Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Karadžić Flown to The Hague Tribunal (Updated)

Well, that didn't take long. At around 3:45 a.m., Belgrade time, Radovan Karadžić was taken to the aerodrom in Serbia's capital for the short flight to the Netherlands and his date with the ICTY. He will finally face trial there for some of the crimes that left so many of his fellow citizens dead in Sarajevo (Lav cemetery, left) and elsewhere in Bosnia.

Letting the largely-impotent protest happen and then flame out (with Serbia's president Boris Tadic not even deigning to stay in Belgrade for the carnival of hate) looks to be a total triumph for the new government. They look strong and fair in the face of the protest, and also very competent and efficient in managing the circus.

The mystery of Karadžić's appeal is one of the few loose strings left to ponder. His lawyers claimed to have sent it right at the deadline via Serbia's postal service, but Serbian officials involved in supervising the country's cooperation with the tribunal said that it never arrived.

Update (7:45 am): Eric Gordy at East Ethnia lays the smack down more emphatically on the Radicals' pathetic rally: "What the failure of last night's meeting shows is that without support from the regime in power SRS is simply another extremist party with severely limited support and little capacity to organise anything. They could build a small base of support when they had the ability to hand out commercial real estate on the Zemunski kej."

What remains worrisome to me is the chaos that violence targeted against reformers could sow in Serbia. Having failed at the ballot box and failed on the street, nationalism doesn't have much left in its quiver. That last arrow needs to be broken as well. And Karadžić's trial has to be run in as effective and efficient a manner as possible. The ICTY has put itself on trial as well. This is the chance for the tribunal to put its problems behind it.

What the Karadžić episode shows is that Serbs will not rally to the colors of war criminals. But as I pointed out in my American Prospect article, Kosovo is a different prospect altogether. The province is effectively independent. Let it be independent quietly for a few months. (Not forever, mind you. Maybe 'til Christmas.) Give Serbia time to arrest its two remaining war crime fugitives and get the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the European Union signed and ratified and bearing some fruit. Then start talking about Kosovo again in a cooler and more dispassionate climate.

Update (8:23 a.m): B92 has a brief article that addresses the mystery of the appeal. There was no appeal.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

It Takes a Nation of 16,000 To Hold Us Back

With a nod to Public Enemy, that's precisely what one could say about today's pro-Karadžić rally in Belgrade -- sponsored by the Serbian Radical Party. Small turnout (the aforementioned 16,000), a bit of tear gas and rubber bullets deployed on the unruly. (Some video here and a photo gallery here.)

Just another summer night in Belgrade with nationalists roaming the streets of Serbia's capital. Or was it? This time, the police acted -- unlike in February -- and there wasn't nearly the property damage or mayhem.

The scariest thing in Belgrade at the moment is not the small bands of hooligans or the street theatre. It's the death threats being made against Serbian president Boris Tadic. (Jelena Markovic has a great post about that here.)

Quote of the day from Karadžić's brother Luka: “He is a doctor, he is a humanist, he is a poet, he is an intellectual, a man who helped many Muslims and Croats and Serbs. Even in his second identity as Dr Dabic he treated members of every nationality.” Too bad he did not mention the bees as well.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Karadžić: Rally and Reality

There's been a lot of ink spilled on Radovan Karadžić in the week since his arrest, and it won't stop ahead of a rally organized by the Serbian Radical Party on Tuesday to protest his incarceration.

The Radicals -- who are the hardest of Serbia's hardline nationalists -- are clearly hoping to accomplish something on the streets that they were not able to accomplish in the voting booth.
Obviously, the primary mission is a show of force not unlike the violent rallies that accompanied Kosovo's declaration of independence in February -- which sparked this famous bit of looting video.

The Radicals may even hope that a sufficient display of thuggery might even call off the poet-psychologist's date with international justice. There's already rampant speculation that Karadžić may be flown to the Hague to the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia before the rally even takes place -- along with contradicting reports that his appeal has yet to reach judges. It will not be a pleasant night in Belgrade tomorrow.

An article in the New York Times sums up a bit of the anxiety in Belgrade before the rally, which is taking place against the backdrop of attacks on journalists.

I'd also point readers to a couple other interesting articles, including Alex Todorovic's report on the hunt for Karadžić in The Telegraph. (An agent managed to get a strand of hair for DNA analysis.) And in The Observer on Sunday, Ed Vuillamy tracked down some of the former Serb leader's most famous victims: the men in the Omarska and Trnopolje concentration camps. And it's no surprise that James Lyon of the International Crisis Group has a superlative take on the overall politics of it all.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Sesame Street Rap: A Brief History

Ernie and Bert vs. Mash-Out Posse (via Patrick Appel at Andrew Sullivan's blog). It's not quite Hitler as Biggie Smalls but it's inspired all the same... As inspired as this trailer for Sesame Streets (sic) as imagined by Martin Scorsese.... or Pulp Muppets. (Sam the Eagle makes a perfect Christopher Walken.)

The genre gets more perverse the deeper you dig: Kermit as Ice Cube; Elmo and the Cookie Monster doing the Geto Boys' "Mind Playin' Tricks on Me"; REM doing "Furry Happy Monsters."

Photo of Jim Henson statue (with Kermit) at the University of Maryland by Flickr user zhurnaly used under a Creative Commons license.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Better Disguise for Karadžić

A friend from Sarajevo sent an image (left) that might have made a better disguise for Radovan Karadžić.

Jelena Markovic also has some terrific posts on the arrest -- from her personal viewpoint.

In other Karadžić news, the Times of London reports that St. Radovan cured a child of autism.

In the Independent, Vesna Peric Zimonjic crystallizes what a lot of my friends and I have discussed over the past two days -- news coverage in Serbia and elsewhere has essentially glorified the life of the fugitive on the run at the expense of reminding the world of the heinous crimes that he has committed. One hopes that once the shock wears off, the horror will come back to the foreground. (Michael Dawson makes a good start on that process with this column in the Independent, which features many of the most sickening stanzas in Karadžić's poems.)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Karadžić: The Saga Continues....

The arrest of Radovan Karadžić is the gift that keeps on giving for anyone with even a passing familiarity with the Balkans.

First, it gave the proprietor of this still-humble blog a chance to assess the turbulent seven months in Serbia before Karadžić's arrest and what might happen in the future at The American Prospect's website.

Part of my argument in the piece is that Western diplomats need to give the new government a lot of positive praise, target any aid to achieve objectives that will make a positive difference in the life of ordinary Serbs, and to recalibrate their public stance a bit when it comes to pressuring Serbia. Firm insistence that the other two Hague Tribunal fugitives are located, arrested and turned over? Yes. Every one that is turned over is a defeat for Serbia's nationalists. Pushing hard on Kosovo status? Less useful at the moment. It is the one issue that gives the nationalists the necessary fuel to stoke disorder and discontent and possible cave in an already-shaky governing coalition.

And guess what? Just like clockwork, a US diplomat goes and pushes hard in public on Kosovo in Brussels.

Of course Kosovo's status will need to be settled. But a reform-minded government in Serbia that is much closer to accession to the EU and more firmly in the saddle is essential to doing so.

Meanwhile, the stories of Karadzic's life on the run get stranger and stranger. Turns out he was the king of Blok 45 in Novi Beograd, at a cafe called the "Mad House." (And that he treated bees with more dignity and compassion, than, say, the citizens of Sarajevo.)

Vesna Peric Zimonjic has two great stories today as well. Her first article in The Independent analyzes the news that Karadžić will try and defend himself at the Hague, along with including a lot of other juicy tidbits on the fake identity card that Karadžić obtained. Her other article is another take on "Karadžić on the lam" -- with the added frisson of talking with a Serbian novelist whose fictional account of the Hague Tribunal fugitive has eerie resonances with reality:

As a fuller picture emerged of his life as a fugitive, one person who was more shocked than most was the Belgrade writer Mirjana Djurdjevic, who found life imitating her fiction.

In her novel The First, Second and Third Man Djurdjevic put one of the most wanted men in the world into a Belgrade clinic where he worked as a psychiatrist.

"Of course I knew nothing about him. Putting him into a psychiatric office came as the result of my common sense," the novelist said on Serbian television. "I just tried to make an irony on the long-lasting hunt for Karadzic. It's often said that literature imitates reality, but now it came the other way round."

And as you ponder some of the other nuggets that Zimonjic unearths (Karadžić explained his odd hairdo by claiming that "This is how I receive energy"), you should also check out Eric Gordy's excellent piece on the politics of it all at OpenDemocracy's site.

In particular, the man behind East Ethnia digs deeper into a point to which I've only alluded at the end of my previous post on the arrest and in the Prospect article:

Serge Brammertz, the ICTY prosecutor, issued a statement welcoming the arrest. He must, however, be conscious of the challenge that awaits him. Not all of the major ICTY cases have gone so well for the prosecution. The prime suspect Slobodan Miloševic died in custody in March 2006 before a verdict could be reached; while one of the main witnesses against Milosevic, his former collaborator Milan Babic, committed suicide in custody. The trial of the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS) leader Vojislav Seselj repeatedly threatens to descend into a judicial circus. The acquittals of the Bosniak military commander Naser Oric and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) commander Ramush Haradinaj have made the prosecution appear at best to be deficient in skill. The tribunal also on 18 July 2008 released its first convict, the unrepentant low-ranking soldier Dusan (Dusko) Tadic, after he had served two-thirds of his twenty-year sentence.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Karadžić Nabbed in Belgrade

One down, one to go. Poet, psychologist and war criminal Radovan Karadžić was arrested today after 13 years on the run from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

The rumor, which came from the newspaper Blic (via Eric Gordy's awesome Balkan blog, East Ethnia) is that Karadžić was nabbed in Vračar -- which is in downtown Belgrade!

I spent a couple minutes IMing with a friend of mine who lives in Vračar, wondering whether he was taken near the non-stop grocery just off Molerova street, drinking a Jelen pivo outside the shop.

So what's this all about? A couple quick thoughts.

First, the new reform government is officially in -- and this is one of the first fruits of their ascension. They know that half measures to allay intransigent hardliners' wrath are not getting them anywhere. They need to show improvements in ordinary Serbs' lives and quickly -- loosening of visa regimes, flow of capital and investment, etcetera.

So today's arrest is one step. The quick call to send ambassadors back to countries that have recognized Kosovo is another. In return, the international community has to show some good will very quickly.

Second, today's arrest is also a decisive blow to former prime minister and chief Serbian pedant Vojislav Koštunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) -- which controlled the keys to government as the key party in the ruling coalition until recently. The rapid arrest of Karadžić by the new government makes it very clear that Koštunica could have easily done it. Thus, Koštunica and his cronies are humiliated in front of two key audiences. Ordinary Serbs may see them impotent fools. And the international community sees Vojo and Company as the stupid and dishonest creeps that everyone thought them to be all this time.

Third, why didn't the reformers' new partners, Milosevic's old Socialist Party, hold this up or block it? First, there is plausible deniability for them. The ministry that the Socialists control -- the Interior Ministry -- disavowed any role in the capture. Plus, the Socialists have some good old-fashioned grudgeful reasons to despise Karadžić -- including his intransigence at key moments in the Bosnia debacle when Milosevic decided that placating the international community was a better tack than defiance.

This, too, is a fruit of the uneasy new coalition that everyone was so worried about. Now that the reformers have split off the Socialists from the hardline Radical Party and Koštunica's party, the powerful bloc that protected Karadžić was fractured.

Fourth, what about the war criminal behind the massacres at Srebrenica -- Ratko Mladić? Well, this arrest has got to be scaring him. But he remains much more popular than Karadžić. I'd rather see him in the Hague, but I would not be surprised if Mladić he chooses another -- rather less attractive -- option instead of surrender or capture.

Fifth, the arrest of Karadžić is is a chance for the tribunal, which has been much maligned -- and not without cause -- to get it right. Let's hope they are up to it.

Photo: The Beotrag department store in downtown Belgrade. Taken by the blogger.
Add (11:41am): Yes, "Beotrag" was a joke. Do I need to start using emoticons on this blog?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Dada Delight at Capital Fringe

A wee bit more Capital Fringe Festival blogging. Tonight I saw Manifesto! -- a production of Happenstance Theater -- at the Source on 14th Street. Verdict? Terrific.

The hour-long piece is a (very) playful homage to the Dadaist movement -- which has enjoyed a bit of a critical renaissance in the past few years. The big exposure came from a much-ballyhooed 2006 retrospective that toured major museums in Washington, New York and Paris. But there's also been a number of scholarly reexaminations of the phenomenon -- including The Dada Reader: A Critical Anthology (University of Chicago Press) and a slew of books from MIT Press that expand the scope of criticism on the movement to its manifestations in Eastern Europe and the Netherlands and to marginalized figures such as Francis Picabia.

So what does Happenstance do with Dada? Well, first, and best, they foreground the physical comedy of Dadaist performance -- the frenetic clowning, the farts, and the high-pitched exotic nonsense of it all. They remind the audience, even at a knowing remove, that Dada was meant to insult and offend and even physically repel those who were not in on its nihilistic joking.

Second, the company's mash-up of various texts reads Dada back into its particular milieu of contested avant-gardism. Sure, Dada was a revolt against the nationalism, capitalism and imperialism that created the First World War. But it was also a movement that bloodied the nose of other competing movements -- especially other artistic "isms" that included the Futurism spearheaded by Filippo Tomasso Marinetti, which was co-opted and corroded by its adherents' preening, vulgar delight in war and destruction. It's no accident that Happenstance's production literally kills off and chalk marks the body of a Futurist, or that it presents capitalism and communism in a sado-masochistic tango that tickles, slaps and collapses in on itself.

The performances by Mark Jaster, Sabrina Mandell and Scott Burgess (as the clowns who staff a "Cabaret Révolte"), Maia DeSanti (the cabaret's hostess) and by Taffety Punk Theatre Company's Lise Bruneau and Marcus Kyd (who embody any number of the "isms" at war in the piece) are a winning blend of craft and playful anarchy. It's a rare thing to see texts which are largely the province of art historians and literary critics brought to life and brought to laughter. Happenstance is to be congratulated for doing so.

There are three more performances of Manifesto! -- Sunday, July 20, Wednesday, July 23 and Saturday, July 26. Tickets are here.

The cover of Theo van Doesburgs' 1923 brochure Wat is Dada is in the public domain.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Marat/Sade: A Forum Rave

I went to the opening night of Forum Theatre's production of The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade -- better known as Marat/Sade -- in DC tonight.

Bottom line: This production of Peter Weiss' play is miraculous.

Let's start with the handicap: Marat/Sade is a quintessentially 1960s play. Playwright Peter Weiss hijacked the continuing immediacy of the French Revolution in post-1945 politics (with more than a nod to Georg Buchner's 1835 play Danton's Death). Just check out the movie based on the Royal Shakespeare Company's staggeringly brilliant 1967 production of the play -- all atom bombs and sexual revolution.

But director Michael Dove re-imagines this play so wonderfully in the Forum production, however, that you will (at least for the moment) forget the RSC version. Where RSC director Peter Brook went for anarchic sex and apocalypse, Dove angles for something more tangible and contemporary: madness, sensuality and war.

In 2008, the easy route for a director of Marat/Sade would be to angle for the stagecraft and song of the play: Armageddon as cabaret. And the actors who carry the music of this production -- Jesse Terrill (who wrote dazzling new music for this staging), Barbara Papendorp, Lisa Lias, Colin Smith, Michael Grew, Ashley Ivey, Colin Smith and Emre Izat -- skilfully inhabit the songs and placards that Weiss writes into the play.

For me, however, the center of the play is the fierce dialectic between Marat (Danny Gavigan) and the Marquis de Sade (Jonathon Church). Dove's version foregrounds this bitter conflict, and uses it as the engine of the play, enlisting the animating energy embodied in the pivotal roles of Charlotte Corday (Katy Carcuff), Simonne Evrard (Helen Parfumi) and the rabble-rousing priest Jacques Roux (Eric Messner) to spur it along. (Corday's assassination of Marat is downright sexy.)

The danger of doing Marat/Sade in 2008 is indulging in perverse nostalgia -- leaning on Bobby Kennedy and mutual assured destruction and a Europe where revolution is taking the barricades against the bourgeoisie. Forum's Marat/Sade scrolls forward to an America where war and religion and history are contested categories. The questions that this Marat/Sade poses are worth pondering. The Forum production pushes forward in all directions -- the futility of revolution is (almost) fun; assassination is as sexual as it is brutal, and politics is a carousel of sensual brutality.

Tickets -- and they are highly recommended -- are here.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Washington Post Holds DC Hostage: Day 3

It seems like only yesterday. Summer 2001. Dogged reporters stuck in DC in the city's sweltering dog days chased the salacious mysteries and menace attached to the disappearance of Chandra Levy -- an intern who'd been having an affair with a married California congressman named Gary Condit. Her body was found in a little over a year later on May 22, 2002 in Rock Creek Park.

Starting on Sunday, the Washington Post embarked on a 12 part (!) series on the now-cold case -- promising a tale of missed leads, missteps and a murderer who "may never be brought to justice." It's a perfect storm of copy: massive reporting resources used for a series that the paper is firing out to readers in staccato bursts, with a reporter's notebook blog to boot.

I was an editor at Washington's alternative newspaper at the time of Levy's disappearance and murder, and I remember the fascination and the farce of the Levy investigation all too well. In fact, the near-toxic mix of media hype and hysteria led the paper where I worked to eventually surrender to the inevitable and assemble a special issue called "Summer of Chandra" in July 2001.

But I was much prouder of commissioning a story that ran in the paper a few weeks before that special issue, written by then-intern and soon to be staff writer Sarah Godfrey. Headlined "Losing Count," the article tackled the numerous other "missing persons" cases that summer which never got a scrap of the media attention garnered by the Levy case. Sarah's article begins:

Going "missing" in D.C. is more common than you think.

When you go to the Youth and Preventive Services Division of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) at 1700 Rhode Island Ave. NE to ask about missing persons, you'll find dozens of fliers posted on the bulletin board. Most have pictures of children and babies on them. The now-familiar photo of 24-year-old Chandra Levy—dressed in a white sleeveless top and surrounded by a tangle of dark curly hair—is also there, tacked in the middle of the bulletin board. The Federal Bureau of Prisons intern from Modesto, Calif., was last seen April 30, and the search for her has become the focus of a nationwide media frenzy.

At the bottom corner of the bulletin board, there is another, obviously homemade, plea for information about another missing loved one. Its photo shows 19-year-old Nyesa Shaw—a slender young woman dressed for her senior prom or some other occasion that requires fancy dress. Her eyes are turned down, and she flashes a shy half-smile. The flier asks those with any information regarding her whereabouts to contact Shaw's family directly—not the MPD.

"Please help the Shaw family contact Nyesa—Thank You very much and may GOD bless you," the flier concludes.

I'm especially proud of that story -- and the terrific job that Sarah did writing and reporting it -- because I think the piece really got at the class and race issues at the heart of the media fixation on the Levy case. At its essence, it was a story about the perversions and prurience of ruling class DC, perfect for a simmering slow news season. And, of course, perfect for recycling in another sticky summer seven years later.

The Levy story holds a particular fascination for journalists who lived here in that last carefree summer before it all went wrong on 9/11. Despite the tragedy of Levy's death and the frustrations that her murderer was never brought to justice, the saga marked the true end of the 1990s in America's capital city.

Another District, with other missing persons and cold cases, existed before September 11. It still exists today. One wishes that more journalistic resources were brought to bear to bring that city to light and life.

Photo of Chandra Levy from the DC Metropolitan Police Department's website.

Exit to New Portals of the Mind

So B92 has the figures on arrests and amounts of drugs seized this year at the EXIT music and cultural festival in Novi Sad. Aside from the great music and the joys of summer sun and rain in the Vojvodina region, EXIT is also a handy snapshot of what's up with hipster youth culture -- musically and pharmaceutically.

The tally? Ninety-seven arrests. (96 were for drug possession.) And the array of stuff seized?

During the festival, police seized 26.1 grams of heroin, 2.16 grams of cocaine, 5.7 grams of hashish, 236.67 grams of marijuana, 225 ecstasy pills and another 8.82 grams of ecstasy, two LSD tabs, 73.55 grams of amphetamines, and 1.1 grams of speed.

Can someone explain all the heroin to me? Do people still do heroin? At a music festival?

EXIT was also Björk-less, apparently because of her stand on independence for Kosovo. The Sex Pistols, however, did turn up.

Photo of the main dance stage at the EXIT Festival in 2006 by Flickr user belkus used under a Creative Commons license.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Slaughter in Pakistan, Slaughter on the Autobahn

So I'm on vacation right now, and I've found my theme song for this idyll: Hildegard Knef's 1971 classic, "Holiday Time."

There's a Wikipedia entry on Knef here, but the account of her impressive life as an actress in post-war Germany inexplicably leaves out this groovy sidenote to that career, which was actually the "B" side to a single.

The bass, bongos, piano and drums fall quickly into a deeply funky groove, and less than 9 seconds in, Knef's Teutonic voice begins to intone with aching dolor:

They came back from the moon today
One of the parachutes didn’t open

And the song just never quits being astonishing for its 4 minutes and 30 seconds -- taking in headlines ("In Munich there will be a beer festival/ They had a bank robbery/Police shot the hostage/ Olympic Games next year") and her chillingly fatalistic and mundane observations:

There are eight or ten boys standing there
Near the funicular
They’re bored
So bored, they start throwing stones
They aim close to the girls’ legs, the girls’ heads
Eight or ten boys who’ve never seen war
Healthy wealthy jet set babies
Throwing stones on the third morning
Of the Aquarian millennium

Heat, fatigue and palpable boredom have never been as musically compelling, winding inevitably to a repeated chorus that articulates Knef's hatred for these "weary, dreary holiday times." Though I think my favorite moment is her second bite at the apple of currency reports:

The dollar is climbing, the dollar is falling
Inflation, stagflation
Yes, yes, I know you know

The song can be found on the second collection of German pop psychedelia issued by Marina Records/Finetunes: THE IN-KRAUT Vol 2 - Hip Shaking Grooves Made In Germany 1967-1974. (Available here from eMusic.) The first volume also features a Knef song called "From Here On It Got Rough" -- along with a strange song by French ye-ye girl and Serge Gainsbourg protege France Gall called "Hippie Hippie." (Vol. 1 on eMusic is here.) And Marina issued a third collection less than a month ago, which I have yet to sample. (eMusic download here.)

Fortunately, YouTube has the whole song here -- though just the audio. Stay cool.

Kicking Soccer Down in Lebanon

Yes, we're going to satisfy the growing contingent of readers who come to Balkans via Bohemia for world soccer blogging. This week: Lebanon.

The latest edition of Counterpunch features an article by Karim Makdisi -- a professor at the American University in Beirut -- about how Lebanon's fractious politics is mirrored in its soccer culture.

First and most depressing, of course, is that fact that we're still almost exactly two years away from the 2010 World Cup -- and Lebanon is already out:

Lebanon’s national soccer team recently completed the last of six qualification round matches for the 2010 World Cup. The results have been nothing short of disastrous, with consecutive ‘home’ and ‘away’ defeats to Saudi Arabia (1-4, 1-2), Uzbekistan (0-1, 0-3), and Singapore (1-2, 0-2), and fourteen goals conceded in the process. Far from being a trivial sporting matter, the manner of Lebanon’s defeats illustrates the Lebanese political class’s chronic lack of imagination and willful neglect of a genuine nation-building project that could transcend sectarian or clientalist considerations.

But Makdisi takes the analysis much deeper, into areas both predictable and novel. He observes -- probably to no surprise for anyone who follows Lebanese culture -- that most of the teams in Lebanon's soccer league have a clear sectarian cast and that the few teams that do attract fans across religious divides are hurting at present:

The teams that play in Lebanon’s top division are now generally identified by overtly sectarian (and thus political) affiliation. Thus, al-Ansar is a “Sunni” (read: Hariri) team, the new champions al-‘Ahd are the “Shia’a” (“Hizbullah”) team, Homentmen are an Armenian team, Hikme a Christian (Lebanese Forces) team, and al-Safa is a Druze (Jumblatt) team. Some teams, most notably Nijme—a traditional powerhouse and one of the most popular Lebanese teams—have indeed traditionally drawn support from across the sectarian spectrum, but they are in real danger of losing this national support given the highly charged atmosphere that exists today.

Makdisi also plunges deep into the uniquely Lebanese intersections of national politics and sports. Domestic league matches are essentially played without spectators as a "preemptive" strike against the chance of sectarian fan violence -- a decision that brings out the author's fierce sarcasm:

Considering that the overtly sectarian nature of the political discourse served by the political hacks and politicians broadcast on television 24 hours a day was never seriously addressed, this decision reinforced a clear philosophy of Lebanon’s ruling political class: ‘only we get to control and distribute sectarian poison.’

Uglier still, in Makdisi's account, was the recent unsporting manipulation of Lebanon's unfortuately brief World Cup campaign to suck up to external actors (especially the Saudis), despite a mood of national ebullience and good feeling related to the political deal for the country brokered in Doha.

It is easy to imagine the following scenario: the Doha accords produced a positive national mood, the tents in downtown Beirut were lifted, Lebanese flags waved everywhere, nationalist music broadcast, so why not unite behind a national soccer team as a unifying event? Why not at least play in Doha? No, the Lebanese authorities sanctioned what this writer believes to be an unprecedented decision to play its ‘home’ game against Saudi Arabia in….Saudi Arabia. Much can be said about the fact that Lebanon’s parliamentary majority leader and Prime Minister in waiting, Sa’ad Hariri, is a Saudi subject and that Lebanon’s political class on both sides of the political divide panders to Saudi’s petrodollars (the opposition did not protest this unseemly episode). However, the most likely explanation for this incredible decision—Lebanon was trounced 3-0, and in its final match against Singapore, only ten players bothered to even show up for the final practice match—is that Lebanon’s authorities simply do not care.

A terrific article.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

BvB Reading List 7/6

A few articles and blog discussions of note:

Katrina vanden Heuvel has a dynamite essay on what needs to be done in the campaign to protect and expand voting rights in the latest edition of The Nation.

Hidden gardens of Paris? Not anymore, thanks to the New York Times.

Jonesing on the complete absence of Eurosoccer blogging here at Balkans via Bohemia? Jonathan Wilson takes a look at the absurdities of the Bosnian and Azerbaijan World Cup qualifying campaigns at The Guardian.

And speaking of The Grauniad... Michael Tomasky rips it up on Steve Schmidt's ascent to the summit of the McCain campaign.

Mother Jones convened a panel discussion on attacking Iran. (Danny Postel rejoices!)

P Diddy says: Hancock, bitches! But the real money quote is P Diddy's outrage about Underdog. (Via Aziz is Bored.)

And on a similar tip: Bushwick Bill of the Geto Boys finds God. (Thanks, Hussein.)

Moistworks offers up a treasure trove of Bo Diddley and Bo Diddley-related mp3s.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Gun Shy

My neighborhood's been in an uproar lately because we've had a bit of a crime wave. First, there was a high-profile shooting of an exchange student from the University of Texas on a nearby street. (He survived it.) Then a few days later, there was an attempted mugging less than half a block away from my door.

Now, a really wonderful guy in progressive media here in DC (whose blog has been linked on this site from day one) was shot last night in Adams Morgan, about a ten minute walk from our house. He, too, is apparently gonna be alright, and is reportedly cracking Reaganesque jokes with his editor.

So crime has tongues wagging at the dog park where we walk Prinz Riley von Ashmead these days. Lots of nervous energy and wariness and talk of the crappy economy impinging on a neighborhood that's been very uneventful since we moved here in 2004. And what a perfect time for the US Supreme Court to rule the District's handgun ban as unconstitutional! If there's anything scarier than the criminals having guns, it's the average DC citizen suddenly packing heat. Accidents will happen, as Elvis Costello once sang.

Back when I was deputy editor at a certain free weekly newspaper here in the District earlier this decade, I got a very close-up view on crime in the metropolis through very diligent study of the police department crime reports. Knew the hotspots, yes, but was even more astonished by the sheer randomness of it all.

The impulse is to shake it off. Be brave. Keep living. But clusters of events such as these compel a certain uneasiness about everyday life that logic and the best intentions can't easily dispel. It's what Ödön von Horváth was talking about when he told a friend: "Why is it most people are afraid of the darkness of the forest? Why aren't they afraid of walking down the street?"

"Warhol Gun" image by Flickr user adpal3180 used under a Creative Commons license.