Like all the men of Babylon, I have been proconsul; like all, I have been a slave. I have known omnipotence, ignominy, imprisonment. Look here - my right hand has no index finger. -- Jorge Luis Borges, The Lottery of Babylon
Unhappy the land that needs heroes. -- Bertold Brecht
We were in the taxi, driving along, when suddenly the taxi driver lunged forward and stabbed the radio with a stiff index finger. The news, which had been murmuring along, suddenly boomed and blared, filling the taxi with harsh Albanian: President Rugova was dead.
"Bah!" said the taxi driver.
There was silence for a few moments. Solemn music began to play. The driver turned the radio back down.
I couldn't resist. "Bah?" I said.
"I didn't like him."
Certainly not everyone liked Ibrahim Rugova. He wasn't all that likable. He was, by all accounts, a remarkably boring man in person. And in his political life, he was stubbornly, utterly fixated on just two ideas: that Kosovo should be independent, and that this should be accomplished by nonviolent means.
The packs of dogs prowling the streets of Bucharest are dangerous to begin with, and this is even more true in the winter when food is scarce. They become vicious and unpredictable. They attack from the back, they work together, they are desperate. I fear them.
The culling of the Bucharest street dogs has been called for many times. It has been done before, with mixed results. Romanians love dogs, in general, and it's hard to push through anything which looks like a cull. So they are doing it differently now, but they are doing it with a vengeance.
Why? Because on Sunday, a member of the Japanese Embassy died after a dog bite.
Doug is in Laos and Cambodia for the next four weeks, after 10 days in Kosovo and 2 short days in Bucharest. The kids are understandably confused and upset. We try to ease the pain as best as we can and we found that Skype is a great help.
We can talk daily without bloodcurdling phone bills. We can talk as long as we want, the kids can talk and stop talking and run away and come back without either one of us twitching over money trickling down the drain. We even had Doug sing good-night songs to the boys via Skype. With the webcam, Doug can watch the boys during the evening routine of bath, book, brush and watch his youngest getting more alert every day. I recommend Skype to all traveling Dads and Moms.
There is just one thing you have to be careful about:
Yesterday evening I sat at the dinner table with the boys while my maid cleaned up the kitchen. She washed the dishes, and she washed them Romanian style, under running water. While I winced listening to all that water gushing down the drain, fractions of all the conversations that I ever had with her and her predesessors flashed through my head.
"It's a waste of water."
"Water is cheap." Delivered in a dead pan voice.
"Hm, water is actually a very valuable resource. It's important to conserve water because...," trailing off as I see a blank look appear on her face. Oh, my green soul, it ached.
[now with added Claudia content!]
7 x 7 is forty-nine. This is one of those godawful Internet meme chain letter deals. I got tagged by Cosma Shalizi, and the only way I can get rid of the curse is to pass it on.
1. Seven things to do before I die
(i) Get married. (ii) Have kids. (iii) Have grandkids. (iv) Eat at a three-star Michelin restaurant. (v) Get season tickets at Lambeau. (vi) Write that novel I keep not talking about. (vii) Smite the wicked.
2. Seven things I cannot do
(i) Keep my shoelaces tied. (ii) Cold calls. (iii) Travel through time. (iv) Tolerate stupidity. (v) An Australian accent. (vi) Pick locks (yet). (vii) Think of a seventh thing.
3. Seven things that attract me to [New York City]
(i) The friendliness of its people. (ii) The subway. (iii) The museums. (iv) The restaurants. (v) The New York Public Library. (vi) Brooklyn. (vii) When people ask me where I'm from, there never is any goddam subtext of "because, gosh, you can't possibly be from around here".
4. Seven things I say most often
Here are some things I've recently discovered about telecommunications in Kosovo.
[Pause to allow people to run away.]
Kosovo doesn't have a country code. Makes sense, right? It isn't a country. Officially, legally, it's still part of Serbia. So it still must use Serbia's country code, 381.
This has some interesting consequences.
Usually I fill in a little when Doug and Claudia are busy and there's a lull in the blog. Swollen tendons in my shoulder, no fun. Anyway.
Jim Henley covers the gridironplayoffs so I don't have to.
Two cool books read. Dark Shamans: Kanaima and the Poetics of Violent Death, by Neil Whitehead, a University of Wisconsin professor who survived an attack of assault sorcery in Amazonia: basically, poisoning, mind games, mutilation, and ultimately, ingesting the deliquescing flesh of the victim's corpse by a serial killer type. I've elided some of the details, and there's a reason for that. You can read an interview with Whitehead here.
The other is Benedict Anderson's long-awaited book on Jose Rizal, the great Filipino poet-novelist-opthalmologist-revolutionary-martyr, Under Three Flags: Anarchism and the Anti-Colonial Imagination. The first flag is this banner, which does need some explanation. Oh my people.
Paging through ornithologist-and-promoter-of-urban-legends Jared Diamond's Collapse (no link). Ugh. James B., you will owe me a drink. Hint to Jared: if you're going to use something as your primary source, you might want to mention if it comes to exactly the opposite conclusion as you do. Once is happenstance. Twice is sloppiness. The third time is enemy action.
A fin whale found dead in the Baltic sea found it's resting place in front of the Japanese Embassy in Berlin, courtesy of Greenpeace. I really hope it stank to high heaven.
For more information, see Greenpeace.org.
When you are a single parent even the most mundane tasks can be challenging. Like, getting into the shower. This morning, I was so desperate that I took a shower while the boys were playing next door in their room. There was neither blood nor vomit on the floor when I emerged, so that went well. I could even slather myself with body lotion -- with the help of four little hands, all the while wondering whether I was just laying the groundworks for years of therapy for both of them...
They also helped me blowdry my hair. Three brushes can make a lot of damage. As it turned out, they were very happy with the result. Alan looked me over and said, happily: "You look very nice now." He turned to walk out of the bathroom, stopped, came back and added:
"Now you are as beautiful as your mommy."
(This is not as bad as you may think. My Mom is indeed beautiful and she has very good aging genes, meaning she looks about ten years younger than she is. And Alan loves her to bits so it's the highest compliment he can pay.)
I'm in Kosovo again this week.
I haven't been posting much because I've been busy. (Telecom stuff. Much more interesting than I would have thought.) Claudia hasn't been posting because she's a single parent with two small children, one of whom has the croup, and a baby who's decided to try on "fussy" for a few days. Both these situations are likely to continue until next week, so it may be a little quiet around here.
Claude did find time to post a few new pictures on the spawnblog. So there's that.
If time permits, I'll try to post something about the curious state of telecommunications in Kosovo. (Still a state monopoly, but they're getting dinged on termination fees.) Meanwhile, consider this an open thread. What do you want to talk about?
Welcome to my brand new nephew Nicholas who was born in Germany last night, a whopping 52 cm and 3200 g -- four weeks before his scheduled due date! If he keeps this up, he'll beat the crap out of my boys in a few years. In keeping with family tradition, he's sleepy, has black hair and blue eyes, and will grow up trilingually (in his case, German, Spanish and French).
Congratulations, Hajo and Maria!
I could hug the entire world.
I've been travelling a lot lately. Which means I've been in and out of Bucharest's Otopeni Airport.
Sometimes, Claudia can pick me up. But when she can't, I use Fly Taxi.
Fly Taxi is the monopoly taxi service at Otopeni Airport. It's been around for about two years now. And the story of Fly Taxi is an interesting little parable of how things work in modern Romania.
It's been a while since I've read a paragraph that has wildly changed how I look at the world. I'm so jaded! Anyhow, here it is:
The Recent is a poor analogue for nearly all aspects of Paleozoic ecosystems except for those of the latest Permian. The lack of tetrapod herbivory, the narrow spectrum of plant-insect interactions, the importance of detritivory as the base of the food chain, and the strong partitioning of ecological resource space along widely divergent phylogenetic lines in plants are themes that run throughout most of the Paleozoic. Because of these and other fundamental differences, ecological models based on the present cannot be applied to Paleozoic examples in a uniformitarian manner.
Rough translation: life on land, until about 250 million years ago, was to modern land-based ecosystems much like what a mercantilist, caste-based economy is to a modern market economy. You know the kind: this ethnic group does this, while that ethnic group does that, and those guys? they take care of the horses; and there's never a winner without a loser.
Of course, right after a modern ecology got established in the late Permian, the Earth got whacked with the largest documented extinction event ever. Ah well.
Considering that Doug and I met over a question of grammar (vowel harmony, to be precise), it's small wonder that we take a heightened interest in the speech development of our kids. They grow up with three languages and we take more than a little pride in their being fluent in all three of them.
Some observations about tri-lingual kids (findings may vary in other test subjects, of course).
I have to amend my husband's previous post a little. Being American, he has little knowledge of the power of cold water. Even my dear friend Natalie, who is a doctor, didn't come up with the magic word:
(Yogis, my ass!)
The German priest Sebastian Kneipp lived from 1821-1897. In 1849, he fell ill with tuberculosis and his doctor all but gave up on him. By chance, Kneipp discovered a little booklet called "Unterricht von der Heilkraft des frischen Wassers" (Instruction in the healing powers of fresh water) written by one Johann Sigmund Hahn. He started a self-treatment, which included daily baths in the Danube river (and doesn't that tie in nicely with our overall theme!). Within a year or so, he was completely recovered.
Strange weather here the last couple of days.
Yesterday it rained and rained, and was around 6 or 8 degrees Celsius... mid forties, for the Americans. For January in Bucharest, that's pretty warm and wet. It was cooler today, down to 2 or 3 Celsius, but still raining. Walking around, it felt like a brisk day in March.
It has the flowers fooled: this morning I saw green shoots poking through the ground by our front gate. Oh, dear. Can you hold that for two months, guys?
No particular order.
1. To have fewer dates like the plots of old "Three's Company" episodes, and more dates like the plots of old "A-Team" episodes.
2. To catch up on cool math. A guy in Wisconsin proved the 'crank' theorem of the Ramanujan partition congruences a few months ago, and I missed it! The basics of Ricci flow, to see what the discussion about Perelman and the Poincare conjecture is about. The new celestial mechanics. (I will let John Derbyshire have the Riemann hypothesis for now, thanks.)
3. To learn New Testament Greek. I've been putting this off long enough, and it's gotta be easier than Tagalog grammar. (After the Angel of Tongues, Babel, created Basque, he decided to go on vacation on Luzon, where he got smashed on calamansi lime gimlets. "Infixes," he cried -- or rather, he slurred -- pausing to zap into existence a few Object-Subject-Verb languages in the jungle somewhere. "Reduplicatives!" he exclaimed, accidentally creating Albanian. "Ergativity!" and all those click languages in southern Africa came into being. And so forth. Then, when he was hung over, Tagalog.)
4. To accept whatever decision Brett Favre makes with a light heart.
5. To visit my friends in far-off places more.
6. To go to the gym five times a week instead of two, like I used to. Screw this getting older business. Plenty of time to be lazy when I'm dead.
7. (optional) To give Finnegan's Wake another stab.
8. (near-term) To finish up the one post on Mendelian inheritance for Carrie at Bad Mama and the other post on the NYC maple syrup smell for the Brooklyn crew.