David from AFoE sent me this wonderful link. It's this neat little code which will make life very miserable for all those spammers who've been making our life very miserable. Stefan, who wrote this, deserves a medal or something - it's really ingenious. It's simple, easy to install, and great fun.
What now happens when you want to leave a comment is that you are being asked to type a certain word into a text box in the comments pop up. It's nothing complicated, and it will keep this site much cleaner (or so we hope). I'm even going to make it fun for you by picking interesting words.
Thanks for your understanding!!
Update: Hm. It just worked like a charm. And now it doesn't let anybody post. Strange. Let me tinker a bit. I'm no computer pro, so I'm only guessing what I'm doing. Sorry.
Update II: OK. Everything is as it should be. I just forgot to tell my program which is the word of the day. D'uh.
Claudia and I have joined the team at A Fistful of Euros. This is a group blog about, well, things European.
I'm already signed up to be a guest blogger on tacitus.org (where I post very occasionally) and The Head Heeb (where I haven't managed to post once yet), and then of course there's this blog. Which (you've noticed if you've been reading regularly) sometimes goes for a week without a post, because work is intense or the kids or sick or, well, something. So I make no promises as to frequency or quality of posting.
But it's a good blog, run by some good people, and we'll try to keep our end up.
Oh, yes, and and if you think that you will be busy, imagine our situation. We're US and German living in Romania, and this is our holiday plan for the next three months:
October 31: Halloween (US)
November 2: Election Day (US)
November 11: St. Martin's Day (GER, kids parade outside with paper laterns)
November 25: Thanksgiving (US)
December 1: National Day (RO)
December 6: St. Nikolaus Day (GER, kids get their boots filled with goodies)
December 24: Christmas Eve (GER, presents for the kids)
December 25: Christmas (US, presents for the kids)
December 31: New Year's Eve (US, GER, RO)
January 6: Epiphany (GER, end of Christmas season)
Oh, and my birthday is somewhere in there, too.
Our friend Christine sent us some links, to which we woke up this morning after a quiet night. Apparently, it was a 5.8 or 5.9 magnitude one, located some 100 miles northeast of us.*
Our friend Dragos at @rgumente and Kit have commented on it too. I have to agree with Kit -- 20 seconds seemed like an eternity. It was enough time to wake up from a light slumber, wondering, realizing, saying "Doug?", hearing the answer "earthquake!" from the study, running to the kids, getting them out of bed and standing in the doorway. Time does stretch.
For me, it also awoke memories of 1977. That big Romania earthquake? I lived in Istanbul with my family back then and I remember that evening clearly. Everything shook heavily and we, too, stood in the doorway with my parents clutching us children. The next day, we had huge cracks in the walls of our house. Not this year - our house here is built very earthquake safe. It also means that you cannot get a nail into the walls if your life depended on it, which used to annoy me mildly a number of times. Yesterday evening, though, I was quite content to live in such a sturdy house.
My nanny didn't sleep all night. She, too, was plagued by memories of 1977. She used to live in a house next to a huge empty patch of land. After the earthquake, all the rubble from the flattened houses was brought there.
She remembers seeing body parts mixed in with the concrete and pieces of buildings - arms, legs, heads. Gruesome pictures, guranteed to keep one's mind far too busy to sleep. Ceausescus Romania was an awful, awful place.
*That's pretty close to Zabola. I wrote them an email, hoping to hear back from them soon.
Update:Reuters reports that "Romanian officials said buildings, such as the historic Bucharest city hall, had suffered mostly cracks in walls and falling plaster and some roads were slightly damaged but utilities were functioning normally." The strength has also been upped to 6.0.
A little one. Just a couple of minutes ago.
There was a low rumbling, sort of like a subway train going underneath the house, but... rhythmic. Pulsing, with a frequency of about half a second. The desk lamp by the computer -- it's one of those with the jointed arm and the cone around the bulb -- began to sway back and forth. I felt my chair going up and down, like it was going on rollers down a bumpy road, and then the whole house began to sway.
We ran to the kids' room. I picked up Alan, Claudia grabbed David, and we stood in the doorway at the top of the stairs. That's what they tell you: stand in a doorway, if you don't have time to get outside.
And then it stopped.
Dogs were barking up and down the street, and a minute later a confused flock of birds went cawing and creaking overhead in the darkness. But then everything got quiet again. It's very quiet now. We don't hear any sirens or anything. Like I said: a little one.
Much of Bucharest was flattened by an earthquake in 1977; the whole middle and lower Balkan region is tectonically unstable. Earthquakes are a fact of life here, and there's nothing to be done about it.
We're going to go back to bed now. Eventually we'll sleep.
Sunday evening I took the boys for a walk down Strada Roma.
We live in a residential neighborhood where all the streets are named after capitals: Strada Paris, Strada Londra, Strada Roma and Stockholm and Brasilia. I like walking down Strada Roma because it's lined with lovely old houses with little yards full of overgrown flowers and cats. It's nice to walk there by myself; it's even nicer with the boys, because there's always something happening. A woman sweeping the sidewalk; a man too drunk to walk straight. Birds bathing in a sidewalk puddle. Two teenagers working on a car (with power tools!). Children on bicycles, a friendly dog, interesting bugs. Something.
At the end of Strada Roma, just south of Piatsa Dorobant' (that's the one with the bust of Brancusi), is a high school. The high school is shaped like three sides of a rectangle, with the street going past it making the fourth. Inside the rectangle is the school yard: a concrete playground with a couple of basketball courts and an open area where boys play soccer. The playground is separated from the street by a high wall with a couple of gates in it.
So we're walking along, David in the stroller and Alan holding my hand, and we've just reached the schoolyard gate. We pause to look inside. Alan likes to go inside and watch the boys playing ball. A car is going slowly down the street behind us. I tell Alan we won't go inside, we have to go home, but we can watch the ball players for a minute or two. One of the boys kicks the ball high. Alan turns to say something to me --
If someone tells you that Europe is not trying to influence the US election with all her might -- then this someone is wrong.
I'm European, I'm not allowed to vote. However, I'm the wife of a (voting) US citizen and the mother of two (non-voting) US citizens. Therefore, I feel obligated to do my best and ensure a brighter future for my husband and sons. These are my tactics:
I told my US relatives that we WILL NOT live in the US as long as a Bush is president. I'm keeping this vague on purpose. This way, I have my options open if Jenna gets elected in '28 or so.
My mother-in-law is persuaded; however, she does live with her husband who is a stout Republican. I love him but he's got a political blind eye, and he tries to undermine my efforts. I shall call her on election day and remind her of my threat, just to be sure. Unfortunately, the threat doesn't work one bit with my Republican sister-in-law and her husband. I think they are not taking me seriously. Will they ever be surprised. (Of course, I'm hoping that I don't have to live up to my threats.)
Encouraging voter registration
Doug did want to vote, yes. But he's also Mr. Procrastination and while I love and trust him, I did make sure that he applied for his absentee ballot. (Opening the respective website, cajoling him into the desk chair, hovering over his shoulder until he hit "send" can, I believe, be called "making sure". Or harassment.)
Reminding to vote
I also asked him every day whether he'd sent his ballot off. Every day. Multiple times.
Stating my side
We do have a Kerry/Edwards yard sign. I made it myself. Isn't it gorgeous?
Why, you ask, a yard sign in a country where 99.9% of the inhabitants cannot vote in this particular election? So, what if an expat walked by my sign, acknowledged my deep feelings, and out of respect and friendship for me made up his undecided mind and voted Democrat? I say, if I play the lottery, I can also put up a yard sign.
I also made my husband laugh in delight. So there.
While I'm only speaking for myself, I'm sure my co-writers Doug and Carlos agree: Halfway down the Danube endorses John Kerry and John Edwards.
Please consider voting for Kerry/Edwards. I'm not saying they are the greatest, or that they will make everything wonderful and good. But they will make things better, because -- let's face it -- it would take a very extraordinary talent to make things worse than they already are. Remove that one talent from office and give the other team a chance.
Thank you very much for your attention.
Back when Alan was a weeny baby, he wasn't very interested in books. I think it was because he was just a weeny baby but Doug fretted about it. He tried to read books to Alan, and then he got frustrated about his son's apparent disinterest in books, his short attention span, his obvious non-reader genes. It was a real problem for a while.
Turns out Doug was wrong.
These days, they wrestle over the amount of good-night books. Alan always wants one more book, just one more. Usually, he gets two or three. Some are long, some are short, some are actually for babies and some are quite beyond his age -- but he enjoys them all. So there really is no need to worry about the love of books anymore.
Today, Alan discovered a new book in his crate (the drawer in the living room where the books used to live gave way to the sheer weight and broke). He came running to me and said "Danke, Mama, oh, danke, Mama!", assuming it was for him. Beaming, with eyes shining, he turned the pages and commented "oh, es ist sooo schn!!" (it's sooo beautiful!). He was very, very happy, and read his new book for quite a while, turning to me every now and then, pointing things out.
I didn't have the heart to tell him that it was just a cookbook that somehow got displaced.
David is starting to talk. Besides "Mama", "Daddy" and "eh!", he's got quite a couple of words. Things like "da" for yes (it's Romanian), "da" for there (that's German) and "da" for Dad (that's English). It's really amazing how well his tri-lingualism already... What, you mean I'm over-interpreting? The loving mother overestimating her son's verbal aptitude? Well, take those:
Kikika. That's kitty cat. Clear as daylight.
Ta-to! That's tractor. It comes with pointing to the tractor in his favorite book.
Koo-kie. Yup, the bad nutrition in our house exposed. Cookie.
Ti-ga. Tiger. That one is easy.
He also can point out the tiger and the ice bear in his animal book.
I tell you, my sons are cute AND clever.
Or maybe I took too much of the meds the doctor prescribed me for my bronchitis and laryngitis. [Cough] Off to bed with me.
A friend of ours was appointed a minister of state yesterday.
His name is Milan Parivodic, and he's a lawyer in Belgrade. We met three and a half years ago when I came to Belgrade for the first time. I was giving technical advice to the Serbian government on a proposed new law for secured transactions, and Milan was the first Serbian lawyer I met to talk about it, and, well, we just hit it off. We spent an afternoon geeking out on the details of secured transactions ("...but then, you may have a third party who takes the collateral...") and we've been friends ever since. The fact that he has an adorable baby girl who's the same age as Alan may have helped.
When we moved away from Belgrade, we lost touch with a lot of acquaintances. But some have stayed with us. We haven't seen Milan face-to-face in months, but we've been in regular e-mail and phone contact.
And then, yesterday: Prime Minister Kostunica has asked him to be the Minister for International Economic Relations. He may (should) be confirmed next week.
It's a small Ministry, but it has a lot of interesting work to do: commercial treaties (which Serbia, not being part of the EU, has a lot of), encouraging foreign investment, pre-EU-accession matters, all sorts of stuff.
Maybe I'll blog a little bit about Serbia's commercial relations in a bit. For now, though, we're just very happy for our friend.
OK. This is the weirdest thing and I'm not sure I got it down pat. I'm actually quite sure it can't be the way I understand it from the meagre sources I have available. Follow me and then explain to me where my thinking is wrong.
All right. Says Mr. Vasile Puscas, Romanian Minister Delegate and the Chief-Negotiator with the European Union:
Concerning the sugar sector, I must say that the negotiations were extremely tough, taking into account the low production obtained in Romania during the last years (the average production during 1998 ľ 2002 is 99,000 tons, with 55,000 tons in 2000) and the considering that Romania is net sugar importer country. In these circumstances we succeeded in obtaining a total sugar quota (quota for sugar beat plus processing quota), which together with the quota obtained for isoglucose covers entirely the domestic consumption in Romania. This quota is about four times as much as the quota presented by the mass media as being the Commission proposal. We have chosen this strategy in order to support the sugar industry. I must underline the fact that we obtained the best results in comparison with all the other sugar importer countries that acceded to the European Union in May 2004.
Via The Periscope
OK. This is what I understand:
1. Romania is a sugar importer.
2. Romania is allowed to export an amount of sugar to the EU that equals its sugar consumption.
Confusing? Yeah, well. Then read this:
It's hard to make a sugar beet look sexy. What do you think, did the PR people of this campaign succeed?
Ah. You're wondering what this is all about - and what it has to do with Romania. Good questions, both of them. The first one I'm going to answer today. If there is any interest at all, then I'll answer the second question tomorrow.
Personally, I encountered this particular sugar beet for the first time about three hours ago, as I turned a page in my beloved Zeit magazine and saw a one-page ad by the German sugar beet industry. Until then, I had been blissfully unaware that the EU plans to recklessly ruin the livelihood of thousands of German (and other EU) sugar beet farmers. In order to understand the sheer magnitude of this problem, you have to know that large areas of Germany look like this:
Just read this interesting piece by William Montgomery, former US Ambassador to Serbia. Montgomery was in and out of Belgrade for over a decade, speaks Serbian, and has done his homework. I agree with pretty much everything he says here.
The Kosovo experience should be a case study for the limits -- and risks --of international intervention. The United States and its Western allies tried virtually everything to encourage Milosevic to treat the Kosovar Albanians humanely... [But it] was an effort doomed to failure, as the combination of Milosevic's desire to remain in power, historical enmity among the ethnic groups, growing national awareness on the part of the Albanian population, and the conflicting views of Kosovo itself of the Serbs and the Kosovar Albanians were too much to overcome...
Basically, we solved one problem at great cost (Serbian government massive human rights violations in its treatment of its ethnic Albanian minority) but we created others that thus far have defied solution. What to do about Kosovo? How does it fit into modern Europe? How does it interact with Serbia? How to dissuade the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, southern Serbia, and Macedonia from the use of violence? How to proceed in Kosovo in a way that does not re-radicalize Serbia? How to moderate the still raw forces of nationalism in Serbia and among Serbs, which the bombing campaign fuelled?
So far, pretty standard stuff -- some handwringing, some obvious hard questions. Now here's where it gets interesting:
We visited Dracula's tomb last weekend.
(You know, it gives me a quiet but real pleasure to be able to write that.)
We've been living in Romania for well over a year and we haven't once blogged about its most famous son. And I know y'all have been waiting for it. So: a few words about Vlad Dracula.
Dracula -- the real, historical Dracula -- was, as everybody knows, a king named Vlad who lived about 500 years ago. This was back in the days when not-yet-Romania was a collection of petty kingdoms, under constant threat from the Hungarians on one side and the Turks on the other. The politics got mind-bogglingly complicated. Vlad ended up being king no less than three separate times. (His younger brother, who became his enemy, also got to be king for a while.) He also spent years in Istanbul with the Turks (as a hostage) and more years with the Hungarians (as a prisoner, then as a guest). It's a long story.
But here's the part that everyone remembers: Dracula was one hard bastard. Even in a time and place when rulers were often callous and cruel, Dracula was noted for an excess of fiendish malevolence. He was commonly known as Vlad Tepes (pron. tsep-esh), Vlad the Impaler, and he's supposed to have killed between 20,000 and 50,000 people by this means.
A couple of sample anecdotes, not for the squeamish:
so how was it? hope you had the chance of a better weather than the one from Bucharest today :)
Indeed, the weather was good. It didn't start to rain until we were already on our way back, past Sinaia. And it was just lovely. The area east of Bra┼čov which was once (still, really) inhabited by Hungarians is potato country, so both Doug (Irish) and I (German) felt quite at home.
I'm quite busy at the moment but here are some pictures to give you an impression. If you find yourself in the region, we can only recommend Mikes Castle and the Swiss Hunting Lodge. I had the best food ever in Romania, and we came back happy and relaxed. More to follow.
We're going away for the weekend, to a place named Zabola, or rather, in Romanian, Z─âbala. It's northeast of Bra┼čov and we are staying at the hunting lodge. There are fortified churches nearby and lots of autumny greens and golds and reds. We've packed the kid carrier and the hiking boots and are hoping for lots of time outside in the fresh air. See you all on Monday!
Over at 11D, Laura is having a very interesting conference this week about Moms, Dads, kids and work (and life in general). Go check it out, it's really a great concept and very interesting, and maybe you can even add your 2 cents.
I haven't, so far, although not for the lack of trying. I have started a comment to almost every topic. I then let it sit before posting, re-read and noticed I was being really defensive, then trashed it. (Or I showed it to Doug and he said, why are you so defensive?) This happened some five or six times before I gave up and no I'm just reading the damn thing.
Is that bizarre, or what?
Maybe it's because I'm not a working mom, but I also don't really qualify as a SAHM. I have a fulltime nanny, after all. Not only do I not add to our income or do something productive for the feminist movement, I'm also not a dedicated mother who spends hours teaching her two-year-old the ABC's. Needless to say that he can't tell an A from an X. And he insists that blue is really green. Oh, and we almost never have desserts. You'd think with all the time I have on my hands, we'd have a fancy dessert every night.
This boggled even my mind, non-American that I am, when I first heard Cheney say that he had never met Edwards personally before the debate yesterday. It's doing nothing to increase my sympathies towards him (disclaimer: I have none.)
Oh, and: A funny thing, via the Washington Monthly. Cracked me up.
A bit more about the Logan, the new built-in-Romania car that Renault hopes will be the developing world's Model T.
First, here's a picture:
Not too bad looking. Although: I recently chatted with a Romanian acquaintance who had bought a Solenza. (The Solenza was the model immediately preceding the Logan. It was only made for a year or two.) "It looked great in the show room," he said, "and I thought, finally I'm going to buy a car that doesn't let the rain in."
"It let the rain in."
So, looks may not be everything. Still, the Logan is at least an interesting car. Fun facts:
"Rich countries must provide practical support to developing country governments that demonstrate the political will to curb corruption. In addition, those countries starting with a high degree of corruption should not be penalised, since they are in the most urgent need of support," said Peter Eigen, Chairman of Transparency International (TI), speaking today on the launch of the TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2003 (CPI).
On the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index, Romania scores 2.8 points on a scale from 1 to 10 (worst to best), leaving it in 84th place behind such countries as Colombia, Ghana and Bulgaria (3.9/55). That's not so great but we all knew that.
I haven't had much experience with this dark side of Romanian culture, mainly because I'm not venturing much into bureaucracy and politics. This morning, however, we received a letter from Alan's school. And suddenly the whole issue was brought uncomfortably close to home.
This one is for the Three-Toed Sloth, who kindly linked to some of my past entries.
So I was paging through Dani Rodrik's recent anthology on conundrums of economic growth, In Search of Prosperity, when I got to the chapter on the Philippines. The Philippines is the sort of place that makes growth economists' heads hurt. It's a nation of eighty million avid consumers steeped in American institutions for fifty years, and American popular culture for fifty more. English is the lingua franca to such an extent that Scrabble is incredibly popular there, that and basketball. I mean, they show the high school games on the sports channel.
And the general level of education is very high; the Philippines may export housemaids to the Persian Gulf, but it exports computer technicians and medical personnel to the United States, where they're the highest-earning immigrant group here. You can't throw a stone in Manila without hitting a diploma mill.
But it's been economically stagnant for decades.
In Rodrik's anthology, Lant Pritchett has a paper which compares the Philippines versus Vietnam, or in his words, "a Socialist Star and a Democratic Dud", the Philippines being the Democratic Dud. Elsewhere in his paper, it's "Tarzan of the Jungle" versus "George of the Jungle" growth. There is something about the Philippines that brings out bad pop culture wordplay in people, including Filipinos themselves. Come take comparative advantage of us.
Pritchett's conjecture is simple:
[A]lthough in some ways 'institutions' may have improved under democracy, 'institutional uncertainty' has increased. This increase in institutional uncertainty -- the reliability with which economic actors can anticipate the rules of the game (no matter how good or bad those rules might be) -- may account for a stagnation in the level of supportable output that accounts for the Philippines' growth dynamics.