I've already written about some books I have found especially charming. Consider this an extension. These books aren't necessarily charming, but I keep on coming back to them. They're not all 2004 releases either, thank goodness.
As of yesterday (Wednesday), Romania has a new government.
It's a coalition between the Alliance, UDMR, and PUR. The Prime Minister, Mr. Tariceanu, is from the Democratic wing of the Alliance -- President Basescu's party.
Their first action has been to pass a flat tax, setting a uniform tax rate of 16% for both corporate and income tax. This is not a new thing in Eastern Europe; Estonia, Latvia, Russia, Ukraine and Slovakia all have flat taxes. However, the Romanian tax will be lower than the Baltic States (24%) or Slovakia (19%), while applying more broadly than the Russian or Ukrainian taxes (which are set at 13%, but only for personal income).
This was done last night, by emergency ordinance. The new tax system will be effective starting in 2005 -- in other words, the day after tomorrow.
If this is typical of what we can expect from this government, it should be an interesting time.
More in a bit.
The Hague Tribunal on war crimes in the former Yugoslavia -- remember them? The folks who have been trying Slobodan Milosevic for the last three and a half years?
Well, they're starting to wrap up. The Tribunal must issue its final set of indictments by the end of 2004. In other words, within the next four days. After that, no more new indictments... they have to finish with what they've got.
Now, this is a pretty stupid idea. There are a lot of war criminals still running around. Many of them have committed ghastly crimes, murder and worse. Eight and a half years -- or five and a half, if we're talking about Kosovo -- is not a very long time. (By way of comparison, the US and Israel are still going after a few last elderly Nazi war criminals, and General Pinochet of Chile is facing prosecution for crimes committed in the 1970s.) Yet, once this deadline closes, the many war criminals not indicted will be... not quite home free, no, but able to breathe a lot more easily.
But the Hague Tribunal has been a mess. It has taken much longer and cost far, far more money than anyone ever imagined. So it's going to be shut down whether its work is done or not. (And it's not.)
There's plenty of blame to go around for this sorry situation, and maybe sometime I'll post about it. But in the short run, the big question is: will the Tribunal indict Prime Minister Haradinaj of Kosovo? Rumor in Serbia is that they will, but rumor in Serbia is not always a reliable source.
If they do, it will be the biggest thing since they got Milosevic in their hands. If they don't... well, that will also be the biggest thing since they got Milosevic. Either way, there will be big effects on the region.
More on this soon.
God, I hate most current videogames. None of them satisfy my primal need to destroy very large objects in a realistic manner. I spent most of the past week sick, so I decided to use my enforced free time to do something about it.
Turns out that there is enough information available on this Interweb thingy to reverse-engineer the hydrodynamic modeling programs used to simulate Big Things Go Boom physics. You know, shaped charges, nuclear weapons, meteor strikes, the origin of the Moon, et cetera.
It's kind of funny that books on game physics ignore this. There is a niche here to be filled, people!
So let's start large. Let's smash planets.
Alan got a bike and David got a tricycle for Christmas. And boy, do they love them. We spent two hours slowly walking through the town today, along the Streu river. Alan rode his bike (with support wheels but anyhow, he did a great job), and we pushed David on his trike which came with a very handy push-bar. Two hours of exercise in the good air of the Rhn, followed by a three-hour nap.
Life is good.
We are not posting, it's true. That is because I'm in Germany with the kids and have little time to spare. Doug was working hard all week and is on his way to the airport as I'm typing this (safe travels, love). He'll arrive in time for the presents German style (Christmas Eve). The kids will also get presents tomorrow morning - American style. Lucky kids!
We will try to write some but it's not a promise. Also, I'm sure you have better things to do than reading blogs during the holidays, eh?
Anyway, we wish you all very Happy Holidays, if applicable, and generally a nice time to all. Enjoy family and good food, exotic locations or hometowns, take it slow and unwind. Hugs all around,
Rainy, rainy day today. So rainy that we couldn't go outside at all. We built a fort out of blankets and the dinner table but I admit, Alan had way too much TV anyhow. In our defense, his language abilities don't really seem to suffer too much. Two examples from today.
Alan: Where are you going, Daddy?
Doug: I'm going outside.
Alan: Are you going to the office, Daddy?
Doug: No, I'm going to the supermarket.
Alan: Are you getting the Economist?
Doug: I'll check whether they have the Economist, but of course they won't have it.
Alan: Daddy, in Herastrau they have the Economist.
(Herastrau is Alan's favorite park. They don't usually carry the Economist there. And no, they didn't have the Economist at the supermarket, because they never do as early as Sunday.)
Alan: Daddy, where's your ice cream?
Doug: Well, I don't have any because Mommy didn't bring me any.
Alan: You can get it yourself, Daddy.
Miron Cosma is in Timisoara today, after departing the high security prison in Rahova.
Foreign readers may wonder what all the fuss is about. It's a little hard to put Cosma in a Western European or American context. Cosma is much more than just a union leader. He's a political player with heavy connections to Romania's shady business elite. Maybe more important, he's also a media star. For years he had a relationship with the Romanian pop star Marinela Nitu. It's more than a little reminiscent of the Arkan-Ceca relationship in Serbia, although (1) Arkan killed a lot more people, and (2) Nitu had the good sense to dump Cosma a year or two back.
My allergies used to be the stuff of legend. Sneezing fits like the tarantella, my head changing shape, the works. But I would take this nifty prescription drug named Seldane, wash it down with some grapefruit juice, and be able to participate in NYC's smoky nightlife on a semi-regular basis.
Turns out Seldane can do bad things to one's heart, and so the US's Food and Drug Administration decided to pull it (but not until there was a substitute on the market). I don't take antihistamines any more, and oddly enough, my allergies are much better.
More recently, I developed a minor but rather painful achy-breaky thing, for which the cute doctor prescribed happy little pills of Vioxx. Hurrah!
Turns out Vioxx can do bad things to one's heart, and so the US's Food and Drug Administration decided to pull it (and there was already a substitute on the market). Flush! down went the Vioxx, to join the Seldane in providing the organisms of NYC's sewer system with interesting metabolites.
So I am currently fighting off a cold, which from long experience feels like it will turn into a painful sinus infection. You know, the kind that seem like a ninja is gently pushing his thumbs into your eyes all day, where your body only seems capable of producing pints of festive orange micrococcal mucus.
Since I have no intention of staying in bed this week, wondering what hospital technology will be like when I die, I decided to make some decongestant herbal tea.
You got it. Turns out that innocent herbal tea contained ephedra, which can do bad things to one's heart et cetera.
Sigh. So I made this instead.
Well, in 1999 Miron Cozma tried the same trick since the newly appointed government was taking restructuring economic measures with respect to mines. Remember that Iliescu was in opposition at that time. So Cosma took his miners and marched to Bucharest threatening to do the similar things he did in 1990 and 1991. Well, it didn't work out - Radu Vasile, the PM at that time, met him somewhere at half of the road and calmed him down. And he then asked the Justice to take action. The result: Cosma and the other leaders were imprisoned for some 18 years.
Now, surprise, surprise: this morning Iliescu uses his presidential power to release Miron Cosma from prison. I think it is an outrageous thing, but Iliescu has debts to pay, and he does pay them in the very last moment. This is Iliescu - the guy who harmed Romania perhaps more than anybody else in the last 15 years, because what he did and what could have done and hadnot.
I was in Mogosoaia today, to get the car fixed. (If you're familiar with the area and wondering why I go so far out of town... well, the repair shop there is fast, cheap, reliable and German.) On my way back, I saw something that wouldn't be remarkable at all in the US, quite remarkable in Germany and I've never seen it in Romania so far.
Have a look:
I know what you're thinking. A truck, so what? Well, have a closer look at the printing on the outside:
Hard haggling and much behind-the-scenes scrambling as both major parties struggle to form the next government.
New President Basescu has said that he'll put forward a Prime Minister from his own party. But (as noted in previous posts) his party doesn't have a majority in Parliament. No one does. So, horse trading.
It gets complicated because -- I'm going to simplify this -- PSD is unified, organized, well-financed and desperate; but on the other hand, Basescu is one stubborn SOB. So it could be an irresistable force vs. immovable object sort of thing.
Apropos of yesterday's post and the slightly cranky comment thread that grew out of it. After nearly two years here, we are still trying to figure out the mysteries of the Romanian self-image. Pride and defensiveness, patriotism and constant self-criticism -- it can be a little confusing. This probably deserves a long post in its own right.
Meanwhile, here are eleven random things that foreigners like about Romania (not necessarily in order of importance, nor claiming completeness):
1. The people.
2. Wonderful peaches.
3. The Olt Valley.
4. Christmas carollers.
5. Bucharest parks.
6. Best tomatoes ever.
7. The Carpathians.
8. Good economic growth.
9. Child friendly.
10. Governments can lose elections.
11. EU material!
I challenge you to add more! Let's have it for the good things!
Which one for the family, what do you think? They are a bit blurry because I took pictures of the original prints. I lean towards the first one, since goodness knows why Alan is wearing dirty pants in the second one. Don't know what I was thinking...
We had a wonderful meal yesterday. We had meat, and the meat was good. You have to know that it's really hard to find a good piece of meat in Bucharest. Outside, in the country, the meat is so tender it melts in your mouth. I suspect that the city dwellers are just getting the old tough cows and pigs, whereas the country people feast on the young juicy ones.
Anyway. Our nanny went to her mother's village last weekend. They slaughtered the traditional pig for Christmas and she came back with a big bag full of meat of us. We froze most of it but made some last night. It was yumm-y! I'd forgotten how good pork can taste. Hm.
... is the title of a recent Zeit-magazine article about the borders of Europe and how to define what is Europe and what not. The article is interesting in its own right but I really like the photo that came with it. It shows Europe at night - glowing. You can pick out single cities easily enough. You can see the borders of the Alps by the chain of lights gracing its northern slopes.
And you can pick out the shape of Romania. Because it's a black region in the sea of lights.
See for yourself:
UPDATE A friend of mine once said that in Serbia, everybody has a persecution complex. In Romania, everybody has an inferiority complex. It's an oversimplification but there is some truth to it.
How else could readers of this blog react like this? I mean, isn't this picture amusing? As obviously photoshopped as it is? With the entire Republic of Ireland black? Almost all of Switzerland and Austria uninhabited? The region in Germany where I come from is also pitchblack, by the way. I mean, it's so clearly tampered with, didn't anybody see the irony in this? Sheesh.
Prime Minister Nastase conceded the presidential race about an hour ago. Traian Basescu has won, and will be Romania's next President.
Final result: 51.2% for Basescu, 48.8% for Nastase.
This was very unexpected, and may lead to a period of political turbulence.
A quick plea for help: Do any of our Romanian readers know of a women's shelter here in Bucharest? I know there is at least one (it's small, I hear -- four persons tops). Does anyone have the number, is there another, can I have that number too?
No, it's not for me. Doug is the kindest human being you can imagine, and he has a big, big heart. (I love that guy, I can't help myself.) In any case, I'd take the credit card and stay at the Hilton. With room service. (And he knows that.)
But, please. If you know, send me the number by mail: claudia dot muir at gmail dot com. Thanks!
As of 11:00 this morning, it looks like Traian Basescu has defeated Adrian Nastase in the runoff election for the Romanian Presidency.
If the mood in my office is typical, then most Romanian readers of this blog will already be celebrating. Non-Romanians will be wondering what it's all about.
Short version: Nastase, the current Prime Minister, was very much the business as usual candidate. He ran a campaign whose message was (I am paraphrasing), "who cares if there's corruption? We're getting some good economic growth. We're going to join the EU. Sit back and don't worry your pretty little head about politics."
Basescu... well, Basescu at least presents the possibility of change. He's a former naval officer who's been the Mayor of Bucharest for the last few years. He has his little quirks, which I may blog about later, but most urban and educated Romanians consider him vastly preferable to Nastase.
This result is unexpected, to say the least. Nastase beat Basescu by 8 percentage points in the first round, two weeks ago. And he had near-total dominance of the media, a much larger and more powerful party machine, and pretty much unlimited funding. Even Basescu supporters had seemed more or less resigned.
If this result is confirmed, it means that Romania will be entering on a period of "cohabitation", with the Prime Minister's office and the Presidency held by different parties. This will be a new thing for Romania.
Driving in Romania is horrible, and driving in Bucharest is worse. The German in me despairs of the continuous ignoring of street signs, lines on the street, other traffic, traffic rules, and common sense. After over a year of driving in Bucharest, though, I'm quite adjusted to local standards, so when shuttling the kids to school or making a grocery run, I just unleash my inner barbarian. It's not pretty.
However, I observed and I learned and I found there are rules that people are sticking to. They are just different from rules anywhere else. So, here are The Rules for Driving in Bucharest for you.
So I am a little burnt on the written word at the moment. In that spirit, I come to the readers of this blog, hat in hand, for book suggestions.
I'm going to be a little picky here. First off, no science fiction, fantasy, or mystery. (This is not because I dislike those genres of fiction.)
Secondly, if it's a well-known 'comfort' author, like Jane Austen or Patrick O'Brian, yeah, I've read them and enjoyed them. (With the exception of the Flashman novels, which I can't stand.)
Third, no humor. (This is because I dislike most humor.)
Hell, here's a list of books I have found especially charming in the last few months:
Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, Mother Nature and The Woman That Never Evolved
Robert Sapolsky, A Primate's Memoir
I suppose the theme here is 'biology books on what it means to be human'.
Tim Robinson, Stones of Aran: Pilgrimage and Stones of Aran: Labyrinth
Two beautiful poetic detailed studies on the Irish island of Aran.
Edith Templeton, The Darts of Cupid and other stories
Kenji Miyazawa, Once and Forever
Two wildly different short story collections that somehow end up at the same place.
And to triangulate things a bit, I just finished Dawn Powell's The Locusts Have No King, or how nothing has changed in New York City in the past fifty years, and Elfriede Jelinek's The Piano Teacher, which will not be a gift for certain exgfs. Though both novels are very good.
Teo Peter, founding member of the Romanian rock group "Contact", was killed in a traffic accident in Bucharest on December 4.
Peter traveled in a taxi that was struck by a US Embassy vehicle driven by US Marine Robert Christopher. Witnesses report that 31-year-old Marine drove his car at high speed through an intersection, did not heed the traffic signs, and hit the taxi. The impact was so forceful that the taxi whirled through the air and hit a pillar in front of the Sudanese embassy. Rescue workers could not save Peter's life, the driver of the taxi was severly wounded but is said to be in stable condition.
One reason that Romania's government is getting back into office is that the opposition parties can't work together.
The Democratic Alliance can't abide PRM, Partidul Romania Mare, the nationalist Party of Greater Romania. And this is understandable. PRM is pretty odious.
But what if they weren't?
(Here follows some completely random, uninformed political speculation.)
Alan helped me bake Christmas cookies yesterday. He rolled out the dough and he wielded the cookie cutters like a pro. I guess it helped that they were all "transportation" shapes -- cars, trucks, motorcycles and more cars.
David is pretty good at rolling the dough, too, but I didn't get any pictures of him in action.
It is both peculiar and chilling to find oneself discussing the problem of American torture. I have considered support of basic human rights and dignity so much a part of our national identity that this feels as strange as though I'd suddenly become Chinese or found Fidel Castro in the refrigerator.
One's first response to the report by the International Red Cross about torture at our prison at Guantanamo is denial. "I don't want to think about it; I don't want to hear about it; we're the good guys, they're the bad guys; shut up. And besides, they attacked us first."
But our country has opposed torture since its founding. One of our founding principles is that cruel and unusual punishment is both illegal and wrong. Every year, our State Department issues a report grading other countries on their support for or violations of human rights.
The first requirement here is that we look at what we are doing – and not blink, not use euphemisms. Despite the Red Cross' polite language, this is not "tantamount to torture." It's torture. It is not "detainee abuse." It's torture. If they were doing it to you, you would know it was torture. It must be hidden away, because it's happening in Cuba or elsewhere abroad.
Yesterday was December 1, Romania's National Day. This day commemorates Romania's unification with Transylvania after the First World War. I blogged about it in a little more detail last year.
(Hm, rereading that post, I see that I said I'd write something about Romania's experience in the First World War sometime. One year later... well, it's been a busy year, is all I can say.)
National Day is a day off for Romanians. But it's not a vacation day for me, the employee of a foreign firm. So I went into the empty ofice and rattled around with the other two expats. Fair enough; on Thanksgiving, it was the other way around.