Thursday, 29 January 2009

Deja-vu

Sometimes it is truly remarkable how history in certain countries can repeat itself. Or rather, how certain people of certain countries can make history repeat itself

The Romanian Government has introduced measures to combat the financial and economic crisis... and these measures are exact copies of Ceausescu's truly surreal and utterly nonsensical measures introduced in the 1980s.

Let's see a few eerie examples, so deja-vu that one is stunned into admiration:

- in the Victoria Palace, many light bulbs are removed to reduce current consumption. This is exact copy of 1980s Ceausescu measures, but in that case the amount of energy saved compared to the amount used by the industrial obsolete monsters created by him was infinitesimal. In this present case, if a proportion of light bulbs being removed saves somehow the Government from financial crisis, it will be a miracle of some sort...

- They save money by not printing official documents, but using CD-ROM delivery. Right... They have not yet agreed how to send around the electronic documents, but the paper saving is again a straight copy from Ceausescu's 1970s and 1980s. Do the maths and you realise just how much this will help in fighting the financial downturn...

- Students and school kids are supposed to have an extra month holiday, to save energy while the schools don't have to be lit nor heated. This is again an absolutely exact copy of Romanian 1980s. Again, the maths are amazing.

- The coup de grace, for those that by now are suffering deeply while staring at these ghosts of the past, is that heating in the Parliament and Government offices is turned down. If this is not familiar to anybody who lived through the Romanian decades of glory under Ceausescu, then those suffer of long term memory loss.

So... a new, this time real, problem (let's not forget what the real thinking behind the 1970s-1980s Romanian energy and cost saving measures was... as per early chapters of the memoir posted on this blog). The methods of attacking it are... old and familiar.

Ceausescu's ghost, very much happily walking around still in the Romania of 2009, must be having fits of laughter.

Unfortunately, the people are not exactly amused... but a large part of them, those who were born in or after 1989, have no idea of just how strong deja-vu this is...

Human stupidity seems to be not only eternal, but eternally looping back on itself... re-using past stupidities in new form, under new motivations.

Please, Romanian Government, could you please, please at least think up one new and original method for absolutely pointless, useless, and utterly stupid attack on the financial crisis?

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Impartiality

Quite an upheaval about a humanitarian appeal for Gaza not being shown by BBC. More than a hundred MPs have signed a condemnation of what was, by some, called cowardly act.

The most intriguing element in this entire mess is that the BBC said they refuse to show the appeal due to the fact that it would compromise their impartiality.

It is the same organisation that has no problems about being blatantly impartial when they were blocked from getting into Gaza and presented for days the events based on information provided to them by the Israelis.

The same BBC shows all other humanitarian disasters and whips up huge emotional campaigns, just recall everything from Live Aid to the new Live Aid and from Darfur through Kosovo to Congo.

But now somehow, suddenly, an appeal about a similarly factual humanitarian disaster is a danger for its impartiality.

By refusing to show the appeal, they have become ironically one of the two least impartial and politically skewed media organisations - the other one being Sky News.

The fact that Sky News dare to say they are impartial, well, it is so tragically hilarious that one is truly searching for words...

So well done, again, BBC. After they got slapped around a few times, now they are so afraid that even such revolting acts can be claimed to be committed under a shield of impartiality.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Full circle

On 20 January, Romania also applied the new laws on monitoring everybody's phone calls. The call duration, timing, address details of the people are logged and stored for a period of 6 months.

This comes together with the previously mentioned EU legislation about monitoring email patterns.

While the exiting "W" talked about leaving behind a much freer world, it is amazing irony that a nation so used to phones being tapped now revisits the Stalinist and Ceausescu era experiences under a new wording and a new reason.

It just proves some of the lines here in the past that methods are the same, just the motivations and context may change.

This is all done due to the so-called War On Terror, and for the infinitesimal chance of discovering some terror-related contact pattern, everybody loses one more fundamental human right (to privacy).

So welcome to an even freer world, and the deja-vu it creates for those that had their phones randomly tapped. This time you won't have it tapped, just your call patterns recorded.

Interestingly, those regimes that monitored huge number of phone lines could not stop people bringing them down.

Now we think with such Orwellian measures we can stop some small terrorist cells from doing something... or helping the investigation after they did something...

It is farcical and tragicomic, but welcome to a deja-vu...

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Seismic matters

As there are more and more discussions ongoing about the revision of the Romanian Constitution, there are a couple of new 'items' that (if they get anywhere near the border with reality) may produce some seismic shocks.

One of them is quite radical for a radically tragicomic situation... namely, members of the Parliament would have their immunity removed. Investigations of them and their affairs would no longer need the Parliament's approval.

One wonders, even if this change does occur, what the realities of its consequences can be in a country where the Mafia doesn't pay off MPs and the Government, the Mafia simply is in the Parliament and the Government across all levels of Power. This is pretty much the Bulgarian model and with the recommended change to the Constitution, the situation could become tremendously funny, well, tragicomic rather rapidly.

Surely there would be a need for a 'halo' around the circles of Power so that nobody will initiate legal proceedings against the de-immunised MPs and Government officials... otherwise one can imagine a utopia where every member of the Romanian circles of political Power ends up in jail for long periods of time for corruption at levels that one can't imagine sometimes...

The other interesting recommendation came from Bela Marko, leader of the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania... He suggests that the issues of ethnic minorities this time need to be treated properly. Again, a utopian idea, we all know what happened historically to even basic minority rights stated in the Constitution. Even when they were captured there, they were worth the value of the paper they were printed on.

But what could be a seismic shock is the dropping of the term 'nation state' from the text of all texts... As a reminder, Romania was and is considered a homogeneous (that dreaded word) state with one single nation. The ethnic minorities (huge communities like those of Hungarians) were considered to be, using same example, Hungarian-speaking Romanians.

As Bela Marko mentioned, "there is no rush" - well, certainly it would be highly (well, even more highly) utopian to expect any speed with eradicating ethno-political schizophrenia that marked every heavy-weight politically significant text in Romania since 1918...

On the other hand, let's forget the two potentially tectonically threatening change recommendations... Even if they happen in any form (at best, diluted down), may one ask those that hold any hope of whatever new content meaning an actual change in everyday practice, heaven forbid mentality: has any line of the Romanian Constitution ever mattered?

It was and will remain a document of some (and purely) symbolic meaning, transgressed against, ignored, re-interpreted in any way the circles and ellipses of Power will see it fit.

The change the country desperately needs is not of the text itself - 19 years after the Revolution, would be good to have changed mentalities and changed political Power that is not 100% self-obsessed and utterly above the law of any kind.

Then, a certain text may start to actually mean something and may be applied in some way.

Yes, utopia indeed.

Friday, 16 January 2009

End of an era

"W" finally exits after 8 years of tragicomedy.

Unfortunately his parting speech wasn't riddled with wonderful lexical gems that he became known for (after all, he is a very 'misunderestimated' president, to use just one of his countless linguistic jewels).

But he did say one thing that was astonishing. He firmly believes that he created a freer world.

Really?

So the War On Terror, which also removed one dictator from power (to put it gently), somehow made our world freer.

So maybe my memory is foggy after too many lexical bombardments from "W", but... I can not recall all my email traffic patterns recorded by every internet service provider before.

I don't recall in the much less free world before him to have laws banning any demonstration in a radius of 1000 yards around our Parliament building. Also can't recall the abuses of power, the stalinist methods being resurrected for a 'safer society', the scrutinies, the 42 days of imprisonment without any charge and judiciary process, the... oh heck, the list is endless.

So at least in the UK, the world does not feel much freer as a result of what "W" and his lapdog (currently a peace envoy for the Middle East- yes, reality produces irony that beats any comedian's imagination).

During the last era marked by this misunderestimated headcase, the world around me changed into something resembling so closely something else I thought I left behind many miles and many years ago that it simply gives me the creeps.

So welcome and enjoy the freedoms created by the those two luminaries on two sides of the Atlantic. Rejoice.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Privacy and paranoia

To add to the wonderful developments in terms of rights to privacy in this Citadel of democracy that UK loves to see itself as...

From March, information on every single personal email message will be kept for a year by ISPs. The content of individual emails will not be held but the timing and number of each communication are.

At least we are not alone, this is an AC directive - but the UK Government will reportedly have to pay the internet service providers more than £25 million to ensure the law is obeyed.

So the rationale, if we consider for a moment the claimed reason for introducing this, is that among billions of emails, some may be the ones sent by terrorists - and then police could use the information to see not the content, but the pattern of the contacts made by those people.

The effort vs. benefit, cost vs. benefit ratio is so huge in this case that it is simply ludicrous.

But... as many other things, this for our own good. This is supposed to help in the so-called War on Terror.

Some lucid voices stated: "This degree of storage is equivalent to having access to every second, every minute, every hour of your life. People have to worry about the scale, the virtuality of your life being exposed to round about 500 public authorities. Under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, privacy is a fundamental right... it is important to protect the principle of privacy because once you've lost it it's very difficult to recover."

For an infinitesimal probability game, your entire personal contact network and your ways, timing and pattern of contacting it will be stored. Therefore... another triumph in the War on Terror... and bummer, if only Stalin were alive to see this...

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Good old medium

A book based on this blog has successfully emerged and saw the light of day...
The memoir-cum-discussion on a personal journey from a certain corner of Cold War to a certain other corner of the 'War on Terror', with parallels between the former not so free and the new oh-so-free world has been published by Legend Press in the UK over the Christmas period.
Press release about the book is at www.pressreleasehome.com/press-releases/from-cold-war-to-war-on-terror-a-personal-journey
As another line of shameless promotion, it is available via Amazon, Waterstones, Barnes & Noble and other such major book retailers.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Future now

The topic of vast majority of parents not letting their kids go out unsupervised beyond a radius of 100 yards around the house, well, was discussed here. So was the matter of the freedom to fear of everything and anything, in a society where a washing up liquid doesn't just clean, it "protects you and your family".

The topic of what monsters lurk beyond the walls of our houses, our medieval fear of the edge of the unknown (which in the old days used to be far, far away, at the end of the world, but now it situates itself right outside the walls of our houses) has also been talked about here.

Well, if we thought that we can't get more paranoid in a so-called free society, where a key marketing tactic is to induce irrational overblown fear of... anything and everything, so that we buy even that puny banal washing up liquid... well... Now we can have wrist watches with built-in GPS locators.

For kids.

Yes.

For worried parents to feel at ease, to give them peace of mind.

At least one psychologist on BBC had the guts to say the obvious: this is rationalising the irrational, well, at least it is trying to.

You can not give peace of mind to a parent who is afraid of his/her own shadow (the survey results about their paranoid fear and the 100 yard radius were stunning, many admitted that they know they live in an absolutely safe area where there never was any violent crime nor fatal accident but they still fear 'something' and feel 'unsafe'...).

You can not make a parent this utterly paranoid (read: this well adjusted to his/her society that relies even for a washing up liquid advert on the cult of irrational fear of germs) become a person who will let his/her kid roam the park and the street, just because the kid is now wearing a GPS locator.

When we saw this and similar ideas 20-30 years back in sci-fi movies that either fell into dystopian B-movies category or tried to really extrapolate things, we quite rightly thought those were just overblown negative utopias.

Well, now we have it - the tags for our kids are going on sale. Yippee.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Impressions

Another few weeks spent in Transylvania, another set of impressions of former home...

There must have been more coins made over the last months, as there was less tragicomedy of change given as Nescafe sachets, vitamin C tablets and chewing gums, latter having been the ubiquitous 'change' given even last Summer still.

The financial and economic crisis has reached these shores, well, mountains already, although as for several Euro-area countries, only the initial effects are seen. Several banks have increased interest rates even though a leasing contract may have listed a fixed interest rate... as with many other things, certain institutions and organisations are above any rule or legislation in this country...

The experiences and impressions related to the state of education have proved again to be the most memorable. 9th-grade high-school students not being able to solve simple problems that teachers used to give us when we were 10-12 years old (and this is not the odd exception, it was in one the best high-schools of my home town).

Levels of literacy have plummeted further, and it is, like everywhere, a result of multiple factors - but some factors are unique to this geographical area.

One of the dominant factors are that parents only discover their child is virtually illiterate when he/she gets to first year in high-school... as two of my friends' (both teachers) experiences showed. The reason is that at least one parent works abroad, often the kid is brought up by a relative or even neighbour... and we touched on this phenomenon earlier in this blog.

The statistics are still quite scary and at least some organisations studying this have not lost their sense of proportion. On top of this, the manic copying of the 'West' adds to the problems - non-stop and indiscriminate use of TV and computers, in vast majority installed in the kids' rooms, make them unable to cope with a normal school day, let alone have time to read or study.

The former compulsory lists of books that kids had to read has shrunk to one, maybe two books, and as teachers in a neighbouring city told me, even those are often left unread, kids copying or obtaining some summary from someone else or the Internet.

I keep saying to these teachers: in many ways, as it was analysed in several blog entries, these aspects may be a bit extreme but they are essentially showing a perfect and speedy alignment with standards and levels of education and general culture that we see in the formerly so elusive and distant 'West'.

The continual shift in systems of values is even more shocking, as the polarisation of the society continues, while the truly mafia-like layers that have zero regard to any laws of the country have become even richer and more disconnected with the common people's reality.

One tiny aspect was telling: the Government was still recovering from the election campaign spending spree and even the (for many families vital) child support money was delayed several weeks, completely missing even Christmas. There were people physically crying to the postman and asking when the money could arrive.

Bucharest then finally, with great delay, wired the money to regional post offices... priorities come first, don't they. Not that anything like this is surprising, but due to the dire economic situation, such things have become either more noticeable or downright unbearably painful.

So... there is more progress...