The New York Times, from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, has found out that Calin Popescu Tariceanu, currently the second most important political persona in Romania, as the Speaker of the Senate, is being investigated “for giving false testimony to aid suspects in a wider real estate graft case.

Prosecutors said Tariceanu made untrue statements under oath in April when he was called to testify in an investigation in which …

OK.
So he isn’t investigated for anything he might have done then but for something he had (not?!?) recently said about the whole thing, now.

“Tariceanu denied wrongdoing and fired back at magistrates, saying “we live in a republic of prosecutors based on the politics of dossiers and handcuffs”.”

At this point it is very important to remember that Mr. Tariceanu has been at the fore front of the Romanian political stage for the last 25 years – for instance he was the Prime Minister from 2004 to 2008, and to mention that he is only one amongst  the many Romanian politicians being criminally investigated who deplore the growing importance of the role recently assumed by the Romanian prosecutors.

I’m not going to discuss here the individual merits of each of the corruption cases that have been investigated recently. It is very possible that some of them were started, or closed, because ‘somebody’ had made specific ‘recommendations’. The prosecutors are human beings themselves.

But isn’t it rather strange that so many of the people who have actually honed the finest inner wheels of the contemporary Romanian state are now complaining about the way it works?

During the last 26 years this rather small group of people had countless opportunities to put things on the right track.
It seems that they didn’t succeed. For various reasons.
But it also seems that some of them, at least, had ‘ulterior motives’ for not succeeding.

Some of which are now being unearthed by the prosecutors.

The point being that we shouldn’t become mesmerized by the process.

Let the prosecutors do their job. Under close supervision, of course.
Learn the appropriate lessons.
“Do not steal” is important not so much because it is one of the Ten Commandments but because no society that has condoned theft on a large scale has ever thrived for long long enough to really enjoy the spoils.

Coming back to the Romanian political class – and to the people itself, everybody eventually gets to sleep in the bed each of us has prepared for itself.

If corruption wasn’t so widespread as it is today the prosecutors wouldn’t have been able to launch so many investigations.
If corruption wasn’t so widespread as it is today the ordinary people would have undoubtedly enjoyed a way better life. Maybe one close enough to the point where they wouldn’t have minded so much ‘a little’ corruption.

I have to end this by quoting Traian Basescu, the former President, also a very controversial figure:

“Corruption rests with two sides. I do not want to change responsibility, but it must be shared and assumed. A corrupt civil servant cannot be corrupt if they do not have a partner to put money into their hands, a ministry cannot pay by 50 percent more if there is not a consultant to sustain what the constructor says: ?Yes, we’ll raise the bill’. The ministry finds it impossible to act, because anyone wins in court if one also has the consultant’s advice that they should increase the public works price by 50 percent’, Basescu said at the launch of the Report on the Competitiveness of Romania, an event organised by the Romanian-based American Chamber of Commerce.

The President went on: ‘I believe we must, first and foremost, leave hypocrisy behind. The state alone cannot be corrupt, it has a partner, if there is corruption. The state alone cannot be non-performing, it has a partner. Let us together assume what we have to do. The easiest thing for the private sector to do is to criticise the state and the easiest thing for the state to do is to show indifference to the problems facing the business environment. I believe we are not in such a situation. We all want to have performance, to be competitive.”

Those of you who are interested in learning more about how we got here might start by reading this report by Oxford Business Group.

Clinton, trump, unpopular

Not so long ago I was asking myself “What’s going on there?“.

Now, that my nightmare is very close to becoming reality – both major American parties are about to nominate unpopular candidates for the 2016 presidential elections, I’m wondering about the current meaning attached to the very concept of ‘politics’.

For an impersonal and very theoretically minded observer ‘politics’ would seem to describe the job of those who make it possible for the rest of us to lead our lives in an orderly fashion.

I believe you are familiar with what a ‘super’ does. ‘Super’ as in ‘superintendent’ for a residential building.
“The super must be conversant with every mechanical and technical system in the building, work diplomatically to solve problems in the building, be responsive to residents and be able to work as a team member with the board and the managing agent.”
Not exactly ‘rocket science’ but a very important role. So important that when poorly played the whole thing might very quickly deteriorate beyond repair.

After all, ‘the government’ should do nothing more, and nothing else, but act as a nationwide ‘superintended’ while ‘politics’ should be nothing more, and nothing less, than what we, all the inhabitants of a country, do in order to make sure that the government, our government, does its job. Properly.
Especially when living in one of the so called ‘democratic countries’.

Then how come I’ve got a growing feeling that ‘politics’ have become just another set of means towards specific goals? Goals that are more often than not detrimental to the society, as a whole?

PS.
This is for those of you who are not familiar with how this site works.
By clicking on the pictures, or the highlighted text, you are automatically linked to the sources of the quoted material. Sometimes they might be interesting, to some of you.

Islam Europe

I’ve just found this cartoon in my e-mail.
It was captioned: “The Winning cartoon in an organized competition.”

I instantly remembered some very wise words I’ve read long time ago:

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.
Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

“Beware! Whoever is cruel and hard on a non-Muslim minority, or curtails their rights, or burdens them with more than they can bear, or takes anything from them against their free will, I (Prophet Muhammad) will complain against that person on the Day of Judgment.”

All religious teachings, all of them, maintain that ‘a man reaps what he sows’. It doesn’t really matter if the ‘result’ will come as a sentence delivered by a divine judge or if it will be just another bead in the string representing the life story of an individual.
I, for one, don’t see much difference between ‘fate’ and ‘karma’.

Then how come we keep acting as if we’ve never been warned?

“In my two visits to Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp in Poland, I learned that holocausts and genocides do not occur in a vacuum. Rather, there is almost always a vicious campaign of incitement directed against the target group preceding them. What is troubling today, with the recent uptick in anti-Semitic and Islamophobic incidents worldwide, is that extremists and zealots are not the only ones inciting their followers. In a number of Arab countries, Muslim children are taught ideas that distort the true meaning of the Quran and hadith too.”

o-gay-prophet-570

Love, more powerful than hate.

This is probably the biggest bone of contention between the conventional sides of the political spectrum.

The conventional right claims that we’d be a lot happier with a considerably smaller government while the conventional left would, if left to its own devices, transform the government into a huge, and ‘smothering’, nanny.

Is there any reasonable way of determining the right size of the government or we should just try to reach a compromise between the warring factions?

I don’t think I’m smart enough to determine how big a government should be.
I also dislike the very concept of compromise – if I have to settle something I prefer to negotiate instead of compromising.
And that’s is why I’d rather approach this problem from another angle.

What KIND of government!

Let me take you on a short, and very condensed, historical ride.

Basically humankind has used, somewhat alternatively, two systems of running things.

Authoritarianism and democracy.

Specifics do not matter much. If decision making was centralized it was authoritarianism, if decisions were made by those directly affected by the results of those decisions being put in practice it was democracy.

What’s really important here is the fact that those two different manners of decision making generated different forms of government.

Authoritarian regimes employed ‘administrative’ (meaning ‘directorial’) forms of government while democracies were served by ‘referential’ forms of government.
And it was only natural that things happened this way.
Authoritarian regimes need nothing more than a ‘transmission belt’ to convey orders from the very top to the base of the social pyramid while democracies need a team of referees to keep the playing field level and nothing more than that.

Of course that I’m presenting a very simple sketch here. Things are more complicated than that.

And there are at least two main complications. ‘Human greed’ and ‘international relations’.

It doesn’t really matter if that greed is for money of for power. Whenever greedy individuals are allowed to enter the government and to cater for their ‘special needs’ things are headed south. And the only difference between this situation occurring in a democracy or under an authoritarian regime is that the latter has no natural defense against this kind of ‘mishaps’.

‘International relations’ play a less obvious role. The main job a government has to fulfill is to keep the state together. If a hypothetical state would exist in a vacuum – and have no neighbors, things would be a lot simpler. Since in the real world states do have neighbors the governments have to organize armies, secret services, engage in arms races…
Also in the real world states are very different. In size, for instance.

For all these reasons it’s very hard to ‘calculate’ the ‘proper’ size of a government.

Specially so without defining clearly what’s expected from that government.
An authoritarian regime would ask the government to preserve the privileges of those at the helm of the regime while a truly democratic minded people would expect their government to safeguard, using legitimate means, the independence of their country on the international level while simultaneously making sure that the individual members of that people enjoy enough personal autonomy so that their political regime remains democratic.

After those expectations are clearly formulated, the size of the government will simply be a consequence…

 

There are a lot of meanings attached to this concept.

Varying from “Karma is the law of moral causation” to Aaron Hapel’s “Belief in karma is the coward’s revenge.

Let me add another one.

Karma is about understanding the nature of the link between cause and effect.

Precisely the kind of understanding needed to break the vicious circle described by “The Only Thing We Learn From History Is That We Do Not Learn.”

My point being that history doesn’t play itself, over and over, mindlessly.

In fact “It’s us who play it again and again, until enough of us make enough sense of what has happened to be able to push the whole circus a little further down the road. And sometimes even that is not enough, a whole chapter becomes forgotten and we have to play it one more time….

Those of you who haven’t done so yet, try reading “The social Construction of Reality” by Peter Berger and Thomas Luckman

“The work introduced the term social construction into the social sciences and was strongly influenced by the work of Alfred Schütz. The central concept of Social Construction of Reality is that persons and groups interacting in a social system create, over time, concepts or mental representations of each other’s actions, and that these concepts eventually become habituated into reciprocal roles played by the actors in relation to each other. When these roles are made available to other members of society to enter into and play out, the reciprocal interactions are said to be institutionalized. In the process of this institutionalization, meaning is embedded in society. Knowledge and people’s conception (and belief) of what reality is becomes embedded in the institutional fabric of society. Reality is therefore said to be socially constructed.”

Yesterday I read an article which stated that ‘when it comes to violin there are a lot of things that are more important than talent‘.

I must confess that I was taken aback.
Not as much by the call itself but by the very fact that someone would actually make a call like that.
Compare apples and oranges, that is.

OK, both these two can be found in the same department of the grocery store and are somewhat similarly shaped so…

The whole thing made me wonder ‘how is it that we compare things’?

Simply. We choose a standard and then measure the things we want to compare against that standard.
According to our interest in the matter, of course.

That’s why a comparison is not only easier but also less contestable when that standard is actually measurable.
A dimension, for instance. Nobody in his right mind will ever contest a proposition like ‘this orange is larger than this apple’.
Or an evident feature shared by the items being compared. ‘Apples are usually smoother than oranges’.

5989177-comparing-apples-to-oranges-isolated-on-white-stock-photo

In these cases, when the items are easily comparable – sometimes even against the current mantra, we can say that the characteristics used to compare them are ‘parallel’ to each other.

parralel

Here we can, easily and undoubtedly, determine that one is ‘taller’ than the other.

parralel 2

Or we can make that call by measuring the intensity with which a characteristic shared by both categories manifests itself: “Apples are usually smoother than oranges”.

But what if the things we are trying to compare are defined by characteristics which are perpendicular to each other?

Like length and width, for instance.
In fact this particular case is relatively simple. Here we can determine whether one is longer than the other, wider than the other or if the area covered by one is bigger than that covered by the other.
And, for each case, it would be relatively simple to determine which of the two characteristics is more important. According to each individual situation and to our interest in the matter.
After all it doesn’t make much sense to buy a very long and narrow strip of fabric if you want to make a shirt nor to buy a square shaped cloth  if you need some ribbon.

Things are more delicate though if the characteristics are ‘perpendicular’ only in a figurative manner of speaking. For instance talent and dedication. Or opportunity and diligence. In both these situations it’s extremely hard  to make a call as to which member of the pair is the more important. Simply because without any of them the other is utterly useless. Despite our moral biases. Like ‘dedication is more important than talent’. Or ‘Lady Luck will never fail to smile to the really diligent’.

I’m not implying here that preparing yourself for life, like learning and training, is useless. Quite the contrary.
I’m simply saying that you need first to determine what you are really good at.
It doesn’t make much sense to put a lot of effort into something simply because someone tells you that you’ll become better at it if you work really hard.

Yes, the harder you work at something the better you’ll become at it. But what about spending the same amount of effort at something you are talented for?

So go find out what you are really good at.
If you are diligent enough in your search you’ll eventually find out something that you enjoy doing and others find useful.

And that, my friend, is the real happiness.

Or, in Csikszentmihalyi‘s terms, it would mean that you’d have reached the state of ‘Flow‘.

 

 

For how many times each of us has moaned, in true disbelief, ‘why is this happening to me?’. Or at all.

“I emerge from this conversation dumbfounded. I’ve seen this a million times before, but it still gets me every time.
I’m listening to a man tell a story. A woman he knows was in a devastating car accident; her life shattered in an instant. She now lives in a state of near-permanent pain; a paraplegic; many of her hopes stolen.
He tells of how she had been a mess before the accident, but that the tragedy had engendered positive changes in her life. That she was, as a result of this devastation, living a wonderful life.
And then he utters the words. The words that are responsible for nothing less than emotional, spiritual and psychological violence:
Everything happens for a reason
. That this was something that had to happen in order for her to grow.

That’s the kind of bullshit that destroys lives. And it is categorically untrue.”

In a sense the post that prodded me into writing this (Everything doesn’t happen for a reason by Tim J. Lawrence) is akin to a self supporting fallacy coupled with the kind of honest, well intended error all of us somehow feel is wrong at the very time we are doing it yet we cannot help ourselves to stop doing it.

So, why is all ‘this’ happening to us?

Basically there are three main stances on this.

The staunch believers are convinced that there is a grand scenario that ultimately decides our fates, down to every minute detail. You can find here, mingled together, religiously motivated people, convinced that ‘God’ has preordained their entire lives well before they were even born, rubbing elbows with the scientifically minded who are convinced that everything that  had ever happened went on according to an uninterrupted chain of causes and effects which can, only if we were able to find out how, be followed down to the root of all things. To even before the Big Bang?

The amoral ‘happenstancers’ believe that  ‘Lady Luck’ is blindly leading us down the path to exactly nowhere, hence ‘it’s up to each of us to make the best of it’. Sometimes up to callously disregarding everything else but their own whims.

The agnostics have figured out that while it is impossible to know/understand the ultimate cause for anything, from time to time it happens that each of us has a glimpse of understanding about something. And that however incomplete, that piece of understanding might  prove itself to be useful, even if temporarily.

Most of you have already noticed that the first two positions are at the very extreme ends of the spectrum and are held, in earnest, by relatively few people.
And that most of us – despite our professed affiliations, belong, in reality, to the third category.

Before proceeding any further I’m going to make a small detour here and note that ‘science’ itself was invented by Christian scholars trying to make sense of God’s ways. Hence no wonder that the ‘scientific minded’ cannot see eye to eye with the ‘believers’ – new converts are looking down in disdain to their old religion, and that both partake in the conviction that ‘there must be something behind what is readily visible’.

The link between all these three categories, between the first two who already have a strong conviction about things and us, the run of the mill people who are sometimes taken aghast by what is happening in our close vicinity, is that all humans need to make at least some sense of things before learning to live with them. And with their consequences.
And since no two normal people are alike there never was a one size fits all narrative able to cover, efficiently enough, all situations that ever occurred to us.

That’s why I simultaneously agree with Tim that the best thing to do when something happens to somebody I care about is to simply say I acknowledge your pain. I am here with you. and disagree with him when he says that all other things that get said in times like those are wrong.

The fact that my experiences/opinion on the matter happen to fit his doesn’t mean that we are both right, nor that our take on things that already happened to us might fit all other things that might happen to all other people. So I find it just a little presumptuous to discard all other opinions simply because they are different from ours.

Now, that I’m nearing the end of this post, let me discuss a little the pretext shared by both our posts: ‘Is there a reason for anything?’

Well, the answer for this depends heavily on what you mean by ‘reason’.

Is there a cause for anything? Most certainly ‘yes’, regardless of whether you believe that that cause to be divine, completely aleatory or any combination of these two.

Or is it that we’d better ask ourselves if there’s a ‘motive’ behind what’s happening to us?

Another thing that is common to most people is their tendency to blame others when thinks go bad and to claim more merit than it’s their due when things go well.
That’s why so many of us find it difficult to assume individual responsibility for our own mistakes and for putting ourselves in harms way – even when that responsibility is only partial.
Along the same psychological mechanism many of us cannot accept the very notion of ‘blind’ bad luck. While cashing a lucky lottery ticket is accompanied by nothing more than a self congratulatory slap on the back, and no soul searching questions get to be asked on the occasion, every time we as much as catch a cold in a very bad moment we wrench our hands in self deprecation: ‘what was it in my head that drove me to go in such a germ infested environment?’.

So, while I cannot rule out the existence of the famous Grand Design that I mentioned earlier, it seems obvious to me that only some things happen for a motive. Or that sometimes there are one or more motives which tilt the table in a direction or other. On the other hand what each of us does in each circumstance might have a huge importance. And sometimes both our efforts and the ‘motive’ responsible for the general set-up are rendered inconsequential by some haphazardous  occurrence.
For instance Romania endured the Soviet yoke simply because of its geographic position, because Stalin-ism was an aggressive creed and because the West was too tired shortly after the WWII to do something really meaningful about the Soviets extending their influence beyond where it was welcomed. At the same time the manner in which communism had influenced our destinies depended a lot on individual decisions – ‘theirs’ but also ours – and on pure luck.

That’s why I fully endorse Tim when he says that it’s extremely important for us to act appropriately whenever something nasty happens to those living inside our reach and that we should carefully select those whose presence we accept around us when something nasty happens to us, while I cannot accept his insistence that there is a single ‘appropriate’ behavior in all circumstances.

 

scalia1

It is very rarely that I agree in full with something that I happen to stumble upon over the Internet.

And it’s no wonder that Scalia was absolutely right on the subject.
He had lived for so long in the shadow of the Constitution that at some point it must have downed on him.
The constitution, just as any other legal document, is nothing more, and nothing less, than what we make of it.

After all it was us, citizens, who wrote it in the first place.
Then amended it as we saw fit.
And are now interpreting it. To fit our own purposes, of course.

We don’t seem to agree much, lately, about those very purposes?
So we came up with diverging interpretations of what’s written in the Constitution?

Then the problem is with us, not with the Constitution.

Using it as a weapon, or adjusting it to fit the short term goals of whomever happens to be in power momentarily, won’t solve anything. Actually it will only make things worse.

rape in the not so virtual reality

Two concepts are slowly merging into one and becoming more and more obvious for the most oblivious among us.

Virtual reality was mentioned for the first time way back in the XXth century.
In 1938, Antonin Artaud described the illusory nature of characters and objects in the theatre as “la réalité virtuelle” in a collection of essays, Le Théâtre et son double. The English translation of this book, published in 1958 as The Theater and its Double,[2] is the earliest published use of the term “virtual reality”.
Nowadays the concept has been widened to cover a lot more than what’s happening inside the theaters.
In fact, the technology used to create VR is able to transform everyplace in a stage, everybody in an actor and to broadcast everything almost everywhere.

The other concept I was mentioning at the beginning of my post is a lesser known one.
The Social Construction of Reality“, published in 1966 by Peter L Berger and Thomas Luckmann eloquently explains how various groups of people collectively adapt their historically accrued habits (cultures) to the ever-changing surrounding reality. One of the sources of change being human activity itself.

The latest, that I heard of, addition to the realm of the not so virtual anymore reality is Periscope. A mobile app that lets its user broadcast, live, whatever he/she deems interesting enough from what is taking place around him/her. What is broadcast has a ‘shelf live’ of 24 hours but can be deleted at wish or made permanent. Also the sharing ‘voyeur’ has control over the audience, it can be set as ‘public’ or ‘private’ – and broadcast only to a selected few.

Some days ago two female high-school students and friends, one 18 and the other 17, met a 29 male in a Columbus, Ohio, mall. He bought them a bottle of vodka and “encouraged them to meet him the following day“.
The girls ‘honored’ the invitation, the three  ‘socialized’ for a while – read “had all been drinking“, and then the male proceeded to raping the youngest of the girls.
The older one live-streamed the rape using Periscope.

The case came to light when authorities were contacted after an out-of-state friend of the woman saw the images, Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien said.

It is not unusual for a rape to remain unreported by the victim. It’s not OK, but it happens.
Also it is not that unusual for a rape to remain unreported even after friends or relatives of the victim learn of the event. Again, it is not OK but it is known to have happened before.

Yet this is the first time that I’ve heard of a rape that had taken place practically in public and which wasn’t reported ‘live’ to the police.

‘She does everything possible to contain the situation even to the point of asking while it’s being filmed to these Periscope followers, “What should I do now? What should I do now?”‘ Shamansky said.” Shamansky being a lawyer for the older girl, who is currently charged with rape, alongside the male perpetrator.
Separately, she is being charged with “illegal use of a minor in a nudity-oriented material or performanceforlivestreaming her friend nude the day before the assault“.

And how did the viewers react to the broadcast? Except for the “out-of-state friend of the woman” who reported the incident, of course?

Here’s the prosecutor’s side of the story:

O’Brien said Lonina is seen trying to help only briefly during the 10-minute video. O’Brien said the victim was clearly screaming ‘stop’ and ‘no’ during the assault.
Although Lonina told police she was trying to record the assault as evidence, her behavior as people watching via Periscope ‘liked’ the assault painted a different picture, O’Brien said.

‘She got, I guess, taken up with all the “likes” that her livestream was getting and therefore continued to do it, and did nothing to aid the victim,’ O’Brien said.

I don’t know what, or even if, she could have done anything in a really effective manner – remember that all three had been drinking – but I know for sure that at least some people were watching the live stream. The ones “liking” it.

I still cannot understand how come all of them failed to call 911.

Just finished reading, again, another excellent post written by John Faithful Hamer on Committingsociology.com

I remember now that something was nagging me after reading it for the first time. I also remember the pangs of helplessness felt almost a year ago, when I couldn’t identify what was nagging me.

Well, this time I nailed it.

“Getting angry isn’t really like releasing the built-up pressure in a steam engine; it’s far more like exercising a muscle group. Every time you give in to the desire to lose it, you strengthen your “anger muscles”; every time you resist the urge, you weaken them.”….
“So perhaps it’s time to stop preaching the gospel of expression, and revisit the much-maligned virtues of repression.”

“Anger” and “getting angry” are not the same thing.
Anger is just a feeling – and, hence, a source of ‘energy’ – while ‘getting angry’ is the manner in which we allow it, consciously or unconsciously, to take us over.
I fully agree that ‘getting angry’ only worsens the situation only I’m afraid that ‘resisting the urge’ isn’t any better. In fact that would be no different from tightening your arse because you don’t want to fart in public.
The problem is not solved, not at all, only postponed. You still need to relieve yourself.
By widening Freud’s concept of repression to encompass more feelings than the simple embarrassment we might find a reason to continue to look for a manner in which to ‘release that built up pressure’.
Only now we are faced with a new problem, since we’ve already agreed that ‘getting angry’ is not the best thing to do.
Freud, again, to the rescue.
How about widening another one of his concepts, sublimation?
How about learning to express, this time consciously, our intense negative feelings in a socially acceptable, and hence a lot more effective, manner?
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