Monday, 8 December 2008

Act of terror

Those, who brought in the Terror Act and apply it indiscriminately as a universal tool to sort out whatever they find unpleasant, are quite resourceful again and seemingly are the only people committing act of terror on every normal everyday person... every single day with their renewed machinations.

And since there are occurrences of classic paranoid terms like 'they', well, let's be clear, it is about the current British Government and Home Office, specifically.

The matter of the compulsory ID cards with full-blown biometric data, as an essential tool in the fight against terrorism, has been debated a lot in the recent past, well, ever since its wonderful idea was introduced. Nothing wrong with ID cards per se, many countries have some form of it, but the rationale for its absolute need was flawed from the beginning.

What is particularly hilarious is that the Home Office, in this citadel of Western democracy, is now trying to introduce them via the 'back door'. They want to introduce a clause by which they make the presentation of the ID card compulsory at border points, when entering the UK. So if asked, one has to produce it.

Ergo, ID cards are no longer compulsory. You can perfectly live without them, as long as you never leave and (re-) enter the UK. Brilliant.

What is then interesting, is that the European Court recently had a verdict by which holding of DNA information on any person not involved in a criminal investigation (and/or not convicted in the end) is illegal.

Our Home Office Secretary, the particularly creepy, spineless, transparent and utterly brainless woman she is (a wonderful combination that any totalitarian dictator would have loved to have in the Government), found the ruling "disappointing".

Well, what it will do to our ID cards, we'll see... maybe some more back doors are to be introduced.

I would like to leave this topic with just one interesting example of Home Office theory and practice.

They introduced at some airports the iris scan facility, and once enrolled, you can enter without passport checking queues. Well, in practice it means most of the time slower and longer queues at the very few iris scan cubicles and countless times I got through quicker via traditional and even longer passport checking queues.

When they got pulled up on why there is only one cubicle at LHR Terminal 1 and it most of the time 'out of order', the response was: we shall install more as soon as we refurbish the arrivals area at that terminal.

Well, they have done so... work has finished. In the renewed immigration check area you can guess how many iris scan cubicles there are.

You guessed it, just one. The same one and it breaks all the time.

Come on, Mrs. Smith of Home Office grandeur: you have no real interest in biometric data being used for people's advantage, to speed or modernise things, to help in any way anybody.

You just want to POSSESS full biometric data on everybody. Full stop.

Ah yes, apparently for helping the war against terror. Ah yes.

Friday, 5 December 2008

One democracy, two democracies

An interesting update about the Romanian farce first: it didn't quite work. In the end, with a marginal difference, the old Mafiosi were not brought back, instead we have some continuity with the not so old Mafiosi :-)

Another interesting development is that the extreme right Great Romania Party, with the colourfully demented fascist leader, C. V. Tudor did not reach the needed threshold to get into the Parliament, what a shame.

While former home, Romania was sorting itself out in the aftermath of the elections, the current home, UK has reached new heights of its democracy.

The Terror Act was used against an MP who leaked information to the opposition regularly, about frankly scandalous matters of the current Government. So one can say, whether it was a violation of the Official Secrets Act or not, is secondary, because the information was something the MP in question deemed necessary for the public to know. So it can be a philosophical debate...

But while that debate may go on, it is clear that none of the leaked pieces of information were in any way a national security risk. Still, that is the label put on them, and the chap was raided by police, his office was also searched - and the clencher is: search warrants were not issued at all.

Not only showed again that the Terror Act, exactly as predicted by every lucid being years ago, can and will be used for utter abuse of power, as soon as something doesn't suite the Party that established it, but it also showed that even the most basic aspects of judicial process, never speaking of basic human rights, have been violated or bypassed altogether.

This has all the elements of a totalitarian state... not the first time this so-called Terror Act was used as a tool to sort out whatever didn't suit Mr. Blair or Mr. Brown's Government.

Also, the irony is that the Party which labelled the scandalous information leaked to the opposition a national security threat is responsible for countless diabolical losses, misplacement, leaks and losses of highly confidential information that all WERE indeed direct threats to national security.

Furthermore, if Gordon Brown had this treatment, then he would have spent most of the 80s in jail, when he made a career out of leaking information...

Monday, 1 December 2008

Romanian democracy

It is a sarcastic title - and while one fights with sense of guilt for not having been physically there to feel every minute of the General Elections in Romania, it is just simply impossible to leave that absolute farce without a comment.

Don't look at Zimbabwe... there are much closer places on the map, where democratic principles have been completely thrown out while performing an apparent eminent democratic process.

Such artful farce so far was the exclusive characteristic of talented African and former Communist block dictatorships, but we have something very close to it now.

As some stunningly erudite analysts stated, the Social-Democrats in Romania have relied on under-development, on miserable voters living in medieval conditions (and medieval mindsets). The gamble succeeded, the winning seems to be by fractions of percent. As he also states, the manipulation of the depraved thick layers of the society was a 'negative magnum opus' achieved by the party - and the well-designed electoral farce has also succeeded.

For starters, for the first time, more than a million voters could not vote... because votes for (I emphasise!) general elections could only be cast at your permanent residence. It brought back a certain feudalist practice, and it was not by accident, it was by design. More than a million voters were caught out by this absolutely absurd new rule, while also arrangements for students to make their way home from distant cities have been strangely pushed into chaos.

Why? It's not conspiracy theory, it is a well-designed and obvious pattern, considering who seems to have won the elections, based on the current polls and preliminary counts.

The rural votes have ... ruled, and they brought their characteristics with it. Romania, in many ways still a very rural country, has now brought back to power the (what countless called in the Romanian press) traitors and ex-communist/neo-communist Mafia which traditionally always managed to charm rural voters and that party has learnt the lesson how to orchestrate the elections such that these key votes will be the predominant ones.

It is incredible that after 18 years, these pests are voted back into Government, bringing back the darkest years of post-Revolution history. Reading the more enlightened comments in national and local press, it is evident that the closest state of shock that resembles this was the re-election of "W" :-)

Fun aside, there were concerted efforts to make urban and more 'intelligent' votes invalid, prohibit people from non-rural environments (who eminently work further away from where they are registered as permanent residents). There were concerted sabotage actions to prohibit hundreds of thousands of students to properly reach their permanent home where they could cast their votes.

Never before the split was so clear in the country, between those that are blinded by the well-organised empty propaganda augmented by pure emotional campaigns and gifts (yes, immense funds from somewhere were spent on bribes of entire communities!) and those that see who these people are. Not difficult to see, as they have been on the political stage before and the results were, well, the darkest neo-communist Mafia years of the country.

Even compared to the usual standards of Romanian corruption across every layer of society, this bunch will truly make them pale in significance. We are returning to an era of the post-Iliescu/neo-Nastase clans...

It is a dark day. And dark months and years are to follow.

Reading the comments in the press and online, even traditionally patriotic voices are so bitter that many state: they are happy to live outside the country and they are deeply ashamed to even mention their home country now. Some wrote that they were planning to return to Romania in coming years, but this change now (and HOW the election was orchestrated) means they abandoned any plans to even visit home...

It is sad to see this, while personally I am also blinded with anger, listening to the street-level reactions and facts about the way the election was run.

Some at least attempt to make elections look democratic, but the Romanian political Mafia has acquired enough arrogance and power over 18 years to not even bother with appearances.

As the Social-Democrats can't govern with their proportion in the Parliament, now the coalition talks will be extremely interesting, especially as the key players currently flatly refuse coalition.

One sweet pill, though: it seems the ultra-fascist Great Romania party for the first time does not make it into the Parliament, what a shame.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

The present of presents

Last year, roughly with similar timings, I talked about the future of presents... Now, with credit crunch, global financial and economic crisis (well, crises), something triggered a short typing exercise about the here-and-now, the present, of Xmas presents.

This morning on the BBC News we had the chance of being enlightened by money experts and members of think tanks (yes, it was wall-to-wall expertise, in glorious widescreen)... Enlightened about whether we can have a nice Christmas while we may not be able to splash out on presents the way we used to.

I just find it astounding, truly astounding, that this topic even comes up, let alone that 'experts' and think tank mini-tanks (well, she looked like one... how nasty of me) have to tell us the obvious: YES, you CAN have a nice Christmas without a Himalaya-size pile of presents in quadruple copies that then will make you queue all January to bring back to shops as unwanted gifts (and yes, people nowadays give gifts with receipts as they EXPECT that most of the gifts will be duplicates, triplicates etc. and you'd have to taken them back).

We heard the experts stating the wonderful obvious, but forgotten basics: Christmas is about family, being kind and loving, atmosphere, getting together etc. etc.

I'm not saying for a moment that finances under the Communist regime were the worst imaginable - there were and are many areas of the world where the former Romanian standard of living can seem utterly luxurious...

But... in that particular misery, I remember having GLORIOUS Christmas celebrations... Before we all started to be re-programmed into thinking that a smashing Xmas is about piles of as expensive as possible presents, the emphasis was about knowing the other person, lovingly picking something that he/she will absolutely love... simple things... and besides things, the hours and days spent together, with a meal as festive as we could put together from the food rations saved up over many weeks and months in the freezer... Endless list of things and utterly immaterial things that made us happy at Xmas.

I wonder whether the experts paraded this morning on the BBC managed to convey the obvious message, that only such experts could state...

The closest I've seen anything and anybody come to the long forgotten, former ideal of Christmas was the John Lewis advert. Apart from the brilliance of it, the final and inevitable slogan had to be there and it said: If you know the person, you will find the present.

And that present, my fellow & dear non-experts in human nature and the quantum physics of Xmas, can be anything, even something as untouchable as time itself.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Social networking

Nope, not of the traditional kind (you know, that ancient form of social interaction arising from being outside the walls of your house, being in contact with real people, building social skills, acquiring vital intuitive skills when it comes to your own safety etc.

This is about two pieces of news that, with remarkable synchronism, popped up recently.

One was about a girl that is so addicted to Facebook that has to be treated for it... She not only spent immense amounts of hours in front of the computer, doing 'social networking', but also went into a frenzy of acquiring 'friends'. She set her alarm clock to wake her up every two hours each night, so that she could check whether eh was marked as 'friend' by some more people. At the point where the parents had enough and also realised that this is pathological, she had more than 5000 'friends'.

The fact that she had no concept of what the real meaning of the word 'friend' is and well, she seemingly never had a real one, is a secondary aspect.

Why? Well, there was that other piece of news. There is a new social networking website set up specifically for children as young as five.

Now... trying not to be old fashioned, but there are some facts that are coming to light in countless sociology and psychology studies. Not just the obvious facts (that all this prohibits children from developing 'normal' social skills and learning to interact with real people), but also some quite interesting novelty items...

It seems that the huge amount of time spent in front of the computer also seriously reduces the kids' ability to develop orientation, combinatorial and manipulation skills important for the three-dimensional space they inhabit. It seems that they actually, genuinely, are affected by a vast amounts of time spent processing information conveyed via an eminently two-dimensional medium.

This trend is gathering momentum in Eastern Europe, too - what started as a genuine 'wow' due to internet and travel opening up the previously so impenetrable real or virtual borders, has now taken over.

There is also a third little news gem... regarding the UK at least... The game consoles have now outsold any other home electronics device.

Again, not being old-fashioned... but some things will not change in our world(s) and one, as a kid, has to have basic skillsets to deal with it. Yes, some skills are now more important than centuries or even decades ago... but we are not talking about what has more merit currently: being able to fence or being able to fix your printer driver in Windows. Clearly, things have moved on and one has to adapt.

But there are basics, and that's where the studies show just how tragicomic the situation is becoming. We still have to be able to play, interact, stay safe and survive, socialise, explore, experience, touch, love... in the real world populated by real people.

Looking at these results and news, one has to think that it is no accident, and it is a self-reinforcing process, that almost 80% of UK parents don't dare let their kids go alone for more than 100 yards radius around the house...

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Modern and ecological

These are two words pinched from the speech of the Romanian Minister for Transport.

He was referring to trains, as he was explaining how worried he is about the future (of the planet, as clearly nobody in the Romanian Government has any worry for the present nor the future of the country... at least they act like that). Plus, he recommended everybody to use the trains as much as possible.

So there are 'rational and worried' persons like him, thinking of greener public transport. Good.

The only slight problem is... reality.

Romanian trains are in a terrible state - if you don't feel traumatised while traveling on them, then definitely must visit any toilet at random. The smell, sights and sounds are beyond the ability of this humble blog to describe.

These would be small problems. But the statistical fact is, based on yet another great (and this I didn't mean sarcastically) report, that 40% of the railway network is also in a state of dangerous degradation. Trains have come and are coming off the tracks, according to the report - and 5000 kilometers of railways, 15000 switch points, 3200 bridges are in desperate need of repair and/or are way beyond their expiry dates. Due to the huge debts that the railway authorities have toward the electricity suppliers, in countless stations the old-fashioned printed cardboard tickets are sold at candle light. NO, I am not kidding.

While this is the state of the infrastructure, and again let's not mention the conditions in which you have to travel on these so-called trains, let's not forget what the environmentally conscious traveler would have to PAY for the diabolical services. Or for getting killed on those railways...

One quick comparison was reported in the press and it is perfectly representative, as anyone traveling on the trains that still exist can testify (because many services on important routes have been discontinued).

To get from Bucharest to Arad, you have to spend 106 new Romanian Leis (RON). It takes you 10 hours, in conditions and temperatures that again would not describe. Try them, seriously. It's good for survival courses.

To fly from Bucharest to Arad in incomparably more civilised conditions and in one hour, costs you 20 RON more.

Dilemma?

I am glad that the Minister is concerned about greener travel and future of the planet.

Could he, please, 19 years after the Revolution and billions of euros diverted into their own pockets, be worried about the diabolical PRESENT of that country??

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Faith in fakes

OK, this time Umberto Eco will definitely have me... for using his non-fictional book title here.

Anyway... this entry concerns a certain infamous extreme right character, unfortunately so well known to many... namely Corneliu Vadim Tudor. Ah yes, him, his name you can find in a few previous blog entries, too.

His latest stunt is of such philosophical beauty, that one wonders: is there any more need to prove how one can not believe one single word that leaves this person's (extreme) mouth?

This time, and this is of universal significance to any tendentious politician anywhere, he didn't take even basic care of presenting information in such a way that it doesn't immediately become obvious: it is, once again, a fake.

He presented a document, which was 'proof' how a journalist reported him to the Securitate, during the 'Golden Era'. And the subtext here is that poor honest and righteous him suffered during the Regime, look, even certain well-known past & present journalists have been informers and reported him to Securitate.

The only monumentally idiotic problem is that the document at first (and then closer) glance is an... idiotic fake.

Not only it uses spelling that only came about much later than the document is dated, but also it was obviously produced on a computer with state-of-the-art printing and word processing... none of which was available at the time when the report was taken down by the Securitate.

Furthermore he claimed, when confronted with the obvious questions, that the document may be a transcript from the Securitate files... This theory then falls down on several aspects: those documents were never transcribed, only photocopied... and any copy whatsoever would have had to wear the stamp of the authorities...

Well, details, political electoral manipulation, tragicomedy, stupidity etc. all aside... This incredible 'character' is one of the 'key' political figures, his entire career being marked by breathtaking (but often stupidly obvious) distortions of reality... coupled with extreme right views.

So yes, he does trigger emotions... but sometimes he is just plain hilarious, and shows just what 'key' figures can bring themselves to, in an environment where anybody can get away with anything, even if reported in the press.

Anyway, I am off to continue laughing my head off... had to stop that while typing.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Basics

While the election campaign in Romania is in full swing (maybe a swing not as wide as the one across the very large pond... but much more tragicomic), some interesting statistics also saw the light of day, together with articles on how candidates use anything and everything from cookies with their portraits to garbage bins with electoral messages painted on them...

Well, the new statistics are about basics. Water, more precisely.

Yes, it is a very 'rural' country in many ways. Yes, it is very agricultural. Yes, there have only (?) been 19 years since the Revolution.

But... while the 'elite' is preoccupied with robbing the country blind, they only divert the EU funds to projects that hold some value in a popularity contest (the Mafioso mayor of Tirgu Mures said no to a funding offer for modernising the water treatment plant, because it was ... well, invisible act... but spent large sums in replacing perfectly good pavement with stonework and endlessly repainted street signs many times in the city centre, just to keep his friends' companies happy with pointless but juicy contracts). A director of a school rather spent the money on pointless artificial grass surface of lowest possible quality than to invest in the heating which is so diabolical that both teachers and pupils freeze their bits off every winter... Appearances ARE everything.

So no wonder, that at the end of 2008, in a so-called EU country, a Douglas Adams-ian 42 percent of the population is drinking dangerously polluted water. Nitrates often are found at such dangerously high level in the water, that children promptly get sick. And this is happening not just in God forgotten rural areas, but there are abysmal statistics on water quality even in such cities as Cluj-Napoca, right in the middle of Transylvania.

Some 60 million euros were used from EU funds now to solve, locally, some problems that simply read like something out of the most God forgotten parts of the third world. Well, 60 million euros are a drop in the ocean.

In conditions where the basic infrastructure (where it exists... as vast number of communities still drink from wells) is so out of date that everything seeps out of the pipes and everything seeps into them, why does one wonder...

In 19 years, although to be fair, it is a short period of time for a complete overhaul of the most basic things, most of the effort was spent on painting a facade towards the EU, milking everything for profit (after all, two key senators have virtually removed 2 counties' forests for illegal timber exports... and made billions in local (old lei) currency in just 6 years...).

If someone expects old or new funds to be spent on basics like drinkable water, can wait a few more decades probably...

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Show(s) must go on

While treated to about three hours of TV per day during Ceausescu's 'Golden Era', it is not an exaggeration to say that we were fascinated by the occasional documentary series like Carl Sagan's Cosmos, or the history & wildlife documentaries chopped into 10-minute chunks in a programme that ran for decades under the name of Teleenciclopedia.

It is fascinating, but in a much more disturbing and depressing way, how the documentary series and science popularising films have changed.

Everything is a show now. After all, kids have attention span of 20 seconds, thanks to what MTV started as visual language and by now it's become so much the norm that it has been proven to radically alter how we see & perceive things. Or, how we expect to be shown things.

Gone are the films that could be exciting, poetic, informative and factual at the same time. Apart from the occasional 'blips' committed by some teams in some TV networks or independent channels, everything has turned into a show.

Examples, depressing, devoid of meaning, futile and 'entertaining' examples are countless.

I watched a series on the Egyptian pyramids, this conveyed 1% actual information, the rest was something in the ghastly genre of 'docu-drama'. In other words, 99% of content filmed with considerable budget, made-up characters and made-up dialogues, all of these having zero content that would be somehow linked to historical or archaeological facts, it was plain and simple (but very visually entertaining) filler material.

There were series about Beethoven's last years - again, a costume docu-drama with dialogues and situations that were first of all completely speculative, second of all absolutely disconnected from any actual facts.

Wildlife documentaries? Oh come on. Apart from the occasional gems, vast majority of TV offering is some idiot running around, catching or getting close to catching some animal (usually dangerous ones, others are just not entertaining, are they?), then talking and talking with zero information about the animal or its habitat, then eventually releasing it back into the wild.

'Survival' shows are as abundant as air. Again, would defy anyone to show one such 'documentary' that tells one something tangible about the environment it presents. It seems to, but the informational content is virtually zero under a closer scrutiny.

Celebrities go to jungles. And deserts. And icy wastelands. And talk a lot about nothing. Gosh, it's cold says the well-known English actor sent to Siberia. Really? Wow. I just learnt something: XY showbiz celebrity feels cold in Siberia. Hurray.

Space exploration is presented with futile and utterly non-informative dramatisations (?) via made-up dialogue - you know you're in trouble, and your heart sinks, when you see the subtitle: 'based upon real events'. Oh dear, it is 99% made-up entertainment, 1% grains of facts just to connect it all to something real.

Yes, one is nostalgic. I can't forget the series and documentaries that used to knock our socks off by being, yes, entertaining and informative and ... well, simply thrilling and fascinating all at the same time.

Then again, expecting in today's world, today's education standards & levels, today's attention span and interests something similar to those films is, well, utopia.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Anti-...

There are anti-heroes. Anti-depressants. Anti-Christ giving many 3rd rate ideas to 5th rate horror movie creators.

Well, there is also the world of the anti-Per Gynt. I truly wonder what Ibsen would have thought of our current identity seeking desperation. Per Gynt was an anti-hero, but was pondering on his own identity.

We are quite different, we are the anti-Per Gynts. Not that we are heroes, no - we are just people that instead of seeking our own identity, we deeply wish to be someone else - every minute of every day.

Nobody copies indiscriminately (which always means the bad parts bubble to the surface somehow) the 'West' as much as former communist block countries do. Everything that is truly crap in the 'western' societies, gets imported with huge speed.

Nobody copies the US indiscriminately as desperately as the UK.

We nowadays wish to adopt others' customs and let our own die out - or, at best, we treat our own as museum pieces which is a milder, but agonising form of death for folklore, customs, old habits.

Isn't it wonderfully symbolic and with philosophical connotations, that a recent survey in the UK has shown that regional dialects are dying out while foreign silly 'imports' are flourishing?

People covered in the survey used Spanish and other catchphrases very easily and instinctively, but had no idea what some regional (not truly obscure, no) words meant.

Looking at the abundance of plastic surgery adverts (it is a simply consumer item nowadays, advertised on posters even in the underground stations), one could say it shows our fascination with appearing younger, more beautiful, whatever. It also means: we want to look like something, somebody, else. Another person. He/she may be an improvement of one's self but eminently, one changes into someone else.

We nowadays always imitate someone else, at personal, micro- and macro-social level. With immense greed, acquire traits that are as unnatural as bionic implants, with the only difference that latter are driven by a need to replace something that was organically ours and we lost it.

Maybe we are losing those things. In vocabulary, both in my former and my current home land, it certainly does look like that - there is a difference between neologisms and this forced, unnatural, pompously silly and ridiculously pompous adoption of intricate foreign expressions.

There are more visible effects, too of our search of other identities. Of trying to find ourselves in things and people and traits that are elsewhere, outside us, out there.

Per Gynt was in constant conflict with a society that expected him to conform, to be restrained, constrained.

We are interestingly, constraining ourselves more and more to greedily adopted alien conventions in a world that allows us a remarkable freedom to be anybody.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Sound of silence

Well, one can always rely on British media to compensate for the ineptitudes and downright enraging absurdities reported by Romanian media.

Today is a historic day: we have seen a thought about a genuine nation-wide initiative on public libraries hit the press. The initiative is related to silence - in libraries. Or rather, abolishing the 'Keep quiet' rule.

It is said that libraries are in difficulty (yes, they are) and that this would help- because more people would come, buy coffee from the bar, sit down, chat over and around that coffee, and I may add, drive everybody nuts around them - if we assume that the average British person with its usual total lack of respect for anything and anybody around him/her will be having 'vivid' loud conversations.

Recently I could not read one single line without jumping up, literally, at the sounds of shrill stupidity blasted at 110 decibels by a bunch of 'ladies' and 'gentlemen' in the, yes, quiet carriage of my Waterloo-bound train. Well, it did feel & certainly sound as if I were in the middle of the battle of Waterloo.

Now it made me think a bit.

Yes, libraries are in trouble but it's a problem with general ignorance, decay of reading among young people (just look at the stats of 16-25 year old age range, it's scary and that is scary while there was an actual upsurge in reading thanks to blurb like Harry Potter... so the underlying trend is even worse). Many organisational and funding issues contribute to large extent.

Now... we solve that by allowing the one quiet and civilised haven (well, one of the very few we have left) to become a circus. Because, rest assured, and if you listened to the average content, volume of so-called 'conversations' carried out by your average Brit in a cafe or bar or pub, you will NOT be able to hear your own thoughts.

The fact that we seem to want to solve the many genuine problems libraries face by such stupid measure is one thing.

On the other hand, it is remarkable... that wherever there is still a bastion of self-discipline, civilised behaviour in our societies, we quickly eradicate them and replace them with a... circus.

Even currently, in the 'old-fashioned' libraries, one can catch some 'youth' peeling oranges above an 18th century manuscript, and, like in my friend's case, someone pointing out the 'no food or drink allowed' sign can receive a lot of abuse. The particular person pointed out to my library administrator friend that he has 'rights' and can do whatever he wants because he pays the fee.

This being the 'civilisation' level, one wonders what will libraries turn into when EVEN the rule about shutting our mouths will go...

Will it help libraries? probably yes, attendances will go up. They will turn into loud cafe-like, pub-like environments and to actually sit and have a read will become impossible.

Following same logic, we could solve all the multi-faceted problems of our every institution by introducing total anarchy.

Schools, too will be helped if we tell kids to do anything they want to the school and the teachers... oh wait, they are doing that already...

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Stress-free

Well, one place is definitely stress-free amongst all the financial carnage and just 'business as usual' nightmares that the particular country is fighting with.

Yep, the place of true serenity is the Romanian Parliament... today, once again, not one of the senators have turned up for work. There were 7 different committees that had to get together today and vote on several legislations.

Interesting though, that they do turn up immediately and have voted, do vote, will vote on important issues like their own salary increase (after all, most of them are poor people, as the clinically insane Corneliu Vadim Tudor recently said), or passing immediately anti-democratic and even anti-constitutional laws and measures that, for example, ban the activity of certain committees that uncover unimaginable corruption.

The liberal democrats have put forward recently a legislation proposal that means MPs don't have to declare their wealth until after the coming elections - this in the name of objectivity, because in their opinion the voters may be affected by the news about what wealth have the dear candidates for Parliament amassed.

I am sure this is one of the proposals that will, as in the past, have immediate interest and senators will turn up in their numbers to vote.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

King of cool

As every newspaper, magazine and new channel reported... undoubtedly also gazillion blogs... Paul Newman died.

The fact that such international reaction followed his passing away, including even some reformist papers in Iran, in many ways is reassuring.

Reassuring that we still, amongst all the five-minute wonders and mega-hyped celebrities that everybody forgets within seconds, we still recognise true greatness and what many called a true movie legend.

Not only an absolute epitome (and perhaps the last of the golden generation) of Hollywood (in its best sense, a meaning that has been so lost in the last few decades and it's a pejorative word nowadays), but also a true, genuine philanthropist.

In a cynical world, where genuine gestures of charity are questioned (is he/she just doing a publicity stunt?) while not for a moment questioning blatant manufactured images and PR spins of dubious five-minute wonders desperately trying to show something apparently 'genuine' (welcome to Umberto Eco's world of hyperreal...), he truly was an 'old-fashioned' genuine philanthropist. Amazing enough, this is recognised for once and honoured.

Eastern Europe has joined the same mindless 'reality TV' hyperreal world of media as did the West. In many ways, situation is even worse there than in this dumbed-down West that only has faith in fakes nowadays. Just to steal an expression from Eco again.

A death of someone so immeasurably grand (again, in a good, old-fashioned meaning) is hopefully placing a long lost ruler against which all these immensely annoying microscopic fake celebrities can be measured against. Them to measure themselves against it would be utopia. I just hope at least we can see again, what a true star (again, gosh, in its good solid old-fashioned sense) and what a current Eastern or Western or copycat Western celebrity is.

Someone managed to live with integrity until his last moment, despite his many decades of truly, truly world-wide mega-stardom. Remained faithful to his wife, no typical hollywood (with lowercase 'h', yes) scandals around him. He ran genuine charities that made a genuine difference, not some PR stunts.

People who are given five minutes of fame miserably and invariably fail on all these fronts.

Unfortunately, we pretty much ran out of such rulers... to measure things and people against.

Rest in peace, king of cool.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Integrity

Nope, not the integrity of sub-atomic particles on this famous day of the CERN experiment launch. (By the way, we have gone so paranoid, that even something like this is purely triggering lot of scared articles about how it will end the Universe...)

It is about integrity in a place lacking it so much as certain smashed particles will in the CERN accelerator.

The place is of course Romania, and it is about the integrity of MPs and senators. Yes, some statements would be very obvious, but what made me laugh with tears today was WHO the National Agency for Integrity (!) appointed to be the auditor of their accounts.

The person, who will inspect MPs' and senators' accounts has an amazingly expert and filled-with-integrity background.

Also, the person is an exponent of gender equality and all other equalities in that truly astounding country, formerly my home...

So it is all positive and uplifting.

Ah yes, forgot to mention... her ONLY professional background is.... ah yes, photo model.

Former photo model.

24 years old. Hot. Photo model. Expert in auditing accounts of members of the Romanian Parliament (almost wrote Mafia, driven by my struggle for accuracy).

So who said Romania is not the country of ANY and ALL possibilities?

Tragicomedy has never been so... desperately and exasperatingly sad.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Tracking

For years, there was a talk about how to change road tax in the UK. The discussions have matured finally to a stage where there is a pilot to be run soon and will try out the concept.

Well, it will involve tracking devices in every single car... and charging will be done based on the routes you take, pricing will be worked out taking into account various per-mile charges for every road in this country.

On top of that, there is a wonderful class element here, because the Government announced that the pricing scheme will also take into account the differences between wealthier areas like the South-East of England and more 'deprived' areas of the country. So you pay more in the South-East than in Scotland for a same class of road.

Apart from this blatant use of social class information, the point of interest for this blog is of course the tracking.

If the system will ever work (let's not forget, this is a country where despite all arrogant media & public statements, technology is not quite as pristine as in many other 'lesser' (?!) EU countries... they even fail to bring the congestion charging system daily errors under some acceptable level)... so yes, IF this will work, then you will have every mile of every journey logged via the tracking system and then charged.

Of course, it is all about road tax... but... in a free country where the density of CCTV cameras reached never before seen levels, Stalinist measures & laws are introduced based on the 'Terror Act', surely the information will come handy... for whatever use.

Personally, the fundamental aspect of having every movement in my car tracked is fundamentally revolting, irrespective of what the use of that information is.

And please, we don't want to hear about how safe this information will be kept and how it will only be used for certain things.

In a "free" country where any personal emails can be checked by local councils at will, there are countless incidents of vital and absolutely confidential data being lost by the Government virtually on a weekly basis, where blunders of selling off private information to whoever and whatever are countless, please, please don't talk to us about safeguarding information on every aspect of our lives...

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Security

In case somebody still feels that only some paranoid person affected by perhaps too many years spent in a former communist (or any) totalitarian society can consider the current UK realities abnormal... well, there were further good but depressing stories.

Stories, again, on freedom vs. security... The fact that the London underground refurbishment is marked by posters that list as first improvement on the list the increased number of CCTV cameras is, on its own, understandable considering what happened in those tunnels and on those station platforms not so long ago.

But adding to the list from the darker side of this all-encompassing so-called war on terror, there are again stories about photographers and police force acting in the name of that 'war'.

The latest two incidents that made the press in this very free society (?) are, this time, marked by certain overtones that come from abuse of power. But it shows how the vague and open to interpretation 'Terrorism Act' can be used for even covering up human frailties of police officers.

In once case, a person took a picture of an illegally parked car with his mobile phone. The car happened to be an unmarked, undercover police car. Of course, the fact that it could well have had a genuine reason to park at random, is not the point here. The points is that somewhat unexpectedly, the person taking the picture was arrested under the Terror Act 2000... The mental leap is not so difficult to anyone that has followed what this country has become over just the last 2-3 years.

The other story was even nastier, and this time it was about plain and simple abuse of power, resorting to pull the Terror Act magic rabbit out of a police officer hat, to cover up the fact that the police has ignored basic traffic regulations for absolutely no reason (no, they were not chasing some baddie...).

A person spotted a police van that ignored the no-entry sign on the street, reversed up a one-way street simply to get to a chip shop. Proceeded to immortalise the event, but then he ended up being abused by the police, had his camera knocked to the ground, arrested, bundled into the van and finally held in police cells for five hours.

Of course this is still a free society. Of course we are trying to just make it safer. Of course there is nothing to remind one of autocratic use of any legislation for whatever purpose, especially when that legislation is deliberately so open to interpretation that can cover anything anybody feels like applying it to. All in the name of building a safer world...

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Quantity

Edging on to less dark topics, it is interesting to see how quantity is eminently linked in the media (and in the vast majority of minds) with greatness. Complexities, subtleties, inter-connections are all lost in a world where everything can be collapsed into an easy and clear equation. Quantity automatically means quality... or so it seems.

I like Phelps. Yep, genetics does play a huge role in what he does, but then again, so does in many other sports. Yep, it's amazing he beat Mark Spitz's record number of medals at the Olympics.

But...

It is one thing to say he's won astonishing number of medals at the Olympics... and an entirely different thing to say he is the greatest Olympian.

To be a great Olympian means slightly more- and I just wonder, how many huge names in the history of modern Olympic Games could be worthy of that title. But to compare something so subtle & complex is difficult.

We can't talk about Olympic spirit very easily, when nowadays instead of stopping all wars, some just overrun with tanks other countries on the day of the opening ceremony... and others 'just' carry on killing each other.

We can't talk about history of Olympic Games, as few people know any history nowadays... or care about any history. In a world where 18 year olds have no idea of a major event that occurred in their year of birth, an event that re-shaped Europe, how can one talk about any history? Or any history meaning anything?

We can't talk about anything so complex in a dumbed down society where the only remaining solid mean of comparing anything is by now purely quantitative.

We can't talk about spirit in general, when the very meaning of the word is becoming unknown to most.

Can't really talk about greatness as a concept truly grasped by many, while fascist dictators can be voted among greatest figures of X country even in the 21st century.

And we can't talk about greatness in any depth, as it is purely modelled after Hollywood movie characters and dubious 5-minute-lifespan celebrities, or made-up and meaningless 'Greatest 100 ...something... of all time' charts.

So... yes, perhaps, in this world, in these minds, Phelps can be the greatest Olympic athlete simply due to him having accumulated the most medals.

Anything else, talking or debating or thinking about anything else, would be just too... fuzzy and complex... and increasingly meaningless in a world gradually devoid of morality, spirituality and ah yes, true human greatness.

Again, I like Phelps and admire his achievement. And yes, why would he not be the greatest Olympian. But for that, I personally still need much more than a numerical and very simple equation.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Informant society

In a free society so fundamentally riddled with deep paranoia as the one in today's UK is, it is hardly surprising that a recent report showed more than 80% of school children feel that the CCTV cameras are there to watch them, rather than purely provide security.

And as an old joke says, the paranoid is the one that knows something...

What could be a more tragicomic confirmation of this saying than news on something that puts British society well on track to become an informant society. The motivations in this increasingly paranoid and orwellian society are different from the ones in the former Easter Block, but the essence is becoming identical.

As The Register reported, a recent landmark ruling by the High Court takes the UK one step closer to becoming an “informant society” along the lines of the former East Germany or Soviet Union.

An example was "the case of deputy head, John Pinnington, who was fired from his job when an enhanced criminal record background (CRB) check turned up allegations of abuse made against him. He took his case to judicial review, arguing that the allegations were seriously flawed, were unsubstantiated, and that the police should only include them in a CRB check where there were some grounds to believe they might be true.

This view was rejected, as Lord Justice Richards ruled that there was nothing unlawful about the actions of the Police force in passing on allegations. And future employers 'should be aware' of the accusations, however weak and unreliable they are."

It also reports, that "police investigated and took no further action, and that at least one set of allegations was based on the controversial 'facilitated communication' method of eliciting statements from children too damaged, otherwise, to speak on their own behalf. On any objective scale of evidence, they belong in the category labelled 'weak'."

For those who have seen the real experts on this in action, in the 50s-60s-70s-80s in the Eastern Block, doesn't this sound familiar?

If you just change the names & context, the entire case sounds like a straightforward case of informants' unsubstantiated allegations leading to one's life being ruined and being 'guilty until you prove yourself innocent'.

Yep, again, democracy and freedom in action, 2008, Great Britain.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

New heights

Switching to the UK a bit, there are certainly new heights reached in terms of individual freedom and rights to privacy.

If I say, they introduced (again) something which is violating every conceivable human rights and fundamental freedom issues linked to a hi-tech service, what would be the best bet as to what triggered this?

In case one doesn't guess the by now obvious, yes, it is... the so-called Terrorism Act. Under this fantastic Holy Grail of manipulative politics, once more, the British society and its fundamental liberties take a beating.

Never mind the overzealous, self-consciously paranoia-inducing poster campaigns about watching out for 'suspiciously acting photographers' and other such (scary but absurdly tragicomic) dross.

No, this is a proper, genuine tour de force in the realm of true stalinism, again applied in the 'interest' of the dubious (but all-encompassing) 'war on terror'.

The measure concerns internet service providers and local councils. They can now have access to anybody's private emails, and service providers need to store them for a lengthy period.

Who will access this information and for what real use, nobody knows nor can know. One side-effect is that internet providers may increase their prices, as they have to battle with the unwelcome task of storing huge amounts of data for a long while, for every single client of theirs.

Yes, sorry, in case somebody doubts this, this IS in the UK and this is happening here in 2008.

Philip K. Dick, you must be spinning in your grave. You see, one can never be paranoid enough. Not in this historic and proud citadel of democracy...

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Education, education, education

Ah yes.

A certain mantra that, ironically and amazingly, sounds familiar to both those that lived under Ceausescu's regime and Tony Blair's reign.

Both 'leaders' have used this ostinato-like repetitive magic phrase to talk about how important education is. While one demented dictator and his entourage looked at education for augmenting the utter brainwashing of their people, the other 'leader' (now peace envoy for the Middle East... after bombing parts of that very part of the map to the ground...) looked at education as something to raise from a certain high to even more celestial heights.

Ah yes.

Ironically, the education system both in my former home has raised, sorry, wrong word, let's use management speak, aligned itself to those heights.

Apart from the amazing corruption that marked (well, branded) the baccalaureates in Romania this year (this topic would take us into the field of unimaginable Romanian corruption across every possible layer of society, so let's avoid that- especially as we touched on extensively in this blog), those final high-school 'trials' and tribulations for pupils have been an exercise in futility.

Even in high-schools as the legendary Bolyai Farkas Lyceum in Tirgu Mures (well, Marosvasarhely if we use its proper name), the baccalaureates were marked by quite astounding levels (of lack of) knowledge and certainly stratospheric heights of ignorance.

With the few exceptions, the dominating trend there and in the country is that, well, there is no point in putting in any effort - everything can be either arranged, agreed, ignored, survived... After all, in this world, knowing about literature or history is totally useless ballast. It matters much more that one knows how to hack a PC to fix some Microsoft lunacy, or even more importantly, how to earn money in ANY way - legal or illegal.

So, as we talked about, Romanian education has not gone backwards, it evolved to the same level of ignorance as (and I only know this one too close) British education has been at for many years.

Again, we have not met certain targets in SATs but GCSEs are as usual, amazing - more and more students pass with a tirade of A's and A+'s... while even basic general knowledge has gone down to zero.

In the end, it all works out. Not that I am some ultra-paranoid conspiracy theorist, but come on guys- if you manage to establish a society where even human decency and basic manners are a matter of pure luxury, where basic general knowledge is absent, you prepare a wonderful ground for ... well, for once, selling anything to anybody.

I watch with great amusement (and frustration) how the myriad of utterly useless products can be marketed and sold in their millions, simply because there is a tiny minority of people left that can spot the basic and fundamental contradictions with basic and fundamental biology, chemistry, physics...

We need utterly dumb but arrogant people with top marks. We need them to sell billions of amazingly useless and often downright dangerous or just plain deceiving products.

We also need that small minority that has the brains and have gone to proper schools and have passed proper tests with proper marks, so that they can develop those products :-)

So, at least in one area, Romania has truly reached the levels of 'Western' culture...

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Olympics, communism, deja-vu

Interesting, how some things in communist regimes, no matter how liberal they wish to look, are common across many decades and many thousands of miles that may separate them.

"When the International Olympic Committee first visited Beijing, the Chinese authorities even had the grass painted green to impress their guests."

Well, deja-vu. Interesting act that I recall from my childhood under Ceausescu, when the trees and grass were spray painted to look fresh green, fresh vegetables were laid out on fields to look like there was a rich crop and apples have been tied back on their branches with wire... Some things are universal, at least in the communist universe.

Beijing said people enjoyed a "range of freedoms". Could you define the range please?

But also, it said (and again, word by word, resonates with Ceausescu and many former dictators' reactions, when poked by the international community on those few occasions when that very community decided to poke rather than close eyes & ears due to other interests): "We resolutely oppose any words or actions which interfere in the internal affairs of another country in the name of issues such as human rights and religion."

They are touchy, poor things. And I always knew that communist regime officials are very sensitive indeed...

So is the desperate drive that goes way beyond 'normal' organising efforts. China has spent billions on the 'facade' alone.

But after all, when a sports event is not a sports event, but an again desperate act of showing supremacy (ideological, political, economic or all combined in this case) to the rest of the world, what can one expect?

I am looking forward to the opening ceremony. On TV, of course.

Somehow I hope the coverage will graciously avoid the countless, truly countless, uniformed soldiers that wear so archetypal communist totalitarian army uniforms that I at least feel strong nausea coming up even if I just look at stills.

Friday, 1 August 2008

...and back

Back again to UK, after a (never long enough) holiday spent in what was still my home 13 years ago.

It's been another trip of wonderful, hilarious, depressing, uplifting and frustrating moments... while other moments were straight out of Kafka and Camus...

As some comments said, Romania is a state of controversies... and it is in a state of deep controversy on many issues.

While Brussels is criticising vehemently the way in which the Romanian Parliament is slowing down and stalling anti-corruption measures against senators and sundry, there are still much publicised anti-corruption helplines that seem to reflect some genuine willingness of dealing with this even at street level... How real(istic) the impact of such wide initiatives can be, well, it's been illustrated and questioned in previous postings.

Let's look at basics, where the argument 'only 18 years passed since the Revolution' don't quite hold. For instance, the introduction of the new currency (which cut 4 zeroes off the old amounts in old currency) still has not truly happened.

Yes, it is the only official currency, but can a country say it has a new currency when even city centre shops in large cities can not give (this is not exception, it's the norm) small change? Simply because there still aren't enough coins made to supply shops and people in general...

Again, as reported last summer and winter, I've collected a huge handful of chewing gums, C vitamin pills, instant coffee sachets... all given to me as change in many shops in many cities... Even sums of tens of RON (New Lei) are often a problem, as I found out with amazement in a huge supermarket...

Romania still builds fancy facades and bright red shiny roofs to show off ideological, economical, political measures and changes, while the foundation and structural resistance walls are absent many years after the roofs were floated above the ground with great PR exercises - PR exercises toward the EU and also internal audience about to go to general elections...

The issue of the national currency and the absolutely absurd & basic shortcomings around it is just one of the good examples.

I also caught, unfortunately, the huge chaos around the newly published lists of subsidised drugs. Innumerable sick & elderly people, including pharmacy staff, were thrown into absolute disarray and surreal chaos, due to the Government issuing multiple mutually contradicting lists and until the dust settled, nobody knew what medication to sell at what price to whom...

While huge corruption cases are battled out even in the Parliament, it is blatantly obvious that the Romanian circles of power (not just political power) have absolute ZERO care for the basics that affect millions of people.

Yes, in many countries those circles are equally disconnected from reality, but maybe not as corrupt and usually there is some negative feedback mechanism. In Romania, anybody can get away with anything as long as he/she is connected to the right people. Not that one is surprised these things have not changed, but one wonders: how come among all the talk about redressing some of the truly jungle capitalist and mega-corrupt phenomena, these are getting worse by the minute?

It is still a country of contradictions... of deep paradoxes... and while huge advances are made (the education system aligned itself to the 'West' by having now the very same problems, the health system virtually collapsed exactly as the NHS suffers of fundamental issues that only get better in skewed statistics and not in the real life, in comparison with other EU countries, attitudes have aligned themselves to the previously so much admired, but now indiscriminately imitated, 'West' etc.), the basics have not evolved since 1989.

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Education... and evolution

Over the last 18 years and a bit, Romanian education system has successfully aligned itself to the levels more known in the formerly elusive and mythical 'West'. Kids graduate and are incapable of reading, vast majority can't do basic calculations, never speaking of a lack of general knowledge, total ignorance of literature and history (but at the same time, all those ignorants are very happy to assert their national(istic) identity, without even knowing what they are talking about).

The last round of Baccalaureates managed to beat all previous years' records.

Just a few snippets from this pinnacle of typically Eastern European, typically post-communist and ultra-corrupt world, where only who you know and how much you pay to 'know' someone matters:

More than 50 absolutely identical written Romanian literature exam papers were found in Bucharest. It points to a wonderful and very organised mafia of replicating, selling the in-advance well-known subjects' elaborate solutions, paying off teachers to close a blind eye to dozens of students faking the whole thing...

Even at an agricultural high-school near Bucharest, students arrive with limos... in such vast numbers, that the traffic was blocked in neighbouring streets...

The most tragicomic of all, a piece of news tells us that many students have been hospitalised with stuck tiny 'earphones' of special but very professional make, which helped them to be connected with the outside world via a mobile phone... making the exam much easier... There were cases of ear infections and the tiny gadgets had to be surgically removed in eight reported cases.

Nobody could find who are the manufacturers and distributors of the gadgets... but as long as you want to stay an ignorant illiterate person after all the years of school and you have money, anything can be solved in that country... in a manner all too well-known to the likes of myself who has seen the embryonic attempts in 1990... we have evolved much beyond that in 18 years. Who said post-communist countries don't evolve rapidly... when it comes to faking, cheating and corruption at all levels, it is a blindingly fast evolution.

But, on another note, the people who are (or believe to be) in control of the education system have not evolved much in 18 years.

I vividly recall on the last days of high-school, then 5 years later, in the last days of University, waiting on the corridors, trying to find out how the exam regulations have changed for the next morning... and we were in for several surprises, as mutually contradicting faxes were arriving overnight still.

At the moment, in 2008, such tragicomic farces are still very possible... The theology students at Cluj have found out 6 days (!) before their final exams at University, that they have another year of studies to complete.

No, this is not a joke. If you lived for any amount of time in Romania, you know anything and everything is possible... and then some...

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Balanced news

A philosophical taxi driver, while taking me downtown through diabolical side-streets with potholes that made me hold on to the roof of the car, told me that the US is the country where everything is possible, while Romania is a country where anything is possible...

There were many events and developments in the last 18 years of post-revolutionary Romania that validated this semantic joke, but... one still finds gems even nowadays.

After the BBC got slapped around for their coverage of the Kelly enquiry, they tried to become as objective as possible. This downright constipated care for ultimate objectivity and 'balanced reporting' made the BBC programming and their news so flat that it is nowadays virtually unwatchable. They don't dare to touch any hard hitting topic or heaven forbid, some controversial topic. It is bland, bland as the English weather and English landscape in autumn. It is a shame that commercial channels like Channel 4 manage to air incredibly insightful, hard-hitting documentaries on truly delicate, sensitive, troubling or controversial topics... in those, one recognises the quality and insight that characterised BBC 10-15 years ago.

But... Romania again beat everything and everybody at the boxing match held at the boundaries of the absurd.

The Romanian Parliament's upper house has brought a stentorian 'decret'... instructing the news media that from now on, they HAVE to make balanced news programmes. Positive and negative news have to be in perfect balance...so that people don't feel bad when they tune in.

No, it is not a joke. The ONLY thing that makes it even more absurdly comical is who were the senators spearheading this. You probably will never guess that the key figure in this farce was an extreme right-wing, ultra-fascist, xenophobe demented 'public figure' all too well known for generating dark, troubling, tragicomic or downright sick news... He is Gheorghe Funar, senator of the Great Romania Party, formerly the mayor of Cluj... and a medically certifiable psychopath.

So... will be curious how the newscasters of Romania will try to balance news in a country where 99% of the local news are very, very bad news for people trying to survive on a normal salary earned with a normal job.

A place where corruptions is permeating every layer of society perfectly, where the Government is completely out of touch, fakes all the macro-economic statistics and spends a few years in office with the sole purpose of robbing the country blind, on top of which both houses of the Parliament is reaking with extreme fascists, well, will be quite interesting to try balancing news in...

Friday, 20 June 2008

Clueless drivers... and villas

Yep, there is a connection in Romania even between demented, clueless drivers flooding the streets and stupendous villas built by the nouveau riche.

Not that the phenomenon would be limited to just one county, but in Arges county the connection at least came to light in all its quantitative glory.

The head of the local organisation responsible for issuing driving licences, plus two of his staff, have all managed to amass some considerable wealth from 'gifts' and money paid for driving licences.

The boss 'only' had a villa and terrain of 1300 square meters in an area where a square meter costs around 200 euros. 400 000 euros were found in his possession, in cash.

In many cases, people who never had one single driving lesson managed to obtain a licence by simply paying the fee...

While posters of anti-corruption task forces abound at airports and public places, telling us what numbers to call if 'experiencing' corruption, it is hard to keep a straight face seeing those in a country where unimaginable corruption is present in every layer of society.

In this case, in just one example of many such 'networks', the well-paid gentlemen managed to unleash on the streets of their county (and the country) countless demented drivers who possess zero training.

Anybody who experienced the driving style on the streets and roads of Romania could wonder: if one assumes that most of those people possess a driving licence based on proper training and have experience, how do these nutters drive after being issued a licence without any training nor tests?...

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Securitate and recruitment

It has taken 18 years, but eventually... there is an in-depth study out, concerning the ways in which Securitate was recruiting its informers during the Ceausescu 'era'.

The study demolishes some deep-rooted preconceptions, for example, was the acceptance of a recruitment 'offer' compulsory or not quite...

Most of the informers and collaborators, who occupy high positions in Romanian politics (yes, even Government), business and non-political circles of power, always defend their thick and revolting Securitate files coming to light with the classic line: they had no choice.

Well, actually... the thoroughly documented research in the book published by Mircea Albu shows that it was quite usual for the Securitate to rapidly 'back off' after an initial unsuccessful 'approach' was made. There are countless files that show how many people, due to various good reasons (conscience etc.), managed to perfectly successfully refuse collaboration.

Many feared that if they do so, there will be serious consequences, but over the years (the study covers the period 1965 onwards), it has gradually become obvious that in many cases not only did the Securitate back off, but actually the officers applying further pressure after an initial unsuccessful recruitment attempt were told off... or even punished.

In many case files it seems that the reasoning (surprising as it is) behind such reprimands of their own employees was that they should have more accurately assessed the potential collaborator and also the probability of them agreeing to join the dubious ranks of informers.

One of the highlighted cases is that of Alexandra Ştefănescu - pseudonym, of course... who turned out, during the research, to be the judge Florica Bejinaru... who turns out, happily collaborated with the Securitate and her first reaction to the offer was very favourable - she declared that she understands well the need and she will be very happy to become an informer, as the Regime simply has to know as much as possible about subversive elements...

In some ways, these revelations are hence even more interesting than the parts that confirm what we all knew... that yes, Securitate has made use of blackmail, and even often verified the accuracy of the information given by the recruited informer.

Still, the study is a landmark in a landscape where every single high-powered person in Romanian public life, after having their Securitate files brought to light, defended automatically all their actions as those of someone who really had no choice...

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

42 it is

Holding terrorism suspects without charge for 42 days... now passed in the House of Commons.

The outcome of this much debated vote on a much debated legislation is not the only 'event' that took place today in this pinnacle of so-called democracy.

The Government, which still could not produce one single piece of quantitative evidence as to why 14 days extension of the already anti-Constitutional 28 days was needed (and could just repeat as a mantra: terrorism investigations are more and more complex, extra time is needed...), only won by 9 votes.

These 9 votes happen to be the exact number of Democratic Unionist party members with whom Gordon Brown, looked upon as a disgrace of a Prime Minister about to face its toughest test in the Parliament today and possibly lose totally the remains of his credibility & authority, managed to strike a deal with.

An exercise in democracy, then. Even his own party was up in arms about the legislation and he simply could not lose this vote, it would have been the last blow.

What is also an interesting coincidence: on this crucial day, there were two genuine, top-secret intelligence documents left in plain sight, in plain folders, on a train leaving Waterloo Station.

When the 28-day proposal was going to Parliament, amazing enough, a folder with Heathrow airport blueprints was found dumped on a roadside...

But this time, the secret terrorism-related analysis documents that are actually 'happen' to be left on a train in an absurd scenario put the Government's security record in the spotlight, after a series of blunders with lost confidential data disks and documents.

The fact that it happened on the day of the very related, very debated legislation going to vote in the House of Commons, is hardly a coincidence - especially in the light of previous, so well timed 'accidental' events that they simply insult even the most basic intelligence the public may possess.

An interesting day then... and expectations are that the legislation proposal will be thrown out by the House of Lords, unless a miracle occurs.

So then one question is: if even his own party has no hope of passing this legislation through the Parliament, why push it so hard? One possible answer is: put the opposition parties, and certainly the arch-enemy Tories, in a very unfavourable light... after all, they, shouting about human rights abuse (and I can say, without political affiliations, they are absolutely right... and even the Magna Carta has been now, second time, violated), seem to be taking the terrorist threat lightly...

Not sure if the timing and the mighty push of a hopefully doomed legislation has this political intent, the spin doctors that failed to improve Mr. Brown's image one tiny bit might be able to answer... but one thing is certain: after this much manipulation, the winning votes could only be obtained via deals with another party.

I am glad to live (again) in such a wonderful democracy...

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Techniques

Gordon Brown contacts the agency responsible for the Dove 'real beauty' campaign... in his most recent toe-curling attempt to desperately improve his image.

He was turned down, not known whether the agency had other strong political affiliations or simply considered the Prime Minister beyond help...

While he works so hard on his image and still hits absolute records of lowest ever popularity ratings in the polls, one looks with amazement at much more direct techniques used in another place... namely Romania.

There has been much coverage of the corruption issues surrounding not just the everyday life there and basically every layer of society, but also regarding the Orthodox church and its illustrious priests who always had close relationships with whoever was in power.

Now a few journalists have teamed up, and secretly filmed their approaches made toward a number of priests - offered them money in exchange of them preaching with the words of certain candidates in the local elections.

Surprise, surprise, many agreed, not knowing the entire 'negotiations' were caught on camera.

This is then one of the methods of gaining votes... It really makes Mr. Brown's attempts of 'image improvement' hilarious.

Once again, he is a prime minister in a wrong country... where he has to use such indirect methods... one truly feels pity at this stage, as he is still convinced, amongst his catastrophic political mis-judgments and embarrassing gaffs followed by even more toe-curling U-turns, that image is what he has to focus on to regain support.

If only he had a deeply religious crowd and priests that do anything for money... his task would be much, much simpler.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

42

Nope, not the meaning of the Universe... maybe just the new meaning of Gordon Brown's Universe.

As someone who lived under a regime where human rights were reduced to zero, the legal & justice system was a total (tragicomic) joke of 'guilty until you prove somehow yourself innocent in face of any, even made up, charges'... can't help myself following with great interest (and horror) the so-called anti-terrorist legislation changes in this oh-so-democratic country.

The fact that detaining someone without charge and without courts being involved is still against the Constitution, in the name of 'war on terror' we already can hold so-called terrorist suspects for 28 days without even letting them know what the reason is. Now the extension to 42 days has been 'pushed for by police'.

The deja-vu argument is that they need more time to analyse evidence.

May I suggest them providing quantitative evidence on how extra 14 days allow exactly how much more evidence to be processed and how many cases this 14 extra days can solve in terms of them bringing evidence for charging a terrorist suspect?

Is this just 14 extra days of something that can go on forever, forever more extended in similar ad-hoc fashion?

All above are rhetorical questions... the answers are obvious.

They have not, and can not provide any solid, quantitative, comparative reason for the 14 days extension.

But since we had a slice of the anti-Constitutional cake that fundamentally violates human rights (not the rights of terrorist suspects, but human rights- there have been too many false and mistaken arrests under the so-called anti-terrorism legislation for them to have any ground to say that this is people ranting about the rights of terrorists...), let's have the whole cake.

They know they can barely achieve the even 14 day extension... but where does this stop?

How can a democracy adopt such legislation again and again, without ANY solid reason, without any evidence to the made-up laughable claims as to why such extensions are needed...?

Well, again, a rhetorical question - as UK stopped being a democratic country quite a while ago...

And if you'd like to demonstrate against this diabolical human rights issue, then please note that you will not be able to get within 1000 yards of the Parliament, as another democratic act forbids it ;-)...

If someone from any dictatorship has a feeling of deja-vu, while looking at the news headlines, you are not alone... and it is a very valid deja-vu.

I just feel sorry for those that can't see parallels simply because have never seen these tentative steps Mr. Brown and his predecessor makes in a full-blown regime.

To quote Brown:

"In the legislation currently before parliament we have done everything in our power to protect the civil liberties of the individual against any arbitrary treatment, because in Britain liberty is and remains at the centre of our constitutional settlement"

Well, Mr. Brown, dear Mr. Brown and other democracy-hallucinating people, please note, that the new legislative proposal is BY DEFINITION is arbitrary treatment , well, violation, of fundamental human rights. Oh yes, and of the Constitution.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Does not compute

Ah yes, a line straight out of some 1960s sci-fi B-movie.

Well, covered a few times the situation of UK education and how, unfortunately, Eastern Europe also 'lines up' with these heights more and more.

Finally, something tangible on this front - just to prove to anybody thinking he or she is imagining just how dumb the average pupil or student is getting nowadays.

A report has warned about decades of dumbing down in education for contributing to 9 billion pounds of lost potential as hundreds of thousands of teenagers turned their back on maths.

"The research said that GCSE maths had become little more than a tick-box test with pupils needing under 20% to gain a grade C in the top paper. "

Since 1990, a "lost generation" of nearly 440,000 pupils had given up maths after GCSEs at a total cost to the economy of 9 billion, the report said.

The report claimed that the devaluation of the GCSE qualification lay at the core of the problem, with a marked drop in difficulty in the maths 'O' level after 1970. The think-tank called for a reversal of the "inexorable drift towards modularising GCSE mathematics", which it said threatened to lower standards further.

The only truly comic part of the news was that on the website, the news editor and/or picture editor picked an image of a pupil writing a chemistry equation on the blackboard.

Well, as an illustration of how dumb people can be after having passed through the amazing education system comfortably enough to get a SkyNews editor job, it is perfect to see an editor not being able to tell the difference between chemistry and maths.

My dear fellow or lady, who probably passed with A levels in whatever subjects, just because there are plus signs and square brackets in something that looks like an equation, does not mean it is mathematics...

But thanks for perfectly illustrating the dumbing down of our education system... not other picture alongside the article could have done a better job than this moronic pick.

Saturday, 31 May 2008

Image & words

Political life provides some riveting parallels again... or antitheses, rather.

In the UK, the 'humanising' of Gordon Brown and his image has produced quite a bit of press coverage. He is often either desperately trying to be likable, hence starts using a smile straight out of 1950s horror B-movies, or his PR team tells him to act & sound more 'human' and touchy-feely... and he tries that plus the smile...

The Labour party has lost so much terrain in the political landscape of the UK, that somehow highly paid PR wizards think Gordon's humanisation is a magic potion. If he becomes likable, then they'll gain some votes... Hmmmmm...

These PR wizards could learn from Romania... again... Maybe not learn, as the people they are dealing with and those aimed at by their tactics are radically different.

But the build-up to the recent Romanian local elections provided educational and often hilarious or tragicomic contrasts to this obsession of making a politician likable.

Corneliu Vadim Tudom, the xenophobe ultra-chauvinist (ok, let's simplify this, a demented political chameleon who is so extreme right that he's technically a chimera from a parallel Universe, but even tried to act as Christian democrat and whatever other shades of colour he could imitate) has been on TV many times, but he has again shown that a politician obtaining many votes for his party does not have to be in any way human. Or likable humanoid creature.

Also, it showed the primitive animalic level of Romanian politics, where unimaginable things do not have to be imagined, they happen or are said as absolute banal political routine.

A political figure screaming his head off in a TV studio, totally disregarding everybody is still getting votes in the Romania of 2008. Calling others 'monkeys' on national TV and cursing like a sheep farmer is also perfectly OK. Same behaviour in Parliament has been and still is his 'normal' style of discourse, but at least the downright psychopathic behaviour there can only be seen by few.

A day after the TV debate that caused a bit of scandal (and in that country, did not put a dent on Tudor's or his party's shiny armour), he continued the attacks, talking about how the host should be happy that he wasn't slapped and trampled under his (ie. C.V. Tudor's) feet etc. etc.

So Mr. Brown, the range of expression you can use in political discourse is immense, just look at certain psychiatric cases in Romanian politics. Ah yes, the audience here is somewhat different but homo sapiens can never be underestimated.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Poets and dictators

The revelations never seem to stop in Romania when it comes to public figures' relationships with the Ceausescu regime of yesteryear. These come of course with huge delay, as the so-called democratic country struggled for this many years to reveal the various shades of truths about relationship between the regime's circles of power and the Orthodox church, politicians still in (great) power, writers, artists etc.

One of the most recent ones is truly toe-curling, but all those that all their life hated the sanctimonious chameleon (whose primitive out-of-the-dark-ages rants reflect the amazing depths of his so-called poetry), can also find some way of having a satisfied smile...

It is about the great literary luminary, Adrian Paunescu. A great figure during the Ceausescu years, then fallen into disgrace, then resurrected itself, and certainly came crashing back in everybody's TV and 'art' reality when after the changes, continued his hugely nationalistic 'literary' and 'artistic' activities.

It turns out, this ultra-opportunistic invertebrate has written a letter to Ceausescu, after he has fallen from the dictator's grace, and the letter praised the demented dictator's rhetorical skills and amazing genius.

The text of the letter is truly nausea-inducing, but anyone who had to watch Paunescu on TV screen before, and more importantly after, the political changes in Romania would not be truly surprised.

Paunescu, currently known as a social-democrat senator (yes, it is tragicomic...), explained that actually, the letter is purely a positive reaction to a Ceausescu speech that impressed him.

Also, he claims that Ceausescu wasn't a dictator, he truly was a genius who made a huge contribution to Romanian history. Well, that he did indeed.

To quote this despicable maggot, he actually goes on a rampage saying that those who called Ceausescu a dictator are only those who call themselves brave after a war and anti-communists after communism.

This patronising sanctimonious little life form (it is absolutely difficult to find any civilised word for describing this organism), when confronted in the press about his amazing poems praising Ceausescu, responded (and note the irony): "You all sound like you were born out of Hitler's boots. Where all this fundamentalism?"... and the quote continues with such vulgar words that no senator, nor any civilised person, should be able to quote...

So at least, ironically, even in his declarations to the press in 2008, he remains the same primitive life form with great self-regard and stratospheric vile opportunism.

He does say, he both loved and attacked Ceausescu... and he was hurt by his TV show and his poems being banned for a little while. The irony is that the ban did not come due to his opposition to the regime that sooooo fed him, no, it was a result of several students being crushed to death during one of his shows.

I am sure he, as I read his comments now, considers himself on the same level with other poets and writers who genuinely suffered artistic ban and even physical destruction during those years.

Well, one thing is sure, this proto-maggot manages even now to bring at least me to a new level of anger, almost as if the decades of watching his ethereal transfixed face on TV debiting awesome eulogies to Ceausescu were not enough.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Corruption - quantified

Finally, some real figures after a thorough survey in Romania...

True, it covers only a tiny aspect of the country's multi-faceted corruption that spans every social layer - but it happens to focus on an important one: the amounts of money changing hands in the health service.

The total estimated sum of 'gifts' is 360 million dollars per year.

In the case of a family doctor (and this is where the survey results switch to yet another currency...), the average 'gift' is a donation of 5 euros, 12 euros on average are given to the paramedics, hospital doctors pocket 51 euros on average. These are hefty sums, considering the average pay package or especially pension in that country.

The problem is, that many things about the health service have not changed at all since Ceausescu- namely the fact that without such 'donations' and 'gifts', you can literally die and nobody cares.

The most morbid example was recently in Suceava, where a deceased pensioner's body was left in the ward for half a day without anybody giving a damn, eventually, finally, they took her away. The doctor on duty hasn't even turned up to pronounce her dead.

Less morbid scenarios are ubiquitous, the problem is that while you're alive, without the 'gifts', even the nurses leave you there to rot. Often it is difficult to ascertain what the necessary amount of 'gift' money is needed to make medical staff notice you and treat you properly, as we found out both in my grandfather and my father's case, but fortunately usually nurses and doctors will tell you openly the minimum amount.

It is a business transaction, after all - who can say capitalism has not penetrated every layer of Romanian society... grafted on top of old mentalities and current economic misery. No, not talking about the smokescreen statistics reported to the EU, I'm talking about what anybody on a normal salary or pension has in his/her pocket after paying even the basic bills and very basic food. THAT is the majority and whatever anybody says, those things have not changed in the last 18 years- they are getting worse every month.

With the considerable and deplorable imbalance between incomes and expenses on life's basics even, it is difficult to imagine how an ordinary pensioner would be able to pay the needed 'gifts'. In some hospitals, they even displayed openly the 'fee' for basic services...

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Freedom of... suspicion, Take 2

Well, regarding those police posters about 'raising vigilance' in the war against terror... asking the public to watch out for photographers acting 'suspiciously'...

It was funny up to a point, but it did work - proving that no matter what insane levels of paranoia one tries to induce with often tragicomic methods, these actually work.

One photographer, as reported by the Bureau of Freelance Photographers, was recently challenged by a 'concerned and vigilant' member of the public, as he set up a hefty tripod and a Mamiya 645 (hardly a concealed terrorist tool for spying)... Also, he was about to take pictures of natural subjects and not buildings or any other 'target'.

When challenged, he asked whether using his camera phone or compact digicam would be OK - and the answer was that yes, that would be fine. At which point our fellow photographer has almost lost the plot, trying to point out that... well... a bastard of a tripod and a camera like his considerable Mamiya is not what a terrorist would use to spy on some detail of a... landscape. Instead, would actually use a small digicam or a mobile phone.

But ANY attempt of applying reason to such successfully distorted, utterly irrational thought patterns (yep, well, irrational thought pattern is an oxymoron...) is a completely futile endeavour.

We have managed to reach such levels of masterfully induced paranoia, combined with utter idiotic public attitudes, that this beast doesn't need much feeding any more, it's become self-sustaining and can devour on its own any remaining reason amongst the 'concerned public'.

To balance this incredibly frustrating and enraging story, one has to quote a note from a school flyer that was handed out recently to 'concerned' (yes, that word again) parents & kids.

It literally stated, that it wishes to reassure people who reported masked men armed with heavy guns entering a house near the school. The men were actually builders with protective masks and the 'guns' were heavy duty drills that 'may' have been confused from afar.

No, this is not comedy- life wrote it. Life in a maximally paranoid, afraid, irrational and utterly idiotic 'free' society.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Thresholds

Seeing yet another report on how we should abolish the SAT examinations for schoolkids (due to the stress these cause) made me wonder (again) about our sensory thresholds.

This is again one area where personally I'd wish Eastern Europe (and my former home) not to develop so rapidly, as the same over-protective madness has descended upon those societies, too - and its effects are already visible.

In a world, where Aquafresh toothpaste can amaze you, the toothbrush developed for that toothpaste is amazing (I am quoting the advert slogans), chocolate bar is 'full of joy', plus there is continuous threat from everything and everybody... one has to wonder: where are those thresholds in our sensory experiences?

They are somewhere at a very, very low level, obviously.

Now on the test and exam front, clearly, we need to further destroy our education system. Studying Shakespeare from the (translated into modern English) texts is too heavy, we have to see occasional highlights on video in literature classes. Reading is tiring, stressful (!) and an all-out burden on kids. Sports classes are demanding, 13 hours per week University lectures are intolerable, the list can go on and on.

Let's abolish SAT's, too - please. Please, please let's have kids go to school (I wonder why would they?) where they can pass some time in a total state of Zen (without the enlightenment) relaxation, finish years later, go to University, do the same but with much more alcohol and fun involved, then get a job, where the boss will tell them to relax, don't over-exert themselves on any task, just smoothly glide in and out of each working day... and while doing this, society is already well prepared to protect them from any 'stress' or shock.

The net results are already evident, heck, 11 years ago, in 1997 I already met countless 1st and 2nd year students (!) who had their day ruined completely by something as stressful as an early (9AM) start of a lecture. Literally. The bad mood was there at 3PM still, clearly, the stress of that morning 2 hour effort wore them out.

So what can we say about the kids and teens and more mature students in their early 20s now? It really is a rhetorical question.

While A level results are getting better and better every year, with less and less effort required, and as absolute fact, the level of general AND specialised knowledge has gone through the floor in every single survey done in the past years, we are trying to protect kids more and more.

Nobody speaks of different kinds of stress and somehow one doesn't recall exam stress marking anyone for life... But stress is a mantra now, for easy escapism, over-used by teachers, parents, Government - as a huge wide canvas onto which much evil psychological nightmare scenarios can be painted... as if being tested for your knowledge acquired (or not) in school is something that will mark schoolkids for life.

I am sure that this newest, by no means last, wave of over-protecting stupidity will truly help in preparing them for REAL life and real challenges in that non-soap-opera life...

Thursday, 8 May 2008

"Reality" and paranoia

I put the word "reality" in double quotes, in true post-modern fashion - but the reason is not some avid affiliation with post-modern toshposh, but something that stems from yet another fresh survey.

It seems, at least in Britain, 6 out of 10 parents no longer dare to let their (even 10 years old) kids go alone to as far as 100 yards or to the local shop. The reason, quoted invariably by exponents of this 'free' society, is danger.

We live in a very dangerous world nowadays. And this is getting worse every day. Slight problem is that statistics don't support such deep-rooted feelings on these dangers. The survey had the same result even in very safe, very good neighbourhoods, where the subjects have actually admitted: yes, they know it's perfectly OK, but, "in the back of my mind" as they put it, there is a voice saying: it might be dangerous.

Which brings us to the much touched-on topic of paranoia vs. realities of our society.

Media of course plays a huge role here. To quote another sociologist's study, which happens to be indirectly related: when Bluewater shopping complex in Kent hit the headlines about 'hoodies' being banned so that youths can be recognised on CCTV (and also 'customers felt hoody-wearing youths are threatening'), the media exploded.

Compared to the year before, when only 2 headlines mentioned hoodies in any context, that year of the Bluewater ban, the increase was 26 fold in headlines containing the word 'hoodies' in criminal context.

The fact that sale of hoodies has actually increased in the Bluewater shopping mall is just plain funny.

What is depressing, though, is the very clear quantitative effect of media on the already too paranoid public.

Now we have this, hardly surprising, survey on parental paranoia. It is coupled with another study, where GPS tagging of kids has revealed the very obvious and common-sensical: kids who are not on a short leash, escorted by adults and 'protected' all the time against absolutely everything, roam, explore, interact more with objects, places and people... the net benefits being very clear to anybody who grew up in a society not continuously stunned in a state of panic and fear of everything.

It is truly tragic that the 'protected' children will grow up into even more paranoid parents. It is already now obvious how current young adults are incapable of adapting , reacting properly to any situation or element outside their ordinary well-imprinted (and protected, monotonous) everyday reality. This has been touched on enough times in previous blog entries... but now we can think of what the ultra-protected little people will grow into. The answer is obvious.

So... we have a free society, which not only spends billions a year on 'protective' products (Dettol doesn't just clean, it protects you and your family... to quote just one insane but, looking at their sales, very effective advert) and considers anything mildly extra-ordinary a direct threat (that can even be addressed in court, because those people are incapable of doing something common-sensical to avoid even injuring themselves with some banale tool that may not have stated the absolutely obvious on its list of DOs and DONTs in the manual...), but also, makes absolutely sure that its younger members will be absolutely incapable of adapting and reacting to any new situation or event that occurs in their environment.

So... intuitive intelligence is decreasing every day. And at least, for the marketing gurus of this already deeply mentally diseased society, there is the promise of the future: many more, increasingly paranoia-exploiting very successful marketing campaigns for banale things that can be now heralded as saviours of you & your family.

The other 'reassuring' thing is that, as reported in this blog many times, Eastern European societies are already aligning themselves to this level of idiocy and paranoia. Just ask any teacher in Romania about how kids changed in just 10-15 years, when one takes them to some excursion in the countryside. Things that in the 90s would have been absolutely unimaginable due to their level of utter stupidity (stemming from inability of dealing with ANY unfamiliar environment or situation they find themselves in) are now happening so often and so consistently, that many teachers no longer take the class on any trip due to what the kids do to themselves, even when supervised by several adults.

We are becoming, with amazing speed and effectiveness, a thoroughly STUPID and incapable race. As long as we can function in our own silly world constructed around monotonous routines and in the bubble of well-crafted consumer goods that 'protect' us every step of our small journeys, we can feel comfortable.

Monsters are lurking beyond the walls of houses protected by Dettol surface cleanser...