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.