Wednesday, December 05, 2012

More elections

There's a parliamentary election this weekend in Romania.  It'll be rubbish.  There is nobody I would trust in Romanian politics, and all of the parties are basically a bunch of corrupt self-obsessed wankers who will happily carry on screwing the people of this country in the pursuit of their own egos and their own little pieces of power.

There's a summary which tells you more or less all you need to know on Craig Turp's Bucharest Life

Just a couple of additions though: Anyone from outside Romania who reads reports of the elections this coming weekend (either before or after) and reads the description of the likely-to-win USL coalition as "centre left" should take this designation with a massive pinch of salt. they've always been a bunch of corrupt socially illiberal populists at the best of times, but now they even include the loathesome racist homophobic bigot Gigi Becali under their banner. This is a man who would make Jean Marie le Pen look centrist. Any coalition with him in is NOT in any way left, centre left, or even centre anything.

Here in Hungaro-world, there is a second Hungarian party standing (for the first time as I understand it in a national election), the Erdelyi Magyar Neppart, which is, as far as I can work out, an electoral vehicle for Laszlo Tokes who never seems to get on with anyone and flits from party to party trying to find one which can accommodate his ego.

What this means electorally, of course is that if they take something like 1.5% of the national vote – or more accurately approximately 25% of the Hungarian vote – they will push the UDMR below the 5% threshhold, which will make a huge difference to the makeup of the parliament.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Racism and the Occupation

Something I wrote yesterday in another place. This has nothing to do with Romania or Transylvania or anything else.  It's just at the top of my mind. 
I do not use the word racist lightly. I have thought long and hard about the situation in Israel and Palestine, I have invested an awful amount of time reading about it, studying it, discussing it with pe
ople who agree with me and who disagree with me. I've spent time in the West Bank. I've had blazing rows about it, and I've had revelations about it. I've listened to people and I've modified my position on a great many occasions

I say this, because having done all that, I feel there is no other way to describe the continued occupation of Palestine (as defined by the UN) as racist. It is vicious. It is brutal. And it is about the oppression and subjugation of an entire people based on their race. There is no other word that fits but this one. And support for racist oppression is - I think you'll agree - racist.

I support Israel's right to exist (there are loads of things that happened in 1948 that shouldn't have happened, but they can't be unhappened, and Israel is where it is and it will stay there and its people need to be and feel safe). In fact, I believe my position to be pro-Israel. It's just that I think a pro-Israeli position is to end the occupation, and this happens to be a pro-Palestinian position too.

In fact the best thing Israel could do in the defence of itself is to end the occupation. there is no other way of genuinely making peace. And make no mistake, Israel is the aggressor here. And the occupation is brutal and evil and vicious and disgusting. It involves torture, killing, maiming, the making of un-people, outright discrimination, the theft of land, and of livelihood, humiliation and oppression. And all on the basis of race. The surprising thing about this "conflict" (a term I hesitate to use as it implies there are two sides) is that there is not much more violent Palestinian resistance. If I lived there full time, with no possibility of an end, with no light at the end of the tunnel, I would certainly have pondered and considered violence. I would hope that I would have chosen the path of non-violence, but I couldn't say that for certain. The vast majority of the Palestinian people are, in my opinion, practically deserving of sainthood.

So, if people tell me they support the occupation, or that they unquestioningly support all Israel's actions, I will tell them all of this and tell them that as far as I am concerned they are - objectively, by definition - racist. I have no idea if that will make them think about their position, but it is the position I have reached, after a lot of thought and experience and study.

The media in the west give the impression that the ongoing - and current - fighting in Israel and Palestine is at best an equal one, or - in some cases - one in which Israel is the victim. Israel is not the victim, Israel is a racist aggressor. Support their war on Gaza and their ongoing oppression and theft of Palestinian land, and you are supporting racist aggression.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Podcast recommendation on Rosia Montana

This is a good podcast from the BBC about the Rosia Montana gold mine controversy

Seems pretty fair and even handed to me.  I think Eugen David (sp?) is my favourite character in the story.  Romanian peasant who's watched and learned about protesting from anarchists, anti-globalisation activists and various others.  Superb stuff.

Though, I think the hilarity line is well and truly crossed when the former finance minister  basically says that politicians in Romania can't do anything positive for the country because everybody will suspect them of corruption and of lining their own pockets. A fantastic example of circular logic, which is rammed home when he then is revealed to now be working for the Rosia Montana Gold Corporation. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Going back in time.

Romania, as you may be aware, has suddenly been transfixed by political shenanigans. As I mentioned a couple of months ago, the previous government fell and was replaced by one led by a man named Victor Ponta.  After a slowish start this government swung into action and started laying waste to any sense of democracy or even thought.  I'll spare you all the details (here's a brief summary from the Economist) , but essentially, they decided they wanted very very desperately to get the president, Basesecu, out of office as soon as they possibly could.  But constitutionally this was not as easy as they hoped and so they had to change and/or ignore the constitution.  So, they changed the law on impeachment referenda, they took as many powers away from the constitutional court as they could and put them in the hands of parliament and then voted to start the process of impeachment.

So the upshot of all this is that there will be a referendum here on July 29th at which Basescu could be booted out of office.  Having bowed to some pressure the government have grudgingly accepted the ruling that 50% of the electorate must show up for the results of this referendum to be valid.  (It seems certain that a majority of people who do show up will vote against Basescu, but not so certain that 50% of the country will bother to vote).  

Now I don't have any axe to grind for Basescu.  I think, in general, he's a bit of an arsehole (quite a big bit, at times - such as this one), and I have absolutely no time for his politics, as he has enthusiastically cheer-led the last-but-one government's policy of slashing pensions and public sector pay by up to 25%.  He's deeply unpopular in the country and for good reason.  Having him voted out of office would not be a tragedy.

But, why now? Why so suddenly? Why is there a need to ride roughshod over due process? Why is any semblance of the constitution and democratic structure ignored?  I mean he's no chance of being president again, and his party is likely to be absolutely hammered at the next parliamentary elections due later this year.  He's a lame duck president already. 

Ponta heads up the PSD, the party which mostly consists of ex-members of the Ceausescu regime (though Basescu is also an ex-communist), and which since 1989 has mostly held power.  They have a very strong power base, especially in rural areas, and the party's spiritual leader is Ion Iliescu, Ceausescu's right hand man who (allegedly, he says for form's sake) used the ant-Ceausescu protests in 1989 to engineer a coup d'etat and take power.  Subsequent to that revolution (or whatever it actually was), Iliescu used all the power at his disposal to hold on to power, in the turbulent months following.  At more than one stage, for example, when protesters were out in the streets of Bucharest, Iliescu tooled up a bunch of miners and brought them into the city to quash the protests (Wikipedia page).  Essentially, this is not a man who was much of a fan of democracy.  What has happened these last two months is no mineriada, but it has some of the same properties.

Iliescu's protege was Adrian Nastase, a man who was recently convicted of corruption and sentenced to jail for two years.  Nastase's protege in turn is Victor Ponta. The way that the PSD seems to work, on patronage, nepotism and corruption, it would surprise no-one to learn that this whole new attempted coup is purely to pardon Nastase and repay whatever mafia-style favours Ponta owes him.  

[One such favour, by the way, seems to be Ponta's doctorate.  His thesis was recently revealed to have been plagiarised - although on the conclusion, Ponta and his government replaced the panel which convicted him, and the new panel has just ruled that it wasn't plagiarised, even though 87 pages of the thing were directly copied without attribution. Which begs the question as to what plagiarism actually is then, and whether it's worth anyone getting a higher education in Romania.  What's the point?  You might as well just download a thesis and hand it in. But, I digress.  Who do you imagine was Ponta's doctoral adviser? Yes, as you might by now have twigged, it was Adrian Nastase]

What I find most depressing about this whole thing is the retrograde nature of it all. While I haven't agreed much with Basescu, or various governments under his presidency - especially that of Emil Boc - the overall feeling that I had was that Romania was generally moving forward.  That it was developing in some way, that things were being addressed, that there was some sense of democracy, and that whatever Romania would turn out to be, whether or not I agreed with the direction it had taken, was something which more reflected the needs, aspirations, and wants of its citizens.  But now I feel like we've been taken back to 1990. It's just vicious petty vindictive political infighting. Ponta himself has said that he devotes 85% of his time to political turf wars.  And he's the fucking prime minister - of a country which has some serious problems. And yet he spends 85% of his time on attacking his opponents and cultivating his alliances.

[One more article, on yesterday's EU report: "The report says the Romanian government may not understand how a pluralist democracy works"]

I've heard some people, those who are supporting of this coup, say that it's time for Romania to take back its pride, to run things in a more Romanian way, to stop kowtowing to Europe or the IMF or the USA or whoever.  I have some sympathy with this, but is the Romanian way simply corruption, theft, megalomania, dishonesty and vindictiveness?  I really don't believe it is.  Not the Romania I know.   

I have gone from disagreeing with the government to ceasing to believe that there really is anything approaching a strategy or an idea of where to go or how to move in any direction other than the consolidation of power by those who have it.  Perhaps I was naive before, believing that there may be something there.  But now, I just feel that this country is irredeemably fucked.  people will get by, people will still struggle on, things on an every day level are as they are.  But ultimately the country is run by the mafia.  Fuck the lot of them.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Not getting an election

I may have used that poor pun before, but to hell with it.

So, this weekend I get to vote in the local elections here.  I do firmly believe in all this voting stuff, even though I don't think I've ever voted for someone who's actually won in my entire life.  But that's by the by, and is the way the democracy works.  My vote might never have counted but it counted that I voted.  I think.  I'm telling myself that anyway.

The trouble is that while I want to vote this weekend I have no idea of who is standing and what they stand for. The election advertising is the pure preserve of the Hungarian parties who are guaranteed to be the only ones actually getting elected.  I say parties because this year there are seemingly 3 such parties.  The well known and all powerful (round here anyway) RMDSZ (or UMDR to give them their Romanian acronym), who hold all the cards and all the seats and pretty much run Harghita County as a one party state.  Then there is the MPP which is a party which appeared about 5 years ago and are fully funded and supported by FIDESZ (the governing party in Hungary).  Now FIDESZ are a bunch of obnoxious right wing scumbags, so I am just assuming that MPP are just as shit).  There is also some other party who are called something like the Erdelyi Magyar Neppart, about whom I know absolutely fuck all.  Their website is very coy on policies, and basically just tells you news about where they've been and what they've been up to, so it's difficult to know what their ideology is, but I have my suspicions.

Essentially I have no interest in voting for any party which makes nationality a central part of its identity/platform.  Not because I'm not Hungarian, but because I feel that elections and politics ought to be about ideas and projects and proposals and manifestos rather than ethnicity.

In other nationalist news, I have recently discovered that here in Harghita County at least, the PDL, a party which seems to go further and further right with every passing week have formed an electoral alliance here with the PRM.  Now the PRM are the far right, real hardcore nationalist scum (next to whom even the MPP look like a bastion of enlightenment).  I hope people are made aware of this alliance when it comes to elections elsewhere in the country.  There can be no excuse for getting into bed with the PRM and there ought to be a lot of people in the PDL who are ashamed of this fact.  But I bet they don't care.

But the above information aside, I have no idea who is standing here. There is an electoral alliance nationally between the PNL (a party who I used to quite like) and the PSD (a party who I think are a bunch of corrupt and deeply untrustworthy wankers), and that's about all I can tell you.  Searching Hungarian and Romanian language websites as much as I can has thrown up nothing regarding who I could vote for and support in these elections.

Can anyone help? Any parties standing in Harghita/Ciuc which advocate an end to nationalist rhetoric, a liberal social policy, enlightened (by which I mean broadly left wing and anti-austerity) economic policies, and a sense of environmental awareness?  The Green party in Romania seems to be the best bet nationally, but their own website doesn't offer up any clarity over where they are actually putting up candidates locally (or at least if it does I can't find it)

I feel democratically thwarted.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

It's all gone a bit victor-y

Another (insert large period of time) has passed since I last wrote here, but hell, you get what you pay for, I imagine.

Two weeks ago I was contacted by a research consultancy organisation asking if I could find some information about Korodi Attila (or Attila Korodi to give him his foreign media name).  Mr Korodi had just become the new minister for the environment, and as such had a big say in the approval or not of the proposed gold mine at Rosia Montana.  The man who contacted me, was very nice about it all, but I had my doubts about what was actually being asked. Was the information destined to be used to bring Korodi to heel and provide enough ammunition to get him to swing into line behind the forces of big business?  Was it designed to try and get him to vote against the proposal?  It was impossible to know (well, I asked, and I got a polite refusal).  (Korodi is a native of Csikszereda, which I suspect is why I was asked.)

Anyway, the point is now moot as Korodi was not only one of the youngest ministers in Romania (he's 34), but now he's surely one of the shortest in office, since he'd only been in the job two weeks before the government fell on Friday.  We now have a new government, headed up by a man named Victor Ponta.  I spent the weekend just completed (a very nice long weekend, thanks to the wonders of May Day and the great invention of what the Spanish call "puentes" - bridge holidays designed to link weekends to public holidays (pod zile?)) with a friend who is a well connected journalist in Bucharest.  This friend knows Ponta pretty well and his opinion is not entirely positive.  I understate fairly significantly.

So the upshot of all this is that Romania now has a new government, and in a rare moment of cross border harmony both Romania and Hungary will now have dickish Prime Ministers named Victor.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The World Service

The BBC World Service is 80 years old today (Given that it's February 29th, that means it's only had 20 actual birthdays, I presume).  Anyway, in a slight diversion from the usual matter of this blog (ie periods of nothingness interspersed with incoherent rants about stuff that bothers me in small town Romania), I thought I would mark this milestone by saying how great the BBC World Service is, and how many years I spent in which my short wave radio was my most prized possession.  It genuinely was one of the things I had to check anytime I went anywhere - money, ticket, passport, radio - that was the list.

Anyway, I listened for years to the BBC World Service (and the fact that I can download things like Analysis and From Our Own Correspondent on podcasts now is somehow not the same thing. They're still good radio programmes but something about the medium and the vehicle of the radio clutched to the ear, with the elaborate wires and things attached to the aerial to try and enhance reception, is just something that I'll never forget, and I think always miss a little bit).  The fact that I can have news from anywhere in the world at my fingertips at any time in various different formats these days is just ... not the same.  (In other forgotten methods of obtaining news from home, does anyone remember Reuters teleprinters that you could find in the lobbies of expensive hotels?  They were brilliant too, though not quite up to the standards of the BBC World Service)

Anyway, just as with the internet, much of my dedication to my shortwave radio came with the need to keep up with English football.  Every Saturday afternoon (or whatever time of day English Saturday afternoon was in whichever country I was in) you could find me twiddling the dial, fine tuning the signal as I listened to comforting snatches of home telling me about the driving rain at Portman Road or the advertising hoardings at Ibrox.

My most vivid memory though was in a tent just outside the Masai Mara in Kenya listening to the 1994 World Cup Final from California at about 3am. I had headphones so as not to wake my girlfriend, but the signal kept drifting in and out. Despite the fact that the match was terrible (I am told), I could not go to bed - this was the World Cup final after all.  At one point through the crackle I heard this almighty roar, which was clearly not from the crowd, but from outside the tent.  I decided staying put was possibly the best idea (and anyway if I'd gone outside Sod's Law dictates that I'd probably have missed a goal).   In the morning I learned that a lion had wandered through the campsite in the night.

(A much more amusing anecdote about the World Service from my friend Ken Wilson, can be found here)

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Sign of the times

Over the course of the now 8 years since I've been here (8 years!  Lumme), the state of the economy has been visible from observing the new businesses that have opened in the town centre and around.  Around the time of Romania's accession to the EU, the town hosted an explosion  of banks.  Every building that became free was quickly snapped up and turned into the branch of a bank.  They even started opening branches in an area of the town which is not exactly the centre, just in case people couldn't be bothered to walk 5 minutes to cash their cheques or make their wire transfers.  On one street alone (the one I;m currently on) there are absolutely dozens of them, and even though it's not that long a road, there are actually some which have two branches on the same street.  This for a town of less than 40,000 residents.

Now after a while, this bank building craze plateau-ed out a bit and the new thing was cafes.  Now, obviously, thanks to the growing economy and the fact that presumably now everybody had loans or whatever from the preponderance of banks, we could all live a life of leisure, sitting around drinking coffee and eating elaborate cakes and pastries, while our money just made money or whatever it is that the idle rich do.

Then the crisis hit.  We were no longer hicks-of-leisure, and the cafes dried up. One or two banks closed, but most are surprisingly still here (despite the fact that many of them these days are Greek-owned). The new craze was for the turkáló.  I've mentioned these places a couple of times before - they are basically second hand clothes shops which get their stock (it is claimed) mostly from the UK (where I think people are duped into believing they are giving them to charity). Picture a sort of permanent jumble sale and you get the picture. There are loads of these places now, on every corner. The other thing which appears to be on the rise is the replacement of the sitting around-sitting-espresso-cafe with the stand-around-bet-and-watch-sport-on-TV-cafes.  Desperation chic. Get your second hand t-shirts and socks by the kilo and then with the tiny amount of money you have left go and try and double it through gambling.

What's next, I wonder? Either they will all just be boarded up in silent testimony to the collapse of capitalism, or they will start selling guns so we can all start arming ourselves against the gangs of semi-feral victims of the credit crisis.

Or something happier I suppose.   

Thursday, February 09, 2012

The Romanian Education System (3)

Finally, many months after starting this small series, I am ready to get to the third and last part of it - though obviously since I started it the education system here has had loads more crap piled upon it.  As of the day before yesterday there is yet another new education minister, but I'm not hopeful of positive change any time soon.
But I digress.  
The third area in which I encounter a massive problem with the Romanian education system is not an area which affects much of the country.  But it is certainly a huge issue here. 
This is to do with the teaching of Romanian in schools. Specifically the teaching of Romanian to those who don't speak Romanian as a mother tongue.  Which is most kids in Csikszereda, including my own daughter.  
Now before I start on my now customary rant, let me make it totally clear that I believe very strongly that all Romanian citizens should be able to speak Romanian. It seems to me more or less unarguable. But - the current system actually, I believe, makes it harder for people who don't speak Romanian as a first language to learn it than it should do.
First of all, let's clear up a semantic thing, partly because it irritates me, and partly because it will make it much easier to write the rest of this post. That is that kids who, say, speak Hungarian as a mother tongue, need to learn Romanian as a Second Language.  Clearly they are not learning Romanian as a foreign language (because it's obviously not a foreign language).  They are learning it as a second language.  Second, in this context, does not imply second class or second rate, merely a marker of the order in which the languages were learned. Kids in the UK or USA who are not native speakers of English learn English as a Second Language and nobody gets stressed about this terminology.  So, for my own sanity I will call it Romanian as a Second Language (RSL) here, rather than the convoluted phrase that is often used to try and avoid this which is something like Romanian for Romanian children who don't speak Romanian as a first language.  
Now for a large part of my adult life I was a language teacher. In fact at times I still teach English.  I do know a little bit about how language teaching and learning works, so unlike most of my usually ill informed posts this one is coming from a place of some actual knowledge. It may be the last time it happens, but we'll see.
The situation at the minute is that all children in the Romanian state education system study the same subjects to the same curriculum (there are some minor variations in subjects studied, especially in languages, but in general). This means that all children in Romania study Romanian in the same way. That is to say that children who speak Romanian as a first language study the same curriculum as those who study it as a second language. There is a certain desire born of nationalist head-in-the-sand-ism that we should close our eyes to the fact that in fact these two groups of children have different needs and are coming from a very different starting point.  If we treat them exactly the same, the logic seems to go, then they will all be good Romanian children.
But in fact, of course, the opposite happens. Kids who really should be learning RSL, end up finding themselves completely lost in a curriculum which is completely unsuitable for them. My daughter  is expected to read literature, which in many cases is not even modern Romanian, but is an archaic version of the language.  The grammar work she studies is heavy in metalanguage and light in practicality.  In short she is not taught Romanian as a tool  for a communication, but as a literary language to be examined. Which does, obviously, make some sense for most Romanian kids (though I'm not entirely convinced of the value to Romanian kids of reading Ion Creanga at the age of 12, myself, but that's by the by).  I've lost count of the times which I've come upon her crying because she just can't understand what she's supposed to be doing, each page of the novel takes her hours to read, and she beats herself up over the fact that she can't do what she shouldn't be expected to do.  And, she is one of the best in her class.  She is motivated and keen and actually is doing very well in Romanian, despite the system. I'm incredibly proud of her, and her language skills, but at times it's heartbreaking to watch.  
And it of course means that many kids who need RSL, are not learning Romanian well. At best they can learn to struggle through the exam system and not be completely held back by it, but they are not learning to use the language properly.  And surely the goal of this system should be that RSL kids leave school speaking Romanian very well and therefore being able to be full members of society.  This must be what would suit everyone. (Unless of course the goal is to actively disadvantage RSL kids - and it does disadvantage them as they have a much harder time in the national exam in Romanian at the end of the 12th grade for example, which in turn harms their overall grade, quite apart from harming their ability to succeed in one of the primary life skills that they need - the Romanian language)
(Actually at this point I should probably add that I am not alleging some nationalist conspiracy to keep the Hungarians and others back and deliberately make their lives difficult.  I genuinely think it is this way as a result of simple pigheadedness and stupidity)
To give another example of how this plays out: Some while back some friends who are from here but who moved to Hungary returned with their two children aged 11 and 13. Obviously having been brought up in Hungary the boys spoke no Romanian, but back here in Transylvania attending school they are of course studying Romanian. At a party a few months after they came back (at which I was present) the younger boy was asked by his mother to show us what he had learned at school that week. He then proceeded to recite the entirety of a fairly long Octavian Goga poem. He could recite it word for word, quite well, I'm told, but understood barely a word of it. Now it seems fairly clear that this is not good language teaching.
Obviously there are other side effects to this as well.  Not only does it fail to teach RSL kids Romanian successfully (which of course has a knock on effect of making their lives difficult and also failing to develop the potential of everyone), but it leads to a dislike of the language in general (after all it is the school subject which most makes the kids in question suffer). This is - in some cases - exacerbated by the nationalist feelings that they may be getting from their parents or classmates, and in turn exacerbates them.  All in all, the effects go beyond the academic achievement of the child in question, but actually can serve to cause even deeper rifts in society.
It's not that the Romanian education system is not good at teaching languages - these days most young people speak very good English for example, and many also speak French, German, Italian or a number of other languages.  It's just that the approaches and methodologies used in teaching those foreign languages are not allowed to be applied to teaching Romanian as a Second Language.

This change seems like such a no-brainer that one might wonder why it hasn't yet happened.  Indeed so much of a no-brainer is it that even Basescu, a noted no-brainer himself, has mentioned that he thinks it should be changed.  But yet, every year it is still the same. One might even have cause to wonder what the UDMR are actually doing with their time in government if they can't even influence a policy that is so clearly and insanely fucked up. 

Monday, January 30, 2012

What I learned from iTunes

Many many many years ago, I divided my computer time between an Apple and one running Windows (I don't remember who made the computer, because frankly I don't care that much.)  Despite the fact that the two computers were of the same age, the Apple was horribly slow and cumbersome, and while I had to use it, I really didn't enjoy it much.

But, I assumed that things had changed.  So many people, many of whom otherwise seem like reasonable human beings, seem to verge on orgasm when the name of this company is mentioned, that I assumed that things had turned around (and given that now Apple products cost twice as much as everybody else's, people must be buying them for a reason).

So, after many years of avoiding Apple stuff, partly thanks to the above mentioned shit experience, and partly because I hate evangelism of all kinds (even in the massively unlikely offchance that I read an issue of watchtower and felt like it had opened my eyes to how things really were, I wouldn't admit that to a Jehovah's Witness, until they stopped with their ridiculously annoying policy of going round raving about it).  And Apple evangelism seems to me to be of the absolutely worse variety - it's not even of the religious type that aims to save one, it's of the type that ejaculates over a vast multinational corporation enriching itself further.

Bit anyway, I digress (and anyway I've already done that rant). After the Apple avoidance, I ended up, a couple of years ago, acquiring an iPod Touch.  And, I have to say, it was a really good gadget.  Did what it should have done, was very attractive, user friendly, well designed, and frankly - as far as pieces of electronic equipment go - great.  The headphones that came with it were rubbish, which given the price was a bit of a let down, but aside from that I have to say that I liked it.  Very very much in fact.  Perhaps things had changed, and Apple were actually producing good stuff now, and the cult members, while being a bit simple in many ways, were actually raving about something that they believed in.  In hardware terms this mini-computer (which is effectively what it is), was really good.  And, its operating system was also good.

But (let's face it you knew there was a but, didn't you?), there was a problem.  Not just a small problem, but a large massive elephant in the room.  The one thing that the Applecultists don't mention, because to do so, would presumably bring their carefully crafted illusions collapsing on their head like a house of cards or a really badly mixed metaphor.  This elephant is called iTunes.  iTunes, is, without doubt, the worst piece of software I've been exposed to for years (and I had Windows Vista for a while).

How do I loathe iTunes?  Let me count the ways:

  1. It's slow.  I mean incredibly slow. I'd click a tab, and I could go off and make a cup of tea in the time it took for that tab to actually open.  Even the simplest of operations took half an hour minimum.
  2. It has weird default settings which mean that it always opens up in an area which you never use.  These defaults seem impossible to change and personalise.  (Coupled with 1 above this adds more time as you then have to click through to get to where you'd like to start from)
  3. It seems to occupy vast quantities of hard drive space. I know many modern pieces of software are often referred to as "bloatware" these days but iTunes is less bloatware than massivelyobeseware.
  4. Because of 3, it not only is slow itself, but it slows everything else down to a crawl. I had to plan times when I didn't want to do anything else so I could spend an hour doing what I needed (eg downloading podcasts and "syncing" them to the iPod), because I knew when iTunes was open nothing else would work at a reasonable speed.  The day I finally uninstalled the bloody thing, my computer suddenly took on a new lease of life, like I'd untethered it from a massive cartoon anvil.
  5. Because of Apple's frankly insane policy of making everything they do linked to everything else they do (you have to use their operating system, you have to have this one inviolable whole), iTunes is pretty much impossible to not use if you want to have an Apple product playing music. Having been used to the fact that with other OSs, if you don't like something you get rid of it and replace it with something better (and often open source), this was a really big shock to the system.  Working around iTunes is a lot of work, and a lot of hassle.  And it is enough to piss one off, massively.
  6. Even if you just want to use iTunes to download free podcasts (which is basically what I did use it for) you still have to input your credit card details.  Why?  They won't say.  But it is seriously annoying.  And then this got more annoying, because...
  7. After I had uninstalled the bloody thing, somehow my account got hacked, and someone started trying to use iTunes to buy things in my name.  Luckily my bank noticed this and stopped it, and replaced my credit card for me, but it could have been a real problem.  How often do you hear about security problems with iTunes?  But do a search and it seems that this is a genuine and real problem and that the security of iTunes is paper thin at best.  The media love-in with Apple seems to extend even to here.  
  8. Did I mention how infuriatingly, maddeningly, horribly SLOW it bloody is?
Seriously, how is it that people are not tearing their hair out and complaining in their droves to Apple?  Is it that having spent so much money on the hardware they don't want to admit that the software is shit?  Is it that they think because it's not all over the media that it must just be them?  I'm here to tell you that no, it isn't you.  It's the software.  It's absolutely rubbish.  You can do it, you can admit it, it doesn't reflect badly on you, it reflects badly on them. Stand up and say it proudly:  "iTunes is an absolute piece of utter dogshit".

There now, I bet you feel better don't you?

(But still, within an hour there'll be some Jobs's Witnesses in the comments section saying how none of this is true.  It is, and the thing is, YOU KNOW IT IS)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Romanian Education System (brief reprise)

This is a sort of coda to my post on money in the Romanian education system (or rather the lack of it). I still have to write the third in that series, which sort of ended abruptly when things got rather hairy last year.  That should come soon, now that I have remembered that this blog exists (and that I have some time)

It's just a short one, but illustrative of so much I feel.  The government has decided to create a "Year Zero" class for children who have yet to begin the first grade (nothing to do with the Khmer Rouge, you'll be glad to hear).  This is to ensure that children entering year one are prepared for the rigours of a school education.  Or something like that.  I think in the UK something similar is called the Reception Class.  Anyway, it seems like a pretty reasonable idea on the face of it.  Kids here don't start school until they're 7, and the idea of a sort of slightly more schoolish year between kindergarten and that first year of your actual real school makes a certain amount of sense.

The problem of course is that while the idea is reasonable, the practicalities have not been thought about in the Ministry.  You can imagine someone sitting there saying in some meeting "Let's create an extra year of school, that will prepare kids for things better, and possibly enhance learning", and the others just sit around nodding their heads and saying "Excellent idea.  Consider it law".  The problem, of course, as you may already have worked out is that when you effectively create an extra year of school, you need to find some teachers to be in charge of it, and crucially you need classrooms to put these kids in.  And this in a school system which is basically being starved of any money whatsoever - teachers' pay, buildings, materials, everything is being cut.  And yet, here is this plan to put kids into these schools a year earlier.  It makes you want to weep.

What solution will be found?  Well right now it seems that the most likely solution is that the kids will have to have their reception classes somewhere other than the already overcrowded schools.  Where, you may be asking yourself.  Well, the plan will of course free up some space in certain buildings, so at the moment the most likely way of coping  and meeting the requirements of the new law seems like it will be that the reception classes will happen ... in the kindergartens.  Thus ensuring that, in fact, at the end of the day, absolutely nothing will have changed. I can think of no better example of the incompetence of this government.

Friday, January 13, 2012

My Hopes for Transylvania in 2012

It's the New Year, and I have a dream, and all that...

I have this utopian vision in which people get over their need to be intolerant dicks who see everything through nationalistic spectacles.  (I mean those that are intolerant dicks who see everything through nationalistic spectacles anyway.  The others who are not can just be as they are, safe in the knowledge that they haven't incurred my meaningless wrath).

Anyway, to the idiots who insist on making everything into some national dick waving contest:

Let me let you into a secret: There is absolutely no difference between Hungarians and Romanians, aside from the fact that they speak a different first language (and there are a few nurtured "cultural" differences).  That's it.  In fact anyone who is from Transylvania is pretty much guaranteed to have both Romanian and Hungarian ancestors, that's just the way it is.

The history of Transylvania is one of diversity and different groups. Can't people be proud of that rather than find it as a reason to be irritating intolerant bastards? It makes me so tired.

Can't you celebrate the diversity?  One of the greatest ever heroes of Transylvanian (and Hungarian) history is Matyas Kiraly (Matthias Corvinus). He's a great example of a Transylvanian having (as he did) a Romanian father and a Hungarian mother. Everyone should celebrate him, but instead Hungarians want to pretend that the Romanian side didn't exist and Romanians (or at least Gheorghe Funar) want to dig up his statue. This kind of wankery goes on all the time.

The whole area has been home to Romanians, Hungarians, Szekely, Germans, Jews, Armenians, Rroma, Csango, Serbs, Slovaks, Ukrainians, etc etc etc for centuries.  This seems to me like something to be proud of.  The fact that a lot of these groups have gone or are nearly gone now is the real tragedy.

Romanians: When two people whose first language is Hungarian speak to each other it is entirely normal that they do so in Hungarian. It's not some massive insult to the nation. Swiss people, for example, seem to be able to manage to deal with the fact that some of their countrymen speak a different language from them, why can't you? It's not treason, it's talking.

Hungarians: If a Romanian comes into your shop or your cafe or whatever and wants to buy something, or ask a question or whatever, why can't you just behave like an adult and respond in Romanian? You know you speak it. It's not clever and big to pretend you don't. It's stupid. I speak the world's worst Romanian, but I reckon I could manage to sell someone a loaf of bread. I know you can do it.

Now, I know a lot of people will tell me that I just don't get it.  I just don't get the history, I don't get the pain that one set of people have suffered at the hands of the other.  I don't, in short, carry around some massive nationalistic chip on my shoulder.  That's true.  I don't. I do have my fair share of chips, but I don't have some kind of historical grudge against some people whose only crime is to speak a different language from me.  I know there's history, I know there have been bad things done to people for terrible reasons, but taking it out on your neighbours - who were not involved in any of these crimes - is not really going to solve anything. Let it go.

Hungarians: Transylvania is in Romania. The only way that it won't be in Romania in the future would be through some absolutely catastrophic event which would definitely be a very bad thing. Get used to it, and perhaps even enjoy it.  The land is the same, the people are the same, it's just governed by some people in a far off city beginning with Bu- and ending in -est, so in fact very little has changed.  (And yes I know the current government in that city are utterly shit, but even then they are marginally less bad than the current government in Budapest.  So, on balance you're ever so slightly better off, anyway)

And if somebody Romanian acts like an wanker, it's because they are an wanker, not because they are Romanian.  Likewise if a Hungarian acts like a dick, it's because he's a dick not because he's Hungarian.

To give an example, it seems that the nationalities of the two main protagonists in the story of Basescu vs Arafat are being presented as an issue.  They are not.  Basescu is a twat because he's a twat not because he's Romanian, and Arafat is one of the good guys because he's one of the good guys, not because he's Palestinian. (Or, if you wrongheadedly see things the other way round, nationality still doesn't come into it)

Even in the case when people allow nationalism to drive their thick-as-pigshit-ness, that still doesn't come down to their nationality.  The bloke from here who hanged an effigy of Avram Iancu last March 15th?  Those Noua Dreapta scum who showed up here a month ago on December 1st to spread their poisonous bullshit? Those people are arseholes pure and simple.  The fact that they hang their arseholery on nationalism doesn't make them arseholes because they are Hungarian/Romanian.  It is just because they are braindead fuckwits.

(Romanians: Here's a little test for yourself: Every time you feel the urge to go off on one about Hungarians, first do the following. Imagine the situation in question pertains to Romanians living in Northern Bucovina, and see if this changes your perception. If a Romanian in Cernauti speaks Romanian to his neighbour, or doesn't proudly hang the Ukrainian flag outside his house, do you feel he should be criticised for somehow being anti-Ukrainian)

Basically, nationality is not a factor. You are of course more than welcome to identify yourself as being part of a national group (I don't really understand that either, but I recognise I'm very much in the minority in that), and even if I wanted to I couldn't stop you from making nationality part of your identity, but it's not a factor in anything else.  If someone disappoints you or annoys you or makes you angry or challenges you or arrests you or attacks you or pleases you or intrigues you or says something interesting or turns you on or makes you feel good or whatever, their nationality is not the first thing you should focus on.  It's not even the last thing.  It has no bearing on anything.

I know this sounds like some naive Rodney King-esque plea, but really can't we all just get along? And I'm not talking about tolerance, if that's the best you can do, you probably shouldn't bother.  You, we, are all the same. Celebrate that fact. But if you can't do that, just moan about each other out of range of me.  You're making me really tired.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A post!

In fact like buses, I'm hoping that after there has been none along in months there may even be two in very short order. The second one is already half written, but for now...

There is this man in Romania, who pretty much everyone here has heard of, especially now, but I suspect almost no-one outside of Romania has. His name is Raed Arafat. He is a Palestinian who grew up in Syria (like so many Palestinians to refugee parents), and he came to Romania at the beginning of the 80s to study medicine at the University in Cluj, and then subsequently to the university in Targu Mures to continue his studies. After graduating and going into practice in Tg Mures, and following the revolution he saw the need for a real emergency service. He and a team of volunteers knocked on every door in the city (and I am assured that it was every door, and it's a biggish city) and during a time of great hardship raised enough money in whatever donations people could give - very often very small amounts of money - to start something called SMURD. The story of SMURD is a long and impressive one and it has grown from these very small beginnings to be a vital cog in the otherwise ailing Romanian healthcare system. You can read all about the history of it here:

Anyway SMURD eventually became incorporated into the healthcare system, and Arafat became an under-secretary of state for health.

But now a "scandal" (everything in Romania is a scandal) has erupted - Arafat has resigned and left the Ministry because of a new health care law which effectively privatises the ambulance service. Basescu (the president), rather than talking to Arafat - who, I submit, knows a fuck of a lot more about emergency medicine than Basescu - abused him live on TV (via the medium of calling into a chat show), accused him of lying, and the went on about his "leftist views" (in this case not wanting to privatise an essential public service is "leftist", which I suppose it is, in relation to what to me seems like a pretty hard line right wing position - viz the privatisation of an essential public service). Basescu then pretty much told him to resign, which fairly unsurprisingly, Arafat then went ahead and did.

It's a great shame, as he's obviously a deeply committed individual who has done an incredible amount for Romania, and deserves to be heard and not treated like shit by an obnoxious president. I hope SMURD will survive, and I hope the healthcare system survives, but I have my doubts. Basescu and his government seem hell bent on using the excuse of "austerity" to destroy education, healthcare and pretty much everything else that the country actually needs.

You can watch Arafat here giving a speech in happier times through the TED network (in Romanian)