30 March, 2011

A Study in Modern Exorcism

A bit ago, Romania made world news in an amusing-but-sad way (any other kind?) by deciding to start taxing witches on their income. Initially, witches responded by attempting to curse Romania's top politicos (by throwing poo in the Danube, as I recall), but this faded quickly as these old dears realized they couldn't compete. Not only were Romania's top politicos already cursed so much that they had plenty to spare which they were only too happy to pass onto the rest of us, which they did, daily, several times a day if possible, but witches were also rank amateurs in terms of experience in polluting the Danube. So, Plan B was simply to state in interviews that their incomes were so small, tax made no difference.  But this got me wondering: Romania is still so deeply rooted in superstition and mysticism, why aren't witches in Fat City, ala Rasputin? This morning I got my answer in the (as usual) least likely of places: the back end of a taxi.

Now, growing up around Manhattan, I knew that one often finds life's answers from taxicabs, sometimes because of really pithy bumperstickers, but mostly because the near-death experience that is a typical NYC cab ride just puts you that much closer to God. But this morning, my taxi-related revelation was as subtle as it was sublime.

I dunno about elsewhere, but Romanian taxis aren't painted yellow. They're rather covered in yellow adhesive vinyl. This probably facilitates selling the car once it's usefulness as a taxi is done (but who would buy a car too beat up to even be a taxi any more?). Equally possible, it allows a cab driver who has been so surpassingly reckless and/or (emphasis on "and") offensive to finally bring down the threat of imminent death upon himself, to scamper into the nearest tunnel, forest, or other deserted area such as the "Romania Anti-Corruption" office, and with a hasty peeling session (think "Johnny Dangerously" Shelf Paper), slink back past their pursuers in a normal-colored car. But I digress.

In most cases I've seen, when it comes to the raised make and model logos on the car, the vinyl-appliers cut a hole in the yellow plastic for them to show through. This is a crude-enough look in itself, but as I now know, quite the lesser of two evils.  This morning's cab had had the individual letters of "PEUGEOT 207" pried off the painted surface (leaving what damage? I'd rather not know) and then stuck back on top of the vinyl. And this was my revelation at the red light.

My graphic-artist eye instinctively knew something was wrong in the scene, like hearing one voice off-key in a choir. Eventually it focused on the taxi, and the bile rose in my throat like a tsun - no, too soon - it just rose, ok? The letters had been reattached with all the care and accuracy of a toddler's magnetic refrigerator alphabet.
Part of me still insists that it's been done so incredibly badly that it had to be deliberate. But I've thought that before about work done in this town which obviously couldn't be so - from street repair (both instances), to bathroom tile installation, to building a shopping mall, you name it. Any and every job you can point to in Bucharest, and probably beyond, of any size, is invariably completed to about 90% and then abandoned. Or as they say around here, "finished." Attention to detail is non-existent to the point of being a negative value.

And THIS is why witches are out of work.

The key is the well-known and proven proverb: The Devil is In the Details.

If you don't bother with any details, in any job, ever, then you have no Devil.  The good witches have nothing to fight, and the bad witches have no source of power. And there it is. Contemporary Romanian workmanship is not criminally shoddy by accident or laziness, but by the realization that foregoing any details in your work is key to protecting your soul. To insist of a Carpathian craftsman that an edge be straight, a corner be 90 degrees, paint be at least one coat, a door meet its frame, or water spring from the tap instead of the wall, is to insist he risk eternal damnation in the hereafter.

Many cultures still suffer civil turmoil caused by their inability to reconcile modern society with ancient superstition. We've got it beat here, for sure! Most Romanians still harbor a reasonable concern for the fate of their souls, and know that periodic sacrifice to their god helps ensure it. Self-denial, pilgrimage and slicing open farm animals are so last century. Today, if you can manage to avoid the surfaces of any door, window, or flooring from fitting properly, or keep any straight edge or corner from any measurement ending in a zero, or reassemble something in nothing approaching its original completeness, preferably "how many pieces broken/missing" in proportion to "how much you were paid to fix it," then your place in Heaven is all but assured.

15 March, 2011

More Pedantic Fun with Language...

Or, "How to Reduce A Poor Innocent Waitress to Tears."

You see, the Cheese Soup (supa de branza) is made from cheese.  The Bean Soup (legume) is made from beans. The Onion (ceapa) from onions. The Broccoli, from broccoli.

All I did was ask what the German Soup is made from...

Well, it's a disaster to ME...

Lately you don’t hear the word “Japan” without the word “disaster,” and rightfully, if unfortunately, so. The country has endured a recent catastrophe on many levels, and the major disasters are so sad and horrible, and so far overshadow the tiny, barely significant disasters that only a callous, sociopathic pedant would choose to focus on them. And here I am (wave).

I won’t reiterate the specifics of the Japan quake and tsunami, you can find complete coverage on any news channel. It is what you will also find that compels today's rant. Specifically, the news coverage of the damage to several of Japan’s nuclear power plants. More specifically, the apparent inability of an alarming number of newscasters to properly pronounce “nuclear.”

If, now that you know what I’m on about, are not willing to read all the way through: just promise to say “nu-clear” instead of “noo-kyu-lar” and you may be excused from the table.

I’ve given up expecting the USA to say it right, because of its educational paradigm since the late ‘80s: “it’s more important to feel good than to know the right answer.” Learning by repetition and giving failing grades were eliminated because “self-esteem” was deemed more important to our nation's youth than actually being correct. The country is now run by the first results of this “discipline;” a generation of functional illiterates awash in their own sense of entitlement, but which can’t spell the word “entitlement.” For proof you need look no further than the functional (?) illiterate who ran the country for two terms, my pal Dubya. And therein lies the problem. The man mangled the simplest English on a daily basis, so who could be bothered to notice “nookyular” among his avalanche of other mispronunciations and malapropisms? It just didn’t stand out. Clinton did it also, but, I’m forced to admit, he was as hilbilly as they come so again, folks tended to let it slide. Carter? Georgia. I’m just sayin’. I’m told Eisenhower, another Texan, mispronounced it as well, but he’s before my time, and before Eisenhower’s time everyone just said “atomic” which doesn’t take a rocket scientist to say correctly. Apparently “nuclear” does. In fact, I believe we’ve just uncovered a presidentially-supported correlation between saying “nookyular” and saying “y’all.”

And of course, for the past few days and probably many more ahead, you won’t be able to swing a cat without hitting the word “nuclear.” The only worthwhile English-language news channel I get, Euronews, is saying it an average of twice per minute, which is not surprising. What is surprising is to hear this pinnacle-of-proper-broadcast-English say the word wrong just like us peasant Yanks. Unlike Bubba or Dubya, to hear a prim and proper clipped British accent say “nookyular” is one big fingernail scratching one big chalkboard to anyone with sense and care for the language. Which is what I would expect Euronews to have.

Cunning linguists explain this away as “metathesis,” the switching of two adjacent sounds. They example I saw is “iron,” which almost everybody pronounces as “i-urn.” But this is pretty weak because the two pronunciations differ via vowel, not hard consonant, sounds. These can be, and often are, mutated simply by dialect. “Pennsylvania Dutch” is actually “Pennsylvania Deutsch” - people from Germany, not Netherlands. Speaking of Dutch, their “Sinter Klaas” became our “Santa Claus.” In these examples, it’s only vowel sounds that are changed. Nowhere have the discrete hard consonants been rearranged, as they have between “nuclear” and “nucular.” And in any case, this mangling has nothing to do with exotic dialects of foreign languages, it’s simply English speakers unable to speak English.

You see, this particular word is, for better or worse, a make-or-break of perceived intelligence. Say it right and people will wonder if you’ve ever written a book. Say it wrong and they’ll wonder if you’ve ever read one. As presidential linguistics indicate above, “nookyular” equals “redneck.” If that’s the image you want to project, that’s your call. I wouldn’t have thought it was the choice of the Brits, though, and certainly not of their top news presenters. But between them, US presidents, and who knows who else in “authority,” I’m reminded of the Lenin/Goebbels quote, “a lie repeated often enough becomes the truth.” It would be very sad if enough "authoritative" people say a word wrongly often enough that we come to believe it to be the right way.


About an hour before I posted this, I visited Euronews' website and made a plea on their "Feedback" page about this.  It's a moderated page so I'm not surprised that my comment wasn't released to the viewable stream of posts. However, I just checked Euronews while I was having lunch and in their repeated-hourly report entitled "Japan Fears," ONLY the two 10-second-long segments with announcers who said "nucular" have been removed. Coincidence?  Maybe...

09 March, 2011

Asshole Parker of the Day

It's not often that someone parks badly enough to block TWO directions of traffic, but here's genius for you. Lanes on both sides of the divider have to swerve. All I can hope for is that he/she really scraped up the underside of their car getting on and/or off of the island.

08 March, 2011

Asshole Driver of the Day

 No. Brake lights. Whatsoever.  

There are two cars in my daily sphere of reference, and they both have some way of telling you when a lamp is dead.  One car does it by a fancy console screen message, which, OK, I can see where all cars wouldn't have that.  But the other car tells you a bulb is out simply by doubling the rate at which the turn signal blinks. Dead simple. But obviously some people are even more simple. Or has the irony not yet hit you that the defective vehicle in question is not only a company car for a security company (feel secure now, do you?), but it's their Technical Service response van.  What kind of technical service can we expect from someone who can't change a light bulb, let alone three (both tail lights and center stop light)?

And as always, this photo adheres to my 10:1 ratio.  For every one of these dorks I manage to catch in a photo, there are about ten more that go by without my getting the chance.  So be careful who you tailgate!

07 March, 2011

Charlie Sheen? Amateur.

The question is not if some public figures are out of touch with reality. No-brainer. Sometimes it seems to be a job requirement. The only question is the style in which a particular individual disconnects. There's "entertaining" crazy, like Gary Busey and Charlie Sheen, who make you want to laugh, if a bit nervously. There's "dangerous" crazy, like Mel Gibson and Dubya, who make you want to run away or move to Romania, respectively. And then there's "offensive" crazy, thankfully a much rarer variety, but apparently personified in a local yokel named Ion Tiriac. And that makes you want to (insert excrutiatingly diplomatic restraint) slap the guy upside the head for further proving (as if needed) how jerks get rich while decent people remain broke writing angry blogs.

First, I'll preface this rant by admitting that while many of my diatribes are reasonably researched and referenced, this isn't one of them. This is me reading the Romanian news, where this guy is reverently quoted from TV as if he were the Voice of God, and thinking "OMG WTF?" because I'd just previously read stuff that, with the tiniest mental leap, exposes some serious stupidity and hypocrisy. This time, I'm just calling it as I see it.

So, here's my take on Tiriac. Described as a "former tennis star turned businessman," I don't know what that's supposed to explain. Romania's other former tennis star also turned businessman, actually more politician, so maybe it's an injury inherent to the sport. Like "Tennis Elbow," except here you get "Tennis Megalomania" "...Yes, I used to bounce some little furry balls around, so I'm qualified to run a company, perhaps the country. Oh, and I also used to play tennis." The only problem with this theory is that US former tennis stars generally know their place, sticking mainly to endorsing painkillers and breakfast cereals. Okay, in the case of Kellogg's Honey Smacks maybe it's the same thing, but still, it's a far cry from endorsing an entire country.

So, here I am reading the local news, which admittedly is not guaranteed to be as objective and accurate as, oh, say Fox News, but still, the hot topic is Tiriac's Tirade on a TV show. Clearly the financial power players hang on his every word, of which some were (translated) as follows:

"Please tell me where half a trillion, 500 billion went, to mention only part of the GDP of the last 20 years. I should see this money somewhere. Where is it? I don't know."

At first glance, it seems a legitimate concern of a respectable businessman. Except two months ago, the same news site ran this story:

"Ion Tiriac was up to a most unpleasant surprise at the end of 2010, when a private investigation proved him that his son took almost 6 million Euros from the accounts of his companies."

So, Ion may not know where 500 billion Euros went, but he can find 6 million of it in his criminal son's pockets. Earlier news had the little angel arrested for drugs, and then, as now, Daddy's solution was to dodge the press, and oh yes, the law too for that matter, and settle it "privately as a family matter," undoubtedly meaning a stern lecture to Junior on not doing such stupendously stupid things... like getting caught. The son is obviously a bad apple, and they say apples don't fall far from the tree. But I digress. The moral of this story should be "people in glass houses" or "the mote in your brother's eye" or any number of hypocrisy proverbs, but instead it seems to be "If I call enough attention to others' ineptitude, maybe nobody will notice my own." A classic Communist tactic, I'm told by the way.

So, moving on to the next gem: In the same TV show (titled "After 20 Years" ...of what, they didn't say) Ion is flabbergasted that Romanians aren't taking advantage of the depressed housing costs and snapping up flats left and right. The small fact that all Romanians aren't billionaire former tennis stars turned businessmen with boatloads of dubiously-acquired cash for collecting flats as if they were comic books shouldn't stand in the way of this noble vision. 99% of the population isn't equipped for an increase in petrol prices, let alone the speculation business. Ion's answer? Mosey on down to your local bank, which is apparently dying to give loans. At what interest rate, I wonder, and with the average Romanian owning little more than a Dacia and a few potted plants, for what collateral? But never mind all this... the winning quote here was: "in Romania, there is a deficit of two million apartments."

Anyone with even the merest hint of the housing situation in Romania, would have their bullshit detectors explode at this one. But don't take my word for it, a survey by Ziarul Financiar revealed that in three newly-constructed complexes in Bucharest offering almost 1200 flats, 80 percent remain uninhabited.

Multiply that by at least 3 other such complexes in town that I personally know of, and how many more I don't, and also by the half-built complexes that may or may not even be completed for lack of demand (Planorama anyone?), and my very rough count indicates about 5000 brand new flats in Bucharest standing empty, right now. Now, in Romanian "nou" means "new" and "nu" means "no" (you have to say it out loud to appreciate it), but I'm pretty sure that "deficit" doesn't mean "surplus." What I am becoming sure of, is that the large deficit Tiriac speaks of may be between the ears. The absence of logic in his "advice" and the disconnect with his intended audience are insulting to the intelligence and, to say the very least, slap-worthy. And yet this is Romania's financial golden boy, the success story, the role model, E.F. Hutton the Carpathian.

Come to think of it, he didn't get there by himself did he? So who deserves the slap more, him or the sheep who empower him by worshipping at his feet? All of it is crazy, and most definitely the insulting kind.

I'll choose Charlie and his tiger blood any day.