The comments thread on my post on baby sale/adoption has made me very happy -- our readers are able to politely disagree with each other, a rare feat on most blogs. Especially the comments by Raoul and Pouncer have given me food for thought and expanded my views - although I stick with my analysis of the Romanian adoption law as very stupid.
Since I trust that I can write about controversial issues without flames shooting out of my laptop, let me tell you about a disturbing law suit in Germany which has been on my mind a lot.
In September of 2002, the 11-year-old child of a wealthy Frankfurt banker is being abducted. The parents pay the one million Euro ransom but Jakob von Metzler is not freed. A suspect is quickly found but he says nothing. Four days after Jakob went missing, the situation escalates. The chief of Frankfurt police orders to threaten the suspect Magnus Gfgen with torture unless he reveals the location of the child. The threat works, Gfgen leads the police to the child. Jakob is dead.
This week, the chief of police who ordered and the investigator who actually carried out the threat are standing trial for coercion, and Magnus Gfgen is the prime witness. His account of the threats is chilling. No matter the circumstance, people cannot be treated that way.
Or can they?
They're still counting. But it's getting interesting.
It looks like, yep, just four parties in Parliament.
UDMR, the Hungarian minority party, came in unexpectedly strong. The internal split among the Hungarians never materialized, and UDMR took about 8% of the vote.
PRM, the obnoxious nationalist-populist "Partidul Romania Mare" (Party of Greater Romania), got about 13%. This is a drop from the 18%-19% that they got four years ago. Unfortunately, it looks like they might get into government anyhow -- see below.
The Liberal/Democrat opposition coalition, the Democratic Alliance, got about 32%. This was better than expected, and put them only a bit behind...
...PSD/PUR, the current ruling party. The PSD ("Partidul Social Democrat") and their PUR allies got about 34%. This was less than expected, and the Parliamentary vote trailed PSD presidential candidate Adrian Nastase by several percentage points.
(Non-final numbers, BTW. Votes are still being counted.)
Now, remember: parties that don't get at least 5% of the vote, don't get any seats in Parliament. (Except for a handful of seats reserved for small ethnic minorities. We'll get back to them later.)
So, although the four parties named only got about 87% of the vote, they're going to divide 100% of the seats in Parliament. Keeping that in mind, and using these numbers, we get the following distribution of power in the next Parliament:
That was unexpected.
See, Bucharest is a good-sized city. So even after a year and a half, there are still some corners I haven't turned. On Friday I turned one, on the corner of Bulevardul Dacia and Strada Henri Coanda.
There's a little museum there, the Museum of Romanian Literature. I've always wondered what would be in a museum of literature -- old books? Statues of authors? -- but I've never found the time to go in. I crossed the street, and turned right instead of left...
...and there it was: the Mestrovic.
Okay: if you're not a fan of 20th century sculpture, you might not know Ivan Mestrovic. I wasn't myself, until I moved to the Balkans. Short version: he was certainly one of the greatest sculptors of the last 100 years, and there are some people who will argue that he was the greatest. Certainly he's the greatest sculptor ever to come out of the Balkans.
Mestrovic left pieces of his work all over the former Yugoslavia. I first had the delight of discovering them in Belgrade, and then found several more when we visited Zagreb. Even the mediocre ones are good, and the good ones are fantastic.
But I'd had no idea there was a Mestrovic piece here in Bucharest. And a big one, too.
We've blogged about the Romanian treatment of the orphan and street kid problem, the EU reaction and the Romanian response to that before.
Sky TV, a British TV station, showed a report last week that stirred some blood here. A team of reporters with pocketsful of Euros grazed the poorer areas of Bucharest, trying to buy babies.
Did they succeed?
You bet they did.
... to our house and ate all the pacifiers.
Daddy beat the monsters with a stick, so they won't ever come back. But - we couldn't save the nu-nu's. (Pronounce "noo-noo".) The monsters ate them all. Not a single one in the entire house.
We got through the day all right. Pockets of screaming in the morning, mainly David, who doesn't understand the thing with the monsters but can say "nu-nu". We took the kids to the German-French Christmas bazaar in the morning where we bought a lovely wooden working bench for the boys for Christmas.
Then we went to the Village Museum to let them run around and wear themselves out.
These past days, Google has launched the beta version of Google Scholar. It lets you "search specifically for scholarly literature, including peer-reviewed papers, theses, books, preprints, abstracts and technical reports from all broad areas of research." (About Google Scholar)
I tried it out by searching for papers by my brother, who's an authority on cosmic ray air showers. The search string "Drescher Cosmic" brings his papers up nicely. It does not list his homepage, since that isn't regarded as a scholarly article. That's arguably correct. The string "Cosmic Ray Air Shower", however, pops up his paper "Cosmic ray air shower characteristics in the framework of the parton based Gribov-Regge model NEXUS" only on the second page, as number 12. Even without the quotes, it should be further up. Google Simplu, as we in Romania would say, pops up his webpage but not the papers. So it works, eh?
I hardly blogged at all for a month. So there hasn't been much about the Romanian elections. Now they're just two days away, so there's not much left to say.
Here's the simple version. There are Parliamentary elections and then there's also a Presidential election, which is separate. Romania has a "French" parliamentary system, which means it has both a President and a Prime Minister. It could possibly happen that one party might gain a majority in Parliament -- which would allow them to choose the Prime Minister -- while another party elects the President.
The Parliamentary elections will be all done by Sunday night. The Presidential election will only finish if one candidate wins 50% -- unlikely, since there are 12 candidates in the race. More probably, it will go to a runoff election between the two strongest candidates, two weeks later.
Some brief details follow.
We drove over the Trans-Fagaras Highway, way back in August. We posted one picture and then said that a more detailed post would have to wait "a few hours".
Three months later: let's talk a little about the Trans-Fagaras Highway.
All last week, David was really crabby. He ran a low-grade fever but that in itself was not enough to justify not sleeping at night (for hours!), screaming (for hours!), and being extremely fragile (all the time!). Look at him the wrong way and he'd sob and throw a tantrum. He's got stamina, that kid. His tantrums last. For hours. He also got really picky about eating. Mostly, he threw the food down on the floor or flung it into a corner, in disgust.
My sweet-tempered baby boy had turned into a monster toddler that I wasn't entirely sure I liked, at all.
Then yesterday, we noticed blisters in his mouth.
This morning, the blisters were also on his palms, his soles, and his butt. In profusion. Big fat rash with fluid-filled blisters.
Wild stuff is happening in the Ukraine right now.
You can find an overview, updated a couple of times per day, over at A Fistful of Euros. Some good Ukrainian blogs are also posting on this, more or less live: Neeka's Backlog (in English), Abdymak (mixed English and Ukrainian -- if you can't understand it, scroll down a bit) and Obdymok.
Slow-motion revolution, exercise in political futility, or prelude to big trouble? Too soon to tell -- but I have to say, it's really, really hard to see how Vladimir Putin can allow this to go forward. Last year Georgia, this year Ukraine... the progression is a little too obvious. Scary stuff, if you're sitting in the Kremlin. So, I'm finding it hard to be optimistic.
Not too many Romanians seem interested, BTW. Ukraine is Romania's largest neighbor, but events there don't seem to have captured the popular imagination. (Any of our Romanian readers care to comment on this?)
Last week I took the train from Belgrade to Timisoara.
Belgrade is a city of more than a million people; it's the former capital of Yugoslavia, and still the capital of Serbia and Montenegro. Timisoara is the largest city in western Romania, about half a million people.
Timisoara is the nearest large city to Belgrade, and vice versa. The two cities are just 175 kilometers apart... about 110 miles, for Americans.
The train ride takes five hours and fifteen minutes.
The boys got us up before 6:30 this morning. David first, as per usual. Then Alan a few minutes later.
When I come to get Alan, he stands up in his crib and raises his arms. He's two and a half, but tall for his age. I bend down and pick him up. He looks around: is Mommy in the room? No. He puts his arms around my neck and lays his head on my shoulder. Sighs a little: what can you do.
Going down the stairs, I paused to look out the window. The sky was still black, but just starting to go gray in the east. Two planets were shining brightly: Venus, low above an apartment block; Jupiter, a couple of handspans higher up the sky. Leaning forward to look at them, I could feel the cold coming off the glass. Outside, the puddles on the street had turned to white ice.
Half an hour later -- bottle, cuddle, diaper change -- I went back up the stairs, and paused at the window again. Now the whole sky was pale gray going to blue. The night was over, but the sun had not yet risen. I looked for Venus, looked again, and finally found it, fading to the edge of vision against the brightening sky.
In the tree across the street, three doves sat in a diagonal line, tic-tac-toe. They were motionless, heads sunk, round balls of feathers puffed against the chill. It had been a long, cold night, and it wasn't quite over yet.
There were things to do -- there are always things to do, in the mornings. But I stood at the window for a minute or two more, until an upper corner of one gray apartment block suddenly flamed into gold.
Naw. It's not really a German word. It's actually a "Antrag auf Beibehaltung der deutschen Staatsbürgerschaft" -- a petition to keep your German citizenship.
German law doesn't recognize dual citizenship as a rule. There are exceptions -- if you're born with two citizenships (like my boys), then it's mostly OK. But if you want to acquire the citizenship of another country any day later than your birth day, you have a problem. The reasoning is that if you go and apply for another citizenship, you obviously want to get the hell out of Germany and live somewhere else. So you might as well lock the door when you step out. It makes a certain amount of sense. I mean, can you please make up your mind who you want to be?
I grew up in Turkey, did you know that? It's the secret Muslim in me -- or the respectful UU -- who cringes at this picture. Cringe is not too strong a word. It really upsets me. And if it upsets me, how will the effect of this behavior be on, oh, a Muslim?
It's just basic respect for another culture and another religion. Is it really too much to ask for?
For the longest time, I wanted to write a post about a member of our family -- Paul. He is very special and he illustrates our liberal views in this household. Not only do we endorse gay marriage, not only did we use to live in Dupont Circle, no! We also share our quarters with Paul.
Paul came to us back in spring 2003. It was before David was born and we thought it would be nice for Alan to learn how to care for someone else, share his toys, and his parents' love and attention. Paul has beautiful blue eyes but no hair. First, we thought this was a lifestyle choice, now we're not so sure. See, he came into this house dressed up as a boy. His name was Paul. No problems, right? It was not until much later that we realized Paul was indeed, physically, a girl. He does, however, insist on being called "Paul" and referred to as a male. He also never thought to put his clothes back on once he'd got rid of them. He's a true nudist if there ever was one.
What can you do? We tolerate his quirks and teach our boys to be open-minded in general and unassuming about people's sexual self-perception in particular. It is an important lesson, no doubt about that. We just sometimes wished we had been informed about his gender confusion before Paul made our house his home. Just, you know, to be prepared.
Anyhow. Here's a picture of him. And no, he never smiles.
We spend almost every Sunday at Herastrau park. Herastrau is a very big park, in the north of Bucharest, on the shores of Herastrau lake. It sports restaurants, boat rentals, various playgrounds, a car race track for minicars, and more. It's immensely popular and even on bad weather days there is a crowd. We are, of course, going there for two reasons: the playground, and the trampoline.
It was very muddy, that's why the boys were wearing their mud outfits. Doug and I don't have mud outfits, so we got... muddy. As you can see, it's truly November here. The leaves are almost all fallen off the trees and the days are overcast and dreary.
Ah, I'll just let the pictures speak for themselves.
How times flies, it St. Martin's Day again. Just like last year, we'll be having a lantern parade for the kids... or that's the plan, at least -- it's raining here in Bucharest.
Defiantly, I spent all afternoon making two lanterns for my boys. What do you think, aren't they nice?
We'll go out, come rain or snow. The boys will be clad in their full-body rain gear and if the lanterns die, well, that's what lanterns usually do on this day. (The traditional end is to go up in flames but I've opted for the electrical sticks again, wuss that I am.)
I'll let you all know how it was and maybe post a picture or two.
Y'all know by now that Ashcroft has resigned. And you've probably read parts of his good-bye letter to Bush that is indubitably going to become a (in)famous manuscript in days to come:
"I take great personal satisfaction in the record which has been developed. The objective of securing the safety of Americans from crime and terror has been achieved. The rule of law has been strengthened and upheld in the courts. Yet, I believe that the Department of Justice would be well served by new leadership and fresh inspiration." From the New York Times
To say it with Hilzoy, fancy that! Nobody bothered to tell me! Even more so, nobody bothered to tell those Romanian police officers on Str. J.M. They are standing guard in front of the building in which one of the US military attaches lives - two in a car and four in a van further down the street. They stopped and questioned me twice today when I picked up/dropped off parts of my carpool. We do look so threatening, what with four kids and two moms in a minivan.
I wished someone told them that all that threatening to the officer and his family is really imaginary and non-existent. Then I could do my carpool without being bothered. It would be nice for the officer to know everything is safe, too.
November 9, 1848Robert Blum is executed in Vienna. One of the more prominent members of the Frankfurt National Assembly, he was in Vienna to observe how the Austrians dealt with the revolutionary forces. Not objective at all, he spoke to the revolutionaries and even took part in street fights. His diplomatic immunity was ignored. His death ultimately marked the end of the 1848 revolution.
November 9, 1918
The first day of the German republic. The Kaiser abdicates (not quite voluntarily) and flees the country, Friedrich Ebert becomes Reichkanzler. It's the culmination of the German revolution.
November 9, 1923Hitler's march to the Feldherrnhalle. His coup fails, Hitler is sentenced to five years imprisonment.
November 9, 1938Kristallnacht.November 9, 1989The Wall falls.
Tragedy, terror, and glory. It's not just any day for Germans.
I think a case could be made that ignorance played at least as big a role in the election's outcome as values. A recent survey by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland found that nearly 70 percent of President Bush's supporters believe the U.S. has come up with "clear evidence" that Saddam Hussein was working closely with Al Qaeda. A third of the president's supporters believe weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq. And more than a third believe that a substantial majority of world opinion supported the U.S.-led invasion.
This is scary. How do you make a rational political pitch to people who have put that part of their brain on hold? No wonder Bush won.
I'm a single mom this week -- well, until Thursday, anyway. And while there is not a problem in sight (did I just say that? Why did I say that? I jinxed it, I'm sure!!), I'm also not brimming with clever tripes to share with the world. But finslippy is. Read this delightful piece.
I have to say, being the bringer of good cheer less bad tidings is not really a role I am accustomed to. Anyway, some poetry to start things off. I recently found a copy of Edwin Denby's complete poems at the Strand, New York City's famous used bookstore. Denby is better known as a dance critic -- a lot of those in the blogosphere -- and so his poetry should be doubly surprising:
Hung Sundays from Manhattan by the spacious
59th Street Bridge are the clear afternoons
In Astoria and other open places
Further in the enormous borough of Queens.
Thickly settled plain an ocean climate cleans
Rail and concrete, asphalt and weed oasis,
Remote Queens constructs like desert-landscape scenes
Vacant sky, vacant lots, a few Sunday faces.
In this backyard of exploitation and refuse
Chance vistas, weights in the air part and compose --
Curbs, a cloud, metropolitan bulks for use
Caught off guard distend and balance and repose.
So New York photographed without distortions
Show we walk among noble proportions.
The copy I have was given by the poet Ron Padgett to a student of his in 1997, and I can't help but wonder what story brought it to the Strand. There I also found Padgett's recent memoir of his father, Oklahoma Tough: My Father, King of the Tulsa Bootleggers:
But the oddity of the larger situation dawned on me only years later: at one end of our house was the office of one of the biggest whiskey businesses in town, while at the other was the "office" of an avant-garde literary magazine. Really, though, I was simply imitating my dad: I had my office desk, I operated a cottage industry, and I pursued a project that most people would have considered bizarre. But what was truly bizarre was that Daddy was reading Beat and Black Mountain poetry.
One White Dove contributor, Ted Berrigan, at that time a graduate student at the University of Tulsa, thought of my father as a legendary figure, the last cowboy. A few years after The White Dove, when Ted and his young wife were on the lam, eluding her outraged parents, they holed up at my parents' house for a few days. Some months afterward, a man knocked on the door and asked my father if he knew a Mr. Ted Berrigan.
"Who are you?" my father asked.
"I'm a private investigator hired to locate Mr. Berrigan."
"Then get the hell off my porch."
Finally, Anthony Hecht died recently. Reducing a poet to a blurb, even less than an obituary, isn't good for any of the parties involved, so I'll conclude with his "Retreat":
Day peters out. Darkness wells up
From wheelrut, culvert, vacant drain;
But still a rooster glints with life,
High on a church's weather-vane;
The sun flings Mycenaean gold
Against a neighbor's window-pane.
American intelligence agencies have tripled their formal estimate of shoulder-fired surface-to-air missile systems believed to be at large worldwide, since determining that at least 4,000 of the weapons in Iraq's prewar arsenals cannot be accounted for, government officials said Friday.
A new government estimate says a total of 6,000 of the weapons may be outside the control of any government, up from a previous estimate of 2,000, American officials said.
Well, I'm not going to fly over Iraq anytime soon, I tell you that. The officials don't know exactly when the missiles disappeared, so we won't be pointing fingers quite yet. They also don't know whether the weapons have left the country. They think not. That doesn't seem good enough at all.
OK, so they are not easy to use. Terrorists would need some training to be able to fire them accurately at planes, civilian or no. Somehow, this does not make me feel any better.
I'm taking this out of the discussion on my earlier post because it's getting too long for the comment section. None of my thoughts is very original and it has all been said before, but hey: it's my blog so I can say it again. And the latest comments make me suspect that maybe I'm not making myself entirely clear.
I'm not afraid that Bush will institute himself as God's deputy here on earth. I'm not afraid that only Christians will be allowed to vote in four years. I'm not worried about "theocracy".
What bothers me is the apparent swing in people's minds. Bush appealed to the growing Christian fundamentalist base and even if he only talks the talk without any deeper commitment (which I think he does - a man who laughs at exections and doesn't follow up on Abu Ghraib doesn't have the moral conscience Christians should have), the public embrace of fundamentalism scares the shit out of me. The public bashing of homosexuals scares the shit out of me.
I thought long and hard about how to write about my feelings and concerns. Then I read this post by PZ Myers over at Pharyngula. He expressed my thoughts much more eloquently than I could have -- and also more forcefully than I would have, and I can find no fault in that. I recommend reading the entire post but here's an excerpt:
An unjustified, futile war…doesn’t matter. Abu Ghraib…doesn’t matter. Tens of thousands of dead Iraqi civilians…don’t matter. Prisoners tortured and held without trial at Guantanamo Bay…doesn’t matter. Throwing away two centuries worth of the world’s respect for our enlightened principles…doesn’t matter. A president who laughs at executions and mocks the sacrifices of our soldiers…doesn’t matter. The Democratic candidated dared to say that our reputation in the community of nations mattered, and the arrogant bully won.
We're deeply depressed. We're oscillating between despair and disbelief.
I agree with Scott that it's a decision on morals. One TV commentator said that people voted for good old values. I can't agree. Just as I can't believe Bush is really a Christian, because he lacks compassion and modesty, good old values are not about alienating the world and making everyone feel threatened. Good old values to me are respect for your fellow humans, manners, thrift, responsibility, respect for the rule of law.
I look at Abu Ghraib and I don't see good old values. I see fear and loathing of homosexuals used to rally the faithful, and I don't see morality. I read about how the President can declare any US citizen to be an enemy combatant, and can hold them without trial indefinitely, and keep them from legal help, and do things to them that -- well, that are not "torture" because they've changed the definition. But I can't look at this and say, yes, this is right. I can't look at my little boys and say, sons, be proud of this.
If I weren't so horribly worried, if I didn't have this feeling of impending doom, then I wouldn't be so unhappy about Bush winning. But I truly believe that another four years of Bush will be very bad for the US, and for the rest of the world. Obviously, it's not a view shared by most Americans, or so it seems at the moment.
Of course, there is still time to surprise me!
Hope springs eternal.
I'm done with the upgrade. There was a little "huh?" moment when I had to execute some cgi-scripts and had no idea how to do that. After fooling around with WS_FTP (didn't work) and Putty (didn't even get to the right directory), I called my brother, the physicist. He told me to put the URL of the script into my browser. Who'd have thunk it so easy?
Then we had some glitches with the main menu style sheet which I managed to solve by myself -- don't ask me what I did. It's like looking for things in a dark room when I do software.
Anyhow, we're done and things remain as usual for you, dear readers.
And now go vote, if you haven't already.
We are upgrading our Movable Type software. I hope everything will go without a glitch, I did prepare thoroughly. Likely though, something catastrophic will happen. In this case, please refer to this mirror. It's just a safety net, a trial version of Typepad that we're using to get over those hours or days of fooling around with the new 3.121 version of MT. I hope we don't have to use it for too long -- it expires after 90 days, so I better hurry, eh?
I have to say, I like Typepad just fine. However, we'd need a multiple-author, HTML-editing license and that's the most expensive one. My dear Scot and I decided that's too much to pay if you can do it for free.
Anyhow, here we are -- I'm doing the upgrade. See you all soon, I hope.
So we are having an early morning election breakfast/brunch tomorrow. Friends will be coming over, there will be coffee, food, and alcoholic beverages according to results (champagne if we win, palinka to drink ourselves into amnesia if we loose). Our friends are all rooting for Kerry, so nobody is going to get hurt. Our doors are open from 7:30 on, the breakfast will seemlessly go over into the Wednesday baby group and continue on as long as... No, let me rephrase that. It will go on until we're tired of it.
We stopped at the McDonalds in Otopeni on Saturday. That's the first town north of Bucharest, where the airport is. The McDonalds sits right on the main road north to Ploiesti.
(We were coming back from a trip to a little horse farm, where Alan rode on a pony for the first time ever. I'm sure someone will be posting some photos real soon now.)
Anyhow: we bought a Happy Meal -- look, we're parents with two small children, okay? Happy Meals are a part of our life now, and probably will be for a while to come. Alan, age two and a half, now recognizes those golden arches from a mile away. "French fries!" he cries. And it is, dammit, convenient. No, I'm not defensive about this. Not at all. -- We bought a Happy Meal, and it came with a toy, and the toy was in a plastic wrapper. And on the plastic wrapper, it said:
"ENGLISH -- Risk of choking -- small parts. Please retain information for reference. Drain after each use."
That was all. Except that the plastic bag was covered with writing, on both sides.
Why? Because it repeated that same warning in thirty-five different languages.
On Saturday, we went to the Hollandia Riding Club in Corbeanca. Alan and David loved watching the horses -- although Alan decided that ponies were all right but horses way too big. He did get to ride on the pony for about five or ten minutes. He looked his most serious, I've never seen this look on his face before. He smelled like horse afterwards and talked about "riding like a big boy" the rest of the day. Afterwards, he had a three-hour nap. That hasn't happened in months. Oh, all the excitement.