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Notes from Prague Six, #04

Sqquuuuaak!

mutant kfc chickensHas everyone heard the rumor about the chain formerly known as Kentucky Fried Chicken?

According to several semi-respectable sources in my rolodex, the restaurant no longer serves chicken, but rather a genetically clipped mutant known as "Animal 27."

It looks like chicken and tastes like chicken. But it's not chicken. In fact, stores are now changing over to the name 'KFC' to avoid lawsuits.

One can hear the defense now: "Your honor, we never said it was chicken. The plaintiff merely inferred that from the former name of the company, as well as from past experience consuming chicken at the St. Louis establishment in question. Mr. Smith ordered something called a 'four-piece meal deal,' which neither promises nor even mentions actual poultry products."

Maybe you were taught to read Brave New World as dystopia by a zealously humanistic English teacher in high school and this disturbs you. Maybe your priest has warned against tampering with God's creatures and you cringe before the crest of the Biotech wave ahead.

But I say: why not substitute chicken meat? We have substitute crabmeat, after all. Aren't industrial chicken farms vile, inchickane hamlets of suffering and filth anyway?

If antitrust laws are so much twentieth century anachronisma, why not also the high standards of food quality and trust that have traditionally defined the relationship between fast food and its victims? I say serve up that plastic chicken. That funky, plastic chicken. That organless, headless, sterile, chemical based, vat swimming, test tube induced, plumpy Animal 27.

I'm getting hungry just thinking about it.


Recently, Siegfried Mortkowitz published a column in The Prague Post entitled "Havel and the Golden Calf," in which he pointed to Havel's New Year's address as evidence that he remains "a hard-line dissident" whose "objective is identical to what it was in the days of Charter 77."

Lost within Mortkowitz's romantic fantasy of the Czech Moses against a benighted horde of technocrats, CEOs and vulgarians is the degree to which Havel has been sucking at the bit of modern values for ten years. And sucking hard.

Of course it is not surprising that the leader of this small nation would, as the Czechs say, 'sing the song of whose bread he eats'; what is surprising is that anyone could still hold purist illusions about this one-time pacifist and crusader for 'socialism with a human face. '

What would a young Havel have thought about the recent conference on development that included Jeffrey Sachs and Henry Kissinger? For that matter, what does an ostensibly leftish columnist for the Prague Post think about it?

Throughout his tenure as President, Havel has maintained a lofty tone. Often he is profound, often his rhetoric rings hollow. Yet compared to career pols in the West, he certainly comes off the philosopher, if not the king. And occasionally he will make a speech, as he did on New Year's, speaking bravely if vaguely against the values of the bloc he has fought so hard to enter.

For these speeches and gestures I applaud and admire him. But this does not obscure the central fact that he is rightly associated with that most responsible for the values he so deplores: namely, the ideology of inherently benevolent market forces and US-led aggression from Baghdad to Belgrade.

Lest we forget: The dust had yet to settle amid the rubble of the Berlin Wall when Havel was in Washington, shamelessly and cynically speaking as if it were the kingdom of heaven, and the US State the angel of history. Havel knew better, and his blanket absolution of American crimes during the Cold War was an act of moral cowardice.

Again, this was not surprising, just sobering. Just as it was when Havel sold his moral prestige to NATO's war last year, sitting next to Clinton for the camera like some high-class political prostitute. Whether it be accommodating the imperatives of foreign investment or rationalizing an expanded nuclear alliance in Europe, Havel's dismal post-dissident record speaks for itself.

Which is not to ignore his contributions or uniqueness. Havel is indeed a complex, tragic figure who is at least capable of public angst and reflection-no small feat these days. Nobody could expect a single man to stand successfully against the tides of globalization or superpower politics.

But some do try harder than others. Havel, curiously contrite and disillusioned as his life comes to an end, no doubt knows this.

Deep down, I think Mortkowitz does too.


Artwork by Truman

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