Saturday, August 30, 2008

Apologies. Readers....

Sorry that the blogging has been so exceptionally light of late. I've been a little busy:

1) Engaged in my new role hyping the amazing work of Washington DC's Taffety Punk Theatre Company. (The Rape of Lucrece is 8 pm at the Kennedy Center's Page to Stage Festival on Monday night!!!)

2) Getting multiple fantasy football leagues in shape.

3) Having Mrs. Mueller wheel me to a world war. (Na Bělehrad, Na Bělehrad!)

Regular postings will resume in the next few days. Promise.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Why Georgia Is Prague 68 and Not Hungary 56

As the 40th anniversary of the Prague Spring breaks, it's instructive to see what its influence is on contemporary politics.

To wit, I've been wondering why Georgia -- after its harebrained and failed attempt to retake South Ossetia -- has completely backed down from any military response (even a guerrilla response) to Russia's invasion, blockade of its ports and extension of influence into Abkhazia. According to the New York Times' interview with Georgia's president, Mikheil Saakashvili, we have an answer:

He also said that he had made a decision not to continue to fight Russia during the invasion, and not to have his army organize an insurgency against Russia, because he hoped to save the country.

“We had a choice here,” he said. “We could turn this country into Chechnya — we had enough people and equipment to do that — or we had to do nothing and stay a modern European country.”

He added: “Eventually we would have chased them away, but we would have had to go to the mountains and grow beards. That would have been a tremendous national philosophical and emotional burden.”

I'll have more to say about the Prague Spring in the next day or so, but this seems to me a case in which a president assesses the available resources and makes a tactical decision not to fight. One wonders if President Saakashvili will be summoned to the Georgian equivalent of Čierna nad Tisou before it's all over.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Skid Marks: Liquor Bike Reunites!!!!

September is shaping up as a trip in the Wayback Machine for this former rock critic.

First, the Bottle Rockets of Festus, Missouri are coming to the Washington DC metro area on their 15th anniversary tour on Saturday, September 6th. (The gig is at the Iota Club in Northern Virginia; no advance tickets.) They're only doing 15 shows this year, so this is a special event.

The Rockets just finished recording a new record that finds them reunited with Eric "Roscoe" Ambel -- who produced three classic Rockets' records: The Brooklyn Side, 24 Hours a Day and Brand New Day. Since I've known leader Brian Henneman and drummer Mark Ortmann even longer than those 15 years (it'll be 20 years on New Year's Eve, when I saw them tear up the legendary Cicero's Basement Bar in St. Louis as Chicken Truck), it's going to be a thrill to see them again...

The Rockets, however, still exist. An even bigger September surprise for me is the imminent one-night only reunion of Baltimore's raffish punk melodians Liquor Bike on Friday, September 26 at the Ottobar in Charm City. The Bike's guitarist/vocalist David Koslowski got in touch recently to let me know about the gig, and I helped out a bit with the snazzy press kit that he's assembled to hype the show. (There are photos/mp3s and other stuff...) It's the first time they've played since another one-off reunion in 1998 which I witnessed in all its shambolic grandeur. Ten years, man. Time fades away.

The Bike put out three killler records -- Lowborne, Neon Hoop Ride and The Beauty of Falling Apart -- before falling apart themselves in the late 1990s. They're still my fave Baltimore band of all time -- equal parts songcraft and fury. Their September 26 gig also kicks off an exhibit of photos and flyers from the 1990s Baltimore scene which will also be featured at Ottobar.

Circle the date for a Baltimore road trip: Friday, September 26.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Brassed Off

Let me 'fess up: I'm not much of a Serbian brass fan.

As my friends know, I prefer my Serbian music from the likes of Presing and Sila and Dirty Cover and the continually impressive downtempo Belgrade Coffee Shop collections.

And you wouldn't catch me dead -- unless there was some journalistic graft involved -- at something as full-on Balkan brass as the annual Guca Festival in Serbia. But regular readers of this blog will no doubt be interested in a terrific article about annual festival celebrating the highs and lows of Serbian folk culture by Slobodan Georgijev on the Balkan Insight blog.

Georgijev captures the -- and I quote -- "Alcohol, barbeque, cabbage in huge earthen pots and people prone to making fools of themselves, shirts with images of war criminals and international stars, fur caps, Chetnik insignia, and cowboy hats" that accompany the festival to small-town Serbia. But he also captures exquisitely the collision of locals with the foreigners who've steadily grown into a gawking and marauding horde as the festival grows more popular:

"There are more foreigners than ever," everyone will tell you in Guca. The majority are from Bosnia and Herzegovina and France, but many came from Australia, Spain, Canada, Britain, and Germany as well. Their reasoning is obvious: this is pure exotica, this kind of indulgence in five-day drinking binge and orgy they do not have the opportunity to have at home. Foreigners have invaded all the hotels and houses in town and neighbourhood, they have occupied the surrounding hills putting up tents everywhere. The main event in the town, before the dark and "going wild" starts in the tents, is at the main square where various bands and orchestras are taking turns, drunken men are climbing the monument probably in an attempt to stick out from the crowd, pouring beer into the sculpture in an attempt to make the bronze trumpeter come to life. Half the people are jumping at the sounds of brass orchestra while the other half is recording it with video and photo cameras.

Which reminds me... Isn't it almost time for the Belgrade Beer Fest? I see Kud Idijoti and Prljavi inspektor Blaža i Kljunovi and Kanda Kodža i Nebojša and Darkwood Dub are on this year's program!

Photo from the Guca festival by PetarM used under a GNU Free Documentation License. Hvala!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Black Kissinger?

Read an interview with actor/NFL star Fred "The Hammer" Williamson at The Onion's A.V. Club today.

It was a good interview, though not as good as the recent Teri Garr gabfest in which she relates (among many hilarious things) that the director of Tootsie, the late Sydney Pollack, was a sexist who:

... just wanted the beautiful, blond, cute, shiksa girls to be nice and shut the fuck up! [Laughs.] God, I'm bad. But that's what he wanted. And that's what the world wants, I think. I'm bitter. Bitter!

Garr also ranks on Francis Ford Coppola. But I digress. As I forged to the end of the Fred Williamson interview, this bit just leapt up off the page and slapped me hard in the face:

AVC: What is Black Kissinger? That's listed on your IMDB page as your next movie.

FW: Black Kissinger is a film the Jamaicans want to do, but the Jamaicans have been dragging their feet. I'm not sure they want to do the film, and in the meantime I'm putting a project together called Spats.

Wow. And it's true. IMDB has this plot synopsis:

Henry Kissinger (no relation), a Jamaican-born American cop, returns to his homeland for a vacation and runs afoul of a violent plot by an American hotel tycoon to seize control of lucrative waterfront resort space. To get to the bottom of it all, he'll have to learn to play by a whole new set of rules - and rediscover the heritage he's denied all his life. Black Kissinger. He's the man with the plan to bring some peace to the promised land. Written by Ian Driscoll

And there's a website. Check out the art. Yikes.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

South Ossetia (and Abkhazia) via Kosova

You'd expect a blog named Balkans via Bohemia to look at the sudden explosion of violence between Russia and Georgia from a southeasterly (European) direction. But as I dithered over what precisely to write about it, Steve Clemons at The Washington Note wrote a great post about the relationship between this current crisis and the headlong plunge to recognize Kosovo:

When Kosovo declared independence and the US and other European states recognized it -- thus sidestepping Russia's veto in the United Nations Security Council -- many of us believed that the price for Russian cooperation in other major global problems just went much higher and that the chance of a clash over Georgia's breakaway border provinces increased dramatically.

By pushing Kosovo the way the US did and aggravating nationalist sensitivities, Russia could in reaction be rationally expected to further integrate and cultivate South Ossetia and Abkhazia under de facto Russian control and pull these provinces that border Russia away from the state of Georgia.

At the time, there was word from senior level sources that Russia had asked the US to stretch an independence process for Kosovo over a longer stretch of time -- and tie to it some process of independence for the two autonomous Georgia provinces. In exchange, Russia would not veto the creation of a new state of Kosovo at the Security Council. The U.S. rejected Russia's secret entreaties and instead rushed recognition of Kosovo and said damn the consequences.

That seems to me precisely right. And so is Steve's short sharp smack to the Washington Post's editorial on the conflict on Saturday, which seems remarkably ignorant of a number of key issues raised in Steve's post.

As I've argued on this blog and elsewhere, the Kosovo dilemma is one that could have been resolved over time -- preferably by the joint entry of Serbia and Kosovo into the European Union.

There is a strong case to be made for Kosovo's independence via negotiation. Demographics argue against Serbian sovereignty over the province, and Serbia lost much of its moral authority to "rule" Kosovo in 1989 when it stripped Kosovo of its autonomy. And Serbia doubled down on its forfeit of the right to govern through Solobodan Milosevic's ham-fisted and vicious attempts to gin up conflict in the province again in 1998 and 1999 -- partly in response to the formation of the Kosovo Liberation Army. That mistake by Milosevic led directly to the NATO intervention and bombing in 1999.

Strong voices in and out of government here in Washington, DC (indeed, a bipartisan chorus) argued that the US should encourage a declaration of independence by Kosovar Albanians and lead a group of nations in recognizing the new state. Despite that declaration, only 45 countries have recognized the new state thus far -- and not even the entire European Union has done so.

So the situation is a classic stalemate. The US and Europe are lucky, in fact, that the accelerated push for Kosovar independence did not cost reformers in Serbia one or both of the recent elections in the country -- both of which reformers won by the skin of their teeth. Compare the fierce riots in Belgrade that occurred after the independence declaration with the impotent and pathetic turnout to protest the arrest of war crimes indictee Radovan Karadžić. Public feeling in Serbia over Kosovo can still be a deal breaker for democratic reforms and stability in Belgrade in a way that shipping off war criminals to The Hague is not.

So what's to be done? Clearly, Kosovo's Albanians aren't revoking their declaration of independence. But the push to deprive the fragile Serbian government of peaceful ways to protest that move until it can be negotiated in a calmer and more dispassionate manner-- namely bringing the Kosovo issue to the International Court of Justice -- is a huge mistake.

Indeed, the notion of French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and British Ambassador to Belgrade Steven Wordsworth talking of that move as a "mistake" that could impede Serbia's progress to the EU smacks of desperation to keep an international court from looking closely at the issues of sovereignty and self-determination in Kosovo and (hopefully) elsewhere.

After all, aren't those issues -- territorial integrity, self-determination -- precisely the issues in play in Georgia and in Abkhazia and South Ossetia? A thorough examination of these concepts by an international court, followed by a clear and articulate opinion by such a tribunal, could help clear up a number of sticky situations involving those issues across multiple continents.

Such a ruling may not be convenient, but it would be clarifying in a way that the current messes in Kosovo and Georgia are decidedly not.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Simon Gray Dies at 71

Sad news out of Britain today: playwright and essayist Simon Gray is dead at the age of 71.

I was introduced to Gray's work in graduate school via Jim Nicholson's playwriting class at Washington University. For me, he's a vastly underrated playwright who was often dismissed as slightly on the verge of middle-brow. The work is a lot deeper than that, however. (Harold Pinter's close working relationship with Gray, I think, is a true sign of that depth. Pinter directed many of Gray's plays.)

The obituaries have fastened on Butley, Otherwise Engaged (one of the most nihilistic plays I've ever read), The Common Pursuit and Quartermaine's Terms -- and, of course, his tartly hilarious diaries. But for my money, The Rear Column is my favorite Gray play. It's been a really big influence on what I write -- which often touches on history. And I did manage to see Hidden Laughter near the end of its run in 1990.

Here's a great profile from The Observer in 2004 that gives you a sense of the man. He'll be missed.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

School's Out in Sarajevo

An amazing article in The Guardian today by Kate Connolly on a Sarajevo production of Nigel Williams' 1978 play Class Enemy.

According to Connolly, Bosnian director Haris Pasovic has remade the play entirely to shine a light on the current epidemic of violence in Bosnia's schools -- another legacy of the war in that country:

While they were rehearsing Klasni Neprijatelj, as it is in translation, the actors of the East West Theatre Company followed crime reports in the papers. These stories, referred to in Bosnia as "black chronicles", focused on violence in schools, which involved knives, guns and even bombs. Most shocking was the attack last February on a schoolboy travelling home by tram, stabbed to death by three pupils. The attack prompted 20,000 Sarajevans to take to the streets in protest at the growing violence in schools. EWTC actors conducted their own research in the colleges and schools of Sarajevo. They found a frustrated generation of children from broken homes, whose parents were still suffering the devastating effects - psychological and material - of the 1992-95 war.

Pasovic made his name in former Yugoslavia and in some very heroic stagings of theatre in Sarajevo during the siege from 1992-1995. It's good to see that he's still provoking audiences there and elsewhere. Maybe bring this to New York?

Last Weekend for Marat/Sade at Forum Theatre

MARAT: Why is everything so confused now
Everything I wrote or spoke
was considered and true
each argument was sound
And now
Why does everything sound false

Forum Theatre's fabulous Marat/Sade ends its run here in Washington, DC on Sunday, August 10. I blogged about it here, and if you have not seen it you really need to get off your derriere and get tickets -- and then sit on your derriere and watch the company work its magic on Peter Weiss' very complex and very tricky play. It's an amazing production.

Friday, August 1, 2008

All the President's Mad Men

I have a new article up on The American Prospect's website on the continuing relevance of Joe McGinniss' classic, The Selling of the President 1968. There's a nod to the book's influence on Mad Men and lots of classic Nixon video.

As I mention in the article, McGinniss' book was the first political book that I ever read. I think it ended up in my parents' house as a Book of the Month club selection. I was intrigued by the cover during the long summer leading up to Nixon's resignation -- and dug as deep into it as a precocious 8-year old could dig. I do remember being mesmerized by the language spoken by the campaign operatives -- salty and jazzy -- and also by those scripts! It taught me that politics was a pageant of sorts. Nothing was an accident. There was drama and planning involved in it.

Forty years on, it's still a brilliant book with a lot to teach us all.

Karadžić: Whole Lotta Holbrooke

I doubt anyone's depending on me for "nonstop like the pizza stand on Trg Republike" coverage of Radovan Karadžić's not-so-excellent adventure at The Hague, but there have been a few developments since RK left the BG.

Karadžić's first appearance at the ICTY was almost precisely as one would have imagined it: a mix of defiance and craziness and absolute unwillingness to take any responsibility for the catastropic suffering that he wreaked upon Bosnia and the Balkans.

Shorter RK: Witch hunt. Richard Holbrooke wants to kill me. Can't get a fair trial in lynch atmosphere.

Let's go to the video.

And here's the full statement by RK as a PDF.

And yes, there were some apologies from Karadžić: To all the people who knew him as Dr. Dabic. Next he'll be apologizing to the bees.