičme (the web site includes new music from the British incarnation of the group, Disciplin a Kitschme). You can view the program here. I'd say Koja is a tad on the eclectic side.

Plugging my friends' books: Balkanology edition

My friend Chip Gagnon has just released The myth of ethnic war: Serbia and Croatia in the 1990s. He contests the notion that nationalist politics works by some kind of euphoric mass mobilisation, arguing instead that conflicts empty political space by forcing all issues to be seen through a national lens, the effect of which is to demobilise people as political subjects. Also, it has a great cover design.

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You can get a copy of your very own right here.

Plugging my friends' books: Clark sociology edition

My colleague Bob Ross has recently released Slaves to fashion: Poverty and abuse in the new sweatshops. It is grounded in his long-term research on globalisation of labor and the garment industry, and is sure to be hugely influential both in terms of understanding how labor markets are changing and in terms of guiding activists who are interested in labor standards. You can buy it here. If you want to judge it by its cover, it looks like this:

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And my colleague Parminder Bhachu has released Dangerous designs: Asian women fashion the diaspora economies. It discusses how especially Sikh designers in Britain have defined Asian fashion and turned it into a global commodity, and what this means in terms of economics, culture and identity. You can buy a copy here. Sorry I don't have a cover image to share.

Nothing against Amazon -- for Parminder's book I've linked to their online store. But I like to support neighborhood businesses, and I love independent bookstores. So for Bob's book I have linked to Brookline Booksmith. They do everything Amazon does, and give my dog biscuits too. Doesn't everyone love to read with their dog?


Invitation to park illegally in Boston

The city of Boston has a program running this month: if you get a parking ticket, instead of paying it you have the option of buying toys of equal value to the penalty (yes, you have to produce a receipt). The toys will then go to the Toys for Tots program, which gives toys as holiday gifts to needy children.

Okay, you don't have to park illegally. Just appreciate a program that brings pleasure to an experience that is usually nothing but an annoyance. Actually, it wouldn't help to violate the parking regulations, the program is only for tickets issued between 1 December and 3 December.

The papal you

Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld, replying to a question by Army Spc. Thomas Wilson on why soldiers are not provided with protective armor:

"You go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might want or wish to have."

Except for this: Mr Rumsfeld doesn't go to war. He sends other people. Probably too, he only imagines that he has Mr Wilson.

Documents on torture

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a series of requests under the Freedom of Information Act for documents related to torture committed against detainees at Guantanamo Bay and in Iraq. Here is what they have got. In sum: other agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) knew that prisoners were being treated illegally and informed the Department of Defense about this, with warnings and protests. The Adminstration defended the use of torture and continued to do it anyway.

Why is it again that Mr Bush said he does not want the US to be subject to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court? Oh yes, it is because he is a torturer.

Balkanblogging 1

Sure I take requests! Coturnix of Science and politics asked for a selection of good Balkan blogs. So … I know a little and found out some more, here are my favorite finds from the first outing:

There is an anonymous but not reticent Sarajka in Rotterdam (no, Amsterdam! sorry!) who encapsulates culture, politics, literature and art in her generally folly-free Letters to Erasmus.

Bojan Bajgorić Šantić, a respected Splitizen, is the first blog-based candidate for the Croatian presidency.

A classic formulation, at Ne bih da se petljam we find the ruminations of a person who would really prefer not to get involved, but in such a situation…

Outsiders take on the challenges of life and politics in Bucharest at Halfway down the Danube. The authors are aware that Bucharest is not on the Danube, give them a chance.

Dragos Novac offers in @rgumente a sort of mixed presentation of business, technology and Romanian politics. I choose it for his elaborate metaphor about cows, the world needs more of these.

In the name of the “Initiative for a normal Serbia,” Miroslav Hristodulo gives his unique and disarmingly honest political analysis. Is it normal for Serbia that he has not updated since March? Probudi se Miroslave, čekamo tvoje insajte.

Holding up the end of people who have not updated on this side of the puddle, a US law student kept us updated on what was being done about Finding Karadžić until, say, October. It’s still pretty interesting.

At Flogging the Simian, one Soj gives long examples of investigative journalism, some of it quite original, and all definitely free of the big-media orientation available almost everywhere else. We hope she does not really abuse primates.

I promise to review any suggested additions to the list and include the ones that strike my fancy in a future installment.

Update: Get an ongoing take on the literature and architecture of Sarajevo with a refreshing dip in the Miljacka. Thanks, Anonymous.


Five characteristics of fundamentalists

Thanks to Digby for drawing attention to the essay "The fundamentalist agenda" by the Rev. Dr. Davidson Loehr. In it he summarises the findings of the Fundamentalism Project of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, which surveyed fundamentalist movements around the world and found that "the agenda of all fundamentalist movements in the world is virtually identical, regardless of religion or culture." This agenda comes down to five items, on which I will quote Loehr at length:

"The fundamentalists' agenda starts with insistence that their rules must be made to apply to all people, and to all areas of life. There can be no separation of church and state, or of public and private areas of life. The rigid rules of God—and they never doubt that they and only they have got these right—must become the law of the land. Pat Robertson, again, has said that just as Supreme Court justices place a hand on the Bible and swear to uphold the Constitution, so they should also place a hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible. In Khomeini's Iran, and in the recent Taliban rule of Afghanistan, we saw how brutal and bloody this looks in real time.

The second agenda item is really at the top of the list, and it's vulgarly simple: Men are on top. Men are bigger and stronger, and they rule not only through physical strength but also and more importantly through their influence on the laws and rules of the land. Men set the boundaries. Men define the norms, and men enforce them. They also define women, and they define them through narrowly conceived biological functions. Women are to be supportive wives, mothers, and homemakers.

A third item follows from the others. (Indeed each part of the fundamentalist agenda is necessarily interlocked, and needs every other part to survive.) Since there is only one right picture of the world, one right set of beliefs, and one right set of roles for men, women, and children, it is imperative that this picture and these rules be communicated precisely to the next generation. Therefore, fundamentalists must control education by controlling textbooks and teaching styles, deciding what may and may not be taught.

Fourth, fundamentalists spurn the modern, and want to return to a nostalgic vision of a golden age that never really existed. Several of the scholars observed a strong and deep resemblance between fundamentalism and fascism. Both have almost identical agendas. Men are on top, women are subservient, there is one rigid set of rules, with police and military might to enforce them, and education is tightly controlled by the state. One scholar suggested that it's helpful to understand fundamentalism as religious fascism, and fascism as political fundamentalism. The phrase “overcoming the modern” is a fascist slogan dating back to at least 1941.

The fifth point is the most abstract, though it's foundational. Fundamentalists deny history in a radical and idiosyncratic way. Fundamentalists know as well or better than anybody that culture shapes everything it touches: The times we live in color how we think, what we value, and the kind of people we become. Fundamentalists agree on the perverseness of modern American society: the air of permissiveness and narcissism, individual rights unbalanced by responsibilities, sex divorced from commitment, and so on. What they don't want to see is the way culture colored the era when their scriptures were created."

There may not be much to add here, except that looked at in this light, the agenda clearly has much more to do with a certain type of authoritarian politics than with religion.


Apology of a sort

Serbian president Boris Tadić is on a visit to Sarajevo, where he is apologising "in his own name" for crimes that were committed "in the name of the Serbian people." B92 is carrying the following text of Mr Tadić's somewhat equivocal statement, in which he calls for mutual apologies by all sides:

"However, these crimes were not committed by the Serbian people, but by criminals, individuals. It is not possible to charge a whole people because the same crimes were also committed against the Serbian people, so in that sense we all owe one another an apology. If I have to start first, well, here I am."

Interesting formulation. Probably it will be taken as a half measure. But then, half measures are not always worse than no measures at all. But it does lead a person to wonder why politicians are so much more cautious when making apologies than they are when doing damage.

Sociology of everyday life

My friend and colleague Ivana Spasić has released a new book, Sociologije svakodnevnog života.

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There is an excerpt of her section of political meanings of everyday resistance in the new issue of Republika.


I am not certain what the source for this is, but a friend tells me that one third of the members of the Italian parliament are under indictment. As near as I can tell, this either means that the parliament is much worse than average or that the prosecutors are much better than average.


Mr Stalin, I presume?

Photo from Halifax, Nova Scotia, with archival comparison:

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Courtesy of Wonkette.

Excellent Italian site on Balkans

When I get around to it, I will add a list of links to news and analysis sites on the Balkans to this page. But for now I'll announce them as I find them. This is one has been around for a while, but I looked at it today after a long while, and it has a new design and much enriched content.

Osservatorio sui Balcani offers news and commentary on the region, together with several features. My favorites are the presentation of works by Pančevo's finest cartoonist, Aleksandar Zograf (who also has his own web presentation in English), and the presentation of recent research on the region from Italian universities. The language of the site è l'italiano.

If you do not read Italian, then try L'Association française d’études sur les Balkans (AFEBALK).

Economic ethics for oyster lovers

Nick Skansi from Sumartin, who has farmed oysters in Louisiana for the last sixty years, offers wisdom for the ages:

Oysters have kept a lot of our families well fed here, have given them a comfortable life. It's true that you have to work with them a lot, they demand a lot of attention, but if you want to work, you can earn something.

So true about so many things, isn't it?

For your antitransitional viewing pleasure

All right, I got a little tired of Legija's rhetorical style, overwrought and underthought, and had to leave off translating. For better antiglobalist rhetoric, try the series of short bombastic monologues by the brilliant Zoran Cvijanović at Миле против транзицијe.

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They have thirteen episodes to enjoy (Real Player format, each is around 10 minutes). So far we have enjoyed "www.mile-srbija.ko.yu" and "Hag," and we will certainly get to the others. They aren't in English, by the way.


Legionary letters

Vreme magazine has come across four letters written by Milorad Luković-Legija, with an analysis by Miloš Vasić. It makes for interesting reading, as the letters lay out the main elements of thinking of people who remain loyal to the kind of "left-right" rhetoric that regimes like the one headed by Milošević used. The letters were written to former US Ambassador William Montgomery and to Serbian politicians Velimir Ilić, Slobodan Vuksanović and Miroljub Labus. If I find time over the next few days, I may translate a couple of them, or some part of Vasić's analysis.

Update: My translation of Legija's letter to William Montgomery, then US ambassador in Belgrade, is here. Short summary: he complains about the way he is portrayed in the media as an ideological mercenary, then offers his mercenary services with an ideological rationale.

Update 2: I've now also translated the letter to Velimir Ilic, a populist politician. Looked at beside the Montgomery letter, it does become clear that Legija writes differently for different audiences! Narrowcasting, they call it. The translation is here.

The Commiecrats are coming! Hide the silverware!

Maybe this is a sign of the times? Jeff Jacoby has an op-ed piece in today’s Boston Globe titled “A left-wing monopoly on campuses”, in which he makes the very original point of decrying the domination of universities by a “radical, aggressive and deeply intolerant” thing he calls “campus leftism.” As evidence for this phenomenon he cites surveys from such right-wing sources as American Enterprise magazine and the Center for the Study of Popular Culture (check out this link to David Horowitz’s project to sell his freaky version of far-right Trotskyism to people who have no idea what he is up to!) indicating that not very many university professors are Republicans.

Wait, did he really put a column in a major paper just with a little bit of thin evidence from dubious sources showing something that is only tangentially related to the thesis? Actually, there’s more: he has a survey showing that something short of a majority of students say that their professors sometimes mention their political views when they talk. Shocking! It leads Mr Jacoby to this conclusion:

"Academic freedom is not only meant to protect professors; it is also supposed to ensure students' right to learn without being molested. When instructors use their classrooms to indoctrinate and propagandize, they cheat those students and betray the academic mission they are entrusted with. That should be intolerable to honest men and women of every stripe -- liberals and conservatives alike."

Now I am really confused. He says that we are “molesting” students, which would of course be a criminal offense. And he says that we “use our classrooms” (does he really mean the rooms?) “to indoctrinate and propagandize.” Now that would be a genuine shame if it happened. Too bad his evidence says nothing of the kind.

I think that a lot of this artificial controversy has to do with a common perception that I cannot really explain, which is that what universities are all about is telling people what position they ought to take on the narrow range of political options currently available in mainstream US politics. My historian friends would call this “presentism.” Of course, we tell our students lots of things – for example, that their papers should be well reasoned, that they should evaluate and cite their sources, that they should make clear their theoretical and methodological assumptions. Like anything that anybody tells anyone, some of it they listen to and some of it they do not. If I know my students, any effort I made to tell them that they ought to share my political views or my interests would be met with the same kind of reception as me telling them what they should have for lunch.

The reason we bother with things like clarity, theory and methodology is because we know that if anybody listens to intellectuals at all, it is because they believe we have something to say that is not an opinion. It’s a hard lesson to teach, and over the course of a few years maybe not all students get it.

Let’s give young Mr Jacoby a “C-” for the skills he has shown in evaluation of sources and application of evidence, but give him the opportunity to revise for a better grade when he has thought about the question more seriously.

Update: Thanks to Andras Riedlmayer for directing me to this essay by the mighty Juan Cole regarding an earlier George Will column on the same subject. And to my friends on the right, does the phrase "orchestrated campaign of defamation" ring a bell?


Another bad driver story?

Serbian interior minister Dragan Jočić is announcing that last night's attack on Boris Tadić was an unintentional incident, according to B92. In this version, the driver of the car, a domestic employee of the US Embassy in Belgrade, has voluntarily appeared to the police and denied that there was an attack, reporting it as a simple automobile accident.

The story does not sound especially believable. On a not particularly crowded road, a car approaches close several times (at least four, it seems) to a colony containing Tadić's car and several police vehicles with flashing lights and sirens, then bumps and runs off? So the crash is the result of inattention? Some driver who does not like to be told by police to move over? I'm not convinced, are you?

B92: Reactions to the attempt on Tadić

B92 is running an item giving the statements of various political figures to the attempt on Serbian president Boris Tadić. Some quotations (my translation):

Dragoljub Mićunović, DS: "After vulgarity comes verbal aggression which is already today being expressed by some leading people from The Serbian Radical Party, and some others as well. Then comes physical violence, and after that the road to liquidation is open. We will probably see all that happen, but this should disturb everybody who remembers and should mobilise the public to maintain its defence of freedom and right in this country."

Bojan Pajtić, president of the Executive Council of Vojvodina: "History is repeating itself in the most tragic way, and Serbia cannot allow a repetition of March 2003. I think that would mean losing the last chance this country has to join the European family of nations and the civilised world. Now it is clear that the campaign which is being led against president Boris Tadić is very similar to the campaign which was led against the premier of Serbia who was murdered. The campaign was organised by the same people, sychronised through the media, and resulted in a terrible event."

Tomislav Nikolić, SRS (comments summarised by reporter Vesna Dobrosavljević): Nikolić says that at this time he does not have evidence which would allow him to say whether there was an attack or not. he says that some things are not clear to him, that is, how it is possible that Tadić's security detail did not manage to remember more than two numbers of the licence plate of the attacker's car. Nikolić asked what the president of Serbia was doing at nine in the evening and why he was not at home.

Zoran Anđelković, SPS: "I see no reason for all this excitement due to the alleged attack on Tadić when a few months ago we already had statements from some individuals who claimed that attempts were being prepared against them."

Dragan Kojadinović, minister of culture (comments summarised by unnamed reporter): This event seems to him to be a show of force and the power of these people, because they are perfectly well aware that an attack on an armored car is not so easy to carry out. They just wanted to demonstrate that they are powerful again and that they are returning to Serbia.

When it rains it pours

Also reported on B92 today, death threats have arrived against federal president Svetozar Marović. The text of a letter received by Marović's office reads (my translation): "You dared to ask for Ratko Mladić and because of that we will engage Legija's people to make you, divider of Montenegro from Serbia, pay with your head. You will be rubbed out because of the Hague."

On 24 November, B92 reported that a group called the "Serbian Patriotic Organisation" had sent a death threat against Serbian president Boris Tadić and foreign minister Vuk Drašković to the Serbia and Montenegro embassy in Vienna.

Those patriots must be mighty patriotic, sacrificing themselves in Vienna where their EU-standard paychecks are issued and signed by people who hate them so much. Just as much as they are courageous, sending anonymous threats to public figures, in which they threaten to pay for the services of other people to do dirty work. One can see that they are deeply motivated by a profound commitment to national virtues.

The code of the Marović letter: "Legija" is the nickname of Milorad Luković, the chief suspect in the murder of Serbian prime minister Zoran Đinđić in 2003.

The traffic out of Scheveningen

Last night there was an attempt to assassinate Serbian president Boris Tadić. The method is similar to the one used in an unsuccessful attempt on prime minister Zoran Đinđić in February 2003, two weeks before he was killed by gunfire. In the attempt last night, the attacker tried to break through the security escort of the car Tadić was riding in and ram the car, but the security escort rammed the attacker's car instead.

Then it looks like there is something odd about the story. The security driver succeeded in hitting the attacker's car and forcing it to the side of the road. After that, the security people did not pursue the attacker, allowing him to escape instead. Perhaps they had to stay with Mr Tadić, but surely they have radios and there are police available to be called? This might just be an example of inept work, but it is the sort of thing that leads people to suspect that maybe somebody intended to let the attacker escape.

There is no information yet on the identity of the attacker or the motives for the attack. But the method of attack and choice of target would lead a person to think that we are once again seeing the violent remnants of the Milošević regime at work. There is no way they will return to power by legal means, they do not have popular support, and they cannot seem to get out of the habit of killing people.


They do, however, have the Swampers

Gary Yonge writes in The Guardian today about a referendum in the state of Alabama to remove racist language from the state constitution. The effort is more symbolic than political, since the provisions which were to be removed are already illegal (Yonge says as a result of subsequent civil rights legislation; alternatively, they are preempted by the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution). One representative passage, courtesy of the Guardian article:

"Separate schools shall be provided for white and coloured children, and no child of either race shall be permitted to attend a school of the other race."

The referendum to remove the language appears to have narrowly failed, but by a margin small enough to require a recount. So educational apartheid remains in the text of Alabama's basic legal document, because a majority cannot be formed to reject it.

If Alabama were a country, it would be expelled from international organisations, boycotted and isolated. But it isn't. Not that I know what it is.

Not a culinary post: Sauce for the goose

Playing its part in feeding the controversy over the establishment of the International Criminal Court, the US government has been demanding that other countries sign bilateral agreements exempting citizens from ICC jurisdiction. Down Croatia way, an article in Nacional discusses the cost of some Republicans in Congress trying to raise the stakes (the Ante?). Here is my translation:


More than 70 countries have refused the demands of the US to sign agreements to exempt American citizens from extradition to the International Criminal Court (ICC), considering that signing such an agreement would be contrary with international obligations and domestic law. Up to now Washington has denied military aid in the sum of around 50 million dollars to more than 30 countries, including Croatia, which have refused to sign agreements on exemption from jurisdiction. As the reason for refusing to recognize the ICC, the American administration offers fear of possible politically motivated prosecutions against Americans before that court. Up to now 97 countries have ratified agreements to exempt Americans from extradition to the International Criminal Court. A budget amendment proposed by the Republican congressman George Nethercutt economic aid to countries that have not signed such agreements with the US would also be banned. The US Congress will vote on the budget on 8 December. If the amendment is adopted, Croatia will lose 20 million dollars in aid for strengthening democratic institutions and the rule of law. President Mesic has declared that Croatia is prepared to pass on money but not on principles. “Croatia will not sign that agreement as long as it has to extradite its citizens to the Hague tribunal,” concluded Mesic.

Mr Bush in particular has been outspoken in his opposition to the rule of international law. This might have something to do with his extended efforts to circumvent the Hague and Geneva Conventions, as well as the Convention Against Torture.


The devil rides in on a wheezy arthiritic horse

Once Vojislav Koštunica’s DSS (Demokratska stranka Srbije) was able to form a government with the support of Slobodan Milošević’s SPS (Socijalistička partija Srbije), it was only a matter of time before they made their peace with the more openly fascist wing of the Milošević regime, Vojislav Šešelj’s SRS (Srpska radikalna stranka). That finally happened today, when DSS joined forces with SPS to elect SRS deputy Zoran Vučević president of the municipal assembly of Novi Sad, B92 reports.

Popular wisdom says that you don’t need to know much to do good politics, just the difference between good and evil and the ratio of ends to means. And an old popular song says: which side are you on, boys?

Update, 30 November: It looks as though DSS has actually responded. B92 is reporting that the Novi Sad city DSS organization has been disbanded and placed under receivership by the national party. This is a rare and welcome show of spine on the part of DSS. It does not, however, change the makeup of the municipal assembly, since its members are elected.

Fixating on free and fair again

Research on the results of the 2004 US presidential election continues to suggest reasons to be skeptical about the reported results. Mr Bush made radical changes in foreign and domestic policy after being appointed president in a judicial coup in 2000, and now is claiming a mandate based on electoral victory. Though for the most part he seems to have limited his exercise of his expanded power to a campaign to place incompetent sycophants into high positions, there is a whole agenda of appalling initiatives he could take on – war against Iran? an amendment to enshrine discrimination in the US Constitution? a move to revive obligatory military service?

Considering what this far right administration is likely to try, it seems fair to point out that we still do not have an answer to the question: were they elected? A couple of recent studies say maybe not.

Stephen Freeman of the University of Pennsylvania examines the discrepancies between exit poll results and reported election returns in Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania, and finds the probability of such large error occurring in the same direction simultaneously to be 1 in 250,000,000. That would be similar to the probability of a randomly chosen US citizen being named George Bush.

Michael Hout, Laura Mangels, Jennifer Carlson, and Rachel Best at the UC Berkeley Survey Research Center find that perhaps 130,000 “extra” votes for George Bush in Florida can be attributed to irregularities with electronic voting machines.

The question of the legitimacy of Mr Bush’s administration is real. He is going to continue to claim to represent the United States. The claim needs to be investigated completely.

Ukrainian answers

BBC is reporting on a move apparently intended to intimidate the Supreme Court, which will begin today to consider the legality of the Ukrainian presidential election. The governors of some eastern provinces are threatening to secede if the fraudulent election results are annulled.

Is this a threat or an invitation? Ukraine may not be the only country that could benefit from the chance to move forward without backward regions that resolutely insist on remaining that way. On the other hand, this sort of gesture should probably not be taken too seriously. People will go only so far to preserve structures of corruption that can easily be maintained in less costly ways.


Off for a short vacation

We are off tomorrow morning for a short trip to visit some friends and celebrate the holiday with a whole lot of cooking. So between now and this coming Monday, there should be very few new posts here, if any at all. Then it will pick up again.

Uses for Coca-Cola

The things one learns from one's parents... My mother suggested that for roasting a brisket, it will be nice and tender if you pour a can of Coca-Cola into the pan before roasting. I tried it last night, and the results are truly amazing. No, there is no caramel-sugar taste, just delightfully tender meat. It is worth a try.

My father remembered something from his janitor days about using the same substance to clean porcelain or unclog toilet drains or something of the like, but chances are I am less likely to try this.



The cable-television news station CNN has an explanation for all those people examining the way in which the 2004 presidential election was conducted, and looking at discrepancies in the counting of votes: apparently, academia is "fixated on November 2."

What they are talking about is research reports from MIT, Cal Tech and Berkeley in which statistical methods are applied to the vote count to calculate the effect of technologies such as those fascinating Diebold machines on the election results.

So why describe it in psychological language? Unless they want to make the case that a concern as to whether elections are free and fair is really just a sign of needing therapy.

[Full disclosure: Many years ago, I took a statistics course from Michael Hout, who is the main author of the Berkeley report. He's a nice fellow.]


On the return of Slobism

The majority coalition in the Serbian parliament is led by Vojislav Koštunica’s DSS in coalition with the incredible disappearing G17+, the incredible reappearing SPO, and the simply incredible Nova Srbija. But it would not have a majority without the support of Slobodan Milošević’s SPS. One of their political projects is to officially discredit “Operation Sabre,” the police action against military, paramilitary, criminal and political groups which was undertaken after the murder of prime minister Zoran Đinđić.

A pretty good assessment of the politics behind the effort was given by Mileta Prodanović on the radio program by Svetlana Lukić and Svetlana Vuković, “Peščanik,” in their broadcast from 12 November. So I have taken the liberty of translating it:

I think that the return of Slobism which we are seeing now was to be expected. Why would we risk losing our souls when it is much nicer to live in our own little coop, where it is warm. That is the cultural model which is still holding on. One major daily paper published as a gift to its readers a book on Kosovo by Dobrica Ćosić. Wherever you turn, everything in this country comes back to him. There is a theatre group, which is asking for support from the Ministry of Culture, which is preparing a performance to be put on in Scheveningen. I don’t believe that the Ministry of Culture will use the taxpayers’ money for that, but just the possibility that our good old boys who are defending the truth about Serbia over there, that they should also be entertained in that way, it is really the last straw.

Look at the kiosks, I don’t even know how many daily papers there are which were founded by UDBA. “Operation Sabre” was the only moment when the numerous and multilayered UDBAs in our society were disturbed, but we see that that little wave has passed, and that they still have their five or six papers. They are openly criticizing the reach of “Sabre” – for me, that time provided some kind of hope. And I intimately believe, I have no evidence for it, but I believe that everyone who was arrested in “Sabre” was arrested for some important and meaningful reason. The only mistake was ending the action, because we can see that for many people in the currently governing party intimate connections with those services is not a strange thing, on the contrary.

Now there is a huge promotion of the publication of Karadžić’s books, that product is being advertised in all possible ways. I have to quote Teofil Pančić – of all Karadžić’s works the only ones I know about are the bombing of Sarajevo and Srebrenica.

Go here to order books by Mileta Prodanović. I’d like to find some pictures of his artworks online, but haven’t yet.

Tough on crime, Part I

Apparently the librarians of Bay City, Michigan have had enough of patrons who do not return the materials that they borrow. They want the worst offenders to be charged with a criminal offence and serve a 90-day jail sentence.

This all sounds pretty severe, it's true. But then on the other hand, it seems there is one fellow in a town called Bad Axe (I am not making this up!) who has been hoarding materials and owes the libary 1190 USD in late charges. Say what you will, that money could buy something.

Did BND sit on advance knowedge?

An item in Deutsche Welle today suggests that the German intelligence agency knew about plans for the attacks on Serbs in Kosovo in March but did not share the information with peacekeeping troops under UN command.

Report: BND Knew of Kosovo Attacks
The German government denied Friday that the country's BND foreign intelligence agency had kept relevant information from German peacekeeping forces in Kosovo when ethnic strife broke out there in March. On Thursday night, German TV broadcaster ZDF reported that three weeks before the March 17 and 18 attacks, which left 19 dead and 1,000 injured, the BND had listened in on a conversation in which an Islamist fundamentalist organized Kosovo Albanian attacks on the Serbian minority. ZDF said the man had been a paid informant for the BND. German government spokesman Bela Anda rejected ZDF's allegations, adding that the government could not publicly respond to questions until after it reported to parliament on the matter. The German KFOR peacekeepers have been accused of being unprepared and reacting too slowly to the violence.

Charges are already widespread that UNMIK regularly shows itself to be unable to control the situation in Kosovo. It seems as though it does not help if the reason for this is something other than ignorance.

Vic nedelje iz Vranjskih novina

The paper can be found at its web site, unsurprisingly enough.

Лете два орла, један нормално, други наопако, "леђно", па каже првоме:
- Леле, како уживам, живота ти питај ме нешто.
- Ма шта да те питам, пусти ме на миру.
- У, како је добро, питај ме било шта, рецимо "како ти је".
- Добро, како ти је?
- Ништа ме не питај.

Easy morning post

Don't you love that first cup of coffee?

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Electronic Information System for International Law

The American Society for International Law (ASIL), with support from the Mellon Foundation, has set up the Electronic Information System for International Law, which can be found at www.eisil.org

The materials include basic legal documents and agreements, research reports, pointers to sites for news and commentary ... it's encyclopedic! And I recommend it highly.

Credit for creating a tremendously useful resource goes to the EISIL authors:

Stephanie Burke - Boston University School of Law, Anne Burnett - University of Georgia School of Law , Marci Hoffman - University of California at Berkeley School of Law, Krista Lindhard - Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw LLP, Amy Osborne - University of Kentucky Law School , Gail Partin - Dickinson School of Law, Pennsylvania State University, Dean Rowan - University of California at Berkeley School of Law, Mary Rumsey - University of Minnesota School of Law, Louise Tsang - Georgetown University Law Center, Kelly Vinopal - American Society of International Law, Jill McC. Watson - EISIL/ASIL Guide to Electronic Resources for Int'l Law, Jean Wenger - Cook County Law Library

Failed reconstruction and the opium of the people

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime released a report today showing that the cultivation of opium has dramatically increased in Afghanistan. Afghanistan now accounts for 87% of the world supply of opium, up from 76% a year ago. According to the Associated Press:

Opium is now the "main engine of economic growth and the strongest bond among previously quarrelsome peoples,'' according to the report. It valued the trade at $2.8 billion, or more than 60 percent of Afghanistan's 2003 gross domestic product.

Of course the cultivation of opium is not a new phenomenon in Afghanistan, where people face limited economic opportunity and there is global demand for the product. The report calls for greater efforts to control the production of opium and for international engagement against corruption. But none of these strategies is likely to eliminate the problem if a more fundamental problem with "reconstruction" is not addressed: people can only take advantage of economic opportunities that actually exist. If there are no alternatives, all that is left is to use what is available.

Riz avec fines herbes

Today Gianfranco Fini was named as foreign minister of Italy. He came to prominence, of course, as the leader of the far right National Alliance (AN) party. So Condoleeza Rice ought to fit right into this company.

Oh, except that his party has been moving to the center. Never mind then.

Clear as folk?

In an interview in this week's Vreme, the writer David Albahari criticizes the massive amount of academic attention given to turbo-folk as opposed to the very fine rokenrol that the Balkans produced, especially during the eighties and nineties. He says:

Ovde postoji apsurd da je turbo-folk, koji je bio neki najniži oblik masovne kulture, dobio najviše akademskog prostora. Mislim da je to bilo zato što je bio povezan sa određenim političkim trenutkom. Politički trenutak je dobio tu pažnju, odnosno politički trenutak prelomljen kroz turbo-folk. A imate "novi talas" koji gotovo da i nije bio obrađen, jer nije na taj način bio političan. On je više govorio o pojedincu i njegovom odnosu prema društvu. To je bio pojedinac izgubljen u sistemu koji ga okružuje.

On the one hand, Albahari is certainly right in saying that the growth of interest in turbo-folk was a product of the political moment out of which turbo-folk grew, and which turbo-folk seemed to illustrate so obscenely faithfully. On the other hand, the research on "Yu-rock" is not so thin, even if the level of journalistic fascination is a bit lower. Albahari knows this, since he was a coeditor (with Petar Janjatović and Dragan Kremer) of the classic Drugom stranom - Almanah novog talasa u SFRJ (1983).

A few more recent works I would draw attention to would be Ines Prica, Omladinska potkultura u Beogradu: Simbolička praksa (1991), Benjamin Perasović, Urbana plemena: Sociologija subkultura u Hrvatskoj (2001), and Gregor Tomc, Petar Stankovič and Mitja Velikonja, Urbana plemena -Mladinske subkulture v Sloveniji v devetdesetih (2000). Then, of course, there are also a few works in English.


In Croatia, Večernjak is reporting that the ICTY fugitive Ante Gotovina is hiding in Ireland. Or Israel, whatever. More sensationalistic reporting indicating that in fact, they do not know.

Meanwhile in Serbia, B92 reports that the government would certainly arrest and extradite Ratko Mladić if they knew where he was, but they don't, except that they know he is not in Serbia. At the same time, ICTY spokespeople assure the public that they know that Mladić is in Serbia, but will not say where.

There has to be some way that all of the people who make a habit of giving public statements accusing other people of knowing what they do not know while demonstrating that they do not know what they claim to know believe that they are promoting confidence in international justice, the institutions they represent, and themselves. Because they would not deliberately present themselves as non-authorial participants in a circus repeatedly over the course of several years, would they now?

This is a war crime

Shooting an unarmed prisoner, in a mosque

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The photo was posted by Abu Aardvark, who uses it to illustrate why the Arab press seems to be no longer downplaying events in Fallujah.

Update of a sort: Writing in Slate, Phillip Carter and Owen West argue that it is not a war crime. Color me unconvinced. Their reasons seem to be 1) prisoners have been murdered in other wars, 2) the victim had not been identified as a prisoner, 3) one cannot expect soldiers to follow international law since they are in dangerous situations, and 4) insurgents in Iraq have also killed a lot of noncombatants. These arguments are for the most part not relevant. Societies equip a portion of their members with deadly weapons expecting that they will behave as a part of a legally constituted body, and bind them by rules to assure that they do.