WiFi from the Indigent

Thursday, January 14th, 2016

A story about Prague . . . from the Spanish press, from La Vanguardia – but Twitter is a many-splendored thing that way. But first, just appreciate the photo, taken on Prague’s Charles Bridge about a week ago – the statues, the ice-fog in the background so you can’t even see any sky.

14JANIndigentes
What is of significance here is the figure at the lower-left: the beggar crouching in the snow. An enterprising young Prager by the name of Luboš Boleček has come up with an innovative way to help such people. They spend a lot of time hanging around on the streets, right? At the same time, other people walking in those streets – people with the wherewithal to own a smartphone – are frequently in search of a WiFi signal, right?

Why not give the homeless person a WiFi repeater, so s/he can create a useful WiFi hotspot where s/he stands? The tourists and other people in search of a WiFi signal thereby benefit; but so do the homeless as well, in the sense that they thereby provide a useful service which justifies and might attract sponsor’s funds, which can then go to providing these people with the sort of services useful for helping them get back on top of their lives and re-entering society again as full and fully productive members. (Any funds go in the first instance to public transport tickets, lunches and toilet facilities which enable them to go about this WiFi hotspot task.)

I suppose those inclined to look on the bad side might dismiss this project as an abuse of the homeless as a sort of city furniture – or some such – for visiting tourists. In Boleček’s reasoning, however, it is much more along the line of the “homeless newspapers” you often find such people peddling on the street: again, an escape from merely begging outright for money in favor of attempting to offer some real value-added in return. Maybe it’s time to update that “homeless newspaper” paradigm, he suggests: people don’t read much anymore in any case – at least not anything on paper – so the rationale for such newspapers is fading and it’s time for something new.

Boleček’s project is admittedly off to a stuttering start, as he is still looking for private or public funds to enable him to fully get going with it. As he says himself, you’d think some telecommunications company would be glad to step in as a sponsor. Anyway, you can learn more about it on the website he has set up, which is also in English.

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Restoring Tank Dignity

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

Ah yes, the Pink Tank. It’s one of the foremost icons recognizable to anyone interested in Czechoslovakia’s throwing-off of Soviet rule in the 1989 wave of Eastern European revolutions. True, the events that made this war-chariot famous (by making it pink) did not happen until about a year-and-a-half after the actual Velvet Revolution, but they unquestionably represented a deliberate snub to the Russians.

We’ve had occasion before on this blog to discuss the maverick Czech artist, David Černý, whose rosy re-christening of the Russian IS-2 tank that used to stand on Soviet Tankers’ Square in Prague made him famous, but that was in the context of one of his later (but just as wacky) artistic works. Anyway, the focus now is on the tank itself: whatever became of it? Lidové noviny provides the answer, via the Czech Twitter-news service Zpravy:

Lidovky: Růžový tank přebarvíme, plánují ruští kozáci: http://t.co/oazjtJzQ

@Zpravy

Zpravy


“The pink tank we will paint another color, plan some Russian cossacks.” Yes, citizens of the Russian city of Chelyabinsk (in Siberia, just east of the Urals) – including members of the “Cossack Tank Brigade” stationed there – are taking up a collection to re-paint it to another “special” color, presumably closer to the green of its original military purpose. They have also paid for a special plaque, listing WWII veterans’ names from the Chelyabinsk area, that they are asking the Czech government to place in front of that tank. It’s no longer at the square (now known as Kinsky Square), by the way – it was moved to become part of the collection of Prague’s Military Museum, and a series of six photos accompanying the article show the tank (still pink, and with what looks like a snorkel on top lending it a certain priapic aspect) being moved across the Vltava River that bisects the Czech capital.

David Černý, by the way, has no problem with any of this. His only question is whether the Chelyabinsk cossacks would like to hire him to re-paint the tank, or whether they’re just going to send some other Russian artist of their choice to Prague to do the job. Does he really need the money – or was he joking?

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Nukes: Eradicate or Modernize?

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

Ever hear of the B-61? Sounds like a US warplane, and that’s close but not quite right. Or maybe you’re not interested at all in the B-61, whatever it is – but, to modify the quote attributed to Leon Trotsky, the B-61 could well be very interested in you, at least in the event of nuclear war. For the B-61 is actually the leading thermonuclear bomb in the American arsenal, first designed back in 1963 at the height of the Cold War. And a there was a recent article in Der Spiegel (US Ministry wants to modernize old atomic weapons) about the drive that is now underway on the part of the US Department of Energy (which formally controls all American atomic weapons) and the Department of Defense to spend quite a lot of money to modernize the many B-61s still in stockpile.

Aside from being refreshingly arcane – anybody see any sort of coverage of this at all in the American press? I thought not – how is any of this important? In a couple of ways, actually. First there’s our old friend German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who explicitly campaigned during the last German nationwide election to have the Americans withdraw all of their nuclear warheads from Germany. It’s even a separate policy-point in the coalition agreement that undergirds the current CDU/CSU/FDP federal government in power in Berlin.

Obviously, though, if the Americans are seriously contemplating going forward with B-61 modernization, including for the many such warheads stored in Germany (the exact number is surely classified), then the German Foreign Minister can yell and demand all he wants, but it will remain painfully apparent that he has no say in the matter. Hey, they’re just devices sitting on German soil, each capable of annihilating a major city – but it’s highly unlikely that even Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel herself has any say, either, due to the web of defense agreements governing NATO military installations and US-German relations dating from back when Central Europe was a much more dangerous place.

It’s all something rather alarming to be made aware of, especially if you’re a German citizen, but this still is plainly the main message of this article’s author, Otfried Nassauer, even as he goes on in his article to describe – in what sometimes reads like rather unseemly detail – exactly what the proposed B-61 modernization plans entail. Right now there are five B-61 models, and that’s too unwieldy; those five are to be transformed into just two, namely Model 11 (which already exists and is said to be an atomic “bunker-buster” for tactical use) and Model 12 (brand-new, a multi-use model to take up the roles now covered by all the other models which are to be phased out). Further, in a yet more- explicit sign of the clear intention to keep these weapons in Europe for a long time to come, another aspect of the modernization will involve making sure these bombs are modified so that they can be delivered by the next generation of NATO tactical aircraft, such as the Joint Strike Fighter.

There’s yet another point Nassauer intends to make as well, however. Didn’t President Obama, in his speech to the adoring crowd last April in Prague’s Hradčanské náměstí (Castle Square), speak of his ambition to abolish nuclear weapons entirely? What ever happened to that notion? It’s true that Obama gets the last word in this modernization decision, which he will present in the “Nuclear Posture Review” that his administration is due to deliver to Congress shortly. But – surprise! – no sort of radical move to put aside the proposed modernization entirely is expected. There is too much money at stake, i.e. too many vested interests pushing for it both in DOE and DOD. Indeed, the main point of contention currently is whether the envisioned modernization will end up paving the way for the development of a new generation of nuclear weapons or instead just serve as a substitute for that.

But as for the Germans? Forget ’em.

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Why Sarkozy Found Paris More Delightful Than Prague in the Springtime

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

I already noted somewhat obliquely (admittedly in a very tangential manner: it’s the link down at the bottom of that post to the Poland in the EU weblog, under “UPDATE”) that the Czech EU presidency just organized and hosted in Prague a so-called Eastern Partnership summit – intended to improve EU relations with various ex-Soviet nations still under the shadow of the Russian Bear, including Ukraine and Belarus – and hardly anyone from the EU side showed up! As a “summit” it was supposed to be attended by all member-state heads of government. But I guess the EU is not yet that sort of organization where they send burly men to fetch dignitaries physically when their absence at an official event is noticed (nor is it likely ever to be), for only one head of government was there: Angela Merkel. (And of course a head of state – namely Václav Klaus, but note the distinction – acted as host; more on that below.) No Gordon Brown; no José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero; apparently no Donald Tusk, either, even though this Eastern Partnership is something originally proposed by Poland. No Austrian Chancellor, either (his name is Werner Faymann, BTW), and indeed nobody higher there for Austria than her EU ambassador, despite that country’s multiple interests (indeed, you could say its very location) in the East.

And no Nicolas Sarkozy. What vital functions did he have on his official schedule yesterday, when that Prague “summit” was wound up and the Eastern Partnership agreement signed without his participation? (more…)

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Chilly Prague Welcome Awaits for Lukashenko

Saturday, April 18th, 2009

A little while ago I covered here the alarming prospect for EU officials that, because of the fall of the current Czech government under prime minster Mirek Topolánek, that notorious Eurosceptic Václav Klaus, the Czech president, would in effect be in charge of much of the European Union’s important business for the remainder of the Czech Republic’s EU presidency (lasting until the end of June). Yesterday we got word from the Polish daily Rzeczpospolita (Klaus will not extend hand to Lukashenko) that Klaus is already putting his stamp upon the EU “Eastern Partnership” summit scheduled to take place in Prague the first week of May, where he is to host the leaders of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, the Ukraine, and Belarus. The president of that last country, Alexander Lukashenko, may very well come to Prague for the occasion (or, indeed, he may decide not to), but if he does, President Klaus will not shake his hand nor include him in the official reception to be held at Prague Castle.

Keep in mind that this “Eastern Partnership” summit actual takes place just before Mirek Topolánek’s government heads out the door and is replaced by a government of technocrats headed by current chief of the Czech Statistical Agency, Jan Fischer. Yet even if Topolánek had any objection to this treatment of the guest from Belarus – there’s no indication either way whether he does – his extreme “lame duck” status would provide him little standing to do anything about it. Besides, no matter who is in charge of the agenda of a summit occurring in Prague, it’s at least always up to the Czech president who he invites to come dine at the Castle.

Plus, it just so happens that this is the right thing to do. Lukashenko has long been known as “Europe’s last remaining dictator” for the ruthless way he manipulates the sham elections he is called upon to stage every so often and persecutes the native political opposition. One complaint against the EU from many who are not privileged to walk the governing halls in Brussels is the way, when some international actor does something nasty which should make him persona non grata, it seems that all that it takes is a certain period of lying low and avoiding any more nasty headlines to get back into the EU’s good graces again. Here Václav Klaus is demonstrating that, despite his somewhat advanced age, there is nothing wrong with his memory or political sense on this issue.

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Dry Presidential Groupie

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

After Barack Obama finished up his speech on Sunday to the tens of thousands present on Prague’s Castle (Hradčanské) Square, he decided to wade into the crowd a bit. In the process, one enthusiastic Czech got so close as to pat the head of the Most Powerful Man on Earth.

An article in the largest-circulation quality Czech daily, Mladá fronta dnes (I patted Obama on the head. He hugged me.), has the details about this character, as well as a couple of pictures of the incident in question so you can decide just how outraged you’d care to be. That guy’s name is Jaroslav Suchý (a fairly common Czech last-name; it means “dry”), and he’s no stranger to the Czech security service. But hold on, it’s not what you think: as the head of that organization, Lubomír Kvíčala, told MFD:

That person who lightly touched the president on his hair I know. We already encountered him a couple of times at previous visits of the American president Bush and at a visit by Mrs. [Condoleezzaa] Rice. He is just enthusiastic about such visits and loves them. He’s definitely not dangerous.

According to Suchý himself, he was waiting at the checkpoint offering access to Castle Square from midnight Saturday, i.e. seven hours before the gates were opened for the public, and other on-the-scene MFD reporters confirm that he was among the first to be admitted by police, which enabled him to rush up to grab a prime position up front (into what generally would be termed the “mosh pit” in a rock-concert context – here, it turned into the “press-the-flesh zone”). As one such reporter states, “[f]or a whole three hours he loudly let people in his vicinity know how he was looking forward to the speech.” And Suchý himself also told MFD that “although I don’t really speak English, I clapped at every one of Obama’s sentences. Despite the fact that I was mainly looking at the president rather than the [translated] sub-titles.”

The article goes on to note that, when Jaroslav Suchý is not tracking down and applauding high-ranking American officials, he is pursuing a case in the Czech courts seeking compensation for being forced to attend “special schools” (i.e. schools for the handicapped), which he claims he was forced into solely because of the color of his skin. Perhaps some of you, examining the article’s photos again, may think this is some sort of joke, but it likely is not: the Czech Republic does still have an ethnic-discrimination problem, although it is not directed against black people (who are exceedinly rare) but against the Romany, or “gypsies.” So apparently the authorities where Suchý grew up kept classifying him as a gypsy.

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To Prague, With Reluctance

Saturday, April 4th, 2009

hradcanskaIf this is Saturday, and you’re the American president, then that countryside you see down below, outside of the windows of Air Force One, must be the Czech Republic. Yes, today Obama and entourage flies on to Prague, and Dan Bilefsky in the New York Times already has the details about how he has the tricky task before him of visiting a country’s capital while taking care to have very little to do with top leaders of the government there – and pulling all this off without seeming impolite or ungrateful for the hospitality. The first trick involves invoking a presidential desire for a night off in scenic Prague, to grab the chance for an intimate dinner with Michelle at a “secret location,” in order to avoid any extended encounter-over-a-meal with either Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek (who publicly labeled Obama’s domestic budget plans a “road to hell”* only a few days ago; is a rather stolid, apparatchik-type guy anyway; speaks little English – and, most vitally, is now but a “caretaker” prime minister after his government fell this past week) or President Václav Klaus (speaks excellent English, now is in whip-hand position to determine composition of the next Czech government – but who could also bring on an attack of extreme presidential indigestion, no matter how excellent the food served, with his outspoken and negative opinions about the EU and climate change; for more about this in English, from the Economist, see here). (more…)

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Stags and Hens in Prague

Friday, December 31st, 2004

I’ve little more to say about the ongoing tidal wave tragedy around the eastern Indian Ocean basin. Is it poor taste to move on now to other subjects? Now, I certainly agree with the proposition that the fancy parties scheduled around the upcoming Bush II inauguration (specifically, the money budgeted for them) should yield to the Asian tragedy. But closer to home, tomorrow’s the start of a brand New Year, and some celebration of that fact should still be in order.

Prague is a good place to celebrate that fact. (So is, for that matter, Amsterdam, although it’s a bit more expensive.) And right on time, in its last-edition-of-the-year, the main Czech business newspaper Hospodárské noviny features a trio of articles on its homepage about the foreigners flocking to visit the Czech capital – whether for New Year’s celebrations or more generally – under the collective headline “Do Tourists Come to Us Mainly for the Cheap Beer?” (more…)

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Yield to Miss Lucie

Monday, July 12th, 2004

Grizzled EuroSavant veterans might recall the entry of earlier this year describing the dismay in Poland over the tight US regime for obtaining visas to visit the States, which included a first-person account – “Ally Out in the Cold” – of one Pole’s ordeal in visiting the US embassy in Warsaw to try to obtain his own visa.

That experience, as the article’s title suggests, featured quite a bit of excruciating waiting outside the embassy in the Polish January cold. For a change-of-pace – but, it turns out, of the most minor sort – we now have Miroslav Zajíicek’s account of what he had to go through for his visa in July’s summer heat at the American embassy in Prague (The Americans Give Lucie Priority), in the latest issue of the Czech opinion weekly Respekt. (more…)

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The Freeze Came from Within

Friday, August 22nd, 2003

Yesterday, 21 August, was the 35th anniversary of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 that put an end to the “Prague Spring,” and here in Prague that story is getting big play in the media. This is even though it’s all about the past, specifically a quite unpleasant incident from the past which presumably nearly every Czech knows about (whether s/he experienced it directly or not) and which perhaps s/he would just rather forget. Respekt is probably the leading Czech journal of commentary, with a quite impressive battle-record of offending (and being threatened by) post-1989 governments, and in its current issue it approaches the event from a different angle. It was not the case that the Red Army invaded the country (accompanied by symbolic contingents from Warsaw Pact “allies”) and that was that: end of the “Prague Spring.” Rather, the Communist tightening-down of the country back to the pre-1968 level of repression (or, in some respects, an even worse state) actually proceeded over the course of a year-and-a-half, into 1970. In other words, not that much changed in Czech society right after the invasion; the oppressive changes came later, gradually, in the face of a Czechoslovak populace which could see what was happening but did little about it. It was this same populace which had been enthusiastic for its new freedoms in the first part of 1968, prior to the invasion, introduced by the then-government led by Aleksander Dubcek. So how could the re-introduction of a Communist dictatorship happen? What are the lessons for today? These sorts of questions are intelligently explored by Tomas Nemecek in his article entitled Mráz prišel zevnitr, or “The Freeze Came from Within.” (more…)

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